Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Holiday Story: The Cat and The Carpenter

At a holiday party in 1987 where I was performing, a lady removed a cat hair from my tuxedo jacket (by such subtle signs do cat people recognize each other) and asked me how many cats did I have? I told her I had two, and we exchanged anecdotes about these remarkable and enigmatic creatures.

Among a group loitering nearby was a chap who could only be described as a giant. He was closer to seven feet tall than six, around sixty years old, hugely muscled, sporting a grizzled mountain-man beard, and looked liked Paul Bunyan's Great-Uncle. He ambled over, one huge, scarred hand cupping a plastic cup of beer as though it were a shot glass, and looked down at us with clear blue eyes beneath bushy eyebrows. He rumbled, "Cats. I never really cared for 'em. Now, I wouldn't go out of my way to run over one if I saw it in the road, but never was a cat person.

"But one day I found a kitten in a box behind my shop. I'm a cabinet maker. I have a shop in South Knoxville. I brought it in and figured I'd give it to my niece or somethin. Her mom wouldn't have it though, so I was stuck with it. Thought I'd give 'im to a customer, but kept puttin it off.

"You know, that cat was purty good company. I made him a bed next to my chair. My wife got the cancer and passed about twenty years gone. I like to read, and that cat sat in his bed. Over time I got used to him bein around.

"About five years ago I made him a little water bed; I figured it would be more comfor'ble for him to lie on. He started to get limpy in the hips, so I built a heater in it. Later I made some steps so he could get up and down on it easier. He seems to like it. He’s gettin pretty old, I reckon."

He looked at his cup, held between his gigantic, scarred hands—blinked several times, looked away. "Think I'm goin to go get another beer. It was good meetin the two of you."

Sometimes cat people recognize each other easily, and sometimes you wouldn’t spot them in a million years. But cats always find someone who needs them, and this is how I heard about a simple act of spontaneous kindness that lead to a lifelong friendship between a grizzled giant and a scruffy little alley cat.

Sometimes, the world is kind. Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Health and Time Challenges Aside, Music Progresses

My goal with Cristofori's Dream was to reach the halfway point--the point where the first crescendo occurs, by the holidays, and by cracky I did it. There's a tough sequence just before the crescendo I need to buff a bit, and the crescendo itself will take a bit of polish, but I can rest here for a bit and do the necessary refinements before going into the second half, which has a couple of technically-challenging points at which I've already looked and for which I've prepared.

My health has taken a hit though, between the recurrence of asthma and a series of respiratory infections I'm in rough shape. But the Doc has me on an aggressive course of treatment and I think I'm feeling better; just very tired a lot and my breathing is still way below par. However, my last few practice sessions went much better and I could actually remember what it was I was supposed to be playing, and my playing actually improved with practice rather than deteriorating.

At the last practice session, my teacher pushed past the line of demarcation--past the dreaded HALFWAY POINT I had set as the limit--and went into the next session, and we discussed the compositional theory of the composer, David Lanz. At one point, David apparently decided to walk his Bassline down the Circle of Fifths, as the broken chords went from C to G to D to A, then to F. Furthermore, the harmonic line consisted of the complimentary Minor keys. Why this was a delightful discovery is because once you realized this, there's no need to memorize the entire sequence--all you have to do is play your way down the scale! This is why it's useful to learn and know music theory. So basically a page and a half of the remaining four pages of this nine-page score is already out of the way before I've even tackled it. Can I get a Hallelujah?

Am tired so I think a nap is calling, but it feels good to feel better. i didn't realize how sick I was until I began feeling a little bit better. I think I was in pretty bad shape. I look forward to an even better recovery.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ten Things White Guys Should NEVER Do

After five decades of observing humanity, I've made what I consider an important series of observations. Here they are.

Ten Things White Guys of Any Age Shouldn't Do

(1) The High Five (I've boycotted this for decades).

(2)Use the word "Bling."

(3) Say "Mah Man."
--Or any variant of "Waz Zup."
--Or "In the House."
--Or "Bro."

(5) Wear a sports jersey with saggy pants and a backwards cap.

(6) Listen to Rap, especially at booming high volumes while driving down the street thinking it makes you look like anything other than an utter asshole.

(7) Say "I have many African-American friends," thinking this will prevent you from getting your ass kicked.

(8) Do that handshake thing where you throw your elbow higher than your shoulder. Especially when accompanied by any variation of Number (3).

(9) Attempt to dance anything other than the Box Step.

(9-A) Oscillate your head when listening to rhythmic music, and for God's sake stop biting your lip.

(10) Drink Malt Liquor; Caucasian metabolism can't metabolize it--we lack the proper enzymes and it will turn us to stone.

I have more, but these are the Top Ten. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

She'll be Comin Around the Mountain...

Actually I will be. Or I did. I performed shows in Virginia and North Carolina, and the Wint'ry snows closed in to make the driving quite memorable, as I tooled my trusty Honda CR-V through those winding mountain roads to scatter entertainment amongst the Holiday party-goers like a demented Jonny Appleseed of Hypnosis and Mind-reading. Wytheville Virginia is nestled amongst the upper elevations and up, up, up I drove, then after the show, down, down down I drove, through some blizzard micro-bursts at 2 AM or so which were quite spectacular and bedazzling.

But the crowning adventure of my Snowy Odyssey was winding my way from Concord, North Carolina to Knoxville Tennessee, to hole up with my son and his SO until the severe weather passes. Newscasters have been predicting this severe weather front which somehow erupted from its prison at the North Pole. Extravagant hyperbole from the news media has been the norm in describing this stormfront. In fact, the normally pensive journalists have waxed downright Biblical in their descriptors of this Apocalyptic Maelstrom from the Northern Clime. The Arctic Door has burst open, we've been told, unleashing this hellish, frigid wall of devastatingly powerful storms onto the country, storms which have ravaged the lives of everyone unfortunate enough to have cowered in the paths of these ravening waves of destruction.

And they're heading your way! No man, woman, child nor beast will be spared a painful freezing death. Witness, ye mortals, the final days. All that we've known and cherished is coming to an end. Freezing rain, sleet, snow, basket-ball sized flaming hail, and winds of gozillion-miles per hour are speeding your way and you're advised to cancel any and all travel plans. Don't even look out of your window! Pan cut to Anderson Cooper, who always finds the crappiest spot in the country for his outpost, in this case a wind-swept snowdrift with a frozen, skeletal hand sticking out as though in supplication to a heedless God, and gale-force winds whooshing into the microphone (from which the sound tech removed the windscreen for added texture). Anderson Cooper lurks at the very bottom of the News media's bag of tricks. When the producers feel the audience's interest is slacking, they pull him out and put him mis en scene in some area of utter catastrophe and you think, "My God--if Anderson Cooper is on the air it must be the end of the damn world!" He's the Weather Channel's answer to Saint John the Divine.

Yes, don't look out your window, because it's an immense exaggeration. Five snowflakes equals a Village-grinding glacier in newspeak. The media whips everyone into a terrified frenzy every time some weather condition percolates. Now, I fully realize there have been some very bad weather incidents. Katrina was a nightmare from which we're still reeling. But EVERY stormfront isn't a nation-wide disaster. Let me give you an eye-witness account of THE STORM. After my show last night I drove across the Gorge, as it's known--the section of Interstate I-40 which crosses the mountains from Asheville NC into Tennessee, around 2 AM, and THE STORM caught me about halfway down. It consisted of some drizzly rain and a few snow flurries-- enough to add an element of unease to that scary drive, especially at night, but not the soul-withering meteorological holocaust we were led to expect.

This is what I experienced. But what were we led to expect? Let's look back a few hours toward good old Concord, North Carolina. A waitress at the event I worked that evening asked to leave early so she could pick up her little boy before THE STORM hit. And even earlier, a frightened ex-trucker advised me to drive to Atlanta and come up to Tennessee to avoid the BAD WEATHER. This insane detour would have added four additional hours or more to my five hour drive. For nothing. For media-generated fear. When I left Concord at the end of this event--around 10 PM-- the temperature was in the low forties and there was a sprinkle of rain. So much for THE STORM the howling newsmedia warned was coming to kill us, eviscerate our dogs, and rape our women.

The storm is coming, yes indeed. The next time I hear the phrase "severe weather warning" I'm going to storm to the local newsroom and kick somebody's ass.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


I came to the Internet relatively late in life; I was almost thirty when I got my first desktop computer, and actually in my thirties when the embryonic Internet came into being. Internet discussion Fora were a long way off.

So for me, the people I've "met" online aren't really fully fleshed-out human beings. I don't mean this in a derogatory sense at all. It's just that, to me, it's almost impossible to connect words appearing on a screen to actual warm bodies. When I communicate with people, I do so face-to-face, or over the telephone, where I can see and hear emotional expression. Therefore, I don't become emotionally engaged with Internet discussions, arguments, dramas or community rules of engagement. Nor do I understand why other people do so. If someone online upsets you, just walk away from the computer--it isn't as if they can follow you around your house or workplace.

Now I have formed friendships with people I've met online. But in these cases we spoke on the telephone and usually met in person. In one case I married someone I initially met online, so it is possible to make an initial connection, but these Internet communities are simply random people typing words on a screen, and in my opinion the cyber-identities are almost entirely fictional, or at least partially fictional,. You may disagree, but I can prove you wrong if I care to, but I really don't care to. Nor should you care what I think; I'm just a cyber-fiction typing words on a screen which you're reading for God only knows what reason.

I have been members of several on-line communities or Forums, or Fora, or whatever the hell you're supposed to call them. I've also quit going to most of them. I've quit going to every one of them for exactly the same reason: They had stopped being fun. Invariably, the threads deteriorated to nit-picking, arguing, discussions about discussions (and by God, there is now a term for this in Internet jargon; a discussion about a discussion is called a meta-discussion); academical discussions about the meaning of terms, and arguments about what the meanings of meanings actually meant--it's absurd. Usually there will three of four posts about the topic of the thread, then the thread will deteriorate into hyper-anal nitpicking, tangents, and arguing. Even the well-Moderated Forums do this, because the Moderators are usually great fans of this kind of debate and discussion. There is an early, rather cynical article that still floats around that refers to "Godwin's Law." Godwin's Law describes the minimum amount of time it takes for an Internet discussion to go on before one of the participants accuses the other of being more evil than Hitler. Unfortunately, there is more truth than fiction in this, like most satire.

I love convivial companionship. There's few things I enjoy more than siting with a friend or two on a back porch on a nice evening, sipping a drink and having a pleasant conversation about interesting topics. But this is not what the Internet has become. I think the reason is Internet junkies are socially isolated people who for one reason or another, either through shyness, social awkwardness, or a general inability to relate to their fellow Homo-Sapiens, flock to these chatrooms and Fora for a way to interact with people--sort of--without actually having to DEAL with people.

Let me tell you of what had to be the most eye-opening experience of my Internet adventures. You would think if anyone could make an Internet Community work, it would be Buddhists. Well....

I was a member of a couple of Buddhist Fora which, one would think, would provide a safe haven for someone looking for convivial companionship to discuss the teachings of the Buddha. I will tell you this is a mistake. Cyber-Buddhists are no different than any other Cyber-dwellers, except they layer their nastiness with a thin veneer of quotations from the Pali Canon. Snide one-upsmanship on the level of 17th-century Rapier duels take place on these forums interleaved with extensive passages from Buddhist literature intended to prove the other guy is a total schlemiel. And these threads go on for hundreds of pages. Some of the participants post dozens of replies a day. And what of the famous Buddhist open-minded tolerance? Please. It is to laugh. The Vegetarians on a Buddhist Forum are enough to make me, a Vegetarian myself, crave raw meat. In fact, once every six weeks or so, I eat a hamburger, because I have this superstitious belief that every time I eat meat, a self-righteous Vegan dies.

When I once made some mild objections to a series of threads ridiculing other people's religious belief's, and suggested the principle of Right Speech indicated we should be more tolerant toward those who held different beliefs than ours, I was told my opinions were "rubbish." That is a direct quote. The ideological bigotry was so offensive and rampant, you would think you were on a Fundamentalist Islamic Forum instead of a "compassionate" Buddhist community. If you posted humorous stories, these were dissected by the hyper-analytical members for syntactic errors and logical inconsistencies--I'm serious--and the same arguments spewed on endlessly because--well-nobody seemed to have anything better to do. No volunteer efforts seemed to need their attention, no humanitarian association or animal shelters nearby, apparently. It was somehow much more important to make twenty to thirty posting a day arguing over points that mattered to nobody. Somebody on the Internet was WRONG, and must be corrected. After all, this was what the Buddha really intended 3,000 years ag0--correcting those who make piddly errors, not seeking escape from suffering.

So after attempting to participate in friendly discussions, and having my head bitten off once too many times, I posted, "The more I read this Forum, the better Scientology looks to me." and signed off forever.

There are two Forums I look in on these days, both related to my profession, and I post on them a little bit, but man, am I careful. I try to stay off the Internet as much as possible. Here There be Monsters. I remember when my son and I first heard of the Internet we were both happy, because we thought with all the world's information online and available at our fingertips, no one would ever be miserable or ignorant again.

Chalk it up to Life's Disappointment #1,287, 563.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Busy Season Commences

I'm going to be on the ROAD a lot this week so I'm trying to practice as much as possible these couple of days. I'm making steady progress I think on Cristofori and am on the verge of an epiphany with The Entertainer. I love the Christmas season--or Chrimbhus as I call it since I'm a Buddhist--and I have most of my shopping done so the stress if off. I wrapped presents nd brought in the boxes of decorations from the storage unit, so when I get back Wife will probably have the house in Yulemode. She's very good at that.

My brayne is finally accepting the changes and alterations inflicted recently and it's coming together nicely. I'm trying to get the dynamics down and have experimented with adding pedal to the melodic line. It's starting to sound haunting.

Happy Holidays everyone.