Ebony and mostly Ivory


There are a few chips from us being careless over the years.  Nothing that changes the sound but the keys that once where bright have faded over the years.  And for a few years no one touched it other than to sweep away the dust collected from the plant sitting on top.  Hours of my rear end sitting on that bench having a teacher actually swat my hand when I was wrong.  [She was a perfectionist, 9 year old me was not!]

When my parents sold their house during my senior year in high school, Kathy volunteered a place in her house for me to keep my piano.  By that point I was a better player and it kept us both remembering other things that were simpler.  Even after college the joke was I had to remember to make arrangements to move it to my own home.  26 years that has been a constant reminder of my place in her life.  [at least a visual, daily companion.]

Long ago I stopped playing for other people.  Trading synthesizers for an actual piano, headphones keeping the sounds to myself.  The emotions I was feeling remaining there are well.  So when Kathy got home from wherever it is she went, I didn’t bother stop playing this time.  I was caught in a loop of wanting to finish what I was doing and knowing that it was helpful for her to know I trust her enough to allow myself the release that comes from that piano.

I’ve played in bands during college and for a few years after.  Guys sitting in the basement of a frat house or in someone’s garage pretending we were Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin?  But that’s different, you blend in.

The technician at my latest poke and prod session was playing a version of Sound of Silence I hadn’t heard.  A little heavier than Simon and Garfunkel intended, but the use of strings and timpani caught my attention.  So when my ride dumped me off at home I sat down to try to mimic what I thought I heard.

It’s a very basic song for piano.  My issue is the muffled sounds in my right ear, damn seizures!  But after Kathy listened for a while, she did the one thing I have never understood, taped it.  From the backside you can’t tell I’m sick, you only see me leaned over.  Later she sent it to the family just so that they could see me the way they need to.  The only reason I even know is that I’m including in the list.  No one ever wrote me about it, they know better.

It was like seeing Bigfoot or the Lock Ness Monster, rare but seems to happen a few times in people’s lives.

What you can’t see on the screen is the picture of my daughter on the phone or how it is sitting next to the picture of Kathy’s daughter.  I’m trying to be open to the idea that somewhere in space and time they are looking out for each other.  They were the reason I felt the need to sit down.  I wanted to have an audience even if they were only in my mind’s eye.

Getting those emotions out for a little time was wonderful.  They remain locked up too often.  Those too girls made for great muses and in their own way always have.  Maybe the song was just what we all needed.


Progress in Reverse


The hand on my shoulder should have made my head turn.  Sitting in the booth of that cafe, drinking a cup of tea while trying to write something long overdue, her hand just tight enough to let me know someone was there.  Not hard, no shaking me from my waking dream.  The waitress made no attempt to tug on the headphones I had in.

Most times I sit with my back against a wall.  Some doctor long ago told me it was my way of subconsciously dealing with fear.  If I can see everything coming towards me, I’m not as likely to shift in my seat as often.  My head still tracks every new person, but that’s just paranoia of being recognized at a time when I rather remain anonymous.

“I’ll wrap up the rest of your lunch.”  She’s gotten used to my visits and knows that it has never been about the quality of the food, just my lack of appetite.

The uneven sound that I hear comes from that progressive loss my right ear has been experiencing.  The gift of seizure’s past?

As I touched the pause button, the number of times the track had been played was blinking in the corner.  14 times!  There was no way that was possible.  I’d been sitting for about an hour.  I come on days when my den mother gets her hair done and we both agree that being out is a good thing.  Even if I don’t speak, just doing normal is healthy.

The song last 19 minutes.  266 minutes couldn’t have passed by.  Over four hours listening to the same track?

When my bill came with my doggy bag, part of my answer came from a nice older lady.

“Were you listening to a speech?  I couldn’t help notice that you kept rewinding every few minutes.”

That was the missing piece.  I had been listening to the same section of the song over and over.  Countless times pushing the progress in reverse.  Letting a few words take their grip and overwhelm my thoughts.

Could this be the end? Is this the way I die?
Sitting here alone, no one by my side
I don’t understand, I don’t feel that I deserve this
What did I do wrong? I just don’t understand
I just don’t understand

Now wait a minute man, that’s not how it is
You must be confused, that isn’t who I am
Please don’t be afraid, I would never try to hurt you
This is how we live strange although it seems please try to forgive

A simple guitar starts this section.  It builds to include the rest of the instruments, ending in another of those choruses that I remember learning the parts for years ago when the album came out.  Sitting behind a keyboard, again hitting the rewind function to get the notes down.

Those lyrics mean something to me because they capture the dichotomy that revolves around my thoughts.  One time giving into the depression and another being angry that I have allowed myself to even think that way.  The growing beat and joining instruments gather those emotions better if you hear it rather than just read my words.  Each person brings their own thoughts and takes away their own meaning.

Irony has me wonder if one of these trips out might be the last one.  Face down in my pie is not quite the picture I have in mind, but it makes me think twice some times before leaving the house.  The cancer will win, and most likely not in the manner I chose.  But that’s another argument.

People have told me that the anger isn’t on my sleeve anymore.  Just a sadness that time can only partially heal.

There are still so many things in my head that I want to share.  The selfish part of me that can’t let go of sitting with my daughter arguing about whose music is best tops the list.  I see that spark from my own mother when she hears me talk about what I feel when I listen to certain artists.

There are countless notes to be written.  Sitting in that booth, my mind was captured by just a few and the struggle I have been fighting played out.

Spinning Wheel

Growing up I had this record player that folded in half so you could carry it from room to room.  Black plastic with stereo speakers!  I spent probably too much time listening to John Denver and the Muppets because that was what my folks had gotten me.  Later it was a mix of Beatles, The Who, and Holtz’s The Planets that I had removed from my parents collections that became the mainstay of my rotation.  It wasn’t until I was 11, when my parents bought a huge stereo system for the entire house that music became more a communal family thing.  My dad liked his stuff a little louder than the house could handle.  Speakers the size of kitchen chairs vibrating the floor.

At some point the music diverged, them listening to Neil Diamond and me going more Pink Floyd and Genesis.  Everything that had a keyboard playing in it became my go to music.  Having spent some time learning the piano I wanted to find things that I could play along with.  It took some time to hone my tastes.  All those lessons my parents drove me to had me admiring Ozzy Osbourne for the simple fact he incorporated a synthesizer into his efforts.

So much about music was changing in the 80’s.  Rock was more than what my parents grew up on.  MTv had been around for a few years, so videos were influencing my choices as much as what the radio played.  It was also so much easier to hit “record” on my boom-box than race to make sure the VCR could capture the dancing and prancing of Micheal Jackson or Tears for Fears.  It sounds weird now, but with music moving to being more portable (Walkman/Discman happening between 1985 and 1990!).  Listening was no longer a group thing unless we were in the car.  Headphones draped over ears blocked out the world.

My parents didn’t have any limitations on what they would get us.  But one of the albums my mother bought me probably had a bigger factor in my adult choices.  She gave me an Ella Fitzgerald tape.  My mom wanted me to try to learn a little jazz to change how I played the piano.  But what happened was that it changed how I listened to voices in the music.  I didn’t need loud guitars and banging drums.  A soulful voice, a piano, bass, and drums showed me what music could be.

These days it makes me listen to Marillion or Richie Kotzen.  Singers would express as much emotion as Holtz did when I was listening to “Mars, Bringer of War”!

I don’t listen to much music anymore.  My collection continues to grow, but remains stored in the digital realm of 1’s and 0’s.  The hours I used to listen to my grandmother play her organ brought us closer.  Closer than anything else could.  My dad is completely tone deaf, but tries.  My kid brother is a pretty good singer and likes to play his guitar.  Music was a shared experience even if the type wasn’t.

Don McLean wrote about how the day he heard about Richie Valens and Buddy Holly dying in a plane crash was for him the day the music died.  I understand how he feels.  Sometimes life changes and the way you look at things does as well.  I play the piano still, but I have lost some of the love I had for it.

My parents gave me a wonderful gift in allowing me to hear as much music, with as many varieties as possible without holding back anything.  The joy of bopping down the road with friends, dancing with some girl in junior high, that first song you heard on the radio when you find out about your own child, those all are locked away in my brain along with the soundtrack.  I put on one or two of those songs and I hit stop sometimes before the singer can even get going.

NPR and Sports Talk Radio are now my friends.  The world still spins, but just not any records.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Papa Loves Mambo.”

Final Eviction Notice Served!!!

Yesterday I signed the paperwork that will start the process of evicting the roommate.  We, and by we I mean my advisors, told me that there wasn’t any more time to waste hoping that he would get the hint.  The blasting of waves into my surroundings hadn’t sent the proper message, and only by cutting to the chase were we going to get anywhere.  So Mr. Acoustic Neuroma come Friday morning you and your possessions will be leaving the building hopefully to never be seen from or hear of again!

Where is he now?  Take two fingers and place them at the base of your right ear, now you know.  And as the television says, knowing is half the battle.  The other half being doing something about it!  Where will he go?  Cold storage and then out into the wilderness that is the pathology lab at Mass. General.  Boston University doesn’t have the tools required, so we changed venue for the fun stuff.

It will be interesting when he has left.  The ringing might be replaced with nothing.  And by nothing I’m talking about the absence of sound.  So while we wait for that result to hopefully not occur, Friday was picked so I could do something completely selfish, watch a football game with my family while we sit around hoping A.N. doesn’t try to hide in a closet once he realizes what is going on.  I’m a Patriots fan, you can feel free to hold that against me.  We’re not talking about cheating scandals or deflated footballs!  Read the reports for yourself…

It’ll be the first time I’ve watched a game with my niece.  She’s not going to school Friday because well, she’s not going to concentrate so why go?  Missing a single day doesn’t matter, how much Algebra can one learn in 30 minutes?  My parents are coming up Saturday because they have an obligation that we agree needs to be met.  Sitting in a room doesn’t change that.  But I’m really looking forward to watching Susie enjoy herself for a few hours.  She’s a bright kid, and this is tough on her.

There’s also this little bit of me that is going to listen to some music.  I’ve avoided it for a long time now, but this is a reason to reverse course.  I want to hear those songs that make me smile and the ones that don’t.  Just in case.  There’s a Polish composer named Michał Mierzejewski who rewrote some music that I’ve been meaning to listen to.  And I certainly know “Along for the Ride” by Dream Theater is a must for reasons I’ve written extensively about {daughter issues!}.  And I might be the only person who is hoping for a severe thunderstorm to roll through just to hear that once again.

So there are things to do today.  Some paperwork for the office to wrap up before we get started on our extended weekend adventure.  A couple of lectures provided by Dan Ariely over at Duke University on Irrational Thought that I’m hoping my brain absorbs during the sleepy time!

In the end, I just want to be able to walk a straight line without looking or feeling like someone who partied a little too hard last night!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Retrospectively Funny.”

Summer Concert Series

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Local Flavor.”

Every June as the schools let out, the local businesses look for a way to keep people entertained.  Like many locales, they created a series of concerts held at two parks in the county.  Both located right on top of the water, so that even during the 90 degree spells that occur late into August the breezes off of the Chesapeake Bay keep the temperatures down.  They are open to people of all ages, musical tastes and is one of the few family friendly events where children are expected to run a round.

One week it will be some localish Jazz Fusion ensemble and the next the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.  My personal favorite would be the Kelly Bell Band.  Part of the reason being they combined their own music with intertwined bits from more famous musicians.  Since they also like to play to their audience not just for them, they have become famous for playing the theme to SpongeBob SquarePants while jumping around with kids on stage.  Music is so important to people, this gives all families a chance to spend time enjoying the evening while their children are having fun.

Pack a blanket or a couple of chairs, put your favorite picnic items in a basket and surprisingly alcohol is welcome [if you can behave yourself, some don’t]!  I’ve always brought a chair and found myself sitting along the left side of the audience.  The view has never been important, it’s your typical outdoor concert shell.  Conversing with a loved one, meeting new people, running into friends who had the same idea; the sense of community is very welcoming.

While attending the series at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, MD, make sure to take advantage of the paths meandering throughout the waterfront.  If you have a dog, they are welcome guests.  A separate park for them to run free, only to later return by their “parent’s” side for the music.

So when you are done wandering around the historic parts of Annapolis and find that the lines for some of the restaurants are maybe a little longer than you want, consider picking up some food and heading on over.  I promise that you will enjoy the adventure.

The Envelope Please…

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Sliced Bread.”

Hand’s down the best thing since sliced bread is the simple invention of recorded music.  That may seem like a very large category, but each generation has been introduced to music in various ways.  For some if was the radio crackling over in the corner playing simple Big Band music or telling a story of some mystical hero fighting crime.  Other’s used to rush to the store, money earned from cutting the lawn or babysitting the neighbor kid in hand, looking to pick up a record of some group called The Beatles they heard everyone talking about.  Today, we just load up the computer and move it between devices so small that they can easily be misplaced among our daily routine.  Some of us have started going back to the vinyl of our youth since it has become so readily available, at least on Amazon!

You can use that sound to bring to anywhere.  memories of some party when you were 13 and kissed a girl for the first time. The song on the radio when your parents gave you the keys to the car for your first “solo” adventure.  That track you danced to at your wedding, a favorite piece you listen to when trying to set a romantic dinner.  Or the song that absolutely brings you to tears from the pain the memory invokes.

There has always been the ability to see music performed live, but now we can relive every moment of a lifetime in the span of how quickly you can advance the track!  Even as I’m writing this in the background is the radio playing just a mixture of eclectic music, culled from someone’s imagination.  It’s mostly Jazz this day, I’m still working on getting back into music with words.  Some are just too painful, still.

That’s my opinion of what the best thing is since sliced bread, but a very close second is something even simpler – the sound of a child’s laughter.

Retail Worker at Christmastime!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Final Trio.”

In the retail world you start preparing for the Christmas season the first week in November.  Companies send out plan-a-grams with detailed instructions on what each and every shelve in a store is supposed to look like.  In the case of a bookstore this is an amusing notion.  You get that authors make a push for sales at certain times of the year, unless you’re James Patterson who seems to just breath out a book a month!  These plans are put together by a group sitting in a “Model Store” which is supposed to resemble the basic floorplan, but rarely does.  Is the store a race-track where you can circle the entirety?  Are there multiple floors?  Hey you’ve got a display where we have an escalator!

So during the weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving, bookcases are moved, complete sections of the store are rebuilt to some odd specification, and it just takes the life out of the staff while they try to accomplish everything on time.  The plan calls for 4 different displays of the same book, but you only have three copies of the book in the store.  And why is someone going to be making the holiday push for “A Tale of Two Cities”? [No really, this does happen more often then you think.  Just because someone might have seen A Christmas Carol they are going to run out for the collected works of Charles Dickens?]

Most times these changes, at least of the major changes were done in one evening lest the customers be shocked to learn people actually restocked the shelves and it wasn’t magic.  One year it was my great honor to control the music you hear overhead.  Don’t blame me, I didn’t choose endless carols for months, that’s a corporate decision.  But on this night, the overhead was mine.  The staff usually cringed because they knew they were in for an odd selection.  My theory was, you bring in a disc, I’ll play it.  But keep in mind, I’ll play something of my own as well.  That means Progressive Metal, most  likely in the form of Dream Theater.  Scratching your head, think of any music class you took.  Now remember time signature changes, they use them every couple of bars.  It’s rather unrelenting on your ears at times!

Over the system starts Space Dyed Vest, a favorite of mine since it was the ringtone for someone and I thought it would be a nice departure from the normal fast-fingered duets between guitar and keyboard.  The song itself is rather dark, a track written by a guy who was about to leave the band but hadn’t yet told them.  But the melody is incredible and as a piano player myself, when you hear tracks like this you appreciate the skills others possess.

The faces on people were incredulous!  Had Lary finally gone over the edge?  What was this music and why was he forcing us to listen.  It used to crack me up.  This same group of people could talk about any subject matter as it related to books, but music somehow got people’s differences to come out.  But then most people don;t come to work at a bookstore to become experts on different musical genres.

It’s been years since I worked retail and you can always tell those who used to in some form.  They know what an endcap is, possibly reshelve something they see out of place when they are shopping, or generally are a little bit more understanding about how crazy holiday shopping can be when the customer in front asks for “I don’t know the author or title, but it has a blue cover!”

Those are good people doing everything they can to ensure you get whatever it is you are looking for.  Yes, we sometimes joke about you later because the requests are crazy at times; but we meant no harm.  It’s our way of dealing with our own stresses.  So be kind, or that next recommendation might be for some book your grandmother will definitely find offensive.