Friday, December 30, 2005

My Dinner with Uli, Part III

The Uli's Jr had owned a gift shop next door to Uli Sr's Gourmet Grocer. I don't remember the name, but it's closed now anyway.

Uli himself was a salt-of-the-earth type who had worked his way up in the grocery business and had held every job there was to hold, eventually learning the butcher trade. Uli's had been in this town only about 12 years, if I remember correctly from what he told us. It seems to have been there as far back as I can remember. He got the idea to open it because so few grocery chains knew anything about meat and he thought the town would support a store that emphasized good meat. He said that he sold it and his buyers sold it again within a year. The second buyers didn't last more than a year either.

Mom was interested in talking to Uli, as fellow old-Riversider. It turned out that they didn't have many fiends in common. My impression of Uli is that, since he was old enough to work, that's all he did and, since he first got himself behind a butcher counter, that's all he did. Once he opened his own store, he spent every waking moment seeing to the store. A hard worker.

Every once in awhile, Uli would mention that moving to the Tower was not his idea. It was Mrs. Uli Jr's idea. I don't know whether Mrs. Uli Jr was half the villain Uli thought she was-but I didn't like her too much.

Uli complained about the types of activities provided by the Tower. Mrs. Uli Jr told me that he complained about them, but he always seemed to participate in them. Mom, who has also complained about the activities, but has found some that appeal to her, tried to convince Uli that there were some good things to do. In the months since she moved to the Tower, Mom has discovered a literature class and has also discovered some retired professionals who were still very much in tune with the world around them. They, like Mom, just needed someone to help them take care of themselves.

She mentioned to Uli that she and another woman had started a book club. I didn't hear Uli's response, but I wondered, with his coke-bottle glasses, how well he could see to able to read. Mrs Uli Jr whispered to me that Uli didn't read very well. He was a man who had begun working so young and had continued working so hard, that he never had time for much formal education.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

My Dinner with Uli, Part II (Scroll down a little for Part I)

As the choir sings, I think back to when Dad was alive and how we used to stand side-by-side at Christmas Eve services and harmonize during the carols. I miss that. I'm not a fan of organized religion these days, but those moments seem sacred to me as I look back. They were never planned, we just knew that we would harmonize, him on tenor, me on bass. There were a couple of songs we never got quite right, but that wasn't the point anyway.

So my voice joins the warbly chorus, as does Mom's. I notice another voice joining in as well. I glance over and see Uli's Jr and Sr-the younger sitting rod-up-his-ass straight, arms folded across his chest, the elder, slouched in his metal chair, grimacing behind coke-bottle glasses. Mrs. Uli Jr's somewhat wobbly soprano trilled along with ours. About half the gathering joined in song.

We all joined probably the last three songs, including silent night, which I recently learned on the ukulele. A pretty tune, sublime lyrics. Peace surrounded by a dangerous world.

As the singing ended, we all began talk of music. I mentioned to Mrs. Uli Jr that Mom had sung at the Loring Opera House as a teenager. Mrs Uli Jr was not from around here, so the comment had little impact. Mrs. Uli Jr had told us that she too had been a fine singer at one point, but was now out of practice. She said that her voice sometimes felt uncomfortable. I noticed that pretty much any time you talked about someone at the table, she would manage to bring the subject back to herself. Her whole demeanor was that of someone who was used to grabbing attention and making sure things turned out the way she wanted them to.

Mom, who probably could have taught voice, gave her some advice about how to use her voice. Again, I'm not sure that Mrs. Uli Jr really paid attention.

I told her that, if she wanted to get her voice back, she should buy a ukulele. I told her that it was an easy-to-carry, handy-dandy way to accompany one's self and keep one singing for hours on end. I had been playing for a couple of years now (three I guess) and it helped me re-discover music and become independent of piano players and other accompanists.

Again, she could not have cared less.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Flu, or Whatever It Is That's Going Around

Merry Krimble to all of you.

I've been laying low for my own protection. Many of my friends have caught this thing that won't let go, a type of flu bug. In some cases, they get it, get better, then it makes a resurgence.

I haven't had a flu shot, so I am just staying away from my friends who are getting sick. I had a similar case of the flu about five years ago. I got sick, got a little better, then got sicker, missing almost a whole week of work. Even when I came back, I could feel the disease still lurking inside me. So, stay away sick people.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

My Dinner with Uli, Part I

Tonight, I joined my 81-year-old mother for a Christmas party at the Tower, an assisted living facility that we recently helped or forced her to move into, depending on whom you ask and when you ask them. They served a sumptuous repast of quasi-glazed ham, salad, potatoes au gratin, mushy vegetables, and an array of deserts.

The highlight of the meal was potatoes au gratin. I don't know if they were all that good, but I think my palate is spud-centric, so I liked them a lot.

As we entered the dining hall and located our table, we were surprised to see a place setting at our table for the family of Peter Uli. I wheeled Mom to the chairless spot, noted that three metal folding chairs sat across the table from her and one cushioned chair sat next to her. The Uli's had not arrived yet, so I sat next to her.

In the cushioned chair, of course.

Peter Uli, for those of you who aren't from around here, ran a successful gourmet grocer in town. It was kind of like Trader Joe's, except they had a butcher shop on the premises, as well as a gourmet salad selection with salads, pastas, and antipastas. I don't remember all of the details, but I believe you could walk around the salad set-up and that the butcher shop was next to that, against a wall. Peter Uli, I was to find out that night, worked his way up in the grocery business and had been a butcher first and foremost.

It closed several years ago, after having been sold twice to new owners.

Mom was born and raised in this town. Uli has not lived here as long, but is still a part of the town history.

We had just finished our salads when the three Uli's arrived. The son was a stiff kind of man, thin, and sat uncomfortably in the folding metal chair. He wore glasses and his hair was a little like that of Chico Marx with his hat off. He his face seemed pulled forward by his pointy, pencil like nose. His wife was a chubby woman, with a loud coloratura (I hope I spelled that right) voice. She did most of the talking, which wasn't always a good thing.

Peter looked like an older version of the son, with a more relaxed, if somewhat angry face. His hair was a thinning, backswept grey wave. He wore coke bottle glasses. Once in awhile he would mention an article that had been printed about him in the Tower's journal. That, or he would complain that moving to this place was not his idea.

As we dined, we were serenaded by a group of younger senior citizens who had also performed at the Thanksgiving banquet. You had to enjoy their heartfelt enthusiasm, if not their actual singing ability. One lady in particular would greet different tables between songs and talk to the residents. Many of the residents sang along with the carolers, especially during "Silent Night."

One lady at the table next to us grew steadily angrier as the meal progressed. Her granddaughter would say "Grandma, they don't mean it, it's an accident." But the lady finally said in a loud voice "God Dammit, these waitresses keep kicking my wheelchair!"

Hers was more than a wheel chair. It was red, motorized throne that took up the space of three wheel chairs, and it obstructed the passage between tables, so the harried servers sometimes bumped into it.

Eventually, a team of family members figured out they had to help Grandma move her chair a little to be out of the way. That calmed her down.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Canaries' Sophomore Gig

The canaries flew into Claremont once again to wing it with another Bob Dylan hit, ruffling the feathers of many folk purists with their uke-o-centric rendition. This time, they thrashed "Maggie's Farm," the title of which is actually longer, but I'm too damn lazy to type the whole thing, even though typing this sentence has taken longer. I mean "thrash" in a good way.

Canary Limo once again provided power vocals, setting many young girls hearts a-flutter, while Billy Canary and Canary Jeff lit the stage with their ukes. Canary Jeff attacked his ukulele solo with the ferocity of a young tiger raging through a forest of Frosted Flakes, bringing an otherwise complacent to it's feet for the first of many standing O's.

Other acts at the Open Mique (and I'm going to be occasionally serious here) were plentiful. Kudos to the nice elderly lady who started an impromptu jam session while we all waited in line. But I have to take at least one kudo back. The lady was first on the list and, in spite of the new Folk center policy of one song per, asked if she could do a second song. The first song was good. The second song was kind of "faux" folk and not very good. The FC open Mique MC return to the one per policy for every act that followed. To make matters worse, after making us sit through her two songs, she couldn't be bothered to stay until the end--major chutzpah in my book. She left during the break. What's wrong Granny, didn't get your nap?

For those of you classical music fans, Paganini Man was back, trying to recapture the glory that he so elegantly didn't capture the first time. This time, he brought his own sound equipment, which didn't make the piece any better, or shorter. Again, he had to be stopped before someone killed him.

My theory is that he is actually a long-lost son of Andy Kaufman.

But there were a lot of fine performances, with a lot of unusual instruments featured.

One of the FC's employees played tubular kind of banjo-esque thingy that. A good instrumental performance.

One regular put aside his guitar and pulled a charango off the wall and played that. Another fine instrumental.

Special ed and the Guy Who Looks Like Jim Croce returned with another Croce tune. It was okay, but I hope they realize that you can only take that Jim Croce gimmick so far.

The highlight was this perky little Chinese lady who showed up with the Japanese version of a koto and played that. It was a haunting, exquisite performance. It was probably the most surprising and even best thing I have ever seen at the FC. It was one of the reasons I go to these things.

That, and to catch the Canarie's in their latest performance.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Haircut (My 100th Post)

Huzzah. Who knew that, back when I first started this venture, my readership would explode into to the upper single digits as quickly as it has?

Yesterday, I got a haircut. And this was no ordinary haircut. It was a haircut touched the essence of haircut-ness.

I knew from the moment my stylist approached me, smiled seductively, and led me to the sink to wash my hair, that this was going to be something special.

I had only asked for the wash and the cut, not the scalp massage. But her technique during the wash was kind of a half massage that gradually evolved into a full scalp massage that left my toes tingling. Oh yeah, it did.

Then, she asked me what I wanted done. I said that I wanted about an inch all around (I never know what to tell them, I'm not a hair guy--just make sure my bald spot is covered).

But, from the first snip, I knew that she was in control. As I watched in the mirror, helpless, I could see that she was cutting off much more than an inch--perhaps an-inch-and-a-half, maybe even two. But I could do nothing to stop her. She was so good. At this point, I just hoped she would be kind and make it even.

My God, she even trimmed my ear hairs--just the exterior ones around the lobes, though. She left my inner ear hairs alone. You have to leave something for next time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Great Moments in Slightly Higher Education

So, I teach this night class at the local CC and my students have this final paper due, which is supposed to be an argumentation piece and I have each student discuss their proposal in class tonight. One of the real treats of the evening is where I espouse like an expert on each of my students' topics.

One nice lady told the class that she was going to write about women in leadership. I couldn't figure out what her real point was and after commenting on that, I smiled and looked musingly up at the ceiling and said "Hmmmm, I wonder if I will ever see a female president--imagine, President Hillary Clinton."

At which point this one young lady, clearly upset, shot back, "Not no Hillary Friggin' Clinton--what about Condoleeza Rice!"

"That girl's got it going on," she said.

I had espoused significantly already for the night. As professor, I try not to dominate with my opinions because the class is really about helping students express their opinions. That, and I knew this young lady's husband had served in Iraq and might be going back.

So, I straddled the fence of forcing this woman to explain what Condi-I'm-too-Busy-Buying-Shoes-to-even-pretend-that-I-Care Rice has done for this country (really, what has she been successful at, folk?) or be silent and let other folk chime in. I decided to be silent.

Maybe I was wrong. But, were I the student and had my professor been neo-con, I wouldn't want him using up class time to promote his views. The classroom should be a place for the students to discuss and develop their ideas.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Canaries on DVD

Went to the Folk Music Center to pick up the open mike CD (which, by the way, the Folk Center folk spell "M-I-C").

The sound and picture quality is better than I thought it might be, considering it was a single camera. You can see all of the performers very well and the sound is clear--in the case of the Paganini-playing guy, too clear.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Blues

I was down today. I sometimes get that way these days--what with my mother's illness, my car thing, my kidnapped Oscar Schmidt, and on, and on.

I left my music stand inside between classes. The wind was strong enough that I feared it would blow my music away. So I stood outside and absentmindedly strummed some chord progressions to songs that I already knew.

Iz, my prize ukulele disciple came out and stood there awhile and said, "Mr.O, that's so sad." I was playing "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime." It's one of those songs that I practice often because it has a grip of chords.

I guess I was really selling it.

So Iz goes in and grabs my music stand and turns to "Daydream Believer." Fewer Chords. But much happier. She has been practicing this one and so have I.

So we started playing.

Soon, a few non-uke students grabbed some rhythm toys out of my grab bag, and we had a jam session going.

I felt better, then.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Another Accident, Not My Own

But before I get to thesis, I am half-watching SIDEWAYS. There was just this scene with Paul Giamatti standing and looking at pictures from his past, which included a picture of him standing with his father, who is either Bart Giamatti, the late Baseball commissioner who famously tussled with Pete Rose, or an actor who looks like him. Of course, Bart was Paul's actual dad, hence the name similarity.

But back to biz. On my way to the Rubeedoo walk, I swung (swang?) by Blockbuster's to return a video. The way back, traffic was slowed to an almost stop. In the ten to fifteen minutes it took me to travel 1/10th of a mile, I discovered it was due to some accident.

Hence, I stand by my previous post(see Four Guys, Four Guitars). Not the part about it being a great concert--although I do stand by that too--but the part about drivers around here being increasingly idiotic. Still feel compassion for the victims, but hating on the pricks who feel they MUST challenge the odds and drive stupidly. In their hands, cars become weapons.

As I drove by the car that must have rear-ended the car in front of it, the jerk who must have been driving it was standing there with his little camera taking pictures of the damage, smiling.

In the last two years, I have had three accidents, two from the rear. The first, the woman not only ran a red light and plowed into my side, she stopped at the red light, and, when I had entered the intersection on my green light, she THEN ran her red light and plowed into my side. No insurance, of course. It was her boyfriend's car of course.

The second was on a rainy morning where I got up extra early to get to work. The turn lane was backed up. The guy behind me said his "foot slipped." He had insurance.

The third one, no damage, merely bumped me from behind while I waited for the light to turn green. I got out to check my car only to meet her stepping out, cell phone in hand, and told me that she had turned around for a second to discipline her kids.

I need to get a skateboard.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Four Guys with Guitars

I saw that Lyle lovett, Joe Ely, John Hiatt, and Guy Clark were playing at the Disney Concert Hall in LA and got it in my head that I wanted to see them. These are four singer-songwriters from Texas, not twangy country-western, more country-folk. I am most familiar with Hiatt and Lovett. I barely know Joe Ely's stuff. Guy Clark I am only aware of because Lovett did a song of his on his CD "Come into This House." In fact, Clark's song is the title Clark. I also know of Clark through a contribution on a CD tribute to Townes Van Zandt.

Billy Canary had been interested in going, but had to back out. I thought about asking a couple of people, but decided to go on my own. I had a stressful week and just decided it would be good to get away from people.

Also, the concert was sold out, so I was going through the cancellation Line. I figured one person would stand a better chance of getting a ticket than two.

I planned on leaving early enough to be there two hours before the concert. It was a good thing, because traffic was pretty bad. That's the problem with Southern California these days. What used to be an hour drive can actually be a two-hour drive. I was slowed down by traffic jams four times during my two-way trip--once by ordinary congestion, once by a break-down, twice by accidents.

I arrived at the Disney Hall and the line was short. After standing in line for about 1/2 hour, I got a ticket for the Orchestra West. This gave me a nice, slightly angular view of the performers.

They audience received the quartet warmly as they walked out. They took there seats, just four singers and four guitars.

Guy Clark announce that there had been "no planning, no set list, and no rules" and then performed "LA Freeway," which was a hit for Jerry Jeff Walker. Clark is probably the least famous of the four because, while he made records, his songs have been made famous by others.

I had not heard the song before, but it was tasty. As he finished, some guy across the hall from my seat let out a huge "Wahoo!" to which Clark replied, "As long as I can reach just one person..."

Clark then introduced Ely. And so the evening progressed, with each singer playing a tune and handing the spotlight to the singer on his right.

The Wahoo Guy wahooed several times throughout the evening. In fact, he tried to control the show. He clapped along with the songs enthusiastically, and always off by a beat. Every other song, he yelled out a request to either Joe or John, couldn't tell which, for one particular song, couldn't tell what.

I don't think they ever played it. It reminded me of something I heard Steve Martin say when he still did stand-up. Guys like that can really mess with a performer's concentration. They could have taken the man's request, but that would have given control to one guy in the audience, who might not ever stop making requests. So, they just smiled up at this fellow and kept with their format.

The guitar solos were all handled by Ely and Hiatt. All four would occasionally harmonize with whomever was singing. It seemed unplanned, which made it all the more lovely. Lovett acted as MC. Among the best tunes were "Baby Don't Tolerate," "My Chihuahua," "Real Fine Love," "Come into This House," and "If I had a Boat."

They closed there initial set with a Carter Family tune that I did not recognize. They came out for one encore, each singing another tune, then closing together as a quartet with "This Land Is Your Land."

Great concert.

They are moving up to San Francisco, Oregon, and Washington this week.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Good-bye Oscar

So, I'm rethinking my anti-gun views. Early, early Thursday morning, my car was broken into while sitting in my driveway and some stuff was either wrecked or stolen.

I admit, the phrase "broken into" doesn't exactly apply here. I couldn't have made it easier. I got home at around 10, after teaching my night class, and was tired, having been up since about 5 AM. Forgot to unload my briefcase containing my school stuff, my Oscar Schmidt OU-5--and, most of all, I forgot to turn on the car alarm.

I know, I know...

Anyway, I realize that, to be able to catch the thief and shoot him, I would have had to run out of my house at some ungodly hour, in my naked-ish glory,
locked and loaded, not knowing what kind of fire-power the perp might have brought with him, not knowing how many there were.

So, I guess I'm still anti-gun.

At least my insurance will cover the expensive stuff, like fixing my dashboard, where the perp tried to pry out my XM radio and failed (but he did take the removable face and the remote, which I think is pretty worthless without an actual radio).

But my insurance won't cover my Oscar, the very uke that I played at the Canaries' debut. Since it was stolen from my car in front of my house, it is covered by my $250 deductible home-owner's insurance, which makes it essentially uncovered. If the perp had dropped it and broken it and left it there, it would be covered by my car insurance.

So, uke-wise, I am trying to practice Buddhist detachment form worldly items. Plus, I have a few other ukes to play. It's just that the Oscar does have some sentimental value.

On another note, I recently got Kurt Vonnegut's latest, A Man without a Country. I just started it, but the first twenty or so pages are just a rehash of things I have already read from other of his non-fiction books. I happen to like his non-fiction more than his fiction. A full review as soon as I finish it. In the meantime, go read Wampeter, Foma, and Ganfalloon.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Power Trio

The Canaries made their debut last night. The initial line-up was Canary Limo singing, Billy Canary on this egg shaker doohickey that he bought at the Folk Music Center that night, and myself on my uke.

I was going to perform solo again, but couldn't really settle on anything. My brother and I were going to carpool and, when I got to his house, I found that His son Limo was going with us and that he might be performing with some friends. We picked Limo up at the nearby park. Liam's friends weren't coming.

On the way there, we discussed the possibility of Liam and I performing together on Dylan's "I Ain't Gonna Work on Maggie's Farm No More." I asked him what the chords were, but they didn't seem to fit. So he began rattling all of the Dyaln tunes he knew.

I stopped him on "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright." I knew the chords and thought we could practice. So, we practiced in the car. Later, we practiced in line at the FMC. We invited Billy C to join us as percussionist, so he got the shaky egg and practiced with us. He wanted me to slow the tempo, but Liam liked it. So we overruled.

Lima and I decided when we were alone that, after the third verse, we'd turn to Billy C and say "Take it Bill," as a surprise.

So, the open Mike itself was among the worst. Lowlights include the guy whose bangs on a notebook with drumsticks while he plays guitar and sings Jesus songs badly. Not actual gospel, but that sappy stuff you hear on Christian Broadcasting Network. The lowest of the lowlights was this guy who asked the crowd if the they wanted to hear a little Paginini (sp?) as he took his blue electric guitar out of its case. People ooooed in anticipation.

What he played was the most gawd-awful. He'd start, flub, and start again, then flub, then complain to the soundman about the volume. It was merciless. The MC finally got up and stood in front of him and said he'd have to stop because he was over his time limit. The guy says, "But I'm not finished." He was. He really was.

Highlights, as always, were Matt, UF's pal, and us.

We really had a good energy. We got a few laughs with our intro. Then I started with the song, screwed uo the first three chords, stopped, and said "Let's do that other tune."

But I ripped into it the second time. Limo sailed right into the lyrics and Billy C shook a mean egg. The "take it Bill" bit worked pretty well, too. Billy just owned the moment and improvise some schtick with his shaky egg and also made noises with his face.

We're thinking of going to open Mike at Coffee Depot tomorrow night.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Pete Townsend

I just discovered that Pete Townsend has been writing an online novel of some sort and it appears on this very same blogger thingy. What a coinkydink.

haven't read it yet.

I believe I refer to "Tommy" as one of my top ten favorite operas in an earlier post.

When I first heard it, I was in my room with my good friend Curt and a another kid I didn't particularly like, but who ran in the same circle of friends I did in Jr. and Sr. high school.

I still get chills when I hear music from "Tommy."

One time, not too long ago, at our weekly dinner at Mom's, I walked into the room that was once my bedroom where I had actually heard "Tommy" for the first time and disovered my nephew Limo listening to what ever type of portable musical listening thing he owned at the time and asked him what he was doing.

"I'm listening to 'Tommy,'" he said.

I explained to him the history of "Tommy" and that room. To which he replied, "Cool" and then put his headphones back on.

Here's Townsend's blog:

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Wedding from Hell

I went to a friend's wedding party Saturday. He is the son of an old friend and colleague whom I have gotten to know over the past couple of years. This was the second marriage for both. She has kids. He does not.

I have never been to a wedding like this before. Most of the truly bad weddings I have been to had some redeeming quality to them. But this one...

It was a civil ceremony. She and her family are devout Catholics, but she agreed to a civil ceremony and he agreed to have a catholic ceremony later.

On the day before the wedding, the mom calls to say that she will not attend the wedding and is going to Mexico for the weekend.

The same day, the caterer cancels.

Then, most of the bride's siblings don't bother to show up. Didn't call her. Didn't show up.

The maid of honor, the bride's adult daughter, didn't show up.

The one brother who was supposed to bring the cake showed up an hour-and-half late and then left after a very short time.

A few of the bride's friends showed up and all of the groom's friends and family showed up. They put the best face on things they could. But it was pretty sad.

Another Soul Seduced by the Dark Side

I've been acting as a co-facilitator at this weekend Professional Development Institute for teachers in Palm Springs. A month ago, at the first meeting, my co-teacher and I presented a unit plan that we use. At the beginning, I played my uke, as I do before class at school.

Yesterday, we had our second meeting. This guy who's in my breakout group told me that my performance had inspired him to go out and get his own uke and that he now carried it around with him, playing for his students.

Our numbers are growing.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

My Top Ten Most Influential Operas

1. Tosca. I watched on PBS once. Performed at the baths in Rome, Italy. One of the few operas where the story made sense.

2. Turandot. Just for the Nessun Dorma aria. The story about the chinese princess loses me the minute she tortures the tenor's girlfriend to find out his name and she dies and the tenor still wants to marry her and her heart melts.

3. Tommy. Yeah, it's a rock opera. But it's part of the soundtrack of my life and I get chills when I hear it today.

4. Jesus Christ Superstar. Same thing. Spent a lot of time with my best friend Curt discussing teenage theology while listening to it.

5. The Ring Cycle. Saw it on PBS. Again with the Norse stuff.

6. Carmen. She's hot.

7. Carmen Jones. She's pretty hot too.

8. Threepenny Opera. I guess it's not really an opera. But it's a fave. Let's all go barmey.

9. Ok, I guess I don't have ten.

9. William Tell

Friday, October 14, 2005

10 Most influential Books I Read as a Kid

I hope I can remember them all.

1. Yertle the Turtle. I wish Opie would try to make a film based on this book.

2. Harold and the Purple Crayon. When I was between 4th and 5th grade, I dropped out of a summer school art class when the teacher didn't like what I drew. We had to draw using only black and white crayons, plus one primary color crayon chosen for each student by her. First, I drew a picture of Hades riding down into Hell with his newly kidnapped bride Proserpine. She said that the characters should be bigger. So I drew another picture that zoomed in on the happy couple. Then she said that I should draw something a little more cheerful. I reminded her that I was working with black, white, and f***ing blue. I didn't actually say "f***ing." This has little to do with Harold and the Purple Crayon, but clearly I still have issues.

3. Make Way for Ducklings. There, I feel better now.

4. Edith Hamilton's Mythology. I loved mythology, so I struggled through this when I was about 10.

5. This book about Japanese mythology by Miriam Cox. Later, as a college student, I took her Children's Lit class and she gave me a "C." Bitch.

6. Some book about King Arthur with really cool illustrations. Got it at the library. Thanks for taking me, Mom.

7. A Donald Duck comic book. My first grade teacher said that I had a reading problem. My mom got me some comic books to read to increase my interest in reading and see for herself if I was having problems. Turned out that I only had a first grade teacher problem. Thanks again, Mom.

8. This book or Norse mythology. I liked this stuff more than the Greek stuff.

9. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish. I think this is self-explanatory.

10. Horton Hatches an Egg. Hey, anything is possible.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

10 Most Influential Books Other Than the Bible

Influential in my life anyway. All are works of fiction. Not in any particular order:

1. Don Quixote. This is the biggie for me. As with Shakespeare, you find yourself wondering how he ever thought of all of that. Plan on taking your time with this one, though.

2. King Lear. A study in what it means to lose who you are.

3. The Tempest. About forgiveness.

4. Cold Mountain. If you love folklore, mythology, and music, this may be the book for you.

5. Underworld. Don Dellilo (sic?). When people become consumed by their own pop-culture.

6. White Noise. Same guy. Why fear prevents people from connecting with one another.

7. Johnny Got His Gun. If the president could read, I'd send him this book.

8. The Brothers Karamazov. It struck a chord in my then-teenage heart.

9. War and Peace. Didn't think I would like it or finish it. But, damn, what a story. I think it might be about who our parents were before we knew them. Again, take your time.

10. A River Runs through It. I don't fish. But this book is about the soul we all share.

I only liked parts of Ulysses. I probably should add something by Hemingway, but it's hard to decide. In Our Time is cracker jack, in the best sense of the phrase.

Monday, October 10, 2005

You Can't Tell a Book by It's Cover

On the first meeting of the night class that I teach, one of the first people to walk in the door was this really skinny kid. She had a real angular look about her and her dress was rather masculine, but, after studying her, I realized that she was probably a man. When he took off his paramedic's cap, he revealed his two-tone close-cropped haircut, as well as a subtle amount of make-up. So, I figured he might be a gay man. Then, I studied him again and I realized he was, after all, a woman--Still gay, but a woman. The way she sat, the way she carried herself--all of this seemed lesbi-ish to me. Then, as students finished writing their first writing assignment, I asked if anyone wanted to read what they had written, she raised her hand and read this piece about her husband and young son.

I promise I wasn't staring at her. This was all a part of my usual sizing up of students as class begins.

I'm just saying that this woman had a lot of layers.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Starvation Jam

Of course, to prepare for the big journey, I had to fast. The last time was easy because I didn't have to work. But yesterday, I had to work. So, I bought a grip of apple juice and gatorade and took them to school and drank pretty much non-stop. I kept my mind off my hunger by strumming pretty much non-stop as well--except for when either my teaching partner or I was lecturing.

I was standing outside strumming my newish Fluke, when this one girl comes out and joins me, carrying my Triumph uke. She asks me to teach her some chords. She already plays guitar, so I knew it would come easy to her. I showed her the chords for "Ain't She Sweet?", which I learned at the Cerritos Uke fest. She goes away and starts practicing and, by afternoon advisory, she's got it.

For those of you worried about your tax dollars at work, she practiced only during breaks and lunch.

In fact, during lunch, she, another student, and myself spent most of the time jamming on those and other chords. This one kid worked out several guitar solos on the Fluke, including "Malagena." Another kid came up with this two-chord punk progression and improvised some hilarious lyrics. Then, as lunch ended, we stood outside and played as students came in.

My colleague had been elected Teacher Homecoming King, so he stood outside shouting to each approaching student, "Bow down to your King!" to which we would sing "Bow down! Bow down! To the King!"

It was a pretty good day, fast or no fast.

Squeaky Clean

After my sigmoidoscopy, where the reader will remember the doctor found a polyp in my sigmoid, and after not receiving any urgent phone calls summoning me to the hospital for an emergency cancer surgery, nor receiving any postcard with the results, I lived under the assumption that it was over for the next few years.

Then, two months later, while visiting my doctor on another matter, I was told that I had indeed been referred for a colonoscopy. "Yeah," the doc told me, "That's one flaw in the system. It takes a long time for these referrals to go through." So two months later, I get an appointment for the procedure.

I'll skip the grody details and just say that I came out of it clean.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Doppleganger and Practice

Sunday, there was some guy at this restaurant that SiL, Bro, Mom, Z'ster, and Limo all thought looked like me. Sad thing is, I thought he looked like a slob. Perhaps it's time I get that makeover.

On the uke front. I have discovered a way to increase my practice time by a half-hour a day. On my way home, I bought a music stand on sale and took it to school with me Monday morning. As my fans know, I usually stand outside my classroom playing the songs I know while the kids come in the classroom. Now, I set songs that I am trying to learn on the music stand and practice them between classes for about 5 minutes at a time. I can get through the chord progressions twice in that amount of time. This will be great for those more complicated songs that I keep putting off. I tend to stick within a certain range, which means that I stay within the same four or five chords much of the time as far as song selection goes. So this is good.

By the time school was out today, I practically had Over the Rainbow nailed. Still have a couple of difficult chords changes to overcome, but I should have it by tomorrow.

Learned some new techniques at the Cerritos Uke Fest over the weekend. Went to a workshop run by Lil Rev and another by Cool Hand Uke. Cool Hand Uke was god, but digressed a lot with personal anecdotes. But he did have me playing Jamaica Farewell(easy) and Ain't She Sweet? (moderately difficult) by the end of the session.

Lil Rev is a uke player (and multi-instrumentalist) that I admire. I admire even more that he seems to be a dedicated roving folk musician. A good teacher too. Had us doing some interesting strums. Taught us how to do Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits also. Not too hard, but I never thought about it before.

Spent Sunday reading a book that I have been teaching for a week. I had read it many years ago and thought I knew it very well, until I tried leading a discussion on it and realized it was time for a re-read.

Mostly a productive weekend.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Speaking of Musicians

I was at a local, non-Starbucks franchise, embibing in a tasty coffee beverage with my friend Al (Fresco, that is) taking advantage of their free wireless internet, finishing my grades, when this shaved-head white guy sits down at the table behind me, lights up a smoke and dials someone on his cell phone. He says to his party "Hey, niggah, wassup?" Then he cracks up, saying, "I bet you thought I was some rapper or some shit, dintcha?" And he laughs some more.

Then he goes into some dialog about this heavy metal band he is in and about some song he wrote the night before and about how at practice the night before he was just screaming into the mike when the bass player who had quit this band before but had come back just to play one gig and help them out with their new lead vocalist (this guy behind me) and he(the guy behind me) is just absorbed in the music when the bass player just stops playing and turns to him (the guy behind me) and says"Dude, you just WAIL. I want back in the band."

So the guy (behind me) is just all pleased with himself and is asking his call whether or not eight songs is a good number for a set and how lots of people are going to be their from his work whatever that is and especially this one chick is smokin' and she'll be there and he hopes she likes that kind of music because she's smokin'.

And I'm thinking wouldn't it be great if everybody was in a band and could find a way to express their innermost feelings in such a way so as to be scary but not dangerous?

Because I think this guy could be dangerous.

And I'm thinking about this former student named Kat whose name really isn't Kat you see but she's bipolar allegedly and allegedly doesn't take her medication. During her senior year, her parents took her out of school and put her in a convent, which didn't work out especially well. So she contacts me and tells me that she has started a band called You Told Me We Were Going to Disneyland and that there is a ukulele solo in one of her songs.

But I didn't know she could play an instrument and I don't know if she's kidding.

I just hope she's doing ok.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Three Guys Wasting Time

So, yesterday, I remember why I went back to school and got my MA. I was tired of wasting time with people who have nothing better to do than argue over trivial matters.

Reverse to the end of my 43rd year. It was a pleasant Saturday, and I thought I'd join my friends at a local independent coffee place and chat. God only knows why, given the history.

Sure enough, I walked up and found my three friends-J, G, and S-arguing.

Now, as everyone knows, the two things you're not supposed to bring up unless you want to start an argument are Religion and Politics-right? Well, how about grammar?

The four of us are English teachers. The subject of debate was grammar. S warned me as I approached to keep going before I got sucked in and, like a fool, I sat down anyway. J and G were silent, but both were fuming. It was as if they were two cats locked in mortal combat. You know, bodies, claws, tails all entwined, occasionally a growl would seep out from one of them.

From my perspective, G would get passionate about something and J would bait him and G would bite and tempers would flare. G would usually become visibly angry. J would pull back and egg him on.

It was usually about school stuff. Like grammar.

For the life of me, I could never figure out why these guys wanted to spend so much time talking about their jobs. We all spent enough time on our jobs.

So, anyway, it was on a day like that that I decided I could spend my time doing something productive. I invited all three to join me. G declined. J showed up one time to check out a class, but never enrolled. S enrolled, but didn't finish. I began to spend my Saturdays and Sundays at Starbucks studying. Got a lot done.

So, I decided to join S and G at Starbucks yesterday, another beautiful day. G and I somehow got on the topic of country music. One interest I share with G is an interest in music. Whenever we used to do this, J (who has since moved to Connecticut to be with a lovely woman he met at a Yeats Seminar) would get bored and change the subject.

G made the comment that Country Music, as we know it, was pretty much invented by the Carter family. Now, it could be that "invented" is an inaccurate word-but, at that moment when the energies of several musical sensibilities converged and generated a new kind of popular music, the Carter family were standing pretty close by. There may have been others, but I don't know their names. And I'm pretty sure that most Country performers would give the Carter family a great deal of credit.

Yes, there were twangs and lilts floating around in the air for centuries, beginning in the British Isles and wafting their way to the Appalachians in this country. But the Carters were among the first to snatch them and record them.

S began saying that it wasn't true and that there were probably many others as responsible. But S didn't know that. He was just being contrary. He couldn't name anyone and he started insisting that, whenever G made a statement like that, he should be prepared to prove it.

Echoes of J.

The point being that, if I wanted to be in a Socratic seminar, I'd go back to school. If I show up on a pleasant Saturday afternoon, I'd like to keep things pretty informal.

S baited. G bit. G's face turned red, he shouted obscenities at S. S went into passive-aggressive mode, saying things that he knew would make G even angrier. The lovely afternoon was ruined. I took G's side for awhile. Pretty soon, we all just left-with me following G trying to calm him down-the guy has enough health problems and doesn't need that kind of crap. As we left, S came running after to basically make the same point he had made pretty feebly before. We all got in our cars and got out of there.

I can't understand why anyone would want to spend that much time so unproductively.

You know, last year, I had the idea to start that Ukulele Sunday thing and I got caught up in other things-visiting family, mom's illness and subsequent move to assisted living, the writers' conference, etc. Maybe now the time is ripe. I could feel my blood pressure rise yesterday. I left pissed.

All I know is that, anytime I play my ukulele, it is the best meditation and blood pressure medicine I can take. And, when I'm done, I'm a better ukulele player.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Trip to Del Mar III: The Journey Home

Before the concert started, I sauntered over to the merchandise booth to get my Knitters T-shirt. I had only brought the shirt I was wearing because it was just an overnight trip and I thought that, worst case scenario, I would have to wear the same shirt an extra half-day for the trip home or, best case scenario, I would have a brand new Knitters T-shirt to wear at every rest stop on the way home. Complete strangers would look at me and think about how cool I was for a middle-aged man. I even told this to Billy C, who by the way had brought a whole freaking wardrobe.

When I came back to our table, I showed him my shirt. He got up, saying that he wanted to get shirts for his whole family. When he got back, he asked me if I wanted him to take my shirt to the car and leave it with his. Knowing that when I drink I forget things, I said yes.

After the concert, we drove back to the hotel room and put our stuff in our room and then walked up to a pub whose name I forget for a last beer of the evening. We drank and discussed the concert, which we both agreed may have been the best concert ever in the universe, except for maybe the premiere of Beethoven's 9th or any Snake Suspenderz show.

Our motel was practically on the beach, so, on both the walk to the pub and our walk back, we could hear the crashing of the waves. We saw a lot of bunnies around the landscaped nature trail. We saw a drunken couple, he sitting on a bicycle and she trying to climb on the back in her mini-skirt. Once she got on, they coasted down the dark street, hopefully not to their doom, but it could have happened-their doom, that is.

Once back inside our hotel room, I decided to try on my T-shirt before I went to bed. I looked through the bundle of shirts and found that BC had gotten one exactly like mine.

That didn't bother me, but the next morning, after he had showered and went for his dailey walk, I also showered and got dressed, putting on my brand-new Knitters T-shirt.

Moments later, BC walked in and he was wearing the duplicate shirt.

How tacky.

So, pretty much everywhere we go, people look at us. We look enough alike in our matching shirts that people thought we were a couple of cute, aging twins. We were also both wearing straw hats that were different enough, but given the T's, made us look even more twinish.

It got to the point that, wherever we went, one of us just said "We're not twins, okay?" to whomever stared at us.

Our plan for the trip back was to stop at this Japanese restaurant for lunch, but we found, since it was labor day, the place was closed-as were most of the places we had planned on stopping. Even Giacoletti's in Carlsbad, where they have a variety of ukuleles in stock, was closed.

So we stopped at a roadside Mexican fast food place-not a chain, but a one-of-a-kind place- and had breakfast burriti, which were very tasty.

The trip home after that was pretty uneventful. I may have fallen asleep. BC snored the night before. Actually, we both snore, but he fell asleep first. So I was more tired than he.

Where Were You?

On the night of Sept. 10th, I was having trouble sleeping. I don't remember why, I just was.

Sometime around 3 AM, I decided that I wasn't going to be able to sleep, so I decided to get up, get ready for school, and go to Denny's to commandeer a large booth at which I would correct a massive stack of papers and eat a massive breakfast.

It was very quiet when I got there, and still dark out. As the sun struggled up, and I had begun to make a dent in both my stack of papers and my stack of pancakes, the restaurant gradually filled with a variety of people who had just begun their day. A man of about my age sat down in the booth facing me. I hunched over my papers so as not to get caught in any small talk, seeing as how that would take focus away from the task at hand. Besides, I am not at all a morning person. I hate talking at that hour.

I noticed the man checking and re-checking his cell phone impatiently, as if he had been stood up.

Then, I guess around 6 AM, a group of students from UCR came in, leading a line of new fraternity pledges who had apparently been kidnapped for breakfast. They were dressed in bathrobes and slippers and all were having a good, loud time.

Shortly after they were seated, a guy rushed in and sat down with the man across from me. "You'll never believe why I was late," he said, and began telling his friend about the attack.

I listened for a bit and then, paying my bill, got in my car and turned on the radio and heard Rick Dees sharing the news as he got it, punctuating it with comments like "Moments like this are what I have trained my whole life for."

I drove home, which wasn't far, to turn on the news and see what was happening. I got there just as the second tower had started to fall. Like many, I couldn't turn the TV off and was almost late to work.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Trip to Del Mar, Part II: The Knitters Concert

So, upon checking in to the Del Mar Motel, we hopped back into the car and wended our way to the Belly Up. We got there at about 6:45 or thereabouts and saw that a modest line had already formed, so we decided to stand there until the doors opened at 7, because we wanted a table. We would eat after we claimed our territory.

Billy Canary struck up a conversation with this tattooed, curly-haired kid in front of us. He had peddled his bike from Carlsbad and planned on peddling at back up to Carlsbad after the concert. That's a two-hour pedal. One way. I silently wondered why he didn't find another means of transpo. Billy did most of the talking.

The kid followed us in and sat down next to us at this common bench-type table, leaving the corner chair between him and Billy, because it looked like it would get crowded once the pub got full. He drank an awful lot, which perhaps explained the bicycling instead of driving part of his story.

Our waitress was this charming young lady named Magaly (a Mayan name, by the way), who was smart enough to laugh at our jokes. We found that we could order food from the eatery next door and had a sumptuous feast: Billy, some kind of spring roll-burrito hybrid, and me a turkey burger-both with wine, followed by beer during the concert.

There were two opening acts-a band whose name I forgot and Phranc, a jewish lesbian folksinger. Phranc has been around for awhile. She opened for the Knitters 20 years ago. She dressed like a man and passed for one during her first couple of numbers. When she mentioned that she was a jewish lesbian folksinger, a few in the crowd became uncomfortable. One idiot in particular made it his mission to heckle her from time to time. Billy says there were more, but it looked to me like it was the same guy, but he just moved around a lot. Phranc either didn't hear him or just chose to ignore him. At any rate, most of the crowd was with her. Towards the end of her show, she had the audience doing the Hokey-Pokey.

Phranc also throws tupperware parties. If you want to check out her website, here it is:

The Knitters, for those of you who are too young to know, are members of X-Exene Cervenka, John Doe, and DJ Bonebrake-and former Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin, as well as a stand-up bass player, Johnny Ray Bartel. They play a combination of traditional songs from folk such as Hank Williams, as well as songs from the X, Blasters, and Dave Alvin catalog.

The show started with John Doe and Dave Alvin coming out alone and performing Merle Haggards "Silver Wings," followed by another sad song that I recognized at the time but don't remember now. Too much beer, ya know?

The rest of the band came out and performed "Poor Little Critter in the Road" off of their first album. When I first heard it 22 years ago, this sounded like a novelty song. On this night, it sounded like an allegory for the plight of the common man, who, though he work hard for a little pleasure in the life, cannot avoid being run down by the automobile that I call "the Man." Think about it, OK?

By the way, The Knitters first formed those 22 years ago and only put out the one album. Now, they have released their 2nd and are touring with it. I think that tour is over now. If you want more information, here's their website:

This was an evening where things just got better and better. One song in particular, "The New World," just kicked ass. Dave Alvin took the old Billy Zoom guitar solo and turned it upside down and inside out. This guy is the best hardly-known guitarist I have ever heard and probably better than your favorite guitar god. As Billy Canary puts it, he enters a zone. And anything can happen. After the first few Billy Zoom licks, he eased into this "Battle Hymn of the Republic" riff and, just as it began to stir up the blood, eased back into this lyrical replay of the Zoom riff that could make a boy cry.

His further solos alternately blazed, thrashed, and swooned with the music. Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, it did.

I have seen this guy three different times in three different venues in three different band formations, and he never ceases to amaze. He writes some great songs too. If you want more information, here's his website:

Former X drummer D J Bonebrake had a couple of chances to shine too. His drum kit was simply a snare and cymbals played with brushes. But he was the rhythm master.

John and Exene were great as a front duo. They put the punk back in spunk. John's persona is the warmer of the two, whereas Exene gave the evening an edgey quality. Together, they bantered back and forth like to divorcee's who could laugh at their differences now.

I just hope this band doesn't make us wait another 22 years before they put out another album.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I Don't Meet Cheech

For all of you people I stood up tonight: I spent the evening NOT meeting Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong. I thought I was, but I didn't.

Cheech Marin has backed an art an art show featuring paintings from East LA artists-actually prints from originals in his private collection. 26 of these prints (each from a different artist) are now hanging in the Riverside Municipal Museum, or what ever it's called. I got in on a special VIP reception, featuring a documentary on the exhibit. The film included interviews with Cheech and the artists.

But the significant detail that no one followed up on was whether or not Cheech would actually be there.

We discovered that he would not. He was in New York directing a play called The Chicanologues. First, Chong has his Marijuanalogues, and now this.

But, the evening was festive, once you got past the speeches from all of the dignitaries.

The show was good enough, considering I don't know squat about art. My main criticism was that, rather than one painting each by 26 artists, I would have liked to see a broader representation of each artist so that I could develop an opinion about their work. I ran to in an art teacher I knew who is also a working artist and he said that the reason for the narrow selection was that the show was more about selling these prints than introducing art lovers to these artists. Cheech stood to make serious cabbage off of this deal.

My friend Hlav and I spent about ten minutes analyzing one painting that didn't really merit that much analysis. But I learned that I could apply my knowledge of literary analysis to art. So maybe I don't need to know anything about art. My BS potential is as broad as it is deep.

There were a couple of the prints that I really liked: one depicting the Zoot Suit Riots, another showing a vato looking dreamily at the night's sky.

Outside, there were dancers from the Riverside Ballet de Folklorico. The choreographer explained the dances, so I expanded my knowledge of traditional mexican dance.

I know a couple of my students dance in this style, so now I have something new to talk to them about.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Trip to Del Mar, Part I: A Day at the Races

My bro Billy Canary and I took a trip down to Del Mar to see The Knitters, a band made up of Dave Alvin and former members of X at a place called the Belly Up on Sunday, Sep 6. We decided to make an over-nighter out of it and spend Sunday afternoon at the racetrack. We figured that the concert wouldn't get out until late and that we'd be too tired to drive the 90+ minute return trip.

We left Riverside at about noon-ish and stopped mid-way at Larryland (the Lawrence Welk Village Resort and Dinner Theater, where BC worked as an actor in several productions). Our aging bladers needed relief.

There was some remodeling going on and most of the public restrooms were closed, so we had to use a luxury Port-O-San facility. After, we entered the Lawrence Welk Museum and Dinner Theater to see if BC knew any of the performers in the current production of GYPSEY. It's been about 10 years, maybe more, since BC worked there.

He found two names that he recognized and left a note for one of them. This particular actor appeared in ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, among other things.

The other actor was one with whom I had also worked in a production of KISMET. In fact, BC and I both appeared in separate productions of KISMET with this guy. He has appeared in several TV commercials, one of the a "Got Milk?" commercial. If I remember correctly, he played a father who gives his baby a bottle of milk and then fixes himself a bowl of cereal, only to discover that there is no more milk. It ends in a stand-off between father and baby.

We didn't like him much.

But you know actors.

We just missed the first race, which sadly, had a horse-crash at the starting gate. I think everyone survived, but the race was nullified.

I won only one bet to win which paid a whopping 10-to-1.

Otherwise, it was a nice beginning to a great day.

Tomorrow: A Night at the Belly Up, Part 1

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


I get most of my uke practice in at school these days, mostly during passing periods. I even have several student groupies who make it a point to get to class on time and dance to my fab uke stylings. Not to mention that students from last year drop by to request my greatest hits. I actually throw myself into these moments. I actually move more rhythmically to the music, creating the illusion of actually being talented.

Some students actually ask me to show them how to play then and there, as if playing the ukulele were easy.

Hey, I guess it kinda is. But, it IS difficult to play WELL. But one can actually achieve the intermediate level with a few simple chords played with finesse.

Today, the students worked in collaborative groups. As they did so, I wandered around the room, alternating between soft and slow tunes and faster,edgier tunes. I don't sing, because that would be distracting.

A couple of students picked up my spares and noodled with them as they did the work. This would never have happened if I played the saxophone.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

2nd Annual San Diego Ukulele Festival at the Coronado Ferry Landing in the White Tent

My original intention was to go to this festival and attend UF's song-writing workshop as a show of support to the man and his music. I actually got to bed kind of early and had a good night's rest, which has lately been unusual for me. I got up at 8 AM-which meant that I would have to rush if I were to get to the fest by 10.

Alas, I didn't make it. I got there just as UF's workshop was ending. He said that about 20 people showed up. Most participants thanked him throughout the day as he milled about. He will repeat the workshop tomorrow at 1 PM, at this workshop-starved festival.

So I guess that is one complaint: a lack of workshops. But there were many improvements over last year.

First of all, to compensate for the lack of rooms, there were a few awnings set out for workshops and performances. And, while there were fewer workshops, there were plenty of performers. A group of kids performed very nicely, rocking out to the likes of Van Morrison. Some might have thought that there were too many amateurs, but I found most of those acts pretty charming.

I would have liked more seasoned pros, however-like Lyle Ritz, Bill Tapia, and Janet Klein. Daniel Oh played a few songs,as did Ian Whitcomb. Whitcomb was under the weather so he didn't play much. He spun a few songs from a CD player and played along a couple of times. I gathered that he was ill, and perhaps had a sick relative on his mind. Daniel Oh was very good.

The view at this location, a local small theater at the Coronado Ferry landing, was beautiful. But I would have traded the view for a larger venue with actual restrooms with plumbing, if you know what I mean.

Last year, the Woman who ran the show kept a much too high profile, offering her over-priced uke paintings for sale, interrupting acts if they went overtime, she was just everywhere. She was a little less high profile this year, but still somewhat intrusive. I got the feeling that she just didn't know how to respect the performers or quietly let them know that their time was almost up. The Cerritos Ukulele Festival is much larger and you barely feel the organizers' presence.

which reminds me, the price of entry is steep for what's offered. This two-day festival offers about half (if that) of what the Cerritos offers in one day, yet charges $25 for admission. At Cerritos, you can get a full day of uke fun, with several choices, for $18. The evening luau and concert each bring the price up, if you want to extend your fun. It seems to me the San Diego fest could charge a daily price for those who plan on attending just one day.

By the way, the best part of the day for me happened about ten minutes after I got out of my car. At the vendors' area, as I passed Jumpin' Jims booth, I saw that he was selling discontinued Flukes for $99! I picked one up just as one gent said "I'll take them all" (there were four). I immediately claimed the one I held and wrote a check. Turned out to be one-of-kind. They never marketed this one. It has a flower design painted around the soundhole. Not as brightly colored as some of the others, but it plays nice.

One group of elderly musicians, called the Fun Timers, played some great old songs. One dour man, played many instruments, including the bones. He never seemed especially happy, until he stepped off the stage and wandered around the audience, snapping his bones.

This group also had a junk bass-player named Yo-Yo. She snapped the string enthusiastically, but I couldn't tell if she was really playing anything or was just for show. There was a guitarist playing a bit behind the band and it sounded like he was actually playing the bass line. Yo-Yo's bass had no mike and she seemed to be playing it backwards.

Maybe HH can help me here. This bass was like a washtub bass, except, instead of a tub, she used a trash can. There was a broomstick-like pole and a string stretched from the pole to the trash can. Now, I always assumed that you made different notes by moving your pole hand up and down while gripping both pole and string-kind of like what your would do on the neck of a real stand-up bass. Yo-Yo kept her pole hand in one place, but move her string hand up and down the string, apparently plucking the string in different places to get different notes.

So, was she a fake?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Uke Fest Preview

I was checking out the website for the San Diego Uke Fest, and it looks like it will be large on performance, while short on workshops. The only qualifier in that assessment is that, if last year was any indication, the schedule tends to be pretty fluid. At the ticket booth, there was a chalk board (I think) with the schedule that seemed to change throughout the day.

Most of the acts from last year seem to be gone:Lyle Ritz, Bill Tapia, Janet Klein. But there are a lot of other acts scheduled-Daniel Ho among them. Most of the performers are groups I never heard of. They sound like they might be mostly civilian groups, which sounds fun to me.

UF said that he didn't want me to attend his workshop because he would feel like he was being watched or something. I thought of just asking for a copy of his book, but I think I need him to explain it to me. So I'll probably go anyway.

I also notice that they will be offering a uke fest cookbook. Looking at sample pages online, it looks like authentic Hawaiian food, mixed with dishes that somehow work uke-speak into their names. Like Princess Pupula Has Plenty Papaya Salsa.

Most of the dishes look like direct violations of the diet I am putting myself on.

Also, there is a Ukes for Troops program advertised. Looks like you have to cough up a lot of dough if you want public acknowledgement, but I will probably donate something, if they'll take smaller donations.

At the very least, this will be a good warm-up for the Cerritos Uke Fest.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

San Diego Uke Fest 2

I'm considering going to the 2nd Annual San Diego Ukulele Festival. My friend and colleague UF is conducting a workshop on song-writing and just being around ukuleles makes me a little happier. These days, it takes a lot to cheer me up.

We both went last year and it left something to be desired. The music was good and what I saw of the workshops was good, but the lady who ran it gave me the willies. I wondered whether she actually ever played a ukulele. Her presence was just too intrusive and she had all of theses paintings she had created that had ukuleles in them-huge price tags. And the paintings were bad.

But, like I said, the music was good. Bill Tapia and Lyle Ritz did a duet performance. There was also a Hawaiian slack key guy who performed. I didn't attend any workshops. But I listened a lot.

I went to the last two Cerritos Uke Fests and the improvement from one year to the next was impressive. So, maybe SD Uke Fest will show similar growth.

I'll let you know.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Taking Requests

So the new school year is underway for me. We have had five days of instruction. As always, I stand outside my classroom during the passing period and play my ukulele.

What's is different is that my teaching partner and I get lots of visits from last year's students. Practically every passing period, a half-dozen or so students pass by on their way to class. Some of them ask me to play them a song. So far, I haven't turned anyone down. Sometimes, I goof on songs that I know, because I'm a little embarassed.

I think from now on, when they request, I will take the opportunity to perform. When they get sick of it, they'll stop asking. It will be good rehearsal time and it will add to the ambience of the school.

Towards the end of last year, a senior who walked by every day, Said to a friend "I'm going to miss that," as she passed. She was referring to my playing. I was touched, if not flattered. I'm still not a virtuoso, after all.

A entered the classroom once last week, still strumming, and a student asked me if I did that to calm the class down. I don't really, but I have noticed that it can have a quieting effect.

I have a class of seniors this year-many of whom had me two years ago. A couple of them gravitate to the two ukes I have on display on my desk and strum them.

I think that on Friday, I might take my bodrhan and play that during passing period and see how that works.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Performance Tips

1. Strum like your hand is on fire.
2. Shuck and Jive like you know what you're doing.
3. If you get lost, keep on shucking, but hold back on jiving.
4. If you are playing with someone else and you get lost, hold back on shucking, but increase jiving.
5. If another musician asks you to play with him/her, don't make crude jokes about the phrase "play with," unless you are pretty sure it will get you somewhere.
6. If you are playing with a superior musician and get lost, stop and look at him or her as if it's his or her problem.
7. If everything seems to be going very well, bob and weave.
8. Always carry another instrument. Learn to play it later.
9. Keep introductions short and stage patter brief, unless the audience is laughing for the right reasons.
10. Be sure to compliment all attractive members of the opposite sex on their performance, but don't stand and wait for a return compliment longer than 15 seconds.
11. If, after said compliment, the receiver of said compliment turns his or her back to you, don't continue standing and waiting for a compliment and don't follow him or her.
12. Only certain heavy metal tunes sound really good on the ukulele.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Still More about Open Mike

J and Do were pretty brilliant Sunday Night. I'm not just saying that because I was threatened with bodily harm. They really were.

They actually added more to the energy of the night than most performers in that, in addition to providing a keyboard for my brilliant niece (all of my nieces and nephews are brilliant by the way), but they performed a wonderful ditty about a woman who wears a tinfoil hat to protect her brain from all of the little voices. She actually created and wore a hat made of tinfoil.

This guy who followed them made the comment that he could use a tinfoil hat to help ward off his voices and Do gave him her hat, which he wore through his song. Looked good on him.

I think they have become sensitive to the fact that they bring an electric keyboard to the show. I don't know why. Yes, there seems to be one person every month who asks if its folkmusically kosher. But, hey, it's supposed to be about community-people creating music for people. Also, every act that shows up has to depend on technology to perform their "acoustic" music. That is, everyone either plugs in to an amp or steps up to a microphone. A few people even bring full-on electric guitars with whammy bars. Both of them are good performers-better than most.

Anyway, J and Do, I hope you keep doing what you do.

Going to the Dave Alvin concert at the Folk Center this Sunday. Yahoo!

Dave Alvin is the former guitarist/song-writer for the Blasters, as well as a member of the Knitters, that X/Blasters hybrid from the 80's that is currently on tour again.

Monday, July 25, 2005

There's No Biz Like Show Biz

Went to Open Mike Night at the Folk Center with most of the family last night. It was a pretty wild night.

Most nights, I end up being number 45 or around there. So, by the time I perform, everyone has left with their groupies. I am left with an audience of hairy men in worn t-shirts.

So, I made it a point to get in line early. I was there at about 5:45. UF was there, as well as Mac and a couple of other regulars, so we sat in our lawn chairs and chatted and practiced. UF had a new Uke Brand uke that was sweet in tone and light in lift. It was pleasant sitting in line, but part of me is not sure that it is worth it to sit in line for an hour and fifteen minutes just to be among the first to sign up for an open mike night.

Whomever signed up to go first was a no-show. So Number 2 got up, a duo that I think the last time I saw them was a trio. In fact, one of the duo may not have been in the trio. One played guitar and one, the guy who had been in the trio, played a conga/dumbek/drum/thingy. He also sang. Well, words came out, but the notes didn't exactly.

UF (Uke Forever) became GF (Guitar For now), and performed a song about how his father looked like Moe of the three stooges. I had planned on doing a more serious song, but UG's song brought down the house and I thought that I would just ride the crest of that wave, so I sang "I Wanna Be Like You," one of my standards, and I nailed it pretty well.

Most of the songs in the first half were either funny or upbeat. Mac a song that he has done before, but it wasn't the usual electric moment. He is probably the best there, but this wasn't his best night. It got laughs though.

The highlight of the night was my niece from PA, who sang a song she wrote. She had to be coaxed and bribed. Do and Jim brought a keyboard, so she played that and sang her song. There were a couple of tech gliches, but she performed beautifully. I come from a pretty talented family. My niece's performance made reminded me that this generation (of my family) could certainly exceed our expectations. They are all very talented. As she performed, I looked over at her mother and my SiL and could see that they were very moved.

This one woman, whose father had performed just ahead of her, got up and sang a song that seemed at first to be about a woman who got tired of being shut away at home while her man went carousing about. I thought it was a song about her eventual liberation. But, at the very end, it seemed like she ended up back with her man. Don't have the lyrics in front of me, but I would swear that was the outcome. Made me want to sit down and have a talk with her about the cyclical nature of dysfunctional relationships.

The evening became political at the end. A couple of anti-war songs-not especially good. But, so far the evening had been balanced, what with a guy singing about Jesus earlier. The Jesus guy would have been good if he had sung a blues tune. He played pretty well and his voice was kind of snarly-the kind that isn't lyrical, but can growl about some baby done leaving him.

The final act was a guy named Theo, who sang a song about Republicans, Democrats, God, and Satan. Self-indulgence never sounded so annoying. It was actually funny at first. But it just kept going. His voice sounded like a chipmunk on speed.

I wanted to stop him, as well as the two protest singers, and give them an impromptu lecture about subtlety and irony.

But hey, part of the nature of folk music is that it be written and shared by folk. Most of me likes the fact that someone somewhere feels the need to express something, even if they don't always do it so well.

Friday, July 22, 2005

I Didn't Know I Had It in Me

So I finally went to have my blood pressure checked for the third and last time and give my doctor the blood he needed to monitor blood sugar, cholesterol, uric acid, and whatever else he needed to do.

The blood pressure lady had to take my BP three times. First time it was 131/95. She told me to relax (that word again). I think her manner stressed me out-that and the fact that they didn't let me wait for 15 minutes before they called me in. For that matter, I had just been to my mother's house and, these, days, it is always stressful to visit her. They are supposed to let you sit in the waiting room for 15 minutes to give you a chance to settle down, cardiovascular-wise. The third go-round was much better. I closed my eyes and did some deep breathing while imagining things to personal to mention here. Let's just say there was a desert island and a tribe of beautiful young women whose men-folk had perished in a very selective typhoon.

That got my blood pressure down.

Then, of to the blood-letting department. The guy at the counter took my paperwork and handed me a container, saying, "We'll also need a urine sample before you leave."

I had not prepared for this. I did not feel any urge to go. I had a moderate amount of water in the morning, but not that much. And I couldn't remember if I had whizzed that morning or not.

So, I went to the blood-letter first. She was short, pudgy lady who had all of her tools ready for me. Her somber face and dark, cavernous eyes watched me as a lioness watches her prey as it saunters innocently across the veldt. "How are you," she said very slowly, as if it took effort.

"Fine, thank-you," I replied.

I held out my arm and she drained five vials of blood from my arm. I always expect pain when they stick the needle in my vein, but am always surprised when it doesn't hurt much at all.

Then, it was off to the urinals with my uncertain bladder.

In the booth, I opened the container and my gave it a go, so to speak.


So, I imagined myself back on that desert island....

Jammin' in the Gene Pool

Took BiL and Nieces and Nephews (w/out Liam) and friends of Nieces and Nephews to the beach this afternoon. I was initially a little perturbed that we got such a late start, but I think there might have been some drama at home regarding our mother, who is 81 and has Parkinson's, for those of you who don't know this. My sis, her hub and their kids live in PA and are visiting and helping with some mom decisions we have to make.

Anyway, so we went to the beach. I used to love the beach. Used to love all it had to offer. These days, I avoid the sun, being fair skinned and trying to make up for my past sun abuse. Spent most of the time under an umbrella, greased with sun screen. Never went into the water.

When we got home, we all improvised dinner. Those who stayed behind weren't sure that we were coming back, so they didn't prepare anything for us. I'm not bitter.

No, really.

Billy Canary, Nephs Liam and Michael, and I all broke out the ukes and began jamming. First song: If I Had a Hammer. Catchy little tune. Both Nephs are becoming pretty good musicians. Liam is a pretty good singer too. Has a nice baritone. I bet Michael would be a pretty good singer too, but he didn't sing. I think he likes playing, especially if he can show off his skills. But he might be shy about singing. Or maybe he just doesn't like to. We began making up a few verses like "If I had a fish," "If I had a sponge," "If I had a waffle iron." Eventually the song died a well-deserved death.

We did a couple of Led Belly tunes, I forget the titles. I just played as Liam sang and Billy played the guitar, which I think he has been practicing on the sly. Maybe I need to get one.

The, we tried "Jimmy Jazz" by the Clash. Once again, the barred chord came in handy. I had a hard time getting the same rhythm that the others were playing. But I got the chords. It's a pretty good song for uke.

We then practice the Who's "Happy Jack," which also sounds good on the uke. It's pretty simple, with only three chords. The guitar riff sounds comical when you try to play it on uke. But I think it fits just the same.

I don't remember the Beatle's tune we played. I just tried harmonizing on that one. I think that we might play as an ensemble on Open Mike Night this Sunday. Not sure which song. I favor "Happy Jack" right now.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Back in the Saddle Again, Metaphorically Speaking

Just got back this afternoon from the Taos Writers' Conference. I will probably review it later. I might even post something I wrote up there. But I want to re-read it tomorrow and see if it weathers the post-conference glow.

It was a good conference, in part because I was able to almost completely retreat from the cares and responsibilities of my life and focus on reading and writing. Taos is a pretty nice corner of the world. I don't think that I would want to live there in particular. Maybe Santa Fe or Albuquerque. Taos might be a little too isolated for me on a long-term basis. What I like about it is, while hot, it is dry. Very comfortable for a sweater like me.

I attended a weekend workshop on the Poetics of Place. Wrote a poem that I didn't think much about. But I got a pretty good reaction from the others in my workshop. The facilitator made our work from Saturday the assignment for Sunday. Each assignment was tailor-made for each student. His suggestion for my piece interested me, so I tried out his suggestions. I still have to work on it. It involves some street performers at the square it downtown Taos. If I like it, I will post it here.

My week-long workshop involved using landscape to develop characters in short fiction. I haven't written much short fiction. We each submitted in advance a short story of about 12 pages. The instructor sent these around to each of the participants. We each read one another's work and then re-read it and discussed each piece during class. Mine got laughs, and some good suggestions. It was a fictional account of Open Mike Night at the Folk center. I am proud of it, but it still needs work.

I probably won't post it. It clocks in at about 2000 words. Most of you have read it. Those of you who haven't, just let me know and I'll send it your way.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Hey, Baby, It's the Fourth of July!

By the way, Dave Alvin formerly of the Blasters, is playing at the Folk Center. I've got a ticket. Saw him several years ago, just after he left the Blasters. One of the best concerts I ever attended.

I spent my 4th of July at My friend Curt's hill-top home. Curt is a friend of mine, going back to before kindergarten. We've known each other for almost fifty years. Fell out of touch for awhile and have lately been re-connecting.

I used to spend my 4th's at the church where I grew up. My mother has been a member there since she was a teenager. Maybe longer.

Around here, the big fireworks display comes from atop Mt. Rube, a local landmark. Across a small valley, on another hill, sits the church, its parking lot and playground facing the Mountain. It's probably not a distance of even two miles. So the congregation gathers around and has a big potluck, culminating in the fireworks display. The fireworks are only one of the attractions-the other being the suspense of when one of the sparklers explodes too close to the ground and sets the side of the mountain ablaze. Last Monday, there were two fires-one of which spread pretty quickly before the fire department got to it.

The fire department is always on the ready, by the way. They have got it down to a science, allowing for just enough inferno to entertain without putting anyone in danger.

My friend's house sits at the top of another hill across the wider valley of Riverside. The fireworks aren't nearly as close as they are to the church. But, what you get in addition is almost an even trade-off. Sitting high atop the hill, gazing across the valley at the mountain, you can see all of the individual, illegal, fireworks displays going on in people's backyards. As time for the big display approaches, these smaller displays begin. Each sparkler jumps into the sky like a trout leaping out and diving back into a lake. When the big display gets going, the experience takes on a three-dimensional affect, with the smaller fireworks exploding a few yards in front of you, a half-mile away, a mile, and on, in all directions. From all angles, bursts of color that glow and dissipate into the dark.

Not a bad evening.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Coming Together, Parting Ways

The sis and family arrived today from PA. It is good to see them. Unfortunately, I leave on Thursday morning for Taos, NM. I will try to abbreviate my trip as much as possible, but I find more and more that driving that kind of distance needs to be paced out over a couple of days. I have the stamina, but not the will to drive that distance in one day.

So, tonight, I took three of my ukuleles to Mom's house, where sis and fam are staying, I brought two in and, when I had turned my back, they were in use. I brought a third in later for myself.

Billy Canary and Nephew Mike the Bassist were both noodling away. I had brought a few song books and left them there. When I leave for Taos, I will leave a couple of ukes there. The plan being that Nephews and/or nieces pick them up and learn to play them. I have about five non-relative converts to my credit and am aiming for at least two more from my family. Nephew Mike, as I have said, is a bassist. Nephew Liam is a percussionist, primarily, but plays several instruments. He actually purchased a baritone ukulele awhile back and has learned some songs. I guess my strategy here is to make my presence felt even when I'm not there.

I am torn about leaving just when they arrived. But this Taos Writers' Conference is something that I have been planning since attending in 2004. It is a great get-away. And this year, more than most, I need a get-away. I have learned that one essential element for a successful retreat is knowing what you are retreating from. I need time away from my mother and her illness. She has Parkinson's. And it has been difficult for all of us. If you have ever seen what Parkinson's can do to a person, then you know why I support stem cell research.

So, Thursday Morn, I will pack up all my cares and woes, and a couple of travel-worthy ukes, and head for Taos. There, I will attend a weekend poetry workshop and week-long fiction workshop. And, when not workshopping, I will be writing, reading, reflecting, and playing my ukes. That, and wining and dining at some of the fine restaurants there.

I got a new laptop and, assuming that I get connected to the internet, will report any progress I make. If I don't, you can bet that it will be because I am having too much fun.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Reflections after Having Seen Revenge of the Sith

To take my mind off the fasting I had to do before my butt-oscopy (see Journey to the Center of My Colon), I decided to take in a movie-one that I wouldn't have to think too much about. I hadn't seen the Revenge of the Sith, and am a Star Wars fan (note: not obsessed, just a fan-otherwise, I wouldn't have waited so long to see it).

I liked it much more than the two previous ones. Jar-jar, luckily, made only a brief, silent appearance. Padame, or whatever her name was, had a pretty thankless waiting-at-home kind of part. Her death, as well as Anakin's conversion, was hard to believe. I actually felt like they could have left out the first episode and most of the second and just fleshed out this episode more. It would have made a better trilogy. That, and I wouldn't have to keep thinking about how Anakin and Padame met when she was queen and he was a small boy. Something about that is just creepy.

The action was good, but, anytime the characters started talking, I got kind of bored.

Anyway, it reminded me of my old friend Larry.

Larry was the kind of guy who gave in easily to his most compulsive behaviors. He smoked too much weed, made huge purchases on impulse, using credit cards, and let his imagination rule when common sense would have served him better. He would go through economic binge and purge cycles. He would buy lots of toys on credit, lose his job, and have to give the stuff back or sell it for cash. The cars and motorcycles useless enough and he didn't need them. But Larry was an aspiring photographer. He would buy elaborate camera get-ups, just begin to be productive, and then lose it all at the end of each cycle so he couldn't ever take pictures, even when people were offering jobs.

The funny thing is, he knew when he was doing something stupid. What's more, I could always tell when he knew. He had this look in his eye, this expression on his face, and this tone in his voice. His favorite expression just before he did something really stupid and self-destructive was "I know what I'm doing." If Larry said that, you knew that what he really was thinking was "I know what I'm doing and it is a big mistake."

I went and saw the very first Star Wars movie with Larry, who was a big Sci Fi TV and movie buff. He loved Star Trek and Star Wars.

Never any books though. Larry didn't read.

Another favorite expression of his was to say that his teachers always told him that he was much smarter than everyone thought he was. One favorite anecdote of his was when our 7th grade English teacher told him "You have the potential for genius-just not the personality for it." I'm not sure if she really said that, or what she might have meant by it, or what it could possibly mean. I just know that Larry had more imagination than brains.

Back to the Star Wars connection. I may have seen the first one twice. I think I may have seen all three of the early films twice each. I liked them. Thought the special effects were cool. But I always felt like George Lucas had trouble coming up with satisfying endings. In fact, this last episode had the strongest ending of all the films, but even this one had a rushed quality about it, story-wise.
For the first three films, I'm pretty sure that each time I saw them, it was with Larry-who saw each of them so many times that he had the dialog memorized.

Larry took the films much too seriously. He felt that they were some kind of quasi-religious experience. He would often say things like "I think that George Lucas has communicated with beings from another galaxy."

What was even more odd was that Larry was a fundamentalist Christian. I don't know how he ever reconciled these two extreme concepts of his.

As I said, Larry had a hard time controlling his impulses. He dropped out of college before the end of his first semester. He held commissioned sales jobs at a couple of department store chains. He eventually worked his way up to department manager. He stole some prints from a wedding he had photographed. He had no money, as usual, and the customers wanted to see the prints and make their order. Got fired. Had to return his car and motorcycle to the dealerships from which he had purchased them.

And, of course, he had to sell his camera equipment.

This sort of thing happened several times before he turned thirty.

The last binge and purge cycle, he had been working at a motorcycle shop. Of course, after a couple of weeks, he had purchased the most expensive motorcycle in the shop. One day, he took a customer out for a test drive. He skipped the usual procedure of taking the guy's driver's license and. The customer hopped on the bike and took off. Larry followed on his own bike. When Larry signaled the customer to head back, the guy kept going and was never seen again.

Larry lost his job, etc.

This was about the third or fourth time this sort of thing happened to Larry. The boss insisted that he had to pay for the stolen bike. Plus, when he tried to return his own bike, the boss found a major ding on it and insisted that he pay for that too.

Larry was rescued by his father, who drove in with Larry's mother from Texas. Larry, Sr. had inherited a ranch in Texas and was doing pretty well. Most of the family followed him there and worked and lived on the ranch.

Larry, Sr. went with Larry to each of his creditors and offered to help make up the debt if they would cut Larry some sort of break. They all turned him down. The last creditor was Larry's ex-boss at the cycle shop.

"God-Dammit!" he said, pounding his desk. "That kid of yours is lucky I don't have him arrested."

The next day, Larry was spirited away to Texas. None of the creditors ever collected another dime.

I was in college as this all took place. I was usually the guy that went with Larry to return his various repossessed goods. Whenever we discussed my life, Larry would always tell me, "You know, I've already been to school-the school of hard knocks."

As I look back, Larry was kind of like an Anakin Skywalker, without the light saber or the Force stuff. That, and he wasn't put on this earth to bring balance back to it.

But, oh, the things he could have accomplished if he had stayed away from all of the crap he brought on himself.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Journey to the Center of My Colon

Why is it that whenever people know that you are going through one of the more stressful moments of your life, other people involved tell you to relax? Without getting too graphic, that's what the nurse kept telling me-that I needed to relax. When the procedure started, I tried to relax. But there is no better way to make sure that someone doesn't relax by telling him or her to relax. She would have been smarter just to give me drugs.

Anyway, my yoga and karate training, while not necessarily training me in yoga or karate, did train me to breath properly. So, I breathed my best yoga/karate breathing. That, and I followed the nurse's advice to rub my belly to minimize the discomfort. It all seemed to work.

The procedure I got was the halfway up procedure. It has a long medical name. But it's where they go through your lower colon to see what's there.

I was watching the screen when they turned on the camera that was about to go up my rectum and journey to where no man has ever gone before. The first thing I saw were lighting fixtures. My first thought was that I didn't know that I had lighting fixtures up there. But, or course, they hadn't gone there yet. The lighting fixtures were the ones that hung in the room.

Then, as the camera was directed towards the massive, white mound that I affectionately refer to as "my ass," I couldn't help but think of some of the older rides at Disneyland-especially the Peter Pan ride. As the doors that I affectionately refer to as "my buttocks" opened and the camera sailed in, I could almost here the voice of Peter Pan himself shouting "Okay, kids, here we go!"

The next impression I had was, as I watched the journey begin, how seemingly endless our assholes are.

The camera went round each bend smoothly. As in a Disney ride, I thought about how, around each bend, some villain would appear suddenly causing shrieks among the children. I remembered, during the Snow White ride, how the Evil queen, now transformed into a witch, would suddenly appear, holding that poisoned apple. Of course, no witch appeared with her poisoned apple.

But there was a polyp.

In fact, just after the doctor had reached the end of his journey, just after the nurse had said, "Okay, we're almost done," a little bump in my lower colon appeared onscreen. It looked as pink and healthy as the rest of my lower colon. But the doctor said, "Hmmm, let's get a sample of that polyp."

He then asked me, and I had been asked that earlier by the nurse, "Do you have a family history of colon cancer?"

I told him "No."

"Good," he said.

He took a sample of the polyp. Then another, which pretty much eliminated the polyp from my lower colon.

And, as he finished the procedure, he told me that they would examine the sample and that I would know in about a week-and-a-half whether or not they needed to perform a full colonoscopy.

I have since been told that finding polyps is not that uncommon. That, if it had been an actual cancerous tumor, they would have scheduled surgery immediately. So, that is a little reassuring.

I was also told by my SiL that this news meant that my next half-assed exploration would be in three years instead of five. Also reassuring.

So, I guess I'll hear soon about what the next step will be.

But let me use this experience to remind my eight-or-so faithful readers: colon cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer. When it is caught early, it is highly curable. Yes, it's one of the yucky-most forms of cancer to get tested for, but getting tested early is better than some of the alternatives.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Reflections on Mortality

I don't think this will be particularly interesting to anyone, but I am going in on Friday morning to undergo the ass-cam examination. As my faithful readers know, a colleague of mine had this procedure done, being five years younger than doctors recommend, and discovered that he had a tiny tiny tumor growing in his colon. He had it removed, of course. The doctors say that if he had waited those five recommended years, it would have been too late.

So I have to go on a regimen of fasting and flushing starting tomorrow.

I'm supposed to get some bloodwork done also, so I figure I'll do that too. Make one fast work for the whole shebang.

So, wish me luck and keep your sphincters crossed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Review of the California Traditional Music Society's 23rd Annual Folk Festival

Let me begin with my two main points about this festival: It was one of the most relaxed weekends I have ever spent; the uke community needs to represent next year.

Let me also qualify comments by saying that this undertaking is a massive one. I guess it's one of the largest of its type in the country. I'm sure there are larger festivals that emphasize performers in a concert setting. But as far as festivals where the focus is on teaching and building community, this is pretty huge.

And the setting, Soka University in Calabasas, is a beautiful one. It is secluded, pastoral, and spacious. It's hard to believe that you are in the middle of Los Angeles County. The campground was very informal. People in huge campers parked next to people sleeping out under the stars. If I were going to do anything different next year, I would get there much earlier so as to secure one of the more shaded parts of the campground.

The campground itself is set up as a community. There is a central picnic area where the morning pancake breakfasts and the evening potlucks occur. The people are friendly and the food was good enough. If you didn't want to participate in the communal dining, it is a short drive to town, where there are a few places to eat.

The workshops and programs were diverse enough to suit anyone's tastes. In addition to the variety of musical instrument workshops, there were a variety of dance, storytelling, craftmaking, and childrens' workshops going on.

The only workshop that I attended that was a letdown was the pennywhistle workshop. But that's largely because I had never played before and was a fish out of water. Those who had a little more musical expertise than me seemed to do ok. But I was lost.

I attended a bodrahn bootcamp and a couple of other bodrahn workshops and was playing in no time at all. Granted, my skill level is at the beginner level, but I know how to hold the tapper and can drum out a jig or reel.

I missed one of the two uke workshops. But it was a Jumpin' Jim workshop and I had taken the first one several times now. The intermediate workshop was fun and I was surprised at the number of ukesters there. One of the organizers told me that there had been a couple of other uke workshops scheduled, but the teachers had to cancel at the last minute. Beloff's workshops are always fun, so I can't complain.

On both Friday and Saturday evening, there were concerts and dance parties. Both nights offered contra dancing for $10. I did not participate in that, but those who did were having a grand time.

Friday night offered a storytelling concert. I was not there, but informal reviews from other participants made it sound wonderful.

I attended Saturday night's concert, which featured Club Carrefour and the duo of Liz Carrol and John Doyle. An exciting concert.

next year, to save some money, I plan on being a volunteer. Participants pay up to $25 per day, but volunteers work a four hour shift and get entrance to the festival for both days for free. Camping is $35 per car for the whole weekend.

I should add that you do not have to camp out if you don't want to to. There are hotels nearby. For that matter, if you live close enough, you could always drive in from home and park on the premises. Parking passe are $5.