Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Five Things That Define Me

The ukulele
Don Quixote
My MA in English
My Record/CD collection

Two of these are constants in my life. Three mark recent profound changes in my life. One represents a major weakness. One is an achievement. One represents a change in my thinking. One is a work in progress.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

History in a Box

Billy and Mama C and I spent the afternoon at her house sorting through a huge box of pictures and documents--many of which date back to my grandparents' (her parents) childhood. Many of these pictures are close to century old.

We sorted everything into different stacks: Mom's immediate family, extended family, notes and letters, etc. We asked mama C questions about each picture to identify the subjects and to get a bit of the connection they had in our family tree. This process consumed three or four hours and Mama C, who is 82, grew tired towards the end (and maybe a little confused), but she stayed with us as we scribbled her comments on post-it notes stuck to the back of each picture.

Some of the memorable pictures:

Mama C's cousin George and his sister June as kids, each holding a banjo. I didn't know June, but George and his wife had the habit of just showing up at our doorstep(unannounced) from time to time to visit. He received the Silver Star in World War II, if I've got my story right. He passed away a couple of weeks ago. He had this big dimpled smile in the photo, just like the one he wore on those days he showed up at our house.

Mama C's Aunt Lena, who apparently had an eye for the boys and gave her children up for adoption. One of her sons, Gin, had been adopted by Lena's mother while very young and went to his grave thinking she was his real mother. Gin's brothers and sisters disappeared into the mists of time, totally absorbed into their adopted families. In one picture, there was Lena, baby Gin, and a little girl who was apparently one of Gin's siblings given up for adoption. Mom says that no one knows the little girl's name.

Mama C's Aunt Vera with her three children. The children, all very young, looking at the camera while Vera's eyes were averted down, as if in meditation. Like all of my grandmother's sisters, she was a striking woman. This picture had been taken before the accident. As I recall, one of her children was playing with a pair of scissors and accidentally stabbed her right below the eye. The wound, while not blinding her, caused a large welt to grow under the eye. She rarely left the house after that, until much later in life, where surgery had been performed to remove the welt.

Mama C's cousin Jimmy, Millie's son. Millie divorced Jimmy's father and later married a man named Georges, who treated Jimmy badly. Millie refused to let Jimmy's birth father anywhere near the boy. Jimmy later searched to find what had happened to his father. He discovered that his father had always lived right down the street and had watched Jimmy grow up from a distance, never contacting him.

A portrait of Great Uncle Brick in his Highway Patrol uniform.

A picture of my grandmother and mother in their church choir. Mama C was probably in her early teens, grandma in her early 40's. There was another picture of the church choir with Grandma, but Mama C wasn't in it. As I have said in another post, my memories of Grandma put her in the late stages of MS. I have no memory of her where she was able to get around on her own, so it's great to see pictures where she was young and healthy.

We also found a letter to Grandpa, who served in the Navy during both world wars. Mama C said that he packed his bags two days after Pearl Harbor and re-enlisted. "I think he just wanted to get away. He couldn't stay in one spot for very long."

The letter, from her Aunt Eloise, urged my grandfather to finish his business with those "slant-eyed demons." Eloise's son, Happy, had gone missing. His ship had been attacked and sunk and the last anyone had seen of Happy, he was in a lifeboat, alone, drifting into the horizon. Grandpa was in San Francisco on medical leave when he received the letter. Eloise had heard that a few of the survivors from Happy's ship were in the same hospital as Grandpa, an she asked him to ask around for more information about her son. Clearly from her tone, she knew her son had died, but she also held on to any hope that he might be found or that she at least might learn what had happened to him.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Doppelganger 2

A colleague and I met a group of students at the local UC library this morning...and there he was again.

It's spooky--not because I think the resemblance is all that great. It's spooky because I see this guy where ever I go on Saturday mornings.

We take classes to the UC library about 4 times a year and he's always there. In the Spring time, when I work in the RCC Reading and Writing Center, he always shows up there. When I go hang out at any of the many coffee joints, he's there.

The students, who sometimes behave sophomorically (because they are sophomores), made a big deal out of it. To make matters worse, it seems like we are dangerously close to spilling into one another's consciousness as doppelgangers. I know he could hear the kids giggling at him and me. Even my colleague is in on it. When a couple of kids went to him with a question, he pointed at the mysterious stranger and said, "I don't know, why don't you ask Mr. BABoR?" I guess they actually approached him and had the question half out of their mouths before they realized it wasn't me.

I am afraid this guy is going to try to speak to me. True, at RCC, he and I went to the restroom at the same time and he said something like "How's it goin'?" But I said nothing to him. I couldn't.

I'm afraid that some day he will say something like "Hey, do you realize how much we resemble each other?" and my world will be sucked into a wormhole or something.

Besides, I think he's ugly.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Apologies to My Sister

My sister is farther along the road to packrat recovery than anyone in my family. I said earlier that we all hoarded stuff we didn't need and, true, she has an entire room in her house designed for storage. But her house is spic and span at all times. Now, that storage room could be a mess. I don't know because I am afraid to go into that room when I visit. I have seen too many horror films that center around a forbidden room that tempts characters--even dares them--to try and unlock the door and see what's on the other side.

So I don't go in that room.

One reason that my sister is so neat is that she married wisely. Her husband is always cleaning. I have often thought of moving in with them because, any time there is a mess, he cleans it up. This is almost perfect for me.

The down side of that is if you just set something down with the intention of coming back for it later, he cleans that up too. This bad for me because I'm always setting things down "for later." Later might be in a few minutes, a few hours,...or even a few years--but I always come back for it.


Friday, September 08, 2006

Another 6 Degrees of Separation

I received a mailer from Janet Klein
announcing her upcoming Vaudeville Extravaganza. Janet Klein and her ukulele perform with a kind of lounge jazz with her band the Parlor Boys, among whom is Ian Whitcomb who had a hit in the 60's. They put on a good show.

I taught with Steve Klein
, Janet's father, for several years before he died unexpectedly. He was in his early fifties. Steve was a fine artist and nice man.

Back to the mailer. It surprised me to read the name of one of the acts, Davis and Faversham, a comic tribute to Abbot and Costello. Beavis Faversham (aka Martinez)traveled in the same circle of local show biz folk that I used to awhile back. Last I heard, he worked at Universal Studios costumed as either W.C. Fields or Oliver Hardy. Now I guess he's added Lou Costello to his catalog of stars.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Meditation on Steve Irwin

I admit I had to look up and remind myself of this guy' name. I am amazed at how many students seemed to be in mourning, but they grew up with him. Irwin was there loud, wild babysitter-- a little scary, but very entertaining.

I guess the closest I come to feeling the same way occurred when Chucko the Birthday Clown announced to the kiddies in televisionland that he had been canceled. Chucko ended his last show in tears.

Or maybe when Bob Keeshan, Captain Kangaroo, died.

The subject came up in class today and a kid commented about how Irwin died doing what he loved.

I said I agreed.

A student asked me if I would like it then if a died in a bizarre ukulele explosion.

I said no, because I don't love explosions of any kind. I love playing the ukulele.

Shortly after Louis Armstrong died, one of his ex-wives died (I did a Google to find out her name, but no luck). She was a jazz pianist and died during a concert, right after ending a tune. I didn't see it, but Billy C saw the film clip on the news. She really did collapse right at the end of the song. I remember him raving about how good great the song was and then she was gone.

Now I'm not in her caliber. But playing my ukulele and singing wouldn't be a bad end.

Especially if I had just played a really silly song.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

More Cleaning House

My Bro-inlaw, Billy C, and myself helped Mom sort through stuff at her house. BroIL is a cleaning tornado. He is merciless about throwing stuff away, in part because his emotional attachment to all of the junk isn't as great.

We agreed that the plan for the day was to empty as many closets, cupboards, and shelves of knick-knacks and bric-a-brac as we could. I took the hall closet, where decades worth of sheet music and songbooks, mostly church-related, were stored. Some of it was recyclable, mostly guitar books that could be used for uke resources. There were also librettos of oratorios Mom had sung in. As I said, she was quite a singer in her day.

My parents had also stored their record collection in this closet. I don't think the records have been touched since dad died in '90.

One treasure that I think had been a gift to me was a record from Hawaii with Iz and his brother Skippy's band. I had no use for it then, but hope I can find a turntable now.

The real surprise find was something that I had thought I had lost. When she was still a teenager, my mother had recorded two songs--"Loch Lomand" and an aria from Puccinni's Gianni Sacchi (did I mention she was a singer?). It was on 78. I had borrowed it about 25 years ago to put it on tape with other old recordings I had been given by Les Weinstein. I forgot about the record and later assumed that I had stored it God-knows-where. As Mom got older, I began to fret that I had lost it and feared the day when someone asked if I still had it.

But there it was, in with her record collection.

I later pulled a big computer box down from this one closet, assuming it contained an old computer. What I found instead were old old pictures and keepsakes from my childhood, my mother's childhood, and my grandmother's childhood.

My grandmother had Multiple Sclerosis and my memories of her place her in bed or in a wheelchair. So, it was nice to find so many photos of her when she was young and healthy. One in particular had her in her swimsuit--the kind with the pantaloons and stockings and fluffy sailor-suit top.

Anyway,a lot of stuff to dig through.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Way to Go George!

I stopped by to visit my mother, who lives in an assisted living facility. She has made friends with a woman named Joan who is about her age (82) and who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a disease that robs you of your balance and mobility. So, the attendants at this place have to watch her because she is prone to fall and can't get herself up.

So last night an attendant came into my mother's room while making the rounds and asks her if she knows where Joan is. She wasn't in her room and the attendant feared she might have fallen somewhere and be in need of help.

My mother told the attendant that perhaps one of her meal-time table mates, a man named George, might know where she is.

So the attendant walks down the hall and knocks on George's door.

No answer.

Again concerned that one of her clients might be in trouble, she enters the room and calls his name.

She found Joan and George together. In BED!

My mother asked me not to tell anyone, but I have a feeling that George would be glad if the word gets around.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

No $#!+, Sherlock

Back in 1989, I traveled to Europe with my buddy Bob. We flew over two days ahead of a group of students. The trip started in London and, once the students joined us, we traveled through Paris, Lucerne, Florence, and Rome. This trip almost ended our friendship, but that's another story. Let's just say that traveling with friends and or loved one really does put you to the test.

We landed in London. While there, we decided to take in a couple of plays. There's a booth at Leicester Square where you can tickets to some pretty good shows for half price. The line is usually peppered with scalpers trying to sell extra expensive tickets to the big hits, but I don't care much to see the big hits.

We got tickets to see a play called "The Secret of Sherlock Holmes," Starring Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke, who played Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson on the British TV series in the late eighties and early nineties. Hardwicke's father was Sir Cedric Hardwicke. Brett needs no introduction to Holmes Heads. But he also played Freddie, the young man in love with the reborn Eliza Doolittle, in the film version of "My Fair Lady." In interviews, Brett complained about the dubbing process for both him and Audrey Hepburn, whose voices were replaced by Marni Nixon and some guy. I guess both Brett and Hepburn were hurt when they discovered this.

Anyway, we enjoyed the play. It was a two-man show and the actors were very good. Hardwicke's played Watson cool and reserved to Brett's manic Holmes. Brett was a sweater. I mean, it just poured. The actual mystery was secondary to the chance to see this famous Holmes and Watson work their stuff.

After the performance, Bob and I walked to the alley behind the theater where Brett and Hardwicke would soon emerge to greet fans and sign autographs.

This older gentleman dressed in a worn tweed suit and beat up bowler sat on a beat-up suitcase, resting his back against the theater wall. The twinkle in his eye and his manner hinted that he had been at some point and actor.

Brett came out wearing a cloak and a beret. As he came out, the old gentleman rose, picked up his suitcase by the handle, stood up straight, and took a deep breath, muttering "Ah, here he is."

Brett cheerfully, but quickly, signed autographs, making certain to mention that they had begun filming new Sherlock Holmes shows.

The elderly gentleman approached Brett s he signed his last autograph and greeted Brett extending his hand. Brett quickly reached into his own pocket, pulling out a few bills and handed them to the gentleman, quickly saying "Good to see you,"--then quickly turned away and left.