Friday, May 11, 2007

Stephanie, Stephanie, and Stephanie

I drove to Borders this evening to look for a book, The Brothers K, by David James Duncan, author of The River Why. After I found it, I browsed a for awhile. I rounded the corner to check out the Afro-American studies when, who should I run into but two former students from about 5 years ago, both named Stephanie. I hadn't seen Stephanie since she had graduated, although Stephanie had stopped by school a couple of times to visit.

On her last visit, Stephanie and I talked about our common interest in music. We discovered that we both were fans of the Ditty Bops. She always had an indie streak in her. She liked the Donnas and had her own band modeled after them. I'm not sure how successful the band was--or that it even actually performed anywhere. She told me that she is majoring in Journalism.

Stephanie, on the other hand, is majoring in History. I noticed that she now wore braces and had darker hair than I remembered. I recall that she read an essay to the class about the importance of reading in her life.

As we chatted there in Borders, Stephanie's cell phone rang. She smiled and said, "Hey, it's Stephanie--Mr. Babor, she's here with us!"

A third Stephanie walked out of the Sci-Fi section. She always had this intense way of speaking so fast that I got dizzy sometimes listening to her. She liked Kerouac. Her major was International Politics. She was with a friend who had an Arabic name and complained about how boring it was to read Camus in French.

I agreed.

What a great way to end a day. I'm just sorry their friend Gladys wasn't with them.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Running with Scissors at an Institution of Slightly Higher Learning: a Trilogy

Once, while still attending Grad School, I sat at my usual table on the patio at Starbucks, reading Death in the Afternoon. This group of Bible Study kids shows up. There were about four or five of them, one of them being an odd young man who felt that his duty was to be extra loud so that everyone could appreciate how much fun he was. A thin young man with long unkempt auburn hair, he would shout out the most idiotic comments while the others tried to discuss the Bible. They weren't biblical comments, they just were stupid and loud and meant to be funny.

On this particular day, the kids had brought artsy-craftsy stuff and had planned to create something. At one point, the loud kid, holding a pair of scissors in his hands, shouts "I'll go get it!" and runs down the sidewalk to "get it" with the scissors still in his hand.

Another time, after school, I stood in my classroom looking out the window. I saw the usual group of students sitting at their usual lunch bench, playing their usual role-playing card game. Two girls stood over them and one seemed to be nagging one of the boys as he played the game.

Suddenly, this boy, who was about 6'6" leapt to his feet and chased the two girls, grabbing the nagger in a choke-like hold, held her for a moment, and then gave her neck a jerk. She fell like a ragdoll as he marched triumphantly back to his game.

I hurried out to where nagging girl lay, her friend hunched over her. Nagging girl was sobbing in a heap. I asked her of she was okay. She said "Yes," through her tears.

As I walked over to the gamers, I asked another teacher to call security. I stopped behind the tall kid, who had now continued his game as if nothing had happened, and asked him "What did you just do?"

He looked at his cards and not me and said "She pissed me off."

I said, "That's not what I asked you."

"It's cool," he said, "She's my sister."

A couple of weeks ago, on my way to teach my night class at Rio de Nada Community College, I stopped by the cafeteria to get a bottle of water and a snack. Inside, in a booth, another group of gamers sat playing their game. Shouting ensued. One guy yelled something about wizards or trolls or death cards or something and started running out the automatic doors. Another guy jumped up an chased the first guy, grabbing a pile of campus papers on his way out the doors. They ran across the campus and the second guy threw the papers at the first guy and, of course, the papers flew everywhere. Second guy then stopped running, turned around, and headed back to the cafeteria, leaving the papers scattered on the ground.

As I walked to my class, I watched him to see if he truly was going to leave all of those papers scattered across campus. For a moment our eyes locked and I wondered if I really was going to have to tell this guy--a student at a college for God's sake--that he needed to go pick up after himself. He flinched at my look, turned around again, and picked them up.

There is no moral to this. I just wanted to let you know that we may be outnumbered

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Riverside Ukulele Liberation Front, 3rd Meeting

Each meeting gets better and better. We had nine folks today. Three of our regulars were absent and sorely missed.

The playlist: Beautiful Sunday with Do taking vocals. Jamaica Farewell, with Billy C singing. Eric lead us in Daydream. Then, Eric brught in Psycho Killer and we worked on that ne for awhile. Carl and Liam the Younger took uke solos.

What made it fun was that we really worked the songs, really layering the music. A great afternoon.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Jammin' with Bill

I served the folk music public today as a volunteer for the 27th Annual Folk Music Festival Today. I took the morning shift, working first at a musical instrument check-in room and later as a runner for the fiddle workshop. I thought the fiddle workshop would be fun, but the instructor mostly talked and the group did very little fiddling. Only two participants played the fiddle with any skill. So the fiddling was Jack Benny-esque at best.

Otherwise, music filled the air.

The Canaries performed at the open mike stage, but we weren't ready. Do performed her bosom song. As she left the stage, we shouted for her to sing a song she plays on the uke, so she got back onstage and sang that. Then we shouted for her to do "Tinfoil Hat," so she did. She was very good.

Billy C and I got to see and hear John McEuen who used the play banjo and fiddle with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band back in the day. McEuen also taught Steve Martin how to play banjo. McEuen's guest was some 14-year-0ld mandolin prodigy who played like a possessed mofo.

After that performance. It was time for the final workshop of the day. Uke Forever was on schedule to teach a ukulele workshop, but Billy C and I wanted to go t a folk historian's workshop instead. Then, on our way, we saw an elderly man being guided to UF's room. He had to be in his 90's. He appeared quite feeble, in fact. I noticed that he had very thick white hair. That's when I realized that it was none other than ukemaster Bill Tapia. I realized that, indeed, he must be appearing in UF's workshop.

So Billy C and I zoomed over to UF's workshp and, sure enough, there sat Bill Tapia. He looked like he could be any elderly gentleman--frail, maybe a little alone. But when he began playing, he transformed. You could see the eyes light up and the body energize. He dominated the workshop, regaling us with stories from his early days playing in big bands and singing songs. His playing was spot on.

So there we were, about 30 workshop attendees, getting a performance from a uke legend.

UF ocassionally stepped in to show the newbies some chords and teach them some simple songs. UF led us in "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." I led the singing because no one else seemed to know the words.

I think Bill Got a little bred because he out of the blue asked me "How do you make a 'C' chord?" I made a "C"chord. Then "How do you make an 'E7?'" I made the "E7." I kind f panicked because he kept throwing chords at me. But I showed him every chord.

Then he turned to Billy C with the same drill. Then he asked "Now, everybody play those chords as I call them." Pretty soon, we were all playing the chords to "Ain't She Sweet" while Bill Tapia took the solo. I soon realized that I was jamming with Bill Tapia.

UF handled everything very well, allowing Tapia the spotlight, while making sure everyone walked away with a few basic chords.

Hey, I got to jam with Bill Tapia. It just doesn't get much better than that.