Sunday, November 29, 2009

10 Things I Learned at Open Mike Tonight

1. No matter how unprepared you are, no how badly you need to rehearse your song, you're probably going to be much better than a guy with a puppet and a kazoo.

2. Stand-up comedy is always better when it's done by someone funny.

3. Dylan+accordion = just might work

4. Feedback happens.

5. Enthusiasm does not make up for being tone deaf.

6. Repetition usually works best in threes. But, if you're going to repeat the same word more than that, you'd better commit to it.

7. Wild Card performers are often more risky than satisfying.

8. SOME Wild Card performers are worth the wait.

9. The older folk are sometimes the best performers.

10. Some people who aren't ready to sing a deeply personal song to that special someone are often somehow ready to to sing that same deeply personal song to a large audience.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Last Musical Moments with Mom

Last night, Billy C and were jamming on our ukes with our friend Victor K on guitar. This was a different kind of jam for us as Victor is a talented musician. I'm not saying that we don't know other talented people, but when you say "take it, Victor," he takes it. In fact, when Billy C or I asked one another to take it, Victor usually took it. The only thing we took was credit.

We finished our set with "So Lonesome I Could Cry," with Billy C singing melody and me singing harmony. It evolved into a meditation of sorts with Vic taking solo duties as we strummed along.

At the end, we began talking about music and its spiritual essence--not the exact words Victor used, but close enough. The main point was that words couldn't really express what he felt. He told us how there was nothing like playing with friends just for the sake of playing.

It made me think of Mom's last couple of years. Do did some research on Alzheimer's and learned that musical memory is something that stays with us even as our other memories leave. Mom didn't have Alzheimer's. She had Parkinson's. But the same truth still holds--at least in her case.

I stayed with her one night at one of the facilities where she had lived. She had had a very bad day and the woman who ran this home didn't know what to do with her. So I stayed the night.

I didn't sleep much because about every half-hour or so, Mom would try to get out of her bed. At the time, she couldn't walk much and getting out of bed would have been disastrous for her. So I'd go over and take her hand and say "Mom, you don't have to get up yet." She'd say "Can I sleep for just one more hour?" I'd say "yes" and then stroke her hair as she lay back down. Eventually, she'd drift back off.

At around 3 AM, while still sleeping, she started singing. Now Mom had studied opera and had been an excellent singer in her day. She sang an aria and, considering she was lying on the bed, she sang in perfect pitch and kept perfect time, her foot tapping out the rhythm as it stuck out from under her blanket.

And she sang the whole thing. At full volume. Sublime.

A year or so later, as her disease progressed, we moved Mom into a rehab center for evaluation. Most of this time, she ate and drank very little and slept a lot. Sometimes, when awake, she would hallucinate. We would be sitting and talking (she, her bed), when she would suddenly get this look of horror on her face. She say "Don't let me go!" and I would hold her hand more tightly while the episode passed. I realized, finally, that she thought that she was walking with me and was losing her balance--that she was falling. So, when it happened again, I'd say, "It's alright, Mom. I've got you," and she'd calm down.

One day, I brought my uke by for a visit and found her asleep. I sat there for awhile, strumming a random chord progression. Lo and behold, Mom started singing with me--again, on pitch, even though my fingers traveled carelessly from chord to chord. No words, just notes. But I felt like we were talking, so I played until she came awoke and talked with me a little bit.

Soon Mom moved to hospice. We kept reminding ourselves that sometimes people go into hospice and they're still around for years.

Once in hospice, she began the three-month decline until her death. In the beginning, she'd drift in and out of consciousness. She'd be out most of the day because, at night, she would go into sundowning mode, staying too antsy to sleep. She said very little during most of my visits.

One time, again armed with my uke, I brought a fake-it book and played some songs for her, many of them hymns. I came across one I didn't know. It had a Latin title. I asked her if she knew it. She then awoke to lecture to me about an aria with a similar sounding title and then sang it to me--again in fill voice, in perfect pitch.

And then fell silent.

That was the last time she sang for me.

Now, I'm thinking of how Billy C and I used to play with our Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and Erector Sets, sometimes building hybrid constructions using all three, while Mom had Madame Butterfly playing on the stereo as she did her housework. We didn't think much of it because we figured that's just what everyone's mother did.

Thanks for the music, Mom. I can hear you still.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Random Act of Kindness

I have this thing called trigger finger. It causes your tendon to lock. So when I make a fist and then open it, the unaffected fingers open smoothly, but the affected fingers flick open like a switchblade. My ring finger on my right hand is not too bad. I have mostly a full range of movement, depending on how badly it's flaring up. My left birdy finger is worse. I can't easily close it all the way. When I do, it often locks pretty badly.

I demonstrated this phenomenon to my classes awhile back. I was trying out a splint to give my birdy finger a rest, so I felt I should explain it , so my students didn't think I was flipping them off. I made light of it as much as I could.

You see this thing has occurred in the past--maybe for five or so years. The first time it was pretty mild and it went away for a long time. Then it came back a couple of years later and I got a couple of cortisone shots from my doctor. It went away for about a year.

It came came back over the summer and got worse. I'd wake up in the morning and my birdy finger would be locked and would refuse to open. I'd have to massage it. During the day it was better, but could be painful at times.

And of course my left hand is the one I make chords with. It is usually flexible enough for that--but there have been a couple of times that I had trouble getting that finger to go where I wanted it to.

Anyway, today, as fourth period was starting and I was firing up my computer to take attendance, this little girl walks up to me and has this bag with the Victoria's Secret logo on it. She gives it to me and I study the logo and the look on her face--a look of compassion. I decide it's alright to see what's in the bag.

Now, aside from my concern about the logo, I'm also wondering why I'm getting a gift a week before Thanksgiving. I usually get stuff from kids just before Christmas, but not Thanksgiving.

I open the bag and there inside is a box with some kind of gloves in it. My first thought is mittens for the winter. I read the label and it says these are therapeutic gloves that encourage circulation for people with arthritis.

There's a card inside from her Mom. In her note, the mom explains that she wears these gloves mainly at night to help relieve her arthritis pain and that she thinks they might help me too. She also tells me that I can get them exchanged if they're too big.

I got big hands. No glove is too big.

As I realized what this was about, I was just a tad choked up. No tears, but that lumpish feeling you get when you realize that you could cry.

So this girl probably went home and told her mom about my trigger finger. The mom files the information somewhere and then, one day, probably while getting herself a new pair of these gloves, gets a pair for me.

God manifests himself in acts of kindness.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

10 things i saw today

In no particular order:

1. a little girl in a restaurant, a toddler, waddling around her family's table giggling, making me wish all children could be that happy all of the time.

2. Ruby and Pearl not wanting to go on a walk, but willing to practice a few commands.

3. a hawk flying over my high school's campus.

4. the listing of aspartame as one of the ingredients in my yogurt--blecch

5. an old dog toy that looked like it had been buried years ago, dug up, and then chewed up

6. a closed sign on a bike shop I had hoped would be open

7. a girl walking by who looked like one of my students but wasn't

8. two employees closing up the clothing across the street, checking one another's bags to verify no one had stolen anything

9. mom's cat sitting outside, looking through the screen of my open window, meowing to be let in

10. a hand-written sign on the corner of my street teling how I could make money while working at home

Friday, November 06, 2009

An Attack at School Today

Our AP sent out an e-mail that said that this muslim girl, one who wears a traditional scarf to cover her hair, was walking to class by herself. On her way, she crossed paths with five boys, whom were laughing amongst themselves, not paying her any attention. When they got close, one of them from out of nowhere, slapped the girl hard across the face. Then they ran off. She gave descriptions of them, but not very detailed as she didn't recognize them from anywhere.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Leader of the Pack

So an earlier dog-walking adventure led me to wonder what it would be like to walk both dogs together. You'll recall that, when I walked Pearl one night, two escaped neighbor dogs went with us around several blocks, walking in step with pearl like a school of fish.

I got one of those Y-shaped leashes for two dogs and gave it a try tonight with Ruby and Pearl together.

I discovered that 90 pounds, eight legs,and two heads' worth of dog is not as easy as walking 45 pounds, four legs, and one head's worth of dog. Fortunately, I'm bigger and heavier.

Getting them out of the backyard, into the house, and then out the from door was the hardest part. We've developed this ceremony where they go flat to the floor and become dead weight and I have to coax them out one way or another. Once I got them to the door, they bounced right out and, other than getting confused about being on the same leash, they were relaxed.

Once I picked the direction, they were fine on the street. Ruby (the smaller dog by about 3 pounds) took the lead, walking on the left near the curb. Pearl (the bigger dog) followed Ruby.

Once in awhile, when we paused or turned a corner, the two of them reversed positions. When that happened, they started walking into each other a little, bumping shoulders--kind of like those two guys in Stuck on You.

But they both relaxed more than previous walks and seemed to have a good time. Ruby was still the more nervous of the two, looking around when she heard a car approaching and maybe getting out of step with Pearl. But being with Pearl did calm her down.

I worried that the evening would be a tangled mess, but the pack menatlity kept things pretty orderly--except when we rounded the last corner and they sensed that we were near home. Each dogs speeds up when we get to that part of the walk and I have to pull back a little to get them to slow down. This was much harder with two dogs.