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New Instruments — Part II

23 May

New Instruments — Part II

The piano. The trombone. The harmonica.

The Piano

Well before, and sandwiched in between my learning to play the baritone ukulele or classical guitar, were the good intentioned desires of my mother that I learn to play the piano.

I was probably somewhere between five and seven years old.

Dad had bought a mid-sized Mason & Hamlin grand piano from a friend who needed the money. It sat in the livingroom and occupied a corner. Whenever my sisters and I played tag or hide-and-seek, it was a favorite place to hide, sitting on the thin carpeted floor underneath. Many times I dashed around the corner and banged my head on the underside of that piano.

For a short while I would walk a couple of blocks to the home of a piano teacher, who, in vain, tried to give me the fundamentals of piano. I’m convinced had ADD been a diagnosis at the time, I would have had it. I had no patience, and my lessons were short-lived. I rue that to this day.

Instead, I would spend hours seated on the piano bench, tapping out my own music creations, and playing with the foot pedals for effect.

Dad also had a Hammond electric organ, which he would play infrequently. He only knew a few songs, and those were mostly from “South Pacific,” his favorite musical. Of course. It was about the war, which had impacted him so very much.

Through the years the piano went through some transformation. At one point my parents had the black glossy finished removed for a softer, chestnut-colored stain. For the majority of its life, it remained unused and out of tune.

My sister took the piano and used it primarily for a lamp stand. She said she intended her children to learn to play, but that never happened.

Years later I bought it from her, and commissioned a person to refinish the instrument. She was glad to have the piano stay in the family, but more happy with money to use to go on a trip.

Of the family, only my first daughter flourished as a pianist. To this day she plays fluently, and teaches chorus in public school. She has a white enameled piano in her house.

When I separated and divorced from my Ender Wife (I had two: a Starter Wife and an Ender Wife), she got custody of the piano. To my knowledge, it is still in pieces from her move to another city, stacked among other furniture that awaits final resolution and use. She does play the piano, and had an old church upright for a time when I first met her.

Like any instrument, I believe, pianos are only happy when they are played.

The Trombone

In high school and college, my dad played the trombone. He had a silver-finished simple slide trombone that sported a small bell. I saw an ad featuring a trombone brand — King, I think — endorsed by the great Tommy Dorsey.

The summer between elementary school and junior high school, I decided to learn the trombone, and to play in the junior high band. Dad proudly presented me his to use. By that time, what might have once been a shiny silver lacquer finish, was now more like a dull gray pewter.

I sat in a row with other trombonist would-bees, with their very shiny Conn trombones sporting HUGE bells, and the fuse of my continuing sense of inadequacies was lit. Their slides slipped effortlessly along the double-tubed track. Mine? It slid like a rusty screen sliding door — jerky and unpredictable. I hated my trombone?

“What’s wrong with it?” my Dad asked. In his day it was probably the finest instrument money could buy. To me it was like comparing a Model-T to a Corvette Stingray. He made it more difficult to explain when he told me that Dorsey had come to his fraternity once at the U of Minnesota and actually played the thing. I thought of the sappy story about an old violin being auctioned off. Do you know that one?

  • “Let’s start the bidding for this violin at $10,000.” No bids.
    He dropped it by half to $5,000. Still no bids.
    Once again, he dropped it to $2,500, and then to $1,000, and then $500 — until in exasperation he had reached $10 for the violin.
    “Wait!” shouted someone in the back of the grouped bidders. An old bent man shuffled forward and took the violin in his hands, tucked it under his chin, and drew the bow across its strings.
    The result mesmerized the room. It was beautiful, and the violin sang like a Stradivarius. He handed the old violin back to the auctioneer and disappeared among the amazed bidders.
    “Who will offer $50,000 for this violin?” said the auctioneer.
  • Yeah, well I was no expert, and still wanted a bright, shiny brass like-silk sliding trombone.

The trombone is a dirty instrument, in my opinion. To get a sound, you have to basically spit through pursed lips into the mouthpiece. After a time, enough saliva collects in the slide tubing that the “voice” of the trombone gets very gurgly-sounding. At the end of the slide is a spring valve that the player opens and blows hard — which forces the liquid yuck out. Next time you see an orchestra, watch the trombone players. They will quickly lean forward to empty the slide of spit onto the floor area next to their feet.

As with nearly every instrument, learning a brass instrument comes with a painful learning curve — painful to listeners as well as the player — who wants to sound just like Dorsey, or any well-known instrumentalist. Tone and pitch are nonexistent in the learning months. And practice? Well, my ADD tendencies didn’t allow for much of it. I did find that the acoustic reverberation effects of the bathroom made whatever I played sound much better, though. And louder. You were out of luck if you needed to go and I was playing my trombone.

To complicate matters, I wore braces. Pressing my lips to the mouthpiece to get a sound ravaged the insides of them. And so my career was short-lived. Plus I played football (better suited to an ADD kid), and so couldn’t march in the band.

My band teacher was great, though, and all the band members were fun. We were herded into the same homeroom so that we could be in band class. Teddy Harris, a tall, skinny guy, played a mean drum, and in home room, all of us pounded our desks to the beat of a favorite rhythm. Our homeroom teacher was a saint. Or should have been.

And who doesn’t like a man in uniform? Blue and white swirling down sleeves and pant legs. Stove-like hats with a plume shooting up at the front, and a shining black visor. Brass buttons. And you got to march down Main Street in the Christmas Parade! Although we were always positioned just behind a group of gaily-dressed cowboys and cowgirls riding Palominos who definitely had digestive problems.

While my skill levels and interest in continuing trombone definitely plateaued in junior high, the experience was great. AND, the strangest thing happened forty years later.

I was working at a hospital in Western North Carolina in public relations and marketing. One morning I received an email from a guy who had also played in the band back in junior high school. Back then he called himself Steven, and was kind of a squirrelly kid with big eyes and curly hair. He played trumpet. We will call him Steven C. Now, he addressed himself as Steve C., and he attached a photography of himself with his family.

Steven had grown up. He looked like a male model. His family looked like a perfect group. And Steve’s wife? Her name was Lisa, and she had played the part of Blair in a TV sitcom called “The Facts of Life.” He was now the music minister of a mega-church in California.

Imagine that?!

Within the year the couple were in the news — news like ET and such — as things unravelled for them. All the time I watched thinking, “Gosh, this will really help when I play Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon next time!”

The Harmonica

There was a time, when as a student in college who was majoring in fraternity, I came to my senses. It was such an about-face for me that I literally turned from everything I had known to that point.

I had grown reasonably adept at my guitar (Part III), and had begun to write songs. Lots of songs. Christian-oriented songs. Thank You, My Lord, For the Day came into my head while driving to my college apartment. You’ve never heard it, unless you knew me back then.

I even rewrote the lyrics to Killing Me Softly:

We met beside the water,
My life was ebbing low,
And I could go no farther
Till He began to show,
A way of quenching dryness,
The cup of Life
And he was … (Wait for it)
Filling me softly with His love,
Filling my life from above
Filling me softly with his love
Forever giving me new life
Now I am living his new life
Filling me softly
With his love.

The Jesus Movement. But not a lot of Christian groups at the time. Then came the 2nd Chapter of Acts and others.

So I had written all these songs. My father, always the fan but never the critic, encouraged me and another song-writer, Ken, to record an album he and another of his friends would finance.

Ken WAS a musician. Up through the southern beach music tradition, he too had turned from all he knew. And he too had written a lot of music, and had formed a Christian band.

So we recorded an album in a local studio. Jubilant Feet. You’ve never heard of it, unless you know either me or Ken.

The very first track of the album was a harmonica solo. You were waiting for me to get to this, right? A guy from California named Steve Humphries played it. Foot-stomping and lively. His rif bent notes and wailed as he literally provided drums with his feet. Hence the title of this song and the album.

He would sing between playing.

Well I ain’t been to heaven but I been told
Streets up there is lined with gold,
See me walkin’ down them golden streets
An’ dancin’ to da Lord with the jubilant feet!

The harmonica craze hit our little Christian hippie group like a hail storm, and everyBODY went out and bought a Hohner Blues Harp in the key of C and began huffing and puffing, trying to coax music out of that small reed instrument.

Kind of like the baritone ukulele craze.

Yeah, I got one too.

But one of the guys, who played drums on the album, and had come to Jesus from a time of drugs and hard living, did something with his. Not at first. At first, everyone begged Terry to quit the harmonica and stick to the sticks.

Terry traipsed off to Nashville, still blowing that harp of his the wrong way (he held it backwards from the way you are ‘sposed to play it). He ended up being — I think — discovered at an open mic at Roger Miller’s restaurant, and became one of the most sought-after harp players in the town. He rode with Jerry Reed and played on Ronnie Milsaps albums, and others, like JC (do I have to tell you?).

My harmonica sat in a drawer. Then, maybe twenty or thirty years later while checking out of Cracker Barrel after a meal with my family, I spied the familiar Hohner blue boxed harmonicas they had for sale, and bought another one.

I have played mine at a few places. But I have never bought a harp holder and played my guitar like Dylan did. I prefer the single-note tunes, like Moon River, and such, where I can create dreamy vibrato.

I think of Terry whenever I pick my harp up. Even wrote a story about a kid and his harp, based ever-so-loosely on Damn Yankees. You’d have to read it to understand.

Terry’s no longer here, but his music is.

Perhaps this love of new instruments and music is because of Terry’s legacy: music lives on. It’s eternal.

 

Part III: The Martin. The Acoustic. The Mandolin.

New Intruments, Part I

10 May

New Instruments – Part One

Anticipation. Disappointment. Delight. Devastation.

In my early teenhood, a fad swept our little southern town: the baritone ukulele. The baritone is a size larger than the small Hawaiian instrument known then for playing those island tunes, and little else.

Kids around the town were popping up as groups — some rather large — to play the popular songs of the day, which happened to be folk tunes. Peter, Paul, and Mary; Joan Baez; Bob Dylan; New Christy Minstrels. Songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Five Hundred Miles,” “Black, Black, Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” “Green, Green,” and so forth and so on.

I wanted a baritone ukulele. Badly. It’s the one on the far right of the picture showing ukulele sizes.

So, Christmas Day found me — like Ralphie — shoving my younger brother aside under the tree among stacks of painfully-wrapped presents for that instrument.

It was not to be. Oh, there was an instrument, alright. A ukulele. A little small Hawaiian piece made from blondish woods with four plastic strings. The one on the far left of the picture showing ukulele sizes. Little more in my estimation than those plastic guitar-shaped toys with the crank jutting out of the end of the sound box.

Disappointment didn’t begin to describe my reaction. Mom and Dad couldn’t imagine why I was not overjoyed.

After the holidays, my dad righted the error and took me with him to the music shop, where I picked out a real baritone.

If you are a golfer, you know the sign of someone who is more than a duffer is when you shake hands, and you feel the rough callouses gloving their hand. They are players!

So it is with anyone that plays a stringed instrument and has to practice and practice and practice. The tips of their fingers blister to the point of agony if they are as avid as I was. From the time I got home from school to deep into the night I was strumming and fingering cords and learning songs. My sister, whose bedroom was adjacent mine, would pound on the wall and tell me, “SHUT UP!!!” repeatedly to no avail. My finger tips were toughening.

I took my baritone everywhere. I even made a protective case for it using thick mil plastic and sheets I cut up, which I sewed together. Strap, too.

Every song I heard was a project to master. Over time, my ear for chords and progressions developed, and I could hear a song and KNOW what the chords were. It really didn’t matter that most popular songs were little more than three standard chords. All rock and roll songs basically use the same chords.

After a while, I grew weary of the baritone with its tinny sound, and began to eye the next step up: a full guitar.

This time Dad knew well enough to take me with him when he shopped for the instrument.

It was a beauty! A Terraga classical guitar! Six strings a bit more difficult than the four-stringed baritone, but, once again, I was determined. Nearly all of the popular songs on the radio were folkish in nature, AND, they had song books with the chords and everything!

I went away to school in the tenth grade. My guitar was my solace for what I thought was punishment for some of my, shall we say, less-than-perfect behavior. Only knew one guy at the school who was also from my small southern town. Walter. Glasses. Skinny. Yep, I was one of those who shunned the early nerds before they became kings of the hill.

I and my guitar gently wept that first semester of school. I was homesick and hated being at the school. The seniors on my dorm were Dylan fanatics, and played their albums non-stop. I began to hate Dylan with his nasal talk-singing style. Never mind he was the guy who wrote nearly all the songs I loved that were recorded by other artists who could sing and play their instruments correctly. Who would have thought Dylan would one day win the Nobel Prize for Literature? Not me.

It happened just before Christmas holidays. A guy who lived down the hall came running into my room laughing and giggling about something. Time slowed to a frame-by-frame recording. John Rust (not his fake name) was a portly lad with curly blonde hair and was always red-faced. Anyway, he ran into my room with a bound, and leapt onto my bed. On the bed was my Terraga classical guitar. As his arch peaked, I could see his expression of hilarity turn into horror. His landing was pin-point.

The destruction of the Tarrega classical guitar was complete.

“Oops!” said John’s body language.

He managed to get out of my room before I killed him.

Barely.

 

 

Part II: All is not lost and it is well with my soul

BREAKING NEWS … !

20 Apr

BREAKING NEWS: Animal Federation employs MOAB* to send message to imminent domain residents.

SUGAR MTN, NC — The Western North Carolina Chapter of the Wild Animal Federation sent a definite message to residents of Chestnut Ridge in Sugar Mountain last night.

The message? GET OUT!

“We were here first,” said chapter spokes-“person” Pogo, an opossum elected by the Wild Animal Federation to represent their complaints.

“These interlopers, not to be confused with cantalopers or antelopers, forced their way onto our reservation without so much as a how-do-you-do. It’s gone on way too long. We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to put up with it any longer!”

Bud, the bad-ass black bear who is the Enforcer of the group, volunteered to do the deed, which was under the cover of night.

“Sure, come sneaking up in the dark. Pretty cowardly if you ask me,” said one of two year-round residents.

“Fine with me,” said the other year-round resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “I got my 30-ought-6 loaded and at the window if they want to test me!”

“It’s not only the bears,” said the first residents. “Deer, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and crazy-ass Robins have colluded to make this serene and picturesque area a place of potential carnage! What we NEED is a wall to keep these critters OUT!”

Both sides have been reluctant to come to the bargaining table.

“Just look at me!” complained Bud, the alleged perpetrator of last night’s melee. “I’ve put on 183 pounds this month due to all of the sugar and fat these humans have tossed! It’s not only unHEALTHY for ME, it’s a cruel kind of baiting I think has got to stop. Look at all the damn bird feeders, for crissakes! There’s not a wren or a titmouse for miles around able to fend for themself anymore. They’ve all become dependant. It’s like — here’s some free and easy bird seed — come and get it! Then, in the winter, these snowbirds fly south and take their birdfeeders with them! That’s as bad as giving away a free hit of heroine, if you ask me!”

The decades-old battle between squatters (how the animals refer to the humans) and animals is not likely to find resolution any time soon.

“They are just not like us,” murmured Bud under his garbage breath.

“Animals is what they are!” replied one of the year-round residents.

*Mother of all Bears

 

Garbage carnage as a result of MOAB attack during last night’s raid

 

Little Foxes

12 Apr

Hubba, hubba! Who dat bathing over there?

Little Foxes

By L. Stewart Marsden

Solomon 2:15 (KJV)
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.

I’ve both thought for others and said of my own situations when tragedy strikes, “Well, that puts things into perspective.”

Things like the death of a loved one. Sudden illness. An unexpected downturn, like loss of job or worse.

As a result, for a while — longer or shorter as the case may be — I’m back in the doldrums of daily existence. I should know better.

Solomon, to give you unchurched a little background (how haughty was that comment?), was the first legitimate offspring of King David and Bathsheba. If you have heard Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (and if you haven’t, you need to get out more), they are the subject of at least one of his lines in the song*:

Your faith was strong, but you needed proof,
You saw her bathing on the roof (BATH-she-ba … get it? Moses definitively had a sense of humor/irony).
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya …

I digress.

Anyway, David and Bathsheba hook up, and, because they didn’t have a local Family Planning Clinic in Jerusalem at the time and sheep intestines were not yet being used for protection, she got pregnant. The seed of David was strong.

“King David …I have good news and I have bad news.”

“I’ll take Good News for $200, Alex.”

“I’m preggers.”

“Great! Wait! What?” (David was also smart, but Michelangelo couldn’t quite convey that in the statue).

Soooo, because David had not heeded the long-time tradition of going off to war in the spring, and all of that moonlight and beauty stuff had knocked him slightly askew (excuses, excuses), he set to figuring out a remedy for this wonderful, yet not-so-wonderful situation. Again, had Family Planning been around, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Now Uriah was Bathsheba’s husband, and he was out standing in the field of battle (literally), fighting David’s war. Must have been a pretty high-ranking officer, as his house was within spyglass distance of the palace. David had him brought home for some R&R, thinking that Uriah and Bathsheba would get it on, and, voilà! No more problem! Sure, Bathsheba would have to lie about the paternity of the baby, but in the long run, David’s position involved in far more important stuff to worry about, what did he care about that? (I think this story is dog-ear marked in Willie C’s Bible — but don’t quote me, please).

Uriah comes home and David invites him to eat and drink (from the private wine collection) until he’s pretty sure Uriah doesn’t know which end is up.

“Go home and make puppies with Bathsheba,” he commands.

BUT, (perhaps this is a small fox?), Uriah goes to his house and sleeps outside the gate (a gated community) instead of insulting his men who were sleeping on the ground at the battle site and going in for a luxurious night’s — well.

So Bathsheba texted David: “LOL! Uriah slept outside the gate last night! We are in deep doo-doo!”

Once again David wines and dines Uriah, and urges him to “Go home, Bro’! Have a roll in the hay with your wife!”

Once again Uriah staggers home and makes a rock on the ground his pillow for the night.

Frustrated, (those damn foxes), David sends Uriah back to the battlefield with written orders to have him placed at the front of the lines, charge the enemy, and then suddenly retreat, leaving the hapless Uriah standing by himself when the enemy swarms.

See, now I might have taken a peek at those written orders. Not Uriah. Stalwart to the last. “Here you go, Colonel! The King’s orders!”

NOW David has TWO little foxes to deal with: Bathsheba, who is preggers with royal semen (no, not the Navy); and now an indirect murder.

Probable cause.

Nathan the prophet has a direct line to God, who leaks the information to him about what’s going on with David. And just like a CBS reporter, he storms the royal press conference and asks the question, “Is it true you’ve quit banging Bathsheba after Uriah took a hit on the battlefield?”

No good answer in hand, David is more than ferkempht.

Karma prevailed, and the bastard son died. Didn’t need Family Planning after all. Which David was glad about because that would have been one more fox in the vineyard to take care of.

Nathan tells David: “Remember that temple you wanted to build? Ain’t gonna happen. Wouldn’t be prudent. You will have another son by Bathsheba. He will build it, and they will come.” Or something like that. I’m not a Presbyterian in my Biblical interpretation. More of a combination Methodist/Unitarian.

Solomon.

So another window of opportunity was open, albeit not quite what David was expecting.

Pretty heady stuff.

But, I digress again.

For me little foxes are the things that irk me. And I know I should be able to get over them. But as I improve with age like a fine wine, those little buggers take up a lot of my mental/emotional space.

Like, people who get the usage of there, their and they’re mixed up on Facebook. Or, to, too and two. Or when news reporters (local AND especially national) say, “The victim is in stable condition.” (Search my website for that blog. I won’t repeat it here — suffice it to say stable is not a medical condition according to HIPAA).

Like, people (and you KNOW who you are!) who pour a glass of filtered water from the Brita water jug, and don’t refill it.

Like people (and you KNOW who you are!) who order a nice steak well done, and then cover it with A-1!

I could go on ad nausea.

These are minutia, and should easily roll off my backside, especially with my perspective of very serious stuff (I’m old enough to have a list of those that have happened).

It’s not really OCD. It’s the little foxes, nibbling constantly on the vines of my life.

The metaphor is actually the reverse of how I’m using it here. It really means take care of the little things in life so you don’t end up with a field of withered grape vines. But I’m the author, and I’ll decide how to use it. If I took that stance, I’d be Biblically correct. But because I know too many who are “Biblically correct,” and how that plays out, then I’m satisfied to be incorrect.

Gnashing of teeth. I hear gnashing of teeth.

 

 

*I first heard the tune in Disney’s Shrek, and then was under the impression Jeff Buckley was its composer. Wish I had known about Cohen years ago — but I didn’t. Oh, Cohen mixed his metaphors (that’s what metas are for) with Sampson and Delilah (She tied you to her kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair). I’m pretty sure God is okay with that. AND, Hallelujah is NOT a Christian song! Kind of like George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord is not a Christian song, or Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog is not in the United Methodist Hymnal. But, these, too, are little foxes.

National Do Not Email Registry

30 Mar

Do Not Email Registry

Or

The Bear I Didn’t Shoot

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

We all get spam. I’m so pleased with Gmail’s ability to filter most of it out. Still, some inevitably slips through the cracks in the filters.

Years ago when I was a reporter for a local newspaper, I was somehow put on an email list that has been distributed to God-knows-who. These are people who want their story printed, at the paper’s expense, with their point-of-view. Fake news? Hard to tell.

The upshot is that I have tried numerous times to get my name/email address deleted from this list or these lists to no avail.

It’s really not that big a deal in the long run. But, gosh, in this day and age when everyone makes a big deal about everything, why not join the fun?

Seems to me there should be a way to include my email address on a National Do Not Email Registry, like I can do with my landline and cell phone. I mean, what an incredibly effective deterrent the registry is, right?

In lieu of that, perhaps I should at least get something from this continued irksome problem. Hey, maybe an opinion piece for my online writing studio!

So here’s the latest sample of the emails I’m talking about. At least SPAM is somewhat interesting (I’m long overdue, by the way, to go check my cache of spam and post the craziest ones).

 

To: Mr. L. Stewart Marsden

From: Chelsea Giacobbe, Senior Account Executive

SUBJECT: Interview Opp: Rosetta Stone and Forbes Release Joint Study On How Providing Employees with Language Training Helps Global Enterprises Compete


Hi L. Stewart –

Hope all is well. Today, Rosetta Stone and Forbes released a new report on how providing employees with language training helps global enterprises compete. According to the report, as more companies are expanding into a global economy, having a multilingual workforce has become a critical success factor and businesses are taking action to provide employees with language learning resources.

Key findings from the report include:
· Management is seeing results. Nearly 60 percent of managers cited improved customer feedback as the area most impacted by employees participating in language learning. Performance improvement and more confidence also ranked high at 46 percent and 51 percent, respectively
· 92 percent of executives surveyed indicating that the entire company realizes the benefits of language training, though businesses in the customer service, travel and hospitality sectors are more likely to report this than other industries
· Successful learning aligns with organizational goals. Companies that build language training into employee development plans and track KPIs are twice as likely to successfully link language learning goals to the organization’s strategic priorities
· Opportunity awaits. The proliferation of online learning is prompting organizations to rethink traditional learning approaches and adopt technology-based models for training and development.
· Language training must become part of the corporate culture. While companies understand the necessity of language learning, incorporating it into the corporate culture remains a challenge


I’ve pasted the full press release below for your convenience. Please let me know if you’re interested in speaking with Bruce Rogers, Chief Insight Officer at Forbes, to discuss how companies are using language learning to not only better their business but their employees as well.

Thanks!
Chelsea
130 W42 Suite 950 | New York City | 10036
212.730.7277 | http://www.coburnww.com

* * * * *

A benign email, I’ll grant you. I won’t bore you with the article Chelsea pasted into the body of the email for me to read and decide whether or not to post it on Facebook. If she happens to take me up on my response and offer (prompted much in the same way when you get a call on your phone from some marketing person — or worse, scam agent — and you want to teach said caller a lesson, playing them along until they erupt with their expository genius), then I’ll reprint it and let you know. You can always go to her website where I’m sure the article will be available.

Here’s my reply to Chelsea:

 

Hi, Chelsea

All is well, thank you. For the last couple of days I’ve been working on putting up a vinyl rain gutter ceiling on the deck where I’ve just installed my new hot tub. It’s a two man job: me and myself are doing the work.

So that’s why I missed getting a picture of the black bear that has been raiding my garbage bin since spring has arrived.

Did you know that there’s no real way to repel a bear through the use of odors? In fact, use of things like clorox or other aromas you would think would stay the creatures, attract them!

I’ve set up my Nikon camera on a tripod and it’s facing the drive area from my bedroom window. I’ve got all the settings in place, as the lighting at night is a bit critical, especially since a floodlamp affixed to a telephone pole bathes the area in yellow light.

A few nights ago, my son’s dog, Mowgli, dashed out the door of my condo and down the hill, barking come hell or high water after what we figured out must be a bear (I had been awakened the night before and saw the culprit).

So, for two nights in a row I’ve been sleeping intermittently, hoping to get a shot of the bear. That, plus the project of the vinyl ceiling, left me utterly exhausted last night. And guess what?

It’s the first night in a long time I slept soundly throughout the night.

And guess what else?

Wouldn’t you know it, the bear decided to visit again, and — drat — I missed getting a picture of him.

In the event you are wondering why I’m telling you this, it’s probably the same as my wonderment over the continued article ideas I get from you and a host of other people who think I care at all about the ideas. I suppose I could post them for you on my Facebook page, but I’d have to charge you $1,000 for my services.

If that sounds good to you, please respond accordingly and arrange for me to draft your checking account, and I’ll gladly post your story — whether or not I think it will be of interest to my Facebook friends.

I hope this response finds you well.
L. Stewart Marsden

PS: Here’s a photo I took of the bear when I didn’t know what camera settings to use. Hard to tell, but that’s one big Teddy!


 

This second photo is after I was able to correct my settings, which are still on my camera. Didn’t matter, though. I still missed the shot of the bear.

 

 

Related item:

Here’s a poem/story (poestry?) I wrote several years ago about a Do-Not-Call App that you really should be able to download to rid yourself of those nuisance calls: click here.

 

 

Signs of the Age(s)

25 Feb

image

Signs of the Age(s)

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

They’re piling up.

The signs.

And I find myself muttering, “Ya ain’t gettin’ any younger!”

A sciatic nerve that repeats its message I can’t do certain things:

  • like haul all of my groceries stuffed into those plastic bags into my condo in one trip;
  • like sit on the edge of the bed in the morning and bend over to tie my shoes;
  • like go up and down stairways alternating steps (I use my left leg/foot to descend and ascend, rather than going right-left-right-etc);
  • like sweep, vacuum and mop at a furious pace. Or any other strenuous activity that caused me no physical stress when I was younger.

I look in the mirror (as few times as I possibly can) and see “little tiny hairs, growing out my ears*!”

I see moles and warts and looooong antennae-like eyebrow hairs, and wonder what is the etiology for those changes?

I walk into a room purposefully, only to stop in mid-stride to wonder why the hell I walked into the room purposefully.

There are sticky-notes everywhere! I have every GPS location device for wallets, keys, socks, belts, that is possible to buy and utilize.

I and others joke at the age milestones: 30, 40, 50, etc. Some freak out, and scramble to recapture themselves at a much younger age. Miracle hair-growth products. Skin-tightening creams and ointments; and finally, plastic surgery. Botox. Tummy tucks. Diet regimens. Flattering clothing and underclothing that squeezes and redistributes sagging and baggy bulges.

Industries of a myriad of sorts spring up daily, reminding you that, “YOU’RE GETTING OLD!” It’s got to be a Trillion-Dollar industry!

It’s always been the case. What wasn’t always the case was the frenetic energy spent on not getting old. Till us Baby Boomers arrived. Now a whole slug of the population is age-aware, and “Do not go easy into that good night” takes on a totally different meaning.

The tired adage, “Yeah, but it beats the alternative!” said with a shrug of the shoulders and a grin, grows more tiredy and adagey.

I put my underwear on backwards this morning. Didn’t discover the error until Nature called and I panicked in the bathroom, fumbling around and thinking “I know it’s here somewhere!”

I know. That’s what she said.

The thing is I didn’t immediately drop trow and boxers to remedy the situation. In fact, I’m still sitting on my underwear pee-hole as I write! I can hear my kids groaning as they read this. I fully expect one of them to ask me — no — demand that I delete this post.

Yeah, there are definitely some pretty crappy things that come along with getting older. But, all-in-all, the tired adage is still true.

At the same time, there are wonderful liberties afforded me because I’m now visibly old and getting older.

Don’t have to shower as often. Long as I have Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder I can mask the odors that germinate on certain parts of my body.

In public, most (not all) people hold a door for me, or say “You first, I insist!”

I skip over the Facebook posts that ask, “Do you know what this is?” or, “Have you ever used one of these,” and show something I am very familiar with.

I get most of the questions involving the 20th century right when I watch “Jeopardy!

I can wear stripes and plaids at the same time.

I can pretty much say what I think, and most will dismiss it with, “Well, you know … he’s old!”

The list goes on.

I’m not sure how aging is going to fare in the distant future. According to all of the dystopian novels and movies, the old folk simply disappear. That’s either due to euthanasia, or the possibility some anti-aging treatment will be developed.

If so, I think the world’s population will go berserk and pandemonium will ensue, right? Nah. Infant babies will be dispatched instead so that the population at large can continue to remain young without overcrowding. Or, everyone will be sterilized. I mean, ultimate control will remain in the hands of the adults, and the adults will always choose themselves when it comes down to it.

At the moment we’ve not been able to muck with the natural order of things, although God knows we’ve tried. I suppose it’s inevitable. Unless the Apocalypse occurs and Zombies and Preppers rule.

All signs of the Age(s).

 

*Credit must go to him whose name must not be spoken, Bill Cosby.

You Can’t Get Killed This Way Any More

10 Feb

You Can’t Get Killed This Way Any More

or,

Losing Touch With What It Means to Be a Kid

by L. Stewart Marsden

Note:
This piece was written a few years back, but in my opinion, is still relevant and will remain so until we come to grips with the issues that prevent our children from being able to range and roam safely. And until we adults put away our techno-toys and get outside ourselves.

At dinner recently I had to demand that my youngest children and grandchildren hand over their electronic gadgets from iPhones to iPads to Kindles and Nooks — innocuous-sounding replacements for true outdoor exercise. As well as table talk.

Am I not right?

Outdoor exercise. Hmmm. Today that’s the process of going from an air-conditioned house to an air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned school — and repeat the return trip, which is often spiced up with an air-conditioned mall or air-conditioned movie theater.

Sure, we’re the generation who brought you MacDonald’s and drive-throughs and empty calorie-laden drinks like Coke and Pepsi — TV dinners and more. But few of us were pudgy, ’cause we walked and biked miles every day through our towns and neighborhoods.

Kids today don’t know what outdoor play means. They don’t know what it means to survive and thrive for a full 12 to 14 hours in the neighborhood — wading down creeks to catch crayfish, or stealing those smudge pots street workers put out and lit to warn motorists of roadwork.

Or climbing trees to build really great tree houses 50 feet in the air.

Or blowing up coke bottles with M80’s and cherry bombs.

Or swiping playing cards and clothespins from your house and fastening them to the spokes of your bicycle. Two or three bikes equipped like that sounds like a Hell’s Angels gang! And who doesn’t like or wanna be a Hell’s Angel?

THAT was being a kid!

Nobody had allergies. Nobody cried or whimpered at the sight of blood. Or mud.

We didn’t have Wii controllers, we had Mattel Fanner 50 pistols, and plastic machine guns with full military combat regalia.

We hurled Dixie cups filled with flour to mimic grenades.

We played all over the neighborhood until the sun had set for an hour and our moms had to come out looking for us.

We were easily entertained by a box of stick matches and a can of lighter fluid.

Okay, that might have been extreme.

Comedian Bill Cosby (he whose name can never be mentioned again) said in a comedy bit he knew adults were out to kill the kids. His proof? Whirligigs, jungle gyms, and see-saws.

He left one out: the Flexi Flier. Not the sled, but the steel-wheeled running board vehicle, shaped like a bullet and designed for death-defying fun!

This crazy craft was great for areas like a flat, concrete paved parking area where there were no cars. Problem was, there were no flat, concrete paved parking areas with no cars in my neighborhood.

In my neighborhood, the street was paved, but with that rocky pebbly stuff — not asphalt. You know the kind: if you skated on it with your key skates (if you don’t know what these are, you will not understand anything else in this blog), and you tried to sing the word “buh” it would come out bubbabubbabubbabubbabubba.

Sidewalks — a concept that escapes current city planners — ran parallel to either side of the street. Sidewalks were constructed in squares of roughly three to four feet. Trees planted next to these sidewalks grew their roots under these squares and pushed the units out of kilter. This is an important thing to note and remember if you were a Flexi Flier rider.

The Flexi Flier design:

image

It looked like a sled. Not those molded thingies that are devastating our forests of plastic trees, but a thing of beauty! Made of real wood, and real steal. Painted with an American Eagle on top in multi-colors, and lacquered to a sheen. The metal steering and “bumpers,” painted bright red. It WAS a sled, but with four steel disc wheels rimmed with a half-inch of hard black rubber. Two wheels in the front, that could turn if you had muscles like Charles Atlas; and two at the rear.

Yes, a marvel of ingenuity and beauty. Kind of like a BB gun was.

The Three Ways to Ride a Flexi Flier:

One knee position
You positioned one knee on the bed of the flier, and bent over forward to grab the imagesteering handles with each hand. This position was ideal on those nonexistent flat, carless parking lots. You would propel yourself with the other leg, hung out over one side. It was kind of like a huge skateboard with front wheels that turned. The kid in the photo is a random selection. The fact that he has no shoes or shirt or long-legged Levi’s on tells me he’s an idiot.

 

 

Stomach position
imageFlat on your stomach with your hands on the steering handles, and if you were a short kid, your legs extended over the back end of the Flexi. If you were tall, you bent your knees and rode with your feet in the air. Like a snow sled. This is undoubtedly the preferred position.

The kid on the left (a detail from a painting by Francene Christianson) is living a fantasy life. Probably somewhere in California, no doubt. Who the hell had flat and even sidewalks back then? Where’s the challenge in that?

Sitting up position
Buttox positioned over the rear wheels, and hands firmly gripping either side slat, you put your feet forward on the steering handles. Not as aerodynamic as the one knee or stomach positions, and you definitely could not operate the state-of-the-art front brakes.

There are no photos of this position. I suspect because few survived and blood and gore had not become a fare of the local evening news yet.

Stopping
The wheels of the Flexi were steel disks with a hard rubber rim about a half-inch thick. imageOn the steering handles were metal nubs that extended out over the front wheels. If you twisted the handles forward, the idea was that those nubs would rub the rubber rims — kind of like disc brakes — and the Flexi would ostensibly and eventually stop. After maybe half a mile when gravity or a curb brought you to a halt, it did. There was no way to quickly stop a Flexi that had built up momentum other than turn towards a bush hedge, tree, or brick wall. And uneven sidewalks.

imageIf you sped down a sidewalk and had built your speed up to maybe 15 to 20 mph — remember, you are about six inches above ground level — and you hit an uneven place in the sidewalk? Well, the Flexi would pretty much stop dead, and you would continue on — Flexiless.

Face, chin, chest, stomach, knees — pretty much any clothing on your front side — was rubbed away as your body slowed to a stop.

It wasn’t unusual to have a full body scab from head to toe from a Flexi mishap. It hurt like hell, but was an unmistakable badge of pride.

Alas, Flexible Fliers pretty much went the way of whirligigs and jungle gyms and see-saws. Fearful mothers and greedy lawyers pretty much did all that great fun in.  Plus kids today are wusses. If you don’t know that term, you probably didn’t understand anything above.

Keep your iPhones, iPads and iEverythings. It’s your loss.

#NotMySuperBowlChamps

6 Feb

image

#NotMySuperBowlChamps

By L. Stewart Marsden

It’s the morning after. I am distraught and incredibly depressed.

Not too terribly long ago Super Bowl Party guests and I were casually watching the Atlanta Falcons dismantle the Evil Empire New England Patriots well into the third quarter of THE GAME. The sound was turned down as we talked about a myriad of subjects not football. It was a done deal. With 6:04 remaining in the third quarter with a 25-point lead, we were all confident that Super Bowl LI was in the bag for the wildly popular Falcons.

Then, all of a sudden, Tom “Voldemort” Brady willed the Patriots through the air and on the ground over and over as the hapless Georgia team stood frozen under his curse.

The inconceivable had happened: a combination of the unexpected plus an archaic NFL rule overruled the desires of NFL fans nationwide to leave all of us shocked and in disbelief.

These rogue Patriots, guilty of conning and deceiving their way to disputed victory after disputed victory had amassed the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history in the first-ever overtime in the championship’s storied history.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Consider the past of these so-called “victors”:

  • These same Patriots, guilty of the infamous “Snow-Plow” victory on December 12, 1982;
  • who benefitted from the infamous “Tuck Rule” that resulted in — guess what?– another controversial victory on January 19, 2002;
  • who disregarded any semblance of fair play on September 9, 2007 in the Spy-Gate incident;
  • who utilized a trick substitution play to upset the Baltimore Ravens on January 10, 2015 on their post-season journey;
  • and, can one EVER forget Deflate-Gate of January 18, 2015?

Can a zebra change its stripes? Can a lion become a vegan? Can an outrageous noncompliant evil outsider win the … well, never mind.

When I was a church-goer, I often heard that Lucifer means “light,” and evil often shrouds its despicable nature — the devil using beauty and alluring words. Voldemort Brady is one such example. Belichick, his master — not so much. But he doesn’t have to be. After all, the puppetmeister pulls his strings behind the set.

Toward the final seconds of the fourth quarter, we all knew “they” would ultimately prevail.

The tie score. Overtime.

Somehow … the overtime coin toss was won by the Evil Empire.

Again, coincidence?

Some foul magic was afoot, methinks. (Ever notice how little the NE Patriots shoot an arm and a finger up at the Big Guy/Gal in the Sky after a big play? So we KNOW that HE/SHE wasn’t rooting for the bad guys).

And, as in the final 10 or so minutes of regular play, The Death Ray was focused on the end zone. Destruction of all that was Holy was imminent. An apocalyptic abyss was unavoidable.

As New England goose-stepped into and through Atlanta territory — not unlike Sherman’s March to the Sea –, one of my guests said,

“Wait! What? If the Nazi team scores, the good guys will get a chance to score also, right?”

WRONG!

The winner of the biggest contest in the NFL season could be determined by oh, such an unfair and archaic rule.

“If the Patriots only score a field goal, yes, then Atlanta has a chance to either score a field goal to tie, or a touchdown to win. BUT, if the slime balls score a touchdown, then it’s over, and they win. No opportunity for the fair-haired sweetums to even the score.”

“BUT, THAT’S NOT FAIR!”

Fair had nothing to do with it. It is in the constitutional laws of the NFL governing overtime play. Apparently the Founding Football Fathers didn’t reckon on such a lousy and unfair rule determining the SBC (Super Bowl Champions).

The wind was literally sucked out of the national football fans’ sails when the Patriots scored on their first drive in overtime.

Boom!

You could see the life drain from the faces of the ESPN color commentators. The silence was deafening. The Bad Guys had come back from a 25-point deficit to win Super Bowl LIe.

No, I meant that. It IS a lie! Like all of the deceit and lies and manipulation this wicked team has wrought during its nefarious lifetime. The “champions” of Super Bowl LI are ONE BIG LIE!

Therefore, I’m starting a movement to petition the NFL in order to have the Patriots stripped of all trophies they have wrongfully accumulated over the decade, as well as rescind the overtime regs. That movement is #NotMySuperBowlChamps. Won’t you join me in this essential effort?

My polls tell me that you agree with me that the overtime rules should be overthrown, and the rightful heirs of the Super Bowl throne — the Atlanta Falcons (and, by the way, the Carolina Panthers for the previous Super Bowl — but that’s another exposé for another day) — be instated as Super Bowl LI Champions!

Oh, and typical of the Patriots, Tom “Voldemort” Brady SAYS someone stole his game jersey.

The truth?

More likely just one more Super Bowl LIe!

Breaking news: The Great Beach T-Shirt Metaphor

4 Feb

BREAKING NEWS!

THE GREAT BEACH T-SHIRT METAPHOR!
(Or, what’s a meta for?)

image

Several years ago my DIL did a whimsical thing and designed a T-shirt for our annual beach trip during the week of the 4th of July.

What a great idea!

We all LOVED the shirts, which had a drawing of our cottage on the back, and other really neat stuff.

So, we meet at the beach, and my DIL passes out the shirts, and we wear them on the beach.

“Hey! Where’d you get THOSE?” asked a member of the extended family. (You see, I’m one of four children, and each of us have added children, and many of those children, children … so the number has grown exponentially over the years).

Oops!

An innocent oversight. We forgot to include about 40 others.

Sooooo, the NEXT year we INCLUDED everyone, and the design was somewhat generic and all names were stamped on the back and so forth and so on.

What began as my DIL’s fun, fanciful and serendipitous project had become, in the words of the somber and serious: AN INSTITUTION!

I can hear Zero Mostel singing “Tradition!” in my mind.

Fast forward a couple of years. We’re coming around Winter’s corner and will soon be springing through to summer, where all — with some additions — will once again gather at the beach during the week of July 4th.

I put out a letter to my siblings, asking if there is any interest in a T-shirt.

One of my daughters, who had told me months ago that she and her cousin wanted to design it this year. I had forgotten that one of my son’s had put in a bid as well to design it. Apparently, design it is a big deal. My GKs designed last year’s.

Last year 53 relatives showed up to suntan and play bocci and ladder ball for a week. Not in one cottage, mind you.

So my daughter said she really didn’t want to do it, but I should contact her cousin, which I did to no avail. Still forgetting my son wanted to do it, I began the process. The picture is the design. The line across the belly actually is supposed to go down the right sleeve. CustomInk doesn’t have a template to show that, however.

I sent out a request for sizes to my family portion (those of my branch). One of my daughters said she did not want a T-shirt. Ba-dum! Somewhat hurt, I asked if anyone else did not want a shirt.

You know that phrase, “If you build it …?” Well, it also works for “If you ask it, they will answer.”

Rapid-fire semi-automatic responses. I’m ducking left and right, pretending the wounds are only superficial, but am both surprised and hurt by the unexpected reactions.

So, I do bleed if scratched!

There is a flurry of back-and-forth texts. “What if we tweek the design?” “I don’t want to wear a line of type across my belly.” “I hate the shirt style.” Yadda-yadda-yadda.

Then, in the midst of the firefight comes an aside from one of my SIL’s (actually, he’s the ONLY SIL I have … so far):

“Let’s fix this T-shirt and make the beach trip GREAT again!”

You could hear the drum beat. Budda-bum!

There it was, in all its glory: the beach trip WASN’T the great experience everyone in the family pretended it to be. It was in bad shape. It wasn’t the T-shirt at all.

It was the fact that something I looked forward to as a kid — spending time on the beach and building sandcastles and cleaning blue crabs we had netted at Southport, and going down to Myrtle Beach to ride the rides and then throw up — all of that had morphed into a tradition.

My kids will tell you they love the trip because it’s the only time they get to see their cousins. But has it run its course? Has it lost the old zippety-doo-dah? Is the salt in the air a bit less salty. The waters filled with more sharks than before? The Calabash dinners a bit more oily?

Like the T-shirt, it seems to be something to do because we’ve always done it. Something to look back on. Building memories.

MayBE like the government. “Well, we’ve always done it this way …”

Until someone said, “Make the beach trip GREAT AGAIN!” no one stopped and thought about it and said “Wait! What? It’s NOT great?”

You need to know that the next generation beyond my siblings and me is, for the most part, politically liberal (“Oh, jeesh, Edith — did you HAVE to say THAT?)

You would expect some exciting and different ideas about how to get the extended family together periodically.

Like, a reunion? And maybe not for a whole week? But a long weekend? Maybe in the mountains? Or somewhere else.

AND, we could have a commemorative T-shirt!

Budda-bum!

The metaphor.

OR, mayBE, not have a T-shirt, at all.

GIGO

1 Feb

 

image

 

GIGO

Garbage in, garbage out.

A phrase that seemed to be on many people’s lips a few years back, a nemonic from the high tech industry.

Made sense then, makes sense now.

Perhaps the trick is discerning what constitutes garbage.

After all, one man’s garbage is another’s treasure.

Yard sales, flea markets attest to that.

When I lived in New York City in the 70s I wrote a comedy sketch using that as a central theme.

A man hauled out his bags of garbage for pickup by the city sanitation department.

A rather dapper man who was walking by, stopped, and asked if he could buy the man’s garbage for $50.

The man was no fool, and took the man’s money gladly.
As he climbed the stairs to his building, he turned to see the pristine man rummaging through the bags, oohing and aahing as he did.

“Hey!” Said the one-time garbage owner. “What’re you doing?”

The man replied, “My good fellow, I have learned to recycle things that people throw away. In doing so, I have made my fortune. I shall parlay the fifty dollars I just gave you into $1,000.”

He then pulled items out of the garbage and described their alternative uses, which astounded the dumbfounded man.

“These styrofoam egg cartons? Voila! Bras for Barbie Dolls!” And so forth.

The man suddenly realized he had been had, and came back down the stairs.

“Here’s your fifty dollars back, gimme my garbage!”

“Oh, I AM sorry my friend. All cash transactions are final.”

“Okay,” he said, rifling through his wallet, “here’s another $10.”

“No deal, I’m afraid.”

“$75, then. I’ll give you $75.”

“Once again …”

“OKAY! $100 for my garbage back! That’s my last offer!”

“You strike a hard bargain.” And the gentleman took the $100 and walked away.

Extremely satisfied with himself, the man scooped up his bags of garbage and fairly leaped up the stairs. Opening his front door, he yelled inside,

“Mabel! Look at what I just got for a measly $100 bucks!”