Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Raspberry Story

My, wasn't life awful -- and wonderful?" (Mrs. Soames)

Raspberries. One taste and you can hear the crickets chirping in the hot, stifling closeness of a far-away evening stillness. What a day this has been!

Summer. August.  Hot.  My friend Tommy Radford and I had both graduated from kindergarten the previous spring, and we now owned the world. Everything was new - the world was ours.

We would spend entire days exploring "the Marsh," our name for a vast undeveloped expanse behind our house on the edge of town. The Marsh extended all the way to the highway.  tommy and i had not conquered the Marsh all the way to the far-off highway, but we were working at it.

Each day, we discovered new sections of the Marsh. The grass was over our heads, and we'd create paths by bending down the grass, either by walking over the tall grass repeatedly or by crawling forward by our elbows, leveling the path with our forearms, as we'd seen the soldiers do in war stories on TV.

Our trails were blazed to connect all the secret and mysterious places of the Marsh; a group of tiger lillies, a field of the other-worldly milkweed plants. When you picked a milkweed leaf it bled a mysterious white fluid, and it took quite a bit of courage to open a milkweed pod for the first time. There was a rock that could be lifted to reveal a quivering world of grayish white grub worms.  And everywhere the sharp sawing and chopping sound of summer insects, sounding so near, yet never to be seen.

Marsha, my neighbor -- who was much wiser than both of us, because she was a year older -- came with us one day, and helped us to identify the exotic plants and wildlife in our area. She could create facts instantaneously. she showed us poisonous mushrooms that could kill us just by touching them or sometimes just standing near them. There was a hole in the ground where a huge poisonous snake lived,  with a mouth big enough to swallow your entire leg in one bite.

One day we decided to share our wealth of natural curiosities with our neighborhood friends.  The expedition tour we sponsored was really the only safe way for them to view all of these wonders of nature.

We assembled a group of squeamish neighborhood kids -- our regular play group, plus their younger sisters and brothers. Free of charge - there was fun in the danger of it all.   We assembled the group in the basement under my father's garage.  We emphasized the importance of following the leaders -- Tommy and I could keep them safe.  Didn't want someone to step off the path into the soft muck in which the cattails grew. Your foot could be chewed up by bloodsuckers before you had a chance to pull it out. Counting Tommy and me, there were about ten of us.

And the expedition began.  Tommy started in the lead, and me behind the group. Tommy and I took turns leading the awe-struck group to the various scary sights. And at the end, a disorienting surprise turn in our path led us back to the very same path by which we had entered. Home safe, thanks to the skill of your excursion leaders.

As we headed back to the garage where the tour had started, we passed my father's garden. And as the beautiful late-afternoon August sunshine slanted down on the happy group, I was taken by a sudden impromptu idea.

I led our expedition between the two rows of raspberry bushes in the garden. Our fellow expeditionaries were treated to a handful of juicy fresh raspberries. Picking tasty fresh raspberries - and eating them right off the bush! What a fitting climax to our late summer spectacular -- our glorious --

Suddenly, the group's mood shifted.  Some of the younger kids screamed.  What was it--a bee?  Someone pointed toward the garage. I saw my father running toward us. Was something wrong in the house? My father never ran unless it was an emergency. Turns out, my father was angry with us for picking the raspberries. Well, what were raspberries for? OK, so we won't eat your raspberries, then. It had been a great tour, and raspberries did not matter.

Our tour group scattered in fear. The expedition was over. They all ran home in their separate ways, leaving only Tommy and me to explain.  Only we never got a chance to explain. Our excursion into the unexplored world was left entirely out of the "discussion". How many raspberries could a kid eat, anyway? Wasn't Dad interested in the glorious world we had just opened up to the neighborhood kids? NO.  We were bad, there was no discussion.  We were incapable of doing anything constructive, and were just interested in destroying his stupid raspberries.

And, although I was just 6 years old at the time, I can remember, exactly, my father's next words, which changed my life forever.

"And as for you, Tommy Radford -- I NEVER want to see  you around here again".  Tommy, feeling dismissed, went running home.  I was stunned.  The rest of the scolding just rolled over me, "yeah yeah go to your room and stay there, no going out of the house for two weeks, blah blah blah".  But, Tommy.  Tommy was gone forever.

My two weeks in "solitary" went by, taking the rest of the summer that was left to us, and then came first grade. I made all new friends.  Some of the best life-long friends - I met my best friend Norm from the other side of town, on the first day of first grade. (Just emailed him this morning, another story, another time).  I'd meet Max Wincell and Jimmy Griep, and have lots of friends from other neighborhoods, mostly school classmates, but never again from my own neighborhood. The paths through The Marsh all grew back to the way they had always been.

Although Tommy Radford lived across the street from me, we never played together again. I hoped that Tommy wasn't blaming me, but I was not able to ask him. A lot can happen in two weeks. Within two weeks, I was completely out of Tommy's circle of friends -- completely written out. There was never a reconciliation.  In the coming years, Tommy's group would build go-karts, treehouses, model rockets.  They would be in trouble with the police because the go-kart powered by a lawnmower engine was so successful. And model rocketry - Tommy's friend Bobby's older brother, Danny would go on to become Commander Dan Brandenstein of the Space Shuttle. Lee's brother started a rock n roll band, and I'd watch them out the window, as they would practice in the back yard. Goodbye to that life. I took piano lessons. My father got his wish. He never had to see any of my playmates again.

But never again would I have close friends in my own neighborhood. (even Marsha, my neighbor, became more distant, but she was now busy being a girl, as she explained gently. Understandable, we'd meet again in five years).

Years later, when I was in college, the Madison newspaper featured a photo around Halloween time, of a school bus driver in Stoughton. The kids on his bus all loved him -- he could turn a mundane and boring bus ride into an adventure. In this particular newspaper photo, the school bus driver was dressed up in a monster costume, making Halloween real for the kids. The bus driver's  name:  Tommy Radford.



Sunday, June 21, 2015

10 minutes at a time.

Woke up Sunday morning with a work list full of 10-minute jobs. Words of encouragement from the Mrs. as I got out of bed "The guy who did the roof estimate Thursday says that all the stairways and decks need some of that Thompson Water Seal".... Well, good morning to you, too, Honey.  I'll add it on to my list of 10-minute jobs.  Each little 10-minute job takes two hours to set up, and a half hour to execute.  So, I brushed out all the storage containers, killed all the weeds, scrubbed the shower, and washed the bathroom with bleach, helped a commercial tenant with a sign on the front wall of one of the commercial units, and hauled some stuff out of my workshop.  Getting ready for a nasty drywall patch job, I rounded up the tools, opened up the joint compound to see that it's still good, and discovered that I had no paper tape, which is important in patching a corner.  So, I had to go to Home Depot, and after a stupid look or two from the staff, I found what I needed by myself. And then, one of the orange aprons asked me if there was anything they could to for me.  I said, "Sure, come home with me and patch the drywall in the tenant's closet, please."  She didn't get it.  But, by the time I got home, it was already 3:00 pm.  The day was sinking into the swamp of toil and despair.

"So, " says I to meself, "I believe it is time for a little GOOFING OFF!  T'is Sunday, and tomorrow ye must return to work at ye olde Day Job.  oh-WEE-oh  we OOOOOooo"  

I snuck down to the basement and rummaged around on my shelves, and, what did I find?  An unlabeled reel-to-reel of some long-forgotten recordings I made with my buddy, Norm, back when there was a bit of time for such things.  As the wheels of the time machine spun around, I couldn't believe that we'd had that much energy back then.  So, I dug up some old posters from our show announcements at the time (we played old folks homes, bars, and even a charitable marathon walk once a year).  And here is the result.  Norm is on vocals and banjo.  That's me on accordion and bass.  Those were the days, my friend...

And, co-incidently, producing this video production was only a 10-minute job....

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Little Science, A Little heart - That Is All

One doesn't have to be a connoisseur of classical music literature to have at least a minimal exposure to the works of Gioacchino Rossini. He wrote 39 operas in his life. Through one opera alone, he provided Looney Tunes with a generation of sound cues. Of course, when you're hit over the head with a giant wooden mallet, there are birds zinging around your head as you come to, and the flute music from "after the storm" is heard. Who can forget Sylvester the Cat singing ""Feeeee-ga-ro Figaro Figaro!" as bricks and garbage are hurled at him? Others were inspired by Rossini's music as well. Popeye the Sailor couldn't weather a storm at sea without hearing "The Storm" from William Tell. And, of course, there's The Lone Ranger Theme. All Rossini.

He lived from 1792 - 1868. By his 70s, Gioaccino had turned opera into the Marx Brothers of the times, making the audience laugh, and cry at the same time. He was adored by his audiences, but he wondered if his frivolity had upset his Maker. Rossini decided to turn his talents to sacred music. He composed an entire mass "Petite Messe Solennelle" (Little Solemn Mass), which Napoleon declared was "neither solemn, nor little" (it runs 70 minutes). Le Si├Ęcle (a music critic of the time) stated that "it was a good thing that the mass was scored for a small choir, piano, and harmonium, because, had it been scored for full chorus and orchestra, it would have enough fire to melt a marble cathedral".

Rossini, in the dedication of the mass, declared, humbly:

"Good God – behold completed this poor little Mass – is it indeed music for the blest that I have just written, or is it just some blessed music? Thou knowest well, I was born for comic opera. Little science, a little heart, that is all. So bless Thee Lord, and grant me Paradise!" (1863)
So, picture Rossini and God, face to face at the time of judgement. An awful and complete silence. God is reviewing the life that was Rossini, especially the Missa Solemnis. God shakes his almighty head.

"Gioaccino, Gioaccino. Here in Heaven, we have all of the works of the greatest composers who have come before you. Haven't you ever heard the great Toccatas and Masses of Bach? The St. Matthew Passion? Handel and the Messiah? The hymns of Martin Luther? And here you come, Gioaccino, with people smiling as they are singing, and rhythm, and the lilting ---"

Rossini hangs his head. It is hopeless, now. How could he have expected the Almighty to accept such a humble and rustic thing as this mass.

" . . . and what's that in the first row, there, Gioaccino? An ACCORDION?"

"We called them harmoniums in my time on earth, my Lord." Rossini replies very softly and dejectedly. "reinforces the harmony of the chorus ..."

God rises from his throne, Rossini cringes, as the hand of the Almighty sweeps toward him. With a mighty roar, God proclaims "Gioaccino Rossini - - - - "

The heavens are silent, as Rossini hears his name echoing back to him from the clouds. God puts his hand on Rossini's shoulder, no longer able to suppress a smile. "Gioaccino, my son, come home. Come in, my son, we'll show them how the joy comes into the music."

 

Little science, a little heart.  That is all

Sunday, April 12, 2015

To See the Simple Pleasure We Once Knew

All these years I've been  "going to and fro in the Earth, and walking up and down  in it." (Now, who said that?  It's in the Book of Job, King James Version).  Some things you pick up along the way, bits of insight and advice.  You carry these fragments around, they bump into one another in your head for years, re-configure, refine themselves, and then one day you realize that these little nuggets have refined themselves into the greatest pieces of wisdom that you'll ever encounter.

Notice, I've updated the Excelsior subtitle above, to include one of these - perhaps the greatest of the realizations I've come across in this life.

Happiness?  To be living in the good old days, and realize it at the time - it doesn't get much better than that!

And what if you could go re-visit one of these golden salient time of bliss in your life.  A moment when everything, just everything was harmonious and perfect.  What if you could go back for even for a few moments and re-experience that simple joy?

Here's a song about that very phenomenon.  It's been sitting in my various basements since the 1970s on a reel-to-reel recording I made from the radio. The song has been haunting me ever since I brought it out of the archives.  I feel compelled to share it.  So here ya' go!  Enjoy.





Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hooked on a Khachaturian

The other day at work, I was asked to fill in at the front reception desk.  While the front desk doesn't have the stunning 13th floor view of Lake Michigan that my regular desk has, it does have the computer network, so my indexing of top-secret documents can continue unabated.  The front desk is the first place visitors see when they arrive at our company, so there's a lot of "Show Biz" involved.  I sign visitors in, direct calls on the switchboard, schedule meetings, and coordinate countless pizza and sub deliveries to the employees.  

There was one corner of the reception area that I found particularly annoying, though.  There is a television feed, usually set to CNN or Fox News.  Since other parts of the screen run local welcome messages and weather conditions, it is necessary that the television feed be ON all the time.  The news was what you'd expect - rehashing over and over the celebrity gossip, terrorist activities, terrifying weather reports (hey, there's always going to be a tornado somewhere). But what gets to you first is the repetitious ads.  Smug old farts with golf clubs selling reverse mortgages, gold investments, class action suits, insurance, and on and on...

Then I discovered a music channel.  We don't have any of the Sirius or Warner channels, but there are two channels run by public television channels, one is jazz and one is classical.  The classical channel plays a wonderful variety of music spanning five centuries, and I was able to hear many familiar favorites as well as some new discoveries. 

One song grabbed my attention so completely that I had to find out all about it.  An Adagio movement from a score by Aram Khachaturian, written in the 1950s for a production (movie or ballet?) of Spartacus.  This familiar passage (about 50 seconds into the example below) was the basis from the song "Hooked on a Feeling" that had been on the soundtrack of my life in at least three different versions in the 1960s and 1970s.  The most infamous version was the Blue Swede version that was popular in the early 1970s, featuring a chorus of about six people chanting "Hooka Chokka Hooka Chokka".  

I decided to research the connection - and, amazingly, nobody else had discovered the unmistakable link between these two pieces. 

Am I the only one on the Internet who ever noticed this similarity?

Khachaturian Adagio from Spartacus:


And here's the Blue Swede version from the 1970s.  Imagine, this song is 40 years old!  A new generation is discovering the song, now, as it was used in a film "Guardians of the Galaxy" which I have not yet seen.  If you've never heard the version, crank up your woofers and tweeters, and let 'er rip!

And if you're interested in further research, use this link for the complete history of Hooga Chokka:
http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/music/2014/08/22/the_origins_of_the_ooga_chaka.html

Monday, February 2, 2015

More Random Notes - Livin' the Dream!

Yes it's been awhile, and I missed all of my loyal readers, all three of you. Clearing up some random items that have been piling up in the Draft box.

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Yvonne and Kay near the end of the day, work's all done, just waitin those last few minutes for the nine-to-five thing to be over.  Yvonne flipping through photos on the internet for a Halloween costume ideas.  She comes up with a photo of an ugly green-face witch leering at the camera, brandishing her broom.  Something looks familiar.  To herself "Who is  that?" Then she calls across the room: "Kay, can you drive a stick?" . . .

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It's an almost-late-for-work morning.  On the way to work, I'm just locking up my front door, and see the bus already arriving at the corner.  I frantically head out, waving and running, hoping that the bus sees me.  Luckily, it was Al at the wheel.  Al, as you recall, is the driver that stopped and attempted to pick me up mid-block on my day off.  Al waited as I ran cross-corner through the traffic of the five-corner intersection. 

I stomp up the stairs of the bus panting.  Physical fitness is not one of the things I'm known for. Panting out my apologies:  "Sorry.  Had to get that extra twenty seconds of sleep."

Al replies:  "Well, good thing you didn't decide to stay in bed for an extra twenty-five seconds!  Take it easy, Old Guy - don't get a heart attack.  Cuz there's NO WAY I'm giving you mouth-to-mouth."

=======================

So, this "work"  I'm talking about - it's my job!  A full-time job.  I'm not a temp, any more.  The place I'm working at hired me full-time. Try before you buy.  When they said "full-time" they meant, that I could go home once in awhile to sleep for a few hours, but otherwise, there was a major project in-house, and we had to keep at it until it was done for the day.  (The project is secret, but it involves huge vats of incoming mail each and every day, and this includes Sundays).  The project is now complete.  When it was all over, we were all happy to have a heap o'gold in our bank accounts from all the overtime, and we did get the project out by Christmas.  Getting up at 4:30 am, and getting home aroung 8:00 pm became the norm.  The sunrise over Lake Michigan is beautiful - all those folks home in bed don't get to see such beauty.

So, now, I'm catching up on everything else, clearing up backlogs everywhere, and re-discovering things that haven't been looked at since September, when it all started. Spent a lot of time this weekend on the business end of a snow shovel.  And today the ground hog ran back into his dark little hole, so there will be lots more wintry snowed-in days to catch up on things. How does that work, anyway? 

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I am now informed that I work less than four blocks from a facility that makes Life-Changing Bacon Topped Maple Donuts...  Each day brings its own little bit of wisdom.  http://holeymoleydoughnuts.com/

 
 


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

a low voice in the basement

Adventures in Building Management, Part LXVIII

Last Saturday. A memorable day, but not in a good way.  The phone line was not working. I was verifying the connection, because no phone company kid under the age of 70 could understand the old Bell System cable bundles that deliver the Internet and Phone service in our 1925 bank building.  There are numerous logical breaches, undocumented splices which undermine the original Bell Telephone order of things - a blue wire goes into a wall, for example, and emerges red with white stripes.  So, I was crawling around on the floor of my office like the serpent, trying to make sense of it all through the copper boiler pipes, other cables, holes in the walls, lighting, sound, and other studio cables.  It's like trying to trace a single thread of linguini through the Alfredo sauce. 

All together, now:  What Could Possibly Go Wrong? 

In squeezing behind the console, I jostled an already-stressed wooden shelf system, and now it began a low, relentless, painful groan.  Wrenching myself out from under the console, I stood up just in time to see an entire 6 ft section of shelving weaving over, starting to lean into its final descent - a kamikaze dive to oblivion.  It's all my equipment!  My babies!  Two ancient 75 lb. reel-to-reel tape decks, an amplifier, cassette drives, and a vintage pre-amp.  I managed to swing the shelf upright again, but as soon as I let go, gravity had its way, and my moral support was the only thing keeping my beloved tape decks from crashing themselves into sad little heaps of irreparable scrap metal.  I frantically one-handedly disconnected all the power and audio cords in anticipation of rescue.  I wedged a ceramic tile shim into the shelf. First one deck and then the other. After the weight was alleviated, I left the shelf on its own, and great was the fall of it

And that probably contributed to why the phones were sounding so weird that day.

The phone rang - it's one of those modern beige table models with a lucite rotary dial.  A voice came through the crackling, a lady's high voice with a heavy foreign accent. All I could make out was:
"I have a low voice in the basement".
I thought it was a telemarketer, but although I couldn't understand what she was talking about, this lady knew too much to be a telemarketer.  So I didn't hang up.  
"Is this Gaddy, maddy to Joss Barka?"
Well, yes, I'll admit that was close enough for me: Gary married Joyce. 
"There's a low voice in the basement."   
So, I shout through the static  "Who is this really?
 " the Petting Saloon" 
"The WHAT?"
"The Petting Saloon, not Chinese restaurant, but the next store after on the end"
"Oh, the Eyebrow Studio!"  I don't see what's a Petting Saloon, whatever that is. Jani is OK at English, really, but with the crackling phone lines, she sounded like an entirely different person.  We got down to the problem at hand:
"A low voice in the basement". 
OK.  ENOUGH ALREADY! This I gotta see. Who ya gonna call?  Voice Busters!
"I'll be right over".  
I entered the heavily-incensed salon. Jani pointed calmly to the basement stairs. "There."
As I descended the stairs, I could indeed hear the low voice - an eerie groaning, much like the leaning shelf I had just left. The sound modulated and ululated - as if someone is working in the next room with a floor sander.  But there was no next room in the basement, and no floors to sand. The noise was emanating from the water pipes, and the low voice was vibrating the whole building. And with nobody using any water, how was this possible?  I finally traced it to a Chicago faucet with a failing washer - the miniscule water leakage slipping through the washers was enough to set up a resonance. Shut off the water supply valve to the sink, and the small voice was stilled.