Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July 2014 Update


NNAOPP Update
July 2014

Weeks earlier a friend who grew up in western Kansas said, "Since you're headed to Colorado you should stop at the Trader's Post in Kit Carson.  It's the best breakfast place in the entire world, and it won't be too far out of your way.  So it came to pass that Judy and I pulled into the heralded dining spot at 10 am on a Tuesday morning.  The unpaved parking lot was flooded, a consequence of the preceding week's torrential rain, highlighted by a deluge of 3" in one hour the day before.  Presumably the citizens of this high plains region were pleased with the drought busting moisture.

The building looked like a western trading post giving credence to its name, but there were signs of neglect.   We found a dry spot to park and strolled to the front door.  There we noted a prominently posted 'For Sale' sign, not a good omen.  Upon entering we noticed both a paucity of customers and an abundance of flies.  The latter presumably attributed to the two large cattle trucks sitting in the parking lot.

We tried to find a table with the fewest flies, but this was futile.  We were greeted by a well-rounded, in a Rabelaisian way, and pretty young waitress.  I mentioned that we had been told that Trader's Post offered the best breakfast in the world, and we had traveled some distance to see for ourselves.  She responded boldly, "Well, we do serve very good food here."

The menu offered a generous variety of options.  I asked the waitress for her recommendation, and she said, "Make sure you order something with bacon."

So I ordered the Hungry Man featuring two hotcakes, two eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, and toast for the tidy sum of $6.95.

Judy was a bit snarky and asked if they provided flyswatters with their meals.  The attractive server politely responded that the health department didn't allow that, presumably preferring living flies to dead ones amidst ones' meal.

I'm not a bumper sticker kind of guy, but if I were mine would say, "If You Don't Like Bacon, You're Wrong."  The bacon was good, but not noteworthy, in keeping with the rest of the meal, and the search continues.

As we were finishing, a well-dressed woman in her 40's walked in.  She looked even more out of place than we did, so she caught my eye.  She approached the counter crowded with sweet rolls and slices of pie and asked our waitress, "Do you have iced coffee?"

And the reply was, "No."

And she walked out.

This encounter brought me back to my New Zealand trip with Ben.  On more than a dozen occasions Ben would enter a coffee shop and request iced coffee.  The predictable exchange would go thusly:

"Do you have iced coffee?"
"No."
"Do you have coffee?"
"Yes."
"Do you have ice?"
"Yes."
"Together, we can work this out." 

And he would pour his coffee into a cup of ice.

My friend provided some other helpful suggestions for our trip to Colorado.  We toured the Garden of Eden in Lucas, KS about 16 miles north of I-70.  Then we dined at the Western Kansas Saloon in Wakeeny.  All worthwhile side-trips if you're not in a hurry.  And even though the breakfast in Kit Carson wasn't spectacular, the drive along Highway 40 from Oakley, KS to Limon, CO is much more scenic and interesting than the I-70 route.

*****

It started out innocently, 4-year old Finn sitting on a stone wall with his little friend, who was eating a cupcake.  Owing to the inherent goofiness of little boys, he inexplicably decided to take a dive for his Mom just as she took the shot, resulting in an unintended action photo:






You'll be pleased to know that the cupcake survived the inadvertent disturbance.  No children were harmed in the creation of this memory.

*****

One of my fraternity brothers, Jim Silkenat, is a very successful lawyer in a giant NYC firm.  This past year he was elected the president of the American Bar Association's board of governors.  One of the prerogatives of this position is he gets to select the location of the annual board meeting, so he chose his hometown, KC.  He hosted a welcoming reception for the group at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum with a dinner catered by Jack Stack's set up on the baseball diamond that is the centerpiece of the venue.

The after dinner entertainment for the event was me.  Amazingly, Jim read and liked NNAOPP, and he wrote to say that very much enjoyed the read, particularly as we have quite a bit of shared history.  He said he'd like me to talk about the book at the upcoming meeting.  Then as the date approached, he reaffirmed the offer, but he upped the ante saying, "Why don't you play a few banjo tunes as well?"

All I'm willing to say about the evening is that no one was injured.  I told a few of the stories and did my little schtick about the process of writing the stories that evolved into NNAOPP, the unsuccessful attempts to get an agent or publisher, the process of self-publisher, and the transformation of a shy, introvert into a shameless book huckster.  That went reasonably well.  Sadly, while standing amidst the life-sized statues of Negro baseball greats and within earshot of the Jazz Musicians Hall of Fame, my banjo fingers turned to jello in front of the distinguished crowd of 100.  Songs that I thought I owned didn't come out as well as I would have liked.  I will, however, persevere.

Jim, thanks a million for your kind efforts in giving me a forum for the book.

*****

Last week Judy and I went to a Royal's game and sat next to a very chatty man and his wife.  As I returned from a concession stand visit, the man was asking Judy, "Your husband looks familiar, is he someone I should know?"  I returned in time to assure him I was a nobody, but I did write a book.  He listened with what appeared interest as I told him about NNAOPP.

The next morning I checked the Amazon website and was pleased to see that the sales total increased by one that evening, presumably thanks to the chatty Royals fan.

*****

Prospero's Book Store at 39th and Bell, in KC, MO has joined the list of fine retailers carrying NNAOPP.  Bruce Smith Drugs continues to be the sales leader at the retail level.  Sales now stand at 1,320 copies.  I'm getting close to being unembarrassable.

Happy 4th of July.  God bless America.
Chuck

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May 2014 Update


NNAOPP
May 2014

C- Grandfathering

A few weeks ago Lucy asked if I would be interested in accompanying 5-year old Waverly and her pre-K classmates to an event at Royal's stadium.  I quickly accepted the welcomed task.  There would be a morning educational weather program at the stadium followed by an afternoon game against the Rockies.  Lucky me, thought I.

Here are two different versions of what transpired.  First, from my vantage:

At the appointed hour, I picked up Waverly, and we drove to the stadium.  It was a chilly blustery morning, but we were dressed for the occasion.  We chatted amiably on the drive, and arrived to see hundreds of busloads of children from all over the metro area.  We walked into the lower level and began searching for our group.  Finding no one, and since it was open seating, we sat two rows behind the visitor's dugout.  We snuggled under a blanket and watched four skillful skydivers land gracefully in the outfield grass.  We doffed our hats, held our hands over our hearts, and sang the national anthem.  We were well situated when a local weatherman started the program.

Then I received a text from the Mom of a classmate telling us where to rendezvous with the remainder of the class.  We relocated, and that was problematic.  Waverly does not like loud noises and crowds, both conditions now being prominent once removed from our preferred seating.  She whimpered as we were greeted by one of the pre-school teachers.  She comforted Waverly and said, "You can sit in my lap if you like." 

Waverly said, "I just want to go with Papa."  And we left.

Walking out of the stadium I encountered a disheveled man who said, "Got any extra tickets?"  I said, "sure," and gave him our two soon-to-be-unused ones.

Then Waverly and I went on to spend some quality time, breakfasting on waffles, going to the grocery store, having a tea party, reading stories, picking flowers in the backyard, and taking a big hike.

I returned her to the bosom of her mother around 3 in the afternoon, and felt pretty darn good about a day well spent.

I called Lucy the next day to check on Charlie's earache and learned of a differing view of our time together:

"What did Waverly have for lunch yesterday?"

Her censorious tone made it perfectly clear she already knew the answer, thus rendering prevarication worse than useless.  So I replied truthfully,  "If memory serves me, I believe she had a donut with chocolate icing and multi-colored sprinkles.  I know she prefers vanilla icing, but none were to be found.  What can you do?  Why do you ask two dogs?"

The response was an exasperated sigh followed by a micro-lecture on the importance of a healthy diet.

"Why did you leave the stadium so early?"

I explained how the crowd and the amplified environs upset the little tyke.

"Dad, she just played you.  That was a school day activity.  You don't just abandon ship because she manipulates you.  We paid good money for those tickets, what did you do with them?"

And I told her.

Even more exasperation, "Great, you enabled a homeless bum to sit in the midst of a group of pre-K kids.   The other Moms will be so pleased."

"I'm certain he was a scalper, and he was going to sell the tickets, surely to some fine citizens."

Ever the teacher, she said, "You get a C- for the day's grandparenting."

Ouch.

*****

I was apparently forgiven for these shortcomings, and a few days later I was once again entrusted with the care of Waverly.  We were walking back to our house from a nearby playground.  We crossed a creek, walked up a steep sidewalk through a tiny forest, and encountered a very lightly traveled side street.  Waverly was holding my hand and said, "Papa, you're kind of old, and I'm kind of young, so I'm going to help you cross the street!"  And she did.

*****

In late April we attended a small family gathering in Carlsbad, CA.  My cousin, and our host, is a retired Marine Corps Clonel and was formerly a fighter pilot with 300+ carrier landings (60% at night) to his credit and a Topgun instructor.  He served as our private docent when we took a tour of the decomissioned aircraft carrier USS Midway located in San Diego harbor.  He shared the following tidbit that I found amusing, "Every pilot on a carrier receives a grade for each landing.   There are five possible ratings.  The highest and best is 'OK'.  The fifth and worst is NAFOD (no apparent fear of death).  Receipt of the latter shortens ones' flying career, one way or another."

*****

I sent a copy of last month's NNAOPP update to the banjo maker who graciously spent the day with me.  I had earlier mailed him a copy of my book along with a thank you note and received the following in reply:

I finished your book shortly after receiving it.  It was very well written, entertaining, and very informative to someone like myself who has never had the desire or courage to travel as you have done.

I seldom know the background of the many visitors who stop by the shop, so I try to keep my approach to them as simple and common as possible. Had I not read your book I would never suspected the degree to which you have accomplished so many things.

One correction is in order.  My advanced schooling was in electronic engineering.

When you travel through Tennessee again, please stop, and we might talk about some of my favorite characters that have graced the world stage, such as Warren Buffet, Armand, Hammer, and Will Rogers.

*****

Sales of NNAOPP continue to trickle in, now eclipsing 1,308 copies.  At the current pace I should reach the 1,500 level well before my 100th birthday.

Chuck

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tennessee Banjo Trip


NNAOPP Update
April 2014

I knew I would be driving through middle Tennessee near the hometown of the company who built my second favorite banjo, of the two I own.  I had not bonded with this particular instrument, so I called the number on their website and told the owner of my concerns, making it clear I was a tyro player.

"Everything sounds too tinny and bright." I said.

The banjo maker, who I would later learn had been a first rate performer in the 1960's and 1970's, told me, "Yes, I've had arch tops, and I'd love them for a period of time, and then I'd prefer something a little softer.  However, six months later I'd want to return to that harder sound.  I have a conversion tone ring on order that will change an arch top to a flat top.  But, I'll forewarn you there will come a time when you'll want to return to the arch top sound."  I told him that I was interested in the conversion kit and when I might be traveling his way.

A few days later, I received a package in the mail with a CD featuring my new acquaintance, two hats with his company's logo, a new set of strings, and a bridge that would lower the action (the space between the finger board and the strings) on my not-so-beloved banjo.

Before heading through Tennessee, I called again and inquired of the status of the conversion kit and confirmed the date of our rendezvous.  He told me of his difficulties getting the needed parts from the machinists and chrome plating operations on which he depends, but said, "I'll have something for you when you arrive."

I called the morning of our appointment to say, "I'm here."  The man with whom I had now spoken to on three occasions said, "I'm glad to hear from you because I've got all the pieces to convert your banjo.  I hope you've set aside some time, because I'm prepared to spend the day with you."  He gave me directions, along with a warning about a speed trap along the way.

I was halfway expecting to meet a geezer in overalls with a chaw of tobacco wearing a moonshiner hat.  But it wasn't to be.  Instead, I arrived at a 500-acre estate nestled in the heart of walking horse country, with a federal style home overlooking immaculately groomed grounds.  I was directed to two outbuildings on the property comprising the banjo manufacturing operation. 

I was greeted warmly, introduced to some other guests who quickly departed, and then received the full attention of my host.  I spent the next seven hours with a man who knew nothing of me other than I had purchased, used, one of his banjos, and that I had only been playing three years.

My host was a chatty fellow, but also very interesting.  While it is my nature to want to get on with things quickly, I was sufficiently intrigued to recognize that this was a time to 'just go with it.'

He said, "Did you get a chance to walk through the barns?"  Then he took me on a tour of his farming operation including a building housing dozens of immaculately restored trucks and cars, most impressively featuring two 1948 International Harvester coal trucks, one red the other green.  His array of large and small tractors, dozers, backhoes, and assorted other machines was sufficient to give me a major dose of farm equipment envy.

I said, "You've got a lot of toys."

To which he replied, "Yes, I do."

Then it was off to the banjo operation that was surprisingly small, consisting of two buildings, one the size of a mobile home and the second the size of a double wide.  They contained an immaculate woodworking and machine shop, a ventilated paint/varnish room, assembly area and storage.  He walked me through the entire process of building a quality banjo including how he shapes the necks, sets the pearl inlays on the fingerboards, builds the resonators, etc. 

He demonstrated the nuances in sound between walnut, mahogany, and maple necks and trim and chrome, gold and nickel-plated tone rings.  Walnut/chrome (what I have) creates a bright, bold sound.  Maple/gold plated is softer and more melodic.  The tone ring, the metal piece that clamps the head down on the frame of the banjo, is the most critical piece of the puzzle.  He said, "When I started to make banjos in the early 1970's I focused my attention on the tone ring.  I would start with a relatively heavy casting, assemble the banjo, play it, shave 1/10 of an ounce off, re-assemble, and play again.  I'd do that until I thought I hit the sweet spot, note the weight, and then keep going."

I said, "Are you self taught at building banjos?"

He expounded, "Yes and no.  I knew a lot, but I didn't know how much I didn't know until I hired a genius from Gibson.  He had learned from the masters who built the Gibson banjos in the 1930's and helped me take our craftsmanship to a higher level."

He said, "I'm sure glad you showed up, because I made two extra trips to Nashville to get these castings machined and chromed for you.  Let's take a look at your banjo."

He picked it up and started playing.  In his hands my banjo sounded like the most perfect instrument ever created.  He said good-naturedly but sternly, "It would be a crime to convert this banjo to a flat top.  This is one of the best sounding arch tops I've ever made. Are you sure you want to change it?"  Until this point in time, I had little appreciation for the distinction in tone created by one skilled v. one deficient in such matters.  I gave pause, and he added, "You will be a much better banjo player if you learn on an arch top.  It will force you to play more crisply.  You'll hear every mistake you make."

"And that is a good thing?"

"Yes, it is."

It was noonish, and he said, "I'll call my wife, and we'll take you to lunch."  She drove down from their home, and we were introduced while he went off to give some instructions to a part-time farm mechanic.

We drove along a winding country road to nearby Bell Buckle, TN to dine.  During the course of our trip we chatted amiably.  They mentioned that they were both from the coal country of southwestern Virginia near the Tennessee/Kentucky border and were married at age 19.  I mentioned my basic training tussle with a redheaded 'Deliverance-like' boy from the hills of eastern Tennessee.  My host's wife commented, without a molecule of mirth, "You are very lucky to be alive to tell the tale." She went on to say, "Growing up in that region, you learned early to stay way from those folks.  They are born with a rifle in their hands, and they'll use it."

Bell Buckle is an old railroad village of preserved and restored Victorian homes and churches. The Bell Buckle Cafe features a giant display of Moon Pies for $.91 and terrific food.  I enjoyed a tasty lunch of chicken fried steak, pickled beets, black eyed peas, oatmeal cake, and coffee.  The place was packed and for good reason.

I offered to pick up the tab for our lunch, but my hosts' would not hear of that. "You may not pass this way again, so I've set aside the day to show you around my shop, introduce you to my collection, and I'll give you a lesson while we're at it."  And he proceeded to do all of the above.  And this man did not know me from Adam. 

He started playing banjo at age 5.  I asked him how he got interested in banjo at such a young age.  "My uncle was a serious player, and he left his banjo around and encouraged me to play around with it if I wanted to.  And I did." I told him of one of my grandson's interests in sitting in my lap and strumming along, and he said, "Just leave a banjo near him and let him know he's welcome to pick it up.  The worst he can do is break a few strings."  (I didn't argue the point, but three days after this conversation I was attending my twin grandson's 4th birthday party, where I was to provide the accompaniment for a game of musical chairs.  I left my banjo in its case in the presence of a few small boys and later espied one of them trying to ride it like a rocking horse.)

I mentioned an article I read in the WSJ saying it takes about 10,000 hours to become accomplished with an instrument.  He responded with the following anecdote.  "A fellow once encountered Chet Atkins, possibly the best guitar player ever, and said, 'I'd give anything to play as well at you.'  And Chet responded,  'would you give your life?'"

In 1969, Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt split up their band, the Foggy Mountain Boys.  Lester needed a banjo player to replace Earl, and he offered my host the job.  He declined, and I inquired, "Why?"

He said, "Lester offered me $200 a week, but I was making many times more than that with my coal mine.  In addition to being a banjo maker and performer, I would learn that I was dining with a tycoon with a degree in electrical engineering.  He and his wife have owned coal mines, apple orchids, radio stations, and cell phone towers, all dwarfing the banjo business in dollars, if not in passion.

After lunch, we took a tour of his mountain on which one of his cell towers stands.  He told me of the necessity of getting a DC law firm specializing in FCC matters when negotiating with Verizon or ATT.   If one were to judge this man by his dress or dialect, he would severely underestimate his sophistication.

After the mountain tour we went to his studio situated above his four-car garage.  Four banjos were on stands in the middle of the room along with two guitars, a piano, and a standup bass.  Two of the banjos were 1934 and 1935 Gibsons, gold-plated and engraved, possibly the most valuable banjos that exist.  One of them was previously owned by Earl Scruggs and was used in the recording of his Foggy Mountain Breakdown album.  The two guitars were pre-WWII Martins.  A nearby closet contained about 50 pre-WWII banjos of varying makes including a Gibson Florentine and several Degas.  I noticed a photo dating back to the 1960's of my host jamming with Jerry Garcia, John McKuen, and Steve Martin.  I was duly impressed.

He played a few tunes for me and rhapsodized about times past performing in the 60's.  He picked a catchy version of "Puff the Magic Dragon", first on one of the Martin guitars and then on the 1934 Gibson banjo and said, "I would introduce this song by saying, 'now we're going to play some hard core bluegrass.'  Folks loved it.  We'd get our biggest applause of the evening."

Then he said, "Okay, it's time for a lesson.  Get out your banjo."  He listened and watched me play a few tunes.  He winced slightly when I mentioned the beginning instructional books I'd been using.  Then he had me mimic a few rolls he played, each a little more complicated than before, and then he declared, "You have what it takes to become a banjo player." 

We went into his recording studio, and he put an Earl Scruggs record on a turntable.  He slowed it down, and played along, then speeded it up.  Then he put on one of his records and did the same thing.  "See how crisp that sounds, at both slow speeds and fast?  Spend time trying to play these songs in time with the record.  Start real slow, and then get up to speed."

He gave me some helpful tips, showed me how to replace broken strings rapidly, as if one were on stage, but mostly he encouraged me in my quest.

Although he had incurred a significant expenditure of time and money getting a conversion kit ready for me, I decided to follow his advice and leave my Walnut Deluxe arch top unaltered.  I offered to compensate him, but he declined.  "I'll be able to sell those kits to someone else."

As I was leaving, his wife came out of their house to bid farewell.  They gave me directions to the interstate.  I left in a state of bewilderment with my arch top in tact.

*****

Sales of NNAOPP continue to trickle in and are now up to 1,294.  If you're in their respective neighborhoods, please patronize the Sanibel Bookshop and Bruce Smith Drugstore.  They continue to be my best selling venues.  I've been invited to speak to a Rotary group in a few weeks, so I haven't gone completely dormant.  Best wishes to all.
Chuck

Charles A. Wells, Jr.
3317 W. 68th Street
Shawnee Mission, KS 66208
816 289-1924
Author of: Nude Nuns and Other Peculiar People
Now available in print and Kindle format at  http://www.amazon.com
Available at:
  Rainy Day Books, 2706 W. 53rd Street, Fairway, KS
  The Raven Bookstore, 8 East 7th, Lawrence, KS
  Architectural Salvage, 2045 Broadway, Kansas City, MO
  Sanibel Island Bookshop, 1571 Periwinkle, Sanibel, FL
  Twisted Sisters Eclectic Gifts and Floral, Albany, MO
  Bruce Smith Drug Store, Prairie Village, KS 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

NNAOPP Update - March 2014


NNAOPP Update
March 2014

Did you know that alligators cannot digest food if their body temperature falls below 89 degrees?  They most likely would die if they ingest food at the lower temps, thus giving Florida snowbirds a much needed respite from danger.  For years I listened to geezer Florida golfing companions say, "Don't worry about the gators in the winter, they only eat in the summer."  And now I've learned that there is merit to the claim.


****

I overheard Lucy chatting with her Mom the other day and received a mild shock when she said, "I ran into so and so the other day (a former 8th grade teacher), who inquired, 'Are your parents still alive?' "  Hopefully that query is a bit premature.  Lord willing.

****

It was around 5 pm on a recent Tuesday afternoon.  I was practicing my banjo diligently when Judy walked into my studio, aka WHQ, Southern Command.  I said, "I think I'll sign up tonight for a set at George and Wendy's open mic night."  The Judester rolled her eyes in a manner that wordlessly, but emphatically, stated, "Are you out of your frigging mind?"  Her concerns were partially attributable to our having attended an open mic night two weeks earlier as observers, whereupon I was humbled by the simple fact that almost all of the performers were extremely gifted musicians.  I may have given voice to my innermost musings that I wasn't quite ready to expose my euphonious shortcomings to a clamorous crowd made more so by alcohol.

But despite this spousal crisis in confidence and being crap-in-my-pants nervous, I journeyed on.  As instructed, I arrived at 7 pm to receive a time slot from Captain Mike who organizes the weekly event.  Also waiting to sign up was a very pretty woman visiting Sanibel from Pennsylvania.  She said she saw a flyer and thought it would be fun.  I would later learn she has a voice like Allison Kraus and was a very polished performer.  She signed up for the 8:45 slot.  Lamentably, I was to follow her. I went out to the parking lot to keep my plucking digits limber and returned in time to listen to those playing before me.  It was dispiriting.

It turned out that I was one of nine performers during the 8-11 show.  Four were professionals who play at various venues on the island, and one of the remaining five was the babalicious wunderking from PA, leaving only four untutored souls.  I can safely state, without fear of contradiction, that I was the worst of those assembled.

There wasn't an empty seat in the place.  It was extremely boisterous, increasing my anxiety.  It was loud inside, so before my set I went outside again to check my tuning.  I sat on a bench and plucked away a little with an audience consisting of two kitchen guys taking a smoke break.  They asked in heavily accented Spanglish, "Hey, eez zat some kind of banjo?"  And I replied in the affirmative, passing on the opportunity to be a smartass.  Then it was show time.

Captain Mike got me situated and placed one microphone close to the head of the banjo and another near my face.  I did a few test strums, but I couldn't hear anything.  This was my first time playing with a mic, (and my first time in front of an audience), and I was surprised to learn that I couldn't hear myself playing.  This was disconcerting.  I introduced myself and opened with my strongest tune, a clawhammer version of Steve Martin's "Daddy Played the Banjo", but it couldn't be heard.  Mike adjusted the mic, and I started over.  This time the audience could apparently hear, but I couldn't.  I think I plucked a pretty clean version and received a polite applause over the din of a crazy, busy bar.  I quickly went to the mournful tune "Farewell to Whiskey" and again received a polite applause.  Then it was on to an upbeat medley of Wildwood Flower, the Ballad of Jesse James, and Arkansas Traveler, all received favorably and concluding the positive part of my set.  

I then, unwisely, switched to blue grass (aka Scruggs) style, but it was truly awful, somehow flicking my middle finger pick onto the floor midway through Foggy Mountain Breakdown.  People were polite, but precious few ladies were throwing their bras or panties.

I wrapped it up, said thanks, and then moved back to my barstool to listen to the remainder of the show.  Amazingly, people were extraordinarily kind in coming up to me to say nice things.   The pulchritudinous Pennsylvanian approached to say she loved my version of Wildwood Flower.  Best of all, the bar manager offered a drink on the house, which I humbly accepted.  Conspicuously absent amongst the well-wishers was a plea from Captain Mike to "stick around for another set."

All in all, a satisfactory experience, but I need a lot more polish before returning. Sadly, my musical progress is glacial.  

I shared this story with a fellow musical aspirant.  He summarized the experience thusly and alliteratively:  "The praise of a pretty Pennsylvanian, the kind compliments of the mic-night-minions, a liberating libation compliments of the publican...what more proof is needed that your plucking wasn't sucking?"

****

A few weeks ago, a friend of a friend contacted me to say, "I tried to find your book at the Sanibel Bookshop, but they're out."  Once alerted, I hastily rode my bike with a basketful of books to this fine establishment, and was pleased that they graciously accepted my invoice for those sold and accepted a supply of replenishments.  Sales continue to trickle in. In a display of optimism, bordering on hubris, I recently took delivery of my third printing.   Thanks to all.
Chuck

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

NNAOPP Update - January 2014


NNAOPP Update
January 2014

We brought our twin grandsons (Finn and Charlie age 3 1/2) to Sanibel to spend a week with us.  After the first couple of days, I was getting pretty antsy about the idea of spending seven entire days, unassisted, with the boys.  I suggested to Judy that we shorten the trip by a few days, and she said, "Man up for God's sake."

Each day became a little less stressful.  At 7:15 am on Day 3 I heard Charlie calling out to Finn, "Are you awake yet Finn?"  No response.  Charlie then ramped it up a few decibels, and Finn responded. Then I heard them chattering for a few minutes before one said to the other,  "Let's go look at him."  Him presumably being me, as the door to our room opened and two little boys peered in and quickly ran away.  Then it was snuggling and reading and breakfast time and a few hours (literally) of playing hide and seek.  Fortunately, all I had to do to hide was to cover my head in a blanket.  They'd then run all over the condo shouting where I wasn't before then uncovering my head.

Then we went to Ding Darling (a conservation area) and happened upon one of the best birding days we've ever experienced.  This was mostly lost on the boys, but we saw two immense flocks of white pelicans.  These are giant birds, rarely seen, and the adults have a wingspan of 9'.  We also saw a large flock of Roseate Spoonbills, my all time favorite.  We climbed a viewing tower and took a pretty good hike, then headed to Doc Ford's for lunch.

Once again, the boys' favorite spot for after lunch stuff is the playground.  They are getting more and more coordinated in climbing all the various apparati. There were only two other kids present during our stay.  I usually don't chat with strangers, but somehow I found myself in conversation with a man about my age.  He spoke with an English accent, and he asked about the twins being identical.  He then shared that his twins, a boy and a girl age 6, were in fact his kids not his grandkids.  He also has a 46-yr old son.  Our twins really fastened upon his twins, who were nice in return, and it was a very pleasant time at the playground.

He said he and his wife live full time in the Cotswolds, but they are now living in Sanibel for six months giving it a trial.  His kids were both enrolled in first grade at Sanibel grade school, about which he spoke glowingly.  He said, "I'm in the process of getting my non-resident green card, and we'll most likely move here permanently for the school year, but return to England for the summer."

When he mentioned he was a songwriter, I asked him if he was famous.  He said, "Not really, but we did once give it a go, and our group still performs."  As it turns out he was the lead singer and keyboardist for Manfred Mann (He explained that one of the band members was Manfred Mann, but the record execs thought it would make a good band name).  He co-wrote and did the lead on "Do Wah Ditty", and he also wrote "Build Me Up Buttercup" (most recently featured in the movie Something About Mary).  He said it's very frustrating trying to get through all of the handlers to get someone to listen to his songs.  "I used to just be able to call Rod Stewart and ask him to give a listen, but alas no more."  I told him I sympathized, although I had no experience in such matters. 

He is also in the process of writing a book and was interested in my book and experiences trying to sell it.  I told him that I hope to have my debut performance at the open mike night in a couple of weeks at George and Wendy's Seafood Grill.  He said, to let him know, and he'll try to stop by.   He added, "Maybe they'll have a spare keyboard."

He mentioned that another reason for their six-months hiatus in the States was to focus on the book his is writing, a memoir.  This obviously piqued my interest, and I mentioned my nascent writing career.  He seemed genuinely interest about NNAOPP.  He inquired about the self-publishing world and the origins of the title and was puzzled by the use of the word 'nude'.  "Why not 'naked'? 

I started to tell him the story about the encounter with the lesbian nun lovers in the hot tub when, inexplicably, Judy came sliding down the nearby giant slide, overshot her mark, and landed on her bum into a pile of woodchips, unintentionally, but convincingly, confirming Newton's second law of motion (f=ma).

We went over see if she was okay, picked her up, and dusted her off.  I made a brief introduction including the Manfred Mann reference.  Judy then began what I thought was the worst rendition every of "Do Wah Diddy" and then walked away. She later explained that she was singing "Build Me Up Buttercup" further cementing her vocal credentials.

Later that evening after we got Charlie and Finn readied for bed, I pulled up a 1964 version of 'Do Wah Diddy' by Manfred Mann on Youtube.  Finn said, "Is that our friend, Papa?"  And it was.  And Charlie added, "And my friend too."

We flew back to KC to return the boys to their Mom and Dad.  While home I stopped in the Prairie Village Barber Shop to have my thinning locks trimmed.  I caught up with Windy, my 73-year old barber, and the composer and performer of my song "Three Funerals Shy of Paradise."  Windy is a country music performer extraordinaire who cuts hair as a sideline.  I told him of my upcoming 10-minute banjo set at George and Wendy's and said, "Wish me luck.  Any advice?"

He said, "It's natural that you'll be nervous.  But remember, if it looks like you're having a good time, then they will too."

Hope all is well with each of you.
Chuck

Charles A. Wells, Jr.
3317 W. 68th Street
Shawnee Mission, KS 66208
816 289-1924
Author of: Nude Nuns and Other Peculiar People
Now available in all ebook formats at:  http://www.smashwords.com/b/96530
and in print and Kindle format at  http://www.amazon.com
Available at:
  Rainy Day Books, 2706 W. 53rd Street, Fairway, KS
  The Raven Bookstore, 8 East 7th, Lawrence, KS
  Architectural Salvage, 2045 Broadway, Kansas City, MO
  Sanibel Island Bookshop, 1571 Periwinkle, Sanibel, FL
  Twisted Sisters Eclectic Gifts and Floral, Albany, MO
  Bruce Smith Drug Store, Prairie Village, KS 

Monday, December 2, 2013

In Brooklyn with Ben


NNAOPP Update
aka Bowling (badly) in Brooklyn on Ben's Birthday
With a touch of Burma and Bulgaria
Thanksgiving 2013

On Friday (11/29) we celebrated Ben's birthday dining at a delightful Brooklyn restaurant, Five Leaves, with Ben, his girlfriend Deb (a lively and lovely young lady), and several of his friends.  Ben and I enjoyed the house burger special, a tasty concoction of a ground beef patty topped with pickled beets, a slice of fried pineapple, a fried egg, and tomato.

The evening was capped off bowling until 1:30 am, an unusually late hour for the Judester and me.  The 8-lane venue shared space with a bar and was nestled in an isolated, industrial neighborhood, presumably a former warehouse.  The loaner balls were almost round featuring crevices in which one could secret a bag of corn nuts.  I bowled badly and even managed to bugger up my most important banjo finger (thus postponing indefinitely the date of my coming out performance), but it was a frolicsome group, and a fun celebration.

Deb's family is from Burma, thus adding alliterative luster to the lead.  One of the guests at Ben's Thanksgiving feast was an effervescent girl from Bulgaria, adding yet another B to the string.  Maria came to the U.S. for college and ended up at Cottey College in Nevada, MO, surely a culture shock.  Her family operates a dance troupe featuring classic Bulgarian folk routines, and they have performed all over Europe.  I told her she was the first Bulgarian I had ever met.  In her impeccable English, she said she was glad to help broaden my horizons.  From her I learned a new word, which I like, concordantly.  Ben can be counted upon to assemble interesting company.

For those with a modicum of interest, here are a few observations:

The nicer neighborhoods of Brooklyn are mindful of 1950's small town America.  We purchased our turkey at a small Italian butcher, then went across the street to a wine store, then dropped the heavier packages off at Ben's apartment, then back to a corner grocer for final provisioning and a stop at a small hardware store.  We patronized a variety of nearby restaurants, all of the Mom and Pop variety, and all excellent. Even though it was a gray, rainy day, people were uncommonly friendly and in a festive spirit, presumably attendant to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Giant corporate enterprises are few and far between.  It's difficult to imagine how the merchants prosper in their tiny spaces given the high rents and difficult logistics, but they do, and there are few empty storefronts.

The food, both from restaurants or local stores, is consistently outstanding in even the most nondescript places.  Ben's friend, Peter, noted that the power of social media insures that any business not providing good value immediately will die quickly.

Our stay was brief, 4 days, so we confined our travels to Brooklyn, which I find to be quite pleasing.  We're becoming fairly familiar with Ben's Williamsburg neighborhood and have hiked to Prospect Park.  We took the East River ferry down to Brooklyn Bridge Park, hiked through Brooklyn Heights, then to downtown Brooklyn, and stopped at the NY Transit Museum (a worthwhile destination).  Brooklyn has a much larger population that Manhattan (2.5m v. 1.6m), but it is noticeably less congested, occupying triple the square miles (71 v. 23).  The pedestrian and car traffic is intense, but rather mild compared to most Manhattan neighborhoods.  Tourist sightings are negligible.  I espied few children on our Brooklyn walkabout, but there was no dearth of dogs.

Interestingly, one encounters few overweight people.  I presume this is attributable to the necessity of walking as a mode of transport.  Even the subway requires navigating many levels of stairs.  Upon leaving Brooklyn we flew to our southern WHQ in Sanibel, FL.  We stopped at an Olive Garden near the airport for dinner and were comforted by the presence of large numbers of very large people.  Cracker Barrel would have been even more comforting I'm sure.

Ben lives in a neighborhood largely inhabited by hipsters.  I know this owing to the ubiquity of porpkie hats and black, tight, short jeans worn by men.  There is a noticeable lack of color adorning the citizens.  Occasionally you'll see a dash of gray, brown, or dark green sprinkled amidst the dominant black attire.  It was quite cold during our stay, concordantly I wore a day-glo stocking cap that I thought might add a bit of cheeriness.  It did insure that I was not mistaken for a deer, but otherwise this micro-act of fashion rebelliousness went unnoticed.  People walk fast and with their heads down, seemingly impervious to their surroundings.  It's mindful of an Orwellian streetscape.

If one is not already sufficiently aware of their insignificance in the grand scheme of things, a trip to a very large city will put you in the right frame of mind.

****

It's a miracle that more people don't die riding in cabs here.  Our visit started off, as it almost always does, with a harrowing cab ride from LaGuardia.  Our driver was either from India or from the Land of Stans. I can't be certain.  The only understandable English words he used in my presence were, "Where to." 

I told him, "Take the BQE to the Metropolitan exit, and I will guide you from there." 

He offered no acknowledgement whether he heard or understood this response.  He just took off, and we buckled up.  We successfully got on the BQE going the right direction, so things were semi-okay save for the speed at which we were traveling.  It was dark, raining heavily, and the traffic was predictably severe.  Our driver was taking up two lanes engendering honks, and presumably unmentionable mutterings, from the proximate gasoline trucks, semis, and cement mixers. 

Then our driver started chanting and gesticulating wildly whilst driving.  At first I thought he was speaking to Judy and me, but then I surmised he was listening to something on an earbud.  I'll never know the true source of his agitation, but I leaned forward to remind him that the Metropolitan exit was nearing.  He was still in an interior lane, then swerved to the right through two lanes of traffic to exit on Meeker Street shouting something like, "Metropolitan! No good!"  This was not pleasing, but we were still alive and blessedly now forced to go more slowly.  With the ad of Google maps, I guided the cabbie to Ben's address ending the turbulent trip.  Ben was quickly at curbside with an umbrella.  What a good lad.  My terror of NYC cabs may be a function of advanced age, but I don't think I'm alone. 

****

Real estate in Brooklyn has been on a tear lately with the highest values placed on locations closest to subway stations, particularly those with the fewest stops to nearby Manhattan.  One might classify Ben's Williamsburg neighborhood as a "middle class" enclave based on outward appearances, but certainly not on price.  Ben lives one half a block away from a subway station that is two stops from Manhattan, concordantly it is a highly desirable location.  Most of the buildings are three stories with each story serving as a condo or apartment.  Usually the buildings stand shoulder to shoulder with shared walls, but occasionally, there is a walkway between structures leading to tiny backyards. 

On street parking is reasonably available, but it is still quite a hassle to own a car.  Many of the buildings are newly renovated and quite handsome, some are rundown, but all are expensive. Ben showed us a small two-story building that is uninhabitable with an asking price of $800k.  Decent residential space in his neighborhood goes for $800-$1,000+ per square foot and rents run in the range of $3-4,500 per month, but walking around you don't get the feeling you're surrounded by prosperous people.  Ben explained, "Looks are deceiving."

The sidewalks and streets are not particularly tidy.  What passes for a front yard, features an iron fence and gate surrounding a 6'-8' enclosure between the sidewalk and the house.  This space is typically filled with garbage cans and bikes chained to the fence.

Ben lives on the third floor of a 150+ year-old house that was built as a three story flat.  The stairway leading to his top floor unit is steep and narrow (30") giving one a sense of wonderment how the furnishings arrived.   The handsome banister and wide board flooring in the common areas are similar to the apartment in the French Quarter that serves as our Mardi Gras WHQ.

In contrast, the interiors of the buildings are remarkably nice, if Ben's building is any indicator.  His sunny place features a modern kitchen and bathrooms, attractive flooring, brick walls, and skylights. Ben's street is lined with large London Planes, close cousin to the Sycamore. They provide a welcome sense of hominess to visiting Midwesterners.  Ben has taken up his Mom's passion for gardening and he keeps an abundance of well-tended plants including a 5' Ficus tree growing in his dining room.  He also has a tiny backyard that is home to a variety of interesting flora.

****

I was waiting on the stoop outside of Ben's home, and I finished leaving a phone message for a client while watching two young men get out of a nearby, parked car, a silver Hyundai.   They were both heavily muscled, handsome, with military style haircuts.  The one nearest to me pulled something heavy out of the backseat and tossed it to his comrade.  They both proceeded to put on bulletproof vests that covered their torsos well below the belt line.  They slipped on unremarkable shirts, boldly surveyed their surroundings, and walked into the building directly across the street.  I'm thinking "Pulp Fiction?"

When Ben and Judy came down, and I described the scene that had just unfolded.  I asked Ben, "What do you think that was all about."  His uninterested reply, "I have no idea."

On Wednesday we dined at Roberta's, a five-stop subway ride into the bowels of Brooklyn.  It is noteworthy for their tasty pizza and a prominent sign one might expect in a less urbane setting, "Farts are just the ghosts of dinners past." Ben shared that on an earlier visit to Roberta's, the lead singer of the Grizzly Bears was dining at a nearby table.  Seminal events such as this make life worth living.

The subways on which we rode were all shiny and clean, unmarred by the ugly graffiti that used to be commonplace in NYC subways.  Kudos to the Giuliani and Bloomberg eras.

Did you know that a license for a single cab in NYC currently goes for $1.2 million?

In the 1880's the new minor league baseball team was named the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, a pejorative term hipper Manhattanites used in describing the conveyance avoidance habits of their cross-river neighbors.  This was later shortened to the moniker now more familiar to fans in LA.

****

I sat next to a lady about my age while waiting for our flight out of LaGuardia.  She asked if there was a banjo in my case.  I replied affirmatively, and the conversation went thusly:

"Is it a four-string or six-string banjo?"

"Five."

"My Dad used to play banjo.  He was born in 1903, and he was really good.  I still have his old banjo.  Do you think it would be worth much?"

"Depends.  If it's a Gibson, it could be quite valuable."

"I don't know about that, but it did have two light bulbs inside it."

****

On Thanksgiving Day I checked my Amazon account and was pleased to note the sale of 2 copies of NNAOPP sometime during the last 24 hours.  Thanks to whomever that might be.  Sales continue to trickle in, and I'm closing in on 1,300, but still a long way from my goal of 1,750. 

May the special blessings of the holiday season be with you and your loved ones.  Merry Christmas.
Chuck