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.