Monday, April 27, 2015

Appearance on the Randy Miller Radio Show 4/27/15

Hi All,

Yesterday I was honored to make my radio debut on the Randy Miller Radio Show.  It’s a comedy podcast that airs daily on  http://www.RandyMIllerRadio.com.  Randy has been a successful radio personality in the KC area since the 1980’s.  He’s made a name for himself for being LOL funny.  My appearance came about through the kindness of Michael Seward whose parents Barry and Patty are long time friends.  Michael produces and co-hosts the show with Randy.  He introduced my book and a few of my recent updates to Randy who then said, “This is some funny stuff.  We need to get this guy on the show,”  and they did.

I was above average nervous, but Randy and Michael were gracious hosts and made me as comfortable as one might be under the circumstances.  Both had kind words to say about NNAOPP and added an abundance of plugs.  They also served a nice red wine for the occasion.

Below I’ve pasted the posting Michael made to my Facebook page about the show.  It lasts about 50 minutes.  In case you want to hop around, I’m introduced at the 10:15 minute mark, and I play a banjo solo at the 41 minute mark.  I hope you enjoy the show at http://tinyurl.com/ovasang

I’d also encourage you to tune into Randy and Michael’s show on a regular basis.  I think you’ll find their humor brightening your day.

All the best.
Chuck


p.s.  For those who remember the story last month about Steve Martin and his song “The Great Remember (For Nancy) and who might have an interest in listening to it played by its author, here’s the link:  https://youtu.be/MiLGRdBSy6s


Michael Seward shared a photo to your timeline.
11 hrs · 
Fun show today with special guest Charles Wells!
Nude Nuns and Other Peculiar People (NNAOPP)
Charles "Chuck" Wells, Jr., Harvard graduate and author of NNAOPP, tells some of his peculiar encounters. 

IMG_0294.JPG


Randy Miller, me, Michael Seward

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Banjo Stuff

Banjo Stuff
April 2015

I started playing the banjo a little over four years ago.  I purchased an intro book to 5-string bluegrass (aka three finger or Scruggs style) banjo and diligently worked my way through the basics of learning how to read tablature (aka musical nomenclature for dummies on stringed instruments), forward rolls, backward rolls, and simple chords.  These modest tools eventually built my skill level to a point where I could produce sounds remotely resembling music.

Three months after first picking up the instrument I attended the Suwannee Banjo Camp.  The experience was helpful, inspiring, and intimidating.  I owned the distinction of being the worst player among the 120 participants, but one has to start somewhere, and I could begin to envision what might be possible.

At that time I was introduced to nuances in the banjo world that were previously unknown to me, most notably the existence of a style called 'old time' or 'clawhammer' banjo. The first time I heard the 'old time' style played, I loved the sound and the foot-stomping beat, but I was put off, because it appeared too difficult.

Bluegrass style is probably more familiar to non-enthusiasts and was made popular in the 1970's by the likes of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs with familiar tunes like Foggy Mountain Breakdown, The Theme from Deliverance, and The Ballad of Jed Clampett.  Bluegrass style is typically played loudly and boldly with picks on the thumb, index, and middle fingers. 

One year later I again attended the camp and decided I wanted to learn 'old style'.  But it meant starting over, not unlike switching to oboe.  With clawhammer, one strikes the strings with the thumb and fingernail of one finger, middle in my case.  The four fingers of the right hand are held in a claw-like fashion, thus the name, and to the casual observer not much is happening, but, in fact, all is quite busy featuring fun-sounding embellishments like double drop thumbing.

I didn't give up on bluegrass style, but I spent the next year focused on the basic elements of clawhammer.  I bought the beginner books and worked through the drills that basically add tools from which one can eventually construct a song.

Last weekend I attended by fourth camp in lovely Live Oak, FL, and have had another revelation.  I've advanced somewhat from novice to the intermediate level, and I have been introduced to new nuances that have greatly piqued my interest. One session in particular, Round Peak style clawhammer, really called out to me.  The origins are distinctly Scotch Irish, but the toe-tap-defying tunes and the picking style took on an American flavor from denizens of the Appalachian hollows of northwest NC and SE Virginia in the late 1900's. 

These distinctions are meaningful to no more than a few hundred people on the planet earth, but I've now discovered, I am one of them.  I was contemplating taking up poisonous snake collecting, but I think this will be a better fit for me.

Mark Johnson

For those who enjoy acoustic music, the faculty concerts at the Suwannee Banjo Camp are an absolute delight.  My two favorite performers are Adam Hurt and Mark Johnson.  They are virtually unknown to the broader world, but they are remarkable musicians, capable teachers, and nice people willing to share some of their knowledge with those less gifted.

I had a class with Mark on Saturday morning that was enjoyable, and as I was packing up my banjo case, he said, "Come to my afternoon class, I think you'll enjoy it."  I told him it was listed as 'advance', and beyond my ability, but he said, "Come anyway."  He's a big, handsome man with a commanding presence, and I told him I would.

Typically 6-7 students show up for each session, but it turned out I was the only guy to show up for 'clawhammer: advanced techniques,' resulting in a one-on-one lesson.  I knew of Mark from an earlier camp, at which time I purchased two of his CD's.  I listen to his tunes often on iTunes, usually while mowing the grass or farming.  I know you've never heard of the guy, but in the micro world of banjo pluckers, he's a big honking deal.  He produces unique tones on his specially crafted Deering instrument in a style he created called clawgrass, eponymously blending elements of bluegrass and clawhammer.  And he has a very pleasing voice.

We chatted a bit.  I'm moderately inquisitive so I asked him about his background, how long he's been playing, what it's like to be an accomplished, but unheralded musician.  And he told me a little of his story.  He's been playing since 13, he's now 59, and he plays and writes music, because that's who and what he is.  In 2012 he won the third  'Steve Martin Banjo Player of the Year Award' that yielded a $50,000 prize and an appearance on the David Letterman Show.  His music is played regularly on the Sirius bluegrass radio channel, and he starts a 6-week performance tour in Europe next month.  But he also has a day job as the director of the emergency agency of a coastal county in northern Florida.

Then he said something that's both odd and rare for one who has earned a semblance of modest fame, "Enough about me, tell me a little about yourself and your banjo journey."

He listened politely to a brief recitation of my humdrum existence, and he said, "Play some of your best stuff for me.  Maybe I can offer a few helpful hints."

I tuned to double C and started with, "The Great Remember (For Nancy)" my absolute favorite clawhammer tune that happens to have been written by Steve Martin.  He listened patiently and quietly as I played.  About half way through he started playing harmony and counter-melodies, gently overlaying my many deficiencies, blending some pleasing sounds heard only by the two of us.  When we finished, he said, "Can I tell you a story about that song?"  And I said, "I'm all ears."

"For several years, I have been giving lessons to Steve Martin.  He once invited me to his home in NYC for dinner and a jam session.  I brought a gift of special Florida orange marmalade as a hostess gift for his lovely wife and arrived at the appointed hour at his upper Westside apartment.  I told the doorman that I was a guest of Mr. Martin.  He motioned to some security type folks near a bank of elevators.  They made a call and then gave the sign to allow me to proceed.  He told me to go to the 11th floor, and I asked 'What apartment number?' and he shook his head in disbelief to ensure I knew I was a rube.  He said, 'Just go to the 11th floor, you'll figure it out.'"

"The elevator opened into one of the most elegant dwellings I'd seen featuring panoramic views of the New York City skyline rising above Central Park.  Steve and his wife could not have been more gracious hosts.  Shortly after I arrived, his aging dog Wally ambled in, and he introduced me to the dog.  Then he got down flat on the floor to chat with Wally.  He's a playful and nice man, it's not just an act."

"We had an exquisite dinner, and afterwards played banjo for four hours.  When it was time to leave he volunteered to walk me to my hotel, and he did.  I was scheduled to return the next evening to perform for some of his friends at a dinner party they were hosting.  He stopped and put his face about a foot from mine, eyeballed me, and said, 'There will be celebrities present tomorrow evening.  Will that be a problem?'  I assured him it would not.  People are people, no big deal."

"When I arrived the next evening I learned the celebrities included: Meryl Streep, Paul Simon, Lorne Michaels, Kevin Kline, and many others.  My partner (Emory Lester, who plays guitar and fiddle) had arrived from Toronto for the event, and we played a one-hour set.  Afterwards, a stunningly beautiful blond woman came up to me and said, 'That was truly wonderful.  I had no idea a banjo could produce such delightful music.  I'd like to introduce you to my husband and some of our friends.'  Nancy took me over to meet her husband Martin Short.  They were generous with kind words, and said they'd hope to have me come perform at some events they host at their home in Canada."

"Six months passed, and I never heard a word from them.  No big deal, I figured, stuff happens.  Later during a session with Steve he introduced me to one of his new songs, 'The Great Remember (For Nancy)', and he told me that it was written in memory of his friend, Nancy Short, who passed away several months after the dinner party."

Friday, February 20, 2015

Mardi Gras 2015


NNAOPP Update

Mardi Gras
February 2015

After a year's absence, I was fortunate to return to NOLA for Mardi Gras 2015.  I arrived Thursday as my host insisted I should attend his Friday luncheon.  Another guest and I arrived at the same time and shared a cab to the French Quarter apartment that would be home for the next six days.  Walking up to the second floor apartment, we encountered our adjacent-balcony neighbors taking their bulldog out for a stroll.  She made my day by asking, "Hey, aren't you the guy that wrote the book about our Mardi Gras? I loved it."  I thanked her.  Good start, I thought to myself.

Shortly after our arrival we headed for dinner at NOLA's.  Once there our host played a voicemail he received earlier from our transgender acquaintance.  Her pleadings came in a voice blending the worst of Queen Elizabeth and Barry White:

"Darling! I hope this finds you well.  I've prepared my costumes for Mardi Gras, and I think you'll find them stunning as usual, but sadly I don't have a place to stay.  Any chance you'd have room for me at your place.  I'm so sad to think I'll have to stay in San Francisco while everyone is having so much fun."

She is a world class mooch, and her call was not returned.  It did prompt us to once again ponder her gender. A female friend, new to the topic, weighed in and asked, "Does she have an Adam's apple?"  "Yes, but it's usually covered by bejeweled, velvet dog collars." "Then she's a man."  Then she listened to the voice on the message and said, "That's definitely a woman's voice." No one has ever been bodacious enough to pull a Crocodile Dundee crotch grab on the personage in question, so the matter remains in doubt.

After a delightful dinner of honey-roasted duck, several in our group ventured to the Muses Parade on Canal Street.  We rarely attend parades, but the Muses event is special.  It consists of 1,000 well-dressed women riding on floats, and each decorates 30 shoes that they dispense to friends in the crowd.  Occasionally a miscreant will step between the Muse member and her intended recipient to run off with the treasure.  Membership is highly coveted and limited to the extent no names are being added to the waiting list.   The shoes that I saw are veritable works of art.  On the previous night a group called Nyx does a similar parade only they dispense outrageously decorated purses.  New Orleans is an extraordinarily friendly place for women enjoying the company of other women with a penchant for fun.

The Friday before Mardi Gras is a big honking deal.  We arrived at the Rib Room around 11:30 am for cocktails.  We were surrounded by men wearing expensive suits, monogrammed cuffs and links, and crisply folded, colorful handkerchiefs for accents.  The women are equally and elegantly attired often wearing Kentucky Derby hats, and their numbers matched that of the gentlemen.  Those present exhibited healthy doses of southern graciousness and hints of aristocratic privilege.  Table arrangements are made years in advance.

Our host knows many of the fellow diners from his membership in the Krewe of Cork and from having lived and worked part time in the French Quarter for 22 years.

We chatted amiably with those situated around the bar when two attractive ladies approached.  Our host made introductions, or re-introductions in one case.  She said, "Do you remember me?" and I replied that I most certainly did.  Several years earlier I had arrived late from the airport for dinner at Arnaud's.  Later, as we were leaving we encountered her on the street.  I was pulling my wheeled luggage, and she said, "What's the bag for gramps?  Your oxygen?"  We laughed.

The dining areas opened precisely at noon and we were seated at a table in a loge-like balcony affording us a view of the diners seated below and the crowds passing in the street.  Our table for eight was adorned with ten bottles of exquisite wines, i.e. Cade, Duckhorn, Cinq Cepages, Chassagne Montrecet, and Jordan, to name a few.

Our group consisted of three engineers, specializing in subterranean structures, and one construction executive.  Early on the conversation was semi-business related and we got a mini-education on foundations in NOLA.   The structural engineers explained how the brick corbelling beneath the centuries old buildings in the French Quarter will disintegrate once exposed to the elements making it difficult to build adjacent structures.  "The only reason many of these buildings are still standing is habit." 

After the ten bottles of wine were consumed, conversational topics turned to earthier topics.  One of our companions is a senior executive of a construction company.  She is also a very attractive lady.  I complimented her on her success in what I perceived to be an industry not renowned for friendliness to women.  She noted women are making strides in construction.  Then she shared this observation about working in a male dominated environment:

"No offense, but men are basically very simple creatures.  They only care about women's body parts, games involving a ball, food, and drink.  That's it.  Women are infinitely more complex.  We view layers in all things."

The seven men listening nodded in agreement as if to say in unison, "No offense taken. That pretty well nails it."  Then I inquired at what age she made this discovery.

"I didn't figure this out until around 30.  Then everything became less troublesome. When I was 16 I thought boys should think like I did."

Patrick's Bar Vin

We were feeling good after our lengthy luncheon, and we walked the several blocks from the Rib Room to Patrick's Bar Vin, accompanied by Patrick, one of our luncheon companions and owner of the eponymous establishment.

Patrick's place was the busiest I had every seen it.  He later told me that the Friday before MG and the Friday before Christmas are his two busiest days of the year.  He caters to more of a local crowd and those are the days the locals celebrate.  Even schools are closed from the Wednesday before MG to the Wednesday after.  The bar is relatively small, laid out like a sitting room with three groupings of furniture each serving as a conversation pit.  The furnishings are nice, with leather couches and armchairs, oriental rugs, handsome wood paneling, and an attentive staff. 

I espied an empty spot on one of the couches in the midst of a group of people and asked if I could join them.  They graciously made introductions.  All were members of the Krewe of Cork and regularly patronize Patrick's, as he is both the founder of the Krewe and its permanent King. 

I stayed seated after the bacchants left.  These fine folks were then followed by a succession of new and interesting visitors.   I can only presume I was approached because I appear to be a harmless old coot, and I am content to listen to whatever stories people want to tell me with minimal interruptions.

The Lesbian

At first she was sitting on the couch across the coffee table from me talking to others.  She was about 40, tall, bookish, and pretty with long dark hair and glasses.  After her companions left she came over and sat next to me.  Sniper, one of our group, was also sitting nearby.  After introductions she told us that she had just moved to NOLA from LA.  She was married to a man for ten years, but she moved to NOLA to be with a woman with whom she fell in love, but the woman dumped her after two months.  She proceeded to tell us how difficult it is to be a single lesbian in NOLA vs. LA.  Apparently, lesbians are more readily identifiable in LA than in the Deep South.  She said if she gets desperate she could always go back to men.  I told her I didn't think she looked like a lesbian given the lack of a girls' fast pitch softball haircut.  She laughed and explained the distinction between dykes and lesbians.  I'm not sure if I'll ever get a chance to deploy this new knowledge, but one never knows.

The Rich Man's Wife?

I sat alone for a while observing the crowd, content to stay put.  The bar manager, a beautiful Vietnamese woman, periodically checked on me and told me a little about her background.   She was born in the U.S. shortly after her parents arrived as refugees.  But before her story could unfold, she was quickly beckoned away by other customers. 

I noticed a youngish couple sitting across from me.  The man was about 45 and the woman 35.  They were handsomely dressed and appeared to be deeply engrossed in their conversation and were holding hands in a loving way. He looked like a conventional NOLA aristocrat, and she looked like an exotic creature one might find in the New Orleans zoo.  Then he left.  After a bit of time she moved to the chair next to my corner of the couch and introduced herself.   She cut a striking figure wearing blood red lipstick, an extremely short skirt, white stockings, and expensive jewelry.  She sat at the only possible angle one could sit while still maintaining a modicum of modesty. 

She said, "So what's your story?"  I told her I had totally mastered the art of being an invisible nobody, and that I spent my free time sitting in wine bars listening to other people's stories.  She then told me that she was of Puerto Rican descent, grew up in Brooklyn, got a degree from Columbia University, almost went to Columbia law school, but instead became a grade school teacher, married a rich NOLA attorney, and now runs a restaurant in the French Quarter. 

Then she looked around the room conspiratorially as though someone might surreptitiously listen in on our conversation.  She leaned forward and whispered, "But you know what I really want to do?"  "No." I replied.  "I want to be a writer.  I have stories I must tell."

I informed her of my hugely unsuccessful efforts as a scrivener, and she asked if I would read some of her work.  I told her I'd be pleased to do that and shared the title of my book that has my contact information. Patrick would periodically glance our direction with a mischievous grin.  I later asked him if he set that up.  He smiled and denied any culpability.

Our evening routines are pretty simple.  We stroll four blocks to Patrick's for cocktails at 6, dinner at 7 at varying restaurants.  On Saturday it was Arnaud's, possibly my favorite.  We were greeted by the owner and received inter-planetary air kisses.  Once again I feasted on the petit filet Lafitte, a dish featuring fried oysters and a slightly peppered and tender filet.  As the maitre d' accurately boasted, "We serve nothing that cannot be cut with a butter knife."  By 10:30 we'd done all the damage we could do at the dining table, and it was time to leave. 

We had been invited to a party on a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street by one of Patrick's best customers, a wealthy industrialist.  We accepted, but Patrick declined and returned to his bar.

Getting to the party, lamentably, required walking two blocks on Bourbon Street on a Saturday night.  The masses of partygoers one finds on Bourbon Street would not be confused with visiting yachtsmen.  The crowd was massive, unruly, and often downright frightening.  The entire scene provided a full frontal assault on all of the senses.

None in our group of five could be mistaken for youthful.  One has an injured back and knee, and he walks slowly and awkwardly.  It was a huge mistake for us to have entered that dangerous milieu, but we did safely make it to the balcony.  Verily one could observe no shortage of licentiousness from the safety of our new perch, but I was too stressed from the two-block walk to enjoy the moment.

Our host and I left early with our injured comrade.  We navigated one half a block on Bourbon before we could cross to the friendlier confines of Royal, but it was slow going.  Our friend was in obvious pain as we inched our way back to the apartment.  When we were within one block of our destination, we stopped so he could rest against a lamppost.

She may have been a sincerely concerned Good Samaritan, as she appeared out of nowhere and inquired,  "Do you guys need some help?"  We explained the situation and thanked her for her concern.  She asked where we were from, and when we said "Kansas, " she became animated and said, "No way! No one is from Kansas. What is that all about?"  We accepted her joshing with good humor and explained it was an acquired taste.

She was not a pretty woman, more like the female equivalent of Larry the Cable Guy. She wore a camouflage ball cap and an unflattering form fitting tee shirt.  She had long stringy hair, was 40ish, and told us the following, implausible story:

She's a college professor in Fairbanks, Alaska, couldn't see Russia from her house, couldn't understand why anyone would want to live anywhere other than Alaska. She was surprisingly articulate, given her unkempt appearance.  Then in the midst of regaling us with her academic achievements and the joys of Alaska she changed directions, "Omigod, I had sex with one of my 21-year-old students last night.  I'm fearful he might say something to someone that could jeopardize my job."

I opined, "So the kid now owns you?"

She became irritated and replied, "No! If he ever said anything they'd find his dead body in the river."

"Well, it's sure been nice chatting with you."

By now my two chums had started walking the final block, and I was left alone with the professor.  She calmed down and inquired, "Are you boys staying anywhere around here?  I could help him with his back if you'd like."

I thanked her for her concern and trotted along.

I don't live a particularly cloistered life, but I rarely encounter anything as consistently bizarre as I do during the evenings in the FQ during Mardi Gras.  In the day I am invisible, but in the evening, and in the company of my host, and while dressed nicely, we can almost count on meeting strange people.  I truly hope this continues.

This year my favorite street performer was Transformer Man.  He fashioned a little yellow car body that he wears like a tortoise shell backpack.  He has wheels attached to each of his ankles, and he holds a battery-powered front wheel/axle unit that propels the little device.  He gets down on his hands and knees, rides around giving the appearance of a normal little car, then he stands up, flips the yellow car body back from his head and shoulders, holds up the front axle/power unit in his right arm, and poses like a super hero.  I heard one little boy shriek with joy when he saw the little car transform into a man.  It was pretty darn cool, but an extremely difficult way to earn a living, as his act requires getting up and down from the pavement several hundred times each shift.

He performed just down from our balcony so I watched him try to draw a crowd.  During one of his breaks I took him a bottle of water, and we chatted.  He was a little guy with quarter-sized holes in his ears filled with hollow green rings, Ubangi like.  I told him I liked his act, gave him a few bucks and commented he must be in great shape.  He said his costume, including the battery packs, weigh 90 lbs, barely less than his 135 lbs. frame.

We noted a paucity of painted, topless women this year.  The weather was really nice on Saturday and Sunday and the crowds were large, so we couldn't account for the decline.  The entrance to our apartment is on Rue St. Peter, just off of Royal.  Our immediate neighbors down St. Peter towards Bourbon are Pat O'Brien's and Preservation Hall.  Both of these venues draw huge crowds from the eddies of humanity swirling around the intersection at Bourbon Street.  A local artist paints women's torsos in the narrow alley across the street from Pat O'Brien's.  It's a perfect location as the bar emits an endless stream of impaired young women holding plastic hurricane glasses filled with some sugary concoction.  But he wasn't doing any business this year.  Being an inquisitive fellow, I decided I needed to learn more.

He's a rugged looking man, about 50, who wears a black leather outfit with a doo rag.  I asked him why things are so slow this year, and he said, "If anyone ever tells you to paint within the lines, do it.  I've spent my entire life painting outside the lines, and this is where you end up."  From all appearances, the street life is mighty harsh.

The musicianship heard on the streets this year was the best ever.  Within earshot of our balcony one could hear the strains of a gifted clarinetist, opera singer, violinist, and my favorite, a ragtime group featuring two open-backed banjos.  They drew large, appreciative crowds and their tip jars seemed to be filled to the brim.

I can't sign off without addressing the question that many readers may have pondered.  "Would meaningful numbers of women expose their breasts for beads on a Mardi Gras day with temps in the low 40's and winds of 15-25 mph whistling down the canyon-like streets of the French Quarter?"  And the answer is, "You betcha."

The most memorable flash occurred when a young woman was cogitating the trade of beads for boobs.  She looked at her husband/boyfriend for either a way out or encouragement, and he said, "Go ahead.  I'm going to be an old guy some day."  So she flashed, much to our delight, as her remarkable breasts resembled WWI artillery shells.  The most pleasing viewing came from a very unlikely candidate.  She was gorgeous and dressed modestly, sashaying as if on a mission to a meeting with the State Department.  She said,  "I don't want your beads, but I'm pleased to show you these," and she did.

On a More Wholesome Note

Once again Finn and Charlie's Mom and Dad were willing to share their delightful 4-year-old twins with us for a week in Florida.  The time flew by as we quickly got into our routines consisting of breakfast, playground, pool, beach, donut dining, bath, reading, and bedtime.  The capstone of each evening involved traveling to nearby Jerry's Grocery Store where the boys would push their own cart to the donut display and make their selection of the day.  It was all great fun.

Nightly, I would tuck the boys into bed and give them good night kisses.  Charlie would grab my face with both hands, turn my head directly facing his, pull me within an inch of his nose, and ask, "Papa, if I get scared can I come in and sleep with you?"  I assured him that would be just fine.  And every night around 3 or 4 am, we could count on his trundling in.

Like clockwork, I awakened to hear the patter of Charlie's little footsteps coming down the hallway to our room.  He put his face an inch away from mine and said, "Papa, I want to kiss you."   My heart soared with delight, and I said, "Charlie, that is so sweet.  Be my guest."

He didn't kiss me, but again said, "Papa, I want to kiss you." But he didn't kiss me, so I kissed him on his forehead.

"No, Papa, I want a tissue."

NNAOPP

I did receive an encouraging call this past week from the son of a friend.  He called to ask if I would appear on a radio show for which he serves as an executive producer.  He left a copy of NNAOPP for the show's host to read, and he did.  He said,  "This is some funny stuff.  Let's get this guy on the show."  I'll keep you posted on the date and time, most likely when we return to the northlands.

All the best.
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 at  http://www.amazon.com and www.createspace.com
Available at:
  Rainy Day Books, 2706 W. 53rd Street, Fairway, KS
  Sanibel Island Bookshop, 1571 Periwinkle, Sanibel, FL
  Twisted Sisters Eclectic Gifts and Floral, Albany, MO
  Bruce Smith Drug Store, Prairie Village, KS 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

NNAOPP Update - Nov / Dec 2014


NNAOPP Update
November - December 2014

On November 11, I was driving to my first banjo lesson.  I was early, and I had a powerful hankering for a donut, so I stopped at a Dunkin Donut store.  And the following exchange ensued:

"I'd like one maple frosted donut and a small coffee."

"Medium coffees are $.99 today and free if you're a vet."

"A veterinarian?  That's odd."

"No, a veteran." ('What a frigging goof ball.  He's not even blond.'  He undoubtedly thought to himself.)

"Cool.  I'm a veteran.  Spec 6 Wells, US Army, 325th General Hospital, dental detachment, fighting dental technician at your service."

And I received a free coffee with the tasty donut thrown in along with a, "Thanks for your service."  What a remarkable change from 45 years ago, when those wearing a military uniform were treated less kindly.


Music stuff

For those with a modicum of interest in one mature learner's musical journey, read on.  Otherwise feel free to skip on to something else.

I'm closing in on the fourth anniversary of a life-changing event, the Christmas gift I received from Lucy and Fred in 2010 of a Washburn B-10 5-string banjo.  I quickly became enamored with, and frustrated by, this challenging instrument. I've upgraded banjos and now own both an open back Ome model (for clawhammer style) and a Paul Hopkins resonator (bluegrass style).  I've been self-taught, relying on instructional books and videos, but I am now concerned that I've reached a plateau and might be imbedding bad habits.  So, I decided I needed human intervention and arranged my first solo lesson.

At the outset of the 30-minute lesson, he asked me to play a few songs for him and to describe my goals, strengths and weaknesses, and practice habits.  Then I was hoping he'd say something like, "You've progressed well, just keep doing what you're doing, and you'll be semi-accomplished in a few more years."  That was not to be.

Instead we talked about my deficiencies and how to remedy them.  Here's a sample of his feedback:

-  Your mechanics are okay, but your timing is poor.  You need to work on being more musical.  One half of your practice time should be spent playing with other people or with a recording.

This reminded me of the story about Earl Scruggs.  When he was a boy, he and his brother would practice together on their front porch.  Then they'd walk around opposite sides of the house, meet in the backyard, and check to see if they were on the same note. 

-  You've bitten off more complex songs than you are capable of handling and way too many of them.  Concentrate on no more than six songs.

I had given him my playlist and told him I was 'off the page' (had committed to memory) for about 30 bluegrass and 30 clawhammer tunes.  He suggested it's better to play six well than sixty poorly. Go figure.

-  Consider taking up rhythm guitar.   It will aid in your banjo development.  You know the lead parts to a lot of songs, but you don't know the lyrics of the songs, how the music blends with the words, and you can't yet 'feel' the chord progressions.  A lot of accomplished banjo players and guitar pickers all started with rhythm guitar.

I told him I couldn't sing and play at the same time.  He said don't worry about that.  Virtually no one can play complex, lead banjo parts while singing.  That's why singers typically vamp chords during their singing parts.  He added that I need to at least be 'hearing the words' in my head throughout the various parts of a song.
 
I had a second lesson the following week and we continued our constructive, but mildly dispiriting, chat.  But at least I have a plan.


Where Have All The Hookers Gone?

Once again journeyed to NYC to celebrate Thanksgiving and Ben's birthday with the lad.  We had a spare day while Ben was working, so I decided to explore several neighborhoods in Manhattan while Judy did her art museum thing.  My travels first took me down to Chinatown and the new WTC, then I caught the A train up to Lincoln Center and the west side of Central Park.  Twice I was asked for directions.  The first time I was unable to assist owing to my lack of familiarity with Farsi.  The second time, I provided useful information.  I was surprised to be asked since I was wearing uber-non-New-Yorkish attire featuring a day glo fleece vest and a KC Royals ballcap, and I was constantly gawking upwards at the tall buildings saying things like, "Gee whilikers!"  Perhaps it was my kindly face?  Unsurprisingly, the most congested, anarchic sidewalks and streets were in Chinatown.  This experience can be matched only by, you guessed it, being in China.

According to Ben, there are only two words incorporated into English from Chinese?  Ping Pong and Tofu.  He then added, "Almost universally Chinese speakers never use these words.  Instead they will use alternative English versions, 'table tennis' and 'tasteless crap made out of bean curds.' "

Shortly after our return from NYC, we had dinner with friends who once lived in and have been frequent visitors to 'The' City over many decades.  We shared memories, some fond some not, of trips to the big city in the 60's and 70's with stories of garbage strikes, filthy air, omnipresent dog droppings, graffiti on every imaginable surface, and most tantalizingly, the ubiquitous hookers.  They were everywhere and obvious, on the sidewalks, in bars and restaurants, and most prominently in and around hotels.  They were aggressive and irritating, and they did not look like anything remotely like those portrayed in the 1986 classic, 'Crocodile Dundee,' save the attire.

When Lucy was in eighth grade, and taking a health class, I was leaving for a business trip to NYC.  Nonchalantly, she said, "Dad, make sure you don't have anything to do with prostitutes while you're in NYC.  They have AIDS."  I said, "Thanks for the health tip sweetheart."

Now they appear to be gone.  Or perhaps, I made a more alluring, corn-fed target at age 43.  Now they are as invisible to me as I am to them.


Sparks of Life

Just when I was thinking the wind might never again fill the sails of NNAOPP sales, I got an unexpected boost.   I rode my bike past the Sanibel Bookshop and decided to drop in and check their stock.  The attractive owner asked if I was looking for anything in particular, and I informed her of my quest.  She asked my name and the title, and I told her.  An older lady standing nearby said,  "That's sounds interesting.  Where'd you come up with that title?"  And I told her.

We journeyed together to the local authors section and found one copy remaining.  The proprietress then kindly told her prospective customer that the book was a fun read, and she could now get one signed personally by the author.  Moi!  The lady bought the last copy, I signed it, and the bookstore baroness said, "Bring me five more."

I pedaled away with a light heart.

The very next day I received an email from son-in-law Fred with the following photo.  He and Waverly were shopping in the Rainy Day Bookstore, and, on her own devices, Waverly unexpectedly found my book.  She went up to the counter to proudly proclaim, "That's my Papa."  Learning of this vignette made my day, possibly my life.





Sales are now at 1,385 copies, short of my goal of 1,750, but still plugging.  Thanks to all who made this happen.

I can't wait to start receiving Christmas cards and letters from friends.  I greatly enjoy hearing about peoples' families, new grandkids, fun travels, obstacles overcome, and triumphs.  Merry Christmas to all.

Chuck


Thursday, October 30, 2014

NNAOPP Update - October 2014


NNAOPP Update
October 2014

Words

I've always enjoyed learning new words.  The English language is uncommonly generous in its offerings, so I often encounter something new in my readings that sends me to the dictionary.  In order to imbed these new treasures, I quickly endeavor to put them to use. While reading Zane Grey's The Rainbow Trail, published in 1915, I encountered the word 'revivify', a fanciful upgrade for the more banal 'revive'. Some may have noticed that I invented an occasion to use it in a recent NNAOPP update. 

Recent readings introduced me to an uncommonly cool word, callipygian, meaning, having well-shaped buttocks.  This appeared in a non-fiction account of Theodore Roosevelt's days as police commissioner of New York c. 1895, Island of Vice.  The author described the naked, golden statue of Diana perched atop Madison Square Garden as, "particularly comely and callipygian with breasts like tangerines."  I immediately Googled the word and learned that it means having well-shaped buttocks, making it imminently useful for future purposes.

Callpygous also caught my attention owing to its similarity to another arcane word that tickles me, steatopygia, defined in Webster's as an extreme accumulation of fat on or about the buttocks.  For aging KC Royal's fans who may remember Hal McRae, it's not difficult to envision him running to first base at full speed with a champagne flute situated on his shelf-like buttocks, spilling nary a drop. I can't explain the abundance of five-dollar words with Greek origins describing buttocks given the paucity of monikers for other body parts.

*****

Royals

Speaking of the Royals.  After 29 years in the wilderness, the boys in blue pulled off a magical October.  Imagine what might have been had third base coach, Mike Jirschele, gave Alex Gordon the green light as he rounded third on the misplayed double.  There were two outs, home team down by a run, bottom of the ninth, seventh game of the World Series.  If he's out sliding into home, the outcome is the most exciting denouement in World Series history.  If he's safe, the Royals tie the game on an improbable inside-the-park-home-run. The crowd erupts, and the jubilant, storybook ending no one would have envisioned three months earlier would surely have ensued.  It was still pretty darn sweet.

We were privileged to witness the event along with all of the home post-season games excepting the first game loss against Bumgarner.  One of my many memories of the October run occurred as Judy and I were driving home after the Wednesday afternoon game when the Royals beat the Orioles 2-1 to win the American League pennant.  We were directed to a route opposite of our destination taking us onto old Highway 40.  There, we observed a bevy of scantily clad beauties waving Royal's flags standing outside a windowless box of a building..  I noted innocently, "Judy, look even the strippers are going crazy for the Royals." 

Judy responded in a mildly accusatory tone, "How do you know they are strippers?"

I murmured inaudibly, knowing fully the best response was no response.  But I thought to myself, "There are more than a few subtle clues dearest.  If the 'Bambi loves Hos' sign' weren't sufficient, I'd go with the flashing 'Nude Dancers' beacon."

At the very least, future travels while wearing my old, green KC hat should no longer engender puzzled queries about the Knights of Columbus.

*****

Coyotes

A few weeks ago we hosted an event at our farm attended by many children and their parents.  I was wearing my standard farm outfit of bib overalls and a gray Carhartt jacket.  I chatted with one of the Dads, an architect whose 7-yr-old son was in the vicinity.  We stood by Ft. Waverly and the nearby teepee.  He was complimentary about the fort's design, and he asked about the teepee.  I told him that I had slept in it the preceding weekend, and added, "It was a bit chilly and around 2:30 am I was awakened by the exchanges of hoot owls that seemed to have me surrounded.  Later, I heard the piercing yips of a band of coyotes coming from the distance."

I didn't think any more of this conversation until a thank you note arrived from the same man.   Among other things it said, "Our oldest son had a great time and kept talking about the 'farmer guy' who sleeps in the teepee with the hoot owls and coyotes."  I like his version better.

*****

Titles

In case you have the urge to parade nude in public at a time and place other than Mardi Gras in NOLA, please be advised such behavior is legal in Topeka.  I recently heard an interview with the goofball who has been walking around Topeka unclothed.  The police were unable to charge him with a crime as the city fathers must have missed this particular peculiarity in writing their laws for the past 175 years.  It's plausible that it just hasn't come up.  I very much like the ring of "Legal in Topeka" and will peruse a possible purpose for this title.

Over breakfast recently, a good friend was describing his recent efforts de-cluttering his home.  He was using Craigslist, ESPY, and other means of selling and giving away stuff.  I asked what he intended to do with the proceeds.  "More and better wine," was the understandable reply.  From that came, "Waterford for Wine."  Surely there is a use for this.

*****

Post Office

I journeyed to our neighborhood post office to mail a copy of my book to an eager reader.  The nice lady behind the counter inquired as to the content of the package, and I told her it was a book. 

I am an inherently shy person, but I noted that I was the only customer in line so I uncharacteristically chose to be chatty and added, "Don't you recognize me?  I'm the non-famous author of that book."

She politely took the bait, and I told her the title.  She said, "That sounds interesting."  And she started to write it down on a little yellow post-it pad, stopping only to ask how to spell 'peculiar.'  She inquired how she'd find a copy.  I told her it was available at Bruce Smith Drugs and on Amazon. Then the clerk at the next counter weighed in, "I think I'd like that also.  How much does it cost?"  Upon learning that this literary treasure could be had for the low, low, everyday price of $10, she said she'd buy one.

Pleased at this unexpected response, I told them to hold on, as I only live a few blocks away.  I left for my fulfillment center, picked up two copies, returned, signed them, and walked off with sufficient funds to buy lunch.  What a great day.

*****

It's not too soon to start thinking about that perfect Christmas gift for someone you truly loathe.  Copies of the fourth printing of NNAOPP are in inventory awaiting a new home.  My able fulfillment center staff stand ready to handle the anticipated seasonal demand.

Go Royals 2015.
Chuck

Sunday, September 28, 2014

NNAOPP Update September 2014


NNAOPP Update
September 2014

Book Club

Last week I was the guest speaker at a men's book club.  Each month a member selects a book, and my friend Phil Love, graciously introduced NNAOPP to his colleagues.  The club consists of a dozen professional men of varying ages.  The attendees were kind with their comments and asked thoughtful questions about the book.  The discussion quickly turned to the idea that everyone has interesting stories, and I listened with enthusiasm.  Many of the stories shared a musical theme.  Here are a few snippets:

"I felt like I was reading a story about my own life.  I attended Indian Hills Junior High, Shawnee Mission East HS, delivered the KC Kansan, and I play the banjo.  The only thing I'm missing is the Mardi Gras trip.  Got any openings?"

"My father-in-law, Judge Andrew Jackson Higgins, played in your Dad's swing band in 1938.  When he died two years ago his obituary referred to your Dad as one of the people who shaped his life.  I made the connection after reading your book."  Small world indeed.

"After selling my business, I took up the harmonica.  A few weeks ago I had my inaugural performance at the Phoenix Jazz Club.  I worked hard on one song, had a good backup group, and it went pretty well."

"After college I went out to LA to try to make it as a stand-up comic.  I took acting and voice lessons and received my Screen Actor's Guild card.  I was struggling to survive when one of my instructors took me aside and said, 'there are over 30,000 SAG members, but only a few hundred make over $20,000 per year.'  I packed it in and got my MBA."

One of the participants holds a PhD in organ and told of his experience playing the new organ at the Helzberg Hall in the Kauffman Performing Arts Center.  "The sounds are intense in the theatre, but even more so sitting at the keyboard.  It almost blows your hair back."

And my favorite came from Phil, who, among other things, plays standup bass fiddle and is a brilliant lyricist. He crafted this little ditty with friends over drinks.

Puff, the magic maggot,
Lived in the trash.
Frolicked in the banana peels,
And in the cigarette ash.

Little Teddy Tapeworm,
loved that maggot, Puff.
Brought him dead dogs two weeks old,
And scabs still moist with pus!

A maggot lives forever,
But a tapeworm's not as tough.
Teddy ate the banana peels,
But he croaked on the scabs with pus!

Puff was broken-hearted.
Losing Teddy really hurt.
But not as much as hunger did,
So he ate him for dessert!

*****

Walnut Valley Festival (aka Winfield, KS Bluegrass Festival)

"Banjo will get you through times with no money, but money will not get you through times with no banjo"

"My next husband will be normal"

Tee shirt wisdom

It was a beautiful fall day as I journeyed through Flint Hills of southeast Kansas.  Leaving the interstate, I headed south on Highway 77 from El Dorado.  My route closely followed the meandering Walnut River to the handsome city of Winfield.  The river forms a levied crossbow encircling the Crowley County Fairgrounds, home to the 43rd annual and aptly named Walnut Valley Festival. 

Three years ago I purchased my Ome Trilogy Tubaphone II open back banjo from Jim Baggett, the owner of Mass Street Music in Lawrence.  He told me he bought the banjo at the Walnut Valley Festival, and he suggested I attend a future event, as it was a Mecca for acoustic music fans.  But I procrastinated.  Then I met a fellow banjo player at the aforementioned book club.  He reminded me that this was the weekend for the Winfield bluegrass event and added,  "I'll be there for the entire four days.  You'll have more fun than a banjo player is allowed to have."  And so I went.

I arrived at noon on Friday and was amazed at the huge crowd (estimated at 15,000) and the thousands of RV's assembled. The attendees were friendly, eclectic, and attractive.  During a quick walk around, I observed an abundance of young families with little ones, farmers and cowboys, old and young hippies, boomers, knitters, and even hipsters.  There was a noticeable dearth of tattoos.  Instead of pigs and sheep, the exhibition barns were full of vendors of serious musical instruments, food stands, and arts and crafts.  The sounds of music echoed from every direction.

Four stages were set up offering live music running on the hour from 9 am to 12:30 am.  Thirty different professional acts were featured along with several hundred amateurs.  A fifth stage consisted of dozens of jam sessions held in the campground area.

I rotated from stage to stage to try to see and hear as much as possible.  I also sat in on a few of the contests for amateurs.  Friday's contests featured hammer dulcimer, mandolin, and old-time fiddle.

I listened to four contestants, out of 45, in the amateur mandolin contest.  A large lady ambled up to the microphone and announced without enthusiasm,  "That was contestant number 9.  Next will be contestant number 10." Out walked a high school age boy wearing a Dekalb seed ball cap who proceeded to play an intricate Bach Contata with remarkable skill.  Then came a youngish man in a ponytail who played so skillfully he reminded me of Ricky Skaggs.  Then came a man in his 50's who played "Buffalo Gals" at near-tyro level mindful of my banjo plucking.  This made me contemplate the formerly unimaginable, "What's the worst that could happen?  46th out of 45 in the banjo contest?"

It was easy to see why the crowds were so large and appreciative.  The musicianship and showmanship of the professional groups, none of whom possessed familiar names, were nonpareil.  In addition to standard bluegrass bands, I listened to cowboy western, western swing, Celtic, solo instrumentalists, and folk.  A local Winfield man accompanied two of the groups on the bones.  (Bones players use two slightly convex shaped, 7 3/8" pine splints in each hand.  When properly applied, they snap together to create a delightful rhythmic, percussive sound.) I've been working sporadically trying to gain a modicum of competence on this particular instrument, thus far with little success.

One folk performer, John McCutcheon, demonstrated virtuosity in clawhammer banjo, bluegrass banjo, flat pick guitar, hammer dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, and piano, all in a one hour show.  Interestingly, he was accompanied by a signer.  I couldn't figure that out.  Can the deaf sense and enjoy music?

Performers came from Australia, Ireland, North Carolina, Montana, Michigan, New York, and of course, Kansas.  One of the very best groups hailed from nearby Wichita, started by twin brothers, who first attended the festival as infants.  In their formative years as a band, they added their banjo and lead guitar members from musicians they heard at earlier WVF jam sessions.

Like many of you I'm sure, my iTunes collection features a playlist devoted to yodeling, but never before had I heard a song featuring two-part harmonic yodeling, until WVF.

Between 5 and 5:30 pm Stage one featured the top three finishers in the previous day's finger style guitar contest.  All were great, but the most memorable was the second place contestant, a young man who came from Osaka, Japan.  He won an earlier contest in Japan, and his first place prize was a trip to Winfield, KS for the festival.  He should have won first place in my humble opinion.

It's hard to pick a favorite performer, but my choice goes to Jacob Johnson, a solo, spikey-haired, hipster, guitar plucker from NC.  He attained the most unique and agreeable sounds from his instrument that I have ever heard.  I later encountered him on the midway, introduced myself, and told him how much I enjoyed his music.  I asked him how he achieved the harmonic sounds solely with his left hand.  He was appreciative and said kindly,  "The key is a good pickup so the audience can hear the subtleties, brand new strings, and 20 years of dedicated practice."  "Oh! That."

Next year, I'm taking camping gear and will stay for the duration.

*****

A few days ago I was bitten on the tip of my nose by a wasp.  The bad news was that it hurt, it made my face swell up, and my appearance scared my granddaughter.  My upper lip was roughly the size of my thigh. The good new came from amusing consolations, "Good thing you don't play the trumpet" and "It makes your wrinkles disappear."  Better than botox.

*****

I'm pleased to report that my blog http://www.nudenuns.blogspot.com has now eclipsed 5,100 hits.  Lamentably, the audience originating in the United States represents less than 60% of the total.   The others are, in descending order, Germany, UK, Russia, India, China, and Yemen.  France and Romania are coming on strong.  Given the lack of known sales to these regions, I can only surmise these are disappointed porn seekers.

That's the news from here.