Category Archives: People

The World Stage

First_Folio,_Shakespeare_-_0212_(All_the_world's_a_stage)

William had a way with words, but more importantly, a way with thoughts. Most of us, unfortunately, didn’t enjoy Shakespeare because in high school literature class we read his plays, not as plays but as stories. They’re great plays. They’re TERRIBLE stories.

It’s like trying to sing a blueprint or mime an equation. It just don’t work.

However, he had some great thoughts.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

If we are the actors (players), to some extent we get to choose–or at least imagine–our audience. As the curtain opens, for whom are we performing? Facebook? Snapchat? The 24-hour news cycle? Reality TV producers? Our moral compass? God? The choice is ours.

On a real stage, the lights are so bright that it is almost impossible to see the audience. Since we don’t know who’s out there, we should play our parts as we believe they should be played.

The curtain is opening. Put your heart and soul into whatever role is yours to play.

Harry, Thank You and Godspeed

Harry

One of the most phenomenal gifts to magic left us today–Harry Anderson. He was a street performer, a delightful guest on Saturday Night Live, Judge Harry Stone on Night Court, and he played Dave Berry on Dave’s World.

How anyone could play Dave Berry is beyond me—but then Harry was also beyond me.

After television, he moved to New Orleans and opened a bar with a magic shop. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, the word is that he kept his place open to feed (important) and provide coffee (MORE important) to the first responders.  Later, he moved to Asheville, NC.

When I heard that he had moved, I did a search and found a Harry Anderson in Asheville, and wanted to send him a letter. I wanted to tell him that I enjoyed Night Court. I watched it here, In 1988, on my way to Antarctica, they only had a limited number of hours of television in New Zealand, but one program they had was Night Court–they must have enjoyed him, too. I think he would have liked that. I bought the DVDs. If you never saw Night Court #1, you need to.

Harry rekindled my interest in magic. I’m not much of a performer, but I love the art (and, yes, the science) of stage magic. It’s like the person who could never paint the Mona Lisa, but is dumbstruck by its beauty. Knowing how the magic is done only deepens my respect and admiration for those who perform.

The last performance I did was Thanksgiving, probably in the 1980s, in the basement of my parents’ home. My audience was my kids, parents, siblings, niece and nephews. When I did his trademark* needle through the arm (“It’s an illusion. It’s like–it’s like economic recovery. You think that it’s happening but it really isn’t!) my mother had to leave the room.

Harry would have approved.

I love magic, but to put it into perspective–I’ve seen Harry Blackstone, Jr. perform, and had a wonderful discussion with him after his show and got an autographed picture. (The picture faded but the conversation never will. He was a gentleman with class.) I would have loved to have had him as a next door neighbor.

I’ve seen David Copperfield several times; I suspect deep down inside he’s shy–in the lobby, after the show, he’d autograph memorabilia (including mine), but didn’t say much.

I saw Doug Henning on stage and the show was absolutely awesome, but never had the chance to talk with him.

I’ve been to the magic convention in Colon, Michigan and the Magic Castle in California, several times. I have to count the Safe House in Milwaukee as another great venue for magic.

But I never saw Harry’s show live and I never met him.

Doug Henning was wonderful, but we knew–KNEW–he wouldn’t drown upside down in the “milk jug.” David Copperfield’s illusions are so large that they defied description. We KNEW that the Statue of Liberty was still there and there was no passage through the Great Wall of China.

Then there was Harry. He told you it was an illusion. He told you that he really wasn’t pushing an 18 inch needle through his arm, BUT, we all knew a kid in high school who, for a few dollars would have done exactly that. That’s what made Harry’s performances so wonderful. You never could completely suspend the disbelief. Harry knew what was truly magic–and made us believe, even if just a little.

I’m sorry I never sent that letter. I might have made a friend, or one of us might have thought the other was a total jerk. But I never did, so I’ll never know.

How many opportunities do each of us pass on for no good reason? Maybe we should each take a chance on something before it’s too late.

Goodbye, Harry. I’m sorry I never sent the letter.

 

 

*Harry didn’t invent the illusion. It was once called Whodo Voodoo, which never made it because it was considered too gory, but Harry had the perfect story (patter) to make it work.

Goodbye to the Newspaper

When I was growing up, almost everybody took the local newspaper. Many cities had several competing newspapers, although Toledo’s two papers–one morning and one evening–were owned and operated by the same company.

Journalism is dead, having given way to commentary. Many newspapers are moribund. In my area, so few people subscribe to the actual news that the newspaper distributes a free weekly printing of advertisements. They probably copied the business model of the US Postal Service, which became a model of financial success when junk mail became their most profitable business.

Many papers already rely primarily on the wire services for their content, which means that in the morning paper you’ll see the same articles you read online the day before. With reliance on wire services–of which there are basically two–the entire nation receives the information as perceived by one writer. While I don’t like this, I must admit that it is an approach that has worked well for Vladimir Putin.

News is framed so as to attract everyone’s attention–in other words, it must be sensational or salacious–ideally both. This results in the media altering our perception. Travel by airplane, for example, is very safe, which is why an emergency landing on a highway with no injuries is considered nationally newsworthy and causes some people to perceive airplanes as dangerous. On the other hand, automobile accidents are so common that it must involve a self-driving vehicle, have a dozen or so fatalities, involve over 50 cars.

It’s sad that most people don’t want journalism because it requires readers to think. It’s easier to find some online source that reinforces their existing position and biases than to have to think and possibly change their minds occassionally.

I’ve Been Busy—Not Ignoring You

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been preparing the materials for an emergency communications course. It’s amazing that when someone else has prepared over 600 PowerPoint slides (with notes) that it would take so much time to update. Why? Because what we know today about dealing with disasters is more than what we knew before Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Personally, I believe that being better prepared for the future is a good thing.

On the other hand, I’m working on my short story—which has become at least a novelette (a short version of a short book? Huh?)—continues to develop. The more I learn about the characters (and more characters keep popping up), the more complex—but interesting—the story becomes. However, if a new character appears, a whole lot of the backstory changes. As a writer, I have a certain duty to the characters. Without me, they are doomed to shrivel away to nothingness, through no fault of their own. They deserve better, so I try to tell their stories. So far, the characters include a not-quite-dead aged business multi-multi-billionaire, several lawyers, most of whom are self-serving, but one of whom has a national security background, a distant relative who can see how the pieces fit, and someone (thing?) who seems to have many of the answers, but who is known as Zaznoz (sounds like a new drug or a new exercise routine to me).

Then I do need to devote time to the day job.

Not to mention that we celebrated Christmas with close friends, followed by my daughter-in-law and the grandchildren, who drove ten hours (I think she was being nice and understated the journey length) to visit us and to make for a wonderful time.

Oh, and my older son used his 3D printer to make my Christmas gift—a full size, accurate replica of Han Solo’s blaster. (Is that cool or what?)

Han Solo’s Blaster (Let’s me shoot first).

 

So, as you see, it’s not lack of interest in blogging, just lack of time.

I Cannot Say It Better

Gary Varvel [garyvarvel.com], the editorial cartoonist for the Indianapolis Star [www.indystar.com] is a genius who can draw a picture that is truly worth at LEAST a thousand words.

In this day of fewer and fewer newspapers, and inevitably, even fewer quality dailies, it is a wonderful gift to still have some publishers and editors who understand how humor can convey a stronger message than even the best written article—and as a writer, saying that does not come easily.

As a Christian, I wish you a Merry Christmas. As a member of this melting pot we call America, I wish you Happy Holidays. As a human, I wish peace on earth to all  people of good will—and I advise everyone to celebrate any and every holiday that reminds you that we are all in this together; there is no “them,” only 7.53 billion of “us.”

XMAS, Improved

My friend, Rick Martinez, with whom I’ve shared wonderful intellectual and philosophical conversations—as well as my writing efforts throughout the years—comments on some of my blogs. This is in response to my last blog, and is a beautiful thought for the season. I formatted it as a blog, but the thoughts and words are Rick’s, unchanged.

Thank you, Steve, for writing about Christmas—the Birth of Christ. No matter of all the “scientific” facts surrounding when Jesus was born and who believes what–there’s at least two general things we all acknowledge and accept as true. At the time and in the area of Christ’s birth, what was true 2000 years ago continues to be true today–some 2000 years later: There were believers and non-believers and warring factions back then as there are now. And–for Christians all over the world, the most tragic words ever written of our Lord are those set down by the Apostle John in the beginning of his Gospel:

He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Bethlehem had no room for Him when He was born;

Nazareth, no room for Him when He lived; and

Jerusalem, no room for Him when He died.

XMAS

As a Christian, I hold this time of year as a most special time. December 25th has a one in 365 ¼ chance of being Jesus’ actual day of birth. In the absence of accurate records of births circa 003 BCE, and given the significance of the winter solstice—when each day has more light—the early Christian church may have taken advantage of events and combined celebrations. (Since gospel means, “good news,” it should not be surprising that Christians enjoy celebrating all of the good things in life.)

Some Christians take issue with the idea of Xmas, but, as often happens, a study of history enhances understanding. Xmas is not a way of removing Christ from Christmas, but a connection back to a time closer to his life. The “X” is the first letter of “Christos.” the Greek word for Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many Christians have seen the chi-rho symbol, and because of the prominence of the Greek letter rho—which looks like a “P”, they transpose the first (X) and second (P) letters and miss the fact that Xmas appropriately recognizes the Christ and does not replace his name with a variable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, regardless of your religious viewpoint, celebrate a few days of love. History has examples of wartime enemies, laying down their weapons, exchanging food and drink, singing Christmas Carols and playing football (soccer), for one precious, blessed evening. THAT is powerful.

 

 

Fake News!

There is no truth to the allegation that Vladimir Putin said:

In America, people take advantage of other people.                                                       In Russia, it’s the other way around.

I just don’t know how such rumors get started!

A Topic! A Topic! My Kingdom for a Topic!

I try to focus on the upbeat or at least the intellectual. Lately, that has been difficult. I have a wonderful blog written about my failure to get my Lowe’s extended warranty Whirlpool dishwasher working on a more than occasional basis, but who wants to read about that?

Then there’s politics—enough said . . . .

Don Quixote–Pablo Picasso 1955

So, it’s not that I’ve been ignoring everyone, it’s that I, like Don Quixote have been seeking something; he sought dragons in the windmills. I seek humor in today’s world. Cervantes gave Don Quixote Sancho Panza and the Golden Helmet of Mambrino, but alas, I have neither plucky comic relief nor magical accoutrements to find the humor in today’s world.

But, then again, Don Quixote saw Dulcinea—the perfect woman within Aldonza. Maybe, as we approach Hanukah, Christmas, and the Winter Solstice, we are being called to find, if not perfection, at least that glitter of gold in one another.

Now THAT would give me something great to write about.

The Studio Boss’s Advice

“Thank you all for coming to this important meeting on such short notice, but this is extremely important after all the allegations of sexual misconduct. I’d like to correct it, but since this is Hollywood, we’re going to make people feel—almost believe—we corrected it. Hey, perception is reality, we’re going to give people the perception that we’ve corrected it.

“How? First, we all know that there are only a handful of plots that we keep recycling. A few of them are going to have to be put into suspended animation, at least for a while. ‘Boy meets girl’—forget it. It’s poison and no venture capitalist would touch it with a ten-foot pole. I spoke with Art Stanslawski—the former basketball legend—well, he’s a 7 foot 1 ½ inch Pole, and he said he wouldn’t touch it either. It’s going to be a hell of a long time before Harry meets Sally again.

“Next standard plot, at least for the 21st century, ‘Boy meets boy?’ Trust me, it’s just as dead after some of the big name actors who say they were molested.

“Boy doesn’t meet girl?” There might be a few possibilities, but the planned sequel to Sleepless in Seattle with a female playing the Tom Hanks’s role and a male playing Meg Ryan’s? That’s deader than another remake of Baywatch or The Dukes of Hazzard.

“And as far as I’m concerned, if you want to do ‘reality TV,’ more power to you. Me? I’m going to wait and do real reality TV It will feature the exposes about the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes on reality TV. I can cover the allegations, arbitrations, trials, and appeals. I’ll make a ton of money from the shows AND even more from the lawsuits.

“So, where does that leave us? Anything with lots of explosions, computer-generated effects, car chases, and spaceships. We might want to bring back Westerns.

“If we can’t computer generate actors who aren’t real people, we can always use puppets or maybe we can hire some Jesuits. Can Jesuits join the Screen Actors Guild? Maybe not a good idea because of some of he Church scandals. Scratch that.

“Anyone with a better idea, let me know. Don’t come to my office—we’ll meet in some heavily trafficked public place that’s loaded with security cameras. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but one can’t be too safe, you know.”

It’s Different for Some People

Nice shirts!

I noticed that the story about the UCLA jocks who were arrested for shoplifting in China disappeared pretty quickly. Some stories stay on the Internet news sites as “Breaking News” for weeks, but not this one.

I wonder why.

You had to love the press conference that was arranged for their public apology where they were all wearing matching UnderArmour shirts with the UCLA logo.

Do you think they all might have stopped to buy those shirts together at the campus bookstore? I’m not saying the company gave them to the school, who then gave them to the ball players. But, then again . . . .

What if, instead of jocks, this incident had involved science, technology, engineering and mathematics students? Would the President have gone to the Chinese leader and asked for them to be released?

Silly question:

  1. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba would never invite boring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students for an all-expense paid trip to China.
  2. Those are the kind of people who know that it’s wrong to steal sunglasses from anybody on any continent for any reason.

Good Old Virginia Politics

Greetings from post-election Virginia, the state commonwealth where gerrymandering isn’t merely a despicable political ploy, but a lifestyle. But then, when you’re home to the longest continuously running political fiasco legislative body, what do you expect?

Some of us wonder if the English who disappeared from the lost colony of Roanoke did so on purpose. They likely moved in with the Croatoan nation when they found out that these Native Americans did not engage in political campaigns. It can’t be proven, but no one has ever seen a Croatoan political poster, billboard, or campaign button.

I’ve enjoyed several days of not having to listen to negative campaign ads–Alleluia! The weird part is that all of these ads seem to be recorded using the same female announcer. Is she just so angry at the world that her voice is perfect for negative ads? Maybe she’s pissed off because negative political ads are the only type of gigs her agent can get for her? Maybe she’s angry at the world because she wanted to be an actress, but instead, the best she can do is to record negative campaign ads.

I think her friends ought to take her out for a few drinks and help her sort through her feelings; of course, that presumes she has friends, which, given her demeanor, may not be true. Now that I think of it, it may not be a good idea to take her drinking, anyway. She might be even more obnoxious after a couple of skinny margaritas.

In any case, the negative ads are over until the campaigns for the 2018 elections start cranking up.

In a week or two.

In the meantime, the worst I’ll have to listen to are those ads that run every three minutes for the personal injury lawyers as they promise to get the victim every dollar possible from the insurance companies. Less their cut, of course, and after tax, title, fees, and the dealer preparation charge.

Maybe that’s why I listen to so little radio and watch even less television. Give me a book; if I don’t like it, I can take it right back to the library—neither the book nor I any the worse for wear.

(Yes, I know the picture is of Huey Long from Louisiana–but he just so perfectly embodies the spirit of politics, yesterday and today.)

Educational Cause and Effect

I realize that people in general, and Americans in particular, have never been genteel when it comes to discourse. Throughout history we attributed it to our pride in rugged individualism and the Protestant work ethic. Anyone can be president; I can achieve anything I set my mind out to do; we celebrate Edison, Bell, Fulton, because those individuals invented things to change the world.

We claimed territory, as our right under “Manifest Destiny,” without regard to who or what stood in our way. Passenger pigeons? Bison? Native Americans? Forests? These speed bumps were quickly removed.

We settled our differences by swordfights or pistol duels. Our politicians—those we elected to represent us—settled arguments by shouting, spreading lies, and even bludgeoning one another with walking sticks in the very halls of Congress.

Not much has changed. Today, if you disrespect me, there’s today’s version of a duel—I drive 60 miles per hour through the neighborhood blasting away and hope that you are one of the people I hit. It doesn’t matter that: a) the bullet most likely will hit someone other than the intended target, and b) there’s a high likelihood that one (or more) of the gazillion security cameras will catch me and be used to send me away for twenty-five-to-life.

Today, there’s a lot of shouting, with nobody listening. It’s far more important that I get my position clearly stated—”I’m right and you’re not only wrong, but also an idiot—not to mention that your mother was ugly and you have terrible taste in clothes!”

Although I just clearly stated my position (the paragraph above, you buffoon!) you can’t tell me what it is. I can’t either, but that doesn’t matter, does it? The fact remains that I’m right and you’re wrong.

[Okay, let’s all take a deep breath, grab a cold one—if you like, and smoke ’em if you got ’em—assuming you can afford to pay eight dollars a pack.]

A theory—presented for you to think about and challenge in a professional, factual manner. Perhaps, when we began to focus on standardized testing, the school systems were forced to teach the correct answers, not how to arrive at a correct answer. What to think, not how to think. Ideas are no longer the raw material used for thinking; they are pre-packaged and ready to serve. No human interaction required.

There are parallels—in a world in which our youth do not know how to interact with others except via social media, we no longer teach etiquette or how to write a letter. They are not taught to introduce their friends to their parents or when a thank you note is appropriate. Civility is at the bottom of the required skills list.

Teachers didn’t make the rules and probably dislike them more than anyone although they have to abide by them.

But we all can teach. What if each of us added the following to our more contentious discussions:

  1. “Why?”
  2. “Tell me more.”
  3. “How would you solve it?”

Then listen—actively, intensively listen.

This just might prove interesting.

Spreadsheets

If you’re reading this, you probably have at least a basic understanding of computers—whoa! Don’t leave! Bear with me for a minute.

I used to communicate with others on NetZero dialup and write articles on a DOS (that’s disk operating system—pre-Windows for you youngsters) word processor. The first spreadsheet program I recall was Lotus 1-2-3, once a powerhouse, but now an answer to some stupid question on Jeopardy. We’re so used to spreadsheets that we have no appreciation as to why they were the first “killer apps.”

No, really! That’s how it was done!

Prior to the 1980s, complex production was tracked on the manual equivalent of spreadsheets. Seriously. We’re talking about blackboards (yes, real chalk boards—not whiteboards; you never got a buzz from chalk dust, just a nasty cough). Businesses would have huge blackboards mounted on the walls and/or wheeled stands—not one blackboard, mind you, but many. The blackboards were set up with grids, and if a change occurred in one variable, the person tracking it would go from blackboard to blackboard, updating the appropriate sections.

Maybe it’s easier with an example. If chairs usually cost $10, but the price changed to $12 and the company had orders for 15 rather than the usual 10, the human Excel operator would go to the place on the blackboard where chair costs were written and change it from $10 to $12. He (the male to female ratio of geeks was even worse back then) would then go to the place where quantity was tracked and change the 10 to 15; it could be the next blackboard or one in a different room. Next, he’d replace $100 (10 chairs at $10 each) with $180 (15 chairs at $12 each). A small mistake (is that 180 or 160? I can’t read my own handwriting) in one part of the blackboard jungle would cascade throughout, and might take days to correct.

Today, almost every computer seems to have Microsoft Office, which includes Excel, an extremely powerful program. I’m told that over 80 percent of Excel users are only able to utilize about 5 percent of its capabilities, but still are able to accomplish almost everything they want to do.

All that on one screen with no chalk dust.

My Life in Guitars – Part 7 (the Penultimate Entry)

I confess, I often act under the delusion that if I get a certain type of guitar, talent will somehow rub off on me. It’s kind of like Arthur pulling the sword from the stone—KAPOW! He’s king! Therefore, if I pull a certain guitar from its packing crate—KAPOW! I’ll be an awesome musician!

Alas, it doesn’t work that way (dammit!).

Having always enjoyed Queen, I was lusting over a reproduction of Brian May’s “Big Red” guitar. Brian (Dr. May to you astrophysicists) designed his guitar and with his father, built it. The body was cut from an old (and in England, old means something different than it does here) mantel piece. He apparently designed and built the pickups himself. The best part—at least to those of us who are geeks who love music—is that there are three pickups and six slide switches.

With most multi-pickup guitars, there is a single switch that lets you choose each pickup, or a combination, thereof. In other words, they are added together. Brian designed his so that he could either add any pickups OR put any one out of phase so that one is subtracting tones from the other(s). I cannot tell you how cool I find that.

However, I couldn’t justify it at nearly a thousand, once you add a case (Sigh).

Fathers’ Day arrived one year, and my wife took me to Guitar Center so I could choose a gift. I was worse than she is in the handbag department; I tried this guitar, that guitar, another, etc., ad nauseum. I told them that I wasn’t a soloist; I was a rhythm player (at best). However, I did like that “spooky” sound from Big Red.

The guitar I kept coming back to was an Epiphone SG. The luthier at the shop, noting my comments, mentioned that if I wanted that sound on the SG, all I needed to do was reverse the polarity on one of the pickups.

Epiphone SG

Being electronically inclined, I knew I could do it, so the SG was duly adopted and brought home. I did reverse the polarity on one pickup, but within a couple of weeks, I had rewired everything back to normal. Sorry, I’m no Brian May; I play rhythm.

However, the SG is a great guitar to play. Mine’s solid body, unvarnished red. I’ll leave Brian May to handle Big Red, I’ll play rhythm, thank you.

P.S. Speaking of Queen, if you bump into John Deacon, ask him if he ever did anything further with electronics (his major at university). Being a geek, I often wonder about that.

Almost, But Not Quite Done with My Life in Guitars – Part Six

I’m skipping out of chronological order so I can save two of my four favorites for last. You’ve already read about my green Peavey Predator Plus and the Peavey Briarwood 12 string, my other favorites.

My Deltatone Travel Guitar

I bought a used Deltatone, a relatively inexpensive electric guitar, which plays surprisingly well. I had looked on Craigslist for a bargain because I wanted a “travel” electric that might get banged up a little without making me feel too bad, and the Deltatone did a fine job. My two youngest have long played soccer, and until they began to drive, my wife and I shared chauffeuring duty. Mind you, I didn’t say we shared equally, but I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which soccer mom took the lioness’s share.

We had a minivan at the time, so there would usually be a number of soccer girls who rode along. When it was my turn to drive, after we got to the pitch (for non-soccer types, the playing field) I waited until they were far enough away so that I didn’t humiliate my daughter. I’d retrieve the Deltatone, sheet music, and a battery-operated amplifier from behind the rear seat and sit in the back seat, practicing. I don’t know if it helped make me a better musician, but it was the best way to utilize an hour and a half of time to myself. I’d work on whichever songs I was interested in, and when the weather was pleasant, I’d slide open the side door. Every once in a while, another soccer parent would park next to me before I could close the door. I think the expression they gave me was bemusement, but it might have been something less flattering.

And, before you ask, I tend not to sing when I play, especially when I’m not safe within my own four walls. I identify with Ringo Starr, when he was with the Beatles; I have a five-note range. Even worse, when it comes to singing, those notes are never in the key of anything I’ve learned to play—not that I am able to stick to one key for more than two measures. My singing voice is kind of a B—sharp(ish) without being a C, if you know what I mean.

Since the kids have outgrown the need for chauffeurs, the Deltatone doesn’t get much attention any more. I’ll soon be trying to find a new home for it via Craigslist. Maybe it’ll be the first axe for a future star.

Harmony Nylon String

Today’s other guitar is “Custom Made by Harmony,” which I found it in a thrift store. Now, in all honesty, many thrift store items are priced at, or nearly at, the price for the same item new. This guitar was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Besides, all of my other guitars are steel string, while this one uses nylon strings, which are better for finger-picking. Unfortunately, I have numbness in a few of my fingers and haven’t finger-picked since my Hawaiian guitar days in elementary school, but I still hold out hope.

Two other quick notes:

I did briefly own a Squier by Fender bass guitar within the past year or so. I love the bass riffs from the Beatles, the Moody Blues, and Fleetwood Mac, but as the saying goes, “So many guitars, so little time.” It deserved better, so it’s now with another aspiring musician.

As you can see, I keep some of my guitars on the wall. I believe this is important. If some Hall of Fame musician breaks into my house in the middle of the night and wants to jam, I’m ready to grab a guitar for each of us and go at it.

Hey, statistically it’s more probable than winning the lottery.

If it does happen, I hope they don’t expect me to sing.

My Life in Guitars – Part 5 (We’re not done yet?)

Then there was the ukulele, and it would be unfair to skip over the ukulele. There was a group of wonderful people who set up “Ukes for Troops,” and sent ukuleles to those serving in the desert. Our group of about 1200 received a dozen or so Lanikin ukuleles from them—what a cool move. I confess, I kept one for me, and even though I do not claim to have mastered the ukulele, I still have mine, prominently displayed in the music room.

 

 

Thanks Ukes for Troops!

 

When I got back home, I was still very pumped up about music, and kept an eye on eBay for special deals. One day I found one—a twelve-string guitar that had a starting price of $29.95. No one had bid on it. I watched it, and as the time ran down, I put in a bid. With eBay, it doesn’t automatically jump to your full bid, but whatever it would take to win the item, up to your full bid.

I got it for $29.95 (plus shipping, of course). The seller had taken great pains to point out that it had a ding on the front edge, and when it arrived, after playing it for a few weeks, I went in search a proper luthier who could repair it. (Trivia alert! The term luthier hearkens back to when the most common stringed instrument was the lute.)

A 12 string is to guitars, what a calliope is to organs with an over-the-top sound all its own. Most people like the sound, but don’t grasp the obvious. I saw a Quora question in which the person asked why a 12-string guitar sounds so “jangly.” Was it the type of music people played? The answer pointed out that it sounded jangly because of all those strings.

After Tom Petty died, NPR replayed an interview with him on Fresh Air. Terry Gross asked about the particular and special sound Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers developed; Petty replied that they were inspired by Roger McGuinn from the Byrds and his use of a 12-string. (It’s all those strings, man.)

By the way, if you have a 12 string, never, EVER tune it like normal guitar; back off at least one fret and use a capo as needed. Besides sounding jangly, all those strings put a tremendous amount of tension on the guitar’s neck.

Incidentally, the guitar turned out that the 12-string I had purchased was a “Briarwood,” with the label inside stating “Briarwood by Peavey.” Is it me, or is there a conspiracy? Doesn’t matter—the 12 string has been and remains one of my most favorite guitars. My wife concurs that it’s a great sound.

Travel Guitar

n.

 

My Life in Guitars (Part 4) More Desert

I do not have a “solo” picture of the next guitar that adopted me, because a few years ago, one of my co-workers was looking for a decent guitar. Somehow, we came to a deal that pleased us both (and lest you think I took advantage of him, he’s frugal to a fault, and describes himself as ADHD, obsessive-compulsive, and Aspberger’s syndrome; all probably true, but he’s a great guy and you just gotta love people like that). At this point, he’s probably far outpaced me on playing, but that’s better for the guitar).

We were still over in the desert. Emboldened by our Christmas concert, the USO coordinators, apparently desperate for entertainment, asked us (or maybe Rubin begged them) to do another performance around Valentine’s Day. I was on a roll, and since I knew that if I ordered a new guitar, the shipping line would say, “Thank you for you service,” I found a black Epiphone electric—complete with case. I got online, grabbed my credit card, and lo, another miracle occurred.

The Epiphone Limited Edition Les Paul Special Electric Guitar was a pretty decent guitar for being modestly ($150) priced. They still sell the same guitar today, so obviously, there’s something good about it if it still sells for the same price 12 years later. I loved it, and thought that the guitar would magically make me a better musician. However, there were two other guitarists in the group (not counting the bassist) who were far more talented than I. I’m not talking, “You’re good—he’s better.” I’m talking, “Stick with the acoustic, Nowak, and back away from the microphone, please.” Nevertheless, we had a great time playing typical garage-band covers from the Beatles, the Eagles, and other influential musicians from my youth. Unfortunately, that was my last time playing rock and roll with anyone. I miss it, but since I get up for work before 5:00 AM, staying up past 8:00 PM is just not in the cards.

Been in the desert with a band with no name

So, here’s the only picture I have of that particular Epiphone–our Valentine’s Day concert at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. I’m the short intense looking dude (never could remember lyrics) on the left.

However, as you will see in a forthcoming episode, the reason I was willing to part with it was because my wife orchestrated my getting another Epiphone as a Fathers’ Day gift.

WARNING: More guitars to come, which is why my wife got me a tee-shirt that showed rows of guitars with the caption, “So many guitars, so little time.”

My Life in Guitars (Part 3) – the Desert

I’d been quite happy with my Peavey Predator, so although I looked—and occasionally drooled, I didn’t seriously plan to buy another guitar. I became a geo-bachelor in Oakland, California, and had my Peavey, but no amplifier. In my teeny-tiny one room apartment, I could hear my playing well enough to keep my sanity.

Then I got the word that as a reservist, I was being recalled and would soon be in Southeast Asia. Obviously, the military pretty much dictated what would go on the plane, so the word was—mail yourself the survival gear you’d need in a plastic footlocker, with the fiberglass reinforced packing tape in every direction. Contents included books, electronic games, civilian clothes (sometimes referred to as “mufti”), and, in my case, a small ham radio station. If the footlocker was shattered, the tape would keep everything together.

What? No guitar?

No guitar. I did not want my Peavey damaged, and, besides, the military exchange system was there to take our money and send us whatever we desired. I’d just order a new guitar once I got there.

I did.

The order was cancelled.

I placed a second order with AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange System)—the store for our men in women in uniform who are deployed.

Cancelled again.

I called the AAFES command—I mean, why be a senior officer if you can’t call the military’s retail headquarters? As a civilian I can call Radio Shack headquarters—never mind.

When military are deployed their mail is routed through a system to an FPO (fleet post office) or an APO (Army post office) so that mail to overseas bases is treated—and costs—like it’s within the continental United States. However, AAFES claimed they didn’t ship to APOs or FPOs.

Huh? Isn’t that why the Military Exchange System exists?

I suspect that items like musical instruments are “drop-shipped” from the manufacturer directly to the customer. If the manufacturer was not located in the USA, then it couldn’t be sent as US mail to a US APO/FPO address. (Damn bean counters!)

Fortunately, I realized that the horse was dead, so I should stop whipping it, and went over its head, straight to . . . . . .

eBay!

Peavey Acoustic

I found a nice used acoustic guitar in the “Buy it now” section. I even talked with the seller (if you could dial back to a US base via the military system, you could then use your prepaid WalMart 5 cents-per-minute account to make a prepaid call elsewhere within the US). The seller was a nice guy who told me that he had changed out the bridge from white to black for a customer who changed his mind. Did I want it changed back?

No—just send it to me.

The vendor was either Music 123 or Musicians’ Friend—it doesn’t matter, they’re all part of the Guitar World now. The neat part was that for deployed military (you know, those with the dreaded APO and FPO addresses), these vendors, replaced the shipping cost with “Thank you for your service.” (To this day, they’re still my primary source for anything and everything musical—thanks, folks!)

For my new guitar, oddly enough I had picked a Peavey acoustic (imagine that). It arrived in short order in perfect condition. When I was “home” I tried to practice regularly and I also played at church. St. Augustine said that “He who sings, prays twice.” If you sing at a service at which I’m playing guitar, your prayers are probably worth a hundred-fold. On the other hand, one could always count dealing with my playing as penance.

After Mass one evening, Rubin, a fellow officer, approached me and asked if I wanted to play in a Beatles band. I laughed and pointed out my general (if not total) lack of talent, but Rubin (and I’m spelling his name the way I THINK he spelled it) said, “No problem, it was just for fun.” I thought about it, and figured that at the very least I’d get free guitar lessons out of the deal, so I agreed.

We didn’t get a lot of USO activity at our location, and what little we did always happened when I was on the road. There was a fair amount of excitement when a women’s volleyball team stopped by (so I hear) and Charlie Daniels performed, after which he autographed the guitar of one of the other Beatle band members. He had a black guitar with a mother-of-pearl Statue of Liberty inlay on the fretboard that had been custom made when he was stationed in Korea. Charlie signed it with a bold silver marker of some kind. The final result couldn’t have been more awesome.

But I digress, although I’m digressing about guitars, so it’s okay.

Just before Christmas, after weeks of rehearsing in a warehouse, WE became the USO show and did about 30 minutes of Beatles music for a crowd of fifty or so (after all, there was not much else to do if you weren’t on duty). However, a good time was had by all, and I had my 30 minutes of fame.

Next—a different guitar for an encore presentation.

My Life in Guitars (Part 2)

It was a few years, a marriage, a move or so, and a son and a daughter later before I got my next guitar.

We were living in Cheyenne, Wyoming—a wonderful place, although you do have to get used to the wind—the Wyoming Wind Festival runs from 1 January through 31 December—and they sell the tee shirts to prove it. In other words, when you first move there, the first priority is to figure out how to bungee cord the lid to the garbage can.

Cheyenne was small—about 53,000 people (in a state with 500,000, or 5 people per square mile) so it was a bit modest as far as shopping opportunities. For example, the first year we were there, the newspaper declared Sbarro’s Pizza as second place, in the “Best Restaurant for Lunch” category.

We’d regularly go to Fort Collins, Colorado for “real” shopping, but there were definitely places in Cheyenne worth visiting. One day my wife wanted to go to a craft store. I think I went in, and “finished” much earlier than she did, so I decided to go next door.

To a music store.

The music store had guitars on sale—the previous year’s Peavey Predator Plus. They had two, both green. Apparently was not fashionable (aka “cool”) and therefore, not a big seller. The guitars were marked down to half price or so. (Not actively shopping for guitars, I can’t say if it truly was a great price, or if they merely boosted the “original” price. Nevertheless, at the time, it seemed like a great deal.) I picked one up and I loved the feel; I mean, it was like, “Even I could play this!” I was hooked.

Peavey Predator with practical padded plain black guitar strap

 

The Predator series is supposedly inspired by Eddie van Halen, with a shorter neck to allow people with talent (like him) to move more quickly around the fretboard; it also allowed short under talented guys like me to feel cool, which is pretty awesome in itself. I mean, think about it. Playing a guitar, roughly the same color as my 1972 Ford Pinto could make me feel cool. How weird is that?

My wife walked in, realized that fate had spoken, and there was no use in even raising an eyebrow (she’s wonderful that way). So, with the guitar, a generic hard sided guitar case and a practice amplifier (Peavey, of course) we headed back home. When I told my parents how excited I was, they were so impressed, they offered to pay for the guitar. I decided I was neither too old, too wealhy, nor too proud to decline

Cool guitar. Wife supportive. Parents paying. So, who cares if it’s green?

I used to download chord charts and play rhythm along with Eagles CDs. Fortunately, none of the Eagles ever found out. Don Henley would have been most unhappy. Timothy B. Schmitt and maybe Don Felder might have even been willing to play along with me, so long as no one told Glenn Frye or Don Henley. However, if Glenn and Don found out, even though Joe Walsh and I have a lot in common (ham radio, northeast Ohio, etc.) I don’t think he would have dared to rush to my defense. Nevertheless, I had fun.

So, 15 or so years later, the green Peavey Predator Plus is still one of my favorites. The machine head has a locking system to keep the strings in tune. It’s got great pickups that can be switched in and out. That short neck does work well for me, and I have to admit, I’ve never thought—even once—of having it painted.

Incidentally, we returned to that same music store just before I deployed to buy a piano for the kids to start their music education. We still have the Peavey and the piano.

Good memories of Cheyenne.