Sunday, December 21, 2014

Accidental Pro

So, most recent jam session at The Lehrer, it was pouring rain and Saturday holiday shopping madness. Had a handful of players show up, some regulars, couple I hadn't seen before, and Chuck, who runs the show, had to leave early for a gig. Didn't have the white board for the chords, so we fumbled our way along, trying to keep up. Mostly did simple stuff. A few guitars, a baritone uke, beat-box and high hat, and me on the tenor.

We played and sang for a couple hours, had ourselves a fine old time.

There is usually a little beer-bucket on the table, for contributions to defray the cost of the web-presence on Meet Up, I think, and if we remember, we plunk a couple dollars into it for that purpose.

Usually not many patrons that time on a Saturday, a few drift in and out, and I tend to forget that they are there and can hear us. 

At least a couple of times, we got a decent groove going, some okay harmonies and leads, and now and then, the combinations didn't sound too bad.

Toward the end of the session, a couple of customers finished their beer and headed out, and as they did, they dropped a few dollars into the beer bucket as they left.

Whoa! Did we just get paid?

Holy crap! Money? Wow ...

Not that we kept it, it stayed in the bucket, but hey ...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Still Too Early, But ...

... that's the point of the song ... Finally got around to doing this on the ukulele. A little  rough still, but I'll get it done better eventually. Maybe by next Christmas ...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Memory's Noose

Come the cold and rain in the fall, I sometimes get reflective about old memories, and here's one that burbled up ...

Aeons ago, we had a close friend who met the man she thought was The One. They courted, then moved in together, and bliss was in the air. Happily-ever-after bloomed, and hurray! she deserved it.

Fast forward just under two years, and to abridge the story, the man was NOT The One. There came a terrible row and a break-up. 

Emotionally wrought, our friend came to stay with us. I cleared out my office and made it into a bedroom. For the next few weeks, she was submerged in the greatest depths of depression and grief. We tried to help, but in such circumstances, there was little we could do. The death of a relationship needs the same stages as a real death, and it can be a slow process. 

We offered support, quiet, and hoped for recovery.

(In an odd happening, early on, our friend dismantled the door knob and latch to the office-gone-to-bedroom and swapped it with the one from the hall bathroom, which could be locked. Nobody would have gone into her room without knocking, but there you go; grief does strange things to people.)

Time dragged on. Recovery did not seem to be in the offing. Our wounded friend would spend all morning planning a trip to the store to buy a single orange. An hour at the store to make the selection. The rest of the afternoon recovering from the trip. The air here was too thick with traffic fumes. The tiniest bit of something unusual in her food would cause her stomach to roil for days. Misery was a heavy blanket, and it covered not only her, but the whole house.

Every red door needed to be painted black.

We saw this, and after a time, also saw that it was beyond our ability to heal. See somebody, we said. Get professional help from somebody who knows how.


We kept trying. Talked for hours. Was a solicitous as we could be. 

She got to the stage where she began rewriting the conflict with Not-The-One. It was all his fault, she decided, she had done nothing wrong, nothing, save to be kind, loving and open, and he was an oafish, blind loser who couldn’t appreciate what she had to offer!

Okay. We didn’t completely agree with that, given some of what we had seen and heard, but we mostly went along. (Any deviation from this absolute was met with instant rage: No! No! It was him! Him! In no way me!)

Fine. We’ll shut up now. You are suffering. Whatever you need to get by.

Eventually, we shrugged and moved along with our lives, and eventually, she packed up and moved away, unhappy that we weren’t more help. How could we not see? Her grief was as powerful as if they had been married fifty years and he had suddenly died. She was bereft. Suck it up and get over it? Not the way to look at it.

Then came a series of phone calls from afar. We needed to see how badly she had been treated. How we had been mistaken in our thinking that she was in any way responsible for the situation, either with Not-The-One or our interaction with her while she was under our roof. We had fallen short in the friends department. She was putting her ducks in a row, and we needed to move to our proper place.

Okay, I said, let’s put it all behind us and move on. I certainly could have been mistaken in how I had seen things, and if so, I hereso apologize.

No, not “could be,” you WERE mistaken! No question! And how you spoke to it? You didn’t really feel that way …

Wait, wait. What? I didn’t feel that way?

That’s right. You didn’t see it correctly, so you couldn’t have really been in that mind-set, and you need to re-think it and see that I am right. You need to see that you were wrong about it.

Whoa. Hold up. I will admit I could have been wrong. I don’t think I was, but we all know memory is a faulty machine, and I am sorry  if I missed shit, but at the time all this went down, I surely know how I felt about it. My facts might have been askew, but my own feelings were what they were. It is what I thought I saw at the time. 

Over the course of a conversation lasting several hours, then several more conversations,, it became apparent that, for our friend to deal with this how she wanted, I had to revise my memory so that it agreed with hers 100%.

Not just acceptance; I had to love Big Brother …

I could go a ways down the road, but for me to say what she apparently wanted to hear, I had to say something that simply wasn’t true. I couldn’t do it. Or wouldn’t, which made the effect the same. 

It became the crux of every subsequent conversation, and these were many and long. 


Finally, I said, Okay, listen: We have danced around this fifty-seven times, and unless you have something new to bring to the discussion, it isn’t going to be resolved. Neither of us is apt to have a come-to-Jesus moment that I can see. If you can find a new line, then we can revisit it, but otherwise, I’m not going there any more. We can move on or not.

Not ...

And that was the end of our long friendship. Because I wouldn’t substitute her beliefs for mine, we got to the end of the road. 

Such are the throes of major depression, that reason fails utterly and there is no way out. 

I think about it sometimes. Should I have just agreed with her? It would have fixed it for her, though I believed it would have broken it for me. It wouldn’t have been a white lie, about her hair, or how those jeans made her look. It would have been a repudiation of what I believed to be true, and ever so much worse. 

I am sorry to have lost my friend, but I can’t say I have regrets about my stance. Sometimes standing where you must leaves you there by yourself, but hey, there it is. Fall reflection of the day …

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Luthier - A Short Short Story

The smell of burning vegetation wasn’t so bad, but when the flow crossed the road? The stink of melting asphalt was acrid, it made your eyes water, and it was hard to draw a breath without coughing. Fortunately, the trades were blowing, so most of the smoke and stench moved away from the village. For now.
A news helicopter flew overhead, noisy and intrusive, a man seated in the back doorway, camera trained on the front of the flow, which was already past Les.
Where Les stood, the lava’s heat was not so bad, and the shell was dark, almost black, with only the small windows here and there to reveal the glowing red-orange underneath. The reports said it was moving at twelve yards an hour, and he guessed it would be no more than half a day before it reached his house, maybe a bit less. 
He became aware that somebody had joined him on the hillock. He turned to look.
A young, very tanned woman stood there, maybe twenty-two or three years old, dressed in cut-off jeans and a red T-shirt, black rubber slippahs. She had long, jet hair, and was obviously a native, not a haole like Les, who was old enough to be her father, at least. Maybe her grandfather …
Not local though, he didn’t know her.
“Aloha,” she said. 
He nodded. “Aloha.”
“You live in the village.”
“Yep. That house, over there.”
“The big one?”
“No, behind it, to the left, the little one with the metal roof.”
“Ah. Are you sad?”
He glanced away from her at the lava. Looked like it was inflating a little. 
“Sure, a little. But Madame Pele claims her own when she wishes. I knew that when I set up shop.”
The young woman smiled. “Yes, Madame Pele does that. You have been here for some time?”
“Fifteen years. Not so long, though I got used to it. Home.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a luthier. I build ukuleles.”
“That big house there? That’s Donny Halle’s house. He is a musician, very famous. He plays ukulele.”
“I have heard his music. It is beautiful.”
“It is. He is an artist.”
“If he is rich, he can buy another house,” she said.
“He can probably buy three or four houses.” He smiled.
“You are not rich.”
“Not in money.” He grinned wider.
“In other ways?”
“Halle plays one of my instruments. Every time he goes onto a stage to make his beautiful music, I am there with him, in a small way. I am happy to be able to do that.”
“You build your instruments in your home?”
“What will you do if Madam Pele takes it?”
“I have my tools and wood packed up. When it gets close, I’ll go find another house. My skills will work anywhere I go.”
“Will not Halle’s skills do the same?”
“If you could talk to Madame Pele and ask her a favor, what would you say?”
He shrugged. “That maybe she might consider sparing Halle’s house.”
“His, but not yours?”
He shrugged again. “My house is not much.”
“I see your friend has built a levee to turn the flow.”
Yes. Halle had rented some heavy-duty earth-moving equipment, back-hoe,  skip-loaders, whatever, and had men out digging and piling dirt up for a couple weeks, since the topographical maps pretty much showed where the lava was going to go. 
There was a wall of semi-packed dirt in front of his house, angled to the northwest, fourteen, fifteen feet high. Halle was hoping it would be enough of a barrier to turn the lava away from his house.
Of course, if it did, it would direct the flow right into Les’s front yard …
“I hope it works,” he said.
“Really? If it does, the lava will take your home, will it not?”
“Be my guess. But Halle brings joy to so many people. He deserves to live well, and he loves that house.”
The young woman smiled. “Without the instrument that you made him, would Halle’s music be as beautiful?”
“He can play a throwaway tourist uke and make it sound good, but I’d like to think it wouldn’t be quite as good as my ukulele.”
She nodded. “I must go. You said you have your things packed?”
“I do.”
“You can unpack them. And tell your rich friend he can stop piling dirt up. The lava is going to stop shortly.”
“You think so?”
She gave him a broad smile. “I do.” Then she flashed him a shaka sign and vanished, like a soap bubble popping in the hot sunshine.
Holy shit! There’s something you didn’t see every day …
Maybe he was having a flashback, or going crazy. People didn’t just disappear like that!
It took him a few minutes to get himself back together.
By the time Les had gotten down the little hill, the lava flow had slowed by half. 
By the time he got home, it had stopped.
It would make a great story, but, he decided, maybe it was better if he didn’t tell it.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Eye See You

So, the latest round of eye-boogery ...

To make a long story short, I noticed my glasses were getting fuzzier on the right side, so I went to the optometrist to get a new prescription. 

Wow, that's changed a lot, said the doc. It was pretty stable, for like, five years. You should go get it checked. 

So I did. 

Ophthalmologist said, I don't see anything, but let's take some pictures ...

Oops. Little hole in the retina there, wasn't there before ...

A quick lesson in eye physiology and anatomy: The eyeball is filled with something like warm Jello, called vitreous humor. As we age, it tends to shrink, and when that happens it pulls away from the lining, which includes the retina. No problem, except that sometimes it doesn't want to let go, and you get a torn retina. Not as bad as a detached retina, but maybe needs to be repaired.

Easiest repair is laser surgery. They deaden the eye, hit the tear with with a laser, and spot-weld it back into place. Outpatient, surgery, take it easy for a few days, all fixed, another little blind spot, but beats the option.

So I want to visit the next level of specialist, one who does such things. Another round of tests and pictures, eyes dilated for two days, yadda-yadda, and cut to the chase, no surgery for now.

We are going to–pardon the word-play–keep an eye on it for a couple-three months, then recheck it. It can get better, worse, or stay the same, and depending on how that goes, probably need a new lens in the specs on that side.

Never a dull moment. 

Meanwhile, I am cleared to go bungee-jumping, skydiving, or trampolining. I should not allow myself to be hit repeatedly in the head, but that's not a good idea anyhow ...

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Even a Blind Pig ...

... finds an acorn now and then ...

The jam group to which I have belonged for a time, the Closet Musicians, meets once a week. Most of us are past retirement age or about to get there. The composition varies, but usually there are a couple of guitars, a ukulele or two, a washtub bass, a kazoo, harmonica, sometimes a banjo or mandolin, and a couple of non-instrument-playing singers.

We get together, sing songs, talk about our ailments, tell bad jokes, and generally have a fine time.

Musically-speaking, and being realistic, we aren't very good. Now and again, we manage a song whose harmony blends pretty well, and there are a couple that seem to do that consistently, but some of the songs are pretty ragged.

The most recent session, we tried a couple new tunes that were so-so. Then we went into our list and did some with which we were familiar, along with a couple that we'd played, but not recently. Old chestnuts, most of 'em, the kind of stuff that people roll their eyes and groan over when they come up,  but due to some unknown surge in the Force, or the full moon, or syzygy, whatever, they sounded good.

I mean, really good. We started on the same note, ended on the same note, the harmonies were spot-on, and frankly, we amazed ourselves.  

It's a running joke in the group, that if somebody misses the session, we always tell them how great we sounded because they were gone: "Oh, you should have been here! We were great!"

 However, this time at least half a dozen songs just flowed out like warm honey. On-key, tight, even. The a cappella finish to "Wagon Wheel" was perfect. The harmonies on "Hallelujah?" Nailed down. "Can't Help Falling in Love?" Nicely-done, if we do say so ourselves. "Mustang Sally." "Way Down in the Hole." "St. James Infirmary." "Kansas City." 
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight." We sounded like we knew what we were doing ...

It might never happen again, but having happened once? That means it is possible ...

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Classical Ukulele

Cory Fujimoto, doing a little Pachelbel and Bach ...

Accidental Lead

So, recent round at the Lehrer acoustic jam, the group started out small: A bass player, harmonica, conga drum (with a small high-hat), cello, and me, the lone ukeranger ...

No guitars. Usually there are more guitars than everything else put together, but not so this time. One did show up after a bit, but it started out with me having to be the rhythm guy and singer. I was gonna write the chords on the white board, then realized nobody needed those except me. 

We cranked it up, played four or five songs, no hurry, and eventually the guitarist and a flutist showed up. A pretty nice blend of instruments, and the guitar player could sing, so he led a few songs.

At one point, the guitarist started off on some old rock number and I missed hearing what key it was in. My ears, such that they are, aren't adept enough to immediately figure that out, so I cheated: I looked for a note and tried to play a melody, which sometimes will point me to the right chord progression.

Wasn't happening quickly enough, so I just found a pentatonic that worked okay and riffed, but quietly.

Those of you who don't know, five-note scales, i.e., pentatonics, which usually leave out the 4th and the 7th, sound pretty good behind pretty much any blues or rock song. Won't make you sound like B.B. King or Clapton if you just stick to that, but it won't sound terrible.

So I noodled along. The cello took a solo, then the flute, then I realized they were looking at me and I was already playing it, so I just upped the volume a bit and did a verse's worth of bars, then the harp-player did a solo before we went back to the guitarist.

Bam! Just like that, unintentional, my first ever solo in public.

Here's the funny part: I can't remember what the song was ...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Be Specific

Reverend White was preaching the Sunday sermon down at the 1st Baptist Church Once Removed, and he wound for the big finish: "All right, then! Who wants to go to Heaven!"

All the parishioners raised a hand—save one: Brother Brown.

Reverend White frowned. Maybe Brother Brown hadn't heard him.

"I said, 'Who wants to go to Heaven?!"

Same thing.

"Uh, Brother Brown?"


"Don't, uh, you want to go to Heaven when you die?"

"Oh, when I die, yessir."

"Then how come you didn't raise your hand?"

"Well, Preacher, I thought you was gettin' up a group to go now ..."

Here the example of somebody who wasn't being clear enough for his whole audience ...

There are time when you are writing when you might want to have your readers fill in a lot of stuff on their own. You give them hints, clues, and you ease off so they can do part of the work. Perfectly valid, as long as you do it on purpose.

There are times when you want to convey as sharp and specific an image as you can; you want them to see the picture you have in your mind.

General is easy. Specific requires more doing, because no matter how clear you think you are, if there is any wiggle room, a worm will find it and do just that. 

Getting precise in your language helps. Not just a "jacket," but a "distressed brown leather 1950's Langlitz motorcycle jacket with scuff marks on the right elbow, and three missing teeth at the top left side of the offset-right zipper." 

Not just a "gun," but a "stainless steel S&W K-frame .357 Magnum with a four-inch barrel and oversize fake-ivory grips, with the Sanskrit symbol for "Om" scrimshawed in black on the cylinder-latch side ...

I name you the Specific Ocean, hey ... ?

Helps if you avoid overusing words that don't really mean anything. Somebody says a building was large and modern. Really? What does that mean? As compared to what? Small and old? 

Uh huh. Clue for the crossword puzzle #27 down: See #39 down. And you go look, and it says See #27 down. 

Right. Up yours. 

How big is big? Convey some sense of it that a reader can relate to. If you say it was a huge warehouse, that doesn't do it. If you say it took three minutes to walk from the front to the back at a comfortable walking pace for a man in good shape, that's better, although you might then have to explain what "good shape" means.  

The size of a Costco store? Not bad. They aren't all the same size, but many of them are.

If you say you could park nineteen city buses end to end without touching the front and back walls with the bumpers? Better still ...

You are painting pictures with naught but words, and you have to engage not only the intellect, but the senses. Who, where, what, when, why, how; and the sight, sound, smell, feel, and taste. 

Get all that right, people won't be able to put your book down. Of course, that's the trick, isn't it ... ?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Good Neighbors - Another First World Problem

We belong to a homeowners association. When we bought this house, umpty-dump years ago, somewhere in the pile of papers we had to sign was an agreement to abide by the rules of the neighborhood. We signed it, not having a clue what that meant. Not that there was an option, it was mandatory.

The association, which hereafter I will refer to uncharitably, was responsible for maintaining the common grounds, the clubhouse and pool, and the standards of the neighborhood. A board of directors was elected by the residents, and said directors issue a newsletter, and tell us the business to which they attend. Included in the make-up of the board is an Architectural Committee and Director.

Pretty much anything past mowing your lawn, you need to get approval from the AC. Mostly this is pro forma, but if you want to take down a dead tree, put up a new fence, re-roof, or paint your house, do any additions, etc., you submit your request in writing and get approval before you start. (And if you don't mow your lawn often enough? You get nasty notices from the AC. Cut it, or we will, and we'll send you the bill. And if you refuse to pay this bill? They will slap a lien on your house.)

No boats, no campers, no political lawn signs.

All of which is to keep the value of our homes up, and I can understand that; however ...

I lost faith with the association when, a few years back, a developer wanted to do a commercial property on what was zoned residential land just around the corner from my house. The neighbors across the street would have the empty field backing up to their yards turned into whatever the developer could get going, and the idea of a McDonald's or a BK being built filled all of us with a certain wide-eyed horror. The traffic. The noise. The smells.

Well, on this end of the street it did. Such things would not impact the folks down at the other end of the street, which included the then-president of the association. So the board, in its wisdom, elected to support the developer.

We went to meetings of the land-use board in the city and testified, and to make a long ugly story short and ugly, we eventually lost to the developer. Won at the zoning board, lost to the Mayor's deciding vote. 

Fortunately, what got built was a drugstore and not a Mickey D's, but still, our association had sided with the developer and it rankled.

Couple of my neighbors across the street sold their houses and moved. On a good day, warmed up, I can probably reach the roof of the drugstore with a baseball thrown from the street in front of my house.

Once, when we put up a wooden fence to make a small courtyard out front, with the association's approval, the AD came round. We had elected to leave the fence natural wood. 

I think, he said, I'm going to make you paint this fence.

Oh, really? And are you going to make the other five folks on this street alone paint their natural wood fences, some of which have been up for ten years, as well? Because I'm sure as  up-yours-Jack not painting mine otherwise.

Nor did I, nor did my neighbors. There was no rule that said it had to be so, the AD was simply being high-handed.

Some folks should not be allowed even the smallest bit of power.

This was about the time I started calling the association board the Neighborhood Nazis ...

This is all background to tell you the most recent association blunder. 

To paint one's house, one must submit a swatch of the paint one wishes to use. The theme in this neighborhood is "Pacific Northwest Natural," whatever the hell that means. (Basically, this boils down to muted colors. Grays, greens, blues, even dark reds, but nothing primary, and nothing heavy to the pastel end.)

So down the street and a block over, a family picked out a color, sent the swatch in, and was approved. Painted their house.

But, oh, my, it was much more pastel a blue than it looked on the swatch! It stood out brightly. A nearby neighbor complained. It wouldn't do!

So the debate arose: This color isn't right. The homeowners in the sky-blue house are being cooperative, but really, they don't feel as if they should have to pay to repaint their house, and while I'm not a lawyer, I would think that if push came to trial, they would have a very good case. They followed the rules. It wasn't their screw-up. 

So what to do? Leave it? Pay to repaint it from the homeowners' dues? There are enough houses here that tacking ten bucks on our yearly dues would cover it. Let it stand until it needs to be repainted, fifteen or twenty years down the line? 

I will be fascinated to see how it all shakes out ...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Uh, Well ...

I have only just begun going out in musical public with my ukulele. (I don't count classes wherein everybody there brought ukes, but to places where musicians bring mostly other instruments.) And several times, players have wandered over as I was getting set up, looked at my case, which has stickers on the front, including a big one that says "UKE" and said, "That a mandolin?"

I talked to a mandolin player at one such outing, and he allowed he had the reverse happen to him. He also mentioned seeing a T-shirt that rather rudely said it was not an ukulele, but a mandolin, and I thought, well, I can go to the T-shirt company and get myself one.

Whether I would actually wear it in public, I dunno ...

Turn it Down

So, at the most recent electric blues jam, we did an amp check. Dial 'em down, the guy running it said. We got complaints.

Great, I thought. 

I led the first song. I could hear my uke and my voice just fine, and so could most of the other players

But then, as if by magic, it started getting louder. 

Electric guitar guys seem to have two settings on their amps, which need eighteen wheelers to haul into wherever they're playing, and the settings are: "Off," and "Eleven ..."

I wouldn't be surprised of the ghosts of Jimi and Stevie, wherever they are, had to cover their ears. 

By the end of the session, I was resolved that I wasn't gonna go back, because, deaf as I am, they are apparently more deafer, and it was TOO DAMNED LOUD!

When you start finding your dental fillings on the floor? When turning off your hearing aids and using them as earplugs doesn't help?

As we wound down, a bass player approached me. Said, he had a group of mostly-retired guys who got together once a week to jam for a couple hours, and was I interested in sitting in? They were amplified, he said, but not that loud. 

Sure, I said, sounds great.

He sent the location info and their set list, which had a lot of music I liked. Better and better.

So I went.

I figured it would be a good chance to learn stuff with a group, intros and outros, timing, like that.

Good guys, good players, had a drummer with a full kit, a harmonica guy, bass, three guitars. The horn guy didn't make it, nor the keyboardist, nor the banjo player.

I managed to keep up most of the time, flubbed a couple of songs, mostly because they were songs I play, but not quite how they play 'em. So far, so good, except ...


My little thirty watt amp couldn't keep up. Couldn't hear myself. I could get a bigger amp, of course, but that would only add to the volume, which I don't want to do, because, did I mention? it was TOO DAMNED LOUD!?

My realization solidified: I am at heart a guy who is going to be happier in small, quieter venues. Either playing among acoustic instruments, or those with a little amplification. No arena rock for me. What hearing I have left, I want to keep.

So, the acoustic jam? Yep.

The electric blues jam? Nope ...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ridin' in Mah Car ...

Portland, Oregon, is a lovely town in so many ways. Great place to live, good people, great food, weather not too awful.

Lovely town–except, of course, if you have to drive anywhere during rush hour, and especially from one side of the city to the other, in which case, not so lovely.

I have occasion to do that now and again, to make the transit from Beaverton to Vancouver, Washington, just across the Columbia River, and it is not a trip I'd wish on anybody I like.

Maybe not even on my enemies.

It is eighteen miles from Steve's house to the Columbia River bridge, and on most days, the trip averages twelve miles an hour.

An hour and a half to drive eighteen miles.  So I have to allow at least two hours, because some days, the traffic is, you know, bad. And leave us not even speak of really bad ...

Were I a bike rider with a clear lane, I could easily pedal faster than that. Even a good marathon runner could get there quicker ...

To be helpful, the government put up some electronic billboards on the highway to aid motorists. Sometimes they flash warnings of accidents that are ahead; sometimes, they look like regular green road signs, only they tell you how long it will take you to get from there to certain points ahead. Just so you know.

Like, on Hwy. 26, one will say, "I-5, fourteen minutes."

I always wonder from which body orifice those numbers are pulled. Really? More often than not, you can double the number quoted and add thirty percent for the shit, and be much closer to the actual time, albeit sometimes still short. I have never once during rush hour achieved the promised goal in the time shown. Maybe if I could turn my car into a helicopter and take to the air ...

Rush hour, by the way, runs from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. If you are lucky.

I picture some laughing engineer throwing darts at a board with minutes on it, then plugging that into the reader.

Then there is the diamond lane on I-5 between downtown Portland the the bridge. Stupidest idea anybody had in years, only stretch of that in the whole city. Mostly it is empty, relative to the stop-and-1st gear lanes next to it. Supposed to be for cars carrying at least two passengers, buses, and motorcycles. As you sit parked in the middle lane, if you bother to look at those passing on the left, you will see that one car in three actually has more than one person in it. I have done this a few times. One in fucking three. If the police stopped them, they could fund the city from the fines, which are pretty stiff. The temptation is mighty to pull over and use that lane, but the citation is large, and if they did that, nobody would ever get anywhere because that would mean interfering with the rest of the commuters to pull folks over and ticket 'em. I favor a cam mounted over the lane in secret spots. Get you picture taken alone? Pay up. And don't tell me about your old granny sleeping the backseat, pal, I don't believe you.

The state of Washington declined to become involved in paying for a bigger bridge and more lanes, so that idea went down the toilet. For which I would require each and every one of them who voted against it to make the trip from Portland to Washington every day, for all eternity ...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Amp it Up ...

Roland amps: Cube Street, left; AC 33, right.

Having joined the dark side as a gearhead, I have recently upgraded my uke amp. What I had before was Roland's Street Cube, a small modeling amp designed for electric instruments. Has EFX for things like echo, flange, and other distortions. The new amp, the AC 33, is designed for acoustic instruments, and doesn't have that stuff.  

Since the uke is acoustic with a pick-up, the dedicated-acoustic amp is a better choice. I don't need the other stuff.

If you look at them side by side, you might think the Street Cube is louder and more robust, and it is built sturdier, with a grill and heavy plastic bumpers, since it was designed for street busking and being knocked around. The speakers look to be the same size, and both units can run from 110 v via DC converters, or from AA batteries. Both will run a vocal and an instrument mike at same time.

The Cube runs 2.5 watts per speaker, for a total of 5 watts. The AC 33 has 15 watts per, for a total of 30 watts. (This is plugged into external power; the batteries deliver a bit less on the 33, around 20 watts.)

Still not gonna peel the paint off the walls, but the new one has four-to-six times more wattage than the old one, depending,  and is smaller and lighter weight.

What's not to like?

September Set List

So, the ukulele songs upon which I am working this month:

Here Comes the Sun
Dock of the Bay
Stand By Me
In My Life
Hey, Jude
Brown-eyed Girl
Let It Be
Louisiana, 1927
Hotel California
Down by the Water

Sultans of Swing

The goal here is to be able to play these from memory, chords and vocals, and to try and learn some kind of lead picking for instrumental breaks. (Except for "Here Comes the Sun," which is an instrumental sans vocals. And the solo on "Sultans" is going reeeally s-l-o-w.)

Ukulele Band Camp

So, the uke band camp I attended this past spring is gearing up for next spring. Early registration for past attendees starts in a few days, and regular sign-ups on 1 October.

If it is like the previous two camps, it will fill up fairly fast, so if you are thinking about it, put a reminder on your calendar for early October.

I won't be going this round, but I did enjoy it last time, the experience about which I wrote at some length in my short book on the ukulele.

For those interested:

We’ve been working hard to create the 5th Annual Menucha Ukulele Band Camp and we’re very proud to share these details about it.

Dates: Monday, March 23 – Friday, March 27, 2015

Instructors: Jere Canote, Guido Heistek, Nicole Keim, Aaron Keim, Glen Rose and Gerald Ross.

Bands Offered: Range from jazz to jug to jukebox and beginner to bossa nova! See the complete list here:
Heads Up: If you particularly desire a private room or if you wish to spread your registration payments over several months, this early registration opportunity may be very helpful.

Questions? If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to call me (503-695-2243). On behalf of the whole Menucha staff, we look forward to hosting you again soon!

Scott Crane, Program Director

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Missed a Darling ...

Kay - concept art by Ubin Li

There is a bit of writing advice, credited to different writers, usually Faulkner and Samuel Johnson:

Johnson's version: "Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out."

Faulkner supposedly said, "You must kill all your darlings."

What this means is, don't fall in love with your prose to the detriment of your story. While you toss out what you think are clever lines hither and yon, you are apt to be so pleased with yourself that you lose the more important thing: The tale itself. 

Not to say you can't make it sparkle as best you can, only that reaching for a particularly smart simile might do your piece more harm than good because it will stick out, go clunk, or howl at the moon in such a way as to take your reader out of the story.

That is one of the cardinal no-no's, taking your reader out of the story. Never give them a chance to stop and look at how you have constructed your vehicle when they are supposed to be enjoying the ride ...

So I'm going through the galleys for Tejano, and I came across one of these darlings I missed. It's a good line,  if I do say so myself, and at this stage, I won't take it out. One is allowed to correct typos or obvious errors, but not to edit in galleys. This isn't really necessary in the same way it used to be. Goes back to the days when type was set and it was a bitch to change unless absolutely necessary. 

I'll set it up: Two of my characters, Jo and Kay, are meeting with an officer on the opposite side of an upcoming conflict. Jo's viewpoint. The officer isn't happy with the way the conversation is going and he gets pushy, to the point of an aggressive step in her direction. Jo isn't worried, she can deck him and will if need be. And the line:

"Kay came up like hot smoke on a cold winter’s day."

At which point the guy, realizing he's way overmatched, backs off. 

How do I know I should have taken it out? It made me smile and nod when I came across it. Nice line, Steve ...

Might make somebody else stop and think that, and much as I like being admired as a prose smith, being admired as a storyteller is better. 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Monday, September 01, 2014

Pig Out

Bebop with lunch, (above), that's Turtle on the arch-top guitar.

Miss Delta, on Mississippi Street, in Portland.

My lovely spouse and I celebrated our birthdays this weekend — we are two days apart — and while we were looking around for something fun to go do, as confirmed foodies, we decided that eating out wasn’t a bad notion.

So, Friday, lunch, we started at a nice American-style restaurant, Oswego. I had fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cole slaw, while my better half had blackened-salmon salad. I had a dark beer, she had white wine. They brought us a complimentary banana split when they found out it was our birthdays.

Friday evening, we did happy hour at a local Italian place, DiCarlo’s: Polenta fries, with Gorgaozola Butter and a chicken pannini, and beer for me; red wine, a salad, and a cheese pizza for her.

Saturday lunch was a build-a-burrito at the local New Seasons, and a beer at their new beer-and-wine bar, while listening to a trio (Sax, guitar, upright bass) do light jazz and bebop.

Saturday night, the best Indian restaurant locally, Chennai Masala, and dinner, which included chicken tiki masala, garlic naan bread, onion and cabbage pakoras, and, of course beer.

Sunday brunch was southern: Shrimp po’boy, sweet potato fries, red beans and rice, and veggie omelette at a place we’d never tried before, Miss Delta, and washed down with, well, yes … beer.

Sunday supper, and it was back to New Seasons, for a beer-tasting/food pairing. Started with a Caldera Lawnmower Lager, then a Kermit the Hop IPA, then a dark stout, Three Creeks Five Pine Chocolate Porter. Paired with, respectively, White Cheddar Fondue, Apples, and Artisan bread; Curry Chicken Sausage and Coconut peanut sauce; chocolate brownie with peanut butter icing and peanut butter ice cream.

Six meals out — normally, we might dine out once a week — and not a bad one among ‘em. 

When we weren't eating, we were sleeping.

We’d get up, putter around, go eat brunch, come home, take a nap, get up and dress, go out and have supper, come home, fall into a stupor, sleep, then start over again. Tough weekend.

Three of the eateries were in Beaverton, one in Hillsboro, and one in Portland, on the east side. If you are in the area, any of these are excellent places to assuage your hunger:

1. Oswego Grill - American
2. DeCarli’s  -  Italian
3. New Seasons - Mexican
4. Chennai Masala - Indian
5. Miss Delta - Southern 
6. New Seasons - Bistro

We, on the other hand, will be eating healthy stuff at home for a while …

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Want to Have Done ...

There's a line about wanna-be writers that sometimes gets bandied about: He doesn't want to write, he wants to have written. It means that the notion of being a writer is appealing to somebody, but they somehow want to get past the actual doing of it to the already-did-it-phase. 

This is not unique to writers, this desire. There are times when I need to go to the gym, but don't really feel like it. I know that if I go, and once I get cranking, I'll be fine, and I'll feel better about having gone, but what I want is to have worked out. To get the benefits without having to put out the effort …

Inertia can be a powerful thing to overcome.

That shortcut isn't real, and part of the deal is that if you don't enjoy the doing of a thing in and of itself, you are apt to not do it. If all you can see is the goal but not the trip getting there, you tend to see it as something to be endured. This tends to keep you from giving it your best, or sometimes, any efforts at all.

If you lift weights, you have to enjoy the process of picking one up and moving it and putting it down not just as a means to getting stronger or gaining more endurance, but as an end in itself; else you will find reasons to avoid it down the road.

At least that's how I view it. 

Someday, Maybe ...

If ever I do an autobiography, this quote, from the mouth of the director at a meeting on the Universal lot regarding a script I co-wrote with Chris Warner, will be the title ...

Fooling around with a magazine cover generator. Kinda cool toy ...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Technically-Correct Failure

I was channel-surfing last night and I came across a spy-thriller, that looked promising.

Couple-years old, I vaguely recalled hearing something about it when it came out. A lot of movies go by without me seeing 'em.

The picture featured a female lead,  kind of a La Femme Nikita operative, who worked for a private company that contracted to governments for assorted skullduggery. Had a stellar cast, mostly doing small parts, and it started out with a Jason-Bourne-like fight sequence between the girl and an ex-boyfriend the firm had sent to fetch her.

The firm wanted to get rid of her for some reason, probably she Knew Too Much About Something She Wasn't Supposed to Know About, but ... I didn't get that far ...

There wasn't anything particularly bad I could point at. The writing was okay, the acting not bad, though I kind of got the feeling the Big Name Actors doing small parts were phoning it in.

I could hear the dialog between the director and actors: Hey, c'mon, you have a few lines, couple days, you collect a nice check, you're gone. Besides, you owe me one ... 

The locations were exotic, the directing competent, the camerawork looked fine. Pacing was mostly okay. It had all the elements of a good spy thriller, but it wasn't working for me. Ho-hum, I didn't care about the protagonist and her backstory, and after a few minutes of waiting for it to get better, I turned it off.

Back when I first started writing, I got some advice somewhere about creating stories that were technically fine, they had all the elements they were supposed to have, but that failed nonetheless. Yeah, yeah, all the beats are there, but there's something ... off.

What I came to realize was that the missing element was usually passion. If the writer wasn't having a good time, if it wasn't fun, that showed, and such would not so much turn off an audience as never turn them on in the first place.

I wrote a few of those, and the rejections were always along the lines of, "Yeah, there's nothing particularly wrong with it, it just doesn't float my boat."

Kind of like the old joke about surgery: The operation was a success, but the patient died ...

Before I went to bed, I logged onto Rotten Tomatoes to check the reviews. Maybe it was me, and when I first saw the critics comments, I blinked: 80% approval.

Great acting, directing, good action, yadda-yadda.

Really? Wow. I must be missing something.

Then I read the Audience reviews, and the numbers there?

40% ...


When there is that much of a gap between the critics and audience, somebody is missing something. (Usually, it's the critics who savage a movie and that audiences love I find more likely to be the case, as happened when the first Star Wars movie came out.)

So, in this case, critics liked it but audiences didn't.

Not that I absolutely needed that confirmation for my own opinion, but it doesn't hurt ...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Customer Service

Spring of 2013, we had our kitchen redone. New floors, countertops, sink and faucets. As part of the deal, we had a new filtered drinking water spigot installed.

Recently, during an attempt to open a stubborn kitchen window, a slipped grip and flying elbow resulted in the spout of the drinking faucet being snapped off at the base. Like it was sliced off with a knife it was so clean …

So we called the guy at Chown, who had arranged for the work, and asked about ordering a replacement. Gave him the specs. Next day, he got back to us: The company, Mountain Plumbing Products, said, no problem, and they shipped us a replacement.

No charge.

The new part matched, fit, and are back up to speed. And a big thank you to Chown and to Mountain Plumbing Products. They didn’t have to replace the part for free, and I appreciate the customer service.