SOLD OUT

SOMETIMES IT'S GOOD TO HAVE CROSSED THE THRESHOLD; to be on the inside when the sign on the door says, “Sold Out.” It means you’re in, your place at the table is secure, you have a seat for the show—a show that is worthy of being sold out.

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What it is like to assume there would be room left, a ticket still available? You’ve looked forward to it, you got all dressed up, all psyched up, only to arrive, to come face to face with the “SOLD OUT” sign. You can see the others in the room. They made it. They signed up early. But you’re out: disqualified.

I am sure I’m too stupid to understand something as complex as immigration policy. Add to my stupidity the fact that I don’t  care much about economic theory. I'm intensely skeptical of the statistics regurgitated by ruminants, politicians and pundits regarding increased crime within immigrant populations. Even a hint of attitude of racial superiority makes my old, wrinkly, white flesh crawl.

I have always found anecdotes more persuaisive than analysis. I get that many people love the charts, the graphs, the conclusions drawn from some suspect concept of historical perspective, but I am persuaded when I hear a brilliant, eloquent law student from the Congo tell his story about how he gained access to the USA just days before new, heightened immigration policies, enforcements and theories, while his equally brilliant wife, whom he met in a refugee camp in Malawi, was not so lucky. Her paperwork wasn’t processed until a few days after the changing of the guard. He’s on one side of the door, she on the other.

Don’t try to explain it to me. I’m too stupid to see it all as anything but stupid.

Speaking of “selling out”, can we think about Faustian Bargains* for a moment. In my naive, stupid, liberal mind and soul, that is a threshold too costly to cross, but we do it? Why?! Why does that have to be a part of our human story?

Would you believe me if I said I’m not trying to be political, just human? But, I guess it inevitably has to be about politics. If so, here’s a viewpoint on one thorny issue of the current immigration debate which even I can grasp:

"We should have a better understanding and better relationship than we've ever had. Rather than talking about putting up a fence. Why don't we work out some recognition of our mutual problems?” —Ronald Reagan speaking of Mexico as "our neighbor to the south." Houston, TX, 1980.


*Faustian bargain, a pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches. The term refers to the legend of Faust (or Faustus, or Doctor Faustus), a character in German folklore and literature, who agrees to surrender his soul to an evil spirit (in some treatments, Mephistopheles, or Mephisto, a representative of Satan) after a certain period of time in exchange for otherwise unattainable knowledge and magical powers that give him access to all the world’s pleasures. A Faustian bargain is made with a power that the bargainer recognizes as evil or amoral. Faustian bargains are by their nature tragic or self-defeating for the person who makes them, because what is surrendered is ultimately far more valuable than what is obtained, whether or not the bargainer appreciates that fact. —from Encyclopædia Britannica

To wrap things up on a lighter note—here’s my favorite rendering of the Faustian bargain.

 O Brother Where Art Thou

O Brother Where Art Thou

Magical Beans

CONSENSUS ON COFFEE AND ITS ORIGIN seems to be that the first cup was poured in the 11th Century AD.  I feel confident in saying, I bet the first beans were roasted, ground and combined with scalding water in the First Century.

Why and on what authority? Sixty-Seven years ago I was carried into a Baptist Church for the first of many, many times. One thing I know for certain about Baptists—coffee is the official drink and caffeine the permissible drug of Baptists. So, I can only assume that John THE Baptist percolated the first pot. If he was not the first Mr. Coffee he probably should be known as John The So-Called Baptist.

Coffee is much bigger than Baptists. Currently there are 27,339 Starbucks stores. (Statista: The Statistics Portal) According to  an article in Huffington Post, “America’s Coffee Obsession…”:

• Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, equivalent to 146 billion cups of coffee per year, making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world.
• Coffee represents 75% of all the caffeine consumed in the United States.
• The United States imports more than $4 billion dollars’ worth of coffee each year.

 My amazing-missus enjoying a cup from the top of a double-decker bus

My amazing-missus enjoying a cup from the top of a double-decker bus

I am one of those who starts the day with a cup or so and later too, especially with the occasional dessert. Given a choice, I prefer a bold, dark roast, served black.

It seems to me that coffee is the best grease for the gears of social interaction. Anytime of day, we can meet for a cup. Even if we don’t actually all drink coffee, we can be open to gathering around the idea of it—“Let’s grab a cup of coffee and catch up.”

Years ago, I heard Nora Ephron speaking about her movie, “You’ve Got Mail.” She mentioned the idea of something called the Third Place. I was utterly intrigued. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

In community building, the third place is the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home ("first place") and the workplace ("second place"). Examples of third places would be environments such as cafes, clubs, public libraries, or parks. In his influential book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.

In the early 70s, I played drums with a group that played at these little venues called coffeehouses: third places for people in their lated teens and twenties. With a little stage for music and poets, candles on the tables, posters on the wall, and lots of coffee. The pay was lousy, but the gigs were fun and relaxed. 

I have a brother-in-law who served several tours of duty in the middle-east. I love to hear his stories about times spent at the little coffeeshops on the bases in the middle of nowhere. Third Place indeed.

How about coffee and solitude? You know the scene: a single man or woman sitting in a diner, a back booth or on a stool at the end of the counter, having a cup and probably a cigarette, maybe half looking at a newspaper or staring out the window. On the jukebox, Tammy Wynette sings:

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman
Giving all your love to just one man.
You'll have bad times
And he'll have good times, 
Doin' things that you don't understand
But if you love him you'll forgive him,
Even though he's hard to understand
And if you love him oh be proud of him,
'Cause after all he's just a man
Stand by your man...

One of my favorite works of art is Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. We can’t talk about hot coffee at the diner without a look.

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In case you don’t still have your notes from Art History 101, my favorite commentary on the painting comes from that little nun with the speech impediment, Sister Wendy:

Apparently, there was a period when every college dormitory in the country had on its walls a poster of Hopper's Nighthawks; it had become an icon. It is easy to understand its appeal. This is not just an image of big-city loneliness, but of existential loneliness: the sense that we have (perhaps overwhelmingly in late adolescence) of being on our own in the human condition. When we look at that dark New York street, we would expect the fluorescent-lit cafe to be welcoming, but it is not. There is no way to enter it, no door. The extreme brightness means that the people inside are held, exposed and vulnerable. They hunch their shoulders defensively. Hopper did not actually observe them, because he used himself as a model for both the seated men, as if he perceived men in this situation as clones. He modeled the woman, as he did all of his female characters, on his wife Jo. He was a difficult man, and Jo was far more emotionally involved with him than he with her; one of her methods of keeping him with her was to insist that only she would be his model.

From Jo's diaries we learn that Hopper described this work as a painting of "three characters." The man behind the counter, though imprisoned in the triangle, is in fact free. He has a job, a home, he can come and go; he can look at the customers with a half-smile. It is the customers who are the nighthawks. Nighthawks are predators — but are the men there to prey on the woman, or has she come in to prey on the men? To my mind, the man and woman are a couple, as the position of their hands suggests, but they are a couple so lost in misery that they cannot communicate; they have nothing to give each other. I see the nighthawks of the picture not so much as birds of prey, but simply as birds: great winged creatures that should be free in the sky, but instead are shut in, dazed and miserable, with their heads constantly banging against the glass of the world's callousness. In his Last Poems, A. E. Housman (1859-1936) speaks of being "a stranger and afraid/In a world I never made." That was what Hopper felt — and what he conveys so bitterly.

Text from "Sister Wendy's American Masterpieces"

We have some dear friends who are opening a coffeeshop soon. As soon as we have a chance to visit, I’ll tell you all about it. Or, better yet; let’s meet there for a hot cup and catch up.

Netflix & Chili

EASY KIDS. IT'S NOT A TYPO. It’s the 60-something’s version of a good way to spend a winter’s eve. I have a wonderful chili recipe by the way. I’ve actually won a couple of chili cookoffs with it—I would be happy to share. The secret ingredient is cocoa powder.

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There is nothing better (for supper) on cold night than a steamy bowl of chili. Sometimes I like it with spaghetti and a few crackers crumbled in the bowl. Sometimes I like it over Fritos® with chopped onion and a squirt of mustard.

So the fire is going in the fireplace, the chili is ready, now what to watch. I have been so looking forward to the new show featuring David Letterman. It didn’t disappoint. It’s called, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. It’s a long-form, sit-down interview show and in my opinion, no one does that better than Letterman. 

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The guest and the content of this first episode I found to be poignant, smart, and timely—for a number of reasons. With Letterman fairly recently “retired”, and his guest recently “retired”, and me peering in to retirement, I found something in the discussion you might not. But don’t be dissuaded. It’s well worth the time.

My next recommendation isn’t on Netflix, but then, whether you’re “Netflix and chilling” or watching Netflix while enjoying chili, it’s really not just about the Netflix is it now?

This one is on Amazon. I had first noticed ads for it and then when it won a couple of Golden Globe awards, I read the premise and decided it was worth a look. Let me say right up front, many might find the language objectionable. It’s right up there with stuff you could hear on a visit to the Oval Office or listening to a postgame interview with Carmello Anthony.

The series is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It’s set in New York City in the 50s. They call it a comedy-drama. Normally I would say you can’t have it both ways, but this one is indeed both very funny in really smart ways and an interesting story, dramatically. The series follows a housewife who discovers she has a knack for stand-up comedy.

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The lead character, Midge Maisel played by Rachel Brosnahan is wonderful. My favorites though are Midge’s parents Abe and Rose Weissman, played by Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle. I do fear though that I cold be too much like Abe Weissman in a not so good way; if I were a Jewish math professor.

Did I mention the language is rated R? If frequent use of sailor-speak and chili give you heartburn. I highly recommend you choose instead watching The Crown on Netflix with a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

Or, you could just chill.

Looking For The Next Little Drummer Boy or Girl

AT FIRST YOU THINK YOU HEAR IT, but maybe it’s an auditory illusion, an aural mirage born of anticipation. Now though; for certain. There it is, the distance sounds of a marching band drumline. At first, standing along the parade route, you hear it and then you feel, then they come into view. It’s a powerful thing, at least to an aspiring young drummer who’s been banging on pots with wooden spoons since his first Christmas parade.

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Words can’t express, so I’ve included a video, if you’re so inclined, to one of the finest drumlines in the nation, the Cadets drumcorp. Notice the near perfect precision, the dynamics, the textures. This is the product of hours of individual and team practice and discipline.

 yea.org

yea.org

Among my favorite childhood memories is going with my family to downtown Tulsa for the Christmas parade, hearing the distance drum cadence of that first marching band as they approached. 

Not too many years later I got to be in a drumline in that wonderful parade and on marching fields and parade routes from Tulsa to Washington D.C. across Canada and Europe. And, to this day, half a century later, I still love to sit at a drum set and play. I am so grateful to my parents for making all that possible and for band directors, percussion teachers, mentors and role models for cultivating the seeds. 

I have two sons. I am happy to say that they are both fine drummers. Watching them learn to play and develop their own style was so fun. And, they are still playing today.

Much has been written about the research done on the value of music and music education to a broader education application. Study after study confirms the impact on student grades, discipline and even school attendance. Let’s not forget the impact of music therapies of all kinds: physical, emotional, mental and certainly spiritual.

I am saddened and concerned knowing that school music programs are being cut or eliminated because of dire financial straits in our educational system, but also by misguided motives and priorities and politics. 

I am also concerned that our churches, once a fertile ground for budding musicians to have an opportunity to grow and develop have structured worship music more like a concert, with young aspiring musicians relegated to the role of spectator.

So, where are the seedbeds, opportunities, the classrooms, the labs, the practice rooms, the studios, the stages for the next generation of musicians? Maybe it will still happen in quiet, individual ways and on YouTube. Maybe for many they will never know the wonder of getting their first instrument for fifth grade band and discovering the richness of music.

Scripture says that old men will dream dreams. Well, I’ve been dreaming. I’ve managed to gather some resources, not a lot, but some, and I want to use these resources to help the next little drummer girl or drummer boy get their start, by helping them get the instrument they need and maybe a few lessons to get them off to a good start.

I’m not interested in just buying drums and sticks so some kid can drive his mother to insanity. The percussive arts aren’t for everyone, yet in a way they are. All music takes a lot of practice and commitment. Of course, not all will play like the Cadets Drumline, or Jack DeJohnette, or John Bonham, or Eric Harland, but they can, with practice and hard work, find joy and a sense of accomplishment, and make a difference.

So, maybe you can help me find the next one. Do you know of someone, maybe in the 8 to 14 or so age range, who has shown musical interest, who would have some level of encouragement from home, but may not have the resources to get the equipment or expertise to get started?

Feel free to reach out to me. My email is hey.pops.hey@gmail.com

Maybe you’re someone who would want to join in and help a young drummer get a start. Maybe you have a snare drum, a decent drum set, or a few cymbals stacked up, gathering dust in a corner, that you would want to donate. Let me know.

You can have a parade without horses or floats, or “Miss Whatever” perched on the back of a convertible. You don’t even have to have a Santa Claus at the tail end. But, there’s no way to have a parade without a drumline (and I mean that in a big, broad metaphorical sense).

Put your fingers on the inside of your wrist. If you can’t feel the pulse of your internal rhythm section—your parade has passed. The cadence is that important.

The beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da
— Sonny & Cher