Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Day four hundred and nineteen ... The seasons connive.

I'm sick of winter.

Among my friends who live in the seasonally cathartic climes this is a common sentiment. It seems like this year we have had an especially long one, full of heavy doses of snow, ice, rain, and sleet. Several counties in the more remote areas even experienced power outages that lasted for days if not weeks. There is a price you pay for seclusion. They'll end up a few degrees cooler all summer long, so I guess you have to play the averages.

This very winter has almost gotten me to make some foolish choices. I tend to lump the whole of my circumstances together and cover myself with them as if they were throw pillows all representing varying degrees of complications. When I stand up they scatter to the sides. If I fall down again, instead of caring for them individually and placing them where I can strategically land, they will be in random locations and may or may not break my fall.

But I did say "almost," and for that I am now thankful.

It's interesting how I'm letting this winter get to me. Finally, something I can't actually control unless I change my location. Finally, something that I could predict with a watchmaker's accuracy. Finally, something that I know as well, if not better, than I know myself.

And I have said from the beginning that perspective is the most important tool one can have available to avail oneself from almost any adverse situation.

The seasons connive to distract us, to wear us down, to lull us into a dreamlike state, to keep us occupied while they plan their escape. For once a season has exploded onto our calendar it is in constant regression as reserves from the next wave ready to advance.

I will opt, at this moment, to focus on the seemingly incongruous intricacies that our seasons cloak us in.

During the winter, my fireplace becomes a source of comfort and unpredictable delights; my windows become anathema. They are merely a thief to steal away the very air that allows my existence indoors, while at the same time giving me a view of just what exactly the season is capable of--from its first snowfall that kisses the ground with a startling but consensual advance, to the ravages of salt, sand, soot, and on through its many facelifts--a touch-up here, a massive tuck there--finally succumbing to the pressure and uniform reaction of the earth's proximity to its benefactor.

In the summer, my windows blow me kisses. They draw me close to them with the promise of a cool breeze, an explosion of aromas, or just the ingrained association with escape (to a lover, from a fire, or both); my fireplace, though, is an ex that I could never imagine calling on for any reason, let alone learning to trust again.

In the spring, the ground is an ever evolving work of art sprouting bursts of color upon an ever widening background, seemingly unfinished through the summer, until its creator is through with its showing, haphazardly covering it with a blanket of autumn leaves--itself a work of art--and we are left to wonder if what we had witnessed for so long remains underneath to be seen ever again. Of course, most of these pieces will be shown to the public next year; many are on loan to another museum; others, though, have been stolen by crooks who clandestinely shuttle them in bunches from one safehouse to another under cover of an idea that the world is littered with them--that there are plenty to go around, and one patch of dirt should hold no copyright on its contents.

In the winter, my shades are more often open than drawn, allowing whatever subsidies the sky will grant to help warm me--the same sky that dropped the uncountable droplets of water that taunt me as they strengthen their resolve.

Soon my rooms will cry for this shade as the sun grills them for information. If I happen to forget to pull them before I leave the house they will require some extra rehabilitation upon my return. A hundred fans just seem to shuffle the discontented air around like a bound band of inmates clawing with untrimmed nails that ferry feculent sweat through the path of least resistance. And the room with the most promise--the one that I consider the best appointed suitor--sits with its windows closed waiting for me to turn the knob that will suck the moist, heavy air from its corners and replace it with freon infused vitality.

The air that presently hangs above me as I sit slippered on the couch overtakes my periphery like a crowd of self propelled supporters as I rise to full stride and walk towards its ethereal cheering, getting louder as it gets warmer; voices becoming more familiar as my confidence subsequently quickens; swirling all around me. But I must remember that it is a fickle throng that buoys me forward. It is constantly shifting and changing its members. And worse than that, is the knowledge that they are in my employ. They are being paid to be there. They are my whores.

But this is February, and I am happy to have them. For in a matter of months this same block of space above my head will turn on me and protest my comfort. The very air that colluded to assuage my anxiety will become picketers. They will wave their signs in my general direction and blast their heat my way as I make the same journey from my couch--sandals on my feet--and run to the refrigerator for some ice water.

And I have to be ready for it all.

Every day is a golden age if we choose to apply the proper qualifications.

What do we really want? Is a life of Californian stasis a proper serum for the New Englander's winter malaise? Not if you ask me. But I like to know that it is there if I needed it. It is an option, a possibility, a choice.

For me, I would rather train my senses day in and day out for the next contender. It makes me, if not stronger, than certainly more experienced. And, while each weight group must conform to a set of agreed upon conditions and regulations, the reach of their punch and the fortitude of their constitution is always different. It keeps the blood moving to dance, to jump, to bounce off the ropes and, yes, even to embrace your opponent at the moment of near total exhaustion, until either the referee pulls you apart or the sound of the bell clangs and you get to sit for a precious moment, letting the people in your corner replenish your fluids and reassure your fears.

And then the bell sounds, and it's time to go again.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Day four hundred and eighteen ... One for the books.

Man, oh man.

Just look at this for a sec, if you will.

It's a picture of me and my friend and classmate, Holly. It's from graduation day of High School, sometime in late May or early June of 1988--almost 21 years ago.

Holy shit! That's a long time. It's longer than I was old in the photo.

I really feel like I can take this photo and call it the beginning of a big long reel of a movie loaded up on the projector. It's right there. I can almost jump right into it and inhabit the clothes, the hair, the smile, the mischief. 

My diploma I have clutched in my left hand, along with a balloon that I can only assume my mother gave me. She was always one for layering acknowledgement of the importance of the day on whoever she cared about. That balloon, to me, now, represents my innocence. I'm sure I let it go outside somewhere to float up in the ether and perhaps get caught up in an air current and be swept away over the ocean. It's still out there somewhere. It's not biodegradable. It may be in several pieces and unrecognizable, but its existence--failing evaporation by fire or acid--is clearly for certain.

The diploma might as well have been tied to the balloon. Although I did learn quite a great deal in high school, nobody ever made me prove that I had indeed completed my studies. It more or less proved to be a receipt for the four years my mom paid my tuition: a big, heavy, maroon, calligraphy-embossed receipt. It made her happy, and I did--and would have done--anything to make that woman happy.

But the eyes, they say so much.

My eyes exclaim that I'm happy to be with my friends, but I'm aware that our daily scheduled meetings are to be no more. We used to love to bitch about how much it sucked to be cooped up in school for 6 hours a day. Now I had all the time in the world to try to make sure I didn't lose touch with them. I can tell from the look on my face that I'm going to meet them later in the day and celebrate with any number of things the law would have frowned upon. I can tell from the look on my face, and from remembering the look on my mother's face when I stumbled up the stairs later that night. That poor woman.

I can see that I'm excited to be released from my studies and happy to be able to pick and choose my focus for the coming college semester. But I have no real interest, nor clear cut plan of action as to what I want to learn about. So far it seems things have turned out as they should have. But it's as much a matter of luck as intention that I can sit on my couch and type the memories which rely on the laws of hindsight.

The red tie. The color of trouble, soaked into a swath of fabric cut and sewn into the shape of conservatism and constrictive conformity. I would eventually learn to enjoy wearing a tie, but it would take a good twenty years--twenty years I'd spend constantly adjusting and attempting to free myself from its noose, only to realize that its occasional use can impart earnest, effortless individualism and confident elegance amidst a sea of threadbare T-shirts. 

And that smile. My mother was always telling me to smile for the camera (though I don't believe she took this particular photo). Strangely, almost every time I was asked to smile for a photo I had been doing so moments before the frame had been assembled. The camera is like a giant buzzkill that knows everything about you and is the world's biggest gossipmonger. You don't want to get it mad or it will hold it against you for life. Something about that smile, though, tells me that I had been exuding that joyful vibe before, during, and well after that camera's shutter anxiously clicked open. I didn't need to be prompted.

Many people I know tell me they hated high school. They say it was hell and they can't believe they made it through. I can't commiserate with them because I had a damn good time for myself. Even then I was aware that we created our own heaven and hell, and the power of our mind and the facilities of our senses could be harnessed for whichever road we wanted to ride down. I look at this photograph and realize it's as important that I made it through to graduation day as it is that I made it through to the day--14 months ago next week--that I decided to change the things that needed changing and adapt to move upward and onward in my world.

And twenty one years later I can still remember standing in the halls of Bishop Connolly High School with an arm around Holly (who looks radiant, and even more thrilled than I to be done with this phase of our lives), holding my hard earned diploma in my other hand, with a balloon that cried "Graduate" from its mylar surface--a balloon that was about to fly higher in the air than the farthest flung cap could ever hope for.

In fact, I didn't even have to send it in any one direction.

I just had to let go.

Thanks for reading.


And a big thank you goes out to Holly Emidy for supplying me with the photo which began the projector rolling again after a long stalled delay. 



Friday, February 20, 2009

Day four hundred and fourteen ... Spindle City.

The world wasn't always made in China.

No, where I come from, Fall River, Massachusetts (or Spindle City as it was dubbed) not much more than thirty years ago a person could find almost any piece of clothing they needed and it was more than likely produced inside of the confines of North America. Better still, as you may infer from my hometown's nickname, a good deal of it was made right there on the banks of the Taunton River.

Textiles back then were more made from actual cotton rather than an amalgamation of chemical compounds. Rayon, nylon, lycra, spandex--all that and more--was readily available to whoever was so inclined to seek it off the shelves of McCrory's department store, or Liss Clothing (up the Flint section of town), or any number of department stores like Ann and Hope, Caldor, Zayre, or Bradlees. All that synthetic junk was certainly available, but cotton--amongst the general population--reigned supreme. 

My grandmother, Eugenia Cecelia Machnik (pronounced, Mahk-nick) Johnson, worked in one of the knitting mills in Fall River; Louis Hand was the company's name. It sat near the far end of Bedford St., a half mile from the house I grew up in, and it employed hundreds upon hundreds of women willing or needing to earn a modest salary for long hours of hard work in unhealthy conditions. She worked there making curtains for many years until I was born and my mother had to go back to work. She was also the union organizer and president, and I'm uncovering little bits of her story in that capacity from newspaper articles that I've been finding at the house in Mattapoisett.

She worked at Louis Hand at a time when it wasn't some factory in the Philippines or Maylasia that had what you call "sweatshops." No, where she worked--down the street from my childhood home--was, in fact, a sweatshop. And it was just a part of life. In the second third of the century it was a given that if you were a woman in need of a job, and you didn't want to become a teacher, nurse, receptionist, or nun--that is to say, if you were undereducated--you worked in the mills. You worked in the mills and you made clothes and curtains for sale to Americans all over the country. 

You worked in the mills in Spindle City.

From Wikipedia: Pilgrim Mills is a historic textile mill located at 847 Pleasant Street in Fall River, Massachusetts.

The mill was built in 1911 from red brick and was the first mill in the city powered entirely by electric. It had a capacity of 53,568 spindles.

In 1945 the factory was acquired by Louis Hand, Inc., which manufactured curtains. It was later known as Aberdeen Manufacturing and most recently as CHF Industries. The plant closed in March 2008.

The site was added to the National Historic Register in 1983.

My mom's house has many remnants of this period of time. More than a few pillowcases can be found that were made from curtain scraps that my grandmother would smuggle home, wrapped around her legs under her dress. The song, "Halcyon Days," from my band Drunk Stuntmen's last record State Fair, contains the line: "Momma slept on hand made pillow cases/ made of curtain scraps from Louis Hand." My aunt worried that no one would understand what I was talking about. I didn't care so much, as I feel that if someone cares enough to find out what it means they'll figure out a way of finding out. But that line I made sure to confirm with my mom before she passed. She indeed did sleep on hand made pillow cases. And the cover we put over the bird cage was made with scraps of curtain as well. And all of these things were made not only by sewing the pieces together on a machine and affixing a button or two on them, but going back to the basic form of the cloth itself. The fabric in question was actually made right there in Fall River on one of thousands of looms run by an endless parade of industrious women. The cotton was brought up from the South, it was spun, it was woven, it was dyed, cut, and sewn right there in town. And there was a sense of pride that went along with that. There was a sense of purpose. There was a reason industry came to Fall River. We had the labor, the real estate, and the means of transport via the waterways and highways that ran along it and through it, respectively.

"Proudly Made in Fall River, Massachusetts."

I have more than a couple of items of clothes that have this tag sewn into the insides somewhere. It was true for the most part. Now it's what they call "vintage." I see that tag and I start to think in black and white movie mode.

But today the mills have had their purpose redirected. Many have been turned into gyms and factory outlets and (thankfully) even music venues. The space is being put to use by the fine people of the city. It's certainly better than tearing the giant granite hot boxes down; that would serve no purpose. Not to mention that not too many people are snapping up real estate in the town right now. 

Spindle City, from what I've read, was renamed "The Scholarship City" a number of years back when resident and optometrist Irving Fradkin began the Dollars For Scholars program in 1994, creating cascading monetary incentive for educational advancement for students. It's a nice feather to have in your hat, but judging from the soaring crime, drug abuse, and poverty that has overcome the city since the mid-1980's it really does not fit the character of its people.

But the state of cloth and clothing making in this country is worse than deplorable. One need only take a trip through any mall in America to see what has become of the pride of the textile worker. He or she is as unrecognizable as ever in the clandestine assemblage of shirts, blazers, dresses, hats, gloves, belts, and all the rest of what we need to fill our closets with; this will always be the way of the factory worker. But now, instead of being able to at least place on the map in our minds of the country we all inhabit where the blazer we hold on a hangar comes from, instead we are left with the name of a foreign country: China, India, Indonesia, Slovenia, Vietnam, Poland, Mexico, and the list goes on and on of lands where we can barely squeak past security in our minds, let alone transport ourselves to the sewing machine of a nominally paid, underage factory worker.

And it appears that there is no pride that goes into those clothes. There is barely enough thread to hold the buttons fast to the fabric. Corners are cut leaving thread hanging waiting like a rip cord. I'm sure the amount of time spent on each piece is a desperate mad dash to the finish line to get the jacket packed up to be shipped back to America where it was designed--where it used to be made, right down to the tag that crowned every collar: "Proudly Made in Fall River, Massachusetts."

And there it will sit, with a much different declaration of provenance, waiting to start the ever quickening process of degradation--the fibers held together due to inescapable proximity rather than fastidiousness and intent. We can't wait to buy a new pair of pants, thinking not of who made the pockets, but rather how much money we will save. And then we wonder why all the jobs have gone overseas.

It will all come back to us eventually, though. One day in the not too distant future we will once again regain our ground and rebound in the ways that define the American people. We will become innovative and self sufficient once more. We won't be dependent on a country we have nothing in common with to make clothes that fall apart quicker and with greater ease, which may or may not be correlative to our waist line.

Someday we'll be proud again. Someday the sewing machines will be humming with electricity, being fed cloth that was spun on looms by our own people. Someday we'll realize that the world wasn't always made in China.


One can only hope.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Day four hundred and twelve ... Making time.

I don't have time for this.

The streets are littered with people I know; I almost got hit by a car trying to dodge them crossing the street. 

My time--just like yours--is running out. There are no re-takes. There is no post-production. There will be no after party. What we do today is everything that there is. There is hardly a future at all unless you believe you will live forever. I certainly don't; I never did. It's just that now I wish I had twenty odd years of my life to edit, enhance, colorize, restore, and repair. Now I'll just be happy to wake up in the morning.

All we are all doing--from what I can see--is writing a post-it note to those who are left. A reminder. A memo.

I don't have time for this.

I feel like I'm in a hot air balloon going slowly up, up, up, and away. I don't know how I got here. I don't remember getting in. I didn't get a lesson on how to stop. I'm just here and I'm going higher, higher, higher, into space and it's getting harder and harder to breathe. Not only that, but I can't move as quickly or as nimbly as I remember I used to. I swat at the controls and they just let more gas into the balloon and I lift up with a jolt and get thrown to the floor and hit my already woozy head on the hard wood floor and now I have to roll around to gain my balance and crawl over to one side to peer over the edge to see that now, in the few seconds (or was it longer) that I was on the floor I've lifted up so fucking high that now I can't make out landmarks or even see much light at all. It's awful dark on the other side of the clouds.

I don't have time for this.

I'm still sober, don't worry. I know that there are people who will read this and freak out and wonder if everything is okay. It is. In fact, it's better than okay. I just need to let off some steam.

I need to get back down to earth a little. I need to feel gravity again like I remember it--constant, resilient, maddening, conspiring, reliable, true. But I'm kind of in limbo. I don't know where I stand. I don't know what to do.

I don't have time for this.

I rehearsed with my group who is putting on a show to raise money for the town. While I was there I got a parking ticket. Motherfuckers.

I can't go to the gym because I have a pain in my head that I got from overexertion the other day that made me almost ask them to call an ambulance. I have passed out many places in my almost 39 years on earth, but none since I quit drinking. Now I'm not so sure if I'll be able to keep that record up.

I don't have time for this.

I have masterpieces to write. I have exotic locales to experience. I have superstars to befriend. I have clothes to buy that will make my limbs tingle when I put them on. I have jokes to tell that will reduce the recipient to a quivering mess. I have emotions tempered by years of abuse that have become curious from all the noise upstairs and want to come out, but I don't want them to if they are just going to get beaten for slurping their coffee too loudly (though that is a most unbecoming habit).

I don't have time for this.

Regardless, I'm going to make time. I'm going to get out the old recipe book and concoct some in hopes that it will go to good use. I'm going to see if I can make it work. I refuse to stress too much about it. Because I know that there are ways I used to deal with things that frustrated me that I thought actually helped. Little did I know that they were in cahoots with their aggressor. 

I've still got my hang-ups. I've got my fears, just like you. I don't like to share myself outside of my thoughts but I have, I will, and I do. 

I don't know about you, but I don't have time to waste. I don't have good enough reasons to procrastinate. I don't have a plan b. I don't think about what I used to be like too much, how I used to feel, how I used to be thought of, or how I used to go about life.

Because it's here, it's now, and it's getting late.

Check the time.

Yeah, just like I thought.

I seriously don't have time for this.

Thanks for reading.



Saturday, February 14, 2009

Day four hundred and eight ... The Connection.

We make so many connections every day, it's enough to wear a person out.

From the time we wake up and check our email ...

"Twenty-five new messages?!!"

... to the moment we shut down the hard drive, put the phone in our pocket, and turn on the alarm before we leave for the day.

"Beep ...(computerized voice) doors and windows, on ... beep ... motion-sensors, on ... "

... to the sound our cars make when we push the button to allow us in ... and then the pitch and timbre of the DJ's voice telling us what song we had liked so much, after a few that we didn't. 

To the person who gives you the go ahead to make that left turn at the busy intersection.

They flick their fingers to the side ... and you raise your hand in thanks.

You have made a connection.

To the moment when you finally get through to customer service after being on hold for what seems like forever.

"Hello. I have a question about my bill."

"Well, I'll be happy to help you with that, sir."

Right. Sure you are.

But it's still a connection.

To the doors that open wide in front of you at the supermarket; the man who calls your number at the deli; the person who senses you are in a hurry and moves their carriage horizontally, much to the noncompliance of its wheels.

You have made a connection.

On your way back to the car a stranger smiles and you smile back. You wonder if he liked your hat, and then you find your car again and fill it full of things. 

You give the carriage to the man in the red smock tending to his flock of chrome plated uninspired pack animals. You raise your brow ... he smirks and nods ... you bring yours towards him halfway and give it a little push ... and he takes it from there.

You have made a connection.

And then you go home and put food away--or as far away as it deserves--and you clean the house and wait for a friend to come over to spend some time ...

... and make a connection.

And at some point you may say to yourself, "That's it! I'm done. No more connections. I am--from now until forever--going to live inside my world and keep to myself, and you can all go to hell for all I care. It's just me, and that's how it's going to stay. Buzz off!"

But this is impossible.

We cannot live inside ourselves.

We have to get out.

We have to grow.

We have to use the power in our brain that identifies what is reflected in our retina and relays to the rest of our parts what is going on in an effort to make whatever had come before, up to that point, worthwhile.

And as we sit in front of another person and our eyes travel from the point where we had been staring--the back of a wrist or the curve of a shoulder--and we look and lock eyes, we can take that chance that we have so many times before--some successful, some disastrous, and some completely forgettable--we can let the cards fall all around in a random pattern and hope for the best, because it's all or nothing ... there is no middle ground, there is no "this didn't happen," there is no going back. 

We can take that jump ...

... and make a connection.

Thanks for reading.

Happy Valentines Day.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Day four hundred and seven ... Les is more.

I needed to get out of town bad.

My band usually takes a tour of at least a few days over the winter. As we are taking a well deserved hiatus it's been a while since I got out of my familiar but lovely surroundings.

How about New York City? How about the Museum of Modern Art? How about catching the eight o'clock show at the Iridium Jazz Club with the man who practically invented the electric guitar, multi-track recording, and myriad other advancements in music as we know it, Les Paul? 

He's 93.

He's still playing every week.

I'm only 38.

I've got some time on my hands.


Next step: clear it with my dear friend and co-conspirator, Paul; he was a go.

I ordered tickets online, no problem.

Paul checked the Metro North details; I filled up my car and plundered the ATM.

And, on Monday morning, at the heinous hour of 7:45, I got in my car and headed to Springfield, picked up my pal Pablo, and headed down 91 North, to New Haven.

I am now so blown away by how easy it is to get to NYC. Every time in the past it has been with the whole band and it was, more likely than not, in the afternoon. That being the case, of course, we'd hit a bunch of traffic. But this was different. In a little over an hour we were seeing signs for New Haven Center. We found the parking garage with twenty minutes to spare. It cost $11 for 24 hours. How unreal. I figured it'd be at least $20, but more like $50. We were in luck.

A quick jaunt next door and we were at the train station and picked up two tickets. This, again, was another eye opening experience. A round trip ticket to NYC in off-peak hours (which is before and after the morning commute, and after 7 p.m. or so) is $28. So, forty bucks (excluding the cost to get to CT) to get to New York and back. Awesome! I am loving this new discovery as there are many things my newly refreshed constitution enjoys these days. One of which is nice clothes. Most nice clothes I need to try on first and I can't do that online (not yet anyway) so I have to go to Manhattan. Now I can, and not worry about traffic or parking. All I need to concern myself is how boss I look. (and yes, I did say "boss").

So, we caught the 10:10 a.m. to NYC, and at 11:48 a.m. we arrived at Grand Central Station ...

The Grand Central Station.

And all I can think of is all the movies and that one where the bus smashes in through the wall and how they must have spent a ton of dough to put it back together, and I'm saying stuff to Paul like: "Man. It's so crowded ... it's like Grand Central Station in here!!", and he's groaning and playing along with my silly jokes. 

And then, we see this ...

Umm ... yeah! Cool! What the hell is going on?

These days, we--all of us--have cameras. Whether it's an actual camera that says "camera" on it somewhere, or whether it's our phone, it's in our pocket. And, since the internet has turned us all into a bunch of potential reporters (or cringeworthy "iReporters", as it were) when we see news breaking (or anything at all, for that matter) we pull out our cameras and take a picture. Now, I know I'm saying all this while contributing to the phenomena as well, but I couldn't help it. I mean, what the hell is going on here? Dancing with the Stars? A cigarette ad? Jeans? A.A.R.P? I have no freaking idea, but when (and if) I see it in a magazine or on a website I'll know that I took an "alternate angle" that the guy with the camera with the removable lens cap didn't. And so did twenty other people. Maybe CNN will want a composite shot. I'll have to text Wolf.

Next up? Hello, colorfully multicultural taxi driver. Please take me to your sandwich.

Katz's it is. Pickles were quick in arriving, delicious, and I'd say complimentary but I'd hazard to guess they include it into the price of the meal (which is what a new CD costs, but tastes much better).

I had the Ruben with pastrami ...

... and Paul, as I could have guessed, had the three meat combo. I will never need a flash for my camera as long as Paul keeps his hat off.

How about a close-up of my sandwich, eh?

Vegans be damned. You may live longer, but I'll be able to order for Jesus someday.

And, not just to waste your time, but to also give you a glimpse of the inner workings of the Katz's Ruben, ... (click on picture to enlarge ... or just eat one of these a day ... heh, heh).

And then it was time to play "dodge the crack addict" for a while while we made our way to one of my planned destinations for the day: the sample sale.

There's a small designer who has a store on Elizabeth street called UNIS (her name is Eunice Lee, but UNIS is more fashiony). She makes hip, handsome, and simple clothes for men (and a few for women). The items are actually constructed a couple of miles away in upper Manhattan. They were having a sample sale, where they deeply discount the past season's stock, as well as show off some upcoming styles. I found a bunch of stuff for 70% off and a couple of other pieces that made me drool, which, in turn forced me to buy them (there is a strict "you drool, you buy" policy). Katie, who worked there, helped me decide on a few items. She was honest and quite lovely. I make no excuses for my proclivity towards style and fashion. It's a thrilling part of life that most men go through by duress and sheepishly complain about. The ones with refined partners look good while whining.

Then it was off to the museum.

We, as luck would have it, were there on the one Monday a month that the museum stays open past 5:30 p.m.. It will take multiple visits to see the whole museum, but this was a nice primer. 

We started from the top and worked our way down. 

The Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave exhibit was, as you could imagine, a bit dark. She is an amazing artist, but it wasn't my thing. We checked it out, nonetheless, but none of it gave me a get-out-my-camera-and-prove-you're-an-American feeling.

No, that didn't overtake me until I was in front of paintings which have been photographed a hundred million times. Like this one:

Picasso's "Three Musicians." I like that it has a shadow underneath it. It shows you that I was really there.

And this one of his that I wasn't as familiar with, "Girl Before a Mirror."

I was also quite taken with the work of Dutch artist, Piet Mondrian (below).

This on is called "Composition in Oval with Colored Panes 1".

From the MoMA's placard:

Mondrian moved from Holland to Paris in 1912, two years before he made this painting. The geometry of the composition is derived directly from the facades and remains of recently demolished apartments and refers to their exposed floors, walls, and chimneys. Having discarded naturalistic pictorial strategies, which, he contended, "obscure pure reality," Mondrian employed horizontal and vertical lines, believing they better expressed an unchanging, universal essence. This premise would fundamentally inform his artistic production throughout his career. While in Paris Mondrian regularly visited Pablo Picasso's studio. The oval that circumscribes this work was an unusual format used by Picasso at that time.

This, my friends, is what makes me hum. "an unchanging, universal essence." Magic. Just plain magic.

It also makes nice wallpaper for my iphone.

The same could be said for this Jackson Pollock:

And then for some Monet:

The poster, of the above piece, I remember from my college days. But it was a lot smaller than this (Monet's "Water Lillies").

But I didn't have my own personal photographer back then either. 

The MoMA also has a nice selection of Warhol.

Hmm ... interesting ... the thing I think the artist was trying to convey is three-fold ...

... but jeez ... you know ... all this soup is starting to make me hungry. How about a snack?

Chocolate creme brulee and a cappuccino, anyone?

And then back to some shenanigans.

Here, I'm battling The Invisible Edward Rushca (pronounced Roo-shay, apparently). It's in "The Fantastic Adventures of Fredzo and Pablo" issue #4, available soon.

And then, we had to hot-step it a bit as time was slipping away. Museums have a way of doing that. So, we headed to some of the other floors where they had some exhibits on design and architecture which also gets me hot. 

But before we left I had to take this pic. I find most warning signs amusing, but this one, extremely so. 

Boundaries, boundaries.

After a little more shopping at the gift store we headed out to the bright lights of Broadway.

It was only a short walk to the Iridium Club where Les Paul was playing (you do remember that this was the initial reason for going? I have a way of digressing, I know).

There was no line to get in and we were seated at a great spot fifteen or so feet away from where he was to sit and play with his trio.

Dinner was stellar, and we even got to chit-chat with a woman from New Jersey who remembered my name. I'm sorry I couldn't do the same. She had her own idea of how glass blowing was done, regardless of the fact that Paul made the piece she was admiring, and tried to correct her.

Just let it go ...

The reviews I read about the show online noted that Les didn't sign anything until after the second show as he needed to rest during the time between performances. This made me a little sad as I had bought tickets to the early show; I brought the pickguard from my Les Paul just in case.

He was ushered out to a darkened stage. Before the lights went up the voice of the man in the shadows said, "I feel like Ray Charles." 

At that point, I knew it was going to be a good night.

The lights came up and the applause was generous and genuine; we were seeing a true American legend, a pioneer in music, and someone who any guitarist owes a huge debt to. 

His band consisted of John Colianni on piano, Lou Pallo on rhythm guitar, and Nicki Parrott on bass. All superb musicians with impressive resumes. Look 'em up.

The hour-long show consisted of ten or so classic jazz tunes interspersed with some lengthy and somewhat rote banter. It probably wasn't too different than the second show, but that's unimportant. What was important was that from the first note he played it was very clear that the sound coming from that guitar was generated by one Les Paul. Les has a way of just hitting the string with such authority and determination which I have never heard anyone else accomplish, regardless of age. He may have been faster and more exotic about his playing in his earlier years, but his touch--his attack, vibrato, and release--is one of a kind.

Thankfully, they allowed photographs to be taken during the show. Unfortunately, many people are either not inclined or unable to disengage the artificial sound of the lens clicking shut. "Ka-shhh! Ka-shhh!" 

It was/is pretty annoying.

But that stopped after the first few tunes and folks just relaxed and enjoyed the evening.

He had a couple of guests come out. One of them, violinist, Christian Howes, was amazing. He even hornswoggled $20 out of both me and Paul for his CD's on the way out.

Later, Joey Reynolds was introduced. I had no idea who the hell this meatball was. He had a few jokes about how old Les was, and one that involved New Jersey, Obama, and the KKK.

I later found out he is credited with being the first "shock jock" back in the 1960's. 

Well, he was a guest. I guess that's enough.

Les Paul embodies a spirit that I don't see too often in the elderly. Working with the Young at Heart I do see it, but not too many outside places. It's a sense of wonderment that some of them have that they have been around so long and seen so much ... and they're still here, and they're performing and traveling and making audiences happy. What an amazing thing! Despite any encumbrances that may accompany aging there still lies the idea that the mind controls so much of how we feel. And if we don't let certain ingrained thought processes to exist in our consciousness then life can take on so much more detail and texture. And every day is a chance to learn something and feel something that we hadn't the day before.

It's just that many people choose to just give up and put up the big fight: life is against me.

Well, watching a man who has lived through both World Wars, the Depression, and everything after zip through a set of jazz classics, keeping up and showing off, smiling and goofing around with the crowd ... well it just made me sit there and smile and thank goodness that I'm still here ...

... and that I have friends like Pablo to experience them with.

Well, the show came to a close twenty minutes or so before I expected. I guess, for $50 a ticket and a $25 minimum per person, I thought he'd play for a little longer than an hour. But when the lights went down and his assistant helped him off stage I had a feeling that he wasn't going to be coming back to play Caravan or anything.

I was right.

Then a man came over the PA and said, "Thanks everybody for coming. That's the closest you're going to get to Mr. Paul unless you come back to the 10 o'clock show. He'll be talking to his fans after that, but right now he's got to rest up. You can meet his son, though, and buy the PBS special for a souvenir. His son will be happy to sign it for you."

No. That wasn't going to happen; not tonight.

I sat there for a few minutes while Paul got our coats, and finished my San Pellegrino. 

I checked to make sure I still had my pickguard and marker in my pocket.

I did.

And then, as the dining room emptied out, I casually stepped up to the side of the stage--the side Les had been brought off of. A man came out from the area and I asked him nervously, "Um ... excuse me ... is there any possible way you can get Mr. Paul to sign this for me?"

And he looked at me and said, "Why don't you go and do it yourself? What's the worst they're going to do to you ... beat you up?"

And, to this moment, I don't know two things: if this guy worked at the club, and, if they would have actually beat me up. 

What I do know is that I turned and faced a set of double doors--old, lacquered, jazz club doors with little diamond shaped windows in them; I pushed one of them open ...

... and I walked in.

And there, on a big, old, brown leather couch, sat the man, Les Paul, staring into space. He was smiling when he turned to look at me.

"Well ... who are you, now?"

"I ... my name is Alex, Mr. Paul. And ... um ... I owe you a huge debt of gratitude to you for all you've done for music."

"Well, thank you Alex. What do you play?"

"I play guitar ... I play your guitar ... and I was hoping you would sign this pickguard for me?"

"I don't see why not," he said.

And before I gave him the pickguard and marker I shook his hand; I needed some of the magic. Then I gave him the goods and stood back and watched him fluidly sign that sucker like he must have ten thousand times before, if not many more.

"Here you go, Alex. Nice to meet you."

I thanked him and earnestly--almost with tears in my eyes--asked him if it would be alright if I got a picture with him.

I flipped on my camera and handed it to the man who had told me to come back there moments before, and just emitted what I think were the words, "could you please ... " 

And I sat down next to a giant.

And I don't remember too much after that.

It was a great night. It was a night I had talked about for a while but had kept putting off. "He plays every week ... I'm sure I'll see him eventually."

Well, eventually is a scary word.

And now I have one less reason to use it.

Thanks for reading.


Oh yeah, I almost forgot ...

That's better.

"Keep pickin'".

Will do Mr. Paul ... will do.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Day four hundred and three ... Out of touch.

Oh how easy it is to lose ourselves in the shuffle. 

We should call, call, call. But sometimes it's easier to do something much more difficult. To forget, to surround, coat, and batter with self-supplanted duty that is impenetrable and unequivocal. 

Well of course you're busy. I absolutely understand. I am too.

We know some numbers by heart, while others are merely a familiar wash of color and sound from the quick smudge of a finger flicked across smooth glass.

There are friends who matter more when we need them.

There are needs we fulfill by making more time for those who matter.

We each, all of us, at times disappear quick and swift like rafters capsized on a river trip.

"Oh, I think I see him."

And then he's gone from our sight again, and we wished we had called, wish we had reached out for real ... and gotten completely soaked.

But we are too busy. We burn time like money lit from the stove, twisted and bent and serving an insolent purpose.

We don't even smoke.

And then it's awkward when we see and hear the voice that we thought we knew so well.

It sounds strained, where as it once flew around the room, back and forth like a Superball, only coming to rest until picked up and hucked against the wall--any wall. It doesn't matter--didn't matter--which direction, because it will bounce off of anything.

But now it's cut unceremoniously in half.

It still bounces; its constitution guarantees that. But it is now unpredictable at best; impetuous and aloof at worst.

Who could blame bad aim in this regard?

Not me.

Not you.

It's not our fault.

We've just been busy.

Thanks for reading.



Friday, February 6, 2009

Day four hundred and one ... End construction.

I don't believe people who tell me they don't like surprises.

It can't possibly be true. I mean, there are so many variables to consider when assessing an event or an awareness of information that one had not previously been privy to. 

It's like people who tell me they don't remember their dreams (my mom used to claim this affliction). I just think we all have the capabilities to become extremely selective of what we admit to ourselves. If we just say, "I never remember any of my dreams," then it's a moot point to try and remember one if, in fact, we had one that might be an indication of a manifestation of our conscious self in our subconscious arena. 

It's an easy out.

Well, as far as surprises go, I love 'em ... always have. And today I got one handed to me in an unusual form. It was what I guess you'd call an easement of access. 

I took a street which must have been under construction for the last three years. Not a huge deal, but enough so that traveling on it had more cons than a thruway should. Well, today when I took it I had quite a nice surprise: the construction was complete. It was clean. It was highly functional. It was sensible.

It was as it should be.

But it took me a few hundred feet of driving on it to notice what was different. There was a distinct lack of orange. There were no flashing lights. And, despite the snow (which adds its own brand of seasonal coagulation), it was a breeze to traverse. It made me smile, but that happens a lot these days.

I wonder how many people drove down that street today and didn't even notice a thing? They just went about their business and were too occupied to detect that something was different from the last three hundred times they drove over and through the municipal thruway. 

But I noticed. 

I noticed because it's what I do to keep my proverbial shit together. I acknowledge that there is a difference in the world I live in (both the tangible as well as the ethereal) so as to have a point of reference to judge how the numbers look. And when I say "the numbers" this really just refers to an overall grade I can apply at unspecified and random times to the momentous task of living my life that I was granted some almost thirty nine years ago. The numbers have been looking pretty good as of late. I have a bunch of tasks that still need work (ie: tackle the pounds I put on over the last couple of months, and write some goddamn music) but all in all my GPA is looking above average for a guy like me, who used to be much different in so many ways.

My focus has shifted a bit. I'm not so hung up on the recovery portion of my life. But, then again, I feel that that should be something that becomes as effortless as breathing consistently throughout a nightmare. I don't think it should be a task or a chore--something which is the antithesis of a life of vice. Instead, I feel that it should be something that I only notice when I see traces of what things used to be like--a photo posted on the web from another place in time, or a recording of a less than stellar performance.

It should be like wondering why I arrived somewhere a few minutes before I thought I would, and then realizing it's because the construction on that particular street is done with.

And, in saying that, I understand that I hasn't really ended, it just moved on to another road that needs attention.

Because until the cars stop driving on it it'll only be a matter of time before the orange cones come back and the work begins again.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Day three hundred and ninety eight ... The Mouse.

I rarely long for much.

Besides the obvious holes left by the passing of my mother and aunt there's not much I can really claim to be lacking in my world. 

I'm happy to be single. There may come a time when I find the right person to share more than what anyone can have from me. That said, my present process feels like the most productive and mature route that I could have taken: meticulously completing myself from the inside out alone. I see too many people who fall for our collectively agreed upon patterns of behavior--mate, reproduce, instruct--who could have stood a little more time in the water before their shell was peeled. It produces a lot of runny eggs, though there is, thankfully, a clientele for almost anything in this world.

Where I come from we didn't have baguettes. Baguettes was not even a word in Massachusetts in the 1970's. That word was thrust upon my home state around the same time that Izod became more than a seemingly incomprehensible combinations of letters. Baguettes--if you had asked a seven year old Frederick Johnson back then--would have been smirkily described as "a collection of small bags." And there would have been a whole lot of people shrugging their shoulders and agreeing with the kid with the cowlick and freckles.

No. We had stick bread.

And in Fall River (and more importantly on Bedford St. in Fall River) we had some of the best stick bread you could ever imagine. It was unequivocally of the Italian style: soft, long, thin, ever so slightly sweet, and covered in a powder that was essentially flour but in the grasp of the light brown crust of the stick bread it became more or less another layer of flavor. 

Marcucci's was the place to go for grinders. Grinders are what crazy people call subs. I would thusly have to consider myself a little crazy because I have--after almost twenty years in Western Mass--developed a slight proclivity for using the word "sub" to describe a long, thin sandwich.

Marcucci's may have had the best grinders in Fall River, but Marzilli's--right down the street--had the best stick bread. It was a strange phenomena, but it could not be denied, at least not by the Johnson family.

Well, it was my job to go for the stick bread for our dinners. We didn't always have it with our meals, though. Sometimes we got rye bread from the Jewish bakery which burned down a few years ago. But if it was a spaghetti kind of night, or maybe soup and salad, I was given a dollar and a quarter and asked by my mother to go get a stick bread from Marzilli's.

I would take that dollar and a quarter and ball it up in my hand, stuff it in the pocket of my overalls, smile a big smile and look at my mom and say, "Okay, Mom. I'll be right back." And she'd look at me and say--without fail-- "Well I hope so," in that playful lilting tone that only a mother's vocal cords can produce. 

And off I'd run.

I suppose a full grown adult's stride is twice the span of a seven year old, but in the child's world he will always have gone farther in the same amount of time. We move at a frightening pace, us supposed adults. We scrape and scrap with sweaty brow in an all out effort to catch up with whatever opaque goal we have flung far ahead of us. We do this as the little ones--for what is and what has always seemed like an ever shortening amount of time--glide dreamily along as if the world were a never ending department store toy aisle. And if it does end we don't want to know; it isn't important. More than likely the adult will make us have to leave and go with them on their next stupid adult chore before we can even see what kinds of toys are on one side, let alone all the way to the end. Thank goodness they have to be there at all, doing their own boring thing, or we wouldn't even have gotten to see as much as we had.

"One stick bread please."

"Here you go. That's a dollar twenty-five, Fred."

"Thank you."


And I would have it. It wasn't as long as I was tall but it wasn't shy by much. Put it this way, with one end touching my brow I couldn't hold the other end of it with my outstretched hand. It beat me by a good four inches. But there it would be: long, thin, moist, and protected in a plastic bag. This was then put in a white bag of the same shape. This was all supposed to be enough protection for the short walk home.

But it was no match for ... "The Mouse."

The Mouse was--of course--me, and The Mouse was always hungry. But The Mouse was never as hungry as when he was in the company of a fresh Marzilli's stick bread.

I'd hold it at the halfway point feeling it crease ever so slightly; it was an impressive loaf. Depending on how fresh it was this was the point where I had to be very gentle. For warm bread in any form does not take kindly to excessive force. I would grab the white twist tie and turn, counterclockwise, the three or four rotations necessary to free the precious cargo. With the twist tie still in my right hand, and the bread in my left, I would plump open the plastic bag and stuff my snout right in and sink my teeth in. I'd bite off a big hunk with my fat little mouth and rip it from its host with a joy reserved only for this outdoor activity. You have to remember that the walk home wasn't long--about long enough for me to chew the contraband thoroughly, replace the twist tie, and wipe the flour off of my face, hands, and clothes.

I would meet the dogs at the gate. Barking, they allowed me in. There was no gentle entrance almost ever. And through the back door I would go, up the two flights of rubber covered stairs with an eight or twelve legged escort, fur flying, tongues wagging, and white paper crackling under my fingers. The smell of the outdoors met the smell of the dogs in the hallway, but all of that disappeared when the big, white door opened over the medium pile green carpet to the house and my mother's cooking aromas ambushed my already overstimulated senses.

"Mom! Momma! You'll never guess what happened," I'd say as she turned towards me in her cooking hat and apron.

"Well then I'm not even going to try," she'd say.

"The Mouse came!"

"The Mouse? That little bugger."

"Yeah, Mom. He was right in the bag when the guy handed me the stick bread ... and he was nibbling on the end of it ... and when I yelled, he took a big bite and ran away. Honest!"

And I'd lift out the long, albeit slightly shortened, loaf of bread and show the most wonderful woman in the world my evidence.

"Well I'll be," she'd say. "That mouse sure was hungry. Look at what big teeth he must have."

"Yeah. Well, I did my best, Mom."

"Thank you my son. Just for that ... "

And she'd take the loaf of bread from me and cut off an inch of it, which included the part that had been visibly gnawed off, and she'd hand it to me ...

... and I'd pop that sucker in my mouth and run off to the living room and put on the TV toot sweet.

"That little mouse," she'd say with a chuckle. "... that stinker." 

I have been enjoying buying fresh French bread at a place in Northampton called the Hungry Ghost Bakery. It's good--real good. It's no stick bread, it's not even close. But that's okay, it's a different kind of loaf with different ingredients and a different purpose in the world. But it does have a very tempting snout on either end. Needless to say The Mouse knows no bounds. He has travelled with me over the last twenty five or so years keeping a low profile. He's been with me as I've bought generic store-made loaves and even the crappy garlic bread that the supermarkets try to pawn off on the public.

And like I said at the beginning of this entry, I rarely long for much. But someday it would be nice to play this little game with someone who knows me as well as I knew my mom. Such a simple little ruse. We both got a bit out of it. My mom got her bread delivered, and I got the first bite, and certainly not the last. It was teamwork. It was symmetry. And it even included a silent partner.

... that little stinker.

Thanks for reading,