Friday, April 28, 2017

The Real Skinnie

Wayne Shorter blasts out a solo on his saxaphone, while Herbie Hancock keeps a semblance of a rhythm along with Tony Williams on drums and Ron Carter on Bass. What’s missing is the long droll sound of Miles Davis’s trumpet. Yet, the crickets in my neighborhood seem to hear… no, they seem to feel the missing horn so they fill in for Miles. Chirping away where trumpet tones should be found.

It’s a good night to be alive. I just wish it was 1964.

Three years before I was born.

Yes, I am a jazz hound and for me there is no better music in the world than the second Miles Davis Quintet. One of the most stellar line up of musicians ever assembled. So much has been written about them that for me to even attempt to add my words to the encyclopedic volumes would do them a dishonor.

So all I will say is this; “They are by far the best proof of intelligent design and free will than any written word.”

Which brings me to todays blog… Music.

I love it.
As do you.

As do most people.

Music to me is associative. As it is most likely for you.

What? You don’t know what I mean by associative? Okay, Uncle Skip will explain that for you…

Associative is when you hear, smell, see, taste or touch something that brings back memories, good or bad, about something in your life. There, it’s that simple.

That is what my life seems to be about. Maybe yours as well. I don’t know, I’m not in your mind right now. *Or am I?”

So, where is this going? I know, I know, you want answers, not more questions.

Simple. Over the past five years or so I’ve been delving deeper into my music. You see, year and years ago when music switched from tapes to CD’s, I was not a proponent of it, but I succumbed. My vinyl and my cassettes went away. Well not all of them. It was easier for me to dispose of tapes than it was vinyl.

But five years ago I found a guy selling old albums at a flea market. For cheap. I mean like a buck or two per album. So I bought them… a lot of them. I bought so many that I had no where to keep them and I had no where to play them. So I went to a craft store and bought a bunch of record frames and hung them on a wall. Then one day a year or two ago, a good buddy of mine gave me an old record player.
It was broken.

Well, not broken broken. It just needed a new drive belt and needle cartridge. I spent six bucks on the internet and within a week I was spinning black vinyl and enjoying the tunes of records I hadn’t heard in years. Songs so full of resonance which had almost seemingly disappeared through technology filled my ears and body with joy.

Which brings me to last week.

A buddy of mine sent me a text message. It read “Are you going to record store day?”

A simple question. Yet a question I had no answer for. Hell, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as “Record Store Day”.

I told my pal as much. 

He said he was going to try to go and was there anything I wanted.
So, I did what anyone would do, I looked up the store he was going to, saw the product they were getting for this special day and told him what I wanted.

Easy Peasy.


My pal texted me, you know, like people do these days, and said he had what I wanted. Said there were only four of the items I wanted and he was lucky enough to get one. He then told me he got what he wanted. I was happy for him but I was more excited for myself. We have different musical tastes.

So, I went and picked up my platters. All three of them. I carefully sliced open the shrink wrapped cardboard and opened the archaic ear pleasing vinyl only to discover I had gotten a misprint.

You see, with a three vinyl set, you get Album one, sides one and two, Album two, sides three and four and Album three, sides five and six.

What I got was two album ones and one album three.

No album two.

I even took the vinyl back to my stereo and listen to what was supposed to by album two, but it was album one.

Disappointment abounded.

So, the next business day I called the record store. Told them my problem and the guy on the phone didn’t really promise anything but he did say he could handle the issue. I was elated.

I actually showed up at the store and the kid behind the counter and his hipster pal tried to give me the run-a-round. Hell, the little fuckers even tried to offer store credit. I told them “There is nothing in this store I want right now, other than what I’ve already paid for.”

Neither one of them like my answer, yet still one of them flipped a black vinyl over on the turntable and electronic dance music filled the store in quadrophonic sound. I with held the urge to punch them both in the face.

After fifteen minutes of frustrated conversation and musical appreciation, I left my name, address and phone number so that someone who had more authority could call me about my issue.

I went on a quest.

It was a simple quest.

I’d heard tales of an actual record store that had never been out of business for thirty years and was still readily accessible to the general public.

I hopped on Bernadette, my Harley Davidson motorcycle and hit the mean streets of Hampton Roads.

Within thirty minutes I’d focus the store. It was tucked away on an seldom used street in the heart of one of the historic districts. I parked my bike in the provided spot and went in only to be transferred back to my youth in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The store can only be best described as a “Head Shop”. Sure there was vinyl racked and stacked as far as the eye could see, but so were t-shirts, patches, pins, paraphernalia and all sorts of other things a person couldn’t wrap their minds around.

It… Was… Amazing!

Within minutes I was talking to the owner. Complaining about the abuse I’d received from other stores and he assured me that all he wanted was for me to find whatever it was I wanted and to purchase it.

I dug that. So much so that I made an offhand Ayn Rand comment.

He shrugged it off.

Two hours later, I was standing there with two album I’d paid for more that an hour ago and we were talking about bands we had seen live. The virtue of downloadable music versus music a person pays for and whether or not there is a future for any artist of any means.

It was a great conversation, but it was interrupted by two college students who seemed to find everything quaint and contrarian to their lifestyle.

I rolled my eyes, as did the owner.

Eventually I had to leave.

I felt bad for the owner, he was left in a room full of memories and life with two people who had no idea what the words “Memory” or “Life" meant.

I’m sure he’ll be okay.

Have a great week.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Fire of Mr. Green Shirt

“The layouts on fire!” the tall, white haired man in the green shirt shouted as he ran out of my office and almost hitting his head on the overhead “G” gauge train roadbed. He left down the three stairs that led up to my main office floor and shot out the door.
I didn’t move from where I sat in my desk chair with one foot resting on top of my desk. I just watched and thought “Shouldn’t I be disturbed? Worried? Concerned? In a panic?… No. No, I was pretty much worn out for the day and all the cares I’d had when I started had departed many hours before.
I dropped my leg to the floor, shook my head and picked up one of the two mini-cameras I’d been using to record new train layout footage with for the past five hours and wondered if any of the footage was any good. I plugged the camera into my computer and waited for the machines to shake the binary hands and talk to each other.
Sounds of the green shirted man climbing over the protective barrier and hustling around to where the “Fire” was floated into my office. Sounds of visitors talking and laughing trailed in with the frantic pace of Mr. Green Shirt.
I shook my head, tried to concentrate on finding video files on the camera but my mind started to wander…
“Skip, shouldn’t you be concerned?… No, if it were a real fire people would be screaming.”
“Skip, shouldn’t you check out the damage, after all, you designed this layout, poured your heart and soul into it?… No, we have a sprinkler system, and an alarm system and we are insured.

“But Skip, you love this work. Yes, yes I do, too much. But I just can’t muster any strength for another problem today. I’m just too dam tired and I just want to go home and relax.”
“Your job may depend on this incident.”
Which is about the time Mr. Green Shirt walked back into my office holding one of the track cleaning cars between his fingers. “Wow, never saw that happen before. The car derailed and the sparks set the denatured alcohol on fire.” he said almost gleefully.

I looked up at him and said “You know Mr. Green Shirt, I’ve been doing this job for over sixteen years, cleaned the track of this layout and four other layouts on a weekly and sometimes daily basis and I’ve never once set a layout on fire. This truly is a first.”

Mr. Green Shirt laughed, I chuckled and when he handed me the melted felt pads that had only until recently been attached to the track cleaning car I just shrugged and nodded toward the trash can. He threw the pads into the trash can.

He then changed the pads, soaked them with a bit of denatured alcohol and went and put them back on the track.

The trains rolled on.

You see, there are days like this in my life as I’m sure there are days like this in your life.

Days where when you get to work, something small goes wrong, then another thing goes wrong only this time it’s a bit more important, then another and another and another. Soon, you have things on fire, a person yelling and you’re trying to muster the energy to actually not just care but inspect the damage and fix the problem.

This was the low point in my day and all I could do was chuckle to myself. After all, when I thought about what had happened, it was pretty damn funny. So for the rest of our time together, Mr. Green Shirt took my good natured ribbing with a wink and a smile. 

Now, before you say, “Skip, you’re being a bully. You’re pouring salt into the wound of his pride. You’re just being mean.”

No, I’m not.

Mr. Green Shirt and have been working together for fifteen years and have developed an excellent relationship and we consider each other friends more than anything else. Sure, we both have a love of trains, jazz music and old time crooners, but more importantly we have a huge amount of respect for each other. Also; he gives me as much guff as I give him, sometimes more even. Which is good.

Now, I will say this, if someone else had shouted “The layouts on fire!”

I would have been the first on scene. But Mr. Green Shirt, nah, it was his mess, he needed to clean it up and figure it out. I’m not there to hold his hand, I”m there to teach him and work with him. Besides, It was a bonding moment for the both of us.

Have a great week. I hope you have someone at work that gives you as much frustration, joy, laughter and friendship as I do. Oh, and the occasional proverbial heart attack.

Love you Mr. Green Shirt. Hope you dig this blog.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Bad Medicine

“You know, if they put THC in medicine, I don’t think there’d be an issue of people not taking it.” Was the comment I made to a dear friend of mine the other day.
You see, he’s sick, he’s been sick for years and there really isn’t anything the doctor’s can do for him. He has to take about a dozen pills a day, he’s on a restricted diet and stuck in a damnable motorized wheel chair. He hates the pills, he hates the wheelchair and he damn sure hates the dietary restrictions.

He hates the food restrictions so much that sometimes he goes off diet and puts up with the illness that ensues. It’s a conscious decision and I can’t really blame him. He hates the pills so much that sometimes he doesn’t take them because they upset his stomach and make him just a bit sick. (By a “bit sick” I mean he pukes. Then he has to eat bland, food that he hates and then drink some sort of artificially sweetened protein shake that tastes awful, trust me I know, I tried one and it almost made me puke.) I feel bad for him.

His response to my comment was a giant smile and a hoarsely whispered “I wish.”

His caretaker, an elderly woman with a heart of gold just frowned at me and shook her head.

I chuckled.

Then I thought to myself “Why not?” Why doesn’t “Big Pharma” make medicine that makes you feel good and isn’t addictive? It can’t be money issues. After all, if you had a condition that required you to take a pill or three everyday, wouldn’t you want ti to make you feel good? No, I’m not talking about the opiate plague that seems to be the craze on the news on every channel. 

I’m talking about a natural substance that actually makes on just feel good and relax and take things in stride. Yeah, yeah, I know all about Aldous Huxley’s book “Brave New World”. And all that implies. But, I’m not talking about mandatory mood altering drugs.

I’m talking about pills that have side effects that make one feel like garbage when they could make you feel good. After all, have you heard what some of the side effects of modern medicine is? No? Okay, I’ll quote some for you:

        • drowsiness, dizziness;
sleep problems (insomnia);
mild nausea, gas, heartburn, upset stomach, constipation;
weight changes;
decreased sex drive, impotence, or difficulty having an orgasm; or.
dry mouth, yawning, ringing in your ears.
drowsiness, dizziness, tired feeling;
mild nausea, stomach pain, upset stomach, constipation;
dry mouth;
changes in appetite or weight;
sleep problems (insomnia); or.
decreased sex drive, impotence, or difficulty having an orgasm.
headache, and
mild muscle pain.

      Crazy list isn’t it. However that is a list of three separate medicines. I know at least a dozen people who are on at least one of those pills. So why can’t we feel good about the drugs that keep us alive? I wish I knew. I wish some really smart guy in “Big Pharma” would figure it out.

      I hate seeing the people I know in pain and I really hate that some of the drugs they take cause them pain as well. Let alone help them relax. It seems to me that with some drugs you take you have to take more to offset the side effects of the drugs keeping you alive and sort of well while dealing with your chronic condition.

      I don’t know. Maybe that is what “They” want… 

     “Here’s a pill for this condition… Oh, don’t worry about the side effects, we have pills for those too.”

      Then you carry your handful of prescriptions to the pharmacy and find out that you have to spend $150.00 for all of them. Then you go home, dejected, depressed and eat a handful of pills with a large glass of water and your so full from the medicine that you’re not even hungry. Then your family fusses at you for not eating, but you can’t eat, cause you have a stomach full of water and pills and they don’t understand.

      So you call your doctor, he prescribes another drug with a list of side effects three pages long. So you get that medicine, you take it, along with all the other medicine and you repeat this day in and day out in the hopes of a cure or wellness or a life. But you don’t have any quality of life. You just exist.

      You barely take joy in anything. You try to watch television but all you see is bad news and bad movies with bad actors. So you turn on the radio and are subjected to twenty minutes of commercials for things you don’t want, need or events that you wouldn’t go to even if you could. Then you hear a song or three by bands you’ve never heard of so you turn off the radio and pick up a book and try to read it. But with all the drugs in your system you have a hell of a time focusing on the words on the pages.

      So you say fuck it. I’m done. I’m going outside, but as soon as you do, it you regret it. Because you don’t know anyone. Everyone you know is at work, or is with their family or are busy or dead. You don’t want to ask family for help because you feel like a burden and all they want to talk about is your health. And all you want to talk about is anything but that.

      So you go to your room. You take your pills. You lie down on your bed. You stare at the ceiling and remember a life you once lived before all the pain, the illness, the pills. A life that seemed to belong to someone else.

      A life filled with travel, adventure and interesting people. A life filled with lovers and dreamers. A life where every day was a new experience and you never really knew what was going to happen or who you’d meet. 

      You tell yourself this was who you were. But it’s all mist. Mist disappearing in the heat of the rising sun. You try to hold onto those memories. Yet the memories only mock you in who you used to be. The pleasant experiences in your life become painful because you know those days are nothing but fading ink on the pages of your mind.

      Just when you think it can’t get any worse. The little alarm on your watch beeps and you realize it is time for another round of pills…

      So, yeah… why can’t they make something or put something in the medicine to actually make a person feel good?

      Okay, enough for now… I’m going to go take my medicine.

Have a great week.