Friday, December 26, 2008

Waves Upon the Ether

I like lots of different kinds of music. About two years ago, a local radio station in my town switched to an "Americana" format, playing folk music, bluegrass, alt-country, blues, and who-knows-what. It was perhaps a little bit twangier than I was typically used to, but I have adapted. The fact that they sneak in some left-wing political and protest tunes in there helps, too.

I grew up listening to my parents' collection of big band music and show tunes, fell in love with Top-40 rock 'n' roll in 1963 just a few weeks before the Beatles broke into the US consciousness, moved on to 'underground' radio in the late 60's and lost my way somewhere in the Disco era of the late 70's. What happened was that where I lived (Baltimore, MD, USA) there were no radio stations playing what I wanted to hear; at best, there were stations playing so-called 'classic rock'-- but for the first time since I was ten years old, there was nothing new on the (local) radio that appealed to me.

Finally, in the mid-80's there was a local 'progressive' station that I could listen to. The DJs got to pick their own music to play, and I recall hearing all kinds of stuff I'd never heard before. It was sometimes amusing to hear something I liked, find out who the band was, and realize that the tune was released years earlier, back when I had no way to discover it.

This kept on (though the playlist kept tightening up as the years wore on) until around the turn of the century. Meanwhile, I listened to music supplied by my cable TV carrier (but found it generally to be too limited as far as variety within any particular genre), as well as Internet 'radio stations.' I also began to listen to 'world' music, especially CDs released by the Putumayo label.

What's fun is that with the radio station that I'm listening to, I am again exposed to all sorts of artists I never had the chance to discover until now: Tom Russell, Neko Case, and Darrell Scott, to name a few

All of which brings me to today's nugget: I am obsessed with the fact that at any moment, somewhere in the world, at some spot on the dial, or some URL on the Internet, a wonderful piece of music that I've never heard before is playing-- and I would just love to hear it, if only I knew where it was.

If a tree falls in the forest with no one there to hear it, does it make a noise?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Scare Lecture

It was about 8:30 AM on a Wednesday morning sometime in the spring of 1971. I (and probably about a hundred other bleary-eyed folks) sat in a large lecture hall drinking a can of Coke (nugget alert: I can't stand the taste of coffee and never drink it) while trying to stay awake during a Psychology 101 class taught by a tall Texan with the unlikely name of Elvis Jones. (Psych 101 was known to students as "Sesame Psych," while Abnormal Psych was commonly referred to as "Nuts and Sluts.")

I don't recall what Dr. Jones was talking about at the time, but he suddenly stopped in the middle of a sentence and said, "I haven't given you The Scare Lecture yet, have I?" Several of us replied in the negative.


He then proceeded to recite various statistics related to how many of us in the hall that morning would die in traffic accidents, how many would commit suicide, how many would die of cancer, how many would die before age 50, how many would develop some sort of serious mental illness, and several other things I no longer recall.

Being the smartass that I was (and, let's face it, mostly still am), I raised my hand. When he called on me I said, "There's one statistic you left out-- members of the psychological and psychiatric profession have a suicide rate seven times higher than the norm." I then hoisted my can of Coke in salute and basked in the warm glow of applause from my fellow sufferers.

Elvis was right, of course. Before my two-year brush with higher education was over, I witnessed at least one student go batshit crazy and knew another who ate his gun for no reason that any of us could discern. And the rest of us survivors can't look forward to living forever like we thought we would way back in the Seventies.

According to an Internet search, Elvis Jones died in Houston on July 4, 2006 at the age of 68.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Duration

This topic goes hand-in-hand with my last entry, which was about memory. Inextricably linked with what I remember is the experience, usually distorted, of the passage of time. Here are some things that feel like they happened yesterday:
  • I first traveled across the Atlantic; real date: 1988.
  • I used one of the earliest battery-powered cellular phones, which was built into a briefcase (and barely fit); real date: early in 1985.
  • I ate my first Burger King Whopper; real date: some time around 1973.
  • I visited San Francisco (during the Summer of Peace and Love); real date: August of 1967.
  • I read my first science fiction novel, "Have Space Suit, Will Travel" by Robert A. Heinlein; real date: 1961.
  • I took a trip alone by bus from Baltimore to New York (the bus was equipped with a stewardess who served drinks and sandwiches, believe it or not); real date: 1959.
If all this stuff happened yesterday, how can I possibly be 55 years old? The stewardess on that bus is in her 70's by now-- if she is still alive at all.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Memory

Something tells me this subject is going to take several entries to cover. I think I'll start off with a nugget: I have managed to suppress or forget most of my memories of childhood prior to around age fourteen.

That stuff I don't miss.

What worries me these days is that some things I don't want to forget are slipping away from me. After watching my mother's ability to remember things deteriorate along with the rest of her faculties, I sometimes get scared that my abilities are fading, too.

I read a Wikipedia entry yesterday about my former employer, MCI. There were several events mentioned there that I didn't recall until reading them. I suppose that some of this has to do with the fact that my life has changed so much in the ten years or so since then, and that I have cleared my mental blackboard of many things I no longer use. The trouble is, it hasn't helped to enable me to recall the things I really need.

For example: I have gotten particularly bad at remembering names and faces. In a small town like ours, this is bad news: every day I am greeted by name by people I often don't recognize, and I can't be sure if it's because I forgot them or if they have heard or read my name somewhere.

I also don't remember how Starr and I decided to move here, and how we chose the name for our business... and these events took place less than 6 years ago.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Sliding Board

My mother died this morning at 11:02 AM EST.

I had been expecting this ever since my father died in early November. As I mentioned in an earlier post, he was covering for her, trying to make her dementia less evident to family and acquaintances-- but she was in a decline before he died; his death, at most, may have hastened the inevitable. We may never know exactly what she died from-- but it was more than a broken heart or depression; she had some sort of infection that did not respond to treatment, something that probably started while my father was still alive.

Do you remember when you were a child and were playing on the sliding board while your parents watched? You'd call out to them: "Watch this!" before doing some sort of variation on simply sliding down the board. Maybe you'd slide face-down, maybe you'd slide really fast, whatever. That's what I'm going to miss: after more than fifty years, I wanted them around --not to approve, not to be proud of me, just to watch-- as I carry on with a life that in many ways is more than anyone who knew me had reason to expect: I am alive, I am sane, I am solvent, I've never been arrested, I am considered by many in this community to be an asset, I have a wonderful wife who loves me-- none of these things was a foregone conclusion, and some people (myself among them) thought I'd never experience any of them.

My parents got to see all that, as recently as this past September during their last, brief visit-- but there is still a part of me that says: "Watch this!"

Whoever reads this: if you know me, or want to meet me, and see the life I've made for myself, come on down. Leave a comment here and I'll tell you where to find me. It's just that it's lonely here on the playground...