I was the drummer for a Luis Gasca big band gig at Austin’s 6th Street Live stage in the early 1980s. As I remember, Luis hired everyone in town that owned a horn or some congas. I think there were 24 people on stage — six saxophones, every trombonist between San Antonio and Waco, trumpets galore, drums, bass, piano, and two percussionists. To say the gig was overstaffed would be like saying a Michael Bay movie is loud. At our afternoon rehearsal, Luis passed out the charts we would be performing. They were quite simple. Did he really need a sea of brass and reeds playing Girl from Ipanema in unison? I quickly came to see it didn’t matter. Luis expected me to make up for it all. I learned later that he was notorious for reducing grown men to sniffling basket cases with his explosive tirades. On this day I was the privileged target. Two bars into Ipanema he cut the band off with a flurry of his arms and very energetically exclaimed to me, More power from the drums! Elvin, Blakey, Max Roach! Kick ass! I took this to be Luis’s way of encouraging me to play the piece with more strength as he combined the names of famous jazz drummers with an invitation to commit violence on my instrument. So he counted us off again on this country club bossa nova favorite. We made it through two bars before the arm waving re-commenced, this time accompanied by a shaking face with loose cheeks flapping from side to side. Come on man! More power! Elvin! Blakey! Kick my ass! I jacked it up another level.
Do you know how hard it is to play drums wholly against your instincts regarding taste? It was like eating Velvetta cheese on purpose — big mouthfuls. But I still only made it two bars in. Oh man, can’t you play those drums!?! I want you to KICK MY ASS! ELVIN!! BLAKEY!! AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!
At this point I was about ready to kick Luis’ ass, and maybe Elvin Jones’ and Art Blakey’s as well. But being a nonviolent person and having no idea of my chances against this man I had just met, I decided to see how far our amped up leader would take this. Ipanema was counted off for a fourth time and I gave my best impression of Girl from Ipanema by AC/DC. MORE POWER DAMNIT! I WANT MORE POWER! ELVIN!! BLAKEY!! KICK MY ASS!!! The band members’ heads were in their hands and I was in that tender space between hysterical laughter and going postal. Luis counted the tune off one last time, shouting and spitting, ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!!!, like Der Fuehrer rehearsing a chorus line of SS troopers. Realizing there was no place for me to go musically, I stood up from the drum stool, leapt into the air, and came crashing down with all my might into the cymbals. I repeated this circus-like move, rapidly, for a solid two bars creating a very loud, disturbing sound (imagine a dump truck driving through Bed, Bath, and Beyond.) I looked up and noticed the dramatic cut off sign coming from Luis, who appeared to be brushing away a swarm of African killer bees. YOU *$@?*#! CAN’T YOU PLAY THOSE DAMN DRUMS?!? I WANT POWER, YOU @!#&? !*%$!
I’ve never been involved in a band fight before, but I’ve heard about them. I stood up from the drums ready to rumble as my thoroughly disappointed conductor approached, screaming profanities at me and my mother, who was not present. One of the percussionists stepped in front of me like a secret service agent cutting off access to the President. Both Luis and I backed down and I began to pack up my drums. Clearly he was looking for a different kind of drummer — one with a chain saw and some logs. The band members implored me to stay on as no one else in town would be willing to step into Luis’ furnace. I looked at their pathetic faces and turned to mush, agreeing to finish the rehearsal and play that night’s gig. Luis had nothing more to say to me, and all was well. Looking back, I think he’d just had some bad oatmeal or something. When we played Ipanema that night, I played it the way I wanted to, with no complaint from Luis, who sounded quite nice as I remember. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers-rehearsal was behind us, and there was peace on 6th street for a moment or two.
To be honest, I still have this nightmare about getting arrested with Elvin Jones and Art Blakey after a dance-floor brawl with Luis in some place called Ipanema.
Watching young Roy McIlroy destroy the golf course at Congressional today was impressive. It also took me back to many contrasting golf memories. Like Charlie Willet’s cigar-stub swallowling collapse on #6 of the back four at the Delta, Colorado Municipal Golf course in the early 1970s. I was around thirteen-years-old and caddying for my dad when I remember Mr. Willet, the attorney in my dad’s regular foursome, missing a two-foot put and losing a third consecutive hole. He cussed angrily, swallowed his cigar stub and gagged, then casually headed off for the little bridge over the canal that led to #7. He paused on the bridge and unceremoniously dumped his entire golf bag of clubs into the canal. My dad whispered an intense “NO!” as my brother and I prepared to go for the clubs.
Tim Atmar, a golfing buddy of mine during college, is the source of many un-PGA-like memories, like the time he rolled a golf cart we were riding in while speeding crazily down a fairway in a blinding rain at Morris Williams golf course near the old airport in Austin, Texas. After retrieving the clubs strewn up and down the fairway and attempting the straighten the bent golf cart canopy, we ditched the cart 100 yards from the club house and made a beeline for the parking lot.
Tim also shares a great story of watching under-talented retirees teeing off at Pebble Beach. My favorite is that of an elderly gentleman in full neon-bright golf attire slicing his initial tee shot so wildly on the first hole that his ball left the tee box at a 90 degree angle and rocketed right through the window of one of the high-priced bungalows lining the fairway. As Tim tells it, the man replaced his driver in his golf bag and marched off down the fairway as if nothing had gone wrong.
Facebooks “pull-another-feed-in” feature is haywire. I blog three entries over more than a week and they all hit my wall today at the same time. Imagine if mealtime unfolded this way? Say your serving French-style at a big banquet, holding a big platter with peas on one plate, carrots on another, mash potatoes here, steak medallions there. And you walk up to each diner, say “open up,” and then shove it all in. Appalling, yes? Please don’t let Facebook make you throw up because of my fire hose blog entries.
Speaking of French-style banquet serving, I did that one day in 1985 at the famous Plaza Hotel in New York City. There was a hotel workers strike, and a lot of musicians living on crackers and peanut butter were scabbing to make 80 bucks for a couple of hours work. The word was, perform well and you will have a job until the strike ends. I walked into a chaotic kitchen/staging area just off a main ballroom in the Plaza Hotel. Someone said “Put that on,” pointing to a maroon jacket with those Sargeant Pepper shoulder tassels and some black pants. Both were so tight that I felt like I had sprayed them on, which was made worse by the fact that I would be one-handing a very large tray of food at head-level around a banquet room of 500 chefs and their wives. Talk about a tough crowd for my first gig.
I took the first tray out to the first of my tables, loaded with serving platters of peas, carrots, potatoes, and a meat I’ve forgotten. I had to hold a big serving-size spoon and fork in my other hand and move all of this food, with grace and ballet-like art, from the tray to each diner’s plate, going over their shoulder, mind you. It was a nightmare. I dropped one pea into a man’s coat breast pocket, one lady had five peas on her plate and ten on the table next to her plate, and the buttery new potatoes were behaving like lab mice running for their lives. And that was all at the first table.
By the time we arrived at dessert, I knew they would not be calling me back to the Plaza. The chefs were peeved, their wives forgiving. One gently whispered to me, “You haven’t done this before, have you?” As I approached the first table again, this time with a tray holding a large, heavy platter of iced raspberry mousse, I could feel the fear sweep over me and the table. The first wife I served escaped unharmed. Her husband’s experience seemed to be going well until I saw him lift his eyes to me with a look of total contempt. I responded with my “what did I do” look, and he dropped his eyes to his pant leg to guide my self-discovery. There, I discovered a palm-sized scoop of red, juicy mousse perched on his thigh, slowly oozing into his Armani suit pants. As smoke escaped from his ears, I rushed to the kitchen to retrieve a rag. When I came back, he insisted that I clean it off for him which was sort of like petting a Rottweiler who is preparing to bite your face off. I smiled, wished them all a lovely remaining lunch, and retired to the kitchen where I had my tassels ceremoniously removed, suffered a dishonorable discharge, and fled back to the comfort and safety of Club crackers and peanut butter.
“Mr. Laningham! Put the phone down, and step back, Sir!! Do it now or I will taze your phone and then you!”
I keep wondering when I’m gonna hear this. It must be coming soon. My aggressive txting in the last few days, with thumbs flying and then a rapid push of the return key, has yielded such cryptic doozies as “Fathom, did you sea my postal about the vinaphone program,” and “Tomatoes ate ready for a late UFO.” The first one, I can remember, was intended for a co-worker who, to my knowledge has never gone by the name “Fathom,” however cool that sounds. “Vinaphone” is of course … uh … a Vietnamese mobile network. I don’t remember knowing that before just now Googling the term, and certainly didn’t when my phone chose to insert it for whatever I actually typed. I can’t remember anything about my second note. I have no recollection of what I was intending to type when my phone chose, “Tomatoes ate ready for a late UFO.” But I love that sentence. There may well be a song in there somewhere.
Kids say such wonderful things as they seek to find their way with language. I asked our eight-year-old, whose birthday is today, if he feels any different. He said, “Not really. I feel like I’ve been seven my whole life. But I’m sure I’ll feel like I’m eight by lunchtime at the latest.”
Don’t you love the precision and analytical quality of that kind of reasoning? Not long ago I asked him about what it felt like to be standing by and looking into an empty Texas DKR Memorial Stadium where the Texas Longhorns football team plays. Speaking with an economy of words I never seem to achieve, he remarked, “I’ve never laid foot in a place like this. I’m gonna lay foot.”
One of daughters once asked, when riding in the car while we passed a no parking sign, “Why does it say no ‘P’s?” Clearly, she thought the letter was banned from use in the space around the sign. Another of our sons had a knack in his early years for asking very pointed questions and sometimes using terms uncommon for a 5-year-old. When a friend arrived ahead of his wife for dinner one night, our youngster inquired, “Hi Jeff. Where’s your woman?” And later, when encountering another single friend who was accompanied by a different woman than we had seen him with a few days before, our young Dan Rather inquired, “Is this your wife?” “No,” replied our friend. “Well, is (name withheld) your wife?” “No,” came the friend again, shifting uncomfortably. Our son finished the grilling session with, “I don’t understand?”
Sales is a tough job. Watching the best at it can be like watching great theatre, or better yet, great focused reasoning. But there are so many things to sell and so few employers unwilling to pay for the art of it. So we get a lot of unintended comedy shows instead. I tried it a few times and really stunk at it. I wasn’t thrilled with the products and was unable to make myself push people. I would just say, “I have such and such which is good for such and such,” and they’d say, “I don’t want it,” and I’d say, “Cool. See ya.” In most sales settings, that is not how you move a lot of product.
In the last few days I’ve heard some doozies. A roofing tile sales guy told me the price of asphalt shingles has gone through the roof “because the primary ingredient, plutonium, is so scarse!” Plutonium? I thought the tiles were made out of paper, oil and ceramic gravel? The primary ingredient of asphalt roofing tiles is “a rare transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94?” Thank you Wikipedia. I know that it’s used for nuclear weapons and reactors. I had no idea it was all over my roof. I’m not replacing the roof. I’m moving.
Then another traveling salesman shows up yesterday, and as he spins a personal tale more fantastic by the second, he gets to the part where, being a UT football alum, he receives 500 free tickets per season. 500! Even at the cheap seat price of 60$ that comes out to 30 grand in free tickets annually. So why is he selling frozen chicken in my neighborhood? When I asked him what he does with all 500 he said, “I give many away. No way I have time to go, myself, 500 times!” HOLY COW! Do you mean the Longhorns are now playing a 500 game schedule? Quite frankly, I think Mack Brown and company are working cheap.
Gotta run. Here’s comes a Kirby vacuum salesperson wearing a “Gig ‘em Aggies!” t-shirt underneath a hazmat suit. I think I know where this is going.
I dislike most everything on television these days. Actually more than dislike. I distinctly, decisively dislike television these days. And two shows I do not watch, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are right up there in the upper eschelon of disliked. I will not watch these programs. Tonight I caved and watched the last 20 or so minutes of The Bachelor, which I will now call The Weasel. I do not know how Jake has behaved so far. Tonight, in my mind, he forfeited his citizenship as a Texan and a man. Actually, I don’t know how many of those are even left.
As one of the remaining, aspiring Mrs Jake’s, Ali, struggled with a decision to leave the show and save her dream job or stay and lose it with no guarantee of winning Jake, the Bachelor chose to whine and cry on her shoulder and think only of himself and his continuing harem pleasures. What should he have said?
Ali, you’re a wonderful woman and your happiness is so important to me. As much as I would like for you to stay, I think you need to go and keep that job which means so much to you. If it is right for us to be together, we will some day. We have to trust. I cannot just think of myself in this. I have to think of you. After all, selflessness is the bedrock of a successful, long-term relationship.
Have I always lived up to that standard? No. But I know it is right. And when you have a stage as large as a network TV show, you’ve got to be thinking about the message you’re sending out there. Jake dropped the ball so hard tonight it cracked the North American tectonic plate. All kinds of self-centered young men must have felt very empowered by Jake’s whining, complete with sappy music underscore. Ali kept apologizing. He never did.
Shameful. And he claims Texas as his home. Hopefully, Texas will forgive him. Even if she does, there’ll be an emotional butt-whuppin’ waitin’ for him back home someday. It’s unavoidable.
On this day of the grand unfurling of the Apple Tablet –which is a pretty cool product — my attention has been diverted back to the majesty of the natural gas hot water heater. This device, a pillar of modern civilization and depicted in all of its newly installed glory here, is every bit of uber-hightech to me, today. Why? Because I lived without it for three days in a house with 10 people, some of who continued their daily roll in the yard with the dogs inspite of a lack of an end-of-day hot shower to restore their bodily atmosphere to a life-sustaining state. Yes, the new tankless heaters are cool and a greener option, and if they weren’t three times the cost of the old-school unit I would have installed one. But for now, this one is, to me, my very own cutting-edge piece of tech. I have looked into the no-hot-water-heater abyss, and believe me when I say that the gray tank over there is an Apple Tablet, thorium-powered nuclear reactor, Bugatti Veyron all wrapped into one.
NOTE: If you live in the Austin area and have hot water issues, these guys installed mine and they were great. They have the tankless too.
Today, our hot water heater passed away. It had been clinging to life support for days, maybe weeks, and I didn’t even know it. My wife discovered the hot water leak. It was flowing out through a breach in the top of the 50-gallon tank, down the sides into the overflow pan, out through the overflow pipe through the outside wall and into our garden. She saw birds having a lovely warm bath and wondered how that was possible. Then we pried open the swollen door to the water heater closet in the garage and witnessed the result of warm moisture allowed to do its thing in a dark enclosed space. I’ll just say some sheetrock is coming out, and we can leave it at that.
But the thing that really scares me is young boys without a bath for 48-plus hours. This is not something that modern suburban life prepares you for. Strange odors multiply rapidly when soap with the stripping power of paint thinner is not applied to a young boy’s body ever 24 hours. And since most pre-10-year-olds seem determined to wear the same clothes at least three days in a row, some clothes our house will soon start walking around on their own without the respite of shower time and a clean body every 86,400 clicks of the second hand. What will I be able to say to the boys tonight when they scream, “Dad, there’s a monster in the corner!” with the knowledge that it is not their imagination. We will both be screaming.
While on the subject of the civilization-sustaining miracle of hot water, what is going on in that shower with the teen girls, and boys, who take 30-minute vacations in there? Maybe the term sabbatical, defined by Wikipedia as “a rest from work, or a hiatus, often lasting from two months to a year,” is derived from the original Greek Sabbathical. Strangely, it is the young atmosphere-altering boys who actually need 30-minute showers with multiple soap and rinse cycles but who would just as soon step in, shoot water around the shower stall for a few minutes, do some hieroglyphics on the glass, and then get out, still wet and dirty, and put their pajamas on inside-out and backwards.