Blog Feed

7 Floors Down

Directly below where I now sit is a cafeteria. Beside that eatery is a small, intimate little sitting area with one bench. I sat on that bench – seven floors down – recording a 4:06 video. This happened nearly two hours ago here, at Shadyside hospital in Pittsburgh, during a time when I should have been somewhere else …

Life isn’t all smiles. Greta and I should have been rehearsing final notes for our, “Smile: A musical journey through life and rare terminal cancer” concert. Instead, we are quietly singing our way around nurses, beeping IV pole stand monitors, and shuffling feet noises outside a very accomodating western PA hospital facility. It’s been a difficult past few days. Six months of planning. We fell a mere few days short.

There is no quit here. The concert has been postponed. For those among my readers who are unaware, here is the poster:

I sit here at 9:11 wondering, “why?”. It’s hard not to ask that question. Why so close, yet so unreachable? During a small window of opportunity this afternoon, we had a moment when Greta’s vocal, quiet beauty met my pianist eyes. That one word fell into our near conversational silence. We knew it. It remained unanswered as time drifted into a lull. Seventy-two hours is all. After six months of planning and rehearsing, life came down to seventy-two hours.

I sat on a small bench recording a video, not another smaller bench playing, “Silver Lining”, or “Rainbow Connection”. There will be no beauty in song tomorrow. No daisies on stage or train whistle to begin the concert with Doris Day’s rendition of, “Sentimental Journey” ending with Greta’s A-major 7th she loves so much. “Chase” – with her brother, Bump – and Donnie & Marie’s closing theme will both have to wait until we decide to reschedule. There is no quit. No give-up. Twenty-three songs and pieces Greta and I have accepted as part of our souls are, now, archived in our library of memories … for now.

Seven floors up from where I was, I now sit. Sad, but so glad Greta is receiving the care she needs.

“Why?” still remains unanswered and will be so. I don’t want an answer. One week earlier this concert had a chance. Even this past Wednesday, she had the spunk and energy to do a full hour interview at our local radio station. We had a window. Small as it was …

Life with appendix cancer isn’t what anyone expects or plans for at any time … anywhere. As I finish up this short post, I am so grateful for the opportunity to share a smile journey. It’s, simply, not the way Greta and I hoped to dance happy memories past your ears tomorrow.

Below is a replacement video for the livestream we planned for 2:00 tomorrow. May you find peace and wonderment in all your smiles – and please listen to your favorite music not only tomorrow afternoon, but always. “Smile, though your heart is breaking …”

https://www.dropbox.com/s/4bzudec914h2ils/0821211840.mp4?dl=0

The Eighth Note That Was

There aren’t many impromptu, rhythmic happenings in my life that aren’t unrehearsed these days. With a special vocal/piano concert less than two weeks away, every push of a key in “I’ll Be Seeing You’, vocalese in “How High The Moon”, and every solitary note in twenty-one other songs – for a program to benefit the Appendix Cancer Research Foundation – has been rehearsed. Yes, Ms. Greta and I have planned and charted a course … headed toward that “x” destination of August 22nd, 2021.

On a rough ocean of unpredictable high-c’s, on a rehearsal piano that won’t be used in the performance, we’ve managed to steer a wondrously magical musical ship through busy schedules, personal conflicts, and medical challenges. I can’t write, “all of that aside, however”, because as of this moment, we are still facing waves of complications. Business schedules don’t subside. Personalities continue as they have for decades … and cancer sucks.

I sat facing forward for a few minutes outside Sam’s Club yesterday. Sitting. A break from behind the grill as one young man, Tristan, welcomed the opportunity to work my business by himself. A short video call to Ms. Greta was in order as she was unable to be with me. This was our 6th fund-raiser outside Sam’s where Doug’s Dawgs has the opportunity to split profits 50/50 with ACPMP. I welcomed the break.

Indeed a short call as Tristan quickly drew a crowd – not of his own doing, of course. It was Sunday, and Sam’s Club. To date, we’ve raised over $1,600 dollars for ACPMP (with generous tips included) and my business is honored to be a part of such a rare, strange cancer … in a rare, strange way.

I’d rather not be raising money behind a hot dawg cart at all, to be frank … and, yes, pun intended. I’d much prefer to be planning and rehearsing a concert with a healthy, vibrant Ms. Greta. My choice would be to have appendix cancer not exist in the first place. As an extension of that thought, I’d like to have my mom in attendance on the 22nd instead of buried in a local hill under a heavy stone due to cancer.

Writing about this at 2:20 a.m., of course, is my choice … but, rehearsing a verse of “Silver Lining” right now would make these typing fingers a lot happier.

Not to be at the moment. I need to be satisfied with silence.

A few moments of quiet didn’t happen yesterday. Those don’t exist while working – even when a reliable, motivated young man takes the helm. I had two, maybe three, minutes of restful look ahead time to eat a slice of rubbery pizza and slosh down a swig of diet Pepsi. I did glance down for a second as a frequent customer sat his dawgs gently on the table to my right. That look down, actionable second – combined with the reflection from the sun’s angle – gave me an astonishing inhale … a note.

An eighth note. A simple quaver.

Prior to my being there, did a minor, invisible, café table spirit being decide it was my turn to receive a message from the great beyond? During my earlier bathroom break, did Nicholas Sparks secretly walk over to goo-up a blue metal table top for another “The Notebook” sequel? The note smudge was kinda cool. Under the circumstance of a concert that’s very close and becoming unpredictably familiar, I needed a reminder that life without musical notes helping to steer a ship in turbulent waters isn’t much of a life at all.

… At least for Ms. Greta and me, this is so true. We’ve rehearsed the notes. Many eighth notes were here for us, and will be again on the 22nd. Hopefully. They’ve been our delight (and struggle at times), but when all the engines are firing together, there’s no ship on the sea that compares. None.

The eighth note that was, truly. A simple, effortless reminder by innocent customers who had no idea a quaver was left behind in their wake. A note head, stem, and flag. Not sure this could have been planned – or rehearsed – any better.

Sometimes the most magical, short lyrical stories in your life can be the impromptu moments while sitting at a café table for two minutes. Keep your eyes open for the effortless note that may appear when you least expect it.

Don’t worry about the ocean, btw. As unpredictable as it is, we’re all riding in the ship together doing the best we can, right?

And cancer still sucks.

Simply, A Cookie and Me

From five feet, this miracle happened. I have no explanation other than a Chips Ahoy supernatural phenomenon. After over fifty years of jamming these cookies into my mouth – without dropping a single one on any floor, it finally happened. Outside … over a newly painted brown patio, one slipped through my piano fingers.

… And landed on its side. Straight up, perpendicular to the the floor, six inches from my sandaled feet. I looked down in amazement. One cookie. One mistake in over five decades of chocolate yumminess and I’m rewarded with a miracle. Yes, a mystery that can’t be explained by a previously waiting-for-a-cookie crack in the concrete, or softness of said cookie that’s advertised as crunchy.

Quickly, I summoned my phone, then my appetite. A five second rule be damned. Even in the midst of a once-in-a 2/3 lifetime event, snack time needed to be obeyed after finishing a few chores. Sure, this wasn’t a mega-million dollar lottery ticket or a $3.7 million Honus Wagner T206 baseball card find during a beautiful Saturday mid-afternoon, last day in July. It was, simply, a cookie on its edge.

If I had the time and tried 256,000 times, the cookie wouldn’t have landed that way. This, today, was purely a chance event. Ok, “miracle” may have been uber-dramatic, but maybe there was some kind of supernatural force at play? Perhaps the physics god stepped in to give me some levity today?

Whatever the reason, having a delicious event happen at my feet was satisfying … necessary, and ironic.

I took today off from my business. Strange to do so considering I was scheduled to be at an event. This was only the second time in sixteen years I’ve skipped out on a cart commitment. When staring at that cookie, I was subtly reminded why.

It was on edge – as I have been recently. Thus, the mental health day. A once-in-almost-never occurrence for a cookie … and me. I believe it was a nod from the universe confirming my decision to reign in a current swirling mental state. By saying, “no”, to agitated brain waves in constant future mode, I’m finding today to be an unfamiliar calm.

A day with nothing except breathing and eating is noticeably different. I’m writing under no duress, but comfortably under a nice summer sun while thinking only about the next few words and sentences.

Tomorrow, thankfully, is more of the same. A two-day weekend including … no business. It’s been forever since I’ve had one and don’t anticipate another one for a while. Thank you, July 31st and August 1st.

Please take care of yourself. Don’t let life get so busy you need to see the miracle of a cookie on its side to remind you being on edge isn’t healthy. Finishing a whole package of Chips Ahoy isn’t healthy, either, which is what I’ll probably do by tomorrow evening.

That’s just what I do. If any fall between my fingers tomorrow, guaranteed they’ll land top down, bottom down, or crack into pieces. As long as these marvelous snacks are the ones cracking up and not me, I’ll consider my decision to not be on edge one of the best choices I’ve made in a long time.

…. And a miracle.

A Not So Lonely, Beautiful Tree

An oak tree. A big, majestic … friend.

I spent hours looking at the mighty oak. Across a dull, paved lot, my eyes hovered beyond my concession trailer for two days. This lonely tree became my friend from yards away. Too busy to closely introduce myself, the only way to communicate was through imaginary vibes … those thoughts a busy man and a tree – both firmly planted in their spots – can have.

I know, maybe this friend didn’t know I was a short leaf dance away. Then again, perhaps he did. Nice enough for me to know he wasn’t lonely during this past Friday & Saturday event visits.

Imagining he was extraordinarily lonely occupied my time. Over multiple decades, tens of thousands kinfolk must have walked by his thick, aged truck. Entering the stately halls of our Jaffa Shrine in Altoona – paying no attention to his wonderful symmetrically round presentation seconds before – they quickly forgot what wasn’t seen. A friend welcoming them.

For two days, in between flipping burgers and cheese-steaks, I noticed. What struck me was how much attention has been paid to the Jaffa building itself … with the circuses, concerts, and events over the past 90 years since the first brick was laid in 1928. The land on which it stands was originally purposed for farming and, by all accounts, my friend stood as a witness to the construction begun on the purchased property. Oh, the history behind his bark and the sights and sounds hidden in rings of mystery.

So loyal he’s been. Granted, what choice was there? Never uprooted physically, but perhaps a bit miffed at folks so drastically changing a landscape, was he. Since years when depression-era backhoes and shovels ravaged a calm, singing meadow, he’s seen busy Broad Avenue paved and re-paved many times over, 23rd and 22nd streets uncobbled, and his own luscious green wide-open, turn-of-the-century meadow partner flattened by impersonal parking lot tonnage. The manicured lawn above his underground historical account could be considered a small token of respect given by the current occupants, I suppose.

So little attention paid. This is a broad assumption on my part. How would I ever know if another friend held out an imaginary or actual cordial hand? No dedicated visitor tree log is happily kept inside the large glass doors under those big red J-A-F-F-A letters arched over a symbolic masonic sabre with a half-moon dangling underneath. Few entered with second thoughts about what they passed. A friend … still standing.

Yeah, I did think these thoughts. There were a few moments, at the end of my Saturday event, to walk over and ask to pull a leaf for clarification. A welcoming, low branch gave me the opportunity to eventually narrow my friend’s name down to, “Mr. White Oak”, thanks to a personal contact and a leaf/tree identification app..

Sometimes, life gives us really cool, new friends. We need to look across weird, dull, bland spaces to see them. They’re only yards away and need our company – if only in that imaginary, vibrant world available in two-day stretches during an otherwise everyday food cart existence.

Yours isn’t a behind-the-grill life I’m assuming, but look up and across from your eyes-down tasks and chat, silently, with a tree.

He, or she if you prefer, will be that friend who will listen without judgement. Theirs is a world of steadiness and majesty, beauty and kindness.

It truly was hours … off and on as sandwiches and drinks were steadily shifting from my hands into the hands of customers. By the end, I was tired. Exhausted from the heat, lack of sitting, and, … yes, nearly six decades of life. Oh, to stand still and just … relax.

Driving off the lot, one last glance back reminded life can be steady, calm, and still … Then it dawned on me: Maybe we can be that tree for someone who needs to see across their empty, dull space? There’s certainly no log book for majesty and beauty, but momentary imaginary friendship when needed the most could be a welcome change.

I’m happy to have a new friend. A big, majestic friend. Perhaps Mr. White Oak in front of the Jaffa Mosque on Broad Avenue in Altoona, Pa, isn’t aware of me. That’s o.k.. In my imaginary world, thoughts and conversations between a busy man and his wiser, bark-laden friend are permissible.

After all, I was always told to listen to my elders.

Slow Down and Feel Groovy

As a worn sidewalk caressed the bottom of my hurrying soles this morning, Simon & Garfunkel rested notes on my soul. I couldn’t get rid of them. You know what I mean. Every so often, darn lyrics songfully plant themselves in our brains and we can’t stop silently singing them over and over.

I was rushing around with too many errands draping off my to-do list. Clamors from passing cars and screaming kids were more annoying than I’m used to which indicated a higher level of stress coursing through my veins. I was searching for sounds of silence when another Artful Paul tune entered my space singing, ” Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last …”

… Not bad advice. Not bad at all.

Steps forward were slower, measured, and calm once those lyrics began to digest into my morning breaths. The previous two hours didn’t matter as much anymore. All the earlier run-arounds, bad news, and mail grabbing sat alone … beside me they were abandoned as I reclined against a kind tree for a spell. It’s not that I didn’t care about a good friend suddenly in the hospital, or a credit card bill, … I had to stop and “let the morning time drop all its petals on me”. Simple.

And so, I sung “Feelin’ Groovy” in my head for a bit while passers-by wondered why the right fingers and left hip – of a slightly off-centered, closed-eye guy in his 50’s – were happily grooving and snapping to inaudible sounds. Hard to pull off in public, I know, but completely necessary when life is a bit too much to handle. Yes, steps forward from those tree-leaning moments were un-hurried and peaceful.

Ten minutes back to a car two blocks away. Best guess, that distance took less than two minutes in my scurryful state earlier in the morning. “Just kickin’ down the cobblestones”, but not appreciating any of them, happened to be a state of mind I didn’t appreciate when jumping in and out of three businesses, two banks, a post office, a church, one café, and gas station. Filling time, I guess … “Gettin’ er done”, as some friends would say. In the groove of busyness, however, not really enjoying any of it.

Mundane, everyday, with tints of exhaustion and over-expectations of what I can actually handle was this morning. As one very respectful business owner once advised, “You can do anything you put your mind to, just not everything“.

Yep. Isn’t that most of us, though? We try to do so much … and in the midst of it all, we forget to feel groovy and enjoy ourselves. Trying to do everything all the time isn’t helping the situation we’re in – whatever life bubble that happens to be.

My plate is full. Simon & Garfunkel don’t know how full it is. To say, “I got no deeds to do, no promises to keep”, would be one heck of a whopper to tell at this point in my life … and one lyric line from “Feelin’ Groovy” that doesn’t jive up with my life. As the song Pete & repeated, that lyric laughed heartily. I get it.

You know what? Don’t care.

I had to make the morning last … and last it did. Once my steps strode easily, a pulse eased. The drive back from town? So much less, since frenetically jammed tension built up by sad news and work expectations were left in the soil by a tree. Since then, work-stuff with phone calls and expectations are still present. Those are being handled at a slower metronomic pace.

… Kinda like a sweet strumming guitar on stage.

Remember to slow down, please. There’s no better control over anything going on than your willingness to stop for a few minutes and feel groovy. Sounds silly, I know.

For me today, there wasn’t a lamppost to ask, “What’cha knowing?”. Perhaps for you, someday there will be. Ask away and get some answers if needed. I don’t have the answers to anything. All I know is slowing down was the best thing I could have done at 10:35 this morning on the corner of Allegheny and Union. Moving too fast over feet isn’t a good plan, overall.

You gotta make the morning last … and make it count for all the right reasons. Be that reason. Look for fun, feel groovy if at all possible, and keep those songs repeating in your head.

Baseball Fireworks with Dad

Could be Anywhere, U.S.A. However, this was in Altoona, Pa at a minor league baseball game. Our “Curve” ran the bases five times more than the Binghamton Ponies, so that’s a win by any measure. Fireworks – combined with a “wrestling” theme ticket stamp (that never materialized into anything) – and perfect weather swung the evening’s five hour carve-out of life without an error.

Yes, a minor league game, but a major win for fun, relaxation, and connection … to dad.

He and I weren’t the typical dad/son baseball team. I didn’t enjoy the usual, “get-out there and do it, son”, kind of encouragements most young boys got. Music was my juice, not sports. One miraculous diving catch from a half-asleep pre-teen who went on to a hit-less career in little league did not produce any proud dad moments. Gladly did I hand in my uniform and cleats after my team won the local championship with no help from a useless bat so unproductively, and awkwardly, swung from the ends of my sportily unrhythmic arms. Piano, yes. Getting to first base, no.

So, sitting with dad at a semi-professional baseball game wasn’t going to re-live any remember moments between us. Frankly, I doubt either one of us, to this day, would know how to fill in a score sheet or analyze a game beyond the usual “ground rule double” or “balk rule”. He was a wrestling coach, primarily, focused on grunts and sweats in closed, hot, winter season practice rooms – not open, fresh air sports like baseball. My first – and only – mitt came via a great-uncle, not dad. See, we just don’t have that traditional baseball dad-son thing going on here.

What we did have Sunday evening, though, was time. Time to spend together … forty-five years of life experiences after a son stood ankle deep in outfield weeds praying a baseball didn’t arcfully whiz up in his direction. Decades after a dad was frustratingly finding ways to supplement a measley teacher’s salary, we sat,… together.

I understand, now, my age. In baseball years, I’m older than my dad was when he insisted it was better to look at the ball in order to hit it. Pick your methodology, “blind squirrel” theory, I believed was the best approach at the time. Even a tightly closed, shuttering little man at the plate was hopeful one blind swing at the right time – combined with that perfect pitch – would manufacture a hit. Alas, not to be.

I do believe this may be the regret on dad’s face in the above picture. He may be having flashbacks. Either that, or handing over a twenty-spot and getting no change back for one burger, a dip of ice cream, and a lemonade may be stinging his financial consciousness. Hey, he offered, and nobody says, “no” to a dad who wants to pony up for goodies at the ballpark. After all, the tickets were complimentary – and quite a nice surprise along the bottom tier behind our home team dugout. So, there was no problem giving him the pleasure of paying for a delicious $10.50 Curve burger w/jalapeno cheese, ketchup, mayo, and tomato. Don’t know about the ice cream and lemonade … suppose they were fine, too.

We talked over the usual words he’s familiar with – long hair under hats and too-high salaries. 2021 fashion and cell phone usage among the visitors at the ball-park was an occasional attention radar blip as is almost always the case in public when dad and I go out. The what’s and how’s don’t mean much to dad. He’s not so much fascinated or intrigued by life as I am. His contentment is in routine, stability, and helping others. At his age, these are the good ole’ reliables, I suppose.

And so, we watched the final out together then waited for the fireworks. The announcer began a ten-digit countdown with three-thousand remaining loyal waiters sitting, standing, and reclining so patiently within the comforting park … Ten, nine, eight …

I sat back behind dad. A few spritzes, little sparkles, and all different colors of artificial stars lit up a clear black sky for fifteen minutes.

The finale wasn’t your big city, New York, kind-of million dollar bang, for sure. We’re a little city. This was a “wrestling” theme ticket night with nary a Hulkster or hint of what they meant in sight. At least fireworks were advertised and delivered. The last of the bangers didn’t disappoint me, but not for the reason you’d expect.

That first picture sums up a lot of what baseball, and life, with dad means to me. It’s the end of something wonderful even though most of it wasn’t that impressive.

Most of our life together was, well, hitless. No need for details. It’s just enough to say music, sports, personalities, etc … didn’t run the bases together very well.

That was then, as they say.

We’ve come through the relational minor leagues together and have been on the same team for some time now. Up and downs? Sure. Disagreements and missed calls at home plate? Absolutely!! We are currently two very independent, strong-willed men who aren’t afraid to speak our minds when necessary … and sometimes when not.

This is all part of the experience. I watched dad watch the finale. At a baseball game we were. Both of us living weird, different life experiences now – neither thinking, a few years ago, we’d be inside our individual situations. Thing is, we are where we are together, too. This is, simply, a nice place to be.

We can’t choose some life things, right? I didn’t choose my inability to connect a bat to a ball, nor do I think I had a hand in playing simple Chopin at the age of six. Dad didn’t choose his personality or later-in-life challenges. We chose to go to a ballgame Sunday evening. The tickets were complimentary and the food was deliciously expensive, of course. His dime, so extra-good as far as I was concerned.

A special evening to think about what was – and to watch dad watch a finale in a place that wasn’t Anywhere, U.S.A. It was home base for a dad and a son.

Somehow, I Made It

Nothing to write about with everything to say.

Finding time to sit down and type in a few words has been difficult since my last post. What I am not is an internationally well-established author with impeccable writing skills and multiple book tours in my past. With that in mind, missing six days wasn’t going to set off a major crisis in the literary, online, blogging world.

Taking time aside to care for loved ones, run a business, nap, and munch on a few snacks in between time crunch duties was important enough to step back from the interweb typing thing. Glad I, necessarily, did. Loving life, while extremely busy, is rewarding apart from online duties when serious concerns feel heavy on my heart.

There’s no picture. A tag-along above to assist is not here. Any photo or image to accompany today’s thought wouldn’t work.

Today is Friday. Finally, a day off from meats in buns smothered with gooey sauces and chosen veggies. No “famous” chili-mac-n-cheese servings or shouts of “everything” burgers with Doug’s Dawgs stickers being delicately handed out. No customers today … I’m ok with this.

Seven events. Four in 48 then three in 36 these past six days. Just enough hours to do all the normal prep and clean up required taking into consideration all the business shopping and bill paying necessary to keep that part of life up-to-date.

The other part? Personal concerns. There didn’t seem to be hours, let alone minutes, to use … However, I made it. Somehow, I’m here. It’s Friday.

Didn’t plan on the pieces of the other part separating at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning – a reverse puzzler, as it turned out. A nice picture minutes before fell apart before my eyes lasting into the late evening Thursday. Days and nights with little sleep – while maintaining a busy schedule – weren’t helpful.

I wasn’t in crisis, but someone else was. Nurses, an occasional doctor, emergency and hospital rooms, medicine, pain, tears, texts, calls, needles, beeps, beds, consults, fears, and anxieties … a not-so inclusive list of every hour mindful minefields of groping gadgets I wanted to share with the soul in crisis. With those came an exhaustive search for extra time and energy that never came. Somehow, I’m here. It’s Friday.

Yea, looking back I feel something was accomplished. In the middle of it all? Not so much. Getting the necessary things done didn’t allow for the successes I wasn’t sure to look for, anyway. It was, and is, a complicated thing … this cancer issue. “Helping” is not just a physical do-this I’ve come to understand … it’s a much bigger crisis to manage.

I feel rewarded by a simple, “thank-you”, graced upon me, but not by those two words. It was an eight-word phrase she may, or may not, remember saying. The words don’t matter to anyone else except me. I’m glad to have them in my memory as a reminder of why it was so important to act upon a 5 a.m. reverse puzzler expecting nothing in return.

The reason I didn’t include a picture is because there’s no image of pain close to what I saw. That’s just me, of course.

Until life decides to spread out the crisis/business/personal jam ups in a more tolerable manner, I suspect there will be indigestible, short, three day stretches again. Every time will be epic battles of wit vs. will and willingness vs. availability. Somehow, I’ll be there, too.

… And I’m glad I had some time to type today. With nothing epic to write about and everything to say, this much-less-than famous author is glad to simply have a day off to enjoy himself.

Somehow, I made it. TGIF.

Snuggling Buicks

Mark-56 was first. Slowly, Ms. Red snuggled in beside to Mark’s left. I saw this romantic gesture through a late dinner’s window pane at Denny’s tonight around 9:45 p.m. and had to investigate.

Starting with a, “What are these cars?”, text to a good friend, I waited for a reply. An answer didn’t come back quick enough, so I flexed my inquisitive muscles by accelerating out of a yet-to-be-tabled salmon order booth. I walked through a sparsely occupied Friday night eatery on my way out to introduce myself.

These two didn’t need an escort – especially one who thought moments ago only Sir Ford and Miss Chrysler were out for an evening stroll. Apparently, Mr. Piano Guy here has limited knowledge of classic cars manufactured in ’56. Peering through glass – while waiting for what turned out to be a less-than-stellar trio of fish, potatoes, and broccoli – isn’t an exact science. That said, I bet most late night beholders of parking space beauty would have guessed, “Buick”.

“Nice wheels”, finally. Yes, I agree. Feedback from my friend was certainly appreciated after a few minutes. Sure, they are nice. Old, possibly restored autos were really cool to look at under the lights of a lit, clear evening parking lot; However, at that moment, I was less interested in bling-bling appearances than the actual make & model of these two late evening embracers.

“Nice to see you…”, I mumbled under my exhausted breath while asking permission to take the picture above. It was ten minutes prior I slunk into a booth after working a concert event: four-and-a half hours of busy, hot, sometimes confusing “sammie” making where the customer decision process can challenge even the most patient of souls. A once friendly, but suddenly cantankerous, canopy caused fifteen minutes of delay due to its inability to snap open one of four legs. In the midst of this colorful language episode – and no indication of a condiment, napkin, or steam droplet from any pan – an hombe with no wits about him walked up and asked, “Hey, you open yet?”…

Ok, so I was asking two beautiful cars a question they couldn’t answer. In retrospect, the guy, hours before, asked me that question I’m convinced he really didn’t want me to reply with words I desperately wanted to say. Who looks at a frustrated vendor – clearly wrestling with a large white vinyl piece of crap while a van sits full of supplies and a cart as cold as ice – and thinks, “I should ask, 45 minutes before the concert is scheduled to start, if I can get a hot sandwich. Looks like this guy is up and running … even though half his body is up in that canopy’s face.”??

“Why, yes, Sir … May I help you? …”, were seven words not coming clearly into my mind. I struggled as much with staying silent as trying to get the little clip-nib to come out on the leg that wasn’t working on the canopy. By the time an appropriate reply, “I open at six!!!”, was about to free-flow from my overly heated body, he moved on. A moment of relief. Fortunately … because I don’t like to get upset with potential customers, but … really? C’mon, my friend.

I had a few seconds to take a deep breath and truly say, “Hello.”… Mark and his lady friend had no idea of my troubles earlier. How could they? During my time of duress, they were out cruising about town, perhaps together … possibly apart … although considering the graceful manner in which they arrived suggested to me a familiarity in their travels.

It’s what fascinated my attention from the start.

I looked out over a weakly-iced tea to see Mark slowly enter his space. Gently he arrived. Careful in his approach, yet eager to arrive. I don’t know why I was so happy when, a minute later, Ms. Red snuggled in beside and took her place. It was almost like the two of them were meant to be together … at that time, in those two spaces – beside one another. One, then two, but still one.

They were a couple out on the town content to just be together. No frills, no extra fluff. Being in their space was perfectly fine for their life. I swear her back right tire was nudging over against his back left as if to say, “We can be here now … just us. No worries.”. My hectic, frustrating moments passed as I watched her tenderly pull in beside her man. This paused my soul.

Yeah, I know … just cars. Just – as it turned out – Buicks, not Fords or Chryslers. To a guy sipping a three-cube iced tea waiting on what eventually was a disappointing salmon dinner, two beautiful cars in his line of sight, and a bit of imagination, finished off an aggravating day in a lovely way.

I don’t know. Could have been the heat or the hunger that caused this reflection through the pane of glass? Sorry, Denny’s, but your salmon dinner didn’t make the hunger go away … and the heat? Well, that has since cooled off under my skin since Brian – a wonderful foodie friend – fixed the canopy (for now) and I’m off for a double-event day.

I sure hope Mark-56 and his Lady of Red had a wonderful rest of the evening together. I can’t thank them enough for giving me a few moments of happiness last night. They were snuggly beautiful together and I’m so fortunate they understood my exhaustion when I asked, “May I interrupt and take your picture?”

“Why, yes. Yes you can. We’re just here enjoying the evening together. It’s such a nice night. Don’t worry about anything. There’s a safe space for you anytime you need one. Just look out any window and remember: take life as it comes – gently drive your soul and, most of all … remember someone special will always love you and be by your side no matter what.”.

Yeah.

Uptown and All That Jazz

Kander & Ebb. Roxie & Velma. CHICAGO, June 3rd, 1975.

“Come on babe, why don’t we paint the town?
And all that jazz
I’m gonna rouge my knees and roll my stockings down
And all that jazz
Start the car, I know a whoopee spot
Where the gin is cold but the piano’s hot
It’s just a noisy hall, where there’s a nightly brawl
And all that jazz”

I remember the stage. No, it wasn’t Broadway or 1975. In 2011, a piano and I wonderfully joined a talented cast and pit orchestra on June 22nd in front of a packed house for the first of four shows. The Mishler Theater stage in Altoona, Pa, was underfoot at precisely 7:30 … and magic began when the ages old red and gold curtain rose. We were together. An entire cast – with a supporting pit on stage right and an excited pianist behind a concert grand stage left – ready to paint the town.

All that jazz – witnessing the rehearsal stresses, music changes, conflicts between people who do show-things differently in their brains – didn’t matter to me once I looked over to my pit director. Downbeats of an Overture on opening night melted away misfit memories from two previous months of stops and starts.

Left-right-left-right/Bass-treble-tonic-dominant alternating action between two very experienced hands ushered in “All that Jazz” as the Overture danced marvelously into an opening act. I loved every note of every song and the hotness of the piano under sensational spots. Four nights. Hours of absolute treasureness behind the keys.

There’s never been a final curtain from that show for me. After the Sunday matinee, my mom approached the stage as I stepped off the front riser. She, surprisingly, bought a ticket to attend the show a second time after seeing it on opening night. Exhausively and four-show drained, I gave her a big hug to accept a congratulations realizing this was to be the last time a son’s show performance would be in front of a mom’s tired eyes. A final curtain came the following March. Cancer, at that point, had been her noisy hall and brawl. Her first and second acts were produced & directed the best they could. It was time to enjoy what time could offer … and enjoy she did – watching the Cell Block tango girls, Roxie, Velma, and the entire cast of “Chicago” jazz up the stage. I won’t forget. No final curtain on the memories a decade ago.

All that Jazz then, and “Uptown Jazz” last night. A connection, of sorts, to the past. Kinda.

Below is a musically talented friend and all-around good guy, Dave, at the keyboard, on a smaller stage in a cast of four. He’s sitting on a stage where there were no big production dances, stockings down, sexy outfits, murder, or plot twists. Just a pianist, vocalist, set player, and bassist/guitar player. Oh, a dinner buffet, alcohol, and a relaxed piano player in the audience not concerned about vocal cues or four-show happy stresses.

He’s 25% of “Uptown Jazz” and a very versitile keyboard player. To type his contribution as “one-quarter” is understating his talent. Singer, songwriter, “jazzer”, educater, recording engineer, sound technician, … our community is blessed to have a musician of his skill perform within many combinations of pluckers, strummers, paradiddlers, and vocaleers.

I sat in a dimly lit room, back from some semi-alcohol saturated beings, as one of three sitting close together at a round table normally set for ten. The people situation was more crowded up front. To be expected, since acoustically, “microphone speak” was less like Charlie Brown’s teacher closer to the stage than where we where. “Mmpf … Err , ddrph la ruch” is pretty close to all we could understand between set songs – which makes the notes Dave was stroking on the keys extra special.

Notes from his piano floated uninterrupted as he played a few instrumental pieces in a trio/combo. Jazz. Granted, “Uptown Jazz” performed most numbers as an impressive four, but I enjoyed the deep jazz trio work the best. New York, small, smokey, underground jazz club tug-and-pull, complex chord structure … All that Jazz work impressed my classical piano soul a lot.

It was a nice evening. Even though driving, from my direction, was kinda downtown to the UVA Club … heading “uptown” to hear Dave play again was worth the small cover charge and four-times that for the land-and-sea buffet. Now, to be honest, there was no Roxie to crawl across the table in sexy lingerie last night like she did on my piano ten years ago. Dave’s best playing wouldn’t erase that moment in my memory, but his musical dexterity and kindness certainly made the evening more enjoyable than most.

Hours earlier, I started the car to head into a spot – not a whoopee spot, though. I drove into an Altoona location where jazz would, once again – at least in part – be heard … a few blocks away from where my mom last sat listening to hear a son perform, “Nowadays”, the closing number from “Chicago”.

Nowadays, we can relive some memories. Some magical remembrances while sitting in large, dimly lit halls listening to good friends do what we do … in part, of course. I’m a classical guy, Dave’s a jazz player. A piano is a piano, I guess, and music in all its forms is a transporter back to mom and son special moments.

Thanks to Dave, “Uptown Jazz”, and all the local musicians who build the bridges back to kind, wholesome times. Mom can’t thank you enough.

She’s waiting at the edge of the stage to give all of you a great big hug.

A Rail, Rocks, and Rurality

I didn’t know it was a word. “Rurality”, (defined by Wikipedia/Chigbu 2013, p. 815), is “a condition of place-based homeliness shared by people with common ancestry or heritage and who inhabit traditional, culturally defined areas or places statutorily recognized to be rural”. There it is! An eight-letter, beautiful timely term describing a hometown circumstance I found myself surrounded by the other day.

A rail and rocks? Well, kinda self-explanatory.

This is the overlook at Chimney Rocks park near the southern edge of Hollidaysburg, Pa. These bison boulders seen aren’t the actual chimney rocks formed centuries ago. To gaze upon those huge stonal spectaculars, you will need to travel roughly one-hour and fourty-five minutes east from Pittsburgh. Rocks, in this place … during this time … are there as a replacement for rails once there. From the information I was able to obtain, rails were being vandalized, abused, and constantly replaced. Not knowing the exact extent of damage, I assumed it must have been steadily bad enough to warrant bull-lifting in four walloping wall crater-makers.

I sat comfortably on a bench a few feet back from the rail and rocks … also among cicada screams and an occasional, hopeful, few seconds respite from their male mating hollers. The quiet never came. Tinnitus – that ever faithful inner-ear companion of mine – took a deafening back seat. Oh, to have heard only that minor second interval ring true at any moment! Yet, there I sat – still convinced it was to be a perfect time for reflection about a rail, rocks, and rurality … a word I was convinced didn’t exist.

Rurality does exist, apparently. So do the rocks – and not just the four keeping young ones from unsafely toddlering their way past the rail. Chimney Rocks is part of “place-based homeliness” all of us around here know as Hollidaysburg.

I grew up only a block or so away from the base of the hill where the overlook and park are beautifully carved as a small plateau into the hill. We climbed the face many times, escaping perils of broken bones and snake bites. Foliage was thick and steep which didn’t seem to bother our brave, young levi-laden bodies. Finally reaching the “chief’s chair” was a two-hour effort provided we didn’t stop to argue over the best way up through thick brush and fallen, rotted timber.

Where the park is now was then a sanctuary for small critters we heard, but never saw. Many a teen trod over soil and stones since removed from the very area I sat the other day. Looking back – off to my right – large, deep drill marks could be seen against the hill face exposed by deep cuts in the earth. Cut away like a slice of the moon were centuries of hidden rocks, memories, and footprints of young teenagers brave enough to scale a Hollidaysburg hill.

The four rocks came from the hill. They were allowed to have their common ancestry remain in place. A place of familiarity – if only a few yards away and for a purpose. They can now oversee a hometown while protecting the most innocent among us.

I see these four rocks as just that: the new protectors of rurality that will oversee Hollidaysburg’s heritage for centuries.

We are passers-by, for sure. The original Chimney Rocks either pushed through the earth, or were benefactors of propitious pounding of eroding soil around them. In either case, they were here before humans and will, most assuredly, rock-on well beyond our breathable years. The four overlookers? The same. They’ll outlast the usefulness of that park, rusty rails, and young teens who, now, only have to take a casual walk up one of a few well-maintained paths from an overlook to the “chief’s chair”.

With all the recreational options available, I doubt many will know the joys of climbing that hill, however. What a shame.

I had a small urge to jump the rail and experience a little nostalgic rurality once again. That hill on the other side was tempting this 50’s body of mine. Unfortunately, I knew inevitable screams for help would go unheard as cicada mania still pierced the air. I would’ve been stuck in misery for a bit. Good news? The view north into my hometown would have been fantazmical on my back dangling from a fragile branch off the side of a bluff.

The view those rocks have all day, every day, is spectacular. Rurality is kinda breathtaking, too, when considered as an actual word … and condition of being for people who love their hometown.

I loved my sit-time there – cicadas aside, of course. I promised you a show-and-tell IF you drove a bit eastward, but have since decided to post up a few links if you’re interested in reading more about the park. Maybe if we’re ever there together, the cicadas will be gone, we can talk about your remarkable rurality memoir, and if I happen to go over the rail, please rescue me.

http://www.hollidaysburgpa.org/depts/Parks/Pages/ChimneyRocksPark.aspx