Monday, June 22, 2015

#ROW80 – SUNDAY CHECK IN – SMARTPHONES AND BICYCLES

Last week I got a call from my favorite 1st violinist, ever. I kinda have to back this up a bit, to last August. I had been unable to play viola for several years, as I have essential tremor. It is an inherited condition and my mother had it. Like just about every neurological condition that is not present from birth, it took a while to sort it all out and figure out how to treat it.

In the meantime, I got to learn how not to be frustrated with buttoning things, trying to cook and eat neatly, comb my hair, or deal with putting on make up. The condition itself can manifest much like Parkinson's Disease although the etiologies for the two are completely different and the treatments are different. Besides these ever-constant tremors, I also got the “bonus symptoms” of drooling at times and loss of smell, which around here, is not so bad.


God Bless the Parkinson Foundation. They not only pay for my world-class neurologist, they are actively seeking cures for these elusive, highly misunderstood and secretive disorders.

At any rate, after I began treatment, the tremors were eased, although they never truly cease. Emotion, and stress will make them worse, and lack of sleep is a killer. It's nothing for me to snooze away 12 or 14 hours, although I really hate that and I don't always feel refreshed for it. Eight solid hours is good, but if I go six or less hours for several nights, I really feel it, and the tremors become unholy. They're not going to kill me; nothing I have is. I have a bunch of annoyances that just need managing. Most people my age do.

However, one of the things I missed and missed terribly was playing and last August, I scrunched up the courage to reach back out into the musical community and see if there wasn't still a place for me somewhere. I decided to check out the Tampa Bay Symphony as it had been the first really good group that I played with when I moved down here to Florida. I looked at their website and discovered that they were still going strong. Dr. Jack Heller, who had founded the orchestra twenty-eight years ago, had retired and the present Conductor, Mark Sforzini, has been a Tampa Bay area mainstay and most excellent musician and proponent of sharing music and bringing it to others for years.



It has actually been closer to 15 years since I've played in a symphonic environment. I've been a "free-range" violist and thus, I had to re-learn a few niceties, something our principal Cellist was happy to do when I was imitating a panzer division during the Shostakovich's 5th Symphony for Big Orchestra. We laughed after the rehearsal; it takes a while to realize that "piano" really means "piano" not "just a little less louder" like when I toured with Styx.

There were no openings for violists, and I was disappointed at first, but I noticed that they were performing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in C minor on their first concert and I took this as a sign, because Beethoven has been a part of my life since I can't remember when, and not only for his music, but for his own tenacity during times in his life that were not easy. I could identify with him and so, I contacted the Tampa Bay Symphony and heard back from them a few days later, with an application, the audition music and choice of times to play.

Ugh. I feel about auditions the same way I feel about having the shits, throwing up and dying, but orchestras use them and they are the way of gauging an artist's nervousness, because they sure as HELL do not gauge really whether or not you can play worth a damn! That is not entirely true. A good panel can listen through all of the stress and nervousness and wrong notes and train wrecks and get some idea of what they have to work with, provided they don't have you taken out back and shot for attempting to impersonate a string player.


Every facet of my life has been seen through the prism of this man's own approach to life and his search for excellence. I, as did he, had our own falls from grace, but what, in the end does that really matter. Beethoven's absolute and unswerving integrity shone through his music and his search for perfection. If you can't attain it, you can at least strive for it; none of us are perfect.

I practiced each of the excerpts until I could play through them flawlessly in my house, knowing that this was not going to happen during the audition, and sure enough it didn't. The other factor that arose, was the wonderful “tremor factor” went into high gear because I was so nervous. However, Mark Sforzini our Music Director, heard something he liked, or else he felt bad for me, because I was shaking so badly, I could barely keep my bow on the string, because he stopped me before the audition ended and conferred with the other two committee members there, and they asked if I would join the symphony.

A huge sigh of relief. I said “yes”, of course and I was on my way. Since I am unable to drive to and from rehearsals, I had to figure out how I was going to leap my next hurdle. I found the bus schedules from Tampa to St. Pete and going there is no issue; coming home would be, as the buses stop running at 7 pm, and our rehearsals don't end until 9:30 pm. So, at the first rehearsal, a cellist and her husband drove me home, but it was hard for them to keep doing that, because she's brand new to the area and this area I live in is rough; I couldn't blame her.


Not everyone is as used to seeing the thuggery or gangsta culture out here as I am. It is possible to live among it and not get killed. Julie understands that and so do I. Our mutual cellist friend is actually from Hungary and was not used to seeing all this.

However, there was this 1st violinist, named Julie who lives not far from me and was more than happy to have a ride-along each week, in exchange for gas money and free entertainment as a raconteur and it's worked out really well, for both of us. She's such a sunny, happy and funny individual and a superb player. She is also a 3rd-degree Black-Belt in Tae Kwon Do and she and her boyfriend own a Dojo in Ybor City, not far from where I live. She just earned her 3rd-degree this past year, when they went to an International convention in Vancouver.

So, as we've gotten to know one another, we've had lots of interesting talks, ranging in everything from music to mortality. She met Jim a few times, and was almost heart-breakingly empathetic to his pain and she was right; it was hard to watch, and I don't think that he was telling me or his doctors everything. Maybe all people do that when it is coming close to the end. I fully believe my mother was much sicker than she was letting when she died. At any rate, the best we can do as family members is be by their sides; that's what they really want.

Julie was one of the first people I talked to after Jim's death, and like me, she too, felt it was a release, not that there isn't a sense of loss, of course. We talk back and forth. I had to get a new phone, as Metro PCS was changing satellites, or cleaning them or something. Well, this has unveiled an unbelievably new low in idiocy, even for me.


All of these apps, features, gizmos, whats-ises and doo-dads. Yet, a phone call still sounds like it's being phoned in from the era of two tin cans and a string.

I've butt-dialed people who are then treated to 10 minutes of ambient noise: scratchy and boomy speakers from da 'hood, dogs barking, and random yelling. It took me me four damned weeks to get logged into Chrome or Google and now, I wish to hell I hadn't. Random things pop up on this damn phone; pet astrology, recipes, sports trivia, news from every outlet under the sun, along with games with names like “Lookithat!”, “Tanki”, “InsideOut Thought”, “Cooking Dash 2016” (there are like a JILLION cooking games, why?), and “Dragon Friends”, all of which have appeared unannounced, unasked for, and after brief fumblage, unwanted.

I was at Rose Radiology for a routine Mammogram, and my phone hollered at me, and some guy wearing a Viking Helmet started bellowing at me in Norse. I almost jumped out of my chair. I said to the room at large, as I was sitting next to this cute-as-a-button, little old lady, with a snow-white cap of downy hair, in a wheelchair, and who was at least 112, “I don't know why I got this phone, it's over here living its own life. I have no clue what it's doing and when I try to dial a number, it's the wrong number. Am I the only idiot with this problem?” She just giggled and raised her hand. “Me too. It's so silly! Mine wants me to buy Butt Enhancers!” She showed me the ad. Sure enough. I made my pal for the day. After I got rid of Viking guy, something else popped up; the weather for the tri-state area in New York. I have my own zip code programmed into this booger. Oh well.


Anyway, when I first got the phone, I thought I was looking at the camera function, but I was really calling Julie. She thought that was hilarious. She had her own horror stories to tell about smart phones and just about the apps in general, but somehow we got onto the subject of Jim's bicycles.

I may have mentioned in my last post that he had no hobbies, which is not entirely correct. When he was in better health, he did have hobbies, one of which was “going to be” fixing bicycles. This would have been great, but we never got around to the fixing part. We were just at the collecting stage. For a long time, we had five or six bicycles in the living room, and not much else. They all needed some type of help; a seat, maybe a tire, or some brakes.


A buncha bikes in Amsterdam

But, for months, we had to claw our way through this jungle-gym of metal, rubber, oily and poky things in order to get to the rest of the house. Jim's criteria for buying bicycles was a bit odd. He bought one from a guy, 'cause the guy needed help. In a pig's eye. The guy was a drunk and probably stole it from somewhere; I suspect that's the case with a couple of those bikes. He bought one that was blue, because I like blue. He was going to fix it up for me to ride. Hello! I'm legally blind! I have no depth perception and my eyes don't track. I'm pretty sure that bike-riding is not in my future. He was going to ride the red one, with his bad hip and blown-out knees. I'm laughing as I type this.



This was to be used for the equivalent of raising the dead to walk again. I love dreamers, being one myself.

Oh, it should be mentioned as well, that his entire “bicycle fix-it” kit was a tire patch kit. He had a formidable set of tools for drywall and heavier construction-type jobs, but really nothing very good for bikes. So, after a few months of climbing over all of these bicycles, I persuaded him to move them to the back of the house. Why not the back yard, you say? Because we would have been buying them back from the McDrunkleys that would have stolen them from us the previous night.


We'd both probably fall for, "Well, we found this" and buy it back. Jim did have the softest heart. He'd give the McDrunkley 15.00 for it and say, "We'll fix 'er up and sell it for 60.00." Yeah, well, all the bikes went to bike heaven, or that big scrap yard in the sky.

Once they were in the back of the house, they proceeded to multiply or something, much in the manner of wire coat-hangers. They just turned into this huge ball of metal, that was becoming more and more impenetrable by the minute and I do believe had we been able to fix them, we really couldn't have made one entire WHOLE bicycle out of this mess. I do have to tell you that Jim had fixed two of them and gave them to some children a few doors down. They came to pay their respects to Mr. Jim after he passed; it was sweet.

Well, as I was telling Julie this story about the bicycles, she was laughing harder and harder, because she recognized herself in this whole thing, as do I. She has a sewing project that is in her mother's house. She says “it's been there so long, it has become PART of the house”. Yup. I got one of those, only it's hook rugs. Back when I smoked, my mother, God rest her soul, sent me this hook rug kit.


This would look so great in the living room. She didn't send me this one.

This is beyond stupid. I can't sew, I can't knit, I can't do anything even remotely like this, but this was going to make me quit smoking cigarettes. Her rationale was, “when you feel like a smoke, do some of your hook rug”. Okay, if I feel like a smoke, why am I gonna do something I can already tell I'm gonna loathe? But, to make her feel good, I said, “yeah, Ma, I'm a workin' on that ole hook rug”. It's actually in a storage shed, or has been thrown out. Were it around, it would be about 35 years old by now. But I did quit smoking; it will be 5 years in September. Anyway, Julie is an awesome friend to have and she and I have had some meltdowns laughing. This conversation was one of those times!




My mom sent me something like this, only the lions weren't smiling. These lions are on Prozac.
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