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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Predators In The Crowd-funding World




            Two weeks ago I launched my second crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo.  I've been taken by surprise by the number of new businesses that have sprung up in the wake of the crowd-funding phenomena.  Most of these are Public Relations firms who promise to manage my campaign, disseminate press releases, boost my Facebook "Likes" and bring my project such great success that I'll double and triple my fundraising goals.  My first campaign went through Fundly.  It was pretty successful.  I got my e-book published on Smashwords.  The funds paid for formatting a long book.  All the hyperlinks are in place, the Table Of Contents can be clicked to beam the reader to the chapter of choice.  The Fundly campaign and subsequent e-publishing with Smashwords was a great experience.
            Yesterday I got the first of several offers that carry an obvious stink.  It was said by Barnum that a sucker is born every minute.  He left out the corollary.  Also born every minute is an opportunist or a predator who will wring that sucker dry of his last dime.  This is what I was offered: "Pay me five dollars," said the emailer, "and I will donate one dollar to your campaign and mention you on a Facebook page and leave a link to your fundraiser."
            I read it two or three times.  Oh.  How clever.  I followed the link back to the website.  It was hosted by Fiverr.com.  If you don't know, Fiverr is an internet marketplace specializing in Five Dollar "gigs", as they're called.  Services or performances are offered, such as "For five dollars I will make a video for your child's birthday featuring my puppet, 'Adam Baumtester'. On-time delivery guaranteed." I have no problem with funny puppets or any kind of low-cost service. There's something mildly sleazoid about exploiting a struggling artist, taking five dollars and charging me four of those dollars to get my name onto a Facebook page whose address I don't know.  Since yesterday I've gotten yet more offers.  The next one wanted two dollars for mention of my fundraiser on his unspecified Facebook and Twitter accounts.  How fast do I have to bail my boat to keep it from sinking?  How much water is leaking into the boat in proportion to how much water I've dumped over the side with my little old tablespoon?



            I've been solicited by companies with higher profiles and higher fees.  Crowdzilla.com has several "packages" that run from two to five hundred dollars and offer comprehensive PR deals that involve mainstream press releases, targeted Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and other Social Media.  I have marveled for twenty years at the way new jobs have been created by technology, jobs whose descriptions would have been incomprehensible in the sixties of seventies.  When i wonder what kind of work my grandchildren may be doing when they grow up I accept that the job descriptions may not yet exist and will emerge in time.
            When we were young hippies and yuppies, did we have a clue?  Did we expect to become webmasters, software developers, internet marketers?  When my seven year old grandson comes of age, he may be going to a school that lies yet unborn in some East Bay park,  a place doomed to a bulldozer mauling and the crush of concrete as it becomes The Saul Stoofner School of Nano-Cellular Osmosis.
            It's possible.  Everything is possible in  this fairyland of a planet gripped by climate change and overpopulated to the extent that a mass die-off of homo sapiens may become a necessity if we are to survive at all.
            I am convinced that we will survive.  The species of man is evolving, quickly.  The young ones are different, their bodies are more flexible, their brains more accessible to nature's innovations.  Human life will continue.  After the darkness comes the change.  I just wish nature had a mechanism for culling the assholes among us and sparing those with kind hearts and willing minds.

            

Friday, December 12, 2014

When Your Own Writing Comes Back To You

I was emailing an acquaintance today and she attached this image, that was made up by her daughter.
"Have you read this quote?" She asked.

As it turns out, the quote is from my own unpublished S/F/Fantasy novel, THE GODS OF THE GIFT. It's from the page after the title page, where I have set quotes by two fictional writers. Of course I told her of this quote's provenance.  It's weird and ironic, though, to find that something of my writing worked its way via osmosis into the outside world.  No one has ever read this book in its entirety.  Only my partner knows the gist of it.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Comet Hale-Bopp


Until recently astrophotography demanded the use of film. Today's DSLRs have sufficient control of high ISO noise so it's possible to take a shot like this and have it work  When Comet Hale-Bopp (named after two discoverers who spotted the comet independently) reached perihelion in 1997 I reached for my trusty Nikon F2 and loaded it with Fujifilm 400 print film.  The stars are not blurred through this five minute exposure because I mounted the camera atop an aligned telescope drive. Astronomers call the practice Piggyback photography. On this one night in late spring of '97 I was able to get to a dark-sky site in Oriental, CA.  I got half dozen useful exposures of this body that was called The Great Comet of 97.  It remains in my memory as the brightest comet of my life.  It stayed visible for much of 97 before it rounded the sun and vanished into the southern skies. I used this image for the cover of my music CD, OUT OF THIS WORLD Art's CD on Youtube

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Great Con




or
internet and corporate liars, tricksters and thieves




            How could I be so stupid?
            It's a question I ask myself with regularity. 
            Today, the question had its origin in making a rookie mistake while shopping online for car insurance.  I was filling out a questionnaire.  I knew I was letting myself in for trouble.  I hesitated...but I put aside my intuition and answered the questions: what kind of car do I have, what make and model, what year?  How many miles do I drive in a month?  Name, date of birth, etc etc.
            We're with Triple A, and we're not getting mugged.  I guess I crumbled under the accumulating pressure of all those commercials, you know, the ones that tell you how much money you can save in less than fifteen seconds?
            How could I be so stupid?  I wasn't even finished filling out the form when my new smartphone played its cheerful marimba melody.  It was a caller from my own area code, so I answered.
            It was an insurance sales-person.  I had just pressed "SUBMIT" on the internet form, no more than half a second had passed.  The calls began.  In five minutes I had five calls.  The computer server that acts as Uber- flypaper for naive shoppers had relayed the fact that I was price-comparing automobile insurance via the internet.
            Listen to me...we live in a world of slick cons, tricky subterfuges, hidden fees and marketing mendacity.  The Internet has enabled an army of predatory sales-drones to gather in one mighty fortress.  Their armies sally forth to lay siege to our fragile world of shrinking incomes.  These lies, exaggerations and slick tricks are aimed and ready.  They rain down upon us like a hail of arrows. The only shield we have is common sense, vigilance and experience. 
            I just had an experience.  Henceforth I will treat internet information forms like Ebola bacilli.  They're not here to make us wiser, wealthier or healthier.  They're here to strip us to our last dime..
            I've noticed that the button on my new smartphone, the "REJECT CALL" button, is harder to activate than the green button that accepts the incoming projectile. I swipe in five directions, I tap it once, twice, three times.  I tap-and-swipe and the ring-tone continues its maddening marimba until finally I locate, purely by accident, that "move" that rejects an incoming missile qua sales-call.
            Excuse me for just a second, my smartphone is burbling again with its default ring-tone.  I've had the thing a week.  I've figured out a fraction of its capabilities.  I turned off the Data icon. I don't need a phone to hook me up to the internet.  I don't need my email on my phone. I've got it right here in a high speed Broad Band-equipped desktop computer. My email is 99 percent junk, anyway.
            I got this phone to save money.  I've been getting robbed blind by AT&T.  I use my phone two or three times a week.  I don't text.  So I purchased a Tracfone, a prepaid
deal at a fixed price.  Phone minutes, text minutes and data minutes, all at a fixed price.  I am not APP-CRAZY.  I installed one APP, a gizmo that reports and analyzes my minutes, text and data.  Guess what?  My data was getting used up faster than its brothers and sisters.  So I must research a fundamental question: what IS data?
It's inernet stuff.  It's email, videos, chat, it's....it's Google!  Omygod, Google is in control of my smartphone!  Google is an empire, it's like the oncoming Janissaries of the Ottoman juggernaut but it's today! and it's in control of everything.  It beams Data through my App, whether or not I want it!
            I don't fucking trust my phone.  What kind of world are we living in?  Everywhere I go, people are umbilically attached to these plastic rectangles.  They're either looking down at it adoringly, or they have it pressed to their ear as if it's a lover bestowing a kiss.  This is crazy shit, amigos!
            I don't trust my phone.  And neither should you.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Notes On Feeling Fat

Notes On Feeling Fat






            I did something that took some nerve yesterday.  I looked at myself naked in a full length mirror.  Frontal and side view.  I’ve avoided doing it for years and I finally got tired of being such a coward and did the deed.  I looked.
            It was disturbing but also liberating.  I’m sixty five years old; age is happening to my body. I won't be one of those people who cling to youth with frantic denial. I want to enjoy being a cranky old man who groans and says "Fech!" Things could be much worse.  All the flab has settled around my mid-section, leaving my shoulders, arms and legs looking okay..  I weigh two
hundred and stand five foot eight.  I “carry my weight well”, so I’ve been told.  I’m not a waddling fire plug.  I’m more like a bear or a gorilla.  These creatures don’t have tapering waistlines.
        It’s the fault of the medications.  That’s what I tell myself.  The medicines changed my metabolism.  I got heavy after I started taking the medications for my leg neuropathy and ...all those other things.
Forget the compulsive bed-time eating, the appetite for Reese’s Pieces and
Nestle’s Crunch.  Never mind the yum yum indulgence of putting peanut butter on Ritz Crackers and tossing down half a roll.  I ride a bicycle every day, three sixty five.  I know, you hate me.  I also do a daily yoga practice.  I know, you hate me even more.
            It’s a case of good disciplines counteracting bad habits.
            I am a disciplined compulsive.  Is that a paradox?  Try living with it.
Is anyone else like this?  Is anyone locked in a struggle between the rational and irrational parts of themselves?  I’m killing myself while saving my life.  I’m a suicidal yogi health food candy addict.  
            I practice aerobic “spinning”.  I sweat hard and push myself until I’m panting .
            My treadmill test indicated that I am free of heart disease.
            How do I live with myself?
            Tolerantly.  Very tolerantly.
            Am I the only baby boomer with a past full of addictions and recoveries?
Am I the only sixty-something with chronic pain in at least two parts of my body?
Am I the only man who feels conned and imprisoned by the pharmaceutical companies because I have to take meds for blood pressure, depression and physical pain?  These meds have saved and restored my quality of life.  They’ve also made me a prisoner.
            I feel as if I’ve loaned out my body as a lab rat and everything will stay cool as long as I keep running on the treadmill.
            My belly’s been large for twenty years.  I’m a husky strong man.  What will body shame get me?  Nothing.  Avoiding my reflection in the mirror is absurd., I don’t know what I really look like.  Each gaze into my reflected image is so loaded with ingrained value judgments, fantasies and delusions that it’s pointless to obsess on my appearance.  I just don’t know and never will know what I look like.  Furthermore, I don’t look the same to any two people.  Nothing does!  So what the fuck?
            I’ve made a deal with my belly.  I talk to it.  Belly, I say, you are a part of me, you are a product of genetics, lifestyle and a thousand other factors.  You and I will have have to get along.  Let’s be friends.  It’s obvious you’re not going anywhere.
            So, belly, how ya doin’ today?  No pain?  That’s good.  Let’s go for a ride.

Monday, October 20, 2014

How Do I Define My Work?




As I was setting up the pages for Tumblr, I was asked the following question in setting up my profile:
How Do You Define Your Work?

Holy Shirt!  What a question!  It caused me to pause....and pause...and in this manner some days went by...and I paused some more..  This is how I finally defined my work.




I work to express the beauty and majesty of the Universe.  I work to understand and to worship those Energies that are involved in its creation and continued existence.

I work to help those people who are involved in healing themselves from parental abuse, violence, ignorance or indifference.

I work to manifest images that evoke emotional truth and self-revelation. I work to revive atrophied faculties of mind and spirit that have been damaged by our culture.

I work to contribute my iota to the world of self-knowledge.


I write, play music and practice photography for people who want to be mirrored in their deepest selves, that they may better understand their confusions.


At the moment I can't bring any more cogent definition of my work that wouldn't involve writing fifty pages of boring junk.




Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cries From The Heart


Lately I've been getting messages from people that I would term
"Cries From The Heart".  The French have a term for this: Cri de Coeur.   A Cri de coeur is deep, serious and without artifice.  It's the real thing.  I've gotten emails, facebook messages, texts, phone calls, cries from everywhere on Earth.  They are wails of desperation, despair.  In May I uttered such a cry to a few of my friends.  Perhaps that's why I'm getting these messages now.  People feel they can let down their guard.  I hear from strangers, from acquaintances and from friends.  It's as if our bodies are distilling our  experiences and allowing these feelings to percolate downward into the Earth.  "WE'RE IN TROUBLE!" is what I'm hearing. Well...what else is new?  We've been in trouble for some time now.  When Robin Williams died there was a collective outflow, as if a giant balloon had been punctured. PSHEEEEWWW!  Suddenly the world had lost an important shade of color.  Gone!  Our palette was subtly impoverished.  I found myself thinking, "If he could get to such a state, then ANYONE might find themselves so distressed that they start looking for a way out."
Fortunately, I survived my May crisis but I will admit that it left me frightened.  It was ungodly painful!  I don't want to go through that again.  I don't want anyone to go through such an ordeal. Perhaps it was a true mid-life crisis, just a little late.  I didn't have the crisis about getting old in my fifties.  But at 65, whammo!  I write this because I think it's time to be honest.   Hang on tight, my friends.  We live in "interesting times" as the Chinese curse has it.  "May you live in interesting times" is an oriental malediction.
It's like saying "may you be witness to much war, famine and suffering." 
  We have all of that and we are forced to be witness because we live in a global information network where the news is even pumped through men's room urinals. It's important that we help one another, any way that we can. Expect to feel confused. Reach out when the confusion gets overwhelming. Reach out, anyway.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Compassion Found Dead In House Of Reps



 


            Early this morning Compassion was found dead on the floor of the House of Representatives.  An employee of the Capitol’s maintenance staff, Dizzy Tilton, found the body as he was sweeping debris down the center aisle.
          “I seen it comin’ for a long time.  It wasn't no shock." said Mr. Tilton, who has worked in the House for thirty seven years.  
            The body of Compassion was sprawled across a large number of  seats in the House Chamber.  Of course, Compassion was well known for her immortal hits such as “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late,” and “I Seen the Devil And It’s You,”. An anonymous source in law enforcement told this reporter that as many as fifty knives were used in the killing.  The FBI and the Secret Service say they have no suspects at this time, but a thorough investigation will be mounted as soon as a committee is formed to decide who will lead the inquiry.
            “There’s plenty of evidence”, said Special Agent Dawn Zerle-Light, 

“There are fingerprints on top of fingerprints.  Seems like everybody 

wanted Compassion out of the way.  The timing is suspicious, I must say.  

Only last week, Wisdom was blown to pieces in the Senate. Officials in 

Congress are trying to pin the crime on lobbyists. Of course the 

investigation won’t start until the end of the current filibuster.”

Suicide And Robin Williams


            Suicide.  Robin Williams.  You would think that those two items would not compute, that they wouldn't add up.  I can hear millions of people talking: "the guy had everything", they say.  "He was successful, famous, loved around the world.  What could be so depressing that it would cause him to wrap a belt around his neck?"
            I counseled a Suicide Hotline for five years.  I burnt out.  I couldn't take it any more.  My mother was a suicide; I found her cold body laid sideways across her bed.  I never thought that I would entertain suicidal thoughts, but I was wrong.  Only recently I had a two month depression so intense that I did indeed creep up to the edge of that precipice and look over the rim.
            In suicide counseling we were taught to look for particular red flags.  The first indicator was whether the caller was having thoughts or fantasies of suicide.  Then we would ask if there was a plan, a mental blueprint of how the suicide would happen.  If there was a detailed plan we were to probe for the acquisition of the instrument of self-murder.  A gun, razor blades, pills....by means of asking these questions we were trained to evaluate how seriously the caller was flirting with suicide.  If things were bad enough it was time to trace the call and get the police involved. 
            A prominent suicide like Robin Williams strikes us in a peculiarly vulnerable place.  If he can kill himself, we think, then anyone is capable of suicide.
            That is the plain truth.  I never thought that I would encounter suicidal ideation, that I would entertain fantasies of killing myself.  Around the beginning of June this year, a depression of overwhelming intensity seemed to leap on my back like a leopard striking from the high branches of a tree.  It's mostly over, now, I feel better, but I will never again put myself beyond the reach of the bony hand of self-killing despair.  Whatever deadly instrument it holds, I know that I have suicide within me.  My mother did it.  I thought about her a lot as I endured my mental and emotional pain. 
            Robin Williams, Robin Williams.  I loved Robin Williams.  I spent an evening in a club, sitting next to him at the bar.  We talked about the band we had both come to hear.  He was a compact little guy and as I was being entertained by our conversation I felt a weird familiarity but i didn't realize that he was THE Robin Williams, comedian, actor, bicyclist, humanitarian and all around conscious intelligent man.  Then, just as we were going our separate ways it hit me.  OH!  That was Robin Williams.  Well I'll be damned!  I didn't have to pretend not to recognize him because I didn't until the encounter was over.  Just as we were shaking hands and saying farewell a little voice in my head said "Television Television" and I thought maybe he was in a commercial or something and then, as I watched his retreating back exiting the club I got my "AHA!" and I knew he was Robin Williams.
            Having Robin Williams hang himself with a belt hurts so hugely I can't even begin to encompass its massive trauma.  I can only think, "That poor man!  His family must be going through hell!" My brush with the heavy dark freezing terrifying possibility of killing myself was enough to lift the blinders from my eyes.  Anyone in this world can find themselves in enough trouble to seek the last, only, final way out.  The problem is this....I know nothing about the Afterlife.  But I have an intuition that suicide doesn't get you a free pass out of that trouble.  It lands you in even worse trouble.
          But that's only one possibility.  I imagine there are as many afterlives as there are people and each one of them is unique.  I hope desperately that Robin Williams escaped from whatever it was that so tormented him.  I can't begin to imagine.  Due to Williams' drug history there's a widespread assumption that drugs were involved.  Now we have late breaking news that he was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.   That would push me towards the precipice.  One of the hallmarks of depression is the phenomenon known as "catastrophizing".  In my case I began fantasizing about my future; that I would end up lonely, sick and homeless.  I would be a degraded dweller in cardboard boxes.  THAT's catastrophizing.
          There's some deeper wound that exists in all of us, some Original Grief that accompanies us into the physical world.  It rides along with us in our physical bodies and sometimes it just waits there and does nothing but cause pain, momentary pain, endurable pain.  But sometimes that primal slash starts to bleed and no matter who you are, you can't stop the bleeding, you can't stanch the flow.  Your psychic energy begins to drain from you just like real blood and you get weaker and weaker and you tell yourself, hang on, be a warrior, endure.  You do NOT want to hear some fool tell you "Get over it.  The past is the past, it's over and done with.  It's time to move on."  You don't want to hear that because the fool who says that is clueless, has no idea how deep psychic pain can take you. 
            Just pray, O Afflicted One, pray and reach out to your friends, the ones who understand that no one is immune, no one gets a free pass, when the Darkness descends.  It can come at any time.  We never know.  If it's not on top of you right now, breathe a grateful sigh of relief and thank the Gods that you are more or less normal.  Enjoy that so-called Normal because sometimes it's the best we can have. After feeling what I felt these last few months, NOT feeling such things is pure bliss.



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Worst Shows On Television



Art Rosch
Copyright 2014


         
          There is no worst show on TV.  There are a plethora of disgusting, heinous, exploitive and dishonest shows.  Trying to chose one is like sticking my hand down a fairground Portapotty.
          I won't do it.  I have neither the courage nor the desire.  I've watched some shit, to be sure.  I've watched TV shit out of curiosity, morbid humor, a sense of snobbish superiority.  I've watched TV junk for a lot of reasons.  I wanted to bring a report back from the Front, from the cesspool of modern broadcast entertainment.
          I can't do it.  I descended the circles of Hell until my nerve failed.  I watched HOARDERS.  I watched the inane chatter of The Kardashians.  I watched as America's fixation on puke, pee and poop exploded out of the Big Screen and landed on my defenseless psyche.
          I watched Rob Dyrdek's RIDICULOUSNESS in which teenagers addle their essence by launching themselves into tricks that crunch their skulls and explode their scrotums. I watched kids do the "don't try this at home" stunts purveyed by Johnny Knoxville (and don't get me wrong, I laugh and wince too).
          The veil between television and internet is very thin.  Youtube weirdness ends up on Daniel Tosh's hilarious show.  Uploaded videos are all over the television landscape, pockmarking  the Cable Universe with ridiculousness.
          It seems as though the Lowest Common Denominator gets lower all the time.  As the world's population explodes so do the number of niche market Reality TV shows, most of which are carefully scripted and engineered to stretch fifteen minutes of content across an hour of commercials for smartphones, cars, cosmetics and fast food.
          I quailed at watching MY 600 POUND LIFE.  I feel for Melissa's situation.  I know about weight problems.  But I couldn't watch the show. It was transparently exploitive.  Let's just give the "Worst TV" ribbon to HERE COMES HONEY BOO BOO and stop there.  I'm not sure why this boring insipid show is on television and the fact that it gets renewed for another season makes me sad.  Very sad.  Maybe we have been hypnotized by Big Mama's cross-eyed gaze, as she fixates on the progress of the giant zit at the bridge of her nose.  I don't know what it is.  People watch it.  They love it!
          God help us all.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

Baby Boomers and Self Hatred




            I've noticed that some (as they are called) Baby Boomers are like Jews who are anti-Semitic.  My mother was a classic Jewish anti-semite.  Hateful rhetoric dropped from her mouth like crap from an owl's cloaca.  "The Jews will trick you every time," she often said.  "You can't trust them."  Another of her favorites: "Money's what they're about.  Money money money.  Jews do one thing well, and that's make money.  It's a shonda that Hitler didn't succeed in wiping them out!"  The word "shonda" is Yiddish for "shame" or "too bad".
            As I got into my early teens I stopped being afraid of my mother.  I'd outgrown her.  She couldn't beat me up.  "Mom", I would riposte,  dodging her clumsy right hook and restraining my urge to retaliate with a knockout uppercut. "You're a Jew, I'm a Jew, dad's a Jew, Sandy's a Jew.  How can you say this horrible Nazi crap?"
            My mom was crazy.  I mean truly bat-poo crazy.  Her mind ran like the railroad tracks that led to Auschwitz.  There were predictable stops at the same stations at the same times.  There were no deviations.  Is that one definition of crazy?  "An extreme rigidity of thought in which facts and nuances cannot be accommodated lest the pathological structure of said rigidity be broken like a bridge without proper support." 
            Let me get back to my original thesis, regarding Baby Boomers.  I'm sixty six years old.  Demographically I'm a baby boomer.  In other cultures I would be a respected Elder but in Amerika I am seen by some as an irrelevant, un-hip old fart who still listens to Sixties pop music.  Let me correct this misapprehension.   I listened to (and still listen to ) John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and their ilk. I admit to being a huge musical snob. Keyboard monster Jessica Williams is the only living legend in my sandbox, and she refuses to be tied up by the label JAZZ.  I will also offer a place of honor to Leonard Cohen.  He has given me enormous pleasure with his music.
             I enjoyed post-1965 pop music.  I bought a limited number of pop records.  I bought the second Rolling Stones record.  I bought five Bob Dylan records, starting with Bringing It All Back Home and ending with Blonde on Blonde.  I hesitated at John Wesley Harding. I had to wait a few years for Dylan's Multiple Personality Disorder to roll over like slot machine fruit to a configuration I recognized. I never bought a Beatles record. I wasn't a fan.  I am now, but I still don't buy their records.  Who needs to? 
            It's weird when I read articles in which Baby Boomers are generalized into a sociological cluster that resembles a haul of mackerel in a giant net.  Our nation has been dominated by some nebulous force called Youth Culture since we were Youth ourselves.  Now, if we don't understand or enjoy Hip Hop we're relegated to the Outer Limits of cultural discard.
            Some of the best music I hear is television background music.  These are theme songs, fragments or riffs designed to enhance the drama.  They are sound-memes, identifiers of hit series like Sons Of Anarchy (Review) or Breaking Bad. My ear tells me, "Hey, that's pretty good stuff..".  Fortunately one can buy a lot of these TV songs and themes.
They are sold as and by the show and the season, not by the artist.  They're like playlists.  They ARE playlists.  The show's composer, such as Dave Porter from Breaking Bad, is not very interested in tearing up hotel rooms and snorting coke with groupies.  


             The contemporary musical acts to which I am exposed are forgotten as soon I've heard them.  I give Lady Gag props for her science fiction wardrobe and catchy tunes.  But most of the singers or bands I hear get me to wondering.  Can they play at all?  Have they spent fourteen hours a day practicing fundamental exercises on their chosen instruments?  Can someone explain to me why the musical acts on "So You Think You Can Dance" are so abysmal?  We love the dancing and choreography.  Love it!  I'm convinced that dance is in the midst of a golden revival, that we are witnessing the invention of truly new languages.  But when each week's "musical guest" appears we shudder and watch in horrified dismay.  Is some paradigm being revealed?  Is music being sucked into a rip tide and washed out to sea?
            I seriously doubt it.  The distinction here is that the music that's getting "play" is crappy.  I have no refuge.  If I want to listen to jazz I'm welcome, of course.  But there is no more John Coltrane, no more Charles Mingus.  Now we have Marsalis Gumbo, that well known New Orleans dish.  It's good stuff,  it shows awesome technical prowess and a smidgen of soul.  It seems, however, that musical innovation is being led by technology.  One can buy a machine that makes sounds that might emanate from remote corners of the galaxy. It has no difficulty playing in 15/8 time.  We can write and play whatever we want!  Our imaginations have been unfettered.  Where are the people putting these awesome tools to use?  It turns out that the really good musicians, players who are imaginative AND proficient have migrated to the world of television and film, where they provide so many excellent sound tracks.  They're not interested in being pop stars.  They're interested in doing their work and making a decent wage. 
            There are no musical categories any more.  Jazz as a dynamic art form ran out of gas around 1970.  It had played itself into a corner called "New Wave" or "New Thing" and hardly anyone could tolerate the caterwauling that emerged from the saxophones of Albert Ayler or John Tchicai.  (A confession here: at the time, I loved New Wave.  I was taking acid). 
            I'm not ashamed of being sixty six years old.  The alternative is to be dead.
Anyone who has reached such an age has survived a given amount of horrible pain.
I'm proud to be a survivor.  I know certain things.  Pain is a great teacher. 
            My mother taught me by negative example not to feel contempt for my own tribe.  Her railroad tracks ran out in 1980, when she committed suicide.  She rolled up on the terminal station of her mental Auschwitz and it didn't look very inviting.  The sign said "Arbeit Macht Frei" and poor mom was in no condition to Arbeit.
            I know this isn't my best-written piece, I know it's sloppy and barely hangs together.  I'm trying to start a conversation.  I'm tired of being dismissed by little kiddies half my age who are now taste-makers, trend-setters and power brokers.
I'm in the business of making a living as a writer and I passed Rejection Slip #500 a long time ago for my novel, CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MANhttp://www.artrosch.com/2014/06/my-novel-vice-of-courage-chapter-one.html.  It's as profound and touching a story as any novel in print, it will make you laugh and make you cry but it has no vampires, nor anything with long teeth, it's just about people and the way they go about healing themselves from having crazy mothers.  Seventy pages of this book take place in 1982 Afghanistan!  It's exciting as  hell!
            Literary agents, editors,  publishers, taste-makers and other cultural filters and gate-keepers will some day be either sixty six years old or six feet underground.
I invite them NOW, (before it's too late) to get on my train, whose tracks are constantly being built right under the engine and we never know where we might end up.
            (Today's magic word is "Duck on a string".  Okay, four words).


           



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dial M For MIND


September 12, 2014



            The mind is a fickle beast.  It renders life a matter of interpretation.  It messes with facts the way a cat messes with a catnip mouse.  Let's take an example of a fact and the way the mind can squeeze the texture of reality into the most paradoxical experiences.
            Here's a fact:  I pay $700 a month to live with my partner in a 38 foot motor home.  That's for  site rent, water, sewage and a generous stipend of electricity. Interpretation #1---we are poor white trash who can't afford a mortgage and are forced to live in a funky campground with people over whom we have no control.
            Interpretation #2: Our overhead is so low that I can afford to work fifteen hours a week and devote the rest of my time to writing, photography and study.
            Here is a fact and my mind has entertained both outcomes of this fact.  Interpretation #1 hit me during May of this year when I plunged into a consuming depression.  I felt like such a failure!  A man at my age with no money, no property, few possessions and even fewer so-called "fans" of my artistic work.  After all, EVERYTHING in my life has been about my artistic work.  At sixty six, it's a little late to go back and study accounting.
            Depression is no joke: it can kill you.  This one was a dragon, and I was fighting for my life while it was able to breathe fire.  When the smoke cleared I wanted to wrap its ashes in a little package and put it on the dashboard as a reminder that I'm not immune to savage and destructive thoughts. 
            Interpretation #2 is certainly just as true as #1 and far more comforting.  So, dear audience?  Which door should I open?  Shout it out!  #2! #2!  Okay, okay.  The problem is that the mind is like a feral donkey.  It won't be cajoled; it won't be baited. It won't obey the commands of logic.  It allows the nearest emotion to get on its back and then it goes crazy, it takes its rider (your Self) on a wild, bucking ride across a surreal landscape of irrational urge and desire.  At last it tires and lets you (and your feelings) get off its heaving flanks and regain some composure.  This is the reason that all studies of consciousness, from psychology to esoteric Buddhism, focus on the mind.  The fickle beast of the mind is a problem second only to mortality itself.




Monday, August 11, 2014

The Future Of Money



                                               Who should we put on the hundred?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Don't Give Up

            You can't fall apart when things go wrong.  And when I say "go wrong" I mean badly wrong, way wrong.  The loss of a job, the death of a loved one, a diagnosed illness: that kind of wrong.  You can't fall apart.
            It's difficult not to fall apart.  We don't control our emotions.  Grief, despair, depression, are creatures with wills of their own and they seem to take over the daily habits that normally sustain us.  How do I NOT fall apart?  How do I fight back and regain my dignity after chucking it into the trash, after curling into a fetal position and going "waaaah?!"
            The answer is "ANY WAY YOU CAN!"  I thought to do some writing, and I ended up writing this.  Which will take about five minutes.  I wanted to work on my novel in progress and I sat staring at the page feeling waves of anxiety streaking through my innards.  It's difficult to write through waves of anxiety.  I'll make it.
I'll get there.
            Last year a man died suddenly.  He was the man who provided me with three quarters of my contracting work.  Three quarters of my income vanished overnight. Then I had a health scare.  Things began going to pieces, one little piece at a time.  It works that way, sometimes.  It isn't one big thing; more like a lot of little things until it seems that nothing will ever go right again.
            That's the voice of depression speaking, saying "It's done, you're finished, nothing good is going to happen to you."  As a grizzled veteran of the fight against depression I understand the feeling that a low emotional state is permanent.  It isn't.  But you can't fall apart.  You have to fight back.
            If you've got any energy, go clean something.  That often works well to lighten the mood.  Or, better, go help someone who is in trouble.  Service is one of the great anti-depressants in our tool box.  The effort of getting up may seem like fighting through the eye-wall of a hurricane, but once beyond that obstacle there's a world of hurt out there. It puts our personal pain into perspective.

            Just don't give up.  You may fall apart for a while; but you can get back up to renew the effort to heal yourself.  You can.  Just do it.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Me And My Belly

I estimate that each of my legs weighs sixty pounds.  That leaves a hundred pounds for the rest of my body.  My head probably weights twenty, which leaves eighty for the arms and torso.  My belly, that piece of me that surprised me totally when it arrived in the years between forty and forty five, my belly must take up sixty pounds of that remaining eighty.  It's a classic middle-aged man's belly.  It is true, I eat too much and most of that eating is in bed.  Every night of my entire life I have munched or crunched something as I read myself to sleep.
            My theory is that I am seeking a substitute for breast milk.  My early days on this planet were not a paradise of blissful bonding between my mother and child.  My father tells me that I had night terrors.  I tell him that if I was terrified of anything, it was my mother. 
            During my futile attempts to rid myself of this belly I’ve done ten kinds of abdominal exercises, hundreds of reps daily, for months and months on end.  My belly didn’t get smaller.  It got bigger. 
   Why was I exercising my six-pack this way?  What myth did I buy into?  If I wanted to get rid of my belly, I should have done absolutely nothing.  I should have, with the wisdom of hindsight,  accepted the fact that this belly is here to stay, it's a natural by product of aging.  It just IS, and why is that so horrible?  Why is everyone buying gizmos, electronic abdominal muscle stimulators? Why do they buy gimmicks with names like Abbacizers, Sixpackalongs, Abhancers? Why do people hang from bars and pull themselves up and back, up and back, or lay tilted on long boards, going up and back, up and back?  There’s more than a little insanity in this vain pursuit.  The obsession with the six pack is about vanity and its monster shadow, insecurity.  Our culture pumps its toxic load of media venom into our collective psychic bloodstream so that we feel inadequate if our bodies don’t adhere to some contemporary ideal of beauty.  For the moment, that ideal has become horrifically thin; it forms the ironic counterpoint to the visible reality that Americans have gotten chronically fat.
            We’re a culture with a lot of food.  I mean, a lot lot lot of food.  There’s never been a civilization in the history of the world with more food.  It’s hardly surprising that everyone eats a lot, gets fat and the ideal of beauty is to have arms and legs so thin that you have to walk around storm drains lest you slip through the bars and get washed out to sea.
            I wish we could weigh thoughts just as we weigh butter, or scrap metal. How much would my daily output of body-shame weigh?  How many pounds, kilos, ounces, grams would every thought weigh, those thoughts that go, “Oh I wish this belly would flatten out, it makes me feel so unattractive, so grotesque?”
            Beneath the veneer of our society a drumbeat of subliminal command roars like an underground subway train.  It’s saying, rhythmically, “hate your body hate your body hate your body hate your body.”  Chugga chugga chugga chugga.
            People who are at war with their bodies spend money on ridiculous products. Teeth whiteners!  When did this obsession come along?  Who cares about teeth whiteners?  People who use them look ridiculous.  There’s a blinding beam of Cheshire Cat grin every time they open their mouths, a light so blatantly artificial that it obscures the rest of the face with its message:  “I am insecure and hopelessly vain.  I use teeth whiteners.”
            Recently I heard a radio spiel about a product that reduces shadows under the eyes.  Oh my god, here we go again!  The script describes the grotesque anatomical process behind eye shadows: a horrific network of bloated capillaries spreads beneath your eyes until they burst forth to spill a dark disgusting goo of congealing blood, thus producing bruised tissue, thus producing embarrassing and unsightly morning-after shadows, hanging and spreading and sagging until they’re the size of wrinkled leather saddle bags beneath your optical sockets.
            Eeeeeeww!  How humiliating!  Burst blood vessels, bruises, discoloration? Wrinkled leather saddle bags beneath my eyes? I can’t have that! 
            This is how to create a market for a useless product.  People will start fixating on their fatigue-shadows, examining the mirror for any hint of darkening skin.  The stuff will sell like crazy, as another reason to hate one’s body darkens the horizon of the national psyche.  This insanity is all about money.  People who hate themselves spend more money, spend compulsively, to cover their unhappiness.  It serves the interests of marketers to create a social condition in which self hatred becomes the paradigm.
            I have to ask myself the question, “Which is worse, being overweight, or being guilty, stressed and ashamed of being overweight?”  Which damages my health more?  I think it’s the latter.  I think that stressing and hating my body is more toxic than glugging down three milkshakes a day.
            How many ridiculous weight-loss products bloat the bandwidth of the media empires?  How many bogus concoctions feed on the fervent wish that one can lose pounds and become shapely without any effort?
            I have invented my own product to add to this glut for gluttons: “Thindreme”ä!  Here’s the commercial, presented by a blandly attractive blonde woman in front of a red- white- blue studio set enhanced by computer graphics showing fat bodies and thin bodies arranged for before/after comparison.
            “Do you dream of going to sleep fat and waking up thin? Now your dreams can come true!  Two tablets of clinically proven Thindreme before bed will melt the pounds away as you sleep!  The more you sleep the thinner you will get.  This new miracle compound acts upon the metabolism of your slumbering body and converts fat cells using the principle of DCE, or Dynamic Caloric Extrapolation.  It is a proven fact that Rapid Eye Movement sleep is an untapped source of caloric output.  In other words, REM sleep is exercise!  Thindreme has come along to utilize this remarkable opportunity.  The more you dream, the more weight you lose!  Within four to six weeks you can emerge a brand new person, thin, sexy, appealing, without any effort on your part! Forget about diet, exercise, lifestyle.  You don’t need will power.  Thindreme does it for you!  Now you can be the man or woman of your dreams! If you order in the next ten minutes, Thindreme will double your order, and at no extra cost, will give you this free nose hair trimmer. And there’s more!  We will also add to your order this stylish miniature folding piano! So pick up the phone, and order now! And remember, Thindreme is Clinically Proven.” *
            Now, the disclaimer is read quietly and quickly:
*Thindreme (wackazone hydrochloride) can produce side effects in a significant minority of users, including blurred vision, stuttered speech, nausea, excess ear wax, demonic visions, spastic extremities, impotence, frigidity, memory loss, extreme body odor, blurted expletives, colorful flatulence, Fixed Eye Syndrome, increased hair growth on the lower back, muscle cramp, constipation, diarrhea, logorrhea, Recalcitrant Plebny, and black facial warts.  If dreaming does not occur, possible weight gain is indicated.
            A Product of ExCon Industries”




            I’ve given up trying to rid myself of this belly.  I know that a group of cannibals would find me delicious.  My bicycle thighs would be a Kentucky Fried delight, the most giant Crispy ever to appear in a cannibal’s bucket. 
            When I compare my life to the living hell in which I see that most people exist, I feel grateful for the good life that I have.  My relationship with my partner has its sick elements, to be sure, its ‘enablings’ and ‘codependencies’ (how I love this modern language of the heart’s twisted pathways).  We don’t fight.  If something starts to fester between us, it will come out in a talk, a gentle but firm confrontation where our fears are expressed and laid to rest.
            This was supposed to be about my belly, but I can’t write about that part of my personal real estate without including all kinds of other things in my life.  My belly doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it isn’t just floating around in space, a belly, without connection to the rest of the universe. My belly may be causing storms on Neptune, for as we have recently discovered, everything has a connection to everything else.  It’s the Butterfly Effect.  Or in this case, The Belly Effect.
            My belly is a dominating presence in my life.  I, who spent my youth being thin and sinewy, looking like a Hindu holy man from the hippie trail in Nepal, am now somewhat imprisoned by this entity who sits astride the center of my body.  It goes everywhere with me.  My vanity is not the main actor in this dismay.  My vanity went out about the same time as my hair.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I am concerned with how I appear to other people.  The problem is, I know that the one person least qualified to judge how I appear to other people is myself.  And that is a universal law.  You, who think you look thus and thus to the outside world, are completely deluded.  When you look in the mirror, the information you receive is so utterly tainted by your needs and dreams that you might as well be looking at a stranger.  I wish people would understand this.
            YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE.  YOU NEVER WILL.
            There are so many ingredients that go into an appearance that are invisible to the owner of a human body, that said owner should just give up. Photographs lie for many reasons.  Photos capture one two hundredth of a second, and in that two hundredth of a second, an expression may be crossing your face that is otherwise invisible, so quickly do the facial muscles change with the passing of emotion.  That’s why we often look odd in pictures.  Videotape is in some ways even worse.  I don’t know a single soul who doesn’t cringe when viewing his or herself on video.  Its distortions are insidious but nonetheless real.
            I say this to my fellow humans:  do your best to be hygienic, wear clothes that are comfortable and that please you, and let your nature emerge, because that’s what happens anyway.  Your appearance is determined by your nature.  The way you look is about energy, not physical features.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

my novel, CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN chapters one and two





 

 

         

 

  

 

 

         




                                          

 

                                                  

 

        Confessions Of An Honest Man

A Novel by Arthur Rosch
Smashwords Edition
Cover design and photo by the author
Copyright 2016
All characters in this book are either fictional or in the public domain

 

 

Chapter One

September, 1967.  Detroit, Michigan
         
          Aaron Kantro follows his colleagues through the labyrinth of the nightclub's kitchen and out the back door.  A waft of cool air hits his face as he steps onto the concrete platform next to the loading dock. His sweat instantly begins to dry and he can see steam misting from the other musicians' tuxedos.  It's the band's third break.  They will play one more set of forty five minutes.   Then their work for the night is done.
          There are nine or ten people gathered around the rear entrance to the club.  They are either jazz fans who want to hang out or they are so loaded they don't know how they got there. 
          A man with his shirtails dangling from his suit stumbles into Aaron.  "I wan' shake your hand," he announces.  He extends his unkempt digits and then pulls his hand away as if to recalibrate his arm's trajectory.  Aaron, when he puts his hand out to respond, feels like an idiot.  He puts his hands in his pockets and hopes the man will go away.
          "I tell you somethin'", the man says.  "You play some drums for a white boy.  Some fuckin' drums.  I close my eyes, can't tell the diff'rence.  Sound jus' like a real drummer."  He tries again to extend his hand and stumbles across his own feet. 
          "Excuse me", a young lady says as she passes between Aaron and the drunk.  She wants an autograph from the legendary saxophonist, Zoot Prestige.  Aaron's boss transfers a cheroot from his hand to his mouth.   He leans down to inscribe his signature into the lady's little book, while trying to keep his eyes averted from the cleavage that is so conspicuously thrust into his face.   Aaron notes this little drama and loses his anger.  Zoot Prestige is just too funny. Aaron quietly moves behind the imposing figure of his boss.  The drunk rambles away, talking to himself.
          Aaron is the only white person beneath the scalloped awning.  There are perhaps ten white people in the club.   It bothers him more than he likes to admit that he longs to see other white faces.  It has been his decision to play jazz, and his brand of jazz carries him to black clubs in black neighborhoods.  Sometimes, the moment he walks into a place, he feels the air freeze with racial tension.  Sometimes he is scared.  The only way through it is to play the music.
          As the little throng disperses, Zoot butts his smoke in the sand of an ashtray.  He steps off the concrete pad and walks across the lot towards his car.
          After waiting about thirty seconds, the group's organist, Tyrone Terry, follows the lanky figure of his boss.  Aaron waits another thirty seconds and follows his colleagues to the cream-colored Continental.  This precaution seems a little silly but there are probably narcs in the club and Aaron has to admit that it is pretty obvious what's happening when three jazz musicians get into a car and don't go anywhere.
          Soon the men are engrossed in the ritual of the pipe: lighting, inhaling, holding breath, exhaling.  It's cozy in the Continental’s plush interior.  Air comes sighing through the upholstery’s leather seams as the musicians' weight compresses the seat cushions.  Zoot and his side-men are settling down, recharging their nerves for the next set, the last set.  It is one o’clock in the morning.
          "She wanted you to look at 'em," Tyrone says to his employer.
          "I know," responds Zoot, "but it seems so...I don't know...un-chivalrous to put my nose right into a lady's cleavage.  Besides, it's redundant.  I seen titties before.  Wan't nothin' special about hers...they's just...."
          BANG!  There is a huge sound, an explosion.  The men's bodies react instinctively.  They duck, and their arms rise to cover their heads.
          The car lurches as a man dives across the hood, holding a pistol in his right hand.  His legs swim wildly as he fights to stop his momentum.  Whatever tactic he has in mind, it isn’t working.  The car’s sheen and finish turn the hood into a sliding board.
          "Jesus fucking Christ!”  In the back seat Aaron curses loudly without thinking.  He has never before heard a gun shot.  In spite of this fact, he recognizes the sound.  It is rounder, weightier, and more final than the sound of a firecracker. 
          The man on the car's hood waves the pistol frantically.  Slithering to get his balance, he clutches at the windshield wipers and misses.  Gravity and car wax slide him across the polished metal until he lands on the ground.  The pistol fires as he hits the gravel.  The bullet penetrates a tire with a loud hiss.
          The man springs up and disappears among the ordered rows of vehicles in the parking lot.
          Zoot Prestige holds a finger to his mouth, slides from under the steering wheel and drops quietly to the floor of the passenger seat.  Zoot doesn't want to get shot.  Zoot doesn’t want to be a witness if somebody gets shot.  Zoot doesn’t want questions.  Zoot doesn’t want any dealings with the Poe-Leece! 
          Aaron scrunches onto the floor of the back seat until his arm rests on the hump of the drive shaft.  Tyrone, on the other side, is hoping to disappear via the flawed logic of an ostrich.  He is pulling his little pork-pie hat over his eyes.
          A voice shouts, "I'LL KILL YOU MOTHERFUCKER!” 
          Two more shots are fired from the opposite corner of the lot.  Two sparking ovals of muzzle flash light up the windshields of Cadillacs and Thunderbirds.  A man’s face appears, pressed to the window of Zoot’s car.  His cheek is distorted against the glass, with an eye like a panicked horse.  His quick breath steams the window only inches from Zoot's face.  With a slight turn to the right, Zoot becomes a virtual nose-to-nose mirror image of the man with the gun. 
          The enraged shooter doesn’t see the human being an inch from his face.  He raises his snubby revolver over the top of the vehicle, fires twice without aiming, and runs to cover behind a black Eldorado.  The wind has changed.  The shots are barely audible.
          "Sheee-it!” Zoot grumbles, “I hope nobody messes up my short.  I paid three hundred bucks for this custom paint job.”  The immaculately polished car is long and sleek as a submarine.
          A voice shouts, "HEY LOOK HE'S OVER THERE!" 
          Bang bang bang! Flashes light up the musicians’ faces.  Guns are all over the place.  Aaron looks at Tyrone.  The keyboard player has twitched and spilled a pipe full of burning marijuana into his lap.  He brushes and pats frantically to prevent embers from smoldering through the pants of his tux.  Thrusting his hands into his pockets he makes a basket to prevent sparks from spreading onto the seat or the carpet. Aaron produces a handkerchief and helps contain the disaster.  Tyrone is feeling little stings of fire burning their way into his palms.  He is tossing the embers back and forth as he jumps and wriggles all over the tiny floor space behind the driver’s seat.  When the young musicians’ eyes meet they realize that they have entered the realm of the completely absurd. 
          They begin to giggle, as quietly as possible.  Tyrone manages to empty his lungs without breaking into a hacking cough.  The bodies of both men are convulsed with terrified hilarity.
          Aaron's legs are crossed on the floor of the back seat.  Zoot gestures with his fingers for the pipe.  Tyrone hands it to Aaron as he muffles his cough and puts out the fire in his lap.  Aaron gives the pipe to Zoot through the space between the seats. 
          The parking lot is a bedlam of running, screaming people.
          Two men, fingers snarled in each other’s sport coats, roll across the hood of Zoot’s car.  The metal on the Continental goes‘scroich! bunk!’.  Zoot winces and hides his face behind his hands.  The men vanish somewhere in the gravel of the lot, grunting and cursing.  A grey fedora with a black band lays on the hood for a moment before a stiff breeze carries it away.  Zoot elevates his head a few inches and tries to inspect his hood for damage.  It's impossible.  The windows are now opaque with steam.
          Zoot relaxes.  He sits with his face level with the knobs on the dashboard.  His wrists are on his knees and his hands hang loose in the shadow beneath the glove box.  He loads the pipe and hands it to Aaron through the crack. 
          “Don’t strike no match!” he says.  “Use that thing.”  He points to the black knob of the cigarette lighter.  Each door has an ashtray and each ashtray has its own lighter.
          Zoot sniffs the air inside the car.  “I smell somethin’ burning,” he says.  “You cats makin’ barbecue back there?”  His voice is good natured and mocking. 
          Observing Zoot's total poise, Aaron and Tyrone hiss through their lips with suppressed giggles.  It is impossible to tell which part of the moment is funny and which part is terrifying.  The giggles and spluttering have equal components of panic and the hysterical disbelief of pot heads in a bizarre situation.
          Big cars roar to life and race from the lot in clouds of gravel and fumes.  Sirens doppler past, right on their tails, red lights whizzing through the intersection.  Crimson slashes of reflection light up the Continental’s glass. 
          Then there is silence.  People stealthily emerge from cover, crunch-crunching across the gravel.  They run for shelter inside the club.  The musicians straighten their bodies with the slowness of clock hands moving.  Soon they are sitting normally on the seats.  Zoot loads the pipe, lights and inhales.  He holds his breath for a long time, then exhales an almost transparent cloud.  He replaces the pipe in a leather pouch, conceals the stash under the seat, and twists his head from left to right and back again, loosening his neck muscles.  He is sixty-two, and a tenor saxophone has hung from his shoulders for more than fifty years.
          "Should we go back in and play?"  There is a squeak in Aaron's voice.  He makes a few mock rolls with invisible drumsticks.
          Zoot looks at Aaron with a bare vapor of a smile, tolerant of his drummer’s naïveté.            "Why wouldl we NOT go back in and play?"  The marquee lights of the street's clubs and bars glow on half of Zoot's face, shadowing the other half.  This gives his eye a demonic glitter.  He wets his thumb and forefinger with his tongue and smoothes the hairs of his moustache. 
          "Let me point out something to you, babe,” says Zoot.  “We're professional jazz musicians.  We play music, and we get paid.  Rather nicely, I might add, thanks to my modest fame and the fact that I placed at number eight in Downbeat’s Tenor Saxophone category."  He pauses for a moment and says with a trace of gloating, “AHEAD of Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz and Gene Ammons.”  He laughs a ripe and disdainful laugh.  The magazine polls have such appalling power to determine a musician’s pay level.
          Opening the door, Zoot brushes a tiny flake of ash from his tuxedo pants with a dapper gesture, and corkscrews his six foot three inch frame upright.  The saxophonist makes a quick but careful scrutiny of his vehicle.  He circles it, running the flat of his hand along its sculpted façade. There are no bullet holes that he detects, no scratches.  The hood has resumed its normal shape.
          Tyrone and Aaron squeeze themselves out of the car.  Aaron closes the door delicately, with the barest of clicks, as if he fears the automobile will fall to pieces if he so much as breathes wrong.
            The world flickers.  The young musicians’ hearts race, their nerves tingle.  They are playing a jazz gig with a famous saxophone player!  Zoot Prestige has apprenticed with Duke Ellington, he’s played with Charlie Parker.  He is a legend.
          Zoot straightens his lapels and moves his shoulders inside his jacket so the garment settles more squarely on his body.
          "That's right,” he adds.  “We're hipsters, babe, we stay cool.  We got a paying gig, we play until the club owner asks us to stop or it’s two a.m."   Zoot's voice is like velvet and sand, Scotch whisky and smoke. “Long as the drummer doesn’t get shot.  Gotta draw the line somewhere.  Last drummer I lost was Bobby Beffords, in ’65.  And before that I had a good run, only lost two drummers in six years.  Course, I never had a white drummer before.  Everybody upset about that.” 
          He aims a gentle look at Aaron, to check that he isn’t being taken seriously.  His smile is full of irony and play.  He brushes a bit of ash from Aaron’s tuxedo jacket.  It is a tender paternal gesture.     
          Fourteen drummers had come to audition when Zoot was putting together the band for this tour.  Thirteen of them were black.  Aaron was the third drummer to play.  As soon as he finished the tune, Zoot sent the other drummers home.
          He knew he would take a lot of heat for hiring a white drummer.  Fuck ‘em.  The kid was worth it.
          “Ain’t nothin’ unusual happening here, babe”, says Zoot.  “It’s just another gig, somebody’s old lady got too friendly with somebody else’s old man and things got ugly.”  The tall man shepherds his young friends toward the door of the nightclub.  “It’s human nature.  Why don’t we go inside and play some music to soothe the savage breast?  We’ll lay down some Recalcitrant Funk-itis."
          Zoot has just coined another of his classic nonsense terms.  Recalcitrant Funk-itis now joins the lexicon along with Groove-matic Ubiquity, Heliocentric Hot Sauce and other such crazy combinations from Zoot’s fertile mind.
          Tyrone pulls at his cummberbund to conceal the holes in the crotch of his pants.  The young men follow the urbane figure of their mentor back into the humid noise of Mickey Tucker's Jazz Corner.





Chapter Two
Home Is Where The Heart Is Not
1956: University City, Missouri

          There's always one of these kids at every school playground.  On the blacktop at Daniel Boone School this kid is Aaron Kantro.  He's the one with the "Kick Me" sign scotch -taped to his back.  He knows people are laughing at him. His temper ratchets up like beans in a pressure cooker.  He'd better get control of that rage,  stuff it back inside himself.  He gets into trouble when the rage comes out.  He does crazy things that have big consequences.  He knows what the word means.  He's endured plenty of Consequences.  They aren't funny, like on the TV show, "Truth Or Consequences".  He's learning the trick: he's learning to put his feelings into a steel safe with ten combinations and gleaming chrome wheels that turn smoothly.  He's learning to lock away his feelings.  They're dangerous.
          In baseball season, football season, soccer season, it's always the same: Aaron stands in line when the team captains chose their players.  He waits slightly pigeon-toed, his shoulders held high and his hands fisted tightly at his sides.  At school he can't compete with boys his own age, so he has been put back a year in gym class.  It doesn't help.  They might as well have put him back with the first graders.  He is too little to hurt anyone.  If he punches a bully in the nose the force is no more than a gnat landing on its six tiny legs.  There's no power in Aaron's body.  He barely weighs seventy pounds.  He's uncoordinated.  He isn’t obnoxious or funny.  Without these ingredients for childhood charisma, his place in the playground pecking order is at the bottom.  Last.  "Kick Me" dangles from the back of his shirt on an inch of Scotch Tape just below the collar.
          Aaron isn't afraid of these jerks.  The person he fears is his mother.  He's terrified of his mother.
          The dark shadows under Aaron’s eyes give the impression that his soul is etched with some serious concern.  His thoughtful demeanor earns him a nickname.  He is called “The Professor”.  It's not a happy nickname.  It isn’t like “Slugger”, “Speedy” or “A.J”.  One of Aaron’s teachers started using it as a term of affection.  The kids adopt it as their expression of contempt.  When they drawl “Here comes the Professor” they use a throaty mocking tone that is the currency of sarcasm and insult.  They draw things on sheets of paper.  "Place Foot Here" with an arrow pointing towards his behind. They've drawn Aaron with a yarmulke and a tallis.  He's on his knees crawling after a pig.  Lock away that temper.  Put it in the big black safe.
          His mother says she wants to kill him.  She says it often.  Aaron wonders what it's like to be executed.  What's it like to know that you have one minute to live?  Count down: sixty, fifty nine, fifty eight.  He would spend his last minute praying, he decides, but not to the Jewish God.  He thinks there's a God but He lives at the center of the universe, far far away.  Jewish god, Catholic god, Methodist god.  That's just stupid.  People invented religions so they can stick "Kick Me" signs on each other's backs.  Aaron feels in his heart that there is a great and beautiful god because birds sing beautiful songs.  Because the night sky is majestic and sometimes meteors whizz down from deep space.  Because the lowliest bug has patterns on its body that only a genius can design.  He thinks of God when he crosses the Mississippi River over McKinley Bridge.  He looks down at that huge powerful thing and knows that only God can make something like that.
          At school, he spends most of his time lost in fantasies, looking out the window with unfocused eyes.  Through the day he dreams heroic myths.  He is enraptured by Vikings. In his fantasy he is the leader of a crew of sea raiders.  They charge castle walls, wearing helmets adorned with ox horns.  Inside the castle is a pretty blonde princess who waits to be rescued by Aaron The Strong. 
          He always delays going home.  His mother's usually at home.  He is completely terrified of his mother.
          Aaron’s school is two blocks from the modest house on Parkway Court.  Aaron has explored alternate routes.  He walks around Greenwood Park, up to the railroad tracks, then across the bridge.  He slides down the embankment and takes the foot bridge that leads through back yards onto Ruth Street.  Another back yard path leads to the bottom of his street, which is called a "court", where the houses form a closed semi-circle.  Number 8024 is halfway up the eastern side of Parkway Court, which is one of a twenty four street subdivision.  None of the houses are more than five years old.  A sapling is planted in front of each house.  It will be twenty years before they provide shade.
          If he's lucky, his brother and sisters are home or his mom has gone shopping. He grabs a snack and then slides like a ghost through his siblings' cries and demands and gets into the room he shares with his little brother.  Avoiding his mother’s attention is the highest priority.  Little currents of fear race along his nerves when he thinks of Esther Kantro.
          Aaron has a friend named Jeffrey Rubin, who lives five houses up the street.  When he goes to Jeffrey's house the atmosphere is so different that he can barely understand it.  Jeffrey’s mom cracks bad jokes, makes cookies and tries to hug and kiss her wriggling son as he pretends to try to escape.  Things aren't tight and quiet at Jeffrey's house, things move along in a way that's actually fun. 
          The attraction isn't really Jeffrey, whose mind seems to move at about half the speed of Aaron's mind.  The attraction is a home that isn't one continuous scream of terror.
          Aaron’s mother frequently says, as if to excuse her rages, "I love you the only way I can."  He doesn’t understand what that means.  He's sure his mother does not love him.  She hates him!  When she says she loves him “the only way-I can”, that must mean there is something wrong with him. 
          Aaron is certain of his father’s love.  He wants to see his dad, wants dad to be at home all the time, wants dad to talk to him, ask him questions about what he's thinking.  He wants his dad to understand that he isn’t stupid, he's just…just too mad to think, maybe.  He wants dad to tell him things are okay.  He isn’t afraid of his dad.  Maybe love is just not being afraid.  When his father's home, Esther is a different person.  She doesn't shake him or scream at him, she doesn't squeeze his arms until fingernail marks show. 
          More than anything, Aaron wants his father to be at home.
          Aaron can’t have what he wants.  Aaron is getting used to this state of being denied what he wants.  It seems like it's always his mother who blocks him, taking away the things he wants.
          It's a secret, this fighting that takes place when his father is away. 
          Esther makes threats.  “I’ll kill you if your father hears of this”, she says one day.  "I'm sick of it!  I'm sick of you! You drive me crazy!" She is twisting a wet dish towel in her rough red hands.  Aaron sees his neck between those hands.  He is seeing the thoughts in Esther’s mind. 
          While Aaron tries to banish this image, his mother enters her ongoing tirade.  In some abstract way Aaron knows that his mother isn't really speaking to HIM, she is speaking to something or someone that made her angry a long time ago.  “How did the toaster get knocked to the floor?  It’s broken into a million pieces!  How did that happen?  How? HOW?  Your dad better not find out about this!  I have to throw away the toaster and buy another one. I’m so mad I can kill you!  I'm sick of you, I am, totally sick of you and your tricks and your behavior.  Dad has enough on his mind.  He works all day and half the night, and he doesn’t need stories about you, running around the house flying like an airplane, knocking things down right and left.  You’ll give your father a heart attack!  You're going to kill him!”  Her voice rises in pitch and volume.  “He’ll drop dead and it’ll be your fault!  Is that what you want?  Is it?”
          The word "kill" is as common as pennies in the currency of the Kantro's domestic language.  Killing, murder, suicide, death death death....the siblings scream at each other, "I'll kill you," and "no you won't, I'll kill you first!"
.            Sometimes Aaron slaps his hands to his ears.   No no no no!  His father can’t die!  He won’t tell, won’t utter a word about this strange …strange…situation.  That's a good word.  It's a situation.  For Aaron this is a new way of using a familiar word..  He likes to discover new words and new ways to use words.  It is one of those pleasures that comes from inside his mind.  This is a way of thinking that he enjoys.  It's the USE of his mind that he enjoys.  He loves finding new words and learning how to use them.
          Aaron will protect his father at all costs from this...situation.  It isn’t dad’s fault he has to work so much.  Mother always says it: money’s more important than anything, even love!
          It isn’t dad’s fault that he goes to work so early and comes back so late.  It isn’t dad’s fault that Aaron gets so mad he breaks dishes and never does his homework and threw a baseball through the living room window.
          The problem is that without dad at home, mother does anything she wants.  It depends on the way she feels.  She makes him stay for hours in the dark closet with the door closed.  He curls up into a ball and listens to her talk.  Her voice is louder and then softer as she moves about the house.  She tells him what he is and doesn't spare the curse words.  He's stupid, lazy, ugly, a disappointment, a worthless no good son of a bitch and it would have been better if he hadn't been born. 
          Sometimes Aaron’s mom feels bad and sometimes she feels good but it's spooky good, there's something wrong with how she feels good.  She dances by herself around the living room, singing corny old songs, and then she puts on her mink coat and drives to the stores in Clayton and Lake Forest.  When she comes home she moves so fast she looks like two people at once while she hides the stuff she bought.  She moves the heavy coats aside and gets into the deep shelves at the back of the closet.  She pushes at bags and boxes until she makes room for the new shoes, earrings and bracelets.
          She buys a lot of stuff and Aaron wonders if she is the reason why dad works all the time.  Dad is scared of her, Aaron realizes.  He lets her do whatever she wants rather than start one of those terrible fights where screams get so loud the neighbors call the police and mom hits dad so hard his eyes go black.  Those fights terrify Aaron.
          Aaron doesn'’t blame his father.  It's just bad luck.  He has a vague knowledge that his mother hasn't always been this way.  She was different when she and dad were first married.  She looks different in the pictures.  She looks happy and..and...nice!
          What has happened to change her from a nice person to such a mean person? 
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           By late September school has already become boring.  Aaron doesn't have the attention span to hold on to subjects that aren't related to his interests.  Numbers, chemicals, categories, all these things whoosh past him without leaving an impression.
Then, on the last day of the month, a notice appears on the main board just outside the principal's office.  It has symbols that Aaron recognizes as musical notes and a floaty cartoon of several men in top hats and tuxedos, tootling on various instruments.
          MUSIC APPRECIATION.  An elective course available to fourth graders begins in two weeks.  Those who are interested should sign their names on the numbered sheet attached.  A pencil dangles from a string.  This IS interesting and promises to break the daily monotony of teachers' droning voices.  Aaron picks up the bright orange nub and signs his name.
          He waits eagerly.  After the passage of two weeks, his home room teacher hands out a number of folded notices.  One of them is for Aaron and he finds notification that today, yes, TODAY! At one thirty the kids who signed up for the class are to go to the cafeteria. 
          One thirty comes and Aaron is in the biology lab with Mr. Warren, the science teacher.  He presents his note.  The teacher scans it and nods Aaron towards the door.
          Aaron finds himself traversing the near-empty halls towards the cafeteria.  A few kids converge on the double glass doors leading into the expanse of the lunch facility.  They push the doors open and find an area where the long rectangular tables have been cleared away to make room for a chalk board, an upright piano and three rows of chairs.
          The students find their seats with the usual clamor.  After getting a glance at the teacher, kids are bumping one another to sit in the back row.  They've done their lightning appraisal of the instructor and they don't like what they see: the music teacher looks mean. 
          It seems pretty stupid to Aaron to try and get away from this strange looking woman.  He takes a seat in the front row at the right corner, next to the window.  He counts the attendees: eleven students.  Eleven out of a total of ninety seven fourth graders at Daniel Boone School.  Of those eleven, Aaron guesses with accurate realism, there might be four who are actually interested in Music Appreciation.
          The two minute bell rings before third period.  Wooden floorboards in the halls amplify chatter and the sounds of hurrying feet.  The staccato booming quickly dies as classroom doors close behind tardy students.
          The teacher stands next to the blackboard with one hand on her hip, the other holding a long piece of chalk that she passes through her fingers with intricate dexterity.  It twirls from thumb and index finger down to the middle finger, where it stops and whizzes around that long digit and somehow balances on its point in the teacher's palm.  The chalk then continues and finds its way to the pinky and returns the way it has come.  The teacher's fingers look like five perfectly trained snakes.
          Aaron is transfixed by this skilful movement.  Under his desk he attempts to work the pattern with his pencil, which he instantly drops and just as instantly picks up.
          The kids are wary.  A couple of girls whisper the word “ugly”.  Aaron looks at the new teacher and tries the word ugly, but it doesn’t fit.  He rummages his mind for a word to describe the woman.  Not ugly.  Not scary.  Not mean.  Not repulsive.
          Then the word comes to him.  It's a word he doesn't know he knew, but somehow he knows what it means.  Maybe he read it in David Copperfield.
          The word is Homely.
          The teacher is homely.  Her hair is in a net.  Its red brown coils are tucked in an orderly bun.  She has large ears.  She wears a green blouse and a pink sweater that covers a long bony torso.  The sweater is too short at the waist and buttoned to the top over her large adam’s apple.  The long brown skirt looks as if it was made a hundred years ago.  There are a pair of checked men’s pajama pants visible beneath the hem of the skirt.  The grey and green flannel pants swish over white tennis shoes as she walks.
          “Take your seats, take your seats,” the woman says in voice that's more like song than like speach.  When the students sort themselves out, the teacher begins to write her name on the blackboard with brisk muscular strokes.
          “I am,” she says as she taps the chalk rapidly on the board.  Tap tap.  Tap tap tap.  There is a pause as she finishes printing her name.  “I am….Mrs. Leek.”
          There's an immediate titter throughout the class.  Aaron agrees it's a funny name but feels that it will be rude to laugh at another person's name. 
          Mrs. Leek turns and puts her hands on her hips.  The laughter diminishes but doesn't die out.  Mrs. Leek looks at the students as if she can stab them with her eyes.  Only one boy continues laughing.  He's a big dumb kid named Bennie Shapiro.  His eyes are closed and his head points towards the ceiling as he brays like a donkey.
          “YOU!”  The woman points to Benny Shapiro.  She is holding the white chalk as if it can beam death-rays.  “Do you think there’s something funny about my name?”
          Benny’s face comes down and turns almost crimson.  His long legs are splayed out beneath the chair in front of him, his shoes almost pointing in opposite directions.         “Ummm,” Benny murmurs, “I was just, uh…”
          “And your name is?”  The teacher demands.  She takes a small pad of paper from her skirt pocket and holds a pen over it.
          Benny is stunned into silence.
          “Can someone tell me this young man’s name?”
           “Bennie Shapiro” emerges timidly from several children.
          Mrs. Leek writes quickly on her pad, tears the leaf free and walks to Bennie Shapiro.  She folds the paper once and hands it to the boy.  “You are dismissed from this class, Mister Shapiro.  Permanently.  I don’t tolerate rudeness.  Take this note to your teacher.  I’m informing her of why you are no longer in this class.  I’ll want her signature, and a signature from one of your parents.”
          Bennie is confused and scared.  He pulls his legs back under him and gets up.  He looks around, appealing to his classmates.  None meet his eyes.
          Discipline problems are thus ended in Music Appreciation Class.
          Aaron has never encountered a person so strange as Mrs. Leek.  She sings rather than speaks.  When kids are outside her danger radius, she is a ripe target for mockery.  Everywhere in the school some piping voice imitates her trademark delivery.
          “Students!”, they sing, “Who can tell me the name of this music?  Students!  What instrument do you hear in this solo?” After two weeks the kids shave the imitation to a lilting utterance of the single word in two notes: Students!  They become like bird calls, emitting from the playground, answered from the second floor, again from the gym.  “Students!”, they sing, and follow with fits of giggling.
          Mrs. Leek doesn’t care.  She is terrifying.  This capacity to instill fear is a combination of her stunning dour face and the expressions of contempt she can use to bore straight through a student’s soul.   Her lips are extremely full and marked with cracked vertical lines.   Her skin has the texture of pitted leather.  Sometimes her face looks like a tree knot, a place where a branch has failed to sprout.       
          Her teaching methods are strict and direct.  She doesn't mind getting wrong answers.  At least they are answers.  One day she points a yardstick at a boy named Mark Rabinowitz.
          “Can you tell me, Mister Rabinowitz, what German composer struggled with deafness throughout his life?”
          The boy yawns, blinks, appears to think for a moment.  “Umm, uh, Fats Domino?"
          Mrs. Leek pops the yardstick across a desktop, making it snap so loud everyone jumps.
          “All I want to know is whether or not you are alive!” the woman says.  “I’m not asking so much.  Make a guess, take a chance.  You can’t look more stupid than you do now.  ‘Duh, um, Fats Domino?,’”she mocks.  “Beethoven’s Balls, most of you kids are stupid as fire hydrants.” 
          Mrs. Leek’s curse has brought all the students to a state of fascinated alertness.
          “I suppose I’ll get fired now,” she says calmly.  “I’ll only miss two or three of you.”
Her eyes meet Aaron’s and she gives him the slightest wink.  Aaron’s insides relax with unfamiliar gratitude as he realizes that he will be one of those few students.
          The incident passes and the eccentric teacher does not get fired.  She continues the arduous task of instilling music into the lives of her students.
          She brings record albums from her collection.  One day she brings 45’s by Fabian and Elvis.  She plays them side by side with old records by Mississippi blues men with funny names.  Blind Willy this.  Pegleg Joe that.  
          “You see how the rhythms and chords are really the same?” she asks.  Two or three sets of eyes are alert.  Aaron Kantro nods but is too paralyzed with shyness to speak.
          When the teacher plays Benny Goodman or Duke Ellington, Aaron feels like he is on a rocket ship.  He thinks a fuse has been lit under his chair.  The music gives him goose bumps.  He feels a strange warmth at the back of his neck.
          One day Mrs. Leek brings an album in a sleeve painted in wild abstract colors.
          “Students!” she says in her two-note fanfare.  “Without further ado, I bring you ‘The Prelude To The Rite of Spring’, by Igor Stravinsky.  For all of you eggheads, it's played by the New York Philarmonic and conducted by Leonard Bernstein.”
          She puts the 33 rpm record on the spindle of the school’s little blue Zenith record player.  She turns the knob and the record drops to the turntable.  The tone arm automatically lifts and positions itself over the rim of the album.  It drops onto the vinyl surface and there are a few seconds of crackling static before the music begins.
          An instrument plays, solo.  Maybe it's an oboe, or a bassoon.  It seems to Aaron as if it's calling someone or something, maybe a bird in the forest.  Soon its call is answered by another bird, and another.  The music gathers power, momentum, and starts battering itself like a pair of huge mountain rams clashing horn to horn.
          Nine kids put their hands over their ears, slump, jerk, make pig faces.  Mrs. Leek tolerates this behavior.  She knows she is asking a lot.
          One child, Aaron, is transfixed.  His eyes go soft and distant.
          Mrs. Leek lets the music play for three or four minutes, then gently turns down the volume until it is silent.  Taking care not to call Aaron “Professor”, she asks him what he thinks of the music.
          Aaron is aware of the other students watching.  He thinks it best to shrug and say nothing.  He fits in better when he pretends to be stupid. 
          From the first day of class, Aaron has felt Mrs. Leek's attention.  He can tell that she knows something about him, and that she likes him.  She does nothing to single him out, nothing to embarrass him.  He will never admit it to other kids, but he likes her.  Now he is overcome by his need to share his feelings with the teacher.  She is homely, but Aaron sees a kindness in her face that makes the homeliness vanish.
          "It sounds so weird!”, Aaron says... “I can see, like, giant birds calling and dragons dancing, and planets moving through space.  There are spooky vines and flowers growing really fast and then when it got loud and, um, rhythmic I, ”…he pauses, looks around the room, and his voice tapers away in embarrassment.
          Mrs. Leek's gaze penetrates him thoughtfully.  Again, she restrains herself from calling him “Professor”.  It is such a perfect nickname for the precocious little boy.
          "That’s good, Aaron,” is all she says.  “That’s very good."
          Mrs. Leek enters Aaron’s name as a candidate for the Comprehensive Musical Aptitude Test.  This search for young talent emerges from The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and its bundle of civic programs.  The test to discover promising musicians between eight and ten years old is the obsession of Saul Lefkowitz, first violinist and Concert Master of the orchestra.  The distinguished violinist has made careers blossom through the decades of his life.   He is adept at finding grant money and has kept the Youth Orchestra thriving for more than twenty years.
,         Mrs. Leek is supposed to give Aaron a note to be signed by his parents, a simple consent form.  She signs it herself, forging the signature of Aaron’s father, and sends it on.  There is something wrong in Aaron’s family.  She doesn’t have to be a genius to know this.  Her experience has taught her that talent often emerges from trouble.  She isn’t taking any chances.  She knows that this child, this thin sad-looking child, has a real passion for music.  He has been born with the soul of an artist.
          A few days later Mrs. Leek hands Aaron  a precious invitation with its date, time and address.  The conspiracy is unspoken.  Aaron knows he has been granted a favor.  He doesn't want his mother to know about the test.  She will tell him he can't go, and she will scream at his dad until he gives in.  He knows that if something good comes of this test, he will have to fight for its possession.  His mother ALWAYS says no.  He has given up asking for things.  He lives an alternate life, completely beyond the ken of his family.  He has become a precocious virtuoso of bus, streetcar and other forms of transportation.  He does everything in his power to avoid going home.  He spends late afternoons watching the fifty cent double feature at the Varsity Theatre.
          On a Saturday morning in early October, the chosen students are allowed into the presence of the maestro.
          The big dark auditorium swallows the fifty children.  They sit in the first rows, just below the stage.  They can see into the mysterious empty orchestra pit.  The stage and front rows are lit.  The rest of the vast chamber is in darkness.
          Saul Lefkowitz sits dangling his legs from the polished teak stage, holding a violin in his left hand, idly touching a string with his pinky finger. 
          The concertmaster is a short bald man with a plump torso and eyebrows that fly upward like flames from his bright blue eyes.  He is a familiar type.  Aaron dismisses him as completely unremarkable.  He reminds him of his uncle Morris, the one who farts so much that it isn't funny any more.
          When the children are seated and quiet, Saul Lefkowitz picks up a bow, puts the violin to his neck and begins playing with incredible agility and fire.  He is completely transformed!  His body rocks like that of an Orthodox Jew in prayer, his elbow slicing the air, the bow riding across the strings, bouncing into the air, then skipping like flat stones thrown across water.  All of this motion unleashes a cascade of precise yet passionate musical sound.  Aaron has never seen anyone who possesses this magic, this amazing skill!
          Aaron Kantro promises himself that some day, he too will have this intangible thing, this Genius.  He doesn't care how hard it will be, how much work it requires, how much time, how much sacrifice.
          Having gotten the attention of the aspiring musicians, Saul Lefkowitz has a bundle of sheets passed around and begins to administer The Test.
          An hour later, the violinist snaps his case shut, unplugs the tape recorders, the tone generators, and stuffs the envelope of tests into his briefcase.
          "Thank you very much, children.  It will take a couple weeks to process these scores.  You will be notified if you qualify for a place in the Youth Orchestra.  I'm sure you all did very well and I wish there was room for every one of you in the orchestra.  Fech!  It can’t be.  I will tell you now that perhaps five of you, at the most, will qualify.  So I’m just asking you not to get your hopes up.  And most of all, just because you don’t get a place in the Youth Orchestra doesn’t mean you should give up an interest in music.  If you already play an instrument, keep practicing!  And those of you who don’t, find an instrument you enjoy, get a teacher and learn music!  It’s wonderful!"
          Aaron finds the test stimulating but not difficult.  Which chord is identical to the preceding chord?  A, B, C, or D?  It's effortless.  Aaron knows the answers.
          Aaron quickly marks his test sheet.  He notices a boy in the row ahead of him who is his equal in speed.  The boy is relaxed and marks his test sheet with nonchalance.  As Aaron emerges from the auditorium into the light of an autumn afternoon, this boy approaches him, open and confident.
          "Hi, my name is Lester Stiers.  I'll bet you did pretty good.  I was watching, I can tell.  I already know about chords and intervals, my dad taught me.  I’m lucky, my dad's a really good musician."
          Aaron isn't used to friendliness.  He blushes, and fights an impulse to turn away.  He forces himself to respond.
          "I'll bet you did pretty good yourself.   What instrument do you want to play?"
          "I’m already practicing woodwinds.  I'm gonna be a tenor sax player, like my dad.  He's a jazz musician.  That’s why I’m named Lester…after Lester Young?  You know who that was?”
          Aaron makes a sleepy-eyed face and pretends to hold a big saxophone sideways.  "Doo ta dooo ta doo", he tries to imitate one of The Prez' licks.
            Lester’s face goes slack with amazement.  “Wow!  We must be the youngest hipsters in the world!  I get this all from my dad.  He’s so frustrated sometimes.  To make a living he has to play a lot of schlock, you know, Mickey Mouse, bubblegum, ticky tick, but that’s life for a jazz musician.  Hey, what school do you go to?"
          "Daniel Boone."
          "You mean with Mrs. Leek?"
          Aaron laughs.  "Yeah, Mrs. Leek.  Everybody hates her, but I think she's okay."
          "My dad says she's nutty as a drunken camel but she’s a bitchin' musician.  Ha ha!” Lester mouths the curse word routinely, but his giggle betrays his nervousness.  “I'm coming to your school in January.  Dad's got a gig in Gaslight Square, and we just moved to U. City.  I’ll be in the fourth grade.  What about you?”
          “Me too,” says Aaron.  He hopes they will be in the same homeroom.  Aaron is desperate for a friend, and he’s never met anyone that he likes so much, so fast.
          “So…. guess I'll see you at Daniel Boone School," Lester says breezily.  A car, driven by a woman who must be Lester’s mother, is pulling to the curb.
          Lester gets into the car.  As he waves goodbye, Aaron can tell that Lester’s mother is going to offer him a ride.  He is overcome by shyness.  He quickly disappears into the crowd and waits for the bus.
          When a week has passed, Aaron takes to racing home from school so that he has a chance to be first to the mailbox.  He has said nothing about the test, has betrayed none of his hope.
          He is filled with dread. 
          When the result arrives eighteen days later, it is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Max Kantro.
          This is a complication Aaron has not anticipated.  Why didn't he think of this?  Oh, what a dummy he is!  He can't open it.  His mother will be the first to open it.
          A hot poker of fear prods his heart.  He can't remember when or how it began, this war with his mother, but he knows that if he likes something, if it's fun, if it gives him a sense of skill, then he will have to fight for it.  He knows these feelings if not the words.  He has no idea why he is locked in this contest with his mother, why it bothers her so much to see him happy.  He accepts it as one of life's dark mysteries.
          He places the mail on the end table in the den.  Then he sets himself to wait.  He is like a statue.  He has no attention for television, for books.  He is preparing for battle.
          Esther comes whistling into the house two hours later, arms full of packages.  Aaron knows by the whistle and the packages that his mother is "up".  This isn’t good.  He’d rather face her “down” than her “up”. When she's "down" she is mindlessly brutal.  When she is "up" she is unpredictable.  She is capable of anything.  She's devious. This is a word he has looked up in the dictionary.  “Devious: departing from the proper or accepted way.  Not straightforward.  Deceptive or crooked.”
          Esther glances at her son, whose eyes are pointed at the television.  Aaron recognizes an episode of Sky King, but it is nothing to him but moving figures and noise. 
          "Hello, Aaron."
          "Hi," Aaron mumbles, seeing nothing.
          Esther Kantro drops the packages on the couch and hangs her coat in the closet.   She is dark-haired, dark eyed, stout, powerful.  Her nose is like the blade of an ax.
          "Did you have a good day?"
          "Yes, fine."  Aaron's voice sounds as if it has no breath behind it.  When he was younger he was wild and angry.  That had been shaken out of him.  Now he is quiet.  He has learned stealth, guile, even treachery.  These are his weapons, his only means of waging war.
          He has put the letter in the middle of the pile.
          Esther gets organized and comes to the table and begins going through bills, advertisements and letters.  She stands over the trash can, dropping envelopes from her hand to the grey bin.
          Aaron watches her every movement from the corner of his eye.  He sees his mother reach the distinctive grey and blue striped envelope containing the letter from Saul Lefkowitz.  She opens it and reads it. She makes a little splutting noise with her lips, puts the paper back into the envelope, crushes the thing into a wad and throws it after the junk mail.
          Aaron's heart begins to pound with terror.  He knew this would happen!  He knew it!
          He will wait until she leaves the room, he'll get the letter and show it to his dad when he comes home.  That's his plan. 
          "Look, the trash is full, Aaron.  Why don't you take it out?"
          Aaron lifts the plastic cylinder full of trash and heads for the back door.  His mother follows him.  "Get the other cans.  It's collection day tomorrow.  We'll put everything in the trunk and take it to Shepman's so his truck doesn't wake your dad in the morning."
          Lev Shepman is the garbage man.  He owns a dump on the other side of the highway.  Taking the garbage to Shepman in his filthy grey jumpsuit is unthinkable, ridiculous.
          Aaron hasn't reckoned with his mother’s powerful psychic antennae.  Is she some kind of witch?  How can she know?
          She knows.  She has been deceived.  Aaron has achieved something without her permission.  He has lied and concealed things.  That means Aaron wants something very badly.  Esther is aggrieved; she radiates outrage, but says nothing.  She will simply eradicate the letter before Max comes home.  She can tear it to pieces but that's too simple.  She wants Aaron to participate in its loss.  She wants him to know that his desires are nothing to her but garbage.
          Briefly, mother's and son's eyes meet.  Aaron turns away, lest she see his hate and his desire.
          Esther follows Aaron from room to room as he gathers the trash and puts it into a big plastic bag.  His heart beats painfully against his rib cage, like mallet blows on some tympani of foreboding.
          When everything is collected, Esther, dangling her keys, escorts Aaron towards the car.
          He has to do it, now.  Hefting the sack on his scrawny shoulder he lurches down the driveway, dodges a car, cuts through the neighbors' garden, squeezes through a hedge, and is gone.  The sack is heavy with melon rinds, leftovers gone too ripe, newspapers  and an old phone book.  As he adjusts the clumsy weight of the sack, Aaron hears a muffled squawk of outrage from his mother.  He knows she's too fat to run.  He makes it down into The Dell, a tiny copse of wood and water that has yet to fall under the developers' tractors.
          Terrified and exultant, he finds the letter near the top of the heap, straightens it and reads it by the fading light.
          "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Kantro,” it says.  "It gives me great pleasure to inform you that your son, Aaron, achieved one of the highest scores for musical aptitude in the history of the Comprehensive Musical Aptitude Test.  In the entire state, among thousands of children, Aaron ranks in the upper one tenth of a percentile.  I strongly encourage you to enroll your son in the Youth Orchestra.  We have openings at present for violin, flute, bassoon, trumpet and percussion.  With his enrollment comes instruction in his chosen instrument, free of charge.  In the future, should Aaron express a desire, he will be given training in Harmony, Theory and advanced musical forms.  This is thanks to the Zellman Endowment, whose funds have been set aside to encourage those students with special promise.  Please fill out and sign the enclosed form and return it to me in the provided envelope.  I look forward to hearing from you.  Sincerely, Saul Lefkowitz, Concertmaster, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.  "
          The letter is crumpled, damp and stained with coffee grounds.  Aaron looks at the form, a questionnaire with check boxes and signature lines.  He studies it carefully, then sponges the sheets dry on his shirt and folds them.  Aaron hugs the letter to his chest.  He laughs hugely and silently and dances in a little hopping circle, throwing his arms to the sky, showing the letter to the gods in Heaven.  Nothing like this has ever happened to him.  He has never been praised, never succeeded, never been special.
          Now he is someone!  Upper one tenth of a percentile!  That means he is better than ninety nine point nine percent of all the other fourth graders in the state.  Oh God!  An area in him is opening up, a place, a scent, a taste, a way of being that he has never known.  Victory!
          It is dark.  There is an owl that lives in The Dell.  It hoots, a familiar and beloved tone.  To Aaron the sound means autumn.  It means Halloween, burning leaves, Thanksgiving.  It brings the spirit of the Indians to his imagination.  They are laden with pumpkins and sheaves of corn.  Something about this time of year shivers his very core with a thrill of olden days, of uncut forests and great running rivers.
          Once, as he was playing Army with the other kids, the owl took a giant white crap right on his head.  He didn't take it personally.  He loves the owl, and wonders where it will go when the tractors come.
          He still has to go home, to face his mother's wrath, his father's weakness.  He isn't in the Youth Orchestra yet.  He has pushed defiance to a new level.  He knows, from bitter experience, that his mother will make him pay.
          Through the trees he can see the lights coming on.  He can hear the cars of fathers coming home from work, and knows that his father is still some hours away.  He waits, trying to re-read the letter, but it's now too dark.
          At last, seizing his courage as if it is a brick and he a workman, he starts home, with the letter and consent form folded neatly in his pocket.  He emerges from the trees into the suburban night.  Cicadas buzz and the ghostly glow of television light escapes from curtained windows.  When he gets to the next-door neighbors’ garden, he sees with great relief that his father's car is in the driveway.
          His parents are in the den, watching television.  Max has his supper on a portable tray.  None of Aaron's siblings are present. 
          As the boy lets himself in the back door, Esther is silent. 
          "Where on earth have you been?"  Max Kantro is concerned but not angry.  Aaron is never  frightened of his father.  He advances, avoiding his mother's glare, and holds out the letter.
          "Mom threw this in the trash.  I had to get it back."
          "What are you talking about?” Esther protests.  “There is only junk mail. I threw nothing......"
          Max sees his son cringe away from his wife, and it hurts, but he doesn't know what to do.  He takes the letter.  He wants to give the boy a big hug, but that isn't his way, has never been the way in his family.  They don’t touch, don’t hug.
          As he reads, the wrinkles in his face change direction.  A proud blush flows from his neck to the top of his head.  He had been exhausted.  Now there's energy in him.  His poor lost son may have found something to guide him through his difficult childhood.
        "Look at this, Esther. How can this happen? He scored in the upper tenth percent.  My god, this is fantastic.  Aren't you looking, Esther?  I've heard about these tests from everybody down at the deli.  It's become the big status thing, to get your kid into the Youth Orchestra.  It’s a scholarship!  Aaron, why didn't you say something?  I didn't even know you took the test."
          Esther sits with her shoulders rigid, her nose wrinkled.  “Let me see."  Max hands the letter to his wife.  Aaron blanches, imagining that she is about to tear the missive to pieces.
          Esther's expression remains fixed as she reads the letter.  "That's very good, Aaron.  We're very proud of you."  She hands the letter daintily back to her husband, holding it with the tips of her fingers.  "Music....hmm..uh huh."  She says the word "music" as if it refers to a noxious gas.
          Max smiles.   He seems unaware of the tangled wires that grip his wife and son.  "I can't wait to tell my sisters.  One of my customer's kids took the test.  He got a polite form letter.  Nothing."
          Esther brightens as she thinks of having something over her sisters-in-law.  Aaron knows the signs; he knows that a battle has been won.
          "Have you decided on an instrument?"  Max refers to the letter. "Look, you can......"
          "Drums."  Aaron makes this announcement as boldly as he can. “See,” he points at the application sheet, “It says ‘percussion’ but that means drums and everything about drums.”  Mrs. Leek showed the class a movie of the Count Basie orchestra, and when Aaron saw the drummer, Sonny Payne, dashing his way through "The One O’clock Jump,” he found a new hero, a new kind of icon, a sweaty madman at the helm of a giant ship, a drummer-captain commanding the guns of the brass section, summoning the torpedoes of the woodwinds, driving it, steaming ahead, locking with the bass player in a majestic stomping wildness that thrilled every atom of his being.
          "Drums," he says, hammering the word into the firmament like a mountain climber planting a flag.
          "Well, okay," Max begins, but Esther interrupts. 
          "Anything but drums, Max.  That will drive me crazy.  My migraines...I can't stand it.....no way can it be drums."
          Max sees a sudden bleakness ripping away the triumph in his son's face.  Beside him, smoky thoughts waft from the crypt of Esther's mask-like countenance.  The battle that has been proceeding between his wife and his firstborn son reveals itself in all its frost and frustration.  The naked enmity that exists between the people he loves emerges like a buried archive from a melted avalanche.  He understands suddenly that he is in a delicate situation.
          "Aaron," he says, knowing that this will be a huge disappointment for his son.  "Choose another instrument.  Your mother's only being fair.  She has it rough with her headaches.  Maybe in a few years, maybe her headaches will get better...." his eyes plead back at his son's pleading.
          Something rippes and gives way, and Aaron accepts his lot.  He has anticipated as much.  It can never happen, that he will get what he really wants.  It will always be the consolation prize.
            "Can I play trumpet?" he asks, timidly.  "I want to play jazz, like Satchmo and Dizzy."
          Where on earth is a nine year old getting this stuff?  Max looks toward Esther, and sees an objection perched on the edge of her lips.
          "Listen to that," Esther says, her spite gaining momentum.  "He wants to play Schvahtze music.  Not respectable music, not Lawrence Welk or Mantovani.  He has to be a bum and go around with the coloreds.  What kind of life will that be?  Imagine me having to say to my friends, ‘My son, the jazz musician'.  He’ll bring schvahtzes right here, into this house.  He’ll be nothing but a bum and a dope fiend.  He'll end up like Mark Holtzman, playing bar mitzvahs and weddings with a bottle of gin in his pocket, nothing but a schlepper."
          "Esther, for Christ's sake he's nine years old!  He's not making a career choice."
          "All right, then, but if I have migraines, he'll have to go out to the garage or down in the basement.  And there will be no schvahtzes in this house except Etta and the lawn mower boy when he needs to use the spare bathroom."
          "Let him play the trumpet, Esther, it'll be good for him.  God knows he' s no athlete and not much of a student."
          Max knows all about Esther’s racial views.  She hates coloreds, she hates all Goyim, and she is a self-hating anti-semite.  She has a special terror of schvahtzes, as they are called in the local Yiddish dialect.  As a child she witnessed a robbery, she saw her father shoot a black man.  It is one of many searing memories from her childhood.  The things she doesn't remember, or half-remembers, are far more disturbing.
          Aaron sags, limp with relief.  The battle, for now, is over.  He has gotten something, something big.  He will be in the Youth Orchestra.









    









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