recent hops

Aneurysm--the chronicle 

My emoji has a helmet now.  This is since the end of November when I came home from the hospital after my brain aneurysm.  You know how we say something “blows your mind?”

Well this thing actually did.  Blow my mind.  Such a weird dream. 

When is a dream a nightmare? OR Band photos, green backdrop? 

Last night I dreamed that our band was on tour in Ireland, and I was trying to take a band photo. 

Now, as always with dreams, they seem so real in the moment. And in this dream especially, there are many things that could have duped me into thinking I was not in a dream state. For one thing, the dream is consistent with many of my experiences in Ireland. In the first dream scene, there is a girl sitting across from me at a table in the dining car, who has just joined the band. She is clearly Irish. And we know this because her name is Brigid. Her name isn't Tiffany or Taylor or Kaneesha or Fatima. It is Brigid. So, point one for dreamland. You got that right. 

Also, we're on a train. We are not in a tour bus or a sports car or an SUV. Now, I haven't been to Ireland since '86. If I were a betting woman, which I am, I would bet that all of the above are used nowadays when bands or just normal people are touring. I use the term “normal” here to speak of people who are not in bands. Band people are not normal, trust me on that one. But when I was there, which is also what my subconscious is picking up on, we took the train everywhere. So, point two for dreamland. Dream land is spot on. 

The view out of the train window is also not Dune. It is green. It is lush. It is Hobbit country, replete with rolling, grassy hills—not mountains mind you—and lots of short, stubbly, deciduous trees. There are rock walls separating one stretch of land from another. There are no barb wire or electric fences like you see in the Western ranch land of the United States. 

Point three for Dream land. 

But here is where the dream diverges from this seductive reality that I am starting to believe. 

First off, in this dream, our band is on tour, but no one in the train with me is in our band. Charlie isn't even there. That of course is part of what makes this a good dream. All of a sudden, I have no one to fight with about rhyme schemes—whether a certain word is really what we are trying to say when I just want it to frickin' rhyme and fit the rhythm—chord progressions—like that phrase only needs two chords, not seventeen, yes, it is jazz, but enough is enough—and programming—no, we don't need another deep, dark, song. The audience is melancholy at this point and many of them are depressed enough as is from the pandemic and climate change. Give them a damn swing tune. 

Second, I can't imagine that Ireland is our demographic. Now, don't get me wrong, some of my most favorite travel memories are of Ireland. It is a magical place with the warmest, friendliest people, who live the sanest pace of life and drink lots of beer. Never mind that I am allergic to beer, that is not their problem, clearly mine and one of those bad cards I was dealt. (Although maybe not so bad, as most of my family have alcoholic tendencies, so my allergies may have spared me. Instead, I am forced to deal with my depression by obsessively exercising and reorganizing cupboards.) 

The Irish also love music and singing, so a person may think that there would be jazz clubs, but it just doesn't jive. Think reels and jigs, acoustic guitars and bodhrans and you get the picture. 

I don't think I ever heard jazz wafting out of anyone's radio back then in the 80's, when I was there and when people still used radios. Most people were just mad for U2 and the Talking Heads and all that fantastic Irish folk music. 

It's not a jazz country. If we toured there, we might make enough to cover food, which in all fairness—sorry Ireland—wasn't a strength. Think here “batter burgers.” They sounded intriguing but turned out to be as disgusting as they sound. And beer. But then I am allergic, so what would be the point? 

All that being said, as we are sweeping past the beautiful countryside, in the dream train, with the Irish girl named Brigid—I'm not sure if she is the back-up singer, a new horn player or in the rhythm section? —I decide, in this dream, to take a band photo. 

And again, as in dreams, this action is usually where all the anxiety of whatever we are dealing with in real life comes out. Real life as it were, being waking life. But lately waking life is just getting weirder and weirder for us humans. For instance, Ireland just legalized abortion. In real life. The most Catholic country in the world. Think on that one. 

And I guess for me, I am having anxiety about band promotion. It is difficult to get five band members in the same room to do anything. That's why we have side men. Or side women. Or side theys. Because not everyone can make it to every gig. We often need to hire up a sub because we all have to play in more than one band or job to make it. Danny just retired from Amazon, but still has bass students and plays in other bands where he usually makes more money than ours, Ronnie runs a warehouse, and plays in a shit ton of other bands where he usually makes more money than ours—you get the picture. 

In other words, getting the band together for a photo, when we all look good, not sweaty from the gig, and I am wearing the right color of lipstick, can feel impossible. It's hard to do a photo before the gig, while everyone still looks good, because someone is usually running late due to shit Seattle traffic or shit Seattle parking. The only time I ever wish I lived in the suburbs is when I am running late for a gig. It is then that I long for stretches of land, wasted in asphalt, with parking slots big enough to open a car door all the way for unloading guitars and amps. That fantasy always flashes through my mind when we are double parked on a steep cobble stone hill and I am yanking my guitar out in the rain, desperately trying not to take the paint off the white Tesla/BMW/Audi next to us. 

In heels. 

But you can't have it both ways. 

So, there I am, in this dream, herding our band out of the train, onto the set of the Vikings, where the rolling hills and rock walls are now the stage for our upgraded promo materials. Green countryside backed jazz band. It doesn't feel quite right, now, does it? It really seems much better for, again, a folk trio, or The Chieftains or even U2. But this is my dream, and I must recount the truth of it. 

And the band is HUGE. There are so many people there, I have to line them up using the rock wall as a guide. It's as if our band has turned into a movie set and there are gaffers and grips and sound guys, all white guys with fat bellied black t-shirts and too much hair. You would feel like you could smell them if you ever saw this photo, but you can't because it is NOT REAL. 

And I am stressing out because no one is listening to me—also feels a bit real—and everyone is moving around, straying from their assigned spot against the wall, all one hundred of them, and no one has on the band t-shirt. Shit, I have to hand those out to everybody, but I can't find them, they are back on the train, which is still moving, by the way, even though we are not on it, and it isn't out of the scene, just one long mf train. 

This is another one of those dreams where when a few of the people turn out to be naked, you wake up. 

Thank God. 

Maybe I had this dream so that I am relieved when we get real band photos done. Because it will never be this bad with one hundred people in Ireland against a rock wall with a moving train where I have left the t-shirts and so many of the men need a shave and deodorant and three very pretty girls with red hair are naked. And Brigid. Turns out she is a bitch and wants to take my job as lead singer. 

Thank goodness for real bands that just have scheduling problems.

Ceiling gazing, or how long is too long? 

The ceiling of the train station in Portland, Oregon is really beautiful. It is covered in 4’ X 4’ ceramic/stucco(?) squares, each one bordered by what look like wicker canes, containing another square, about 2’ X 2,’ with its own petal filled border, and then in the center, a flower, that I can’t quite place, not a lily, rose or daisy, all of it multi-colored in tones of turquoise, apricot, sepia and coral, each square repeated, truly quite perfect. 

And I know this as I have been studying it for almost eight hours. 

Well, that’s not quite fair. Some of this time I have been walking around and reading. I did go outside earlier in the evening, when it was still light out to sit on the park bench in the “smokers” area. 

It was a lovely night with a light breeze. The smokers’ area was a bit weird as there were a bunch of signs that said “no loitering.” Isn’t that the whole point of having an outdoor smoking area? So that all the poor nicotine addicts who aren’t allowed to indulge their stinky habit anywhere anymore can “loiter” there? 

And another thing about those signs. The word loiter. You know when people loiter, they never say, “I’m going out to loiter. See you in a few minutes.” Or “I was thinking of having a fun time loitering. Do you wanna’ make a day of it?” I don’t think anyone has ever invited me to loiter with them. Is that because I am not good loitering company? Am I too much of a bore to bring along? 

Or do people just not loiter anymore? Has it gone the way of bowling and the Elks club? 

Curious. 

I also spent some time this evening-now-morning, pondering whether or not to get a candy bar from the vending machine. I eventually gave in, like you do, getting a Snickers bar and eating it in about a minute. 

Turns out, that isn’t very much time when you find out later that you had more than eight hours to kill. 

There was also all the time I spent trying to sleep, curled up in that awkward traveler position of not quite fetal, because the train benches aren’t really wide enough. Some young girls lie stretched out, their lean, tan legs sticking out of shorts meant for a shorter journey—no pun intended. And we note flimsy summer jackets and long sleeve shirts draped over said legs because the train station is getting Pacific NW cold. They had the overhead fans going full tilt, maybe part of Covid mitigation. I haven’t been wearing my mask because the doors are flung wide and all the windows open, but I am thinking about it now, just to spare fellow travelers my bad, post “Snickers” breath—if they have the misfortune of coming too close to me, that is, if we ever get to board. 

However, a decent amount of time I have been lying on the train “pews” looking up at the ceiling. Sleep is elusive, and so I am filled with deep thoughts like, “How long did it take one person to paint those petals?” “How long did it take one person to paint the stamen or the pistils for that matter?” “How many people did it take to sculpt all those flowers?” And, most importantly “HOW MUCH LONGER AM I GOING TO BE STARING AT THIS FUCKING CEILING?!?” 

We just got the answer. The train should be pulling in, in about nine minutes, at 3:20 am—a far cry from 7:25 pm the day before. 

Those were the salad days, when my biggest worry was getting in after my 10 pm bedtime. And Kyle’s biggest worry was battling the Seattle Mariners’ traffic after the game to come pick me up. I don’t think there will be much traffic at 7 am on a Sunday morning, baby. *sigh*

Family vacation or just summer torture? 

My 11-year-old nephew wrote a song the other day while we were on a family vacation at the beach. 

It’s a common meme that when you go somewhere without children it is a vacation, but when you go somewhere with them, it is a trip. 

So, it goes without saying that this weeklong family vacation was a trip. It included me and Kyle, my mom, my sister Jill and her husband, my nephew Austin with his fiancée and all of Jill and Austin’s kids–four of them. 

We started taking this family beach vacation the summer after dad died. Mom contends that dad never would have done such a thing–have a vacation with all of our family, my sisters’ families, kids, cousins, what have you, girlfriends, boyfriends, girlfriend’s children, family stalkers, etc. 

At first when mom said this, I always took it as some sort of flaw in my dad. He either wasn’t patient enough, adventurous enough, or sensitive enough to go off with a bunch of family for a week of fun in the sun. 

Now after having done it for the eleven years since he died, I think my dad just wasn’t stupid enough. 

I mean, I shouldn’t complain. We had four children together who generally got along and played together. No one vomited in my bed. No one broke their arms. No one broke my arm, or my knee for that matter. Just yesterday while we were walking along the beach a giant dog ran up behind us and circled us, the way that dogs do, you know, you hear them panting, they’re coming up fast and then they pass you, create a giant arc and race back to wherever they came, their master’s, the stick they were chasing, the sea gulls, you know. And Kyle, he says to me, “You know my old boss, a dog ran into his ex-wife while they were walking along the beach and broke her knee.” 

And I thought, geez, I just escaped a broken knee. I said, “Were they together when this happened or were they already divorced?” And Kyle said, “No, they were together when it happened, but he told me about it after they divorced. But by the time that he told me, they were divorced, and he sounded pretty gleeful telling the story.” At this point I get a horrified look on my face. I am sure that Kyle didn’t notice it as maybe he thought it was just the sand blowing into my eyes and getting in between my irises and contact lenses. 

So painful. 

“It wasn’t an amicable split up,” he says, and I think, "Wow, I wonder what horrible things that have, or will happen to me, that will give Kyle future schadenfreude if we ever divorce?” I mean we have endured 32 years at this point–34 if you count dating and being engaged (maybe I should say enjoyed instead of endured?!) —so I probably have nothing to worry about. 

But still. 

When he is hovering over my prone form after a dog breaks my knee, can I trust that his look of concern will stay just that? Or in memory after the acrimonious split up will it turn into a mocking laugh of “she-had-that-coming-to-her?” 

Are all of our memories reformed by succeeding perceptions? 

I suspect so. 

Which makes the last morning of our beach stay especially foreshadowing. It is 6:20 am and I am lying in bed thinking, what are my sister and nephew talking about at this hour? Geez, didn’t they do themselves in last night with all the alcohol and cocktails-in-a-can that she bought at the local farmer’s market? Weren’t they gluttons for punishment enough with their 2 am late night drunk discussions? I thought they’d be asleep at least until 8 am. 

I mutter something to Kyle, who is just waking up and, going deaf by the way, poor guy, but still better at perceiving reality than me. He says, “Jean, that’s not Jill and Austin. It’s someone outside.” 

And so it was. We were in a beach rental next to regular-non-tourist people who go to work and have domestic fights at the buttcrack of dawn. And now that I am tuned into the fact that it is our neighbors, and they are fighting, I am super curious. The voices get louder and now we hear trailer shaking slams and the ubiquitous “fuck you” and “fuck off.” Then the accusations of pedophilia and who-had-sex-with-a-fifteen-year-old emerge from the cacophony of sentences, which is both titillating and scary and sad all at the same time. 

I crawl over the bed to the window, dying to see some sort of scene and Kyle, the more decent of us, stage whispers, “Don’t let them see you! Don’t engage! They’ll start in on us! They may have a gun!” At which point I stage whisper back, “A gun? Do you think they might shoot each other? Do you think we should call the cops?” But Kyle–who can’t hear me because he is literally going deaf and sibilants (the sounds we make when we whisper–all the s’s) are the hardest for him to hear–is frantically waving his hand to me to get out of the window while his bedhead cowlick bounces to and fro. 

A sign of what a truly terrible person I am is that I was actually getting excited: Maybe there will be a shot and we will have to call the cops and it will be like a CSI Vegas on our last day at the beach! 

Even now as I am writing, I think about how sad it all was and how truly horrible if someone had gotten injured or died, or even how awful if the accusations were true and this man had slept with a fifteen-year-old and how horrible for that girl and all of it. But in the moment, my true colors shine through like oil on a puddle, and I was interested in the drama. 

How sick of me. 

After about ten interchanges of “You fucking pedophile!” “Fucking LEAVE!” back and forth, back and forth, a final door slam and tires on the gravel indicate that the Jerry Springer show is over. 

And that was the morning of our last day. At that point my sweet little nephew’s song comes to mind. We wrote it together, him with ease and me under duress. He hounded me with incessant determination while I was trying to read a novel in the sand. He kept at it while we were walking the beach. I kept thinking, “Jean, if you acted like James you would have an entire album finished in a week.” 

Luckily for me, he got tired after two songs in two days and let it go, that is after we got the band and album name ironed out. 

The band will be called “Infinite Reality” and the album’s title is “Going Viral.” I wanted to call it “The old lady and the kid,” but he didn’t think it would catch on. I am hoping that his sister Justine will grow into it as well and by the time they are both fifteen and nineteen respectively, I can retire, a multi-millionaire having produced the next “Backstreet-NSYNC-On the Block.” 

His fatigue finally allowed me to read my novel and feel less guilty about the fact that I haven’t written a song myself in months. Thank God, even James got writer’s block. It would have been too shaming if he had kept up the pace. 

But his new song “Headache” played in my mind’s ear while I lay there in bed thinking about the door slamming, 6:30 am pedophile accusations. 

“It’s a headache. It really makes my head bake. It’s a headache. It rumbles like an earthquake.” 

And thus, we can hammer the last nail in the coffin of another post dad family beach trip. Too much alcohol, two extra pounds from eating my mom’s “Monster Cookies” every day, lots of good food, two new songs, lots of sand, and a scene from the Jerry Springer show, we now have the burned toes and ears to prove that we did it. And we still miss you, dad, even though you probably are rolling your eyes as I write this, and secretly giving a sigh of relief that this happened post you.

Does music heal your brain?  

I just saw a post that said, ”Music can heal your brain! Music can bring back memories to stroke victims!” And I thought, that is so cool! This post really says something about music. And it got me thinking. 

Maybe some of my musical activities have been a compulsive, unconscious desire to overcome all the brain damage from too much alcohol my freshman year in college? 

I am sure that my alcohol consumption was absolutely NOTHING compared to a standard frat boy. But it was still significant, and I definitely have felt less smart since college. Before college I thought I knew everything, so maybe it was the beer? 

Speaking of feeling less smart, after you have children, that emotional state of “less smart” grows in proportion with the size of your mortgage and all the things that you buy to support their upbringing. Clearly, there is some kind of reverse investment going on here. 

For instance, I paid a fair amount of money on hair care products for my daughter Sarah. Two years ago, she shaved her head bald, so isn’t that kind of a reverse investment, where the output of hair is less than the money put into it? 

I mean of course, in the case of your children, it is about your relationship with them. At the time when she had hair, the purchase of said hair care products was a necessity. Anything to keep the atmosphere in the house to a level of some kind of neutrality was a plus when there is a teen aged daughter within. 

Which brings us back to music. It can heal your brain. It can bring back memories. But do I want to remember what that was like? All the stomping and door slamming and yelling and crying? 

Not really. Sarah is a lovely young woman, albeit sans hair, but beautiful, nonetheless. I am really glad she is who she is, and I don’t need to retrieve all of those memories of how we got here—to this place of getting along (finally) and having her be a productive member of society. 

Maybe I don’t really need to justify my musical compulsions to all the good it will do my brain. Maybe my brain is ok as it is, dead neural pathways and all. 

Maybe it is ok just to love music because we love it.

Knock 'em dead 

It was Monday and I had spent some quality time in the garden. This resulted in extra shower time to get ready for the funeral. I needed to scrub my fingernails and toenails so that I looked like the funeral singer, not the grave digger. Kyle was a grave digger before I knew him, which lends his back story a certain fun freak quality, but he says it was just mostly really hard and not that spooky. 

It's still a great party starter. What was your first job after high school? 

Then he married a funeral singer. We must have been destined. 

I had put my hymnal and music in my color appropriate black bag the night before, so really all that was left after the nail scrubbing shower was to scrunch myself into one of my black funeral singing dresses. I have a cold weather one, a cool/spring weather one and a hot weather one, but I can only wear that one if I lose some weight. Some church ladies once called a parish I was working for to complain about how things were overflowing when I leaned over. 

No men called to complain. 

I haven't lost all the COVID weight yet. Good thing the heat wave was over on Sunday, because I couldn't wear the hot weather black dress. 

I started practicing for this funeral three days earlier to get my voice back in shape. I don't sing as much during the summer, and I have this little non-Covid cough. It seems to have started with some vocal strain I developed during a music ed class I took in July. It was two weeks of singing-all-day-with-mask-on-hell that seems to be hanging on. I have to admit, the cough is worse on days after I have been drinking. 

Maybe the drinking is part of the reason I haven't lost enough weight to wear the hot weather black dress? 

Most of the time when we arrive to play a funeral, we get there about forty-five minutes early. This gives us enough time to set up the mic and music stand, set out our music, run a couple of songs to warm-up, and then Charlie plays some prelude music. I usually sit in the pew and run back and forth to the bathroom to reapply lipstick—it runs into my wrinkles more and more now—and pee. I try to drink a lot of water to hydrate the vocal cords from all the alcohol the previous night. It gives us about fifteen minutes between set-up and prelude to dink around, chat up the hearse drivers, that sort of thing. 

But this funeral was different. When we arrived, there was no piano. 

No piano. The church had been closed for good by the Archdiocese at the end of June. Our Lady of Mount Virgin. Charlie and I didn't even know it had been officially closed. The diocese opened it back up for the day just so that the family could have their mother's funeral in the church that she had been married in, where all her kids had been baptized and where she had lived her life. We never thought to check and see if there was a piano there. I don't think I have ever arrived at a Catholic church to sing and there was no piano. 

If we had known, Charlie could have brought one of his pianos. He has five. His apartment is like the anteroom for American Music. He has two acoustic pianos—the kind that you can't move, very large pieces, which is one more than he needs, don't get me started on that story—and three electric pianos which are portable. I mean he could have brought one of his electric pianos and left it forever in the church that day. After a bit, he wouldn't have even noticed it was missing. I know this because I have seen him leave all manner of things about over the 30+ years I have known him. 

While we are pondering this new and troubling situation and trying not to look like we are freaking out, the daughter-in-law calls up another church and runs out the door to go and fetch a piano. Because we usually set up first and then chat up later, it threw me off a bit to do the chatting up before the setting up. I got to meet the large family, mostly Croatians and Italians. One of them, Johnny, the nephew (I think) was straight out of central casting for The Sopranos—olive complexion, slick black hair and a large persona complete with a black and white striped bowling shirt. Who could have imagined the dude sang like an angel in Croatian and played, wait for it, the accordion? 

Charlie positions himself out by the hearse to wait for the piano delivery where he uses paper towels to mop his brow in the heat. Remember the hot weather black dress that I couldn't wear? I am feeling a bit sad about that at this point while I am stork walking around the church, attempting to look cool in my two-inch heels in search for a piano bench. About the time that I found it—actually an organ bench, not a piano bench, and in the woman's restroom playing the role of a flower table—the piano shaped object arrives. And it is a beauty, all five pounds of it, minus the pedal, a very important part actually. Without it there is no sustain and basically everything is staccato, or in non-musical terminology, choppy and clipped sounding. 

At five minutes to ten, Charlie slings the piano over his shoulder, and I see his bobbing bald pate portaging it across the sanctuary. Meanwhile, I am, with exceptional grace, trying not to run up the aisle with the eager teenager who is lugging the organ bench from its humble placement in the restroom to its new, more exalted place, in the sanctuary. Accompanied by the accordion music soundtrack from the loft, it was sort of Benny Hill meets Cinema Paradiso. Charlie's posterior was well positioned, and I was in my place at 10:05 am—we were just fashionably late—culturally appropriate for Southern Europe, right? 

The rest of the funeral proceeded as if nothing was amiss, as nothing really ever is at funeral when every character belongs, and every line is scripted in improvisation. This sweet woman was 94 when she died and the church was full, unusual for someone so aged, a testament to her love of family and their consequent devotion to her. After a beautiful eulogy delivered by the granddaughters, Johnny slings out his Croatian folk song, making everyone cry, even though most of us didn't know a word of Croatian. 

The fact that the piano didn't have a pedal could have been just one more stylistic choice in the ambiance of an old, recently closed, recently re-opened Catholic church. With all of the signs in the church rendered in English and Vietnamese, our seven hundred and eightieth version of the Ave Maria, a la harpsichord style was not actually that weird—just an additional part of the scenery. Another day in the life of a musician. 

Kyle always says when I leave to sing at a funeral, “Knock 'em dead.” And so we did.