Friday, August 31, 2007

Tragic Consequences

Last week I made fun of a coincidence: I booked two bands in one week at Mick's with "Tragedy" in their name. I'm a new-agey guy who looks for signs in everything, so I should have seen this one coming like a bolt of lightning.

I suppose tragedy is a strong word for derrr, we forgot to show up. On Saturday The New Tragedies just plain didn't come. No call, no nuthin'. It was as if I'd met them on Match.com.

I e-mailed the booking agent, and he apologized profusely. "It's all my fault, I haven't talked to them in weeks!" I can't stay mad when I'm laughing, and I couldn't stop imagining, given that explanation, how ridiculous his entire life must be. So has the band spent the last two weeks at a truckstop, still waiting to be told what to do? "Lessee—we have our instruments, we have our van...I still feel like something's missing."

When I opened Mick's I expected that Problem Number One would be Temperamental Musicians. Meltdowns over the red M&M's, that sort of thing. The opposite has been true: artists come eager and prepared, and give their professional best. Problem Number One turned out to be toilets, which I refer to as Problem Number Two.

The contract for one touring artist called for a "fresh vegetable tray." New at the job, I lovingly cut and arranged it myself, feeling a mix of rock-n-roll and Martha Stewart. I left it wrapped and chilled in the dressing room with a few bottles of Pellegrino. When the artist arrived and saw it he just stared, as if I had presented him a birthday cake on the wrong day. "Wow," he whispered in awe, "no one has ever read the contract before!"

Another Famous Artist said she couldn't relax in the Mick's basement dressing room because of all the ghosts. Maybe that qualifies her as temperamental, but she still played the show. A little early, even. Apparently ghosts speed one on one's way.

So we were unprepared for Tragic Absence. The only other no-show in four years was a band whose van had been struck by lightning. And being a guy who looks for signs in things, lightning bolts don't require a whole lot of interpretation.

As karmic balance, our other Tragedy, Nathan Singleton And His Sideshow Tragedies, gave what was easily one of the top performances ever at Mick's. Stunning musicianship, euphoric energy, pouring out all they had for the twenty or so people who were rewarded for giving them a try. Even Dwayne Dopsie, who had stopped by after played at the Joslyn earlier that evening with his band The Zydeco Hellraisers, stared slackjawed at the show. And he ain't no slouch himself. The rest of you—oy-veh! Did you not get the significance of the thunderstorm that rained out the Hellraisers show? Does it take Moses to lead you to Mick's?

Nothing else tragic to report this week. (It's still only Tuesday, though.) Last January I begged you to see Krista Detor, who is among the most wonderful writers I've ever heard. Those who went thanked me for coercing them. She's back this Friday, so prepare to have your arm twisted, and to thank me for it. Her music will convince you to go if I, and my Lightning Bolt of Death, can't.

Now you know which Tragedies to avoid, and which to seek out. Or you could just watch the weather.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's My Job

There is, apparently, a job for everyone and a person for every job. My accountant honestly likes being an accountant. I swear, he does it on purpose. The garbage truck guys were bantering happily as they zoomed by this morning, clinging to the side of their dripping truck like every day was a Worlds of Fun ride.

Quite a few people have made a nice living scooping up dog doo, because owners just don't have the five minutes it takes to do it themselves. I just read about a company in San Francisco that will rent you a dog for the weekend. You can buy the dog's love, and still avoid the commitment. You can do the same thing with humans. We call it prostitution.

Health e-Lunch will bring to your door a sack lunch for your kid to take to school, because it is faster for you to greet their staff at your door, accept and sort their packages, write them a check while chatting, and say goodbye than it is to make the peanut butter and jelly sandwich yourself. Think of the seconds you'll save! And your kid won't be tempted to swap his lunch with fellow students, because they'll discover everyone has exactly the same McLunch. Slick.

How about the Lice Squad? They are honest-to-God nitpickers. For only $55 an hour, they'll comb lice out of your kids' hair. One couple hired them to delouse two kids, the housekeeper and her daughter. The bill was $1000. I think for that much money they should just buy new kids. Maybe rent out the lousy ones to couples who are too busy for the commitment of having their own children.

So if you want to, go ahead and be a nitpicker. It's a job. It'll give you something to do with all that spare time you've saved by hiring someone to raise your kids.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Pallbearer

Jimmy died after ten days in a coma, which was long enough for him to lose half his body weight. His class ring dangled precariously, big enough for two of his now bony fingers. His car had been smashed flat by a toppling bread truck at a gravel country intersection. The only two vehicles within miles managed to hit each other. I had known him for two weeks. I was asked to be a pallbearer. I was sixteen and had never even been to a funeral.

The other time I was a pallbearer was for an old man I had only met once. Is this part of the Catholic tradition, to be borne by five close family members and one Random Dude? I learned once that it is a fundamental part of the Jewish Passover meal to include a stranger, so maybe.

I had been to a couple of Catholic weddings, which were fun: they had beautiful flip-down pads on the pews to kneel on, and so many opportunities to stand up and sit down that I skipped aerobics the next day.

The Catholic funeral service, however, scared the hell out of me, which I guess is one way of accomplishing their mission.

During a pause in the funeral service I glanced around to see what was up. Just a few feet behind me, creeping silently down the isle, were hooded people wielding huge swords, much like a dream I had as a kid except in the dream there was only one of them. I nearly leapt out of my seat. "Doesn't anybody see this?!" my brain screamed. "Are we to just sit here and be slaughtered?" Nobody else scattered, and apparently I would rather die than stand out in a crowd, so I too stayed put. I was so shook up that I don't remember the rest of the service at all.

As rehearsed, we pallbearers lifted the frail deceased in one smooth motion and hauled him out the front door as if he were a couch. We paused by the priest, who swung a tea strainer full of smoking incense around at the end of a chain, then flicked water from a wand onto the expensive honey-colored maple casket. My immediate reaction was inbred by my mother: "Whoa, hey—that's going to leave a stain!" I was compelled to buff it dry to protect the finish but my hands were full. I reminded myself that a water spot was the least of this casket's worries.

We approached the long, regal steps of St. Cecilia's Cathedral. I was in front and had been instructed to raise up a bit while the guys in back lowered a bit, so that as we descended the guest of honor would remain level. But he was a small man in a big casket lined with slippery silk, and at the slightest kilter he suddenly slid to the front. All his weight shifted to me in a lunge and I heard what sounded like a melon hit the end of the casket. The back end reared up I was relieved we didn't flip the whole thing over and spill it down the steps. I know the other pallbearers felt it, but no one said anything, and Random Dude wasn't about to make the announcement.

I clung to the assumption that at some point before the burial someone would discreetly open the casket, grab him by the shoes and pull him straight. As they dangled his box over the final hole I leaned to a fellow bearer, grandson of the deceased. "Are they going to just leave him like that?" He shrugged. They lowered the casket with a machine that didn't care at all which end was heavier, or that the freshly pressed suit inside was now waded up in a ball on one end.

Afterwards, more then ever before, I planned for myself a natural burial: no waste of fancy clothes or polished hardwood. Lay me—comfortably flat, please—in a hole in the country, and stick a cottonwood tree on top so I can continue to clatter in the wind. That's how I buried my cat Libby, the hardest memory of which was seeing her pure, proud white coat get dirty. I imagine in Heaven the first thing she did was sit and groom herself. And I'm sure the first thing gramps did in Heaven was stand up, straighten out his twisted suit, shake his gnarly knuckles down at us and yell, "You stupid bastards!"

Thursday, August 2, 2007

P is for pee

I'm not one to wet my pants. People often say that something scared the pee out of them, so it must not be uncommon. I get scared plenty, so I guess I'm just not that way.

Perhaps the best wet-myself opportunity was when I was at Worlds of Fun, grinding up an impressively vertical hill on my favorite rollercoaster. After a long wait in line I already felt a pressing need to go to the bathroom and was calculating the potential effect of upcoming g-forces, when—kank!—the rollercoaster itself broke, jamming to a halt and stranding us as we faced straight up at the sky. It was scary, yes, but I had this heartpounding crush on the girl next to me, so I wasn't entirely displeased with the circumstances. Not even when cold raindrops began to drip. . . drip. . . drip. . . into my lap. I suppose if there is a good time to wet oneself, it's in the rain. But still, I didn't.

On a long flight to Paris I had avoided the bathroom which had been shared for eight hours by three hundred of my international acquaintances, figuring I could hold it until the plane landed. The landing itself was quite a hard bump and nearly popped my balloon. Then we waited on the tarmac. And w a i t e d . My eyes began to water and my Kegels quivered in stress. I tried to devise a scheme where I'd fall out of line and let loose on the fence behind the plane, but this was just after 9/11 and I knew I'd be shot. They finally boarded us onto a bus which circled the entire airport about six times, hitting every available speed bump and rail crossing. I was squeezing so hard I was afraid I'd pee diamonds. When I finally made it to a bathroom I nearly couldn't go, because everything had welded itself shut.

I once flicked on a basement light to the surprise of a writhing sea of cockroaches. I've been barraged by bats, startled by snakes. I screamed like a girl when I opened the basement door at Mick's and came face to face with Pirate Pete, an inflatable guy Holli had propped up there for my amusement. So it's a surprise that the only thing that ever made me give up a squirt was a manhole cover.

I was near Elmwood Park, on a long evening walk with my daughter Molly. I stepped on this big manhole cover and it let loose a hideous growl right between my macho Birkenstocks. My man parts jumped into my ribcage.

Molly didn't hear it, and laughed at the look on my white face. "Hif...het...hip..." I explained. So I stepped on it again, and it growled again like the Devil's squeaky toy, half angry dog and half hissing cat. Her eyes widened to the size of fried eggs. We giggled nervously, stepping on it with the tippiest of toes a few times before turning to run. But my Snow White gene kicked in and I paused. What if it is a trapped dog that got knocked into the sewer by a car? Or something. I went around and tried to peer into the gutter, which was perfectly big enough for an alligator to spring out, but I couldn't get a good look because the sun had set and I was only willing to get within thirty feet of it. Back around to the top. Stomp. Arrrchhhhssst!

"That's no dog, Dad," Molly murmured as she backed away.

At least it is nice to be able to tell you that the front door to Hades is on the 700 block of Happy Hollow Boulevard.

Maybe it was a raccoon. Maybe an opossum. Maybe I'll never go back to find out. At least not unless I've gone to the bathroom first.