jumpingfish
 Tuesday, November 30, 2004

That Sound

It's crazy this going-to-his-concerts thing. I mean it's wonderful of course, but it's so difficult.

Inevitably when the students come onto the stage or when the lights dim or when the kids start playing, she glances over. She tries to be subtle, barely turning her head, but I know she's watching me, waiting for the inevitable. Looking for the tears.

A few weeks ago we were in a spacious auditorium with Middle School students from all around the region seated in black ties, white shirts, and dresses on stage. The lights dimmed. The first violin entered and played his tuning note. The rest of the orchestra followed.

You know the sound. The warming up of an orchestra. All the strings and the wind and brass.

I first heard an orchestra warming up when I was very young. It was on a record album that my brother and I played over and over, year after year. It was the tuning of the orchestra before Senor Pizzicato walked out on stage and tapped his baton. It was the warming up while Tubby the Tuba quietly lamented his oompa lot. That sound is burned into the deepest corners of my memory.

I knew that sound. And I gasped, audibly. And sobbed.

They hadn't even begun the program. She didn't even have to glance over at me. Sheesh.


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 Monday, November 29, 2004

Sitting There

Why are you just sitting there?

What do you mean, sitting here? Where should I be sitting?

You know what I mean. Why are you sitting there like a zombie staring into space.

What would you have me do?

Something productive -- write, for instance.

Write about what?

I don't know, for heavens sake. That's your business. You're always writing about something. Find something now to write about.

Got any suggestions?

How about flowers? You seem to do pretty good with those.

In the springtime.

Oh. ... How about your boy?

He's been at his mother's for about a week.

Oh. ... How about the moon on a cold, crisp night?

I did that one a few days ago.

Oh. ...

Care to come sit with me?

Oh. Ok.

---
An imagined conversation.


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On the Scene

If you want a direct view into the conflict in Ukraine, this is a good place to go. There are first-hand description of the events as they unfold and photos.


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 Sunday, November 28, 2004

Going Back Inside

I saw the just-past-full moon above in the sky. I saw Orion in the east with the clouds streaming by. I heard the whine of the cars on two distant highways. And that's just when I went back inside.

Because winter's upon us, because it was windy and cold, because the fireplace was calling, I decided to go back inside.


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 Saturday, November 27, 2004

The Show Is Going On

They own the microphones. The amplifiers belong to them. And the cords running from the one to the other. The spotlights respond only to their requests. Everyone else is out of view and silent. The stage is theirs. All we can do is sit and watch.

What do you mean? There is a lot we can do! We can gather together! We can strategize! We can pool our resources! We can build new foundations! We can practice our lines.

Yes, we can do all that. But in the meantime, the show is going on. There is nothing we can really do but sit and watch. And wait.


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 Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Teenagers in the Parking Lot

Our pumpkins still sit beside the walkway outside our front door, although one of them is leaning more each day. Across the street, a bale of hay still serves as a pedestal for some gourds that the neighbors put out in late October.

So with a splash of orange over there and two spheres of it over here, perhaps you will excuse me if I tell a story from the night before Halloween.

Although it was early, it was dark, because the time had changed. The boy was at a friend's house with a mass of other kids. We decided to get something to drink at the Exxon, and so with dog in tow we headed out into the night.

As we crossed the elementary school parking lot, we saw a group of teenagers walking our way. They were laughing loudly and walking close together. There were boys, and there were girls. And there was a tall one in the back, dressed in a flowing black gown and a pointed witch's hat.

The tall black one in the back noticed us. His eyes lit up. He smiled. And as that troop of teenagers walked past us, he walked over to us and bumped into my shoulder and said, Hello.

And that is my story. I tell it for three reasons. First, it was the night before Halloween and he still decided to dress up. That's remarkable courage for a teenager who might otherwise be more concerned with not sticking out. Secondly, his outfit was that of a witch not a warlock. He's comfortable in his skin. It never occurred to him that someone might give him grief for not being manly. And finally from the midst of his friends, he still walked over to us and say, Hello. That's not something many parents of teenagers get to enjoy.

And now my story is done.


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 Monday, November 22, 2004

Needle in a Paper Stack

The clock is ticking and the paperwork needs to be finalized. It is almost time to vote. The stack sits as tall as a phone book -- pity those poor souls who have to read it.

Read it? Hah. We'll just slip this little addendum in. No one will notice this needle in this stack of paper:

From now on, no matter what any other law says, the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committtees (or anyone they name) shall be granted free access to the tax records of anybody they wish.

Of course that's not what it really said. It's not enough, after all, to stack the paper high, you have to make the language inscrutable so even those few brave souls who do venture to read it will lose the meaning in the obtusity. Here is what his actual paragraph said:

Hereinafter, notwithstanding any other provision of law governing the disclosure of income tax returns or return information, upon written request of the Chairman of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service shall allow agents designated by such Chairman access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein.

Thank you, Rep. Ernest J. Istook (R-OK).


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 Saturday, November 20, 2004

Hawaiian Shirt

I lean on her. I depend on her advice. I trust what she says. So before we left for the orchestra performance, I asked her a question.

Should I tuck this shirt in or wear it hanging out?

She looked at my shirt, a wild, flowery, bright orange Hawaiian thing.

I think, she said in a convincing but sympathetic tone, that you should wear a different shirt.

Of course I did.


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 Friday, November 19, 2004

He Who Has War Stories

As I looked around the room, I saw just about every personality you might imagine. There were quiet people. There were nervous people. There were solid people. There were withdrawn people. Some liked to cook. Some didn't. Some told stories. Some sat back and quietly listened.

It was a well balanced group. They were a lot of fun.

I leaned over and whispered to Trudy. I said there was only one type missing: an old-hand who could tell war stories from the good old days.

She looked back at me and said, Oh no, there's Mickey. He's your age.

And with that, she stopped me cold.


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 Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Memories of Being Passed By

When I was much younger than I am today, I used to run around in circles. Actually not in circles, I used to run around on ovals -- quarter-mile ovals with a handful of other guys my age. We would start at the starting line and dash off at the sound of the gun.

Sometimes there were spectators cheering from the sidelines. Sometimes my brother was there in the infield cheering too. Sometimes my parents were there. Sometimes my girlfriend. One time, I actually won. More often, I came in a little behind.

One day, we had a mix-up race. I don't know what the exact occasion was, but it was a friendly meet against the team from a few miles down the road. On that day, the distance runners ran sprints, and the shot putters ran distance, and the sprinters did the field events. I ran the quarter mile.

When they lined us up in our staggered lanes, I was assigned the outside place. On your marks, we settled into the starting blocks. Set, I looked up to see nothing ahead but track. (The others were staggered in their lanes behind me.) Bang, and I pushed myself out of the blocks.

I ran hard, for 50 yards or so. It was early spring, and although the sun was shining and the sky was blue, there was still a sting in the air. I didn't notice the sting. I did notice the slowness of my legs, and before long I heard the clatter of racing spikes stampeding up behind me. The footsteps got nearer and louder. I felt as if I were running in molasses. In an instant the others passed me by. I felt as if I were standing still.

Let's just say that I didn't place.

But taking the long view, I do have those memories, right? Memories of spectators and family and friends. Of cheering. Of sunny days in early spring and the cool, crisp air. And memories of being passed at great speed before the race was halfway done. I have those, right?

If you think I'm being sarcastic, you haven't been listening.

---
In honor of Colin, who ran a great race.


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 Monday, November 15, 2004

Aftermath

Sitting at a desk on a cloudy, rainy day. Thinking that soon, certainly soon, words will come. But they do not.

One drizzly day follows another. The hours of winter shorten. It is dark outside the window.

As the temperatures drop and the rainy days go by, as the purges start and the victors scoot their chairs up to their desks eager for their new day, I look out the window in numb silence.

Maybe tomorrow.


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colin at state

The words of an 8th grade cross-country runner -- my cousin's kid:

... over the megaphone came the order 'on your mark'. two hundred plus runners stepped two and a half feet up to the red line and assumed the set position. then came the gun, and everyone was off in a mad sprint to be at the front of the pack at the beginning of the race. almost instantly i lost josh in the crowd, but i was off, in the dead center of the pack, stretching my legs out for all they were worth to get through the grueling first one hundred meters. i was running at state.

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 Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Math Test

The cafeteria was full. There were students everywhere: standing, sitting, walking, running, eating, and some practicing their instruments. And there were many instruments and cases scattered all over the room: on the floor, on chairs, on the table tops. And there were more instruments and cases, it seemed, than there were kids.

Four boys came rushing thru the doors to where they had left their stuff. They sat down at the table two of them on one side, two on the other and pushed aside their cases.

I got a 100 on my algebra test, one of them said.

The refreshing thing about band kids is that they are not embarrassed to be proud of their work. The talented ones get the open respect of their peers. And at a competition like this, everyone wants to know how everyone else did.

But this kid was talking about math!

I got a 100 on my test, and it brought my class grade down, he said.

There was silence at the table for a moment as the other three boys tried to parse what he had just said. The boy who spoke waited patiently for the others to catch up. Two of them were silent, but the third did a double take and started laughing, a signal to the other two who then started laughing, too. The first boy had a satisfied smirk on his face.

Why do I think that he didn't really do so well?


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 Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Shorter Wait

They sit in room C-2 with brightly colored pinatas hanging over their heads and their trombones by their sides. Some of them look down at the floor while they wait. Others stare blankly forward. They are all inside themselves.

One by one they rise when called to play while the others watch and listen and wait their turns and the judges on the other side of black partitions bend blind ears.

In the hall outside the room, a few parents wait, sometimes standing up to peer thru the narrow slits of window in the doors or to put their ears to the cracks and listen to the scales and etudes. By now, they have heard them many times, and they wonder if they will recognize their own kid when his or her time comes. After today, perhaps the melodies will stop echoing in their heads.

Who has the longer wait, the kids sitting in the room or their parents sitting outside the door? I think I know. I think I got the easy part.

---
Regional Middle School Band Competition
Covington Middle School, Austin TX


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 Thursday, November 11, 2004

Ritardando

So he's playing his trombone again in the living room -- scales and etudes, getting ready for another competition. He's in there playing, and he gets to the end of an etude that I figure could be spiced up a little.

I stand up from the computer and walk into the living room and stand next to him while he plays. When he stops, I walk over and look at the music and point to the last measure.

What about slowing this way down? I propose.

I sing it to demonstrate what I mean. I'm quite pleased with myself and figure I've given him something to think about.

No, Dad, he says. The judges don't like that kind of thing. There's no ritardando written in the music.

He points the the music to show me. Then he adds, And besides, that's so out of style.

I hang my head in shame and return to the computer room whence I came.


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 Monday, November 8, 2004

Mr. Trudy

It was dark. The time had only changed a week or two before, so the darkness outside made it feel late. But it only 8:00pm.

The man was in the bedroom packing his bags for another trip. The boy was on his computer writing a paper. And Trudy was on her computer. She had started out checking the weather online, but something else had caught her eye.

The phone rang, and then it rang again. In the bedroom, the man stooped over to pick it up, but before he could, she answered it from the computer room. He stood back up to fold a flannel shirt.

Hello? Trudy said.

From the delay, she could tell it was a solicitation.

Hello? she repeated.

Hello, a man said from the other end. Is ... Mr. Trudy there?

Oh gosh I'm sorry, Trudy said, You must have the wrong number.


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 Saturday, November 6, 2004

Post-election thoughts

Here are some good post-election thoughts.

A different look at the map of election results which takes into account the poplulations of the red/blue counties instead of just painting them as if each county has the same electoral weight. A friend of mine offered some consolation last week by saying that it is not true, as the press are saying, that the country is all conservative. These maps illustrate that in a way that the CNN and USAToday maps don't, and they take some of the sting out of the election results.

Some remarkable thoughts about the electoral defeat (defeat as seen from the point of view of progressives, of course) by John Perry Barlow. He is humble and apologetic without backing off an inch from his heartfelt principles. His words would make a good model for progressives to (1) get over it, and (2) retool for the next election.


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 Thursday, November 4, 2004

A Bit Flat

1. Last Night

An etude. Last night he was practicing an etude in the living room. Over and over, he was practicing it, in preparation for an upcoming contest. And he was actually doing a very good job: mastering the notes, getting good tone. Except every time he got to a certain note (wouldn't you know: a note held longer than the others), I had to cringe. He was just a smidgen flat.

"Pull your slide in, Ben," I said from the study.

What? he asked. I can't hear you. Speak louder. (The ceiling fan in the living room makes quite a racket at top speed, which he prefers when he's playing.)

The next time he hit that note, I spoke up, Flat!

He kept playing.

So the next time, I yelled, Flat!

It is not, he objected.

And the next time he played the note, it was flat again, and I shouted again, and he objected again. And so it went for quite a while: him in the living room with his trombone, me in the study with my uninvited commentary.

Flat, I would say.

Not, he would respond and then continue playing.

Of course, you can only offer so much feedback. It's their music, after all, not ours. And they need to enjoy playing.

So I let it go.

2. Tonite

And that would have been that, except that tonite he came up to me in the study with his shoulders drooped and his head hung low.

I'm sorry about yesterday, he said.

For what?

I'm sorry about how cranky I was.

You were cranky? I didn't remember him being cranky.

Yes. About the A, he said.

I thought for a moment and then asked, The flat A?

Yes. I'm sorry I was so cranky.

I looked at him. Since when does he apologize for being cranky when he wasn't cranky? It took me just a moment to figure out.

Today was Thursday. On Thursdays, Ben has his weekly trombone lesson with Nathan after school.

Why? I asked. Did Nathan tell you it was flat?

He hung his head in mock shame.

I'm so ashamed, he said.

I laughed very, very loudly.

You're so busted is what you are!


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 Wednesday, November 3, 2004

A Little WierdWeird?

ColbyCosh finds some wierdness in yesterday's results:

... how come barely anything changed on the electoral landscape? 9/11 changed everything, and then the Iraq war transformed the political landscape, and then the Abu Ghraib revelations raped America's innocence, or something like that. ... Following tonight's election was like some sick exercise in Nietzschean eternal recurrence... It was the same script with a few minor changes, right down to the disastrously inaccurate exit polls.

Anybody else find this a little weird?


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Bumper Stickers

There's a bumper sticker on my car. Two of them, as a matter of fact. One overlapping a little with the other. Both of them on the left.

Not since the election of 1972 has this happened, although back then it was the bookcase in my bedroom that got the sticker. And of course the electoral loss was so much worse. Years later, my mother scraped that bookcase sticker off with other miscellaneous 1970s residue that accumulated over the years.

There are two bumper stickers on my car. Both of them on the left. I wonder when I will go outside and scrape them off.


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 Monday, November 1, 2004

Not Blue

Mark Bernstein doesn't have the blues about his blueness. And he, like all of us, is cheering the fact that there is only one more day.


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Turn Green Now

When I was young, when we would pull up to a stoplight, I would look out the window and make the light turn by the sheer force of my will.

When we stopped, I would wait a while and then say to myself, Turn green now!

Sometimes it turned green when I said to.

Tonite I sit here, not in desperation, as I thought I might, but rather with a good feeling about tomorrow. And mind you, this is nothing to be taken lightly. I am not generally known for my upbeat outlook on politics.

Still, I say this: I do not think it will be so close tomorrow.

And I say this with a feeling of some confidence, backed by no data, flying in the face of all those scientific polls, in the face of all the pundits and cognoscenti. I am not with them, tonite. I am on my own.

It is my firm belief that the world will breathe a sigh of relief after tomorrow is counted.

Turn green now!


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Election Eve Football

It was election eve. The pundits were punting. The journalists were hedging. The pollsters were projecting. The anchors were smiling at their cameras. And Trudy was on the computer reading her weblogs.

The dog came into the study and barked at her.

Where's David!? she asked.

The dog barked back at her again.

That's it. Go find the man!

The dog ran out and began to bark loudly from the other room. She got up and followed. When she looked into the living room, the dog was barking and poking his nose under the couch.

Is he under the couch? she asked.

The dog barked particularly loudly. She got down and looked under the couch. There, in the shadows near the wall was a yellow plastic football.

That isn't the man! she complained.

The dog just barked louder.

Ok, she said, and she reached under the couch and retrieved the long lost football.

They never found the man.

I am David, and I approve this story.


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