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The Sense of Options
It's early Thursday evening.
I'm preparing to enjoy one of the benefits of owning a natural foods store in Eugene, Oregon: great food, often from people I am connected to in some way. I never know for sure what I'm going to eat, especially nowadays. As I moaned to you earlier, single life plays havoc with the menus, but I can also eat whenever I want, and I always get my fill of crab...
Tonight it's cold crab from the market down the street - the one that has their own fishing boats off the coast and comes into town daily - basil linguine that Kirk is getting to ready to put on the market and wants me to test; a new sun-dried tomato sourdough baguette that I'm considering for the store, a mesclun salad, and a pilsner. I'm glad I don't tend to put on weight, because this place would put more than a few pounds on me.
This hour finds me between transposing charts and running a mini-sound check for my gig tomorrow night. I picked up a new mixing board and need to test all the hook-ups and cables before I put it on stage.
I wrote quite a bit in some of the early Tales about a few of my musical hopes, and tonight my little abode looks less like a boudoir and more like an electric spaghetti factory, but it's all in the name of musical self-reliance and creativity, so to heck with order! Bring on the cacaphony! And we'll have a candlelight etude for dessert...
I had one of my first lousy rehearsals Monday night, and it was a real shocker.
As I said, I'm really a newbie when it comes to this music thing. Oh, I've been performing all my life, but coming back into singing this late in the game has its challenges. One of them - the upside face - is that because of my age, no one really knows I've just picked it back up, so I can get away with looking "like I meant to do it" more often than not.
The downside of that same jelly sandwich is that I look like I know what I'm doing, so I'm expected to know it, and sometimes I have to be really quick, even much quicker than I can possibly be, in order to keep looking like I meant to do it when the other musicians do something fancy and I'm needed to keep up.
Monday was a pretty rough day, rehearsal wise. I took a bunch of charts in and had every single one of them crash and burn. I thought the pianist was going to faint - she was having a pretty rough personal week, and this was not what she needed 4 days before our gig (Jo Fed's books us about once every 2-3 months, so it's kind of The Gig around here). The fact that the charts fried was due to my ignorance about standard songs - I'd been working with cobbled charts that have been fine for my earlier sets of players, but since I've moved into the more serious professional camp, these babies just don't cut it anymore.
Fortunately, I was able to salvage everything by busting my tush and cranking out new ones that are, for the most part, more than fine. But it was a close face call.
I'm reminded of a similar situation, almost 20 years ago, when I began riding racehorses at the tracks in southern California.
In order to work at the track as a rider, you had to have a license to ride. But there was no formal way to get a license. It was all an inside thing. First, you had to ride well enough to look like you could handle a racehorse. If you were a new rider, you'd strategically pick your times to hang out on The Rail so that you were available when all the riders were booked up, and the smaller trainers who were struggling to find someone to ride their horses so they could get them worked and back into the stalls before it got warm would use you if you had two legs and were still standing up.
These trainers weren't about to check if you had a license - they just wanted a rider. So, then your job was to look good enough on the horse so that the Outrider, the guy who's watching everything on the track to make sure nothing goes wrong, just thinks you're a rider in from the fair circuit or something. He watches you pretty close for awhile to make sure you're not a danger to others, and when he's satisfied, he just looks the other way.
Until the first time you have a problem, that is.
My turn came when I was working a particularly feisty colt - and a "work" is when you take them up to speed, as if they were in a race, but you don't let them out except for a very short time, and then you have to pull them in (ha!) - and his bridle fell off in the middle of the backstretch.
I did all right, all things considered - kind of fooled him into thinking we were done, and started singing him down - but I had to be "caught", which means the Outrider had to come pick me up.
On the way back to the gates, he looks over at me and says "You got your license yet?" I was pretty sheepish, and admitted that I didn't. He smiled and said "Bring the papers over and I'll sign you on, but check your own tack from now on. These grooms will kill you if you don't."
Jazz is kind of the same way. So, I don't think I've lost too much face, since it happens to everybody. It's mostly my own confidence, and my own image, that's in need of repair, and I'm working on that one. Tomorrow night will make that job either simpler, or harder, depending on how it goes...but I always have fun, and even if I'm singing the wrong notes, I'll sing them as if I mean them - because I do.
I'm planning my weekend - moving's done! - and one last load of soil and pots and things goes upriver this Sunday (WITH the gloves and raingear this time - still no window, but I'll have plastic and duct tape, so no big).
My task is to head into the woods and cut a lot of evergreen branches, and then put them into swags and hang them from all the rafters around the store. It's a lot of work, but It really does mean a lot to people in the neighborhood.
I've noticed something interesting over the years, and it relates in part to your Forbes message about happiness, self-loathing, and expression.
My store is located in the Whiteaker neighborhood. It used to be (and still is somewhat) considered a "bad thing" to be located in Whiteaker. Whiteaker was once the only neighborhood poor Eugene had to kick around, so it became the whipping boy that let our local police department communicate its reasons for existence - not to diss police, here, for I don't, but there was a time when serious crime reporting would cycle through the news about 2 months before the budget was set to be voted on by the City Council, every year for years, and then I started talking about it, and then it stopped.
About 5 years ago, I started running adds that used the word "Whiteaker" prominently, and now it's become a cool place to be again. But I digress...
Our hood is in a deep identity crisis. It has a vocal minority that vociferously hates the mass culture and denounces it at every step (while living in and on it and off of it - more on that another time). Holidays like Christmas are particularly prone to its vehemence. This is unfortunate, because Oregon is cold and damp and gray, and there's nothing like bright lights and yuletide good will to improve spirits around here.
I've decorated the store more often than not. What I've noticed is that when the store goes through Christmas in plain wrap, people are pretty much the same - shopping for groceries (although we do tend to have a colorful clientele, with a much higher smile quotient than the one you and Lotte have observed). But when I fill the store with evergreens, and the scent of fresh-cut fir fills the air, and I put a few twinklies around, everyone is much happier - perky, even. Chatty. Smiling. And the kids really love it.
Not too many people ever say anything - it's probably too gauche for the radical to praise the Christmas Spirit - but I can tell that it makes a difference. It's not the forest, but it's closer. It's not A Better World, but it's a glimpse through the veil, an alteration that reminds folks that things could be different; that things could look different, and feel different, and we'd be different within them. It may not be The Option, but it's an option, and if there's one, there could be a hundred of them. I think perhaps events like Christmas and these other wintering holidays that toy with the realm of possibilities more easily touched by candlelight, in darkness, can awaken our Sense of Options, a sense that's perhaps even more important than the tangible physical ones, and I like stimulating that. It makes sense.
So I do it. Kind of like that Thanksgiving thing. I have a feeling that a lot of the children of these folks never see a Christmas tree, except for on TV. They don't have the experience of abundance, nor the feeling of bounty, even if it is contrived (again, it's about looking good -for if you can still look good, then *something's* going right!), that I had in my earliest years - bless my parents' hearts!
And, as I thought about heading upriver to cut the boughs for one more season - perhaps my last for this store - I found myself wishing you were here. It seems like it's something you might enjoy, driving up into the woods with me, choosing the boughs, and then dipping them in paraffin and wiring them into graceful swags for people who have no idea how much they will be enjoying them.
But they can't hide that pleasure, and I get to see it, and just writing about it here to you gives me energy to push my day a little past too long on Sunday and make it happen for one more year.
So, I'm off, dear one.
I've been thinking about you, and hope you're well. I send you good thoughts. Say a little prayer for me for tomorrow night - I don't need a big one, but a little one would be nice.
PLUR. Remember PLUR
-- Anonymous, November 29, 2001