Sunday, December 16, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012!

Merry Christmas 2012!

It has been unseasonably warm even for sunny Virginia Beach, highs in the seventies, and Christmas  is just a couple of weeks away.  If this is global warming, so far it’s actually rather pleasant -- I recommend warming for everybody’s globes.  And what a year 2012 has been.  Republican voters gave Newt the boot, while American voters decided that once you go Barack you never go back, and then told the GOP to keep its Mitts off the White House.   “Jersey Shore” found itself starved for attention, while North Korea just starved.   The President talked to the GM chairman and Clint Eastwood talked to a chair.   Hurricane Sandy made many beaches on the Atlantic coast considerably less so -- Hurricane Un-Sandy.  The Egyptians attacked our embassy, the Libyans walked like Egyptians, and the plural of Syria is serious.  It’s a crazy world, and getting crazier by the day -- in other words, situation normal.  Time now to sit back.  Relax.  Have a martini.  And when the world situation hands you lemons, remember that martinis go better with a lemon twist.  Don’t let the lemons twist you.

Yes, the year was too much.  Too much of what?  For starters, too much of Lee.  According to Newton, force equals mass times acceleration -- and because the acceleration of gravity is a constant, we can only conclude that the force was with me.  I was carrying more mass than a month of Catholic Sundays.  How fat was I?  I rented myself out part-time as a beach umbrella.  When my beeper went off, people thought I was backing up.  I walked into the Gap once -- and filled it.  Well.  Finally, when they took my ID photo by satellite, I decided I’d had enough of this.   I had the motivation – now, I just needed the right strategy.  Debbie has had continued success using the Weight Watchers’ portion-control strategy -- she took off sixty pounds and has kept it off for three years.  But portion control just doesn’t seem to work for me.  The doctor explained that the older we get, the less well we can handle carbs.  So I tried an experiment:  why not just see what happens when I cut out sugary and starchy foods, but otherwise eat whatever I want?  That was about nine months ago, and today I’m carrying about forty pounds less.  It’s an answer to prayer (thank you, Lord!) and still a work in progress.  The downside is I’ve had to spend some money on clothes, but that’s decidedly more pleasant when the salesman can walk past you without becoming your satellite.  One thing Debbie and I have learned is that, just like it’s always after five somewhere, Jos. A. Bank is always having a sale!  Their slogan:  “List price is for suckers.”

As usual, I went to the Eastern Trombone Workshop in March, and last June I took a trombone lesson with Dave Fedderly, the tuba player in the Baltimore Symphony.  Fedderly was a student of the late Arnold Jacob, legendary tubist with the Chicago Symphony.  He explained to me that I don’t know the first thing about something I’ve been doing, literally, my entire life: breathing.  You mean, being a blowhard doesn’t help one’s musicianship?  Well, what does he know?  Seriously, Jacob was the world’s leading authority in the physical mechanics of breathing and how it relates to wind musicianship.  Fedderly reminisced about when, as a grad student, he had played alongside Jacob with the Chicago Symphony.  Jacob was then in his sixties, suffering from emphysema and missing a lung -- Fedderly said, in awed reverence, “I still couldn’t keep up with him!”  And I can’t keep up with Fedderly.  Let’s keep it simple:  blow in the small end, take cover at the big end.  Sounds like good advice for dealing with all sorts of wind.  Speaking of which, I played again this past summer with the Tidewater Winds, and will perform a Christmas concert with them tomorrow.  My personal goal is always to evoke an expression of shocked disbelief from the conductor.  Since leaving the Air Force Band program almost thirty years ago, I’ve had to achieve musical success by defining it downward.

We’re still living in the same house, but you don’t have to move to change neighborhoods.  A family moved nearby that owns a veritable flotilla of vehicles – more ATVs, pickup trucks, boats and motorbikes than we can count.  For years, Debbie and I had been missing out on the aesthetic joy of listening to the subtle yet delicate ostinato phrases of thrumming V8s and diesels and revved-up ATVs speeding up and down the street.  Well, no more.  Turn off the Khachaturian, let’s hear the Cummins… Mmmm, sublime, and could you get me another glass of cabernet, Debbie?  As a bonus, the neighbor works at a landscaping firm and uses the street as the overflow for his industrial equipment.  So the view out of our picture window is more resplendent in flatbeds than in flowers, more backhoes than blooms.  The housing market being what it is, we’ve decided not to move, but to wait out this petroleum-powered siege in hopes that our neighbor’s business will succeed wildly, at which time maybe they’ll set sail with their rolling armada and move to a much nicer neighborhood.  In the meantime, we try to look at the bright side.  He’s friendly and owns cats.

Speaking of which, we acquired our kitty, Gabby, back in 2004, just before moving to our current house.  At first, she was emaciated -- her previous owner had simply thrown her out into the wild to survive on her own.  Somehow she lasted two weeks in the woods, without her claws, and with nothing to eat.  That experience made her what she was, the only cat I’ve ever known who hugged her food dish while she ate.  There was no cat in all Creation with a greater vocabulary -- we did name her Gabby, after all.  When you stroked her fur, you were likely to hear some combination of:  “Meow”; “Rah-Ah”; “Aahhh”; “Ack”; “Urf”; “Argh”; and my favorite, “Whooh!”  All the other cats we’ve owned were Debbie’s kitties, especially Nutmeg (our first) -- they worshiped Debbie like she was a made of a sweet elixir comprising catnip and mouse fur.  But Gabby loved me.  She would be waiting patiently at the door when I came home from work, and then bounce back and forth like… well, like a dog.  Last June she started moving very slowly and eventually stopped eating.  The vet told us she was suffering badly from a bad spine.  We tried putting her on pain-killers and steroids, and she did respond for a short time -- but she was fourteen years old, and it soon became clear that this couldn’t continue.  She took her last trip to the vet.   Both Debbie and I see “ghost sightings” of her now and then -- a flutter of the curtain, usually, or a fleeting shadow.  The hardest part is coming home from work, half-expecting a furry and vociferous greeting when I open the door.  In Cat Heaven, we hope she’s happy and has a food dish that actually hugs her back.  We miss her.

Debbie is still teaching elementary-level strings here in Virginia Beach.  The hearing issues she acquired when undergoing chemotherapy (more than ten years ago now) have gotten steadily worse –- tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hyperacusis (certain sounds are much louder that they should be) plague her constantly, exacerbated by loud and (in the case of elementary strings class) shrill noises.  Fortunately, she had made for her a new set of earplugs, which help a lot -- we’re hoping they will get her through until retirement.  (I’ll bet my former band directors wish they’d thought of that.)  Debbie is still the music director at our church.  Her greatest gift is her ability to teach three-part choral pieces to a congregation that is largely without formal music training.  I’m still her favorite draftee, and of course I’d follow her anywhere, and do, even into Talbot’s, sort of the female version of Jos. A Bank (though against my better judgment).  Anyway, my job is to sing tenor or bass, as the occasion calls -- that's what I get for being a baritone – but I could even sing soprano if necessary, as long as Debbie is there to perform the necessary encouragement and timely wedgie.

When I was a kid, the local amusement park had a “penny arcade”, with arcade machines that were ancient even then, which would show you a “movie” if you inserted a penny and turned a handle on the side.  It was really just a series of photos that flapped in your direction, the speed depending on how fast you turned the handle, which gave the impression of motion -- that’s all movies are, after all, a series of photos presented in a sequence and at a speed that simulates motion.  These days, it seems like penny arcade machines are a metaphor for life -- the years just flip past and present a quick image, only we’re not the ones controlling the speed.  One of these days, the movie will be over, and we will be in the presence of the Cinematographer.  At this time of year, celebrated as His birthday, we like to reflect on the picture that we have shown the world this year, and give thanks to the One who gave our lives a screenplay that promises a happy ending.  Thanks be to the Lord, and please accept our best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a blessed new year to come.