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H.E.L.P. (23 on Six-Eight-Four)

I saw irony today, on Route 684 Southbound in New York.  More on that in a sec...

Nearly every faith/culture has a story about helping another in need.  The Good Samaritan springs to mind.  366478-234192-thumbnail.jpg

New York's version is the HELP truck--Highway Emergency Local Patrol.  On my commute down I-684, there are three of them: the 21, 22, and the 23.  When I see them far off down the highway, I play HELP Truck Roulette and try to guess which one it is.    

Today, I saw HELP Truck #23 on the right shoulder of the southbound lanes, sitting alone.  "Just waiting for the next rescue," I thought.  But as I approached, something appeared wrong.  Very wrong...

There, where the left rear wheel should be, was a JACK... and a hub.  The Two-Three was stranded... broken down in the breakdown lane.  The driver was in the cab.  HELPless.    

Who helps the HELPer? 

Apparently, this morning, no one.  Car after car after car... some of whom, I'll bet, have even been rescued by the Two-Three... whizzing by.  Irony.   

Who helps the HELPer? 

You and I do.  That's who.  And here resideth today's lesson:  Help somebody today.  Be it large or small.  Help somebody.  Along your journey today, tomorrow, you'll see someone who'll need a hand, an encouraging word, a target, a shoulder, a shot in the arm, or maybe a kick in the a**.  Help them.  Chances are you'll be doing something that brings you a bit closer to the Divine ... however defined.  

Touch a soul.  Help the Two-Three find its wheel again.  And Godspeed.


Isn't it rich?

Just wondering... Is it okay that clowns are freaked out by me?


Piano player, could you please play something snappy?

"When I picked up the banjo, I had no real musical gift or talent, but I was about 18 and I thought, well, you know…. one day I’ll have been playing for 35 years."    -Steve Martin

I heard him say that in 2003 on Imus, and scrawled it down.  It was profound.  "You gotta start somewhere," he was saying.  Time for me to pick up the banjo.

Mo Ohh!
At 40, I don't consider that I've qualified for "Mid-Life" to begin my crisis yet... and it's going to be a helluvalot bigger than playing a banjo.  [I can't go into details, but it involves Maureen O'Hara and a Wayback Machine.  But that's not important right now.]

So rather than a banjo, I think I'll take up the piano.  Here's the logic:

I'm already pretty good at the keyboard:  Granted, a computer keyboard.  But if I can navigate my way through 26 illogically placed letters, 10 numbers, and assorted shift, space, and delete keys, I can handle a few notes, chords, majors, and minors.  And if I can be trained on gas-brake-clutch,three pedals don't scare me. 

There's never a banjo around when you really need one:  And let's face it, unless you ARE Steve Martin, nobody's gonna talk to a guy carting a banjo around.  But where there's a crowd to be had... in a bar, restaurant, somebody's house... there's almost always a piano standing by.  So here's the deal:  I'm going to skip the hours upon hours sweating out scales and nursery rhymes and learn THREE SONGS...  really well.  I'm gonna OWN them, setting up the following.

The Piano Bar, Todd White
The scene:  An inviting neighborhood watering hole.  The kind that has regulars, a tin ceiling, a hand-carved, brass-festooned mahogany bar that stretches the long, arrow lane from the front door to the open area in the back, where a well-worn but stately baby grand keeps a quiet watch.  It's cold and windy outside.  The patrons are enjoying some good craic inside.  Then, unseen, Wry Guy takes his fresh Makers Mark [Double.  Neat.] and accompanying glass of ice in hand and approaches the piano; sits; lifts the cover; straightens his back; stretches his arm up, out and back, cracks his knuckles, and...

Plays [song one].  A ripple effect spreads out through the crowd.  People turn, voices fall.  They listen, smile.  Some even sway.  Depending on the song, percussion and a bass line magically join in on cue.  (Cut me some slack, it could happen.  It's my fantasy.  )  By the stretch turn of the song, they're all his.  The Big Finish!  Applause.  He smiles; head drops; nods a quiet thanks; closes the keyboard cover; begins to rise; reaches for his drink.  The hook is set. 

"Do another one!" 
"I couldn't."
"Aw, go ahead."
"I shouldn't."
"Come on!"
He sits. 

Plays [song 2].  Really pours it on this time.  The crowd runs with it, and he gives them as much line as they'll take.  Finishes strong.   The night is his!  More applause.  Maidens swoon.  Handkerchiefs deployed. Men gnash teeth; hate and envy course through their veins; they have seen greatness and they're powerless to do anything but watch it.

He stands.  This time he means it... two and out.  He takes a deep, savoring draw from one one of the drinks sent his way.  Eyes meet.  Smiles are exchanged. An eyebrow is cocked.  He turns, dons his coat, and leaves.  It's all about leaving them wanting more.

Nine out of ten times, that's how it's done.  What about the third song, you ask?  Well, it let's him rotate the material.  And he's always ready for that one-in-ten occasion when it's all about driving them right over the edge.  In that case, he gets to finish the second drink.

Request lines are open...

Okay gang.  I know you're out there.  Even you, Gordon from Accounting. 

  • Where is this bar? 
  • What are the three deadly melodies that you'd play... or the three that you're dying to hear?  

There's plenty of time.  I just remembered I don't have a piano...  but one day, I'll have been playing it for 35 years.


Not so fast, kids.  Please.


Twice a year, maybe three, we go down to the trail
That leads to the sky and the sea.
They charge straight ahead, and they grow a bit further
Away from their childhood and me.

They forget that I'm there, as they should, as they will;
As they conquer each day's new frontiers. 
I capture their dash when they're lost in the moment
So I won't have to cover the tears...

That flow with the march of the years.
That flow with the march of the years.


A thing of beauty, but useless in a fight

Into a Belfast pub comes Paddy Murphy, looking like he'd just been run over by a train.  His arm is in a sling, his nose is broken, his face is cut and bruised, and he's walking with a limp.

"What happened to you?" asks Sean, the bartender.

"Seamus O'Connor and me had a fight," says Paddy.

"Why, that little sh*t, O'Connor," says Sean,  "He couldn't do that to you, he must have had something in his hand."

"That he did," says Paddy, "a shovel is what he had, and a terrible lickin' he gave me with it."

"Well," says Sean, "you should have defended yourself.  Didn't you have something in your hand?"

"That I did," said Paddy.   "Mrs. O'Connor's breast... and a thing of beauty it was, but useless in a fight."


North by Northeast

North.jpgPlaying on the wry-Pod:  Music to fit the weather right now in the Northeast.


Poem on the passing of a very great woman

In Man of the House, the autobiography of former House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, he wrote how legendary Boston Mayor James Michael Curley once told him to memorize ten poems, so that he would NEVER be at a loss for words when called upon to make a speech.

I told Mom about that years ago, and she, ever the reference librarian, gave me a book for my next birthday, entitled Poems that Touch the Heart. It had 8 of those 10 poems, and the two that weren't in the book had been photocopied and placed within.

Like clean handkerchiefs, I've taken to sharing this one poem with friends. It wasn't in the book Mom gave me, but it is the poem I read years later as I delivered her eulogy. Since then, I've tucked it into cards or left it in the hands of a friend in similar times of loss. Just today, I received an e-mail from a friend, which prompted this posting. In it, she wrote:

"It's appropriate that I write this little note now as it is the 7th anniversary of my mother's death and your poem that you sent in a card meant so much to me. I think of you frequently at this time each year. Funny how life is, isn't it? --- "

The Rose Still Grows Beyond The Wall
By A.L.Frink

Near a shady wall a rose once grew,
Budded and blossomed in God's free light:
Watered and fed by morning dew,
Shedding its sweetness day and night.

As it grew and blossomed fair and tall,
Slowly rising to loftier height,
It came to a crevice in the wall,
Through which there shone a beam of light.

Onward it crept with added strength
With never a thought of fear or pride,
It followed the light through the crevice’s length,
And unfolded itself on the other side.

The light, the dew, the broadening view
Were found the same as they were before.
And it lost itself in beauties new.
Breathing its fragrance more and more.

Shall claim of death cause us to grieve,
And make our courage faint or fall?
Nay, let us faith and hope receive,
The rose still grows beyond the wall!

Scattering fragrance far and wide,
Just as it did in days of yore.
Just as it did on the other side,
Just as it will forevermore.




a Trio Grows in Brooklyn

trio.jpgtimeless.jpgstar quality.jpg




Field notes from the field trip to Brooklyn that sparked this blog:

Three for the road.  Timeless strength.  Star quality.  Pure beauty.
[Oh yeah, and there was a bridge, two cameras, some cobblestones, bricks and pizza, too.]


Update:  Posted at her request...  My e-mail to Stephanie about the day.

What a great, great day.  It will form the kickstart post for my blog. 
When I was a kid, I used to try to do things that I could be sure that I was the only one in the world doing that at that particular time.  Yesterday, there were two people who set out with that mission.  We picked up a third who, by the way, leavened lunchtime with her fake posting and two-week marriage stories. 
My one regret about Grimaldi's, Stephanie, and I let it get away...  I had a chance to spin a GOOD yarn when Monica asked me who I was.  I think I caught a glimpse of disappointment from you at that moment, but I couldn't decide whether to say I was a guy you dated, a guy who's dating your sister and about to propose, a guy who's dating your mom and about to propose, or that I was Gabe.  Dammit!  I should have gone with it.  I had my own sister convinced when she was 4 and I was 10 that I really wasn't her brother... I was just living at her house while my parents were in France.  NAILED that one!
I've distilled my favorite parts of the day down to the following:  You knowing that I'd go for the Root Beer, and what has to be the best question I've ever been asked in my lifetime, as we walked back over the Brooklyn Bridge:   "Wouldn't this be an awful place to have diarrhea?"

Click here to see my photos from the day.
Click here to see Stephanie Klein's photos from the day (including the three at the top of this entry).


You can tune a piano, but can you tune a Volkswagen?

I drive a LOT... on average, 30,000 miles each year.  I've had pretty good luck with the cars I've driven, and I do all the research... But you can forget Consumer Reports, etc. Sound systems?  No big whoop.  I look for the playability of the automobile. 

To wit:  Is the dashboard within reach for me to play "air keyboard" with Genesis??  Does it have produce the right kind of "thud" when I'm playing the drums??  What else is in reach of the driver that makes for good accompaniment??  Passat.jpg

For my money, Volkswagen produces a finely tuned instrument.  My old '91 Jetta had that boxy, right up in your face dash, and my '03 Passat has everything I need. 

The dash is drum and Moog-worthy, and the steering wheel is solid and thumpable.  But by far, tt's top two selling points:

The shifter:  A veritable drum kit.  Slapping the top with an open hand makes for a good drum beat, but it does a fine rim shot when you push in the shift knob with your thumb and let it snap back out... a sound you can vary with the amount and force of the depression.  (N.B.:  The '91 Jetta's parking brake release was excellent in this regard, but the Passat's is tucked too tightly next to the seat to be of use.) 

The dead-pedal:  This is your own bass drum, also rendering unique sounds depending on the type of shoe worn and the force applied. 

Volkswagen, you're all about the sound, with or without the far Fig Newton! 


Best driving tune:  "Running Down a Dream," Tom Petty


What's playing in your car?