Monthly Archives: April 2011

People-stand

Are you perhaps familiar with the contrivance used by hunters known as a deer-stand? It’s a platform which allows a deer-hunter to be above a deer’s line of sight, perhaps fifteen or twenty feet above the ground. Early deer-stands were crude affairs made of boards nailed into the tree’s trunk with short boards nailed sequentially up the truck in order to form a ladder. Land-owners didn’t like these, as it ruined the tree as a future saw-log, so in recent decades manufacturers have come up with non-invasive stands which are held to the tree by a strap.

My second-floor porch looks out over 14th Street and I spend a lot of time out there. I read, smoke, and play music. I have some hanging plants out on that porch and flats of tomato and pepper seedlings.

I think of that porch as my people-stand. I enjoy watching Quincyans walking by on the sidewalk, especially women walking their dogs.

People usually like to tell strangers about their dogs and babies. There are two corresponding entry-to-conversation lines:

“What kind of dog is that?”

and

“What a cute baby! How old?”

Children are another matter. You can’t ask what breed they are, after all! An imaginary conversation:

“What kind of kid is that?”

“Oh, he’s a mutt, a mix of Irish, German, and English.”

It’s a beautiful spring afternoon, with a delicate balance of cool breeze and sunshine to temper it. I was out on the porch in my stand, playing the fiddle and watching kids from a middle school down the street proceeding by in boisterous bunches.

A pretty 14-year-old girl looked up at me and said:

“You’re just awesome on that violin! Good job!”

She gave me a thumbs-up. Naturally this was gratifying to me.

A bit later a boy wearing a backpack walked by, then turned back and looked up at me.

“Do you know those musicians who play that really cool music at La Gondola?”

“I’m one of ’em!”

“My mother used to play with you guys.”

He told me her name and I said, “Sure, I remember her! Tell her hi for me!”

What amuses me is hearing snippets of kids’ conversation as they walk by. They don’t know that I’m up here eavesdropping. Here’s an example: a nine-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl were walking by today. The boy winced and said, “My shoes are hurting my feet!”

He bent over and took off his running shoes, then straightened up and said, “I’m gonna be an Indian now!” He walked off down the sidewalk in his stocking feet. The girl capered ahead and said, “I’ll be your Indian wife!”

Later a seven-year-old blonde boy wheeled up on a bike laden down with two plastic grocery sacks hanging from the handlebars. He paused and looked up at me. He said, “You like to listen to loud music, don’tya?”

“I like to play it, too!”

“I like rock, that’s my favorite kind of music. I don’t like rap music, except for one song. It doesn’t have bad words in it!”

There are some thieves who patrol this neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning. I learned indirectly of their existence when my spare tire, which was in the bed of my pick-up, was stolen last week. Scrap metal prices are high right now, and there is a local junkyard which will buy wheel-rims with the tires mounted on them.

I’m tempted to monitor the street early in the morning from my aerie, armed with a paint-ball gun. If I saw someone tampering with vehicles I could mark them with paint and call the police.

“911! What is the nature of your problem?”

“Tell the officers patrolling the streets to look for people driving around with blotches of yellow paint on their clothes. They are thieves!”

Larry

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That Man Ought To Be Flogged!

I’m a fiddler, and one of my favorite reels is The Flogging Reel, an Irish dance tune. As with so many other tunes, the Irish version is a reworking of an old Scottish tune; the Flogging Reel was developed over the years from the Scottish Flagon Reel. I surmise that during the 19th century many Irish men became British sailors, either by volunteering or impressment, the practice of the British Navy whereby citizens were forcibly brought on board a ship — once out on the ocean they pretty much had to accept their fate as working sailors. Flogging with a cat-of-nine-tails was the default punishment for sailors’ malfeasances aboard British Navy vessels.

Here’s a brief YouTube video of Shetland fiddler Aly Bain playing The Flogging Reel with some sort of hybrid group:

The Flogging Reel

I like Aly Bain — he has influenced my own fiddle playing over the years.

Should flogging be reintroduced?

Writer Peter Moskos raises an interesting question: if you were convicted of a crime and were given a choice between twenty lashes and five years in prison, which would you choose? His article appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

In Defense of Flogging

What do you think about the issue of corporal punishment?

Larry

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The Mystery of Arnold H.

This morning I woke up early, and after eating some flax-wheat flakes with toasted wheat-germ I decided to venture over to the laundromat a few blocks away and generate some clean clothes.

I descended the stairs to the street and discovered a fat leather wallet on the limestone slab which borders the steps from the porch. I picked it up and examined it. Who would leave their wallet out overnight where anyone could pick it up?

I couldn’t find a phone number inside, but I found a debit card and several business cards. I also found a copy of a court document — evidently this Arnold has some probation problems.

I showed the wallet to clerks I know at two gas stations I stopped at on the way to the laundromat. Melissa, a clerk at the Shell station, suggested that I look up the guy’s name in the phone book. I couldn’t find it there; he probably uses a cell phone.

I enjoy minor mysteries like this, little quotidian puzzles to solve.

I asked the attendant at the laundromat if she knew Arnold. Quincy is a small town and I’m continually amazed by how everyone seems to know everybody else, or at least the family name.

“Nope, never heard of him! You ought to call the bank which issued the debit card.”

When my laundry was done I drove home, where I encountered Tom, a young guy in his early twenties who lives in the apartment beneath mine.

“Do you know a guy named Arnold H.?”

“Oh, yeah, he’s one of my best friends. You ought to meet him; he’s a musician and he wants you to build him a bass.”

“Well, he left his wallet on the step here. I’ll go upstairs and get it.”

“I’m reasonably certain I’ll see him today — I’ll give it to him.”

“So what’s Arnold on probation for?”

“Oh, it was quite a mess. He had several convictions for under-aged drinking, and then he got a DUI. He was out late one night with a friend who was blind drunk and driving. Arnold talked his friend into letting him drive, that survival instinct, ya know. The truck quit on them and the police came and arrested him. He did some jail time and now he’s in rehab and doesn’t like it.”

“So why’d he leave his wallet on my step?”

“Oh, me and another guy were out in the street playin’ Ninja late last night. Arnold didn’t want to play — he sat there on the step watchin’ us. Musta just forgot to pick up his wallet. Thanks for findin’ it, Larry!”

I have no idea what “playin’ Ninja” might be — I suppose some sort of mock-war game.

Larry

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Beulah

I’m living in an apartment these days in a quiet neighborhood here in Quincy, Illinois. I like the place and I’ve been getting to know my neighbors in this four-unit flat-roofed brick apartment building.

The day I rented the apartment my landlord, a Unitarian pastor and also a philosophy professor at Quincy University, introduced me to the tenant in the downstairs apartment — she’s in the downstairs apartment towards the left while I’m in the upstairs apartment towards the right. She’s an 87-year-old woman who lives by herself and still drives.

Beulah has shoulder-length white hair, combed but not styled or “set”. She could be cast well as one of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. My landlord thinks she may be becoming a bit demented; evidently she suspects that a rogue plumber comes into her apartment at night and does stuff to the plumbing. A suspicion difficult to disprove!

I have always gotten along well with old ladies unless they are bitter, nasty, and vindictive. Beulah is a sweetie and I enjoy talking with her.

A couple of days ago I encountered Beulah out on the porch.

“Hi, Beulah! How are you doin’?”

“Oh, hi, young man! What’s your name again?”

I told her, and she said:

“It’s so nice that spring is here! Isn’t that pink dogwood across the street beautiful?”

“Yeah, it’s been a good spring for flowers. We’ve avoided a late frost so far.”

A brief aside: a week or so ago I came out of the street door and saw Beulah standing on her porch peering fixedly through the spiraea bush at something in the side yard. She seemed like she was in a trance. I said, “Hi, Beulah!” and she started. “Oh, hi! I was watching some little birds out in the yard. I think they’re building a nest!”

“Well, it’s that time of year!”

Beulah has moist eyes surrounded by a network of wrinkles. My landlord says that she is half-deaf and I have a less-than-penetrating voice, so I have to force myself to speak loudly in order for her to hear me. Back to the conversation:

“Beulah, I enjoy cooking — what do you like to eat? I’ll cook you a meal one of these days. Do you like Chinese food, stir-fries and such?”

“Oh, no, Larry, I can’t tolerate Chinese foods!”

“How about Mexican?”

“Nope, I’ve never liked that stuff.”

“Well, what do you eat, then?”

“I’m a German girl, and I pretty much stick to pork chops and potatoes.”

I’ve never cooked a pork chop before, but I’m good with potatoes. I said:

“Well, I’ll cook you some pork chops one of these days. Now, Beulah, if you ever need help with anything, just knock on my door; I’m upstairs on the right.”

“Why, thank you, Larry! It’s nice to have someone to talk with!”

Evidently a lonely old woman…

I asked her, “Beulah, could I take a photo of you?”

“Oh, no, no, I don’t have my teeth in. Maybe another time!”

The next day I was walking down the street about a block from here. I got to talking with a sixty-ish woman who was doing spring yard-work. I introduced myself and told her about talking with Beulah. She laughed when I said that Beulah told me of being a “German girl”.

“I know Beulah, known her for years! She’s no more German than I am –she’s English!”

It doesn’t matter to me one way or another, but I thought it odd that this woman would have strong views on the matter.

Larry

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Monty

A few days ago I was up at a gas station on Broadway chatting up the clerks. “Chatting up” is a British idiom, but it describes well what I do.

It was 5:00 AM and the morning rush hadn’t started yet. I got to talking with a man about my age (56) out in front of the station door. He was loud, voluble, and profane. He was a car buff and wanted to tell me all about his antiquated Honda, which was parked nearby.

“Why’d they ever quit making this model, that’s what I want to know! It runs like a top and gets forty miles per gallon! I love this fuckin’ car!”

The Honda had a raked rear window, sort of like an old Plymouth Barracuda. I don’t really care about cars and I’m unable or unwilling to distinguish between car models, but the guy seemed to need someone to talk to. There I was.

I said, “I think I’ll amble on towards home. My place is just six blocks from here.”

“No, no! I’ll fuckin’ run you home! I have another one of these Hondas I’d like to show you! We could swing by some of my rental property too!”

At this point Lizzie, the salty and experienced clerk in the station, came to the door and said, “Are you guys fighting?”

I said, “No, no, Monty’s just kinda loud.”

“Well, all that cursing right in front of the door…”

Monty opened the passenger door of the car and with a sweep of his arm cleared junk and debris from the passenger seat.

“Damn — I need to clean this thing out!”

I was a bit dubious about driving off with this manic character I’d just met, but I thought, “Oh, what the hell, I’ll go with him.”

For the next hour this man drove me around the North Side of Quincy:

“Oh, look at this house! My last tenants were deadbeats and I had to have them evicted. The place was a mess after they left.”

Many variations on that theme followed.

We ended up at his house. Monty ushered me into his cluttered garage so that I could see his beloved Suzuki 750 cc motorcycle.

“It’s old but it rides like a dream!”

I began to wonder if I’d ever get home. Monty didn’t seem drunk, but perhaps he was on some stimulant drug? I thought, “What if he’s a psychopath and ends up shooting me and hacking my body to bits, then distributing the pieces into various dumpsters around town?”

I have a vivid imagination, which can be a curse sometimes.

Later we were regarding another of his low-rent rental properties when a pained scowl passed fleetingly over his face.

“God, my gut is killin’ me!”

He got out of the car and vomited repeatedly. I hate being around people who are vomiting — but then I hate the process when it happens to me! Was Monty a heroin user, perhaps? Heroin users I’ve known are prone to vomiting unexpectedly; I’d always have a wastebasket handy if one of them stopped by for a visit when I lived in Hannibal. It’s a druggy town. “White Town Drowsing” indeed.

Monty said, “I had some tacos earlier and they didn’t agree with me.”

Finally Monty took me home — I was ready. For all of his quirks I did like the guy. I wouldn’t have gotten into his car if my initial judgment of him had set off alarm bells. Do I even have alarm bells any more? I hope so!

The next day I described the experience to Lizzie and Bonnie, the clerks on duty. I asked Lizzie:

“Do you think he was on heroin?”

“Naw — I know Monty. I think he might have an ulcer or somethin’ like that.”

Beautiful young Bonnie’s eyes were wide.

“I’d never get into a car with a strange man!”

“Damn, Bonnie, you’re a pretty young woman! You shouldn’t! I’m a man and I can hold my own. After all, it was very unlikely that he would try to rape me!”

I still have a lottery ticket Monty gave me. It has his name, address, and phone number scrawled across the scratcher area.

Monty told me, “Call me any time!”

I think the guy needs a new friend. Do I?

Larry

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“That Li’l Blonde Thang”

I walk a lot and I like to have a destination. On my late night walks here in Quincy I enjoy making my way to a gas station/convenience store a few blocks away, up on Broadway.

I’m a schmoozer and I particularly like to talk with female clerks. Two clerks I’ve become acquainted with on the night shift at that station are named Bonnie and Ava. The overnight shift can be slow and these clerks, like most people, can easily be induced to tell me their life stories.

Bonnie is twenty years old and she’s attending classes at the local community college; she wants a CNA certificate. She doesn’t want to be a clerk forever, after all. She is just stunningly beautiful with large eyes reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor’s, and brown hair which has been cunningly styled so that her nobly-featured face is ovally framed. She is seemingly unaware of her beauty and doesn’t seem to be vain. I was talking with her the other night about the other clerks:

“Who’s that short blonde one? What do you think about her?”

Bonnie nearly sneered.

“Oh, that li’l blonde thang? She don’t do her work — I come in after her and the cooler’s a mess!”

I was tickled by that, particularly by the drawled Southern-sounding pronunciation of the word “thing”.

On another visit to the station I talked for quite a while with “that li’l blonde thang”. Her name is Ava, and she’s a 25-year-old Quincy native.. Her husband is laid off and she has two young children. She also wants to get a CNA but hasn’t started school yet. I was telling her about my band’s impending visit to St. Louis for the annual Tionol Irish music gathering.

She said “So you’re a fiddler! I am too! I used to play with my family at various oprys around here, but they seem to have dried up and blown away.”

“How many fiddlers are left in the Quincy area?”

“Not many, maybe three including me.”

I told her about my band’s practice session every other week at the La Gondola Italian restaurant here in Quincy. I told her she ought to come by and play with us, or at least listen, the next time we practiced there.

“Yeah, I’d love that! Here, let me give you my phone number — give me a call the next time you practice.”

She slipped a scrap of paper into my hand.

I was nonplussed, as varying interpretations can be given to being given a woman’s phone number.

“I’ll give you a call, Ava.”

Late last night, after I had recovered from the weekend’s fiddling efforts at the Tionol event, I walked over to the station on Broadway to buy a pack of cigarettes and see who was on duty.

A seasoned clerk named Lizzie was behind the counter. She’s a salty woman in her thirties with a sardonic view of life.

I said “I thought Ava was working tonight.”

“That silly no-good bitch! She just up and quit this weekend — she knew we were gettin’ ready to fire her. She just wasn’t doin’ her job. And here she is with a laid off husband, kids to raise, and they’re eight months behind on their mortgage payment!”

I felt bad hearing that news. I really shouldn’t spend time worrying about the problems of someone I just met, not when I have my own to deal with — but I’ll call her up and offer my condolences.

Larry

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