I ooze love

Take love where you find it.

I ooze love. It crawls out of my pores and slimes its way across the parched landscape of humanity. You send me a broken computer, Gazelle? I ooze love.

You give me the same eight bars of hold music on a repeating loop? I ooze love.

Same hold music the first time I call, to ask what’s wrong with the iMac I sent to you perfect that you’re now saying doesn’t work.

Same hold music the second time I call, to ask why the Mac returned to us damaged, with the keyboard and mouse loose in the box, where they scratched up the screen and the metal, without the power cord and installation disks that Dave packed so carefully.

Same hold music the third time, after we’ve discovered not only is the iMac scratched up and cordless but it’s missing the hard drive and some of the screws that used to hold on the screen. Love, love, love.

This hold music varies in that it restarts after running its full loop, and any time a voice recording interrupts to say, “The next available customer service representative will be with you shortly,” which is often.

The eight bars – or maybe it’s four, I don’t know how to count music – starts with a bright electric guitar lick, sort of reminiscent of “Sister Golden Hair” from the 70s.

Then it goes into a partial buildup to what seems like it’s going to be a verse.

Then it goes into a second, more dramatic buildup, like “This is really going to be an important verse so be ready for it.”

Then there’s a slight pause…

Then the guitar kicks in again.

Does that sound like eight bars? Regardless, I just keep oozing love, because what else can I do?

I can’t undo last week’s idea to sell the old iMac to Gazelle. I can’t go back and video Dave’s reformatting of the hard disk and reinstalling Sierra and doing disk utilities and careful packing of the components using in the fancy box his new iMac arrived in. I’m not even bothering to mention how he hunted down the original installation disks even though it wasn’t required, because of course he did.

Maybe I can put the phone on speaker and make more coffee. I go in the kitchen. “I assume theft,” says Dave.

But I ooze love. I assume that the customer service rep who will be with me shortly will be as surprised as I was about the now-broken computer. Sure, someone there destroyed the iMac, threw it into a box, and sent it back to us, but surely it was an accident. “Maybe it was a new trainee or something, or something happened between shifts.”

“I’m thinking just plain theft.”

“You mean, some rogue guy at the processing center?”

“I mean the whole company,” he says.

I decide Dave is not in a place where I can put the phone on speaker right now. “They’re a huge company,” I remind him, the hold music repeating in my other ear.


“A whole company cannot be built on a model of buying used electronics, then claiming they arrived broken and have no value.”

“Sure it can.”

“You can’t believe they would actually do that.”

“I didn’t used to believe someone like Trump could be president,” he said. “Now I figure anything’s possible.”

The hold music kicks in again. I continue to ooze love.

But is he a singer or a crooner?

Dad pondered this question many a time.
Dad could be pondering this question right now.

As I drove home in the snow yesterday, a review of Bob Dylan’s new album on NPR reminded me that every evaluation of everything is contextual, including my opinion of the review.

The road conditions were suddenly terrible, meaning I couldn’t make it to Russ’s house as planned, so maybe I was grumpy, making all kinds of right-turn detours just to get back to my neighborhood. I’ll admit my hackles went up for no apparent reason when the reviewer dismissed Rod Stewart as a “standards hack.” I don’t listen to Rod Stewart, whereas I do have some Dylan albums and just spent a bunch of money to hear him in concert. But I scoffed audibly when the reviewer claimed how because Dylan recorded live in-studio the old-fashioned way, in the same room with his musicians, his renditions were truer to the “smoke-filled rooms” where the songs were first heard. Was there smoke in the studio? And also, Rod Stewart’s voice sounds like he’s smoked a bunch, doesn’t he get any points for that?

Why does Dylan deserve the automatic assumption that there’s deep emotion to his voice just because he switches up the melody line in “What’ll I do”? Maybe if I listen to the song ten times, I’ll be able to tell for sure that it’s a deliberate interp and not just a casual evasion of the notes, but I don’t know that my ear could take it. A deep knowledge of the American Songbook doesn’t mean your singing is any more in tune.

It was like the reviewer needed to give us all this evidence of Dylan’s creds so we wouldn’t laugh when we heard the clips. But I laughed anyway, or would have had I not been gripping the steering wheel like a clamp, praying not to get rear-ended or rear-end someone else. I smiled and gave at least one “Oh my God” to Dylan’s voice wobbling and wavering its way through “Autumn Leaves.”

Dylan’s got great taste, I give him equal points to Rod Stewart’s cigarette nodes for that. Dad had a cassette with seventeen versions of “Autumn Leaves” on it. It is one of the most perfectly beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Who wouldn’t want to sing it? I started singing it on my dog walk after safely thank God making it home and getting the dog around the block. And singing it made me think of my dad and his seventeen versions, and suddenly I wanted to call my brother and sob, “I miss Dad, I miss Dad,” but didn’t because I didn’t want him thinking I’m emotionally unstable due to childlessness or hormones.

Luckily I saw Lake and her owner coming up the sidewalk, and pulled it together in time to talk about the weather and our shoulders and the shoveling. And by the time they passed, the dad sadness was gone.

That’s a good thing about longterm grief. It’s just as intense when it hits, all images of Dad and his gentle smile and excellent taste and the longing to just be in a room with him, asking what he thinks of the new Dylan album, but it’s more polite than new grief. Dad and Uncle Ralph used to debate whether certain vocalists were singers or crooners. Singer meant a serious artist, whereas a crooner, like Dean Martin, was just someone who sold a song with style. I think they used to argue over which one Sinatra was.

I think Dylan must fall into the singer category, whereas someone like Stewart only gets to be a crooner. But also, and I’ll bet this never happened in Dad and Ralph’s day, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen someone get the singer tag just because I couldn’t bear listening to his music long enough to decide for sure.

The Art of Dramatic Surprise

Did I really say, "She talks to fairies"?
Did I really say, “She talks to fairies”?

I’d thought the make-it-up-as-you-go drama was on stage at the Annoyance—two powerful performers improvising together. The way they connected and counterpointed. The way they pushed some things and let others go. The way things came back. It was beautiful and surprising in a way that scripted drama never can be. Afterward, I got to talk a while with someone I haven’t seen in a while, and my soul felt better that it has in a while. Oh, and sitting at the bar with a very young friend, waiting for our drinks, after she had said “I feel so old” and I thought wow, my guilty conflicted love of the Annoyance probably dates back to before she was born—is that possible? Potty-trained, anyway.

And then afterward, in my ongoing desire to connect everybody and have them be best friends, I said the fairy thing which was momentarily embarrassing, but who listens to street chat anyway, and I got on the train, and Dave met me at the other end, with Django who was characteristically excited to see me for exactly one second.

And as we walked home, Dave told me about a far stranger drama. He was at a dress rehearsal for an opera, playing in the pit. They started at 7:30, did a straight run-through, then had a half-hour break, union rules.

At 9:50 they went back to the pit for the remaining forty minutes of rehearsal time. With gigs like this you only get three or four rehearsals, so every moment is precious. However, they weren’t allowed to pick up their instruments. Due to some other rules about dress rehearsals at that particular theatre, it wasn’t allowed. Also, most of the lights were turned off. At one point the maestro said something like, “Can I at least have one light so I can see my score?” And he talked through the trouble spots while the musicians followed along, light permitting, in their scores. “Surprisingly,” said Dave, “it was pretty productive.”

Which just goes to show, no matter where your stage in life happens to be, when something confusing happens and you just go with it, you might be surprised at how well it can work out.

Herding cats

Pandora interface
On the other hand, now I’m thinking I should give The Sopranos another try.

Sometimes I look at people who listen to vinyl and I’m jealous. I roll my eyes when they brag about the preciousness of the pops and the balancing of the needle and quality of the sound, but I’m jealous. They have a machine that does just one thing, plays records.

Meanwhile, a friend is worried about her dog, who has become very clingy and affectionate after ten years of mellow reserve. He’s eating blinds while she’s gone. He’s sleeping on her socks.

Django is also clingier, though not any more affectionate.
She won’t willingly walk unless both Dave and I go. If it’s only one of us, she keeps trying to turn back.
When we leave the house, she won’t go first. “But isn’t that what they taught us at obedience school, humans go first?” I ask Dave. “Maybe those classes finally paid off.”
“No,” says Dave. “she just wants to make sure we’re all going.”
She follows us around the house wearily, like, “We just got comfy in the office, why the hell are we going down the basement?”

What I can’t figure out is why, with music so much more easily accessible–
on my computer
on my phone,
through the stereo if AppleTV or my Remote app is currently letting me access my iTunes library, which is about 50 percent of the time, averaging out the times it lets me in at first try,
lets me in after I turn on sharing AGAIN,
lets me in after I go up and open iTunes or just remind iTunes that it is indeed open,
and the times it works for a while, then cuts out in the middle of a song like it suddenly remembers it had a roast in the oven,

–I don’t listen to music as much as I used to. These days, if I want to listen to music that sounds good, I generally just turn on Pandora through Roku, because:
it will play through the house speakers.
I can listen to the sort of music I’m in the mood for
(Americana Radio, Rain Dogs Radio, Blossom Dearie Radio)

…though not a specific song or album. If I want a specific musical experience, and the song or album happens to be
in the subset of my iTunes library that’s currently on my phone
findable with a Web search that usually turns up at least a YouTube version
I’ll generally just play it there,
turning up the volume and reminding myself that it sounds not that bad for a phone speaker.

Maybe I could solve this with Spotify, which I would then connect to on the Roku, and thereby have infinite choice of artist or album or genre, which would be great, but it would also mean:
the screen of the TV has to be on so I can choose things
(and everyone knows the TV screen sends out hypnotic watch-me rays that fundamentally conflict with the auditory omnipresence of good audio)
the sheer abundance of choice at any given moment would result in buffet blindness
–which happens when I go out for brunch and end up with ketchup on my cantaloupe because I put too much stuff on my plate because it was all free, free! for the cost of brunch, so I don’t even know what I’m eating and the omelet is cold–
I’d be paying for a service instead of buying albums, so any fantastic music I discovered would become inaccessible as soon as I stopped paying for it.
(What was that band singer song called again? Oh, never mind.)

I thought I was alone in my vague sense of musical dissatisfaction until yesterday, when Dave said, “I miss music.” Then in the car with friends we were group-grocery shopping with because of the coming snow, Sam piped up from the backseat, “Me too! I used to listen to music all the time. And now…”

So now we’re looking at the way media is configured in our home and trying to figure out how to change it without:

  • sacrificing all the things that are great about remote access to music
  • buying another component
  • spending $2000 at Room and Board

Django doesn’t care about music, or cuddling, or laundry. She doesn’t nestle with my dirty socks. She just stands at the top of the basement stairs, waiting for me to finish folding clothes so she can get back to a room with a dog bed in it.

Our kind of town

In this town, you never know what you're going to find.
Chicago is full of surprises.

Yesterday Gigi said both psychopathy or sociopathy constitute a way of being in the world. One may be more genetically-based, one more environmentally, but they result in the same way of interacting with others – namely, not letting anyone get in the way of what you want. I said, “What if someone is a psychopath but doesn’t really want anything?”

Gigi said, “Everyone wants something, even if it’s as basic as shelter or food.”

It was a weird house concert. Weird good, ultimately, but for a while things were shaky. The concert ringleader didn’t show up, leaving just the folksinger from New York, who’s house-sitting in the concert venue, and my brother Rolando, who doesn’t consider himself much of a singer, to perform. The only guests, other than Rolando’s wife Gigi and me and Dave, were a few confused friends of the ringleader’s.

The folksinger from New York had lighted dozens of tealight candles. Twenty or 30 were arranged at the top of the long flight of stairs up into the flat, for the house concert was technically an upstairs-flat concert, in an expansive Victorian-style flat, with wide views of Lakeview and original paintings and an un-Victorian modern kitchen and a chicken coop downstairs. Inside there were candles on tables and on the fireplace mantel and on window sills. In fact, just after we arrived a row of candles along the top sill of a window blazed up. I think the screen caught fire. Luckily Gigi noticed it and had Rolando put it out.

Other than tealight candles, the place was lit by many strings of Christmas lights, mostly the colored ones, strung around mirrors and table tops, and a fireplace, in which a picture perfect wood fire was burning. It went out just as Rolando and the folksinger from New York finally sat down on either side of it to play. “Aw man, you can’t stop now,” said the folksinger.

He clearly had put much effort into making everything festive. At the entrance to the two-flat, there was a sign that said something like, “Think of the password, and when you get to the top of the stairs, knock on the door and say the password.” Since we’d been talking at dinner about the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths, we decided our password was sociopath. Or maybe it was psychopath. It didn’t matter because at the top of the stairs no one asked for it.

There were all kinds of treats arranged on a huge table – candies and nuts and crackers and spreads and an aged cheddar the folksinger had bought especially for the ringleader’s (Irish) daughters, and butter cookies for the ringleader’s granddaughter, should the parents decide she was old enough to have one. He had several kinds of beer and wine, and a fourth guest arrived with a bottle of organic vodka.

The fifth guest brought a six-pack, and then went out to find his girlfriend who wasn’t sure where the house was. She wore a plastic skirt and reclined on a chaise lounge for the music. Her boyfriend sat beside her in a rocking chair. The vodka bearer sat on a settee under the windows. Dave and I shared a large padded chair that I hoped wasn’t the cat’s hangout. I started to feel nasally halfway through but it was probably just my cold that won’t leave. Gigi sat next to us, wisely – for she too is allergic – in a plastic lawn chair.

I’d been counting on “Doors open at 7:30, music at 8:15” because then we’d leave by nine-thirty, be home in twenty minutes and I’d be asleep early enough to knock my cold absolutely away by morning. But because there was no one there at 8:30, things drifted. The others arrived one at a time, and it kept feeling like no one else was coming. When the fifth guy left to find his girlfriend, I thought the odds were 50/50 he’d be back. He too was here for the ringleader.

We stood around and drank and nibbled and talked, and the folksinger from New York passed around organic vodka to toast with. By the time the singing started, it felt kind of like, “This is what this is going to be, and we will probably never be gathered in this way again, so let’s get on with it.” The folksinger sang the first song, Rolando the next, and on they went, for maybe three or four rounds.

Each played on the other’s songs, mostly just filling in but sometimes taking a solo. It was suddenly beautiful. The folksinger sang deeply poetic songs, tunneling way inside an emotion or image, almost like a meditation. In contrast, I realized that Rolando’s songs are mostly in third person, even the serious ones. They tread lightly and step back, showing you a moment and letting you draw your own conclusions. It was kind of like watching Thornton Wilder jam with Sylvia Plath.

They stopped too soon, which in my opinion is the best way to end a concert. One encore, the only cover of the night, where Rolando played “God Bless the Child,” and the folksinger from New York stood up to sing it. We hung out for a while after, and some people went down to the see the chickens. The folksinger gave me a bag of eggs and a CD. He said he had enjoyed his visit to Chicago. “There’s an edge here,” he said. “People are really creating, music and theatre and art.” I felt kind of proud of us, working our jobs in the Midwest and creating enough on the side to make a New Yorker say we have an edge.

We got a ride home from Rolando and Gigi, and my eggs didn’t break in the car. As a nod to New York, I won’t complain about getting home after eleven-thirty instead of before ten. I let a house concert get in the way of what I thought I wanted – namely, to get rid of my cold – and was rewarded with satisfying music, good conversation, free-range eggs, and a ride home. Sociopaths could learn something from Chicago.

Good buzz

Some things just can't be explained.
Some things just can’t be explained.

Midwest sounded fab last night. Which is saying a lot given the incessant buzzing of the sound system. Which was forgivable given that the sound guy was also the bartender, and the place was packed. When I ordered a second whisky, he said “Can you bring your other glass back?” Which was understandable given that he was also the dishwasher.

I couldn’t believe Frank came. He just sort of appeared, in the dark of the club, as I was talking with Magdalena. Midwest was warming up. Nicolette was politely speaking to the bartender through the mic, “Could we have this up a little?” Customers were three-deep at the bar, but he ducked over to the sound board for a minute. I assume it was a sound board. I was too busy being shocked to see that yes, indeed, it was Frank. I hugged him tightly, wanting that to say all my words couldn’t. “You’re here,” I said.

“I’m here,” he said. We didn’t talk about Fern. Her memorial is in a few weeks. The fact that he got here, and was already joking about the bartender, seemed to say that he could function if he kept to the surface. And when the first song started, “Don’t go,” he didn’t have to joke around anymore. Except for the part where he said, “They’re really good,” like he was a little surprised, he could just listen.

Speaking of surprises, I’d already had one when Magdalena walked in. It was her husband who’d asked Dave about dates, who seemed more interested in music. But at nine I got a text that Magda was leaving her house, and at nine-thirty here she was, paying my tip to the bartender since I’d run out of cash. Her man is out of town, and with Dave on stage, still warming up, we both had time for a nonexistent affair with the rockabilly guy from the first band. Mine ended amicably, but Magda’s was messy, fraught with hurt feelings. We decided that the play will premiere soon.

Music makes me happy. Nicolette makes me want to show her my poetry. Her old boyfriend and also her new boyfriend were there. She felt bad because she’d kissed her new boyfriend in front of her old boyfriend. But it was before she knew her old boyfriend was there. An accidental moment can forever change the way we feel about ourselves and each other. Which is why we need songs. They make sense of coincidence and misfortune and things that can’t be explained, two minutes and forty-two perfect seconds at a time.

All I know

Thank god for strangers who take the time to let you know.
I’ve always depended on the opinions of strangers.

Dave and Chet both had their band debuts last night. Georgia just texted to say Chet’s was fab. Dave’s, I would call really good. They played great, each of them individually sounded fab, but the mics didn’t work, so the instruments were much louder than the voices, which, when you’re a band, is not totally fab. But they rolled with it, and people seemed to really love them. Next time, some amps.

We hung out with Kismet and Kyle and Billy and Joan beforehand. Had dinner at Crisp and then went to have a drink before the music. Every bar we walked into had a distinctive odor. As an Amazon review of a possible purse I once wanted to buy said, “All I know is this bag smells BAD.” One bar smelled like vomit, another like yeast but not yeasty bread baking. Kyle thought maybe chlorine, which would have been preferable. The third smelled like air freshener which ordinarily would set me off, but suddenly seemed like at least they were trying.

We had a drink and then headed to the theatre where Midwest was playing an after-the-show set in the lobby. For friends and any theatre patrons who wanted to stick around. I realized about halfway through that I can’t go to live performances anymore. I spend most of the time being angry at whoever is talking during the show. Fifty people squeezed into that room, 48 of them listening intently to catch the words and the harmonies that were tumbling out, beautiful but a little remote, and all I can hear are two people talking, I swear in fake British accents, about studying abroad.

Although I turned around, very pointedly in my opinion, several times, they just kept talking. Something about a theatre program in London. Maybe I should have done something more, but if they turned out to be friends of someone else in the band, it could be awkward later.

Like last week at City Winery, when a table-full of women next to us kept yakking it up like they were at an Applebee’s, all the way through the singer’s ballad. I waited until I caught the eye of one of them, and then I smiled, and then she smiled, and then I mimed turning down a stereo. Her eyebrows went up, and then I nodded at the stage, and then she said something to her friends, and they all stared at me. I smiled back and looked, again I would say pointedly, at the stage.

They quieted down, but later, at the break before the headliner came on, the woman came up to me in the women’s room. “I just wanted to say,” she said, “I didn’t know we were being so loud.”

I washed my hands and tried to laugh it off. “Oh, I’m terrible about things like that.”

Clearly she agreed because she said again, “We didn’t think we were being that loud.” She added, “My friend said you can order food here, so we can talk if we want.”

I couldn’t make sense of that, so I just said, “Enjoy the next act.”

“My friend’s daughter is one of the musicians,” is what she left me with.

“I hope that means you’ll keep your trap shut,” is what I didn’t spit back.

To wander is the miller’s joy

dead end sign
Imagine it sung.

Two nights ago, Dave was trying to explain the magic of song lyrics. “I see them on the page, you know, and it’s nothing. Just some words. But then we play the song and it’s like…”

I wait while he pauses, his arms extended over the sink, his hands open wide. I want to say, “It’s like, now you get it?” I want to say, “It’s like, the way the words unfold within the melody and come together in rhyme makes you understand them completely differently?” I want to say, “Where have you been since puberty?” But I wait. He stands there, graceful violin hands poised in mid-air.

I know he’s heard popular music before. Yes, he’s a classical musician, but I’ve seen pictures of him impersonating Freddie Mercury back in high school. Or was that Mozart? He’s always absentmindedly singing Bohemian Rhapsody, though come to think of it that’s the only pop song I’ve ever heard him sing absentmindedly. Maybe he has only heard the one.

But now, suddenly, he’s in a band. The guy who doesn’t even own one Dylan album is in an alt-folky guitar-pop band, with soaring harmonies and great lyrics and hooks that stick in your head. Now he sings Woah-woah when he’s drying dishes.

He’s still standing there. “It’s like, you hear them with the music and…”

I want to say, “What the hell do you think I’ve been doing all these years, obsessing over John Gorka and Patty Griffin and Aimee Mann and Bob Schneider and, and…?” Didn’t he listen, all those times when I said, “Listen” to how Patty Griffin sings Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye and how John Gorka sings Mmm-hmm? But I wait.

The next day, he says, “It’s like, I listened to our recording yesterday, constantly, six songs in a continuous loop. It’s just an iPhone recording, but even still, it’s like… Take The Beatles. She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. And I wanna hold your hand. I mean, the words are kind of dorky, but in context…” Oh God. I hope he’s not going to fall in love with his bandmate. Though maybe I would do the same. A great songwriter with an amazing voice is a powerful force. Then he says, “It’s really just like German lieder.” And I know I’m safe.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” is what I allow myself to answer.

Your grand plan for yesterday

Music changing hands.

The weird thing about rehearsal every night and rewrites plus regular work every day is that when it’s over I feel like, What do I do now? Yesterday I woke up all headachy from celebrating the night before. The script is done. There are things that could be clearer, yes, but I don’t want to collapse the flower, press each petal under glass. I want some push and pull.

It’s like The Tell-Tale Heart, which Dave recites to me periodically as he memorizes it for a show. In a typical talkback, someone inevitably would ask Edgar Allan Poe, “Okay so is the old man his landlord? I assumed that, but I don’t know that I actually know that. Maybe he’s a relative, an uncle or something–”

“Okay, thanks for your comment–”

“Or if it’s the old man who is the lodger, and the narrator is actually the landlord, that would change the dynamic for me.” So, Edgar will have her pen and notebook on Monday. She will write down every comment. Then she will set it on the sideboard and forget it for a week or a month. Pick it up after Halloween and see what jumps out.

I’m already preparing myself for the let-down after the performances. It’s a double let-down. The event is past, and so there’s the classic post-vacation, post-party, post-partum funk. Then there’s also the disappointment I’ve felt before with the readings or the festivals I do, where I feel like I’ve written something good and the world was supposed to come knocking so they could produce it at Kennedy Center. When they don’t, I go through the typical artist’s hell, the flip-flopping between “I’m not good enough” and “how come nobody thinks I’m good enough,” a dog chasing its tail as these two meaningless extremes circle ‘round and ‘round.

But I’m prepared for that. Maybe I can sidestep it. And I have slightly different reasons for wanting this play out there. I’m angry about that boy. I know the play is not his story. I don’t know what his story was. But that just makes me angrier. At last, I feel the thing Fred Gaines talked about as his reason for writing plays. That it’s a social call. I still don’t exactly understand it or know if it will happen in that way again, but I wish Fred were still around so I could at least say, “I finally get it.”

Yesterday’s headache finally faded last night when we saw Chris Smither at Old Town. Fern and Frank called, last minute, to invite us. They had what is perhaps the best four-top at Old Town, table Z. It’s at the back, stage right, at the perfect sightline. The only one possibly better is right next to it—I meant to check but forgot. Perhaps it’s table Y? It has the advantage of being on the aisle, so there’s even more legroom.

Somehow I hadn’t appreciated Chris Smither before. I knew and liked a couple of his songs, but of course I’d never spent an evening with him. And to be sitting there with Fern, who is negotiating her sentence with such grace and wisdom and humor, it almost makes me jealous. No, it makes me feel I’ve got an example, a role model to follow if and when the C-bomb drops just when I’m planning a whole other set of adventures for myself and my best friend.

“What a kick in the teeth,” I remember her saying the first time we saw them after the diagnosis. I keep hearing that, as they navigate their choices and do things like treat friends to an evening of music. And now I have a whole new body of music to listen to and be inspired by.

Smither introduced one new song as “a classic blues progression that you’ve heard a thousand times. But I haven’t written one in a while, so…” That was the song that made me buy the album on iTunes this morning. There were easily a dozen that could have prompted the purchase, but this was the song I needed to hear again immediately.

It ain’t what I know that makes me blue
It’s what I thought I knew

After the concert, we waited for Fern and Frank to buy a CD and get it signed. I had on my new birthday boots and my new birthday coat and the felted wool fez I got in Dingle, back when we traveled instead of fixing up the house, and I felt the confidence of my matchiness. I saw Fern and Frank at the front of the line, talking to Smither, who had a big floppy grin on his face. What a great guy. I went up with my phone, a little late, as they started to move along for the next people in line. “Can I just get a picture?” I said, snapping away, secretly remembering the no-pictures announcement before the concert.

They all leaned in, and I got a nice shot to send my friends. “I love your hat,” said Smither. “It’s great, isn’t it?” I beamed, proud of myself for not blurting out, “I got it in Ireland!” My uncomfortable post-concert exchange with John Gorka a few months ago apparently taught me something. It’s so lovely to think that one is making progress.

Analogy unfinished, analogy overexplained

It’s accidentally upside down.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t come back here, to a bar created by a friend but then sold to a stranger. No matter why or how it was sold, it just wouldn’t feel right. Disloyal. But my brother is playing guitar here, something he doesn’t often do, and family trumps friends, so here I am, sitting on one of the microsuede banquettes, so comfy, staring at this beautiful room.

Chandeliers dot the high ceiling. A magnificent blue oil painting is propped casually on the fireplace mantel. Originally he was going to put a mirror there, but when he found the painting it was just too perfect. Across from me, a huge blue built-in holds wine bottles and almost blends into the muted green of the walls, softening the urban feel, making it all French and luxey. It strikes me that the walls don’t care who painted them. They’re just here being beautiful.

Yesterday was mosaic class. Random people drifted in just before and just after 9am, new to each other, new to the space, new to the class. Where should I sit, at which of the many square, brown-paper-covered tables, who looks friendly, should I sit alone, is that only remaining stool too close to the next one?

I took the stool at the table closest to the cookies. Another woman sat next to me, after pulling one stool away so she could space out all the stools on our side a little farther apart. I watched her squeeze antibacterial gel onto her hands. Another woman sat down across from us. She cracked jokes about her Diet Coke addiction, getting lost on the way here, and how she was probably the only sucker to pay full price for this workshop. “I did, too,” I said, the only other non-Groupon.

Did you find the analogy? See, all these random-seeming human actions were like the random-seeming bits of glass we’d soon be cutting and arranging on our little training tiles. You watch someone placing a little green tile next to a yellow one, then removing it and trying an orange one, then going back to the yellow but snipping it in two, there that’s better…and it doesn’t seem to make sense. But when the whole piece is assembled, set in black or gray or white thinset, the pattern emerges.

By noon, we were all chatting away as if we’d known each other forever, each table of people like each tile on the table like each piece of glass on a tile, each with its own logic which is revealed in relation to the whole. The antibacterial woman works with “lots of sick people,” as she put it, so the gel makes perfect sense. After 25 years, the jokester quit smoking a few months ago, so she’s taking all kinds of classes “to keep my hands busy,” crochet and pottery and now mosaic, and the costs add up. I skipped breakfast because I have trouble being somewhere at 9am, so the cookies made me feel “safe.” Nothing random at all, except the last set of quotation marks.