HAVE YOU SEEN OUR KITTY PT II

We spent a good part of Sunday looking for Murphy.  He had disappeared in a row of bushes that bordered the campground.  There was a fence, as well, on the other side of which was a row of rather pricey-looking houses that shared a canal that fed into Lake Manawa.  Between us, we reassured each other that he was a big, bouffy sort of a cat; able to defend himself, or to run and climb a tree when that would be the better strategy.  Pony, in particular, grew more convinced that someone in the neighboring houses may have taken him in, and I, too thought that might be possible.  He was a cute fellow, and  could be very affectionate. 

I spoke to other campers, describing our cat and our plight.  One or two thought they might have seen a cat matching that description.  The problem was, there was also a pure white, short-hair stray that was also wandering the grounds, so one could never be entirely sure.  I spent big chunks of time wandering through the park, over both well-marked trails as well as into various patches of woods, calling out Murphy’s name (although any cat owner can tell you that the chance of a cat responding to being called is a whimsical prospect, at best).  By late Sunday evening, we had no luck recovering our missing cat.  We had one more day before we needed to pack up and head on to Ames, Iowa, and though we spoke very little about it, both of us considered the worst case scenarios. 

It turned out that the kitten I had named Murphy was sick with a virus or bug of some sort when I first brought him home (not uncommon; all sorts of things get passed around the kittens while at the shelter).  This actually worked in his favour in a couple of ways.  First, he was rather lethargic, low-energy, and paid no attention at all to Sam’s attempts to intimidate him.  Consequently, Sam went from exhibiting aggressive, dominating behaviour to actually sort of looking after the poor, pitiful thing.

Secondly, Pony was herself down with a cold or something of the sort.  She took to cradling Murphy under her sweater, the two of them commiserating in their misery. 

I remember one morning when I had trouble locating the new kitten.  There was a space behind our two couches that opened onto the stairwell leading to the basement.  I found him there.  His eyes were crusted shut, rendering him effectively blind.  He knew that a wrong step would send him falling down into the stairwell (perhaps to break his neck), so he was not moving.  I picked him up, and Pony proceeded to clean the gunk off of his eyes and sit on the couch with him nestled under her sweater.

If he had been a human child, I might have been inclined to say he had chicken pox, as he developed bumps under his fur that eventually scabbed over.  For the next few weeks, we used to joke about the exciting nights we could describe to our friends:

What did we do last night? Oh, we just sat around, watched tv, and picked scabs out of the kitten. 

This was the start of our living under Murphy’s law. 

HAVE YOU SEEN OUR KITTY?

The MonsterSeptember 9, 2013

About four years ago, a grey-striped tabby showed up on the doorstep of our house.  He was wounded, which caused him to have an odd hop as he walked, so Pony named him Tigger.  We took to feeding him, so he wouldn’t have to wander far on his wounded leg, and he repaid us in his manner, but chasing off the pigeons that liked to congregate underneath our carport.  As summer began to turn to Autumn, Tigger made it increasingly clear that he would dearly love to join our household.  We considered this possibility (we already had two cats – Zebie and Sam – by this time).  Pony insisted that before we could do so, we had to take him to a vet to be checked, if only to be sure he would not have something nasty that he might pass on to the other cats.  As it turned out, Tigger had Feline HIV (for those who never knew: yes there is such a thing).  So we could not take him in, lest he infect our other cats.  He also could not just be released back into the wild, either.  Although it did not feel at all like a merciful option at the time, we ended up paying to have Tigger put down.  All this happened out of sight of me, while I was teaching, which was still bad enough at the time.

So we talked about the possibility of adopting another cat to honor Tigger’s memory.  Then, one Tuesday, all through the day as I was teaching, Pony was texting me the names of kittens available at the Denver Dumb Friends League.  Taking the cue, I went there after work and called her, asking which kitten she wanted me to look at first.

“I was joking with you,”she said. 

“The hell you were,”I replied

I started looking at some of the kittens that Pony had named; all cute little things about two months old, each.  And they were cute enough and all, but they all struck me as rather shy.  And Sam, our orange tabby, was a very assertive kitty (dominating might be a better word for it).  One of the staff women at the Dumb Friends League asked how I was doing, and I allowed that they were all very cute kittens, but I was concerned they weren’t outgoing enough to stand up to our Sam-cat. 

“We have a three-month old that may be what you’re looking for,” said the staff lady.  She brought in a grey and white puffball they had named Mahoney.  He was much more what I thought I was looking for: immediately curious about me and everything else around him.  I called Pony to tell her about him.

“They call him Mahoney,” I told her.

“I know the one you’re talking about,” she said.  Apparently, when looking at pictures on the website, this particular kitten had stuck his face right into the camera lens, almost as if to eat it.

“I don’t care for the name Mahoney,” I told her, “I’m going to name him Murphy.”

And I have got all sorts of grief ever since, because I chose him and I named him. 

THE PIZZA SHOPPE COLLECTIVE

September 7, 2013

Everyone has stories about certain gigs on the road; the manifestation of Murphy’s Law, as it were (did I mention that we have a cat I named Murphy?).  I had originally talked with Eric at the Pizza Shoppe Collective (in Omaha) back in April or May, or thereabouts. We had a great conversation where we discussed a cover charge for the door to be split between me and two local artists (the three of us would also share the cost of a sound engineer).  Eric had named a couple of local artists, suggesting we could rotate sets, and asking if I might even be interested in a bit of jamming with the other musicians. The whole situation sounded great to me.

About three weeks before we are about to hit the road, I get a call from Frank.  ‘Turns out Eric is no longer booking for the Pizza Shoppe Collective, and has left the schedule (and any accompanying records) in a bit of a shambles.  There are no other artists booked to play alongside me for the 7th of September, and Frank is wondering if I am up for carrying the whole night on my own.  That’s not necessarily a problem.  It also seems they had never received posters from us, so we ship out some physical copies right away, as well as sending a pdf to Frank that he might also use. 

As we start the tour, we get a text message from Frank that there is a Huskers game that night (apparently the vast majority of Omaha’s citizens are rabid football fans), AND there’s a big, all-day music festival going on.  Bottomline: I get about 7 people for the whole night.  Seven people still make an audience, so I give it my best shot.  The upshot of that is Frank (and Amy, the owner) are very impressed with my show.  We talk about the possibility of my playing another date in December, when we travel back to Denver.

It is an incredibly hot and humid night.  Our glasses fog up every time we step out of some air conditioned place into the evening air.  We grab a few groceries at a Walmart on our way back to Lake Manawa.  We get back to the park and our RV, again with our glasses fogging up as we step out of the car.  This, I believe, plays a part in what happens next, for as Pony opens the door to the RV, Murphy leaps through her feet and through the door into the black night. 

Next blog: have you seen our kitty?

POWER TO THE PEOPLE PART II

I don’t think it’s entirely fair or accurate to say that Obamacare launched us on this tour, but you could say it played a part. You could maybe go so far as to call it something of a tipping point.

 Last December, a meeting was held for the adjunct professors at Arapahoe College. Most of the meeting was devoted to updates in the grading software, but then the Dean addressed us about some other upcoming changes. Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act would require any employer with 50 or more employees to provide healthcare to any employee working 30 hours or more per week. It was determined that, for adjunct teachers, that would translate as 12 credit hours of teaching classes. Since the community colleges did not want to assume that financial burden, it was decided that, effective the Fall of 2013, adjunct teachers would be limited to 11 credit hours of teaching (and since most classes were actually designated as 3 credit hours, many teachers faced the possibility of being restricted to only 3 such classes). But then it got better: many teachers were supplementing their teaching load by tutoring (or, in the case of music teachers, teaching private lessons). It was decided that these activities would be subjected to a formula and subsequently restricted as well. Moreover, while many teachers had been cobbling together something that resembled a full work load by teaching at more than one community college, it was further decided that these new restrictions would cover the Entire Colorado Community College System (thereby knocking out that option, as well).

By my reckoning, the college was basically saying, “We’ve never paid for your healthcare, and we don’t want to pay for your healthcare, so we’re going to restrict how much you can work, so you can continue to pay for your own healthcare, only with less money.” I called Pony immediately after leaving that meeting. I was so mad, I’m surprised I didn’t melt her phone while talking to her. Calmly, she replied, “Okay, then. Let’s go on the road.”

Last Thursday, we made it to Omaha, where I had a gig scheduled for Saturday night. Pony had booked us a spot at Lake Manawa, on the southern end of neighboring Council Bluffs, Iowa. It is beautiful park, with electrical hookups, dumping stations, and all manner of other amenities.

On Friday, we took the yellow car (our yellow submarine) to do laundry and shopping. We had keyed “laundromat” into our TomTom GPS, and it took us to this strip mall in Southeast Omaha. There is no kind way to put this: it was a pretty seedy place. Half the washers and dryers were broken and unusable. Still, there were few enough customers, and we were able to find some working machines available.

As I proceeded to stuff dirty laundry into one of the machines, there was a guy slouching on a nearby chair. About four or five days of stubble connected his mutton chops, and neither body, hair, nor clothes looked as if they’d been washed in some time. He did not seem to have a load of laundry, but was more likely taking advantage of the air conditioning in the place. Then he reared up and let fly a big gob of spit in the middle of the floor.

“Hey,” I said, “there’s no excuse for that!”

“You don’t know where I’ve been, man,” he replied.

“I don’t care where you’ve been,” I said, “there’s no excuse for that. Show some respect!”

He mumbled something and laid down on a couple of the chairs.

There was a “No Frills Market” in the strip mall, so once we got all the laundry going, we decided to get some shopping done. In addition, the battery in the yellow car had been draining in a troubling way, and there was a car repair place in the same strip mall, so we figured to have that looked at, as well.

The car shop tested the battery and found it wasn’t holding a charge. We had no idea how old the battery was (for all we knew, it could still be the original battery), so we decided to get it replaced. Between the generator in the RV and battery, we were hoping this would take care of our power problems for awhile.

While shopping in the supermarket, I got concerned about leaving the laundry unattended for too long, so while Pony continued with the shopping, I decided to go check on the clothes. I got a candybar as an excuse to break a five for some more quarters. While going through the checkout lane, I saw my old buddy, the gob-spitter, now in cuffs and being led by a police officer; apparently caught shoplifting. A store manager was following behind, saying, “You picked the wrong store for that kind of action!”

Welcome to Omaha.

Next: The Pizza Shoppe Collective (and “have you seen our cat?”)

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

We were supposed to officially hit the road on Thursday, the 29th of August, but ourplans were altered due to a sore tooth. It had started as a low-level, nagging tenderness a few days prior. Ever the optimist, I initially (hopefully) thought it might be some stray seed or some such that might have got wedged, and would subsequently work its way out. But no such luck. Come Sunday (the 25th), there was such a throbbing that I wondered how something could be that painful and not simply explode, tossing shrapnel into all parts of my head. I was able to get into an emergency care dentist, where (for $120) I at least got a prescription for some antibiotics and some heavy duty pain killers. This was to hold me over until Thursday, which was the soonest I could see an endodontist to actually work on the tooth; hence the amendment in travel plans. Fortunately, the first gig on the tour (a House Concert on Casper Mountain, Wyoming) wasn’t until the Saturday, so I could take an extra day for a little oral surgery, a few last minute chores, and chillin’ with some vicodin.

The concert on Casper Mountain was a lovely, almost magical experience. A big shout of thanks goes out to our dear friends, Rebecca and Geoff Hunt, for organizing the event. I was pleased to meet some of the local folk of Casper, and as the evening progressed, there was a lot of talk about opportunities to play in the area when we return in January.

This House Concert began just outside the cabin that Rebecca’s father had built on Casper Mountain, many years ago. Warren Weaver had gained a reputation as a rather colorful character in the community: a somewhat rough and fiercely self-reliant individual who had an eclectic and voracious reading appetite. Over time, he had adopted Buddhism, vegetarianism, various cats, and at least one small, very long-lived dog. In his last years, Warren had grown somewhat frail, and less inclined to tend to the regular upkeep of his mountain home. By the time Rebecca and Geoff took possession of the place, the carpets were inundated with the smell of urine and feces from the various pets, and the cabin was choking in a clutter of books, magazines, and all manner of paraphernalia that suggested clear signs of a man who had become something of a hoarder (a bit ironic, considering the Buddhist teaching to refrain from attachments).

 There had followed a few years of intensive purging and cleaning (in which my wife took an active part). A year ago, I was sitting on the porch of this cabin, gazing at an August blue moon, when I was inspired to compose a piece featured on one of most recent albums, and simply titled, “Casper Mountain Blue Moon”. So the House Concert over this most recent Labor Day Weekend was, in part, something of a celebration of the restoration and reclamation of the cabin, and the efforts of Rebecca, along with friends and family, to preserve and build upon the better part of her parents’ legacy.

 That process of reclaiming the cabin had progressed to the point where my wife, Pony, and I had spent Labor Day Weekend with Geoff and Rebecca over the last couple of years.  But this year, we were in the meadow that adjoins the property of Rebecca’s brother, Sam; living in our 33-ft, Winnebago Brave RV (which Pony has christened “Ceci”, short for Cecilia), with our three cats (Zebie: our black cat and the only other girl in the family; our orange-striped tabby, Sam; and the fluffy, grey and white escape artist I get no end of grief for naming Murphy), and Rufus, our New Mexican Brown Mutt. The House Concert was a lovely, affirming event on all manner of levels, But a couple of the folk camping with us noticed that our generator was leaking fuel. We inquired in town, looking for someone who could possibly fix it before we had to hit the road again, but wasn’t in the cards. So on Wednesday after Labor Day we were making our way east to Omaha, with a planned stopover in North Platte. Our hope was to find someone to repair the generator en route.

The last time I had done a cross country tour had been more than 25 years ago. I was living in Montana at the time, and was a winner in the Newfolk Songwriting Competition, of the Kerrville Folk Festival (in Texas; other somewhat better known winners include Nancy Griffith, David Wilcox, and Lyle Lovett). The differences between that tour and this one are many and amazing for me to consider. On that previous tour, just about everything I owned was packed into a big ol’ white car I’d bought in Wyoming (a stout-hearted beast that had previously served time as a Wyoming state patrol car). On that previous tour, cellphones were still rather bulky, primitive things; not nearly as ubiquitous, nor as powerful or versatile. Some 25 years ago, I was yet to meet my first wife; the woman who would eventually lead me to Denver before stomping all over my heart (but ultimately giving me the chance to grow into a stronger and arguably wiser human being).

 In the intervening years, I worked in the Denver music scene. I played all manner of gigs: a punk/glam rock band, a country-and-western band, a medieval/renaissance/Celtic/World Music band. I played host to open mics all around Denver, various solo gigs, and even a stint doing singing telegrams.  I spent several years teaching private lessons at The Olde Town Pickin’ Parlor (in Arvada, a suburb northwest of Denver). I formed my own independent recording label and released three albums in fairly short time. I spent 13 years as an adjunct professor of music at Arapahoe Community College (in Littleton, a suburb southwest of Denver). About half a dozen years ago, I met a wise, witty, loving, Australian military brat/gypsy, and we married, got a house, the cats and the dog.

 Meanwhile, the world gained those evermore clever cellphones, plus increasingly smaller and more powerful computers (and tablets: most of this blog is being composed on my Kindle Fire). The continuing evolution of the internet, along with various other manifestations of digital technology, has turned the music industry on its ear (forgive the half-unintentional pun), trashing many of the old conventions, traditions, and business models. For some years, I had taught a class in Music Business and Law at Arapahoe College; describing many of these changes. Over time, I was getting itchy to do something about them, with them.

 Wednesday morning, and we are traveling through Wyoming and Nebraska along some of the back roads. The Good Sam Club (a major provider of all manner of goods and services for “people living the RV lifestyle”) has a GPS designed for RV’s that suggests alternate routes more suited to RV travelers for a variety of reasons. It can be anything from avoiding roads with dangerously low bridges, to towns that forbid vehicles with propane tanks to travel through. For us, the Good Sam GPS had mapped out a route that would trim some 50 miles off our journey (when your fuel economy averages ten miles to the gallon, these little adjustments start to add up). There is the added benefit of seeing bits of these two states that are at least a little different from the Interstate. But not having use of the back generator is taking its toll. It’s been a hot summer, and September has not offered any relief as yet. The dashboard air conditioner is doing its best, but it cannot adequately cool all of the RV. The thermostat in the back shows temperatures in the upper 90’s, and we concerned for the pets.

 Pony found a state park camping ground listed for North Platte, but the GPS can’t seem to find it. Moreover, she has subsequently looked the place up through Google, and found a slew of bad reviews regarding the site.

We never find this site.

 Instead, it is nearly 6pm, and we are lost. I come dangerously close to getting the RV stuck on some back country road, and have to slowly, carefully nurse the vehicle (still towing our Ford Focus behind us) through a tricky turn. We are both of us hot and sticky and tired and hungry and…..

 Pony has a bit of a melt down. I try to remain calm and pull the two vehicles back onto a bigger, more friendly road, while my sweetie dries her tears, regains her composure, and uses the Samsung Galaxy to search for an alternative place to stay for the night.

 We eventually end up at the Holiday RV resort, not far from the Interstate, in North Platte. It is a lovely, full service park, with water, electrical hookup, WiFi, and even a pool!  After hooking up the electricity and getting the two air conditioners up and running, I swam a few laps in the pool while Pony cooled off by dipping her feet in the water. Another hour or so later, and we are comfortably munching on cheeseburgers and sipping a bit of wine while watching DVD’s of Big Bang Theory on our flat screen. The animals have all come through the ordeal looking no worse for it ( Pony was a little worried for Murphy when she found him lying limp as a wet rag behind the couch, but it turned out to be just Murphy being Murphy; he was just fine when it was time for supper).

FIRST IT IS A MOUNTAIN….

Sunday, Aug 18 @ 9:08 AM

There is something of an old Zen saying: First it is a mountain, then it is not a mountain, then it is a mountain again. It is a reflection upon piercing the veil of illusion and knowing the “suchness” of a thing. I was thinking about that a couple of weeks ago while hiking Quandary Peak (southwest of Breckenridge, CO). I was also thinking of a scene in the movie, “Il Postino”, in which the Postman who is the title character of the movie asks the poet, Pablo Neruda to to explain to him the concept of “il metafore” (the metaphor). After providing him with such a description, the Postman says to the poet, “Well, it seems to me from what you say that anything could be a metaphor for anything else.” (and the poet is quite taken aback that his friend has so keenly grasped this concept). I was thinking of these things, and many other things as I made my way to the summit of the mountain, and the mountain taught me some valuable lessons that I feel serve as metaphor to the journey I am about to embark on. The first is that things will get tough, and you will be tested. Secondly, take time to gather the will and energy to keep going (towards the last 100 feet or so, there was a lot of taking a few steps, pausing for a few moments, then taking a few more steps, and so on). There was the lesson of observing those who go before you; to learn something from the approach they take and to take heart that if they can do it, it is possible for you as well. And along with that was the lesson for me that you must persevere, and hold on to the notion that you can and will reach that summit. So, since climbing that mountain two weeks ago, the metaphors continue. A couple of days ago, we traded in our two cars for a 2007 Ford Focus. We will tow it behind the RV and use it for short commutes as we stop in various towns. The RV is a Winnebago Brave. Brave and Focus: two aptly named vehicles to help us on our journey.

FINGERS CROSSED

Friday, Aug 9 @ 10:08 AM

With just a little bit of luck, I’m hoping the new CD ‘s should arrive today. I have a gig at Highlands Cork and Coffee coming up this Sunday (@ 2pm), and would love to have the new disks available by then. At the very least, I should have them for next week’s show at Sonoma’z, and the house concert that was added one week from tomorrow. Meanwhile, Pony got her new Samsung smart phone, and we’re getting it set up with PayPal to process credit card purchases. It has now been more than a week living in the RV. We’re all of us (humans and critters) getting comfortable with the new digs. About three weeks before we actually hit the road, and still plenty to do between now and then, but it’s getting more real, and more exciting.

AND STILL EVER MORE STUFF…..

Tuesday, Jul 30 @ 1:07 AM

Two more days until we close on the house. Last week, we spent pretty much all of Thursday packing a 26-foot UHaul truck with what I was sure was about 95% of our stuff. On Friday, we drove this truck to Casper, Wyoming. Most of the contents managed to get stuffed into a storage unit we secured there, with a bit of it going up the mountain to reside in the cabin of our friends, Geoff and Rebecca. By Saturday, we were heading back to Denver for a gig I had at Cannon Mine Coffehouse, in Lafayette. The gig went well. I had an appreciative audience and sold a CD. The next night, I played a House Concert for my friends, Warner and Lindy. The occasion served the additional purpose of celebrating Lindy’s birthday, so there was a fine gathering of friends. Again, I sold a couple of CD’s, and took advance orders for the new CD’s (which should be due out in another couple of weeks). It was a very fun night, and a welcome end to a long and busy week.Tonight, we ate Thai food in the RV and watched an episode of Nero Wolf. Tomorrow is one more big load of stuff donated to the thrift store, a few loads of stuff into the garbage bin, and installing the last of our stuff intended for the RV (including the kitties). Rufus is completely at home in the new “home on wheels”, and looks forward to climbing into the rig with the slightest invitation. Murphy (our youngest kitty) is also very comfortable with the new digs. Zebie and Sam may still need a bit of adapting, but they seem to be coming around to the notion. Blog entries and other internet activity may be a bit sporadic over the next week or so, as we say goodbye to our old house and adjust to Cecelia (Pony’s name for the RV).

THE MUSICAL INSTRUMENT FOSTER PARENT PROGRAM

Monday, Jul 22 @ 10:07 AM

One friend of mine is taking my acoustic bass guitar in his care while I am on the road. A colleague from Arapahoe Community College will take care of my koto and sitar (it helps that Chuck teaches a class on World Music, and looks forward to learning to play those instruments). Another friend has agreed to look after my small collection of drums (a djembe, a dumbek, a Sioux hoop drum, and something that pretends to be a bodhran). There is only so much room in the RV. I have some necessary sound equipment, a steel-string, a nylon-string, my electric guitar, my POD EX rack, my mandolin, my concertina, and my trumpet (which I inherited from my Grandfather Engberg). And that is probably as much as I can ask of Pony (what with three cats and a dog, as well). We will also be packing CD’s for the first three albums, plus the two new albums being released (hopefully in the next week, give or take). Then there’s that little thing about clothes, food,….. You know: those luxuries. Just about every moment of every day is spoken for anymore, as we race to prepare everything that is going into storage, and look to close on the house on the 31st of this month. We expect to be out of the house on that day, and start living in the RV. I still have a bunch of gigs in the Denver area for the month of August (and teaching a handful of students who want to hang with me till the last possible moment), but we will be finding some places to park the RV and start “living the lifestyle” (as friends and fellow RV’ers refer to it). Yesterday, Pony cooked a big turkey on our smoker in the backyard. This was part of our ongoing effort to empty everything in the deep freeze, as well as a sort of last, send-off party with the grill. We had a half dozen friends over to help us consume massive amounts of roasted bird flesh, plus some nice, herbed mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, creamed spinach, and pumpkin pie for dessert. It is definitely a mix of emotions, as we think wistfully of the good times we have had in this house, and yet truly look forward to the adventure of hitting the road, seeing friends (and making new friends) across the country, and getting a chance to play a lot of music.

HATS OFF TO ONE OF MY FANS

Saturday, Jul 20 @ 9:07 AM

I want to send out a huge thank you to Leonard Cumley and his wife Marcia. Leonard has been studying guitar with me for a couple of years (coming right along with finger-picking on his Martin guitar), and he and Marcia have been steady fans. They were among the audience that attended the concert at Victor Guitars last Sunday. The concert did not have a set admission, but was a pass-the-hat contribution sort of affair (much in the tradition of many a house concert), and Leonard and Marcia were exceedingly generous and very supportive of all my efforts with the new albums, the tour plans, and everything else. In addition, Leonard donated dozen of cardboard boxes to us, thus making easier the process of packing up the stuff we are putting into storage. I have taught hundreds of students over the years. Leonard is one of those I will be remembering for a good, long time.