May 29, 2015
Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The crease between May and June, 2015
And the fourth week of “unsettled weather” – thunderstorms and
rain showers every afternoon. There’s so much water in the wetlands
down by the Colorado River that alligator sightings have been reported.
Tango has been much on my mind this week.
That’s odd because I’ve been in far southeastern Utah for the last nine
months, and there’s not a lot of tango dancing happening here.
There are two reasons for my state of tango mind:
First, the musical made from my tango writings, which opened in Prague two years ago, has been extended to run for another two years.
(See my Facebook page for photos before you read on. https://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum)
If you want to read my tango novel and tango memoir, they can be downloaded from the sites on the left hand side of this journal page.
The other reason for my being in a tango mode is a sign I’ve posted alongside the door to my studio – so that I will be reminded of its message as I come and go.
Come – sit down on my porch – and I’ll unwrap the story for you – from my experiences learning tango in Buenos Aires.
The language barrier was higher in Argentina than I expected.
The Tex-Mex border Spanish of my childhood and the Castilian Spanish courses taken in college were inadequate preparation for the language of Buenos Aires – Rioplatanese - a unique mix of the regional dialects of Spain, and coastal Italy.
A friend who had lived many years in Argentina explained the language and culture problem this way: “Americans think Argentina is just South Mexico. That’s like saying New England and New Zealand are neighbors and speak the same language.”
Moreover, English was not as common in Argentina as I hoped.
In sum, I could get by and get around, but I could not get connected.
Senor Fuljumero needed a cultural assistant.
Enter Maria-Jose, Senorita Arriba!
We met when she substituted for my instructor for a few days at the
Mansion Dandi Tango Academy.
It soon seemed wise to employ her as the literary and cultural attaché of Senor Fuljumero.
She was the perfect answer to my needs.
A tiny, vivacious brunette, whose mother ran an English language school in Uruguay. Fluent in Rioplatanese, Spanish, Italian, and English.
Culturally astute, streetwise, and adept at navigating both the day life and night life of Buenos Aires.
Maria-Jose could unlock and open doors for Senor Fuljumero when he could not even locate the handle. His ability to relate to Argentina was increased exponentially. Now he had easy access to music, dance, food, art, history, and venues where tourists never go or even think to go.
And – best of all – the very best of all – Maria-Jose was a dance gypsy – a professional show-tango dancer, as well as a teacher of tango.
Her professional life was financially fragile and unpredictable.
She needed a flexible job to augment her dancer’s income.
And Senor Fuljumero needed help – supervision – a tango nanny.
Not only did Maria-Jose have a broad knowledge of tango and tango culture, she had fiercely high standards as a teacher.
That’s why Senor Fuljumero called her Senorita Arriba!
Arriba means “upstairs” – but it’s a shorthand slang admonition:
As in “Arriba! Stand up straight!” – “Arriba! Look up!” – “Arriba! Head up!” - or even “Arriba! Cheer up!”
Everything was Up, up, up! with Maria-Jose.
I will elaborate.
Here’s Senor Fuljumero in his studio, with his back in a corset-like brace.
The middle finger of his left hand is in a splint, bound with tape.
He walks tenderly with a slight limp – his ankles and feet are sore.
He is obsessively humming or whistling the “Colonel Bogey March” or “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as he goes about his day.
Pity him not.
A bus did not hit him.
These are self-inflicted conditions and symptoms of the syndrome
that might be called “arriba tango-itis.”
Senor Fuljumero’s posture, especially in dancing tango, is unacceptable to Maria-Jose.
She calls him “Senor Slumpy.”
Because he stands slightly stooped-shouldered like an old man.
He dances in a crouch.
Worse, he is always looking down at the floor monitoring the moves he is trying to make with his feet.
And Maria-Jose shouts Arriba! at him constantly.
She’s even stuck a big sign on his wall: “TODO ARRIBA! ROBERT!”
Stand up! Dance up! Head up! Cheer up! ARRIBA!
The back brace was Senor Fuljumero’s idea.
To force him stand up straight while practicing dancing at home alone.
The finger splint is also his idea. He wore it all day when he was out and about in Buenos Aires.
To remind him to improve his posture, and stand up straight and proud no matter where he may be.
He marched around to military band music in his head because he wanted to move like a Marine Sergeant in a parade ground review.
Proud! Confident! Dignified!
He wanted people to look at him and think: “There goes a dancer – one of those legendary tango jubilado milongueros.”
Arriba Man, not Senor Slumpy.
I even started going to sleep in an Arriba! posture – back and body straight, arms to my side, face up. I may look like a corpse laid out in a coffin for a funeral, but I sleep in tango mode.
My inner condition was in conflict with Maria-Jose’s standards.
She wanted me:
To learn the basic steps and the classic postures so well that they become innate – to dance without thinking or planning:
To lead a partner with intelligence and subtle shoulder suggestions, not by watching feet.
To know the difference between the musical styles of dance - a tango, a milonga, and a vals.
To move with style.
And to keep my mind focused on the task at hand and not race ahead or throw in little decorative foo-foo jackass moves, which is my habit.
And above all -above all - Todo Arriba!
She was patient.
I was not.
She kept a firm hand on the reins of my inclinations.
I did not.
In my mind I knew she was right.
But in my heart I want to whirl around the room like Fred Astaire, create all my own steps and moves - Tango Fuljumero - and, at the end of a lesson, tap dance up and down the stairway of my apartment and take a bow.
Perhaps that time will come.
But the brace on my back and the splint on my finger were a reminder that discipline is required; right habits must be acquired; that exuberance must be grounded in skill; that passion requires confidence, and that when dancing up and down stairs, it is useful to know where and how to land well at the bottom. Otherwise, limping will always be my lot.
One is in life, not in a movie.
My eagerness was restrained by the knowledge that I remained a tango klutz - a rookie with mostly dreams and ambitions as qualifications – and that competence in a dance form is a life-long ambition, not a destination.
Day after day I addressed myself in the mirror in my hall:
“Arriba! Rise up, Senor Fuljumero - up out of your trench of fear - up and over the top and into the fray.
Trust Maria Jose!
And I did.
And still do.
* * * *
That was then – this is now.
As my 78th birthday approached, I noticed myself as I passed back and forth in front of a big mirror in my wife’s painting studio.
My posture sucks.
I could hear the voice of Maria-Jose calling me “Senor Slumpy.”
Her wisdom rose up out of the back room of memory into the present day.
Maria-Jose said I must stop thinking about my activities as practicing tango. It’s about living life in a self-aware way.
“Zen-tango” she called it.
The spirit of tango from the inside out.
I can hear her say, “Focus! Do the best you can do for the time being.
Do what you are capable of on this day.
Arriba! Stand straight even when alone.
Walk out your door and down the hall with the dancer’s countdown, “…5,6,7,8, dance!”
Think of life as a dance – an all-day tango event – a milonga.
TODO ARRIBA, ROBERT!
I was in town early this morning to get a haircut and groceries – the most ordinary of activities.
Maria-Jose was on my mind as I walked into Alberta’s Hair Salon and into City Market standing tall and straight, listening to the tango in my head.
If she had seen me, she would have smiled – and asked me to dance.
link to this story
May 26, 2015
Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The last week of May, 2015
And the third week of “unsettled weather” – the weather bureau’s forecast code for “go look outside and see what’s happening now – that’s it.”
Sorry for the delay in posting something new – it’s not that I haven’t been thinking, but the gestation process for this piece lasted longer than I anticipated.
And stirred my brain more than I imagined it would.
THE GRADUATE – NOW WHAT?
It’s the last week of high school in your senior year.
Remember to return all library books, clean out your gym locker, remove all your unfinished art and shop projects, pay all your odds and ends of fees, and pick up your yearbook and your graduation gown.
High school is over – you won’t be back next fall.
(All that was in an anxiety dream I had last night – and I wasn’t going to graduate because I had not taken care of business. I woke in a panic.)
Why is high school on my mind?
Probably because I have a date next week with a 17 year-old high school senior who will be a graduate by the time we go out to dinner.
She’s the Valedictorian of the Class of 2015 of Grand County High School, in Moab, Utah.
The Mighty Miss Robin Willscheidt-Johnson.
A high school superstar - an extraordinarily smart and accomplished young woman – on her way to Stanford University.
I’ve known her since she was a gangly little kid.
And now I have the honor of taking her out to dinner.
And I’m intimidated.
For one thing, Robin is certainly smarter than I am or ever was.
She has the IQ, the grades and scores to prove it.
She can probably even multiply and divide fractions.
For another thing, she was chosen from thousands of applicants to enter Stanford on a scholarship.
The only way I could have gotten into Stanford was to get a job on the maintenance crew.
I don’t want to be one of those well-meaning adults who are inclined to offer well-meaning advice to 17 year olds on their way to college.
So I won’t.
But I do have an observation to share with her and a question to ask.
First, some background:
For twenty years I taught at an elite high school in Seattle – and was both the senior class advisor and the chairman of the graduation ceremonies.
Graduation Week put me in close touch with young men and women as they were launched out the door of high school into the next part of their lives – almost all were going to college – and it also gave me a special connection later in their lives as they returned to say hello or came back for class reunions.
Now, the observation:
It was passed on to me by a former student after his first year in college.
I asked what he knew now that he didn’t know a year ago.
“The title of a course and the course description are not the same as
the experience in the classroom.”
He went on to explain that in the summer before college he had chosen his courses and his major on the basis of what appeared in the course catalog. He now knew that what he should have done is to find out from other students what the most stimulating courses were and who the most provocative professors were. “A major is an idea, not a life,” he said.
Years later I asked him how his plan had worked out, and he said that
it passed the reality test. He took all kinds of courses – was powerfully
influenced by professors who had a passion for engaging students in the process of learning about all sorts of things. He was going to major in English Literature, but ended up with a second major in Bio-chemistry, which lead to his very satisfying career as a writer/journalist in the world of Science – “A life-long learning experience,” he said.
At that point I explained that he had lived out an admonition by the Polish-American philosopher, Alfred Korzybski, known as the originator of general semantics. In 1931, Korzybski had stated in a paper given in an international conference that “The map is not the territory.”
He meant that all abstract models of reality are not to be confused with the reality they represent. It’s a fallacious understanding. A road map, for example, may be a useful tool, but it does not include the weather, construction zones, or traffic.
Not to understand this is to invite disappointment and confusion.
What applies to college course choices, applies after college.
The job description is not the work you will do day after day.
The profile on the web date site is not the person you will go out with.
Marriage is not a consumer product – it’s the relationship you live.
The tourist guide book is not the trip you will take.
The real estate ad for a house is not the house you will live in.
The menu is not the meal.
The name of your disease is not the pain in your gut.
And the religious metaphors you use to explain your place in the world is not the universe in which you actually exist.
Not to understand this is to invite disappointment and confusion – as long as you live.
I could go on, but you get the drift.
In sum, one might simply say, whenever you can, get as real as you can.
Will I offer this line of thinking to Miss Robin Wilschedite-Johnson when we have dinner next week.
She doesn’t need my advice – I probably could use hers, actually.
I’ll be more inclined to ask her my favorite question for someone far
younger than I:
“Tell me what’s going on in your mind at this pivotal point in your life – tell me what you know that I might not know.”
And she will do that.
And it is I who will be surprised and pleased and enlightened.
After dinner, we’ll go to the Grand County Rodeo.
That’s in my comfort zone.
I know a lot about rodeos.
link to this story
May 11, 2015
Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The Middle of May, 2015
Storms have come and gone, leaving behind clear skies, warm days,
cool nights – and the greenest landscape I can ever remember in May.
“I’m sick and tired of this and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
That’s the opening line to a common drama when the eggplant has hit the fan, and the resulting rant gets unloaded.
Seldom do I get up on a soapbox or pound the table, but I’m sick and tired of something and I’m not going to take it anymore.
Here comes the rant:
Never, ever in my life have I been given flowers on Father’s Day. Never.
Think about it. Mother’s Day equals flowers.
Father’s Day equals what? Mostly useless tokens of official affection.
Why not flowers? Why not?
I like flowers. I give flowers to other people all the time. I love to arrange flowers – to plant them in my yard and place them on my table.
There are a lot of men like me – maybe your Dad, too?
Pass the word – fathers deserve flowers - on Father’s Day.
Not on their casket when they die, dammit, but while they’re still alive.
And, head’s up, Father’s Day is June 21 – there’s a month to think about this and make an action plan.
Just do it!
The magazine, Popular Science, has just published an edition on the theme of “100 Mysteries of Science Explained.”
The title was a little deceptive because most of the mysteries are not, in fact, explained. Black holes, dark matter, dark energy,
where the Mayas went and the purpose of Stonehenge, etc, etc.
I bought the magazine – I like mysteries.
So mystery has been on my mind for several days.
As I walked through downtown Moab on Saturday I encountered more local, down-to-earth, and overwhelming evidence of mysteries I’ve often contemplated.
Ones not mentioned in Popular Science.
Several years ago I wrote an essay on the subject.
Here’s an update:
Ask anybody to spell camouflage. Give them three tries.
Watch what they do with their eyes and hands while they struggle.
Not that you or I could have done any better.
That’s why we just settle for camo - as I will as this essay continues.
Notice the foot traffic in your neighborhood.
Camo is fashionable.
Cargo shorts, baseball caps, T-shirts, and backpacks are most notable.
In Moab, where people come to get out into the wild country,
camo is the overwhelming choice of costume – for all ages.
Ask anyone wearing camo why they choose to wear it.
Watch what they do with their eyes and hands while they struggle.
Despite what they say, mostly they are uncertain.
They don’t really know.
In nature camouflage is a universal way of avoiding being seen and/or eaten.
It’s a method of crypsis or disambiguation - an anti-predator adaption.
In the late 18th century European military experts discovered camo.
Armies noticed that when soldiers were wearing bright red white and blue uniforms, with shiny brass accessories and ostrich plumes waving from a high hat made out of bearskin - they could be seen - and shot en masse.
Less visible would be better.
Camo became standard for military purposes.
Now the notion has evolved through stages to an absurd conclusion. Consider the photographs you’ve seen of an American infantryman in full combat gear on patrol in Afghanistan.
What’s this? A space invader just dropped in from Venus?
Can you see him? How can you not?
On the other hand, consider his enemy - bearded Taliban fighters in baggy shirts and pants, wearing sandals and a felt hat. Can you pick one out of a crowd? No, they look like everybody else. Afghani camouflage.
In Utah, where I live in the fall, hunters wear camo so that deer and turkeys, can’t see them. But I’ve hit deer and turkeys on the highway while going 50 miles an hour in my red car with my horn blowing. Who needs camo?
I could see the deer – they were wearing camo.
Surely they could see me.
In contemporary urban social fashion, camo has become an enantiodrome.
A word that refers to the opposite of its standard meaning.
One wears camo so that one will be seen and noticed.
Why? Is it because camo identifies one with hunting or warfare - an image involving death and violence?
Is it because camo is the uniform of those who are dangerous and combat-ready? Do the young wear it as a way to annoy and confuse the old? Is it short-hand for macho? And what are women telling me when they wear camo?
I have questions, but not good answers – mysterious.
And when I ask the camo wearers, their replies are pretty vague.
One thing they often say: It’s just . . . well . . . cool.
Camo is ubiquitous. Besides cargo pants, one can buy boxer shorts, bras and panties and thongs, bathing suits, night gowns, sheets and blankets, wall paper, table linen, and full baby gear - diaper covers, booties, caps, pajamas, and baby bottles. That’s just a small part of the list - check an on-line source to be surprised and amazed.
And . . . get this: camo comes in pink - for girls!
Contemporary camo is meant to send at least this message:
Look at me! Notice me!
Hold that thought.
While I tell you about leopards and snakes and alligators.
A leopard is a meat-eating feline predator, weighing up to 200 pounds. It can run 35 miles an hour, hunts mostly at night, and is known for its stealth and opportunistic hunting. It has a massive skull and powerful jaw muscles. The leopard silently stalks its prey, pounces and strangles it with a bite to the throat. The leopard, a skilled climber, carries the prey up into a tree and eats it. This cat is capable of carrying and eating an animal three times its own weight. Its usual diet consists of antelope and monkeys, but it will eat just about anything - dung beetles, rodents, snakes, birds, fish.
A leopard will attack and kill its own species, including its young.
With those facts in mind, look around.
Notice any leopard skin?
Thumb through the women’s fashion magazines.
Leopard skin has been worn for a long time, but this year it’s hot stuff once again.
Recently, I walked through the women’s shoe department of Nordstrom’s department store in Salt Lake City.
Leopard skin is truly back in fashion.
Especially as part of black leather high heels with buckles and studs and steel toes.
The shoes resemble attire associated with sado-masochism and bondage.
(Should children be allowed to see this stuff - what if they ask about it? How will you explain why Mommy would really like a pair of these shoes?)
Almost as ubiquitous are clothes and underwear and shoes with patterns imitating the skins of snakes and reptiles - cobras, pythons, and alligators – and leopard skin, of course.
Most of us are scared to death of snakes and alligators.
For good reason.
But there it is - handbags with matching shoes - cowboy boots – belts, and scarves..
The reptile thing is another example of an enantiodrome.
Look at me!
Ask any woman wearing leopard skin why they chose to wear it.
Ask: What’s the message you want to convey?
How shall I think of you?
Watch what they do with their eyes and hands while they struggle.
The most common response is that leopard skin is sexy . . .
(Go back and read the description of a leopard and its lifestyle.)
Now, lest you think I’m driving toward some smirky conclusions about the idiocy of the other members of the race, I shall confess.
Last year I ordered a camouflage bathrobe from Cabella’s, the outdoor store. In the bushy tree design.
A jumbled pattern of brown bark, green leaves, grey and black shadows.
Not only did it bear the stains of coffee and breakfast but it hid the ashes and burn marks of the fallout from my pipe.
“Nobody will notice,” I thought.
“And . . . it will look cool.”
My wife didn’t think so.
I knew she was thinking that she didn’t know where I was most of
the time, and the camo robe only made things worse.
So I gave it to a visiting friend.
I haven’t seen him since. . .
I already own a camo ghille suit - a net outfit with leaves and bushes sewn on - covers one’s whole body - head and hands and feet. I bought it for Halloween, but if I wear it out in the yard and lie down under a tree and take a nap nobody will know where I am.
But it’s no good wearing it in the house – it sheds.
My wife owns . . . let’s just say several items of leopard skin print lingerie. When she wears it she rings my gong. And if she wants to bite me on the neck and drag me upstairs . . . well . . . never mind.
It’s . . . just sexy . . . maybe even a little . . . slutty . . .
So? That’s the idea.
And I don’t care.
Even if I can’t explain it, I get the message, and I’m with the program.
Still, I do wonder.
Why, in our sophisticated, educated, evolved state - here in the beginning of the 21st century - with cell phones and e-mail and energy drinks - why do we wear primitive clothing - camo, leopard skin, and reptile hides?
What are we trying to tell each other? What’s the message?
Do we know what this is about, or is it one more example of the fact that we still don’t know entirely who we are or what the hell we’re doing?
I noticed several young women in Moab who had put the whole package together: Camo baseball hat, leopard-skin patterned
blouse, with leopard-skin patterned underwear peeking out here and there, camo, cargo pants, and gold flip flops that exposed very decorative toe nails.
I wanted to shout: I see you, I believe you are dangerous and sexy. You’re driving me crazy!” But I didn’t.
I met a lady friend I know, and unloaded my thoughts on her.
“My husband is wearing leopard skin boxer shorts,” she said.
“What do you make of that?”
And I thought – maybe I should get a pair . . .”
The mystery is unending – might as well join it.
You have what’s been tumbling around in my head this week, while reading about cosmic mysteries.
Well, at least you know how to spell camouflage now and know a few new polysyllabic words with which to impress your friends and family.
So. What are you thinking? Do you have an answer?
Why do we - maybe even you - wear camo, leopard skin, and reptile hides?
If I watched what you do with your eyes and hands while you struggle with an answer, would I laugh?
link to this story
May 07, 2015
Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
Early May, 2015
Five days of stormy weather – and more to come.
MY SON IS A MOTHER.
That’s the first sentence in an essay I wrote many years ago - when my second son,
Hunter, had his first child, Sarah, who was one year old at the time.
The full essay was first published in my second book, IT WAS ON FIRE WHEN I LAY DOWN ON IT.
Now that son is a grandmother – his first grandchild, Lucy Belle, is one year old.
As another Mother’s Day approaches, I thought I’d look back and review what I
said to him, and see if my thoughts from back then still apply or need updating.
I called him a “Mother” in that he reflected the spirit of New Parenthood.
Equal rights and equal responsibility.
He did all the things that, once upon a time, mostly mothers did.
He fed, cleaned and dressed, nurtured, accepted, approved, encouraged, protected, comforted, and dearly loved the little girl in his arms and heart.
I admired him for taking his place in the life of his child.
He was good at being a Mother.
Here’s the list of observational advice I gave Hunter, with revisions – they apply to grand-motherhood as well:
1. Children are not pets.
2. The life they actually live and the life you perceive them to be living is not the same life.
3. Don’t take what your children do and say too personally.
4. Don’t keep scorecards on them – a short memory is useful.
5. Dirt and mess are a breeding ground for well-being.
6. Stay out of their rooms after puberty.
7. Stay out of their friendships and love-life unless invited in.
8. Don’t worry that they never seem to listen to what you say – worry that they are always watching what you do.
9. Learn from them, they have much to teach you.
10. Love them long – let them go early.
Finally, a footnote:
You will never really know for sure what kind of parent you were or if you did it right or wrong. Never.
And you will worry about this and them as long as you live.
But when your children have children, and you watch them do what they do,
you will have part of an answer.
My son is a fine mother and grandmother – I’m still proud of him – his kids are
an admirable answer to what kind of parent he was and is.
As I write this, Mother’s Day is three days away.
I should send my son, the mother and grandmother, a card and flowers.
But he’s in London on business as I write.
So I’ll just send him this . . .
link to this story
May 03, 2015
Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
First week of May, 2015 – full moon tonight.
Jupiter is the evening star
Weatherman calls for a week of thunderstorms and lightning – Yes!
THE SINGER REMEMBERS
A man I know well has a head-event that occurs every May.
Not a dream while asleep, or day-dream, or hallucination.
Call it a burst of a stream of consciousness - brought on by the smell of freshly mown grass.
It’s happened so regularly that the phantasy has become a special kind of reality.
The memory of something that never really happened.
He becomes nostalgic for what he never experienced - except over in the fair land of Could-Have-Been.
Here’s the story:
When he went off to college, the first official event he attended was the Freshman Convocation in the school auditorium – the first week of September.
It was a small, mid-western, liberal Arts institution – 500 in the Freshman Class.
He walked to the meeting across campus with strangers – across the newly mown green grass in the fading light of a lovely end-of-summer day.
He sat with his fellow newbies – facing a stage, where sat the school dignitaries -
the President, the College Dean, and another guy-in-a-tie.
The President gave a short blah-blah-blah welcoming speech.
So did the Dean of Students.
Then the other guy-in-the-tie got up and introduced himself.
Turns out he was the Director of the music program at the college.
“It’s the President’s 65th birthday,” he declared, “And I ask you to join me in singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him.”
We did that – with cautious but good-willed enthusiasm.
While we sang, an assortment of other students ambled onto the stage, and sat down on some bleacher-like risers behind the dignitaries.
They seemed like us – they wore the college don’t-give-a-rat’s-ass look –
flip-flops or running shoes, jeans, T-shirts, and baseball caps on backwards.
Back packs, water bottles, and blasé expressions that said “whatever.”
The Dean of Music thanked us for singing a tribute to the President.
He asked how many of us thought of ourselves as singers.
A very few hands went up.
Then he asked how many of us thought we were not singers?
Laughter – most hands.
“That’s odd,” he said. “You just sang. I didn’t see anybody not singing.” Embarrassed silence.
He then asked how many of us could read music.
A few hands.
“Wonderful!” he said. “Ignorance contains opportunity.”
He then said he would like to introduce the College Choir, and turned to point at the slovenly bunch of students sitting onstage.
“Three, four, five six,” he chanted.
The students stood up, tossed their baseball caps out onto the stage, opened their back packs, pulled out green gowns trimmed in gold, put them on, and mounted the risers in orderly rows to stand at attention in sections, transformed into what now appeared to be serious young men and women.
“Three, four, five, six,” the Dean chanted, gave the down beat, and the College Chorus launched into a driving rendition of what apparently was the our fight song - a summary version of “Kick ‘Em In the Butt” - ending in a shout of “Fight! Fight! Fight! Forever Fight!”
And that segued into the most beautiful version of “America, the Beautiful,” one could hope for – in wondrous harmony.
Our College Choir!
And then silence.
The odd thing about the assembled choir was the gaps in their ranks.
They weren’t bunched in tight like a choir should be.
The bass section was thin – with only a few men, and there were conspicuous spaces in their ranks.
Not many sopranos, either.
The Dean shouted at them, “Are you all singers?”
And they proudly shouted back, shaking triumphant fists – “YES!”
Then he turned to us, walked to the edge of the stage, and spoke as if he was talking to each one of us individually.
He said that the gaps in the ranks were those left by the seniors, who were actually present - in the wings waiting to join the choir for a final number.
He explained: “But when the seniors graduate, their places will be filled by students like those sitting in this room. You, for example.”
He said that this was a volunteer choir.
He said that if we could stand up, talk, had a brain, and functional ears, we
could learn to sing, learn to read the language of music, and learn what a joy it was to perform.
He pointed at the students in back of him and those in front of him and said,
“All of them once sat where you sit now.”
Then he asked, “You did come to college to learn, right?”
Heads nodded Yes.
“Well I came to college to teach. And we can work together.”
He beckoned to the senior choir members off stage, and they quickly filled in the ranks to complete the robed choir.
He asked the choir, “How many of you had ever sung in a choir before you came to this college?”
“How many of you could read music before you sang in the college choir?”
“So, then . . .” he said, turning back to us, “There you have it.”
“Any one of you who wants to learn to sing and read music, who will be faithful
to rehearsals and performance obligations, I promise you one of the great learning experiences of your life.
You will not get course credit.
But you will be a credit to yourself and this college as long as you live.”
And so, it came to pass that the man I know signed up.
He learned the language of music and helped fill out the bass section of the choir.
He never looked back – he was in the College Chorus for four years.
And he was one of those graduating seniors standing backstage in the fall of his senior year, waiting impatiently to go onstage and sing his lungs out to show the freshman class what could happen if they chose to learn something that was not in a required course.
It’s simple - A singer is one who sings.
And he had become a singer.
Another part of the May nostalgia of the man I know well is the final performance of the College Choir at graduation.
Now he was one of those in the black gowns of seniors standing onstage among those in green and gold – those who would remain behind and keep the tradition of the College Chorus alive.
They had walked together across campus one last time – across the freshly mown green grass of spring.
He remembered feeling relieved, “It’s almost over” he said to himself.
And then he thought, as he filed onstage with the choir -.
“This is almost over – this moment will never come again.”
Tears overflowed his eyes.
So, now, all these long years later, whenever he smells and walks across newly-mown grass, those memories come flooding back.
From the time he was a callow youth without a clue to the time when he stood onstage and sang as a full-fledged member of the College Choir.
The Dean of Music knew what had happened and where things were now.
“Come back to reunions and sing with us – you’ll always be part of the choir.”
* * *
The man I know well did not do that.
Every year in May he wants to return, but he cannot.
Because the story you’ve just read is not true.
It could have happened, should have, but did not.
It only happened somewhere in his heart and imagination.
The truth is that he worked full time while he raced through college like it
was only a job – and he lived at home, not in the college community.
He got the badge he needed – a B.A. – but he doesn’t remember much of what he supposedly learned.
He never even memorized the Fight Song, and did not go to graduation.
College was an endurance test - and he endured, that’s about all.
College was not real – life would be.
Little did he know how much he missed . . .
He never learned to sing or read music – only to fake it at sing-a-longs.
All he had to look forward to was “Happy Birthday.
The irony is that, many years later, he was onstage at his college to be honored as a Distinguished Alumni – sitting in a tuxedo with the dignitaries.
He felt bogus – if they only knew what a loser he really was as an undergraduate . . .
The College Choir performed at the awards event.
Their performance was real and true.
And nobody knew that the man I know would have given anything to be an
undistinguished member of that choir, standing in a green-and-gold gown
in the back row, singing bass and reading music with confidence.
I, of course, am that man.
link to this story
And if you happen to be walking with me across a lawn of fresh mown grass
and you wonder why I have gone silent . . .
It’s because I am remembering being the singer I never was, and wishing with all my heart that I could be at the reunion that never happens.