A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Kazoo Man

          When my family lived in San Diego in the early 1960's, each summer we'd go to the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar.  We always got free admission because either our family was performing our juggling act on one of the entertainment stages or my sister was performing with her dance school.  Either way it meant at least one full day at the fair.

           This was a great fair with plenty of entertainment, a plethora of exhibits, savory food, and a noisy fun carnival midway.  It's proximity to the ocean shore made for comforting breezes and the weather in San Diego was usually delightful anyway.  Fair time was a great time for all, but an especially exciting time for any kid.

          Now over fifty years removed from those days, I don't remember too many specifics about the San Diego Fair, but there is one memory that particularly stands out for me--the kazoo pitchman.  I don't remember ever seeing such a pitchman at any other fair before or since, but my search on the internet revealed that the kazoo pitchman was not uncommon to find at fairs and circuses even decades before I saw the one at this fair.  I've seen plenty of sales people hawking kitchen knives, home gadgets, and novel toys at fairs but for me the kazoo pitchman was something completely different.

          Like any pitchman, the Kazoo Man at the San Diego Fair was a slick talker.  But he did more than give a smooth spiel--he was an entertainer.  He put on a good show and the crowds loved it.  Rather than given a booth in an exhibit hall or some corner on the fairgrounds, the Kazoo Man had his own stage at the heart of the fairgrounds.  Everybody had to pass this spot at some point of the day and when one of the Kazoo Man's presentations began to get underway, people stopped and began to crowd around the small stage.

          Recorded music began to play to alert the passing throng that something was about to happen.  People gathered in anticipation.  Then the Kazoo Man stepped on stage to begin his show.  He was a slight looking fellow with an expansive presence that drew everyone in.  A fast talker, he was funny, he was fascinating.   He explained the quirky little device that he never called a "kazoo", but gave a far more interesting name that I don't remember.  Whatever he called the thing, the crowd wanted to know more.  The Kazoo Man gave them more.

         The Kazoo Man made funny noises with the instrument and then he began to play music.  Beautiful wonderful music.   He imitated all sorts of musical instruments with this tiny thing.  One could almost imagine that he was actually playing a violin as he went through the gestures of drawing his invisible bow across unseen strings.  I had to look closely to see that what I heard happening was only a ruse of pantomime.  The sound was all coming from this silvery little thing in the guy's mouth.

         The more the guy spoke his entertaining patter and played his enchanting music, the more the crowd was allured by whatever this guy was pitching.  And then the closer came to the sales pitch.  We too could have this fabulous little instrument that absolutely anyone could play with no training and no extraordinary skill.  For seventy five cents we could have one of these devices or we could have two for a dollar.

           The crowd pressed in with dollars in hand.  The Kazoo Man grabbed dollar bills and dispensed his wares with skilled efficiency.  I convinced my father to let me get a couple of the instruments and I had no problem getting a dollar from him.  He had been equally taken in by the pitch and had no qualms about his son being able to have one of these amazing things.

           When I had my little devices in hand, I gazed upon them with great curiosity.  They were metallic silver round things that looked not unlike the UFO's I'd seen in the science fiction movies I liked to watch.  The instruments looked futuristic and mysterious.  Almost immediately I recognized that they were merely fancy kazoos that functioned in the same way a piece of wax paper wrapped around a comb did.   I had made those comb kazoos myself and understood the principle of how they worked.  You'd hum through it and make weird sounding vibrating music.  But these were special. The Kazoo Man's kazoos were the equivalent of a professional kazoo if there were such a thing.

          I don't know how long I had those kazoos.   I never was able to get quite the same sounds that I had heard the Kazoo Man perform during his sales pitch.   No doubt that I had fun with my kazoos, but there was also some element of disappointment for me.   However, that show put on by the Kazoo Man was the best part.  I'm not sure how many years he was at the fair, but whenever I was there and saw him giving his show I would stop to watch, mesmerized by everything he said and did.   All of us who bought his products were not buying kazoos as much as we were paying for his entertaining performance.  It was something to remember.

Here's a bit of amusing entertainment from a professional kazoo quartet:

        Have you watched pitch artists at events or on television?   What items have you bought from a pitchman?    Were you satisfied with your purchase?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

When the Music Comes Back to Me (Soundtrack of My Life)

        How many songs do we hear in our lifetimes?   Thousands?  Millions?   Each of us probably hears at least one new song per day if we are out and about or listening to some kind of media.  Often we might not even notice, but the songs are there.

         In this post I offer another in my Soundtrack of My Life series.    Robin at Your Daily Dose has been doing the Soundtrack of my Life posts on her blog for a while now.   I had done a few of my own "life soundtracks" on my Tossing It Out blog as well as the song series (starting at this post) I did for my 2014 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge on Wrote By Rote. Be sure to visit and follow Your Daily Dose for more Life Soundtrack info. If you like you can listen to this version of "Lover, Come Back to Me" while you read the post.

Evocative Music That Haunts Us

         Of all the many songs we hear in our lifetime, some we like, some we don't, and some are basically background noise like an unnoticed soundtrack of a film.   The music is always there even if only in our heads or some faraway place in memory.  Why are humans so drawn to music?  Or more specifically, why do certain songs tap into some distant hidden place within us?

         Even for those who may claim they don't like music, don't pay attention to it, or willingly resist it--what would the world be like without music.   Think, if you will, of a movie without a musical score or television commercials with no trace of music.  Okay, some do exist, but not many.  Think further of a club or a party with absolutely no music--that might be your preference some times, but most people might find this a bit awkward.  Music is a soundtrack to many things.  Even armies march to music.

          Music can affect us in the moment or take us back into our pasts.   Therein lies what is for me a mystery.  Why do certain songs affect us deeply?  Sometimes the melodies haunt us like ghosts, while sometimes they softly brush past us like a soft kiss of a loved one from another time and place.  A sweetness of sound.   A stirring that is as vital as the sound of our own breathing and our hearts beating.   There are times when a song comes back to me and reminds me of something specific or some vague thing that I can't quite recall.

          Recently when I saw the the film Deep in My Heart, I heard a song that I hadn't heard in many years.  "Lover, Come Back to Me" is a tune that I've heard since childhood.   It's a song that has been recorded by many artists.   The melody is the kind that seems melancholy and poignant even though many of the recordings are done in an uptempo jazzy style.   Even with that happier sound, this melody makes me reminiscent and perhaps a tad sentimental.   To me it's just that kind of a melody.   Maybe it is attached to some specific childhood memory or perhaps it merely evokes some undefinable wistfulness that is attached to a time, a place, or even a person.   Or maybe it is just one of those kinds of songs that causes a gentle swell of passing emotion.  There are songs like that for me.

         I wonder if others feel the same way about certain types of melodies.  There is probably no universal melody that moves all of us in the same way.  Undoubtedly some of the feelings brought about by music are generational, cultural, or based on personal experiences.  What works for me might not work for many people or maybe no one else.  Still these types of evocative melodies and songs are part of my life soundtrack.

          If my life were a movie, I'm sure "Lover, Come Back to Me" could work well in a scene or two.   To me it's a beautiful song and I can't explain exactly why.

           What songs move you deeply?    Do you prefer slow songs or faster songs?   Why do you think our memories are stirred by certain songs?

           If you haven't voted on my most recent Battle of the Bands post I hope you will by visiting Tossing It Out.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Marvin's Records

Vinyl record collection at student-run CKMS st...
Vinyl record collection at student-run CKMS station at the University of Waterloo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        From the title of this post one might expect a story about a store called "Marvin's Records."   My dear friend since high school, Marvin, would love to have owned a record store.  He used to talk about it a lot when we were younger and had more time to dream.  His dream even captivated me.  A record store seemed like a great business to run--selling our favorite things while listening to music all day.  What a dream job that would have been!

         As things turned out, neither one of us ever opened a record store or even worked in one.  I went my way which kept me touring with a stage show for years and then later managing a costume supply company.  Marvin worked a series of jobs mostly in manufacturing industries.  He stayed in Tennessee while my destiny landed me in Los Angeles.  We both married and started families and bought houses to settle down in lives a couple thousand miles from each other--literally worlds apart.  But there was one common bond that remained between us--a love for music.

        In high school, as our friendship developed starting in senior math class where we sat next to each other at the back of the classroom, we began to share our common interest in popular music.  We had both begun collecting records, modestly due to financial constraints, and we'd talk about the music we owned and that which we hoped someday to own.

         As the years went by we both started amassing fair sized collections.   There were some albums that were so essential that we both owned copies.  Then there were the many albums found in cut-out bins or purchased according our individual tastes.  The ones that he had that I didn't--and vice versa--we each took a keen interest in.  Still there are albums of his that I remember listening to that I'd like to hear again but they are difficult to find even on YouTube or Amazon.  Mostly those were the cut-out albums.  I had a good collection of vinyl and Marvin had an equally good collection.  We both took good care of our albums.

          Now I've sold most of my collection and kept my absolute favorites which amounts to maybe 100 to 200 albums.  Trying to downsize you know.  The other day when I was talking to Marvin on the phone, I asked about his record collection.  He said he still had all of his old albums, but, like me, didn't listen to them other than on very rare occasions.   Marvin thought he might decide to start selling them on EBay, but wasn't sure. I know the feeling.  It was hard for me to part with so much of my vinyl.  I still think about some of those albums that got sold.  And I think of Marvin's record collection.  So many hours spent with great music listening.

          If there really were a store called Marvin's Records and my friend Marvin owned it, he could just put his old collection in inventory.  Sure, so much music can be downloaded on a computer or other gadgets that the technology of media storage is evolving to the point where maybe someday there won't be stores that sell recorded music.   However the upside is that vinyl has seen a resurgence and record stores have been opening in many places.  Vinyl still has a lot of fans.

           Maybe there is still hope for Marvin's Records.   Ah, what a great job just listening to music all day while you do the work you do in a record store.   It could happen you know.

            Is there a certain type of store that you've long dreamed of opening?   Have you ever or do you now own a store of any kind?     Do you have a collection of something that you might like to turn into cash?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Just Say No--or Not...

English: Decisions, decisions. The road on the...
 Decisions, decisions. The road on the left is the "Glen Road" running down towards Loch Avich.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        Some of my biggest lost opportunities came from me saying "no".   I've had some interesting offers in my life--a few that could have resulted in extraordinary outcomes, but not having taken advantage of those opportunities I will never know how they might have turned out.  Of course, my life having taken the course it has I'm in the place I was meant to be, therefore I harbor no regrets on what I've missed.   One thing I have gained a greater awareness of is that when opportunity knocks, I need to pay close attention to what my acceptance can lead to if I answer the call.

        No regrets is the mantra I live by.  After all, what's the point?   What could have been is apparently not what should have been and I have my present life to attest to that.   If I had not declined certain offers or stubbornly resisted others, I would undoubtedly be in a far different place than I am now.   That place might have been a good place--perhaps a better place than I am at this point in my life--or my place in life might not have gone so well.  Maybe I wouldn't even be here today.

         The word "no" can have great power.  Not only does rejecting an offer close a door to an opportunity, but this action can kill a friendship or prevent a new relationship from flourishing.  Those relationships might have amounted to great benefits or they might have been future difficulties averted by that little word "no".

         A tiny negative word such as "no" can be much bigger than one might think. Saying it is diverting ones course in life to the extent that we head into a very different direction that we might have hoped for ourselves or where others might have wanted us to go.    Sometimes we can go back to reconsider our choice.  Second chances can happen, but more often than not they don't.  Instead, we get different chances and new opportunities to set a course by saying "yes".

         I can't go back in my life to change my course and I'll never really know what might have happened if I had accepted some of the opportunities that came my way at the times they presented themselves.   Even if some of those opportunities came to me now at this stage of my life the outcome would not be the same as it might have been the first time they were offered to me.   The past is a haze of what could have been if I had not said "no".   My present is the result of my acceptance or rejection of my past decisions--or in some cases my indecisiveness.

          The future?   None of us can say for sure.  Hopefully any wisdom gained or lessons learned from  having said no, having said yes, or having delayed an answer until it was too late will guide us in coming up with the right responses to the next time we are given a chance to do something.  Life is short when we are at the point of retrospection.   As I head forward, the one thing I never want to say "no" to is life itself.

           Is there an offer in your past that you sometimes wish you would have said "yes" to?     Do you have a difficult time saying "no" even when doing so would be better for you?    What opportunity would you like for someone to offer you?

Saturday, May 28, 2016

My Turning Point and Best Promotional Advice

  Have you ever considered why you are where you are today?

English: Cactus at Big Bend National Park in T...
Cactus at Big Bend National Park in Texas
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        A recent post at L.Diane Wolfe's blog Spunk on a Stick asked the following:

                         1 - What was your own personal turning point?

                         2 - What’s your best book promotion advice?

       At Diane's site there were so many good answers and stories from these questions with valuable advice to share. I'd encourage you to visit the post if you didn't see it and read through the answers in the post and in the comments. The post inspired me to the point that I decided to answer these questions to use on my own blog post. 

        The context of the questions originally asked in Diane's post were more in relation to writing and publishing, but they can certainly apply to any of us and with anything we have done in our lives.  I have not published anything yet, but I have lived life and done things.   Maybe my answers are something that you the reader can relate to or maybe they will inspire you to even write your own blog post on the subject.

My Turning Point

       Life is so full of twists and turning points that it can be difficult to pick one specific place on my personal timeline and say, "This is the decisive event that changed me in some significant way."    There are numerous milestones in my life journey that caused me to stop to consider which way to go next.  These would certainly include my educational experiences, jobs that I worked, and people whom I met along my way.  Had any one of those moments not happened it would probably have resulted in significant change in all aspects of my life which makes every milestone important in it's own way.

       But let's just examine one major point that inspired me to look at my future in a different way.  Since I had grown up with a love for travel and a desire to work in the entertainment field, these were like magnets drawing my focus to a pin point rather than a meandering attitude of "What am I going to do with my life?"

         The unlikely lodestar which stirred my imagination was Big Bend National Park.  In 1974 after nearly five years of attending college and working to pay my way through that education, I read an article in my hometown newspaper about this remote park in Texas and became very intrigued.  Soon after reading this article, in an ironic convergence of events, a long-time show biz friend of my parents was passing through town and spent a few days with us while he played some school shows in the area.

         This fellow was an 8 millimeter film buff and had many films of the places he'd been in his touring life.  At that time I had been also playing around with film and since he was showing films related to my two great dreams of travel and show business I joined the older folks in the living room watching as the film images were projected on the wall as the man described what we were watching and the lifestyle he had lived.  Most of the films he showed that evening had been shot in West Texas and included footage shot in Big Bend.   Now I was hooked--I had to go there.

          After that everything happened quickly as I look back on it all.  I convinced my best friend to drive his van to Big Bend during his July vacation from work.  The adventure was like throwing gasoline on a fire. Within a year's time, we drove down to Big Bend twice. The following summer I was offered a job with a touring magic show--an opportunity that I pounced on without giving the idea much thought.

          For the next sixteen years I worked as a manager of a touring production and then another eighteen as a manager of a branch of the costume company that owned the show I had managed.  My dreams of travel and show business were essentially fulfilled for a lifetime of interesting adventure and meeting many fascinating people.

           And to think it all started because I wanted to go to Big Bend National Park and went there.

My Best Promotional Advice

        In my blog posts--primarily ones to be found at my other blog Tossing It Out--I've often referred to promotion and marketing.  My philosophy is that everything we do in life is some form of marketing and promotion, if not for some product  or service, we do it for ourselves.   My best advice is to believe in what we want and what we are trying to "sell" (whether it be ourselves or a product or service) and then go for it.  Determination, research, and the right attitude can get us just about anywhere we want to go in life.   However, it's also important to know when to quit or to be willing to change when what we are doing is not working.  Persistence can take us far, but we should never mistake stubbornness for persistence.

Final Thought

       There's always so much inspiration for blog posts to be found everywhere that I don't know how anyone can run out of ideas for posts.  I might run out of time often, but I never run out of ideas, even if it's variations on ideas I've already used.  Other peoples blog posts can be a great jumping off point for your own post on the same or a related topic.  When you leave a substantive comment on someone else's blog post, consider turning that comment into a blog post on your own site and then link back to the post that got you going.

       My post and the one at Spunk on a Stick was inspired by The Thing That Turned Me anthology from Stay Classy Publications which is set to release on June 30.    In this upcoming release, a diverse group of authors, bloggers, speakers and editors has come together to bring you a unique collection of writings:  The Thing that Turned Me,  an anthology revolving around the people, places and things in our lives that ‘turn’ us, or cause us to change in some way.

        Have you ever written a blog post that was inspired by someone else's post? Have you ever thought about turning points in your own life? Is there anything that you are currently trying to promote?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Vivando (Soundtrack of my Life--kind of)

       It's party day at my house today.  The wife of one of my nephews just graduated from her master's degree program and my wife's family will be gathering for another carne asada cook-out.  The illustrious scholar's mother has even come all the way from China to be a part of this week's festivities.  It will be an international gathering of sorts with conversations in English, Spanish, and some form of Chinese--I'm not sure exactly which dialect.

       This will the second party in the past two weeks.  Last Saturday we gathered at my brother-in-law's house to celebrate his (and my wife's) father's 92nd birthday.  Papa loves his parties and we have one every year for him.  I'm sure he's already thinking about his next birthday party of May 2017.

        So what I'm saying is that festivities and the preparations for them are keeping me pretty busy of late.   I'll keep this post short and I'll wish you a very happy week-end.  Then, of course, there's the long Memorial Day week-end starting this coming Friday for those of us in the United States.  Right now I've got no specific plans, but I'm sure something is bound to come up.

         Gotta go!  But I'll leave you with a little tune.  I was saving this to use in a Soundtrack of My Life post, but you know something?   This current post is part of my life and this is an apt song to go along with what's going on...

          Do you host many parties at your house?    Is anyone in your family celebrating a graduation of any kind?   Do you have a family member whose birthday is celebrated in big fashion each and every year?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

When the Party Has Ended

An unsheared Christmas tree in New York State ...
An unsheared Christmas tree in New York State circa 1951 displays the natural form of the tree's branches. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

      One year in the mid-80's when my parents were living temporarily in the Detroit area and their house in Tennessee was left empty for much of the time; my wife, daughter, and I stayed in that house during our Christmas break between show tours.  My parents had come in for Christmas and everything was festive for a week or two, but then my father had to return to his job and the house returned to a state of seeming emptiness.   It was that feeling of a houseful of hustle bustle and then all of a sudden everyone is gone and all seems as though the festivities had been a mere illusion.

     We left the Christmas tree up in the living room because we liked the way it looked.  By the middle of January it seemed odd to have the tree up like that, yet it was like a reminder of the fun we'd all had during the holidays.   Since we'd be leaving in mid-February to start rehearsals for the new show, I wanted to somehow cling to that last remnant of being "home" before we embarked on several month of living in motels.  Not that I disliked the road life.  I liked it a lot.  It was just that homey normalcy of being rooted in familiar surroundings that I guess I wanted to hang on to as long as I could.

       This limbo feeling of emotions lingering between the excitement of fun activity and getting back into a routine is something I've frequently experienced in life.  It might be the aftermath of having people over for dinner, a big party, or visitors from out of town spending the week at wherever I was living at the time.   The rush of the festive metamorphosed into the mundane is a bit like day turning into night or coming back to a quiet house after being in a busy environment.   The feeling can be relaxing or even lonely depending on ones state of mind.

         After a party that I've hosted has ended, I'll usually go around the house cleaning up a bit depending on how tired I am.  Maybe I'll leave some music playing, but I might tend to turn down the stereo and play calmer more reflective music--some might even think sad.  Or maybe I'll turn on the television if I'm not ready to go to bed yet.  Still the socializing can be draining.  The seeming emptiness of the house after a houseful of people has departed can be almost a feeling of shock in some ways.  Often it's a feeling of relief.

            Eventually the trash needs to be taken out.   The extra chairs rearranged or put back into storage.  The floors might need vacuuming or swept, but that will usually wait until the next day.  And if the Christmas tree is still up, well maybe it might stay if it makes me feel better to see it.  After all, it's not doing any real harm if it's an artificial tree that's not going to dry up and catch fire or anything.  It might look weird if Christmas is long past.  Then again it might just become part of the room and I won't even notice it except for the times I look at it and remember the good times gone by.      

             Have you ever left up holiday decorations well after the holiday has passed?    Do guests ever help you clean up after a party or a visit?    What is the strangest thing you've ever seen in someone else's house that seemed out of place?