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?