Writer’s Workshop: My Last Concert

As much as I love music, I’m not a real concert kind of guy. I guess I’d rather sit home and listen to the recorded music. I think the last time I saw a concert was in 1992.

That time, I was in Toronto (Mississauga, actually) doing a training class. The Internet at the time consisted of America Online, which cost a fortune for “international” dialup, so spending much time on that was not a good idea. I had been to the mall across the street already, and there really wasn’t much else around, so I was prepared to spend a lot of time in my room watching TV.

I was reading the paper and find a story about Stephane Grappelli, who made musical history in the Thirties when he on violin and Django Reinhardt on guitar formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France with two other guitarists and a string bassist, the first jazz band made up solely of string musicians. A sample, the one I always pull out in situations like this, so those of you who have been following the blog for a while have already seen it.

At the end of the article, it mentioned that Grappelli would be playing the following evening at Massey Hall. I had no idea where Massey Hall was, but I knew I was going.

The next evening, I found Massey Hall, which is a pretty spectacular place in and of itself, and my seat therein, and a little after eight that evening, “Ladies and gentlemen, Stephane Grappelli.”

He walked out slowly, helped by a young man, with his guitarist, Bucky Pizzarelli, and the bass player (whose name is lost in my memory) walking behind him. They sat him down in a chair, he pulled out his violin, and for the next two hours, it was the Hot Club in the Thirties again.

He still had it, sixty years later, as feeble as he might have been. Pizzarelli, while no Django, is a spectacular player himself, and did a solo version of “Nuages,” maybe Django’s best-known song. His last song was “Limehouse Blues,” and when he finished the young man who had walked him onto the stage carried him off as the crowd went wild. Of course, there was an encore, and when the group got resituated on the stage, Grappelli said “Thank you.” Someone in the audience gave the obligatory, “No, thank you.”

I left, knowing that I had seen and heard a piece of music history. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been to another concert.

Writer’s Workshop: It’s Fixed!

I scrambled for the thesaurus this week when I was asked to come up with a post centered around “treat,” because it has so many disparate meanings. One synonym for “treat” is “take care of,” and that gave me an idea for what to write about, because I took care of something this past week.

You’ve probably learned by now that our Internet service has been flaky for a little over a year. Everything would be fine, then it’d stop working, despite all the lights on the modem burning bright and steady. Within five minutes, the modem would reset and try to re-establish contact with the Internet. Sometimes it would come right back up, other times I’d have to unplug it and start it again.

Before I called Comcast, I bought another gateway and installed it, replacing one that I had bought less than six months earlier, thinking that maybe the modem was defective. The new one worked well for a couple of days, then started acting up again.

I called Comcast and asked them to send someone out to check everything. The Level 1 representative seemed to be more interested in getting me to upgrade my service (adding TV and phone, which we had gotten rid of the year before), but he managed to get it working and I just wanted to get rid of the guy.

Things were fine when the weather got cooler, and I figured they had fixed the problem. All was well until the first day the temperature rose above 80 (sometime in early April), then the problems returned. It would cool down and everything would be fine, then heat up and we’d have trouble. Finally Mary had enough and told me to call them, that it wasn’t going to fix itself.

This time, I spoke to Level 2 Support, who didn’t try to sell me anything and who scheduled a technician to come to the house. The technician did some measurements and said he could see we were losing power somewhere between the street and the house. He found that the splitter that was sending a signal to three different cable hookups had gone bad, so he took it out and ran all new cable from the street to the house. Problem resolved.

It’s a treat having consistent Internet service again…

Writer’s Workshop: The Late John Holton

No, I haven’t died, unless something has happened between the time I wrote this (Tuesday afternoon) and the time you’re reading it that I don’t know about.

Since being married to Mary, we’re not late for anything. In fact, we’re almost always early, sometimes by an hour or more. I can’t really say the same thing for times when I have been on my own, but there have been times when there have been extenuating circumstances. Sometimes not entirely my fault.

There was the morning that I had an exam in a class I wasn’t doing especially well in. I lived at Loyola’s north side campus, but took all my classes at the downtown one, and it was often a struggle to get to class on time. This particular class was the first of the day for me, so I was sure to get up extra early and give myself plenty of time to get there.

I usually took the train downtown, but this particular morning I arrived in front of the L station just as the #151 Sheridan Road bus arrived. I decided to take the bus that morning. I had taken another bus to school, the #147, that ran roughly along the same roads and had gotten me to school in plenty of time, and I was certain the 151 would do the trick for me.

What I failed to take into consideration was that the 147 was an express bus, while the 151 was a local. Thus, I was surprised when the bus failed to turn down the Outer Drive, but continued down Sheridan Road. It stopped at nearly every street corner to pick up more passengers, some of whom hadn’t found the fifty cent fare before boarding. When that happened, the bus driver waited patiently as they rummaged through pockets and purses looking for sufficient change to allow the bus to continue, oblivious to the poor bastard that was having fits wondering if he’d ever get to school.

To make a long story short, instead of arriving at school well before the nine o’clock start time, I dashed into the classroom at a quarter to ten, giving me all of five minutes to do the exam. (Ten, really; the professor took pity on me and gave me an extra five minutes.) Surprisingly, I didn’t do that badly on the exam, managing a C minus. Could have been worse.

Then, there was the morning, during the time when I was working third shift, that I had a nine o’clock interview with another company. I had verified the route several times with the interviewer and with the CTA (since I didn’t drive at the time), and estimated that, even if I left work as late as 7:30, I would have plenty of time to get to the place, fill out the application, and be nice and relaxed for the interview.

Unbeknownst to me, as I worked that night, a snowstorm blew through Chicago, leaving roughly ten inches of blowing and drifting snow practically everywhere. This tied up the buses and made the roughly four-block walk to the site from the bus stop an adventure. But I made it, an hour and a half late. The interviewer was polite, granting me fifteen minutes to make the case for hiring me before showing me the door.

More snow was falling when I exited the building, and continued to fall as I rode and as I waited an hour for a bus to take me home. I got home, finally, four hours later, and fell into bed, fully dressed. The last sound I heard was the phone ringing, which I figured was either the interviewer or the recruiter calling to tell me that they had seen all they wanted of me and to have a nice life. Which was fine by me. I never wanted to see them again, either.

Are there more stories? Oh, believe me, I could write a book.


Today’s prompt was “Write a blog post inspired by the word: late.”

Writer’s Workshop: Going on Staycation

You might remember that Atlanta won the right to host the 1996 Olympic Games. As with any case where the city at the hub of the area you live in decides, without consulting the residents, to hold a huge event, there were people who thought this was great, and others who thought it was a really stupid idea. I was a member of the latter group.

Believing that the Olympics would cause a greater logistical nightmare than Atlanta normally is, and since our county was uninvited from participating (the county board never bothered to ask the residents whether that they wanted them to make the resolution, probably because they wouldn’t like the answer), not to mention the fact that Mary and I couldn’t care less about the Olympics, we decided to take the two weeks off and ignore the fact they were going on. When I told someone this, they said “So, you’re going on staycation, then?” It was the first time I had heard the term, and I liked it.

We had a great time. We went to a lot of movies, ate out a lot, and I’d watch the Braves, who were on a two-week road trip to the West Coast, at night. All without traveling more than five miles from home.

Many of the vacations we’ve taken have been spent at home. Not that we’re opposed to traveling, although it’s gotten infinitely harder with my disabled status in the last ten years. We’ve taken some great trips over the years, don’t get me wrong, and there have been some occasions when I was able to mix business and pleasure and take Mary with me. But we’re basically homebodies, and when I was traveling all the time, the last thing I wanted to do on vacation was get on a plane and go somewhere. And, from Mary’s perspective, she’d rather spend the money on yarn.

Today’s prompt was to write about the word “staycation.”

Writer’s Workshop: You’re Fired!

I took a workshop years ago, and one of the things our trainer said was that his company never hired anyone who hadn’t been fired from a job at least once. He said the reasoning was they didn’t want anyone working for them who was afraid of losing his job.

It made sense to me, although I was one of those people who was afraid of losing his job. It’s tough when you’re the sole breadwinner; you realize that if you lose your job, you have to get a new one, or you’ll starve, and take your spouse with you. That, and my mother always had a bad reaction to people not having jobs. I don’t know how many times I heard her say, “My God, he has no job!” I guess I internalized that to the point that I stayed in jobs years after I should have left.

I guess you could say I was fired from the job I had from 1984 to 2004, but that wasn’t exactly how it worked. I was given thirty days to “straighten out my act,” as my manager put it, after a demo/training session went sideways at a user conference, and I decided that, after twenty years, it was time to move on anyway. Over the next month, I looked for work and got my resume in order, and I also thought about what I had just done. I don’t mean quit, I mean stay at that company for twenty years. I started reviewing those twenty years, and identified about a dozen points at which I should have quit, but didn’t. And I remembered something Uncle Jack told me many years before: “Back when I was starting out, the object was to get with a company and stay there until you retired. Nowadays, they expect you to leave after about five years.” Looking at things that way, I should have had four jobs in those twenty years.

Nowadays, someone between the ages of 18 and 55 has about eleven jobs. That’s about three years per job. In a way, you’re always looking for a new opportunity, even after you start a new job. Back when I started, that was considered “job hopping” and was supposedly career suicide. How things have changed in forty years. Now, it’s standard operating procedure: you’re supposed to leave after three years, or less. The longer you stay, the less valuable you are to the company. This is now a world of “free agency,” as Dan Pink calls it. You no longer work for a company, you work for yourself and sell your services to a company.

So being fired is actually your company doing you a favor. Might not seem that way at the time, but it is.

Today’s prompt (at least the one I used) was “Write a blog post inspired by the word: fired.”