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Archive for the ‘Trenz Pruca’s Musings’ Category

In the late 1940s, my father owned a bar in the Fleetwood section of Mount Vernon. The City of Mount Vernon along with Yonkers formed the northern boundary of New York’s Borough of the Bronx. During that period in my life both my parents would disappear for a while. I never knew where my father went. My mother was hospitalized for a year or so at a time in various mental and medical hospitals having unspeakable procedures administered to her as was usual at the time.

Anyway, during the period my father owned the bar, I would spend many of my days there sitting on the floor, my chin propped up on my fists listing to the music and staring at the changing colors of the lights emanating from the Wurlitzer.

Now for those who do not know what a Wurlitzer is, it was one of the last great analog machines for producing music before the advent of the digital age. Through the clear plastic window at the top, I could see the bright chrome handle move up and down the stack of records, stop with a jerk and pluck a record out of the stack, swing the report over to the turntable and drop it. Then the music would play — silky jazz, bright pop tunes, magnificently melodious show tunes. Surrounding the window, a roll of back-lit variegated colored plastic would bath me sitting there before it with its ever-changing colors.

One day, in the bar, while I sat there before the Wurlitzer dreamily wandering through the bliss of the colors and the music (Lady Day’s cover of Night and Day?) I, for some reason, overheard my father and the other men at the bar talking. One of them, probably my father, said, “You know those guys on Tin Pan Alley*, who write those songs all wear bow ties and horn-rim glasses.”

This startled me. “What do bow ties and horn-rim glasses have to do with writing music,” I thought? “Was it some sort of uniform that one must wear to get into the alley?” “Odd, why would they say that?”

I would continue to ponder that question as I sat there in that dream-like state, bathed in the slowly shifting colors listening to Sarah Vaughn, Mildred Bailey, Jack Teagarden or some other the wonderful sounds of that golden age of music wondering about bow ties and horn-rim glasses.

Of my childhood, this was one of the only two experiences which I remember fondly.

Later, there was a time that I wore bow ties and still later horn rim glasses. Never wrote a note of music though.

A Wurlitzer Juke Box


  • Tin Pan Alley — the name given to the collection of New York City music publishers and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The name originally referred to a specific place: West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in the Flower District of Manhattan.

The start of Tin Pan Alley is usually dated to about 1885 when a number of music publishers set up shop in the same district of Manhattan. The end of Tin Pan Alley is less clear cut. Some date it to have continued into the 1950s when earlier styles of American popular music were upstaged by the rise of rock & roll, which was centered on the Brill Building.

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On Christmas night at the early hour of 6PM, I slipped into bed, sipped from my well-steeped cup of cannabis tea and opened my computer. My thought was to make some sort of plan for the remaining six days of the year. Not so much a to-do list as a muddle-about-file which I could, now and then, dip into without too much difficulty in order to pass the time while waiting for this arbitrary section of my life to dribble on to the next.

The first thing to pass through my mind was Joyce’s opening line to Ulysses: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

Stately Plump Buck Mulligan

I haven’t the slightest idea why it did. Except perhaps, to encourage me to contemplate why I would consider ending the year pondering the opening line of Ulysses. Perhaps, having not yet consumed enough tea made such reflection worthwhile. Maybe, my subconscious was attempting to jump-start the evening’s descent into irrelevancy.

The second item to suggest itself as a subject worth ruminating on was the first thing I read on my computer after opening it. Under a heading entitled notable events on history on this day, I read: “1194 Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, King of the Romans [Germany], Sicily and Jerusalem, born in Lesi, Italy.”

That was something I felt was of little more consequence. Or, at least, I generally considered that someone who in his time was referred to as “Stupor Mundi” (Wonder of the World) was someone of greater consequence than “stately plump Buck Mulligan” and his shaving utensils — Then again perhaps not. Fredrick later in life was also referred to as “The Anti-Christ.” Nevertheless, I still felt, someone who held suzerainty over most of Medieval Europe, was of more consequence than a fictional med-student with flamboyant grooming habits — Then again, perhaps not.


Nicholas II — Stupor Mundi

“Stupor Mundi” was clearly not fictional, although his adventures and the stories about him rival that of any character inhabiting the world of fiction. As to why I would consider intentionally including the contemplation of one or the other or both into my remaining six day’s of 2018, I have no idea. Perhaps it is because it is a mystery requiring a solution and that always pleases one’s consciousness. Perhaps it does not. Maybe it just has something to do with the cannabis. Take chess, for example, it has always appealed to me as a worthwhile way to cut two or three hours from one’s life. On the other hand, cocaine, cannabis and a host of other things, I think would do so as well, without requiring your consciousness to leap from the chair in which it had been dozing and actually exert itself entertaining you.

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My daughter arrived in SF this weekend to visit her grandmother in LA who had a mild stroke. She and I had lunch on Sunday. After lunch, we went to a Peet’s Coffee for coffee and conversation. I was startled by several insights that she had, that I had not thought of before. While talking about people’s self-image of things like sexuality, race and the rest, she mentioned Sesame Street. I always saw the show as fun and a bit preachy. She pointed out that to her and she assumed others of her generation, the colors and the various roles of the characters communicated that it was not your color, where you lived or your gender and the like that make you who you are, but what you do. It is not whether you are green and live in a garbage can that identifies you but whether you are a grouch or not (Although it could be argued that being green and living in a garbage can would make most people grouchy). If she were right it would make Sesame Street highly subversive. No wonder the conservatives are so obsessed with closing down Public Television.

She then mentioned that prior to her generation (children of the baby boom and the denizens of the 60’s) so-called normal family life, which no matter how dysfunctional, formed the basis of ones personality, and that your other experiences in life (like watching Sesame Street) affected that to a greater or lesser degree. But, her generation was perhaps the first in the West where a significant percentage of children experienced something different from previous generations, so-called, normal family life. As a result, she and she assumed many of her generation, lacking that tradition, perverse or not, often relied on the media, such as in her case Sesame Street, to create that core value system or image of morality upon which the rest of their personality accreted. I then thought about the circumstances of children today, like Hayden growing up on Sponge Bob Square Pants and viewing a gullible, happy-go-lucky yellow sponge who uses his nose as a flute and exists primarily on hamburgers and ice cream as their image of normalit

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2013 — Ever since I arrived back in California I had been feeling quite ill; headaches, fatigue, and pains in my left leg. The latter, I assumed, was caused by sitting for 10 hours in a center seat during my flight. About five days after my arrival, I had dropped Hayden off for school, had a coffee and bagel at my usual place and returned to the house feeling exceptionally tired. I went back to bed and did not wake up until almost three PM. It was nearly time to pick up Hayden at school and cart him to his Taekwondo lesson. I got up and blacked out. I fell back onto the bed for a moment. When I regained my senses, I discovered I was too fatigued to move further than to the living room sofa. I called Dick at work and told him about my condition, that I couldn’t get to the school and pick up Hayden and that I thought I needed to go to the hospital.

After picking up Hayden, Dick drove us to the local emergency hospital. I staggered into the emergency room and was immediately placed in a wheelchair. While Dick handled the preliminary admission formalities, I fussed over my feelings of helplessness, guilt over the burden I was placing on Dick, and concern about how it all must affect Hayden.

They wheeled me into a room with three people in it where my EKG was taken. A man in green scrubs sitting at a computer asked me questions about my symptoms. When I finished explaining them, he said it sounded to him like I had a pulmonary embolism.

I was then carted off to one of the emergency treatment rooms and put into a bed while a succession of various information scavengers and blood gatherers trooped through.

While I lay there I could see into the main area beyond intake and observe hospital life. It had always found it remarkable that no matter how white bread a neighborhood the hospital is located it, its staff inevitably appears like a branch of the United Nations. It is difficult for me now to identify an ethnic group that did not have a hand in my treatment somewhere along the line. Of course, the highest level of the medical staff, the doctors, is populated primarily by members of the high performing caucasian groups, Ashkenazi Jews, Middle Eastern refugees, and Indians.

The other noticeable physical feature of the hospital staff was obesity, and they mostly seemed quite happy and content about it. I was not so sure how I felt about that. It is a hospital after all.

The final information scavenger was a woman with serious determined eyes who collected at least some money against the final medical bill just in case I died so they will have recovered something on account. After she left, the ER doctor, Dr. Greenberg, came in, asked a bunch of questions, opined that it sounded as though I had a blood clot on my lung, and announced he was going to have a few more tests run before deciding what to do about me. He left.

Doctors, ask questions, give orders and render opinions. The rest of the hospital medical staff actually do things.

So, I was wheeled through a CAT scan, sonograms and a number of other tests after which I was deposited back in the room to await results.

While waiting, Hayden opined that he thought Dick was rich and Pookie was handsome.

Dr, Greenberg returned and without much in the way of preliminaries, in that deep serious voice doctors often use to announce the death of the patient, said that I had suffered a “very very serious’ pulmonary embolism” that had affected most of my lungs and that I was being admitted into the ICU unit immediately. He, once again, left before I had time to either digest the information or ask any questions, like ‘what did you just say?”

While waiting for the transportation to arrive and trying to understand the information I had just received that I interpreted to mean that I was effectively dead and they were now going to try to resuscitate me, two more doctors entered the room. They were surprisingly cheery and introduced themselves as the co-chief doctors of the ICU unit as though welcoming me into a five-star beach resort. One doctor a Syrian gentleman who maintained a slight smile as he explained to me how sudden death was inevitable in my case without immediate treatment. The Indian woman seemed very happy to visit with me and asked me many of the same questions the information scavengers had asked. I never saw her again.

They transported me to ICU and placed into bed by a number of suspiciously cheery hospital personnel who then vigorously and repeatedly punctured me to extract blood and other bodily fluids and inject me with clear liquids from several bags hung above my head. I was also attached to several monitors and the various blinking lights and beeping one associates with intensive care.

At some point, the smiling Syrian appeared at the side of my bed and explained again, how dead I was and what they were planning to do to correct that condition. He left and one of the cheery nurses injected me with morphine, explaining unnecessarily that it would make me feel better. They woke me up about every hour or two to have my blood taken or my body injected with something important. I counted over 30 puncture wounds to my body over the first 24 hours.

I did not sleep much or well that night. In the past, whenever I thought about death, my thoughts were often accompanied by fear – no more accurately terror. Strangely tonight, I felt only sadness; sadness about Jason, Jessica, and Hayden and my grandchildren, sadness that I might not be there to see how the next chapters of their life stories played out. (to be continued–perhaps)

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A few years ago I traveled from San Francisco to New York City for some reason that I no longer remember. I arrived in NY on the A train. After a few days, I left it by taking the A train again to Far Rockaway. “Far Rockaway.” It sounds exotic. One could almost imagine emerging from the subway onto a sandy beach by clear blue waters — perhaps there is a boatload of buccaneers waiting offshore to attack. One does not usually associate NY with broad sandy beaches. Actually, it is one of those few major cities with large beaches within its city limits, like Rio. True Rockaway Beach, Jones Beach and Coney Island do not quite conger up the same images in one’s mind as Copacabana or Ipanema, (or even Venice Beach in LA) but they do have their own quirky and gritty charm. In the summer, those beaches were packed with beach-goers and sunbathers like subway cars during rush hour.

When the train emerged from the tunnel and into the sunlight over a section of outer Brooklyn or Queens (I never could remember which it was out here near JFK) we rode above the rows of brick attached homes and trees, lots of them, and passed Aqueduct Raceway. I left the A train at Howard Beach and boarded the AirTrain, taking it the last mile or so to the terminal at JFK.

Boarding the car with me were two New Yorkers dressed in SF Forty-niners shirts on their way to SF to see the Niners play the Giants. One of them was a large pear-shaped man with a pencil thin mustache and wearing a Joe Montana shirt. He announced to everyone in a very loud voice that he was a Niner and Joe Montana fan for all his life no matter what his friends and coworkers thought about it. In an accent that could only be from Brooklyn, he told several of the other passengers that he was a scraper, someone who scrapes the paint off bridges in preparation for repainting and that this was only the second air flight he had ever taken.

So while listening to the two of them express their excitement and their plans about what they wanted to see when they get to SF (Fisherman’s Wharf and the Crookedest Street), I pleasantly passed the time until we arrived at the terminal where I boarded the plane and left NYC behind.

The Niners lost that game.

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Alas, yesterday I did not get everything that  I wanted. What I wanted is not important. Nevertheless, this morning, I pouted feeling like everyone hated me. I sat alone in my car in the middle of a shopping center parking lot having a discussion with my self. It is that voice in one’s own head that tells your life’s story.  It is that story, the one you tell yourself all the time that makes you what you are. We are more made up of that story than of the actual events that occur in our lives.

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“I feel all alone.”

“You spend half your life alone. What’s so different about this time?”

“Nobody likes me. No one wants me around.”

“Hmm… how many people would like you around but you do not want to be around them?”

“Maybe you are right. Perhaps, I am overdoing it, But, why do I feel like I’ve got zits on my psyche?”

No answer.

So, I decided to go to a movie. I think entertainment can cure most ills — especially those of existential misery you force on yourself.

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I saw “Ready Player One.” A few days ago, I saw “Isle of Dogs.” If you want to experience the pinnacle of the animator’s art, these are two movies you should not miss.

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I am at that point in my life where, I suppose like many people, I begin to contemplate that ineffable question, “Who am I?” — Or perhaps “Why?”— then again maybe not. Who cares?

Lets cut to the chase. I have always thought of myself as… Well, in a quantum world “always” does not exist or matter. So let me instead begin with — As I write this, I think of myself as an ascetic hedonist. That makes no sense you may say. How can one be both ascetic and a hedonist at the same time? (I guess, a person who gets pleasure out of self-flagellation can be described that way. But, that is beyond what I can handle right now.)

Anyway, let me explain the image I have about myself by using an analogy. I picture myself as a hermit living in a remote cave in the middle of a great desert somewhere. Every morning I get up just before sunrise, go out to some miserable rocky place, contort myself into an unpleasant and uncomfortable pose and contemplate or hum or something else all day.

I would contemplate life’s meaning, real meaning like, “Why was I doing this in the first place?” “Am I just a sick human being?” “What happens after this, whatever this is ?”

If I may digress from my digression, let me discuss my problem with what some large groups of people say comes after this, whatever this is?

There are, for example, a large group of people who believe that if you are male and an efficient killer after you die you get to be locked up forever with a bunch of young virgin women who probably will not remain virgins for long. Everyone else, other than other killers locked up like you, gets to sit on the outside doing nothing apparently except wondering what you guys are doing inside. I think I would prefer to be with the outsiders, at least we probably get to shrug our shoulders and roll our eyes now and then.

Another large group seems to believe that if in your life you get to avoid people who disagree with you, or force them to agree with you, or kill them if they don’t or they get too close to you, you then get to spend all eternity staring at some self-important serial killer surrounded by armed hermaphrodite thugs and listening to Gregorian Chant. Those not so lucky get to spend their time boiled in flaming vats of sulfur and oil. Now I have nothing against Gregorian Chant, but I think I prefer being boiled in sulfur and oil if I could not hear something else now and then — even country and western. Well, maybe not that.

Then, there are those that believe if you do nothing but not hard enough or if you do something during life, after you die you return as a maggot. If you’re lucky, you get eaten by a crow before you do anything and if you come back again, say a thousand times, doing nothing you may get to be good enough at doing nothing other than thinking about yourself so that after you die you then get to come back as… well, nothing, forever. What’s the point?

There are also those who believe that, if you spend your life running around killing people and you get to be so good at it that other people make up songs about how efficient you were at mayhem, or they erect statues to you, you then get to spend all eternity with homicidal maniacs like yourself in a sunny place with a lot of grass playing something like football and drinking warm beer. Everyone else gets to live in a cold dreary place weeping and crying forever, except for one or two who get to push rocks up hills or have their liver torn out every day by hawks. Given the choice of eternal football and warm beer or weeping and crying in a cold dreary place, I’ll take the latter. It seems more like life, doesn’t it?

Well, enough of that. Let’s get back on topic, “Who am I?”

On the Hedonist side, I would want my cave to have a nice bed, internet connection, food delivery, maid service, a sauna and of course hot water. Even at a minimum, I could tolerate a well-padded sleeping bag as long as all the other things were included especially hot water preferably in a tub or a pool and in my espresso.

Once a week, I would travel to nearby podunk town, go to a loud crowded bar (if loud and crowded were unavailable any bar would do) order a beer, take it to a table in a far corner or the far edge of the bar and sit quietly nursing my beer and watching everything or if there is no one but an old drunk sitting at the other end of the bar then staring at my beer wishing I were back in my cave tucked warmly in my bed. Later, I would return to my cave and, after a warm bath and a joint, crawl into bed, spend a few moments of what is euphemistically called self-love and then drift off to sleep contemplating the pleasures of crouching on the stony ground pondering “what’s it all about?”

What’s it all about? Well, it’s not existentialism. After all, I think I have meaning even if you don’t. It’s not about, oh,… say solipsism. When you think about it, when you’re deaf dumb and blind crawling face down through a sea of mud and you strike something else, it is not just you alone, is it? There are other isms too, a lot of them, but I think they all end up in more or less the same place— usually not someplace I want to end up. As for a Supreme Being who actually cares for you, I think we’ve disposed of that above.

So what is there? There’s you and there’s me. We may never meet or be the same, but I think that’s the way it should be, don’t you?

And that is who I think I am —then again, maybe not.

 

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