Saturday, February 28, 2015

There are people to my right who are speaking in a language I don't recognize and they have asymmetrical bars of light shining across them from top to bottom, provided by the sun pouring through the cracks in the horizontal blinds.
From the second floor, the parking lot looks like one of those preposterously large lots you see on the train to New York and wonder how many of the people parked there are actually doing something that matters.
I am sitting a table away from the table at which I chatted with The Scientist earlier this winter.
Today, we shared some breakfast sandwiches at my second favorite breakfast joint and then walked the grounds of an old prep school. I couldn’t resist inviting myself into the music building. Surely it must be locked? If not, surely there must not be classes on Saturday? Wrong and wrong again, Shirley. I panicked and tried to come up with a cover story in case one of the expensive students asked why I was there. “Uh, I’m Ben Folds. I’m here for a lecture.”
The Scientist likes chocolate, wine, movies, the outdoors, and a good conversation. It’s very easy to spend time with The Scientist. I haven’t figured out why she spends time with me, but I HAVE figured out that she is easily impressed. The fact that I was once in US1, a local free newspaper, seems to be the thing about me that’s impressed her the most. Then again, she only knows things I’ve communicated to her in 2015, a year so young that I have only just begun to write it correctly on deposit slips on the first try.
The Scientist knows a LOT about the free local newspapers in our area. I’ve started to see her in the context of an 85-year-old woman in a 27-year-old body. She makes more sense that way. The same might be true for me if you adjust 27 to 31 and 85 to 93. I told her that Bucks County has a free paper called Coffee News in which, each week, a miniature version of their cartoon mascot is hidden somewhere in one of the ads. She was excited to hear this in a way more reminiscent of 85-year-olds I’ve met than 27-year-olds I’ve met.
So, anyway, here I am, somewhere in New Jersey, using a lot of commas. The sun is on the side of my face and I’d surely photograph it if I was me but the face was someone else’s. I smell like dirty hair, The Scientist’s roommate’s SPF lotion, and last night.
I’m trying to relax and allow the smile that’s trying to creep up my face to make its creepy way there. I need some healing and I don’t know in what form it will come. A road trip with The Scientist could have done the trick, but it was not an option. So I took one myself. To nowhere in particular - I just got on Route 27 and drove. All that motion made me realize I was in the mood to be still, so I turned around on Old Road and used other unfamiliar roads to loop back to the town I’d started in. I found a comfortable spot with a lot of sunlight. If a cat went to Wegman’s to get a drink and read a David Sedaris book, he would do it here.
The person across from me just said, “you have to either dress like a mobster or a lobster” and then walked away. At least, I think so. I hope that I never figure out if that’s what she really said or not.
I met Marcella three years ago, tomorrow, or rather, the day that tomorrow would be if there was always a February 29. I’ve told that story. But I haven’t sung it. I haven’t written songs lately (other than the songs I’ve written lately) but another batch will emerge when it’s time. There’s no rush when you’re only interested in writing from the heart. My motivation is to send musical postcards to the future from the most beautiful places I’ve visited.
I went to watch a band last night and the drummer recognized me. He’d watched a song that I'd posted to Facebook. I’ve gotten into the habit of hitting Record and just making something up, an exercise in spontaneous creative expression. In this instance, I had a capo on the fourth fret of my Martin guitar, the outside strings tuned down a step, and a cable connecting it to my electric guitar rig (the home version, including a yellow karaoke machine that makes the most satisfyingly disgusting distortion). I played for two-and-a-half minutes and posted it, dedicating it to Sharon Osbourne (her face was on my paused TV screen at the time).
Some people use the Internet as a sounding board for complaints about celebrities, weather, traffic and other things they can't control. (These things seemed especially whiny when I read them in Marcella's hospice room last summer). I prefer the people who use it to share things that pass the “could this be helpful?” test. In my book, music, humor, and art always qualify.
The Scientist and I dreamed of the sandwiches we would soon eat while we watched an impressive amount of dust pass through a strong beam of sunlight cutting through the middle of her bedroom. The dust storm only grew stronger when I picked up my right sock from the floor. A Larry King bookmark stood on the second shelf of her bookcase, cross-armed and exuding equal parts judgment and bemusement. I put on a t-shirt that reads “What Would Regis Do?”
Me, The Scientist, Larry, and Regis. Just a bunch of senior citizens trying to make the most of a cold Saturday in February.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

This book, in all its leatheriness, is weirdly intimidating. I’d better make some marks on it now and break it in. It is a book that came preloaded with North Carolinian love.
My voice sounds good tonight - in the car, anyway. I fall in and out of love with it all the time. I just finished eating some road food by the river. A few nights of subpar sleep and the thoughts of health management become harder to find. They will be back, though, as will sleep.
I have two very close female friends. One is slightly younger than me and relates more to my Larry David side. One is slightly older than me and relates to my Willie Nelson side. I’ve been talking to Ms. Larry more this week. She asked me if I think she’s become more negative lately. I answered. I’ve seen her crash and I’ve also seen her keep moving by setting new, big goals for herself. Continuing is winning, I said. Like me, I also said. She, perhaps, reflected on the forty-seven pounds of subtext in that statement and asked me: how do you manage to stay positive?
I slept on it. (A little.)
Creativity, I said, keeps recharging my battery.
Previously, Pam and I talked all the way home from Manville. Love, family, goals, friends, health. The McGarvey Twins are both doing really well, no matter what life throws at them. We both had our lives change last autumn in ways expected and unexpected. 99/100 of our loved ones went above and beyond, sharing our overlapping pain and joy. 1/100 didn’t. Why spend any time focusing on those ones? I guess there’s enough time in the day. Converting the disappointment into the weapon of anger is a way to feel in-control, but then you’re just another schmuck who thinks a weapon will make him happy. Forgiveness is better. Life is short. Then again, where were you? Then again, forgiveness is better. Then again, where were you? Jeff Lynne said in that song “End Of The Line,” “the best you can do is forgive.” I’d believe Jeff Lynne more if Jeff Lynne was Roy Orbison. But that's not Jeff Lynne's fault. Also, he’s probably right.
As for me, I am here. Gina and Joe are expecting me. I wonder if I will come off more like Larry David or Willie Nelson tonight. You could drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how other people perceive you, so I don’t. Life is short. Just be nice.
It is tomorrow. I am in one of my secret hideouts. In the middle of a nearby town by a big window with a big vase of flowers on the table, attractive people milling around, and jazz music playing a little too loud from the speaker beside my head, assaulting me with beauty.
I arrived at Gina’s and Joe’s house and was love-mugged by their dog Lily. Imagine a bag of English muffins running toward you tongue-first, looking at you with Teddy Ruxpin eyes that seem to exclaim, “TELL ME of these SCENTS you carry with you in your shoes and jeans!!”
I pick up the guitar and everything makes sense. It feels like I’m on a mission. No commander, no objective. Not even a TANK! Just some invisible mission that Congress didn’t authorize. No enemy but my own pull toward suburban complacency, the "dusty five-string guitar in the closet” scenario. Basically, the enemy is TV and junk food! The mission is to create and connect. To be emotionally open. Mentally alert. To create a trail of breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs you can dance to. I turned down beer. How un-Irish! I couldn’t figure out if I was more foggy or groggy and I knew that alcohol wouldn’t help me decide.
We were playing music that I didn’t know - older folk and gospel songs that I hadn’t heard before, and some songs that Gina had written. I was ready to dive into a new lake of sound. I recognize the sound that comes out of my face more and more as time goes by and appreciate it for what it is, rather than wish it sounded more like Don Everly or pre-coke Stephen Stills. I probably should’ve just listened to Nick The Drummer telling me my voice is a good instrument all those years ago.
There we were, brown-skinned Martin guitar face-to-face with a big ol’ Gibson, Gina and her guitar and sweet voice between us, in their great old house in Bristol. The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol, and we weren’t too bad, either. I feel like a grown-up now, so Gina and Joe seem younger than they did when I was a teenager. Gina was the only teacher that played - or even mentioned - Patti Smith in class. Even at sixteen, I recognized that there was something special about that. Last night, I sang harmony with her on a few Patti songs and felt like I was earning some unexpected stamp on my Adult Card. A full-circle moment. We made plans for a gig happening later in the year. We even sang in true, three-part harmony a few times. All of this happened without Lily The Dog noticing.
The people sitting next to me are very smart and it’s taking everything out of me to not listen to their conversation. I will turn on the brown noise app on my cell phone. Technology taking me further into my imagination rather than further away from it - that’s worth all ninety-nine cents. The smart people sitting next to me wanted to know if I’d recommend the Bob Dylan book I’m reading. I said nice things about it, but that hasn’t stopped Bob from leering at me while I write. Some people just can’t be pleased. With my cell phone partially obscuring the book, his eyes are still visible, gazing at me all black-and-white and 1962-like.
It’s last night again. I’m on the sidewalk on a cold February night and I’m holding my surprisingly heavy guitar case. I look down and notice I’m not wearing the green scarf I arrived with, a scarf I acquired this week at the world’s most affordable consignment shop - Bucky’s The Closet in Manville, New Jersey. I resist the urge to walk back up the block to reclaim it, reasoning that it's another good reason to get together for more music as soon as schedules allow.
I had decided that I wanted to spend a little time in the cemetery at St. James The Greater Episcopal Church (Est. 1712). It has a good atmosphere and is more photogenic than the ones populated by the young whippersnappers of The Greatest Generation. I find an opening in the wrought iron fence and enter the brick sidewalk, quickly being obscured in the shadow of the church and the dark of night. While I wait for a bolt of inspiration, I text a picture of myself playing upright bass to Nicolette. Being 5'7", I probably look a little like a rhesus monkey trying to play a canoe, but she seems impressed. She reminds me, though, that I’d asked her to remind me to finish my home recording project, a project I did not work on that day.
New is more fun than old. The next song is always more interesting than the last song. But you do want to take the old songs with you as you move into the future. If you made them with your heart open and your mind engaged, there’s probably something there.
Back in the graveyard, the wind is bone-rattling (get it?) and I atypically go back to the car without taking a picture. I reason that the graveyard will probably be there the next time I’m in town. It's a copout, but at least it's a copout with solid logic backing it up.
I go home, tuck myself into bed, and enjoy some late night talk shows with some Ben & Jerry’s I acquired on the drive home. If you’re keeping score at home, you’ll note that I won the battle and then went to bed with the enemy. Still, there are worse uses for a Wednesday night in the suburbs.