Merry Christmas From New York

I was headed downtown to visit friends in from far away.  After a groggy start to Christmas Day, a day that generally fills me with despair,  I was running late, well after the time I’d told my friend I’d aim for.   I had a twenty minute or so southward train ride to get there, then a short walk west.  

As you approach the elevated Number One line at Dyckman Street you can see up the track almost to the next station north.   If you see the southbound train coming around that bend, experience teaches you can catch that train if you run into the station, Metrocard in hand, and make a smart dash straight up the steep steps.  

I went through the turnstile and made my dash smartly, but there was no train.  The one I’d seen, apparently a mirage.  There was no train on the horizon either.  I noticed how winded I was, I’ve run up these stairs many times– this was the most winded I’ve been.  I walked it off.  

At the end of the platform a man was talking on the phone with his back to me.  He had a baby carriage with him.  The baby was also turned away from me, but I noticed how solicitous the man was, walking the baby carriage in little circles to soothe the baby.  I watched them absently for a moment, thinking of the human parent’s instinct, if everything falls right, to comfort their child.  I recall feeling impressed with how this guy was taking care of his baby.

The train came.  The man turned the baby carriage slightly to move his child on to the train.  I could now see that the baby was a full grown beagle, sitting very patiently upright in the baby carriage.   I made a note to tell this story to my friends when I arrived, but as things happened I forgot about it.

We exchanged handshakes, hugs and pleasantries and then my friend said “I have a small gift for you,” as if remembering some trifle.  He went into the other room and returned with the best gift anybody has ever given me, possibly the best gift anyone has ever given anybody.  “It’s really nothing,” he said, handing me a hard-shell ukulele case with the imprint of a palm tree on its shell.

Over the years my friend has mentioned a dream image he has, of himself, sitting on a porch somewhere beautiful at sunset after his work day is done.  His work would be gently but firmly bending wood, plying it, smoothing it, skillfully using tools to turn beautiful wood into a beautiful musical instrument.  In another life, he’d have loved to have been a luthier.  

A few years ago he took a course from a master luthier and made a tenor ukulele, out of beautiful wood, over the course of several weeks.  He sent me photos of it at the time and mildly self-effacing comments about the instrument when it was done.   I opened the case and there was the hand-made ukulele, a very beautiful one.  Everyone I showed it to later could not help stroking it.  It is lovingly detailed, with several unique flourishes, and finished to the texture of perfect skin or something like that.  It is so silky that it’s hard not to pet it if you hold it in your hands.   Everyone who held it did.

It plays beautifully, with a rich tone I haven’t heard from most ukuleles.   He also somehow rigged the lowest string to be in a lower octave, as on a guitar, making this uke a much more useful instrument to play melodies on.  I smiled as I played a little Django ending that had been impossible to play on my other ukes.  Sekhnet could not stop commenting on its beautiful tone, just as I could not stop playing it in the car after we left our friends.  

“What an amazing gift!” Sekhnet said, “I hope you really thanked him.”  I assured her I did.  I think I did, I’m sure I did, I had to have.  Of course, now that I’ve played it for hours, and re-tuned it to concert pitch, I’ll sing its praises some more when I talk to him tomorrow.  He’d looked at the label inside, with his name and the year he made it, 2009, and told me, since he never played it (although he certainly could), that I should have it, since I would play it.  I certainly am playing it.

I played it happily for an hour or so in the background with Sekhet’s family.  Each of them had admiringly held and petted the beautiful instrument, a few even strummed the open chord it plays if you don’t finger the frets.  I then played it all the way back to the city.  When we got back I was concerned that the constantly sleep deprived Sekhnet get some sleep.  I left her and walked to the subway to head uptown.

Being Christmas, it was only natural that the train service would be fucked up.   The high-tech interactive electronic information signs on the subway platform gave random misinformation.   According to the fancy new sign the next A train was a Brooklyn-bound one scheduled to arrive in 46 minutes (average wait is supposed to be about twelve minutes).  There was no information about any uptown trains at all.   “We’re working harder to serve you better,” I said finally to two other sour-faced men waiting for information on the uptown train to take them home Christmas night.

A moment later there was an incomprehensible PA announcement and a Brooklyn-bound A train rumbled in on the downtown platform.   Another announcement began as the Brooklyn-bound train was departing, making a great racket across the station.

The MTA had decided, in its infinite puckishness, to have the crackling, irrelevant, over-driven announcement delivered by the employee with the heaviest and hardest to decipher foreign accent.   I don’t know where this guy was born, but I’m sure the last thing his parents ever dreamed of for him was delivering this incomprehensible message to disgusted New Yorkers over the public address system moments after the end of Christmas Day. I have no idea what he said, but I do recall sincerely muttering something about fucking retards that I do not now feel very proud about having muttered.  

A dirty, smelly beggar was striking out as he made his way toward me on the platform.  He’d start to speak and get waved off.  I saw this happen a few times, found I had a single dollar bill in my pocket and thought “what the fuck?”   When he came toward me I handed him the dollar, which he dropped.  

Before he picked it up, he looked me in the eyes and asked “could you please help me out with two or three more?”  I told him I didn’t have it.  It was true.  My other bills were twenties, and outside of that, I had two pennies.  He continued down the platform and I was reminded of my dislike of people who don’t have the grace to say thanks. 

On the uptown A, which finally arrived, a large man asked “may I sit next to you?”  This is not a question anybody phrases this way on the New York City Subway.  It was the only seat in the car, and I nodded, almost imperceptibly, and without looking up from my book, only because it was the right thing to do.  

Then, because you know what they say about unpunished good deeds, he began humming in a soulful way, and turned his head toward me as I tried to read, which made his humming suddenly way too loud.  He began to sing, in the same manner as his humming, turning his head like a slow moving leslie-speaker to heighten the effect.  

He did that African spiritual-inspired melisma, making every quavering note a long, stylized, if cliched, statement of his soul.   After a few minutes of this I wanted to do something to make him stop. I thought about my vow to remain mild and kept reading.  

A seat opened across the way, and I took it.  I couldn’t hear his fucking singing from over there, and it was a relief.  Suddenly, I smelled ass, dirty feet, filthy clothes.  The smell was coming from the seat behind me, turned out to be a homeless woman.  But the smell wasn’t that bad, it was better than the fucking soul singer.  

The singer got off a few stops later and I went back to where I’d been sitting.  I watched the poor homeless woman, who appeared to be very much insane.  I thought of the almost infinite varieties of suffering in this world, and of God and the mythical baby Jesus weeping over it all, less than an hour after Christmas.  I  took out the ukulele, played a bit of Django’s version of “I’ll See You In My Dreams” and put the lovely instrument into its protective case as the train pulled into Dyckman Street.

As I walked up the hill to my apartment, carrying the perfect tenor ukulele my old friend had made, I thought of the blessings of this life. Those blessings are not the physical things everyone is taught to covet, of course, but what lies behind them, what we might call their spiritual dimension– what they represent in terms of our souls.   If the physical manifestation is also a beautiful thing, that’s ideal.

I thought of my friend’s ancient mother, now well-past ninety and noticeably much older than the last time I saw her, not that long ago.  She made mention tonight of her approaching death.  I’d never heard her speak of death, but when I quickly broached the subject of Trump, during a moment when her son had gone back upstairs to fetch something she’d forgotten, she told me that the only good in it for her is that this would be a good time for her to die.  

I told her that my mother, at the end of her life, had begged me to promise her that Sarah Palin would never be the president.  I made the promise and I’m as sure as it is reasonable to be that Sarah Palin will never be the president of the United States.  There are things as unthinkable as President Sarah Palin, but that’s an imponderable story for another time.

When I put her son’s ukulele in her hands she immediately began stroking it.   She admired it for a long time, and mused about how many other hidden talents her talented son had (he was cooking a delicious smelling dinner at the time).  

Later, sitting around the coffee table, my friend’s mother smiled, and pointed at her son and her grandson, huddled over the young man’s cellphone, looking at photos of some of the grandson’s recent architectural projects, I assume.   To her daughter, with a big smile, she said “kvelling…” This is Yiddish for a parent’s pleasure in seeing their child do something that makes them kvell with pride.  The daughter looked at her blankly and asked “who?”   

“Me,” said the old woman happily, as she pointed to her chest with a gnarled hand.

I’ll See You in My Dreams

Stop me if I told you this one already, dad.  It starts with my love for soul music, which I got from you.  It’s impossible to overestimate the value, to me, of those flat Sam Goody bags you’d bring home from downtown Brooklyn with the latest Sam Cooke record inside.

Mister Soul,” said the skeleton of my father. 

You’d put that new disc on the turntable in the living room and I’d groove to each new track, before I even had the words to describe a groove, the feel, the voice, the thrilling freedom of a guy playing with time the way Sam Cooke did.

“Yeah, and of course, he had to be shot for that, for good old American values,” said the skeleton.  

Like Patrice Lumumba.  

“Lumumba died for freedom,” said the skeleton, raising a bony fist.

We’d listen to those Sam Cooke records in the living room and they would transport us. Mom would play Johnny Mathis, and I dug that music too, and the way his voice was drenched with reverb, a thing I also couldn’t identify, but loved from the start.   Love of music is no small thing.

“Well, your mother and I both loved music.  Somebody, maybe Nietzsche, said without music life would be a mistake,” said the skeleton.  

It would certainly be as mistaken as a life without sex, something many millions don’t need to imagine.

“True enough,” said the skeleton. “But I know all about your love for Sam Cooke and how big a favor I did to your musical taste by marinating you in Sam Cooke when you were but a tadpole.  What’s the story you said you may have told me already?”

Oh, yeah.  One afternoon, as mom was getting close to her first and last trip to Hospice By The Sea, which was a lovely place but actually miles from the nearest sea, I heard her groaning from her bed and went in with my guitar.  I don’t know if she was asleep or awake.  She might have been in pain or having a bad dream about death, an eventuality she was determined not to talk about.  

I sat by the bed and played a gentle samba-like vamp with my fingertips.  It was the most soothing thing I’d come up with in my life and I thought it would calm her.  She became quiet and I figured I’d lulled her back to sleep.

She opened her eyes, lifted her head off the pillow and said irritably “what IS that?  It sounds terrible.  It always sounds like you’re tuning your guitar.”  

I never understood that.   Here was a woman who loved music, pop music, opera, show tunes, country music, every kind of music. What was this “it always sounds like you’re tuning your guitar” shit?   We finally had a conversation about it.  

It turned out, much to my surprise, that she was no fan of instrumental music, had never liked it.  When she listened to music she listened to the singers, their passion, the stories their songs told.  That’s why, once she discovered it late in life, she loved country music: the big personalities of the singers and the great stories apparently told in many of the songs.  “I never liked jazz, I love the melodies, I don’t care for improvisation.  I listen to music like I read books: for a good story told in a great voice.”

I remember thinking, damn!  I always assumed she was just being a dick, out of unhappiness with her own life, crapping on something I loved to do– play the guitar.  I never sang, I wanted to play well enough to be an instrumentalist– a thing my mother, weeks before she died, told me she had no understanding of.  In fact, she told me explicitly that she often had a hard time recognizing a song just by hearing the melody played on a guitar.

“Damn…” said the skeleton.

A year earlier mom began crying at the thought that she’d never hear my singer friend Joe sing again.  I had Joe over to my apartment, opened garageband — a program that allowed me to accompany and record Joe and overdub other instruments afterwards–  and accompanied him on a dozen or so songs from the Great American songbook.  After he left I recorded a few more instrumental parts, but left the accompaniments spare, his voice front and center, with a nice dollop of reverb.  

I brought the CD down to Florida, popped it into the computer and played it for her.  She was painfully polite about it, how sweet of us it had been to try to make some music for her, but the music had clearly not done anything for her.

About a month later I was talking to her on the phone and she reported “the most amazing thing!”   She’d been lying in bed listening to her iPod and suddenly Joe was singing and it was so beautiful she couldn’t believe it, she had no idea how the song had even got on her iPod.   It sounded like he was singing in a big hall.  It was gorgeous!  

“Which she pronounced ‘gawgiss’,” said the skeleton.  

Yeah.  I explained to her that I’d put the tunes on her iPod from the CD, and if she found a playlist called Joe DiSalle Trio she could hear all dozen or so tunes we’d recorded for her.   I coyly asked her what she thought of the trio (which was me on guitar, keyboard and bass) and she said they were good.  I explained that the big hall sound was a kind of reverb, called “big hall”,  that I’d added to Joe’s voice to give him that Johnny Mathis sound.  I told her I wasn’t surprised it sounded so much better on the iPod, as it was mixed to be heard in stereo through headphones and not over the crappy speakers of the computer in the den.

“Nice story,” said the skeleton.  

Yeah, but that’s not the story.  So a couple of days after cracking up a room full of hospice women in her bedroom in your apartment, she’s suddenly feeling like shit.  She often said “I don’t know why I feel so goddamned shitty all the time!” in the months before she finally died.  I knew not to make any linkage to her approaching death from a painful and wasting cancer that had spread to her whole body.

“Which was kind of you,” said the skeleton.

Anyway, they finally took her, on a gurney, down to an ambulance to take her to Hospice by the Sea.  One of the magpies that used to sit with Ed Pulley and his dim girlfriend on those benches in the parking lot, a woman mom always hated, a nosy ignoramus and a racist, called out “they’re taking another one to die!”  In that case she was right, but what the fuck?  

At the hospice mom lingered for a few days.  I brought my ukulele and I was working on a solo version of I’ll See You in My Dreams, which I played many times while I sat in the room there.  Not long before the end, as I continued to play it, mom turned to me with a big smile and said “I’ll See You in My Dreams!”

Unbelievable, but not surprising

In a club in Brooklyn, basement room, ceiling painted black, beer glass in hand nodding to my friends’ son’s band as they put on their show.  Their kid is the drummer, the youngest in the band, and a hell of a talented drummer.   He’s more interested in keyboards these days, which he tickles with great intuitive fluency.  You’d never know the guy wasn’t, in fact, a years’ trained jazz pianist, except that he has little idea of what notes he’s playing, what key he’s in, what extended chord he’s playing wild, fluid arpeggios of.

“He never plays drums anymore,” his father says sadly at one point.

After their first energetic tune the bandleader introduces the virtuoso on keyboards and the guy playing the baritone sax, also a virtuosic player.   The bandleader is flushed, happy, does not turn around to look at or introduce his drummer.  I watch the kid’s face take on a hurt cast behind the drums, clearly unhappy to be ignored after playing his ass off with the rest of the band.  As anyone would be.

As the next tune starts up I say directly into his mother’s ear-plugged ear: “Did you see David’s face when Noah didn’t introduce him?”  Surprisingly she hadn’t, but she was not happy about it now.  “I almost shouted out ‘who’s that fucking drummer?'” I told her and she shouted back “you should have!”

The show went on, the band was great, interactive, taking cues from each other to propel new improvisations.   They were jamming on a very high level.  

Suddenly the bass, keyboard and sax fell silent and David began hammering at the drums, every drum, from every conceivable angle, a great outpouring of raw emotion executed with titanic force and tightrope walker assurance.  He wailed on that drum kit in front of the brick wall for a good long while and I don’t really know that words can describe it.  

The band around him seemed stunned, even knowing very well how good their drummer is.  That brick wall behind him was reduced to a pile of rubble by the time the amazed band joined him.   He had literally brought the house down.  

Right before he began to play again, the bass player, smiling ecstatically, extended his arm and called out “David Resnick!” to a raucous standing ovation (although all applause was of necessity a standing ovation, since there were no seats in the room).

“I’ve never heard him do anything like that,” his father yelled as the fans roared.  

Later the kid quietly said “I’ve never done anything like that before.”  

I thought to myself later that what he’d done was the most beautiful possible way to deal with being ignored– do something absolutely fucking unignorable.

His father said “imagine if he practiced drums…” and I told him it was unimaginable.  Then I said what I really felt, and said it again a few times in the car later, to impress it on the young drummer as well as his parents.

“Unbelievable,” and I paused and held up a finger “but not surprising.”  I repeated it a couple more times for good measure, before dashing out of the car into the drenching thunderstorm.

Reading

Reading a well-written page is like having a delicious snack.  I noticed this as I read Jon Katz’s “Saving Simon” just now, as I do whenever I read a bit of Umberto Eco’s masterfully hateful “The Prague Cemetery”.   Reading a good sentence is just a pleasure.

Vibrato, dynamics, the attack of a string, playing in and out of time, laying in a succulent part, leaving space– incomprehensible abstractions to most people, unless they play guitar and have the sensitivity to notice such things.

A well-written sentence?  Even a cat will nod, when the words are set out just right.

Four for Nothing

There was a middle aged black musician who came to the school where I worked in Morningside Depths years ago. He was there to teach the kids the fundamentals of music.  He spent most of the time teaching them to count and to read music.  I don’t recall much music being made by the group, but I do remember him bringing the group to attention for each exercise by smartly announcing “four for nothing”.  This meant four bars of some kind of intro before the actual piece would start.  You can hear examples of this all the time, I could sing you five of them now, these “four for nothing” bits.

Four for nothing.

1)

At seventeen I saw “Enter the Dragon”, the only Hollywood film starring the immortal Bruce Lee.  I saw it with a group of friends in a Jerusalem movie theatre.  It was intoxicating.  My friends and I left the cinema flooded with youthful strength and with the amazing possibilities contained in the human body and spirit.  We walked the streets imitating Bruce Lee, doing his graceful, stealthy walk from the scene where he spies on Han’s evil operations.  We did Lee’s catlike war cry, stopping to take heroic poses from various scenes in the movie.  I remember feeling like I could lift up or overturn cars.  We were all devastated to find out later that Bruce Lee had died, just before his greatest movie was released, just as he was about to become an international superstar.  He was already a superstar all over Asia, we learned.  I have seen Enter the Dragon perhaps six or seven times since, and I am never disappointed.

A few years later, at City College, I enrolled in a gymnastics class, hoping to learn to do the amazing handspring Bruce Lee had done, bounding into the air off his powerful arms and doing two or three flips in the air before landing with catlike nonchalance to bow to the judges.  There was a sign in the City College gym I remember.  It said: practice good hand stands every where.  This was excellent advice if you wanted to develop the strength and balance to do a handspring.  I was never able to do a good hand stand anywhere, the version I did required a wall nearby to brace my feet.  

I was too naive to realize that one does not enroll in a course that meets once or twice a week and expect to master something that people who do it have been doing every day since early childhood.  It is not enough to be young and fit to learn to do a backflip or handspring.  One thing needed for doing flips in the air is fearlessness.  Another is complete confidence.

I have the image of Simba Perkins, a Harlem nine year-old, balanced on a metal hand rail above a cement courtyard.  Simba was in my third grade class.  When he saw me getting to my car outside the school he called out my name and told me to watch.  Before I could get the words “Simba, don’t!” out of my mouth, the kid launched himself into the air, flipped upside down in the air high above the bar and landed lightly on the cement, smiling like Bruce Lee.  

You could have taken a photo of the fearless boy, with a very fast shutter, and caught him upside down, his back straight, his head pointing directly to the deadly cement six or eight feet below his head.  The still image would be of a boy about to spend his life in a wheelchair with a spinal injury, if he survived the shattering trauma to his skull.  Simba, of course, had done countless back flips.  He never had any fear or hesitation.

I had both and could not overcome the instinct to tuck my head when I went into any position where I might land on my spine.  This is exactly the opposite of what one needs to do to perform a handspring.  It was only by an act of mercy that the teacher passed me after I did my version of a floor routine, in the middle of a gym full of leaping, hand standing, back flipping gymnasts who were good enough sports not to laugh or otherwise show their pity for my game but sad attempts.

2) 

My uncle, a meticulous man, bought a blood pressure monitor.  It was a good one, top of the line, automatic, with a computer interface to keep track of your blood pressure and pulse readings.   He placed a post-it on the monitor where he wrote the date of the purchase.  All this soon became very ironic, and poignant, when, two or three days later, he had a massive stroke.  He spent the remaining time he had on this planet in a wheel chair.  Every time he had to urinate someone needed to hold a jar for him to pee in, the other hand guiding his penis.  The only time this wasn’t done was during his several trips to the hospital for intensive care, when, presumably, they inserted a catheter into the slowly dying man’s urinary tract.

I acquired the brand new blood pressure monitor, which he had no further use for, and took readings of my own borderline high blood pressure for a year or two.  Eventually a doctor friend convinced me to take the drug she and another friend of ours take to control elevated blood pressure.  She informed me that, after a certain age, when the blood pressure is elevated on a regular basis, diet and exercise will no longer have much effect.  I told her I wasn’t worried about having a stroke and she told me to worry about the permanent damage to my heart and liver the high blood pressure was already causing.  I got a prescription soon after and, although on half the dose she takes, my blood pressure has been in a healthy range ever since. 

“116 over 74,” said my former doctor, impressed.  

“White coat syndrome,” I told him.

 

3)

One summer afternoon about thirty years ago, in the early days of a romance with a pretty young woman ten years younger than me, we went shopping in Jackson Heights for every kind of ripe fruit we could find.  We borrowed my parents’ house in Queens where we made an enormous fruit salad in the kitchen, with mangos, melons, cherries, pineapple, oranges, strawberries, peaches, plums.  My parents were away for a few days, I don’t recall where, but there was no chance of their returning home.   It was a warm day, but not hot, and we stripped off our t-shirts and shorts as we made the fruit salad.  Then, as the sun began to set we took the huge bowl of fruit salad out into the backyard and sat naked in the grass to eat it.  

As we started to eat the fruit salad darkness fell.  Next door the flood light in my neighbor’s driveway cast enough light to see us clearly by, especially once it got dark.  Long stripes of shadow from the picket fence fell across the grass, halfway to where we were.  Beyond the shadows, just light.  I remember being slightly paranoid that my long-time neighbors, a young widow and her two beautiful daughters, could come outside or drive up at any moment, and there would be no way to hide, but the memory of that delicious fruit salad in the grass stirs me to this day.

4) 

Schoolyard, Bronx, 1972 or 1973.  I’d been playing guitar a year or two by then, and there was a genius at the school I went to, a school for science nerds.  Neither me nor this genius were science nerds, in fact, he had almost no interest in any of his classes, even the English and History classes that sometimes engaged me.  He was only interested in playing the guitar.  So disinterested was he in his scholastic studies that he had failed sophomore English.  I passed him once as his young English teacher was detaining him at the classroom door to implore him to give her some way to pass him,  a Junior, failing sophomore English for the second time.  He motioned for me to wait for him, so I heard her plea.

“Frank, you’re obviously very bright, and verbal, and you can write very well, but you have turned in absolutely no work this term and I cannot pass you.  I also don’t want to fail you….” she was clearly at a loss.  My friend shrugged and indicated that he and I were about to have an important conversation and that he needed to be excused.

 “What do you do all the time?” she finally asked him, “clearly you don’t spend any time doing my assignments.  What do you do?”

“I play guitar,” he said.  

“You must be good,” she said.  

“I am,” he said, with great understatement.  

She thought for a moment and came up with an idea only a young English teacher at that moment in history could have thought of.  “OK, bring in your guitar and play for the class and I’ll write it up and maybe I can pass you for that.”  He agreed quickly and we walked off to have lunch.  

Let’s say it was during lunch that same day, in the school yard.  I showed him my version of the intro to Stairway to Heaven, a delicate bit long passed into cliche, now banned in all music stores. He took the guitar, strummed the heroic variations on the D chord that presage the heavy electric guitar solo, and launched into Jimmy Page’s unforgettable solo.  He played it again when I asked, and I soon mastered that cool little intro and the opening of Page’s solo.  It was a great thrill.

A few days later I cut my fourth period class to be on hand during his guitar recital for the idealistic young English teacher.  To her credit, the teacher did not even ask who I was or what I was doing there.  I could have been the guy’s agent, for all she knew.  The desks were all pulled to the sides of the room and the chairs were arranged in a circle.  Frank sat in the middle, with a guy named Allen Saul on backing guitar.  I’d never seen Frank play with Allen, but Allen turned out to be a fine accompanist.   Frank began to play.  The English teacher looked on as though falling in love.  With tears in her eyes, and not looking away from Frank, she scrawled a note and sent a kid out into the hall with it.    

A few minutes later the chairman of the music department and both music teachers were standing by the door of the room, listening to Frank, clearly moved by his playing.  When he was done the chairman announced they’d had no idea they had a student of his caliber at the school and gave Frank basically the keys to the city.  “Come by when you get a chance and we’ll give you the key to a practice room.  Our resources are at your disposal, whatever we can do for you, whatever you need, we will be happy to do our best to provide it for you.”  

Then it was the English teacher’s turn, and words were clearly failing her as she attempted to tell Frank how moved she was by his playing, how, she too, would do anything Frank needed her to do.  Frank was clearly embarrassed by all this adulation and so, when a friend of his gave him, literally, a Bronx cheer, Frank leaped over the chairs and got his friend by the neck and they tumbled to the ground in a clatter of desks, playfully fake fighting.  

“Frank!!!” called the English teacher, like Dave Saville calling “Alvin!!!” when the cartoon chipmunk got out of control.  Perfect bit of real-life imitating art, Hollywood style.

A few days later, having absented myself from a trigonometry or physics class, I ran into Frank in the hall.  He asked if I had a minute.  I did.  He took me up a narrow stairway I’d never seen into a bank of rooms I’d never seen.  Using a key he opened a door and we went into a room just a little bigger than an upright piano.  

We sat on the piano bench and he played a line on the guitar.  It was a lightning fast bit of a solo from John McLaughlin’s wonderful acoustic album My Goal’s Beyond.   It was an extremely complicated bit of improvisation that Frank had easily copped from the record.  He played it on guitar, then took his right hand and played it perfectly on the piano.

My eyes popped wide open.  “How long have you been playing the piano?” I asked him.

He told me it had been a few days, and counted off the days since they’d given him the key to a practice room.  “About a week,” he said.

“How the hell can you do that?” I asked the sixteen year-old genius.  

“I have no idea,” he said, “and I can’t explain it, but, it’s exactly like playing the guitar, if that makes any sense.”