Monday, February 9, 2015

Drumming: The Early Years, Part II

Where were we? Ah yes, sucking!

Not only are those the words of a forgetful prostitute, they accurately describe my drumming skill level circa 7th grade. I totally sucked, and was totally fearful every time I sat behind the drums when playing with the jazz band. You see, I was relegated to the conga drums for performances and most of rehearsals, but would occasionally get a chance to share my suck rather than keep it all to myself near the ends of rehearsals, probably because the other drummer's arms got tired or something.

By the way if you didn't read part one, stop being dumb and click here. When you're done, come back to part two here, if you feel like you can take both parts in one sitting. And when you do come back, start over at the beginning, so you get the full effect. But then I guess you can skip over this bit the second time through if you've actually bothered to read all the way to here the first time through, without reading part one yet.

So anyway, there I am in seventh grade jazz band, clearly communicating to everybody via subtle body language that "no, I am not very good at this, and yes, that makes me uncomfortable" but visions of drum solos in the not too distant future gave me the mental fortitude to plow through all the ugliness. In reality, it's pretty likely that all the other musicians were thinking to themselves "I'm not very good" as well and had no time to focus on my not very good-ness, but mistakes on the drums were just so much more damn obvious so yes my problems were worse and that made me special.

Another issue that kept surfacing was, at the time, I played left handed. There are very few left handed drummers, and some might even argue that there's no such thing, because "right handed" is how the instrument is built, and you adapt, much in the same way some people argue there should be no left handed violinists. To that I say no fuck you, if it's easier to play the other way then play the other way because who gives a shit? So that's what I did, and it was terribly inconvenient. I could never just plop down on a set, because nearly everyone else was right handed, so whenever I had access to a set, everything was set up for a right handed drummer. If I wanted to take a crack, I had to rearrange everything. But I begrudgingly did it, and I played as much as I could as best as I could during that year or so, and then


In March of 1998, months away from my birthday or any sort of gift giving holiday (which I guess leaves just Christmas) my parents probably thought "ah jeez he hasn't lost interest, guess we better do something" and surprised me with a set ALL OF MY OWN. "Oh there's something in the spare room closet for you!" They said, or something like that, I don't fucking know it was almost 17 years ago. I bounded up the stairs and threw the door open so hard the WHOLE HOUSE BLEW UP. Haha, no actually I probably ascended to the closet at a reasonable pace, because like I said, it wasn't Christmas or my birthday or anything so I wasn't expecting any sort of major tell you the truth I really don't remember the events leading up to the big reveal at all, I'm mostly just making shit up. I opened the closet door and blinked a few times. I didn't expect drums so hard that my first thought was probably more like "hmm, someone left their drums here" rather than "@#FUCKING!@%#$@SHIT@#@%!WTF%^" But I did eventually settle on something along those lines.

I assembled the kit in the attic (the left handed way god dammit) and immediately played one of the two beats I knew how to play for probably hours. Glory! Vindication! Disbelief! Immediate stagnation! I was young, so had no concept of effective practicing. For awhile though it didn't matter. The thought that I had a drumset all my own made me feel like a superhero, even though the drum heads looked like someones acne scarred face, and the cymbals sounded like trash can lids smashing together. 

I would play my couple beats, occasionally attempt to mix it up, immediately falter and get frustrated, and then would do it all again. This repeated ad nauseam until drum lessons started a few months later. Apparently I waited a short while to begin lessons because I wanted to get my feet wet and ingrain some bad habits before my parents paid someone to get rid of them. 

Here, make him not sound like shit.

Summer of '98 is when those lessons began. At this point I somewhat competently knew how to play some basic beats with some semblance of timing, which in my mind translated to "I don't need this shit I rule." However, we started with something unexpected: not beats.

Here's a quick lesson. Drums are played with two hands, and two feet, with your two hands doing most of the work. Yes there are exceptions to this statement, death metal etc..shut up. My point is the focus is mostly on your hands when you're first learning, so why not get those in shape first? Two fewer limbs to work on, and it will lay the foundation for a lot of concepts that can be applied to the rest of your limbs when they're ready. 

So to start, we would do rudiments. These were exercises that would get the blood flowing, and if practiced enough, would improve your speed, dexterity, and coordination. They were also boring as fuck, especially when you aren't very good at them.

So I would practice reading music in a snare drum method book. I was already familiar with how to read music, since I had been taking band in school, so I breezed through the first book all smug and shit, even though my drum teacher was probably thinking "ok, you technically got the rhythm right, but it was still terrible for a lot of reasons."  But I get why he didn't intervene further. You can't expect someone that's just learning to perfect every nuance before moving on. Lessons are a delicate balance between introducing new concepts (exciting!), repetition (boring!), putting things you've learned into context (exciting!) and discussing effective practice techniques, since most of the learning is done when you aren't with the teacher (boring!). But, my drum teacher did a good job at keeping me inspired. Each time we got together, I'm fairly sure he could tell that 80% of my practice time since I'd last seen him was spent going "RGBHGHBRHABAHBAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAH" on the drums, and only 20% was spent applying things I'd learned in his lessons, but keeping your hands moving is an important part of improvement, so I guess that 80% wasn't totally wasted. 

Like I just said about 10 seconds ago (maybe 30 if you're a shitty reader), most improvement occurs when not with the teacher. There was no way I was just going to do rudiments for hours a day, so I had to make it fun somehow. I chose to play along with some of my favorite CDs on my sweet discman. My strategy seemed to be "play shit that's way out of your skill set and get depressed about it" but it did lead to some occasional, 
but major improvements. 

Then I gave up on playing left handed cause I was so sick of moving other people's drums around. I was terrible from either side, so I figured better make the switch before I developed skills that I would have to relearn from the other side. I regret nothing.

I would also sometimes have guitar player friends come over. They'd discover a fun riff, we'd jam on it for 30 seconds or so, and then it was just a question of who was going to get bored and stop first. So I suppose all sorts of little things worked together to keep me improving and prevent me from losing interest. 

Then I got busted for shoplifting and got grounded for approximately forever, so I did basically nothing but play drums all day every day for months and months. That certainly helped too.   

After those first couple of years, I was getting pretty solid in Jazz Band, and had a few fancy tricks in my arsenal to convince non-musicians that I was really good, and actual musicians that I would eventually be good maybe. Even though I'd barely been playing for any time at all, I thought I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That's right. Eighth grade, and I thought I was going to reach some sort of terminus already. I have obviously since realized that light is a total illusion. There is no "end" to learning an instrument. No matter how good you are, there is always room for improvement, and there will always be someone better than you. Often times these people are much much younger than you, but no worries, we can all hate those people together.

Coming soon, part 3, where I take this shit to the high school, and later COLLEGE LEVEL!!!


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Collarbone SMASH!!

Most of you have seen the pictures, but I don't think I've bothered to tell you all the story in detail, so here goes.

I fell!

Before moving to Nashville, I told people of my plan to be a bike commuter depending on where I ended up living and working. I was prepared to bike up to 30 miles a day. It would be great for my health, and I would save money. People's responses ranged from: "It's too hot, you'll die!" to "you'll die!" but I'd been off the training wheels for about 20 years, and had actually been bike commuting in NYC for awhile without incident, so I wasn't too worried.

Well everyone, you were right!

My job ended up being about a 9 mile commute each way. Nashville isn't the most bike friendly city, but in my defense there were bike lanes and wide shoulders most of the way, so for a couple months there were no issues except for three stupid flat tires. Apparently the "bent staples" truck had been through town and had dropped their inventory all along my route to work. No worries though, I just biked around with a pump, tubes, and a patch kit just in case. 

Anyway, there was one stretch on the ride to work, Bransford Avenue, that was a bit narrow. Here I'll show you!

"Ride on the sidewalk!" You just thought to yourself. NO THAT'S NOT FOR BIKES.

I stuck to the side of the road for this bit, and most motorists were pretty polite to keep their distance, since they only had to go under the speed limit for about 100 yards before it widened back out and they could pass me. "Not today!" thought some asshole.

I was nearing the end of the narrow stretch of road when this shithead in a pickup truck that probably not only listens to but respects Ted Nugent thought it was fine to just hover right up next to, and slightly behind me. Basically they hung out where my blind spot would be if I was driving a car.

I don't know where they were going in such a hurry. Probably on their way to pick up some drugs after abandoning their children.

So to avoid getting clipped, I had to keep an eye out over my left shoulder rather than look at the road ahead of me. This only lasted a couple of seconds, but that's all it took. I hit a manhole cover while looking over my shoulder, so I was completely taken off guard. Here I'll show you!

Hard to tell, but it sticks up from the road a couple inches.

The front tired buckled, and I slammed into the ground shoulder first, and then smacked my head (hooray for helmets!) and skidded along the road. Panic set in, since as you can see, I was in the middle of an intersection, so I leapt to my feet, picked up my bike, and carried it to the side of the road to that small patch of grass. Cars flew by, and nobody stopped to check to see if I was ok. I was incensed! They must've assumed I was fine since I had popped back up and jogged to the side of the road, but I needed to focus on hating them for a bit rather than on how injured I was.

I sat down and got my bearings, heart racing. I couldn't feel most of my left arm at this point, but could still move it. I then thought "hmm, how is my brain?" You see, when I was 11, there had been another bike accident where I'd smacked my head pretty hard (hooray for helmets!) and on that day, I had gotten some sort of temporary amnesia. It had been several weeks into my 6th grade school year and I couldn't remember who my teacher was, what the classroom looked like, who my classmates were etc..) so I tried to see if I still had my wits about me. I remembered things like my phone number, where I was going, who I worked with and all that, so relief started to set over me. I could move, I could think, I could walk. Aside from a front tire that now looked like a Salvador Dali painting

I guessed I'd be ok. Then I started checking for damage. Gash on my left hand, gash on my elbow, terrible road rash on my left shoulder. Scrapes on my knee, bruised hip, sore back. I rotated my left shoulder a bit and it felt a bit off, so I ran my fingers along my left collarbone. 

Hmm, doesn't feel quite right.

And just like that, my dreams of lifting weights that afternoon were dashed. It didn't hurt yet, so although somewhat panicked about just what the hell I was gonna do next, part of me was thinking "haha people that think broken bones hurt are pussies." 

So I just sat there dumbstruck for a minute. Seriously though what the hell was I gonna do next? 

Let's all go to the hospital!

I dialed 911, but before I could press send I saw a police car pull up to the intersection. I quickly tossed out all the drugs in my possession, then hobbled over. Maybe he could give me a ride to the hospital! At this point the the adrenaline was wearing off, so in the dozen or so steps over to his car I was all rgbhrhbgbhrhbbhggggaauuuuhhhh and the pain started to set in. Turns out immediately lifting a bike and carrying it across the road probably wasn't the best thing I could've done. I've actually since been told that may have been what caused the bone to become so dislodged. 

It became clear the only way I was getting to the hospital was in an ambulance. I told the cop what happened, so he called the ambulance for me, and actually called his police friends too because they were probably bored so hey, come check this shit out!

So picture the scene. I'm lying with my arm across my chest in a small patch of grass next to the road, in terrible pain, not sure how much worse the pain is going to get, and I'm surrounded by cops. 

Best day of my life.

The ambulance arrived after what felt like literally forever, and *huphuphuphup* the EMTs tumbled out, asked me what happened, where it hurt, and asked if I could stand because that would be you know, super helpful for them. I somehow managed to stand up and thought how funny it would be to say "lol just kidding!" and just leave.

Haha but seriously they put my neck in a brace and put me on a stretcher. Off we went! In the ambulance, each bump was the worst thing in my life up to that point. The EMT asked me if I'd hit my head. I said yes, so he started asking me things like my address, date of birth, maybe who the president was? I don't remember. We both quickly realized my head was fine, and that all of the awful was concentrated into my left collarbone, or should I say left collarbones, since I now had several. At this point since nobody had taken x-rays, and "trust me it's ruined" isn't good enough, they all kept saying things like "possible fractured clavicle" on their walkie talkies. I wanted to tell them if I wasn't god damned sure it was broken I would've left the bike, shaken it off and walked the rest of the way to work like this guy:

Coulda been me.

but I was too busy saying "hngggggggh". Then realized I was probably going to get pain drugs soon, and that was awesome.

My first ambulance ride! I always wondered under what circumstances that would take place, if any. Would I be accompanying someone I knew? Accompanying a stranger? Or would I be the star of the show? It's pretty wild to think the morning had started like any other, and in seconds, I was all busted up and going to the hospital. I had this vivid memory of pulling up to the intersection before turning onto the road where I fell. I was thirty seconds away from falling, and had no idea. If I'd just taken the sidewalk, I'd have been fine. I tried not to get stuck on that thought though, because what's done is done, but that feeling of "if I'd only JUST" etc.. was the main event in my head for sure. 

Off the stretcher, and into the hospital. After I was wheeled into a room, a barrage of doctors and nurses fluttered in and asked me the same questions as the cops, and EMTs. What happened? Where did it happen? Where does it hurt? Can you move? Did you hit your head? How bad is the pain? Tell us EVERYTHING.

What did you have for BREAKFAST?
They stuck me with an IV just in case they needed to run pain meds intravenously, fitted me with one of those blood oxygen saturation readers that goes over your finger, cut my shirt off with a pair of rusty scissors, all while sweating, with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths shouting LIVE DAMMIT, LIVE! No but really they did cut my shirt off with I assume sterile scissors.


After the flurry of doctors and nurses had assessed the situation, they noticed as long as I didn't do anything crazy like "move" I felt fine at this point, so they tragically decided not to dope me up too badly. Despite that, after cutting off my shirt and seeing my injury (and huge pecs) they all agreed my collarbone was certainly broken since they could see it was practically busting through my skin. The plan was to hang out until they got someone to do some x-rays. After those were done, they'd review them and tell me if I'd need surgery. Then it was just a matter of taking a few precautions, writing me a prescription for pain meds, and making sure I had a ride home.

So I just sat in relieving silence. No IV meds, but they did give me some pain pills, so I was pretty mellowed out. I texted everyone that needed to know what had just happened. Something along the lines of "Hi! I'm fine, but kinda in the hospital." Also told my boss I wouldn't be in that day or probably the next. 

Soon various nurses came in to have me sign paperwork.

If you'll just sign where it says "yes I agree to be charged a fuckload for this shit"

The topic of health insurance came up, to which I replied "I think I have insurance through work, but I started a couple months ago so I gotta get the details." 

Let's jump ahead to the conversation I later had with HR about this.

Me: Hi there. I think we've met once, my name is Matt, and as you can see I got into an accident! I wanted to ask you about the company's health insurance.

HR: Do you have insurance?

Me: ...well, I guess that's what I came to ask. I started in July and--

HR: So you don't have insurance.

Me:...I see. Well when it kicks in is there such thing as filing a claim retroactively?

(I have since learned this was a very foolish question)

HR: *restraining laughter* no.

Me: So...I'm screwed? 

HR: *shrug/minimally sympathetic look*

So no. No insurance. I was still under the 90 day probationary period where they needed to see that I wasn't a flight risk before they start throwing benefits at me. Perfect! After being insured my whole life up until that previous June 1st, I had managed to have the most expensive accident, in fact the only accident in my life requiring hospitalization (aside from that time I cut my dick open by falling off the sink when I was 8, but that was minor) in those few months before the next insurance would kick in.


The eventual cost of everything wasn't really a concern to me at this point though. All I needed to know to feel comfortable was "will I eventually heal?" I hadn't taken x-rays yet, but the consensus seemed to be "yes" so at least I had that.

A short time passed, and the x-ray tech came in. I think he had dealt with a lot of broken collarbones at this point in his life, and most had probably been minor, because he seemed to think this was no big deal. After wheeling me into the x-ray room he just looked at me expectantly like "Ok! Hop up in front of this wall here!" I tried to tell him getting up was going to be difficult in my current state. Also it was probably about noon and I still hadn't had a substantial meal after biking about 7 of the 9 miles to work, so I was also feeling pretty faint. Nevertheless, I struggled out of the bed, and stood in front of the wall sheepishly. 

The best way to describe this feeling, is it was akin to waking up at 6 in the morning after a night of heavy drinking, and REALLY having to piss. You will finally, begrudgingly hoist yourself out of bed when this need to piss finally outweighs the overwhelming need to just lay there and recover from your transgressions. As you stumble to the bathroom, all you can think of is "man, I really need to lay back down." Then, some guys will make the terrible terrible mistake of standing up to piss before realizing just how bad of an idea standing is. This is what posing for that x-ray felt like. Holding still for even 30 seconds was so exhausting I almost vomited. After taking two or three, the ordeal mercifully ended, and I collapsed back onto the bed. 

The tech went to the back room to look at the results, and after a few seconds came back out, and with a sudden air of seriousness he paused and said 

"..yup, you definitely broke it." 

To which I replied 

"I know."

I went back to the room, and was told the docs would be along after awhile. My battery was dead at this point, so I couldn't entertain myself with my phone. Luckily there was a TV with some sort of pseudo on-demand service, so I put on "Captain Phillips." There wasn't much else to choose from. 

The climax of the movie was approaching, and then finally a couple of docs came in to give me the prognosis. I tried to pause the movie but apparently this stupid TV was on some sort of fucking lockdown, and I couldn't pause the damn thing. So I turned the volume all the way down so as not to be distracted, glancing back at the TV ever so often to try to grab enough bits of the plot to keep the narrative going. I eventually gave up.

After being told earlier that collarbone fractures almost never require surgery, I was now told in no uncertain terms that I would need surgery. They scheduled a followup appointment for a week later, and surgery would follow a few days after that. They told me since the bone was so displaced, I would probably get a titanium plate and screws put in. Images of terminator-dom danced through my head. I asked if I would eventually need this plate and screws removed. They said "if it ends up bothering you down the road you can elect to have it removed, but it's usually not necessary." 

So, I was going to have a titanium plate in my collarbone for the rest of my life.

Finally, some good news. 

To be continued...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Chasing Chase (Haha I'm So Clever)

People like to complain about banks. For awhile, I was not one of those people. Banks were a necessarily evil that I was only marginally involved with. They gave me a place to conveniently park my money, but it was never enough for them to do irresponsible things with, and I never took advantage of any of their rewards programs or credit cards or refinancing etc. They left me alone and I left them alone, so I didn't feel complicit in their shenanigans during the subprime mortgage crisis. But now, I've got something to fucking complain about, so I'm going to do it here. 

The target is Chase Bank.

For years I used Chase since their banks were literally on every other street corner in the greater New York City area. Convenience is a big part of who I choose, so if it turns out a small bank helps out the little guy and funds oversees entrepreneurs, great! But if I have to travel more than a mile or so to visit a branch/ATM, and I can't take nifty pictures of checks and have them get deposited from my couch, then fuck it I'm not choosing them, and if that makes me an asshole then so be it. 

During my recent move, it came to my attention that Chase had no branches in the Nashville area. This would be a problem, so I made plans to find a new bank. This didn't bother me, because again, convenience is key, not any sort of brand loyalty. Ideally, I could've withdrawn all funds and closed the account in person before leaving, but I still had a direct deposit check coming through from my last days at work, and would need to square some bills in the coming weeks, and sending money directly via chase quickpay was the easiest way to do that. I figured it wouldn't be a problem to just close the account over the phone in the coming months. In retrospect I am the dumbest person on the earth.

Weeks passed, my funds dwindled since I was still using my debit card in Nashville, but then the time came to close the account, and for them to send me the not insignificant amount left in my checking account. I thought about having them wire it to my new account, but that would cost money, and I could stand to wait a couple of weeks for them to send the check in the mail. My security deposit from my Brooklyn apartment would keep me afloat for some time anyway. So I checked chase's website for details on how to close my account. Not easy to find as it turns out! Some deep digging led me to a "close account request form" that looked promising, but it seemed like something I'd have to deliver in person, which was impossible. So I begrudgingly called customer service and gave them the scoop. 

"Hi I need to close my account and have my remaining funds sent to my new address please." 

"Ok, well I can close your account, but I can't send the money to a different address afterwards."

"Ok, can youuuuu change my address, and then close my account?"

"No, address changes take 3-5 business days to reflect on the account."

"Ok, well I have this close account request form, and there's a space where I can specify where my remaining funds are sent, can I just scan that and email it to someone?" 

"Sure, but you actually have to send that via regular mail."

*sigh* "Ok, where do I send it?

*agent gives me the address*

"Ok I'll put it in the mail today, thanks!"

Sure, it seemed a silly roundabout way to close my account, but whatever, I'll wait however long it takes.

A couple weeks passed and I noticed that while I could still log on to online banking, my accounts had apparently been closed, so hey, it worked! Now to just wait for the check...except it never came!

3 weeks after my initial call, I called back and explained the situation again. 

"Hi, I closed my account by mailing this form to some place in Texas, and my accounts appear to have been closed, but I never got anything in the mail."

"Ok, I see you called on the 7th, so yes you definitely should have received something by now!"


"Ok, I can put a research out on this, and they'll put a stop payment on the check, wherever it is, and I'll have them send you a new one."

"Ok, remember, send it to my NEW address. This is the address I put on your form, but someone apparently ignored it, or it got lost in the mail or something."

"Yes yes, ok what's your new address?"

*give my address*

"Ok, thank you."

"Read that back to me please."

*reads it back correctly*

"Ok thanks. Now when can I expect this?"

"The research will take 3-5 business days, and then you'll get the check within 7-10 business days."

"Uh...was hoping to get it before the first of the month. That's why I called weeks ago. I didn't do anything wrong, and pretty soon I'll have to pay bills. Any way I can get it faster than that?"

"Uh uhh *struggling to pull head out from ass* 3-5 and 7-10 is the maximum, it will most likely come sooner than that!"

*sigh* "Ok, well I'm still not happy, but as long as I eventually get it I guess that's all I can do."

So despite having basically 0 headaches for years, apparently as soon as I needed anything beyond "withdraw/deposit money" several bureaucratic hoops were presented for me to gracefully jump through. The way I see it, there should be 3 steps.

1. Call and make request to close account and have funds mailed.

2. Prove that I am me, and not an impostor.

3. Get account closed, and have funds mailed.

But I guess their internal procedure includes a million little in-between steps performed by people with minimal training/reading competency, with no repercussions in the event they fuck something up.

So, 5 business days passed, then 10 more. This is the maximum amount of time (it will most likely come sooner than that!! HA HA) and I checked the mail. Nothing. He read my address back to me. I told him exactly what I needed, and where to send it. He seemed to understand. What the FUCK was the problem? This was such a simple request! Surely I am not the first to close an account and have funds mailed somewhere else! What part of this process was confusing to the people handling it? 

I've worked phone customer service before, so I try to be patient with these people, but after waiting for over a month, and having my budget stretched extremely thin through no fault of my own, my patience was gone. At this point, my first paycheck from my new job was only a few days away, so there was no more sense of urgency, although that money would've been really nice to have to hold me over!! 

I had periodically been logging into online banking to see if there was anything worth noting, and hadn't seen anything, but after the 15 business day window, I logged back on to see if maybe I could attack their customer service from another angle. But what's this? An alert, that they had mailed me something, and it had been returned to them? Oh look, they mailed it to my BROOKLYN ADDRESS. Despite me putting my Tennessee address on the form. Despite giving the guy on the phone my Tennessee address, and being explicit about the fact that I had moved, and to confirm he had my address correct. Nope, they STILL tried Brooklyn. I must've been talking to this guy:

So despite my accounts being closed, I was able to change my address to my new one online (if I had done that weeks ago, would this have all been avoided?) I then sent a message detailing this whole fiasco, while heroically STILL managing to avoid swearing. Multiple times throughout the message I gave them my Tennessee address, and mentioned that I. HAD. MOVED. And to please let me know what I could possibly do to get through to somebody that all I needed was my remaining balance mailed to me. 

I received a reply the next day, basically telling me exactly what the guy on the phone had told me before. Since that had gotten me nowhere, I replied immediately, saying "that action was already taken with no result. Can you confirm you have my new address, and can you confirm you will call me or email me?" I got another reply the next day, confirming they have started research on this issue and will get back to me. Their reply did not confirm my new address. Their reply did not confirm my email. Only that "they would contact me as soon as they can." It has been 4 days and still nothing. 

Time to start keeping my money under the fucking mattress.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Drumming: The Early Years

What goes through the head of an eight year old? That was a long time ago for me, so I can't remember a whole lot besides hot dogs, but one important thing I can tell you is that it was when I first became captivated by the drums. I also think eight years old is about the age when your dreams start the slow transition away from "some sort of laser space hero" to more attainable pursuits.

Now, I suppose I can't speak for everyone when I say that. It's possible some people entertained the idea of being a space marine well into high school or college, but for me, I was ever the skeptical one. Perhaps when I pitched my pie in the sky career aspirations to adults before this age, I saw the slight wincing. The patronizing gazes. I heard the dulcet tones hidden beneath their encouragement. "Yeah you can be an astronaut!" They'd say, failing to add "even though they will only accept perfect human specimens and you threw up from the tilt-a-whirl so maybe try something else."

So one day, I was sitting on the porch at my camp listening to some music, when someone put on "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin. My ears perked up.


"This fucking...somethings!!!" I thought. Later I would find out the word is "rocks". Before this time, I guess music had never really grabbed me. Maybe because it had always been something that was just on in the background. Or maybe attentively listening to music was on that long list of things that your parents did, and you were told "you'll do it too someday!" and you nodded while actually thinking "no that's something old people do, and I'll never be old, so..." Or maybe it was because I was fucking eight.

Whoever put on that Led Zeppelin album has no idea how much they changed my life. The guitars were all SQUEEEELAAAA and the vocals were all HRRMMAAADEEERRROOO but what REALLY got me was the BEAT. So POWERFUL. It hit me on a truly primal level. I'm not sure if it was a chance mix of circumstances that led to that event, or if it was bound to happen because it was just coded in my DNA or what. But that's when I made my decision. Drums for me! Nothing else for my whole life thanks!


So I'm dreaming of drums all the time at this point, just scheming how I could possibly get my hands on some. I knew it was more complicated than

Parents: Ok.

So I had to bide my time. What opportunities did I have to play? Let's see..I know! My second cousin had a drum set! He was several years older, and I heard he was super good. So, how to make this guy my new best friend and use him for his shit? Well luckily it never came to that, because I heard he would be bringing his equipment to our upcoming family reunion!!! The drums were so close I could TASTE THEM. They tasted like WOOD AND METAL SCREWS.


So there we were at the family reunion in a giant field by my Dad's cousin's house. The field was full of tents, a giant fire pit, and a small stage with the mighty drum set. I knew about five of the probably ten million people there. How many first cousins do you have reader? A few? More than ten? Well my Dad has about forty. FORTY. And they were mostly all there. And they all had kids. And they all brought friends.

So I was a shy kid, and I didn't really have the fortitude to stroll up to my older cousin amongst the hubub and say "Hi can I play your drums?" So what I'd do is walk near my parents and say something like "wow, look at those drums! Sure wish I could play 'em!" My parents were well aware of my percussive desires, and of my shyness, so they got the hint that they were gonna have to pull some strings. I distinctly remember my dad asking my cousin if he wouldn't mind letting me play the drums, while I was close by all fucking

And my cousin said something like "sure."


So now I just had to wait til the drums were available.

Well, I think the theme of this family reunion must've been "let's never stop playing music ever" so I had very few opportunities to actually try my hand. It was like sitting at a shitty concert with the promise of pie after the band is done, except the band never finishes and you start to convince yourself you don't like pie that much and you should just fucking leave.

When suddenly BAM! Opportunity! YES! But what's this? Who the fuck are you? This stupid little fat blonde kid hopped up onto the drums and just started smacking the shit out of them. I had never seen this kid before in my life but I knew immediately that I hated him. HOW LONG HAD YOU BEEN WAITING HUH FUCKFACE?! And he Just. Kept. Playing. He couldn't even play beats. He was just hitting random shit with the endurance of some sort of titanous beast. I stewed in my anger, along with several other kids that wanted him to shut the fuck up, when finally some other kid intervened. "Hey man, you've been playing forever, it's my turn." The stupid little fat kid said "NO! I need to JAM!"

Well so did WE. How about we START by jamming the sticks UP YOUR ASS. I wasn't sure if I was related to him, but I hoped not cause I'd be ashamed to share the same blood as this stupid pile of dog shit.

I think several other kids lost their gumption and just let this kid have at it for awhile, but I was determined to wait. Finally the kid left the seat.

Because the family was getting up to play some MORE MUSIC God DAMMIT.

So I waited and waited and waited some more, when finally my opportunity came. I found myself at the seat. Sticks in hand. Feet on pedals. Behind the instrument of my dreams. And..


Man, how the fuck do you play this thing?

This was hard.

I'd spent so much time lusting after this fine instrument, and hadn't really given a thought to what I'd do when I actually had the chance to play it. Sure the guitar was a mystery, the piano was a mystery, and horns and reed instruments were a mystery, but they all combined strange finger dexterity and knowledge of tones. But the drums? It looked like all you had to do was hit shit and coolness would just happen. But my every attempt to hit any of these drums resulted in a truly impotent bellow of insignificance. Also I don't think my feet touched the pedals.

My dreams were crushed. Did I cry? Probably. I had watched my cousin and various other mystery relatives play this thing with ease. What, I actually needed to PRACTICE? Pffffff. So fine. No shortcuts for me. What other choice did I have? Hmm, school percussion!

My brother had joined band the previous year, only he played a lame instrument, like the lameophone or something. I knew if I wanted to cultivate a knowledge of drums and percussion, the school music program would be a smart way to go.

Just one problem though. At this point I was 9, and I obviously wasn't the only nine year old that wanted to be a drummer, and to prevent a band comprised of one flute, three trumpets and eighty drummers, there was a stipulation. To join percussion, you need to have taken at least two years of piano lessons.

Woulda been nice if they'd told us this shit when I was seven. I had of course taken zero years of piano lessons, and wondered how I was going to overcome this hurdle. Luckily my parents talked to the band director, who graciously made an exception, with the caveat that I start piano lessons now, and take them in tandem with music lessons through the school. I would later hear from the band director the conversation went something like this:

Band Director: To play percussion you need at least two years of piano under your belt.
Parents: Well, he hasn't taken any lessons, but he really wants to play drums.
Band Director: I know, a lot of kids want to play drums, but without the piano lessons, we can't do it.
Parents: You don't understand. He really wants to play drums.

I like to imagine my parents subtly sharpening a knife during that last bit.

So the band director relented, and I was in! And it was BOORRRINNNGG!! First, drums are loud and expensive and my parents sure as fuck weren't gonna drop hundreds of dollars on something I'd get sick of, so I'd have to struggle through years of piano and percussion lessons before having a drum set of my own.

Second, percussion lessons in school were very much not drums. It was all orchestra bells and practice pads. Orchestra bells look like this:

And if you're wondering how the general populace felt about this instrument, here is a 100% real transcription of a conversation I had with two guys at my bus stop:

Guy one: What are those?
Me: Bells.
Guy two: You play the bells?
Me: Yes.
Guy one: Bells are stupid!
Guy two: Bells are boring!

So there's that. 

Practice pads look like this:

If you're struggling to figure out exactly what you're looking at, just imagine a drum, minus everything fun. Using these helped us get our chops up, without the noise. The noise was like 90% of the reason I chose drums in the first place, so this was a fucking travesty. The fact that I put up with this shit for years shows you just how badly I needed to play drums to be happy with my life.

I was only so patient, and I think my parents sensed that, because a couple years after I started playing percussion, I got my very own snare drum. There was still no "full drum set" yet, but I at least got part of the real thing. The only thing was, when you hear a snare drum on a recording, you're hearing an amplified, EQ adjusted snare hit. When you play one of those babies in real life you get weird ass overtones and rings and buzzes and echoes. I was disenchanted, but persevered, figuring all I had to do to achieve that idealized sound was to buy a one million dollar snare drum at some point in the future. I'd already been patient, so what's a few extra years or decades? Incidentally, I later discovered you just needed quality drumheads, proper tuning and muffling pads.

A bit after the snare drum years, I became aware that Junior high Jazz Band was a thing. Ahh Junior high Jazz..let's take some of the most stylistically complicated music there is, and hear it played by a bunch of shitty kids. Gotta start somewhere though, so I stayed after school and got to fiddle around a bit a couple times a week. By now I was coordinated enough to play simple beats, though not well. There was also the problem of the other drummer.

He was better than me, because he had already been playing for a couple years at this point. This did wonders for my confidence, as any smidgen of improvement I felt I'd made was quickly overshadowed by his superior skill set. So I was relegated to conga drums, or what everyone else liked to call the bongos. Because to most people every hand drum is a fucking bongo drum. 


I think the band director saw me deflate when I got my new assignment, so he was very supportive and talked up the congas like they were some sort of backbone of the band. I think he even played a couple of tunes with congas in them for me. I feigned enthusiasm, cause I understood he was just trying to make me feel better about sucking, but really the congas were just a way to say "I've heard you play drums, and I think you'd be better suited to play far fewer of them. Also we're going to take away your sticks." But dammit I played the fuck out of those things to the point where my joints ached from slamming them incredibly hard with virtually zero proper technique. Still pretty sure nobody heard me. 

But it's ok. Soon I would get a drum set all my own.

To be continued. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

3 Random Memories

The other day a couple of random memories popped into my head. I suppose they are the type of memories that stick because when they happened, the experiences felt profound, even if in retrospect they seem trivial. For each memory I'm guessing I was between 4 and 6 years old. Now I'm going to fucking tell you all about them.

1. "It's No, Thank You."

A lot of the circumstances were foggy, but I'll try to set the stage. I was at my Uncle's house, and I guess it was some sort of family gathering. My Uncle was moving a lot at the time, so that gave us all the excuse to go "check out the new place" a few times over the years. Incidentally, even though the place kept changing, it always smelled the same.

There we were, lots of people milling about, eating and drinking etc.. and I'm fucking off like 5ish year olds are wont to do. I was a super picky eater, and I guess everyone somehow caught wind of that and felt they had a responsibility to correct this issue. As a result, people kept coming up to me saying something like "HEY WOULD YOU LIKE AN ORANGE?" And no, I didn't want an orange. They were gross and stringy and not pizza so I said "No" because you know, the answer was no. My Uncle overheard one of these interactions and suddenly became the rudeness police and somewhat firmly informed me "Matthew, when someone offers you something you don't want, you say 'no, thank you.'" I thought to myself "ok sure whatever that's two more words than is necessary but I'll nod in acknowledgement that you conveyed this information to me." I tossed out this new information pretty much immediately because as I just illustrated, what the hell were those two extra words for? It seemed syntactically uneconomical.

See, maybe if he'd said "being terse with someone like that can be construed as rude" (phrased for a 5ish year old of course) it would have made more sense at the time, but since all I was told was "It's no, thank you" I had to make a choice between adopting this new way of life on faith, or rejecting it outright. I of course, rejected it. Even at the tender age of 5ish, I had some ingrained problem with authority and wasn't about to alter my vocabulary. Not for him.

I think he suspected this may have been the case, because not long after his lesson, he tested me. He came up to me and offered me something he knew I wouldn't like. It may have even been another orange. It still wasn't pizza, so I reflexively said "no" again, quickly realizing my error. See, I had no plans assimilate "no, thank you" but still should've had the wherewithal to at least pretend I had if I was talking to him. The funny thing though, is he wasn't even smug about my slip-up. He wasn't condescending or demeaning. He was purely interested in me learning this polite gesture to make the world a better place, so his failure hurt that much more, and he got pretty upset. Upset enough for me to think "whoa, this guy is fucking serious." He held my arm, the universal gesture for "I would hit you if I could" and made me realize in no uncertain terms that it's fucking "No, thank you."

Pretty sure I still checked with my parents after though. They said "yeah, that's the more polite way to do it." Even without the ironclad conviction of my Uncle, this was enough for me to start using the phrase, since my parents were basically king and queen of the world at this point.

All these years later I can't even imagine how snotty it must sound for even a 5ish year old to dismissively say "no" so I'm glad I learned when I did. I hope I didn't raise too many eyebrows before that valuable lesson.

Same age. Which is good, because if I was much older you'd probably think "wow he was a dumb kid." I mean I was, but you'd think "no this kid was really dumb."

So I'm not exactly sure what triggered this concern, but I remember thinking "wait just a god damn minute...we all have eyes, mouths, noses, can we tell people apart?!?"

No, seriously. I thought this.

I honestly could not fathom how, despite having all the same things on our head, we were able to tell people apart. I thought it must be a combination of height, hairstyle/color weight, etc.. because obviously a nose is a nose and eyes are eyes just like a circle is a circle and a square is a square. This couldn't be enough information to distinguish people from one another right?

This is the part where you may pause and think "nope, I definitely never thought that."

A lot of times when you're perplexed as a small child, what do you do? You ask your parents. But with this one, I didn't. There was apparently some evolutionary process firing in my brain that made me think "No man, not this time. Keep this one to yourself." Something told me this should NOT be a mystery to me and if I asked my parents they'd probably think something was wrong and then "accidentally" leave me at a gas station miles away or something and that would be that.

I don't know how long this inner turmoil fermented in my brain, but I do remember when it stopped. I was sitting in the living room. My parents had an impressive vinyl collection, and one of the albums that had been pulled from the shelves at the time was a Beatles album. Looking back at the album art, it must've been "Hard Day's Night". I was looking at all of their monochromatic faces and I thought to myself, "Wow, Ringo's eyes are a way different shape than John's.....wait a minute..."




The elimination of color and texture from their faces was enough of a reduction to give me that eureka moment. I was so disproportionately proud of myself. I almost told my parents about my discovery. I would stroll in and be like "Hey Mom and Dad, so I was thinking the other day about why we can tell each other apart. I thought we all have the same things on our faces so it should be impossible right?" Here I would pause to smugly chuckle and add "luckily I'm really smart and I figured out how our facial features, though similar, are different shapes for different people, so, you know.."

But I thought even that would be pushing my luck. Best to just celebrate this one quietly and move on.

3. The Day I Smacked my Dad in the Face
This one is really fuzzy. I must've been really young. The fact that the memory is still with me speaks to how intense the experience must've been.

We were at the library. My parents were good parents, so we would frequent this place for everything it had to offer. At this point since I couldn't read, that was basically puppet shows, magic shows, and I guess looking at picture books. This day in particular my Dad brought me and my brother. I mean, I assume my brother was there I'm not sure. Whatever happened, it must've been super fun, but I don't really remember anything before...the incident. I only remember the moment where everything changed.

My Dad gathered us up, only I didn't want to leave, cause you know, libraries are gangster as fuck. I had no concept of "time" or "jobs" or "responsibility" or "other people" really so to me what reason did we have to leave? I was having fun, so fucking wait til I'm ready to leave, and then we can go. If I'm still having fun, what sense did it make to cut it off? So I evaded my Dad, who grew increasingly frustrated. Eventually he had to just pick me up and haul my ass out of there. I didn't like that very much, but couldn't exactly fight back. Or could I?


Could I?


.........Uh oh..

I can't quite tell you exactly what happened after that. I'm not sure if it's cause I blacked out or what. What I do silence. I remember no backlash. No reprimanding. No shouting. Only silence. This was strange and unfamiliar. I think I had braced myself for..something, so when it didn't come, I felt the psychological equivalent of stepping down that last stair when there are no more stairs and the floor greets your foot sooner than you expected and your equilibrium is jostled for a bit.

The leaves outside rustled in the breeze.

Life had now been divided into "Time before I smacked my Dad's face" and "Time after I smacked my Dad's face"

I wandered around confused in this state of condemned nothingness. I knew something bad had happened and the fact that there were no immediate repercussions must only have meant my Dad was plotting. Plotting what though?

We got home and my dad went to another room. There was no gathering where I was sat down and scolded. I was left to stew in my own guilt a little longer. Eventually my Mom approached me.

"Did you do something bad?"

"Did you?"

I must've been clearly struggling with my guilt. I was told to walk into my parents' room and...


I was on fucking edge. I never went in my parents' room. Especially with nobody escorting me. Now I needed to walk in there alone like a fucking man and tell my Dad I was sorry for hitting him. I quietly entered. He sat on the bed, facing away from me. Dammit I didn't even have his attention yet. I had to earn it. I don't remember the exact exchange but it was probably something like, 



"......I'm sorry"

This didn't need to be creative or heartfelt. This was clearly driven almost entirely by fear and shame. But I was forgiven. I exited, shaken. 

I have not hit him since.