Archive for April, 2009

I’m Dying

“And so are you,” says my favorite author, Robert Fulghum, in his latest blog piece.

I intended to do an honest-to-goodness introduction of his essay which details his semi-annual review of his last will and testament, but it just didn’t work out that way. Mr. Fulghum’s essay does just what it intended: It had me looking into myself.

What do I want to happen to me and my things when I’m dead?

Unlike Mr. Fulghum, I don’t have a will. But if I did, it would be very short:

“When I die, give everything to my wife. She can make all the important decisions too, because no one is going to do what I want to do.”

You see, I don’t want to be embalmed. I don’t want a casket. I don’t want to be burned. What a waste.

I want to be buried under a Great Elm or Great Oak tree. I want some of that stuff that makes up Me to fertilize and feed that tree. I want that Great Tree to be my memorial. When my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren come to visit, they can sit under the cooling branches and say, “Dad’s in there.”

As far as my viewing — let me pause for a moment — I don’t like the term viewing. It’s a hideous term. I’m out there displayed for all to see. Dead. It’s embarrassing.

I want a good, old fashioned wake! A wake hearkens back to my ancestors when they held wonderful parties for their recently dead. They propped him in the corner in the hopes that he would wake up.

I want a party where I’m tied to a chair. I want my family and friends to tip a few glasses my way. With a wink, I want them to insult me. I want you to tell my stories and repeat my bad jokes. I don’t want you to mourn my death. I want you to celebrate that I lived.

And I want a clown — Yes! A clown!

And I want him to tie balloon animals. And hats. I want all of you sad sacks wearing balloon hats.

Throw in a slight-of-hand magician too. When things really start to get somber, he needs to step up his act. I hope he screws up too. I hope he can’t find your card. That’d be a hoot.

I’ve said this before too. I want a third-rate, washed-up actor to show up at my wake. He needs to come in unannounced and not talk to anyone. He must approach my body, kneel, weep quietly, and just as quietly leave.

You’ll all whisper, “How the hell did Ralph Malph know Jim?”

And when everyone is gone, and only my wife, children, and closest friends remain, I want a man in a kilt with a wondrous beard to play the bagpipes for me. I want him to play that song that makes everyone cry. Know that that is when my Soul will finally move on. It will float away on his haunting melody accompanied by the tears of those who spent this life with me, and it will go to wherever it is that old Souls and broken hearts and no-longer-heard notes go.

He will leave the room just before my wife does. She will turn around, blow me a kiss, and in her heart she’ll hear me say,

“Turn the lights out, Baby. It was a good run. I love you — I always have, and I always will.

“And if there is another side, I’ll be waiting for you. You’ll see me, I’ll be wearing the balloon hat.”

Music Without Words

On the way home this morning, I had Stevie Ray Vaughan’s posthumously published “The Sky Is Crying” CD playing. The fourth track is a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” Vaughan’s version is strictly instrumental — and he tells a wonderful story with his guitar.

Vaughan’s “Little Wing” is among my favorite songs. I’m always moved by it.

Perhaps it’s because the song is part of my personal soundtrack. I will never forget trying to get my infant daughter to sleep by holding her tight and strutting and gently twirling to “The Sky Is Crying.” By the middle of “Little Wing”, she had finished crying. This memory will always be with me.

I started thinking about my favorite songs. It turns out that almost half my Top 10 are instrumentals:

  1. Rush’s La Villa Strangiato
  2. SRV’s Little Wing
  3. Jethro Tull’s Bourre (written by JS Bach)
  4. Craig Safan’s Confrontation (credited to Tangerine Dream)

Here is SRV’s Little Wing. If you can’t appreciated it, perhaps we should reconsider the nature of our relationship:

If You Think, You’re Late

There are two dozen of us. We are paired up and kneeling on the bright blue, worn mats.

Most of us are wearing traditional white judo kimonos, some have blue kimonos. White belts are tied at our waists. Some belts have stripes of electrical tape at the ends denoting the student’s depth of knowledge and breadth of experience; new students have no stripes, veteran “white belts” have four.

Each stripe on a belt is indicative of several months of hard training. After four stripes, the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu student earns a new belt color and the striping of the belt starts all over again.

In the middle of the mat, laying on his back, is Tom. Tom has a purple belt keeping his kimono closed. The color of his belt indicates that he has much more knowledge than the “white belts” gathered around him.

Between his legs (in his “guard”) is Manny, a “two-stripe blue belt.” He is today’s assistant instructor.

Tom demonstrates a basic arm lock using Manny as the victim. It is the double arm bar (you can see it here). Because it relies on a fundamental error by your opponent, it is a technique that you will probably never use in your sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu career, but it is something that you must know as a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu fighter — and it is a technique I’ve seen attempted in mixed marial arts fights.

After Tom’s instructional, we work out and drill the technique with our partners.

My partner, a young man in his early 20′s, is not cool with it. He is disinterested and performs the techniques in a sloppy, apathetic manner. “This is stupid. I’ll never use it,” he says.

“It’s something you need to know,” I remind him.

“I’m never going to catch you or anyone else here in this.”

“Yes, but you might grapple with a wrestler who tries to choke you with both hands. Or even be in a real fight where a guy extends his arms in your guard. C’mon, let’s go,” I encourage him.

He guessed that I was right, but it didn’t improve his attention.

Tom and Manny are walking around the class. They are auditing the progress of their students. My partner and I are two senior students; we aren’t on their radars; we would call to them if we needed help.

We finish before any of the other students. “Come on. Let’s do it again,” I say.

“No, I got it,” he says. “So do you.” He gets up to get a drink of water; I sit in the middle of the mat. He comes back and does some sit-ups; I sit in the middle of the mat. He does some push-ups; I roll my eyes.

This pattern goes on for the remainder of the class. Tom teaches a technique building off the previous. My partner is disinterested. I try to tell him the application.

“Ah. But I know this one too,” he says. “We worked on it last week in the no-gi class.”

“I know it, too. But a boxer knows how to jab and yet he works on his jab every day. A muay thai fighter knows how to do a shin kick, and yet he kicks a heavy bag for hours and hours to perfect his technique. A wrestler will work on his Russian arm drag for his entire career. We need to work these techniques.” I show him how to set up the technique from a different angle that is more applicable to his “sport jiu-jitsu” mindest. Still, he’s apathetic.

And I’m frustrated.

If there is anything I’ve learned from playing competitive sports for 30 years is that you cannot over-drill the basics. Jiu-jitsu is no different.

I try to explain to him the importance of drilling. “We need to be able to do these things without thinking. Our bodies just need to take over. When our bodies recognize our opponent is in a weak position, our bodies need to capitalize before our brain even recognizes what is going on. There is an old jiu-jitsu saying, If you think, you’re late.”

My young partner doesn’t understand this yet. He knows everything already. Which is a corollary to If you think, you’re lateThe more you think you know, the more you have yet to learn.

My friend will come around in 10 or 20 years, if he sticks with things that long.

In Praise of Pooh

I’ve been reading again. In general, I don’t read anything mainstream. Currently I’m reading, as an adult and for me only, A. A. Milne.

Yes, A. A. Milne of Winnie-the-Pooh fame.

I’m not reading it because I’m enamored by the cuteness of Pooh and his friends. Instead, I’m enamored Milne’s shear artistry with words.

I think it’s very important that anyone who writes, even if only a simple bloggy website, to read. And to pay attention to the writing while you read. You’ll be surprised — technically and artistically — what you pick up.

Let me give you an example of Milne’s writing expertise.I’m initially impressed by Milne’s effective use of capitalization in the middle of sentences and his ability to reveal character through simple dialogue.

Both these passages made me laugh out loud. Good writing will do that to you -

From THE HOUSE at POOH CORNER, The Search for Small, where we find Pooh walking through the forest searching for Rabbit’s friend, “Small.”

The next moment the day became very bothering indeed, because Pooh was so busy not looking where he was going that he stepped on a piece of the Forest which had been left out by mistake; and he only just had time to think to himself:

“I’m flying. What Owl does. I wonder how you stop–” when he stopped.

Bump!

“Ow!” squeaked something.

“That’s funny,” thought Pooh. “I said ‘Ow! without really oo’ing.”

“Help!” said a small, high voice.

“That’s me again,” thought Pooh. “I’ve had an Accident, and fallen down a well, and my voice has gone all squeaky and works before I’m ready for it, because I’ve done something to myself inside. Bother!”

“Help — help!”

“There you are! I say things when I’m not trying. So it must be a very bad Accident.” And then he thought that perhaps when he did try to say things he wouldn’t be able to; so, to make sure, he said loudly:

“A Very Bad Accident to Pooh Bear.”

C’mon! That’s funny. And well written.

It turns out that Pooh was not hurt and the little voice was Piglet’s, who Pooh had landed on.

A little later in the story, with Pooh and Piglet still in the pit, we have this little gem of a conversation:

“So it was,” said Pooh.

“Yes,” said Piglet. “Pooh,” he went on nervously, and came a little closer, “do you think we’re in a Trap?”

Pooh hadn’t thought about it at all, but now he nodded.

For suddenly he remembered how he and Piglet had once made a Pooh Trap for Heffalumps, and he guessed what had happened. He and Piglet had fallen into a Heffalump Trap for Poohs! That was what it was.

“What happens when the Heffalump comes?” asked Piglet tremblingly, when he had heard the news.

“Perhaps he won’t notice you, Piglet,” said Pooh encouragingly, “because you’re a Very Small Animal.”

“But he’ll notice you, Pooh.”

“He’ll notice me, and I shall notice him,” said Pooh, thinking it out. “We’ll notice each other for a long time, and then he’ll say: ‘Ho-ho!’”

Piglet shivered a little at the thought of that “Ho-ho!” and his ears began to twitch.

“W-what will you say?” he asked.

Pooh tried to think of something he would say, but the more he thought, the more he felt that there is no real answer to “Ho-ho!” said by a Heffalump in the sort of voice this Heffalump was going to say it in.

“I shan’t say anything,” said Pooh at last. “I shall just hum to myself, as if I was waiting for something.”

“Then perhaps he’ll say ‘Ho-ho!’ again?” suggested Piglet anxiously.

“He will,” said Pooh.

Piglet’s ears twitched so quickly that he had to lean them against the side of the Trap to keep them quiet.

“He will say it again,” said Pooh, “and I shall go on humming. And that will Upset him. Because when you say ‘Ho-ho!’ twice, in a gloating sort of way, and the other person only hums, you suddenly find, just as you begin to say it the third time that — that — well, you find—-”

“What?”

“That it isn’t,” said Pooh.

“Isn’t what?”

Pooh knew what he meant, but, being a Bear of Very Little Brain, couldn’t think of the words.

“Well, it just isn’t,” he said again.

“You mean it isn’t ho-ho-ish any more?” said Piglet hopefully.

Pooh looked at him admiringly and said that that was what he meant — if you went on humming all the time, because you couldn’t go on saying “Ho-ho!” for ever.

“But he’ll say something else,” said Piglet.

“That’s just it. He’ll say? What’s all this?” And then I shall say — and this is a very good idea, Piglet, which I’ve just thought of — I shall say: ‘It’s a trap for a Heffalump which I’ve made, and I’m waiting for the Heffalump to fall in.’ And I shall go on humming. That will Unsettle him.”

“Pooh!” cried Piglet, and now it was his turn to be the admiring one. “You’ve saved us!”

“Have I?” said Pooh, not feeling quite sure.

One day I hope to write as entertainingly as Milne. Until then, I’ll just continue to slog along.

Doing Nothing

Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world with his chin in his hands, called out, “Pooh!”

“Yes, Christopher Robin?”

“I’m not going to do Nothing anymore.”

“Never again?”

“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”

~ A. A. Milne

Coffee

I drink coffee. Lots of it. My cardiologist said I should stop when I reported to him that I had palpitations. As far as he knows, I haven’t had palpitations since.

I started drinking coffee in September of 1982. I blame John Holevinski.

I went to college with John. In our freshman year, he insisted on taking the long way to our first class so that we could stop in the commissary and get a cup of Joe. It seemed like a good, adult thing to do. Under his tutelage, I became a coffee drinker.

A quick aside: The word Joe has been used as a slang for coffee for almost a century. Why? No one really knows. There are some colorful ideas out there, but the smart money is on coffee was the regular guy’s drink. The regular guy was generically called Joe. Someone started calling coffee Joe, and it stuck.

While I blame my old friend John for my coffee habit, doubtless someone else was going to introduce me to it. And sooner rather than later.

Only a year later I started dating a girl who danced with the bean. We were college-poor and barely had two nickles to rub together between us. Many of our dates revolved around digging for change so that we could buy a couple cups of coffee and sit by the ocean.

It’s still one of my favorite dates — some people go out to dinner, some people go to the movies — my girl and I grab a couple of cups of coffee and drive to the beach. My girl and I (the same girl I met in college and married four years later) do it often. For nostalgia, sometimes I pay with change.

Every morning for 25 years has been kick started with a little bit of coffee. Lately that first cup is a reminder to take my baby aspirin and blood pressure pill — which I down about half-way through the first cup.

Even as I write, I have my second cup of the day a mere five inches to the right of my laptop. My girl has her second cup cradled with both hands in front of her as she peruses the morning paper. Coffee is a part of our lives.

:::

I prefer my coffee to be coffee flavored. Don’t infuse it with hazel nut or chocolate or cinnamon. Hell, I don’t even like sugar in it. Ack!

I drink it with a little milk or cream or half-and-half. And that’s it.

:::

I tell you all that to give you my coffee bona fides and explain to you that the good people at coffeezoo.com sent me a couple bags of their coffee to taste. And it was good coffee.

Part of it’s goodness, I’m sure, is it’s freshness. They roasted and ground their beans (my beans) just a couple of days before the UPS man dropped it off at my door.

The first pot that we made was a slightly dark roast that they call Rhino. Here’s what I can tell you Rhino: I liked it; my girl didn’t. But my neice who stopped by (Hi Sami!) said, unprompted, after her first sip, “Oh. My. God. This is the best coffee I ever had! What is it?”

To be fair, my wife has never liked strong, powerful coffee. She prefers a mild flavored coffee. Even she said that Rhino didn’t have that awful back-of-the-throat after-taste that other dark coffees had. While it was mild going down, there is no doubt that you are drinking a dark, robust coffee.

Over time, we made several pots of Rhino, and she drank them all without protest. Which, believe me, is saying something. “It doesn’t taste burnt,” she said. “It’s not bad; it’s just not a flavor I like.”

Next we brewed some Zebra. Zebra seems to me to be the typical French roasts we Americans have become accustomed to.

The next statement may sound like it comes from a coffee-fiend who has been given free coffee and asked to review it: Coffee Zoo’s Zebra roast was among the best tasting coffee I’ve had in my life. Period.

It was smooth and flavorful. It tasted like coffee-flavored coffee — which is a high compliment. There was not even a hint of bitterness. Smooth, mild, flavorful. I will be buying more, but I won’t make it my morning cup of Joe. It is more of a treat. Something to make after a nice supper when the kids aren’t around to disturb me. Something to bring out when your friends are visiting.

Something to brew up, pour in a thermos, and bring to the beach with your best girl.

:::

Thank you, Coffee Zoo, for letting me taste your coffee.

And, dear Constant Reader, please jump over to their website: www.coffeezoo.com. They are good people making good coffee.

Reading their Mission Statement gave me chills. I don’t think any company’s mission statement ever did that to me before.

Thank you, Dianne, for introducing me to the people at Coffee Zoo.