Gamelan Day!

It’s funny how I can’t predict at all what might constitute a good day. For instance, today started off with me discovering that my car had been burglarized. Wallet? Gone. Cool customized briefcase? Gone. Running shoes? Gone.

Running shoes? Running shoes.

I was on my way to practice, by invitation, with an actual Gamelan. A Gamelan! I wasn’t going to let some petty thievery ruin that. Not when UK’s amazing parking snarl is so much more capable of sending me off the deep end. I was 20 minutes late to this thing that I’d been so looking forward to, and also a bit nervous about it because I didn’t know if I was totally out of my league, trying to do such a thing.

A few weeks earlier, I found out about the Gamelan (the Balinese term for orchestra) from my pal Ron, and—unbelievably—was told by him that newcomers were welcome.

“Can you count to four?” was Dr. Ron’s jovial retort when I asked him if I had to be able to read music to play with the Gamelan. So I excitedly marked my calendar, and exchanged email with the leader, Dr. Han, who said “come Han down!” Okay, so he didn’t really say that.

Anyway, I forgot that if you want to park close to UK when school is in session, ha ha, you are so not-going-to. And after getting near-coronary over finding a parking place, I showed up 20 minutes late… and it was no problem. Ron was there, Dr. Han happily proclaimed me to be “the new guy” and I got plopped down (shoes off, I was instructed) behind “The Grandfather,” (similar to picture), aka gangsa.

it turned out I just got in on the early run-throughs of a Gamelan version of Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More. Huh?

I actually love this song. It’s so touching and beautiful, but as a Gamelan piece? Whodathunkit?

Anyway, I was freaked at first because I could barely even pretend to follow along, as we ran though it, and I was expecting at any minute for Dr. Han to thunk me over the head with a mallet and tell me to get out. But this didn’t happen. At one point I sputtered apologetically that it was just taking me a while to get the hang of it, and several people gaffawed sympathetically and said things like Oh yeah–Because we all got it immediately! So I relaxed some. And I was blessed with the experience of learning something new for a time. I followed the music, I listened to those around me, I got lost over and over again… and I got better.

It took a lot of concentration. A kind I’m not not practiced at, but that I think could be good for me. It’s the kind of concentration that I look for in meditation, where I attempt to direct all my attention at one repetitive thing, and thus doing, shunt out all the complex chatter that my head is so completely full of lately.

I stayed late after the rehearsal was over and tried to get the hang of my grandfather for a bit.

Then I went to the bank and canceled my debit cards and checking accounts.

Hair Police Finally

I’ve been meaning to see Hair Police for literally years now. This noise-rock act from here in Lexington is kind of a sensation, getting noticed by a variety of national media, culminating (so far!) in touring with Sonic Youth last year.

Seeing them (or, rather, the goal of seeing them) has been this kind of unknown quantity for me, which has in and of itself been kind of hilarious. I get the general gist, the field report– noise, chaos, mania, flailing. In fact, on many occasions, I’ve taken the opportunity to tell people about Hair Police, and describe them, never having seen them myself.

But it’s not entirely presumptuous, because of this thing that happened a couple of years ago: I went to this house party just to see them, and—fresh back from living in NYC—I had missed this new trend of Lexington bands playing 30 minute (or less) sets. So I got to this house at 10pm (plenty early right?) talked to some people out front, and finally meandered into this living room, where this wall of pure white noise was ensuing from a destroyed drum kit, lying in pieces, and several guys epileptically flailing around with guitars and mics. Otherwise, the room was detailed with a variety of hipster kids, standing around watching or not, laughing or not, talking. This sight was preposterously mesmerizing. It reminded me of small children exposed for the first time to mics, amps and guitars; Often, when I’ve seen this, the kids just end up screaming and banging on these things, hypnotized by the incredible racket that THEY ARE MAKING.

So when I went to Mecca to actually finally see Hair Police last night I was kind of surprised by this revelation: They sound exactly like I thought they would. With the flailing, and the banging and the… the… jeez, who fuckin’ knows? Good or bad, I ain’t got a clue, but it’s a sight to behold.

My friend Kate put it best: “Listening to Hair Police–It’s like watching my family being set on fire.”

After the gig (estiimated time: 25 minutes), I talked Robert, possessed modified electronics czar. Immediately restored from spastic flailing to a general calmness, he asked, “Have you ever seen us before?” and I told him the above encounter. He replied with a smile and a shrug: “Yeah, that could’ve been us.”

Final analysis: I’d totally go see ’em again.

Here’s their web site.

ps: thanks to Mike Attacks for picture, from No Fun Fest, in NYC.

The Millenium Disco Dome circa dec. 1999

Building the Dome
Originally uploaded by mrtoastey.

Once upon a time, there was a geodesic dome built from scratch in my backyard. Much thanks to the friends that made this happen! For it was very good. December 1999

If you want to see more pictures, leave a comment below. I just stumbled across archived pictures from the Millenium New Year’s Party at Bassett.

billowing solitude

We are covered in snow. Here’s some pictures. (no need to log in, just click “view pictures” and then (maybe) “slideshow”)

It started Monday morning, as Hap and I bussed it crosstown to find this pizza place in Spanish Harlem. That didn’t happen, owing at least to the fact that I was unsure of the name and location of said pizza place. (update: Patsy’s on 1st Ave, at either 116th or 119th) That information can belpful…

By evening, Hap and I, and the intrepid fashionistas Lori and Lucy, plus JT were eating in a funny little Italian place in the west Village, so it didn’t matter anyway, right? The place was staffed with total Italian guys, one of whom shared with us that “da former Attorney General eats here! He lives on 5th Avenue!” I think that was meant to impress.

Afterwards, we split off and we come to highlight number two of the trip:

billowing solitudeJT and Mick’s nighttime trek through Central Park. The Gates technically ended on Sunday, but they were hardly disassembled by Monday night and this foot of snow that has landed. So conditions were perfect for a walk in the park after dark (thanks, Charles Ives). And longtime adventure pal JT was the perfect candidate for this controversial outing. (you’ve heard it—stay out of Central Park after dark!) And I’m not even saying that’s bad advice. Nonetheless, we didn’t. I’m so glad we didn’t. Talk about a wonderland; the snow muted everything to quietude, with The Gates, no longer attended to, towering overhead, sentinels to a peaceful vacancy. Occasionally we would see other nighttime revelers, but mostly we blazed this way and that, and the snow feathered down all around.

The wind was no small thing, and it was finally evident the big job of the tennis ball people, as it was easy to call the “gates-keepers,” who carried extendable poles with tennis balls glued to the ends to gently free up fabric that had flipped over the frames. Now that the exhibit was closed, fabric is starting to become increasingly flummoxed by Mother Nature.

What a wonderful sonorous night. So strange to hear the sound of such solitude in the middle of this city of millions. Most people were tucked away inside, but in Central Park, there was wonder abounding. Eventually, I put away my camera as the snow began coming down in piles. We meandered our way along around the turtle pond, and then across the back of the Met, where inside, ancient Egyptian spirits slumber in the wrong climate.

SEE MORE PICTURES HERE! (no need to log in, just click “view pictures” and then (maybe) “slideshow”)

Sunday was a day of champion wandering by me and Hap. I remembered that I love this partnership because Hap is undaunted, like me, by logic or practicality, which can be crucial when it comes to successful meandering.

In the continuing theme of church wandering, I tried, tried, tried again to get up into the bell tower of Riverside Church. I’ve been trying to get back up there for five years! I thought this was the day, but I was wrong. It’s been closed since 2001, and remains so. The claim is that it will reopen next Spring, a claim that I’ve heard before, guys… Nonetheless, we got to linger around the fringes of the Ethiopian service, an otherworldly mixture of wonderful incense and singing. The Riverside Church visit concluded our tour of colossal socially just churches. We also visited Grant’s Tomb, and after seeing how huge the sarcophagus is, I think that the answer to the bizarre question Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb might be: lots and lots of people. G’damn they’re huge!

This was a day of buses. We took the scenic route (actually, I guess all day was the scenic route) Riverside bus down to the Upper West Side, stopped in at Barnes and Noble, so I could get replacement copies of my fave NYC pocket map, and then meandered our way down to Bleeker and spent the rest of our day there. I was a little dismayed, in retrospect, to find that I forgot to eat pizza all day long. That is a terrible gaffe which I shall attempt to make up for in our remaining days. In place of pizza however, Hap and I found piroghes. Also, I found a Kathi roll at Indian Bread, which I had to invest in, though it had been mere moments since downing a piroschke.

My favorite thing in NYC has always been standing around. This is an art that is not so appreciated in smaller cities, where standing around seems to draw attention and sometimes even suspiiicion. Not in NY. I got a prime opportunity to hone my standing around skills while hap procured some new Chucks. I held down the standing around duties.

After that, the day rather whirred by. Always lots of great discussion, though, and some reverie over Danish Modern design ended up dovetailing nicely with a visit to Moss, where you can definitely get a better fork.

Groceries and Churches (the “Churches” part)

We headed up to St. John the Divine, the world’s largest cathedral (if they’d ever finish it, that is) and I don’t think I was the only one who was thinking just of sitting down and letting Jesus heal my achin’ feet. The cavern of the interior always shushes me, as well as the modern perspective that is so often lacking in the old dead God places (yes, that’s a TV in the stained glass at left). It’s so epic that I always look up to make sure there aren’t clouds. In fact, sometimes I’m sure there are. Today it was kind of overcast inside, owing to the web of scaffolding occupying the back (2001’s fire damage, still being tended to). Just as I was about to sit down and bask in the quiet under the impossibly colossal columns, I heard a flute playing ‘Amazing Grace.’ It was a lovely meandering song wisping up to the rafters in this cavern, and as it trailed off, I saw a faraway figure who seemed to be gesturing for me to come over. Well, this is as close to spiritual calling as I was likely to get, so I obliged and waved Hap, Lori and Lucy along with me.

We arrived at a side chapel area and this Layminister was waiting for us and invited us to sit down for the Saturday Evening Prayer. I’m not sure I wanted to, but I said: “Do we get to sing?” and this unusually jovial guy said, “Well, not normally, but since you ask, I think we could chant the Lord’s Prayer!” Okay, I’m in.

So the four of us sat down—as the complete congregation for this guy’s service—and proceeded to participate in what was for me a completely unfamiliiar litany of prayers and recitations.

Cool…Ancient rituals…

Honestly, I was a little uncomfortable with this, but when I thought of a similar situations in a completely foreign spiritual practice, say, Hinduism, I was more comfortable. Ahh, thanks Mom and Dad, for my deep-seated Christian prejudices.

But there was something completely wonderful about this whole thing, and I’m not talking about the holy spirit. We were given specific instructions about what (and when) to read, we moved along briskly, which is good for my short attention span. Sort of paint-by-numbers worship.

Adding to the mystique was the fact that I had no idea how long this was going to take, but since it was 5:30 and the sign out front did say 10am-6pm, I though we were probably not going to be held by the holy all night. Eventually after a variety of litanizing, our guy was true to his word and we got to chant The Lord’s Prayer, which I quite massacred, from a tonal standpoint. I thought it was a great opportunity for improvisation, and who knows? I had fun.

Afterwards, the layminister jumped from behind his little pulpit for a little Q&A. He told us how the original bishop of St. John’s (who we were told was lying “in state” basically right next to us, which was a little weird) led a congregation out the doors one day and over to another church in Manhattan where a minister was chaining the doors to keep blacks out. As the story goes, the bishop of St. John’s and his congregation cut the chains on the doors of this other church, and drug the minister out into the street where he was fired on the spot.

I might go to church more if there was more of the dragging and the firing.

Churches and groceries

It was pointed out to me after a near-foray into Fairway, that I mostly like to go to churches and grocery stores in NYC. Earlier we did a tour of duty through Whole Foods at Columbus Circle, which was total madness. Imagine some form of food heaven, some sort of by-the-pound food mecca. Salads, meats, sweets, whatever. And literally tons of it. All for basically $6.99 a pound.

We wound around through possibly over a million people, oohing and ahhing after the fourteen different lettuces, the build-it-yourself tofu bar, the 12 stations of the Holy Watercress. (You see where we’re going with this, dontcha?) However, upon realizing that approximately half of the million or so people witnessing were actually in line, that we hit the up escalator and returned to the street.

Meandering along Broadway, Balducci’s was a different story, though. More great finger food, w/o the tide of humanity. And that serves well the Constant and Vital Search for Snacks that is my calling while in NYC, that NYC can so well afford, if not always my actual wallet. Still Balducci’s arranged for me this delight: one giant pan-seared scallop and a slab of sesame-something tofu.I had a minor pang asking for such slim treats to be served up pronto. With just a momentary lapse in eye-to-stomach ratio understanding, one could easily empty the bank. My requirements were that no fork be required, but I did feel a little bad disposing of the designer handle-bag, the custom air-tight container, the fork, the cloth napkin… Okay, so there wasn’t really a cloth napkin.

Groceries are my churches, probably. But churches are my churches, too. Once my friend Jeff, a similiarly minded, uh, secular spiritualist, confessed to his family church’s pastor that he liked coming into their church because it was a peaceful and serene place. And the pastor replied “That’s what we call the Holy Spirit,” which from a certain perspective is kind of dismaying answer that entirely missed the point of my friend’s appreciation of the space.

And I feel the same way. Churches are great—but mostly when they’re empty.

Central Park, after dark

In a few days, I get to go see The Gates, in NYC, on the closing day. This should be quite a sight, and I really am antipicipating. Thinking about it has reminded me how much I love Central Park. How it’s not like a city, or a park, or the woods. It’s something that is singular and different from those things. I used to like to find places to take naps in the sunlight when I lived in NY. And I used to do a minor running foray around the Reservoir.

Once, when I was in this running period, a wonderful thing happened. I would take the subway from 44th and 9th, up to 86th (I always though that was kind of funny, too—taking the subway to go running.) So, this one night, I was headed out the door, and noticed it was sprinkling. Okay, gotta get a move on, I thought. I got on the subway, and when I got off at 86th, it was totally pouring. I decided to run anyway, and ran through CP, until I was totally lost, and utterly alone. It was great. Slogging through the rain, not worried about any creeps, since they’d have to also be crazy to be out to get me in a total downpour. (okay, so I admit that, in NYC, this combination was a valid possibility)

my brain is bubbling

Oh, I get to drink Mexican Hot Chocolate now at the neighborhood coffee shop, 3rd Street Coffee! It’s a thursday, which means I’ve been up since 5a (early morning r radio show! You can listen online, y’know), which means that by mid-afternoon, my brain is bubbling. and the only way to keep it correctly percolating, on this day is with some labor on the Campsie House including a trip to the dump!