Life?

I’ve been bad. I knew it would happen, and here – it has. Neglect has set in once more. And I was doing so well! I was posting every day, in the morning, even while I was in Vancouver! Oh, well. So it goes. Life happens. I know I shouldn’t beat myself up about it (but, well, it’s me, so I’m going to – but I needn’t subject my readers to my self-flagellation!)

Back on my beautiful campus, the past three weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, moodiness, and more activity.  Here’s some of what I’ve been up to:

1) Classes:

-The Nineteenth Century Novel: for all you readers out there, doesn’t this sound exciting?! It is! The professor is perhaps the oldest on campus and gets tired rather quickly, but he has amazing insight and is still passionate about what we read. So far, we’ve read Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Talk about incredible syllabus. I’ve also been reading Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky for the independent-study portion of this class. I’ve yet to make up my mind as to whether I like it or not.

-The Talking Cure: my very first psych-course ever, this lecture is turning out to be fantastic. There’s a lot of intricate reading, but it’s fascinating. I’ve been spending a lot of my out-of-class time discussing what I’ve been learning in this class. This is one of the things I love about college – these kinds of conversations are fun and mutual.

-Writing Workshop: I’m writing short stories for the first time in my life. I’ve been known to post some lengthier things here, in installments, but none have ever been very satisfying to me. A couple had resolutions, sure, but mostly I seem to know how to end very short pieces with a punch. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it’s interesting to be in a class that is solely for the purpose of writing short stories: our teacher is a meticulous reader and reads every workshop submission twice which is why he won’t accept novels. The experience of writing a short story is interesting and, to me, vastly different than that of writing a novel.

2) Book club: Two friends and I have started a weekly meeting in one of the coziest spaces on our campus and we invite people to come and read with us. For fun. Because we all have lots and lots AND LOTS of reading for classes, but we all miss reading for pleasure. Our book club was started so that we would have prescribed weekly time to just read for fun. We’ve had two meetings so far, and it’s been extremely fun.

3) Drama: No, not the kind of drama you’re thinking of! Thank goodness. There is drama on campus, of course; it’s inevitable, in such a small school or, indeed, anywhere. But I’ve been making sure not to involve myself actively in any of it. No, the drama I mean is my acting-for-fun impulse. I’ve been in our weekly cabaret/sketch style show, and have also been chosen to play Frank N’ Furter in our shadowcast production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show that will be happening a couple days before Halloween. This is my dream role, and I can’t describe the absolute astonishment I felt for being picked out to play the wonderful character. Lots of fishnet tights are in my near future.

Alrighty. Now I’m kind of all caught up. I need to catch up with all my bloggy-friends’ blogs. I miss reading them, and I’ve been trying not to fall too far behind on anyone, but I’m probably failing miserably. I will do my very best to begin posting regularly again and not to be a stranger to y’all.

Happy Thursday!

A-Trane

A-Trane, the famous and successful jazz club, has free jam sessions every Saturday night. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say Sunday morning, though. The jam session starts officially at midnight-thirty, but the show before it doesn’t usually end until one o’clock or later.

The night in question was just another Saturday night or Sunday morning, and the bar was jam-packed. Every kind of human creature above the age of eighteen was there. There were university students dressed sensibly, and those that dressed more provocatively. There were couples in their late twenties, yuppies who drank red wine and tilted their heads toward each other intimately. There were groups of middle aged men and women, friends out for a night of good music, good beer, and good company. And then, of course, there were musicians, who closed their eyes to listen properly or tapped their feet as well as they could to the fast paced or gentle jazz beats.

If smoking were still allowed, the place would be full of the blue tendrils of softly curling cigarette smoke, the smell of illegal substances, and the pungent scent of cigars. In lieu of all that, there was chatter, a strong smell of wine, spirits and beer, and an atmosphere that was as thick as the smoke would have been.

The main shows were over for the night. Many left, but just as many piled in, until the blonde lady at the front told them that the room was full and they’d have to wait. The ones who stayed after the main shows were the real enthusiasts – either for the music or for the alcohol – and they kept their seats jealously as the others crowded behind and between the small wooden tables. When a chair was vacated, someone inevitably pounced to take it, even if it meant that they’d be looking at the saxophonists extremely large feet from quite up close.

So this night at the A-Trane was the same as any other, perhaps. But it felt unique, incredibly cultural and grown-up for the two shy teenagers sitting close together. An older couple had offered them the seats right in front of them as well as the table. The teenagers thanked them profusely, and sat down eagerly. They sipped their beer when the nice waitress brought it over, and waited with anticipation for the jam-session to begin. Both were under the age of twenty and had never gone to a proper, indoor jazz club, although they’d both been to the jazz-bar in their hometown that featured live music once in while. Neither of them were experts on the genre, but both enjoyed it very much.

The seats they’d been given were a table’s length away from each other, so their knees touched lightly, but they couldn’t hold hands or cuddle. They sent happy looks at each other and smiled, thanking their lucky stars that they weren’t too close to the stage, and could actually see the drummer’s face when he got up to introduce himself.

“We’re Naked Jazz,” he said, his voice low and sexy as he leaned into the microphone. He was short, bald and rail-thin, but his voice was charismatic, and his hands were energetic and powerful, clutching the drumsticks that he was going to use in mere moments. “We’re going to start off the jam-session with four or five original tunes, and then we’ll open up the stage to the many talented musicians here tonight.”

And so they started. Their music was fast and furious at the start, messy in the way that jazz can sound before you pick out the melody and the fluidity of the tune. The bassist was dancing with his big instrument, moving back and forth as if it were a woman he was caressing. He smiled widely every time they all hit a particularly fun part, and looked like he was having the time of his life. He was bald as well, but muscly and stocky, giving an aura of danger about him when he wasn’t grinning.

The pianist looked like a real grown-up despite his dreadlocks. They were tied neatly behind his head, which had a nice gray beret on it. His glasses looked very much like a science geek’s specs, and he head a wedding ring on one of his dark hands. He played like the devil, jumping a bit off his seat sometimes and nodding his head to the music.

The trumpet player looked like he was right out of college, uncomfortable in his skin and onstage until he played. He did this extremely well, his precision perfect, his technical skills flawless, but amazingly every note still had soul.

The drummer who introduced his band-members with respect before was playing just as hard and well as the rest. His lips puckered and receded as he made the beat sounds softly to himself. His right hand held the drumstick in that way that looks so awkward but is the staple of a jazz drummer. He moved fast, bouncing on his stool and closing his eyes often. He never missed a beat, and drummed without stop, loudly when needed and so quietly sometimes that the cymbals sounded far off and haunting.

Finally, the saxophonist joined them for a couple of tunes. He was extremely tall, big footed, and his saxophone looked too small in his big hands. He played like a madman, eyes shut tight when he soloed, but meeting the trumpet player’s gaze when they started to play together, one giving a question while the other gave the answer.

Over an hour after Naked Jazz started, the teenagers, starry-eyed and happy, left the bar before the real jam session began and other musicians came onstage as they chose and joined in. It was two-thirty in the morning, and they were nearing exhaustion as they walked home together.

For the A-Trane, it was just another successful Saturday night. For the teenagers, it had been magical.

Watched Pot

It was four in the morning, still dark, and Laura leaned against the counter and sighed. The coffee-maker burbled behind her, trickling the dark liquid into the clear pot – taking what seemed like forever. A watched pot never boils? Well, even if you don’t watch, they take as long as they like. She was in a sour mood.

The night shift was fine, usually. She didn’t mind starting work at eleven at night – that was when she was most awake anyway. She also didn’t mind dealing with the characters that came in and out of the all-night diner. Some were shady, scary even, but Laura treated them just as if they were a couple of middle-aged lovebirds stopping in for afternoon tea. Some of the more aggressive guys would try to hit on her, or else make fun of her relentlessly so that she’d snap at them, but Laura never caved. She was calm to such a degree that it made the thugs get bored and back off.

There were the sad people who came in, too; the prostitutes, makeup smudged, counting their earnings in a corner booth and asking for take-away pie for the kids at home; the homeless men and women who collected enough change during the day to buy a cup of bad coffee and maybe a bowl of fries; one or two crazies who wandered in and yelled about the end of the world or Jesus living inside them. Laura knew most of them, since they were regulars. The diner was the only twenty-four hour one in about a mile around. Anyone who worked or lived on the streets around it would come there instead of trekking over to the all-night Starbuck’s that was ten blocks away.

So Laura normally liked the night shift. The denizens of the darkened city and small hours of the morning were familiar to her and she wasn’t scared or judgmental of them. They were just there, and like anyone else, they needed to eat and drink.

Sometimes, though, like tonight, the familiar tired, worn out, or constantly tough faces were supplemented by others. In the big booth right in the center of the diner sat six of the rowdies, most obnoxious teenagers Laura had ever seen in her life. It was people like them that made her irritable to the point of wishing dearly to serve up coffee with spit in it.

They were obviously drunk or high, and they were laughing uproariously as one of the guys did some imitation of a comedian. Laura was rather glad they’d moved on to laughing about stupid stuff like this, because what had come before had been much worse. She already knew everything about their evening – they’d gone to Big Tod’s penthouse, and they partied there, and then they went to Shazzam, the biggest and most dangerous club in the area, where they’d partied some more, and then Trudy-O met them at the liquor store where they knew her and sold her whatever she wanted and they partied some more right there on the street until some cops came by and told them to get home or else. Instead of doing that, they’d decided they were hungry and wanted to sober up a little, so they came to the diner, where they unknowingly became the stuff of Laura’s nightmares.

Gangsters, she could handle. But these rich kids slumming it for a night? She couldn’t stand them. She knew they were just kids – probably just a few years younger than her, maybe even as little as two – but she felt that their naiveté was like a bad joke. They honestly thought they were living dangerously, taking risks, being cool. Laura could almost hear the thoughts in the heads of the other customer – thoughts of how much they’d like to teach these kids just how dangerous danger could really be, but why bother when mommy and daddy the lawyers will be swooping down on them tomorrow? No reason to create more trouble with the law than there already was.

Laura didn’t approve of harming people just because they were annoying, but she couldn’t help fantasizing about it, especially since these idiots had been mean and abrasive towards her, and she knew that she was going to get next to no tip, despite the fact that they had a big order coming. Including, of course, six coffees, and right now, followed by an audible whisper and giggle concerning white-trash waitresses.

The coffee-maker clicked off, the pot full, and Laura turned back to it. She poured the coffees, put the mugs on a tray, and carried it over to the teenagers.

“Here you go,” she smiled brightly and put the coffees down in front of each of them. She caught the guys staring down her shirt and the girls turning away from her, continuing to talk over her, as if she were invisible. No thank-yous came, but Laura smiled and told them their food would be coming out any moment now. She smiled all the way back to the coffee machine, which she refilled and started up again.

This time, she faced it. Maybe this way she wouldn’t be able to go back to the table to bring refills. No coffee boiled and brewed, no refills, right? So she stared at the machine, willing it to adhere to adage and never boil.

Teenager Sarah – Chapter 1

“This old man… he played 8… he played knickknack on my gate… with a knick… knack… patty-whack, give the dog a bone, this old man came rolling home…” I drone on wearily, getting up to ten and then I’m forced to start all over by the fascinated three year-old I’m baby-sitting for.

I can’t believe I took this job. I have to baby-sit for Max 4 hours a day for the next two weeks until the toddler-daycare starts. I’ve already been at this for a week.

I like kids, don’t get me wrong, but Max is so tiresome! Little kids are supposed to like to sleep a lot, right? Well, not Maxi here. No, no, no, Max likes to PLAY: “I play on pony! I wanna play with puzzle! Make up a game, Sarah!” I’ve made up so many silly games, I’ve rocked him on his wooden-pony thing, I’ve helped him with his puzzles, and he STILL WANTS MORE.

At least I’m getting paid pretty well. I’m saving up for a new amp. I’ve got a really small, pathetic one- only 10V. My parents are ok with me getting a bigger, newer and better one, but they refuse to pay for it. They say that they paid for the guitar and the amp I have and that I should be satisfied. So I’m working my butt off in a baby-sitting job because I started looking for decent summer jobs too late and there was nothing left in my area.

“Sarah! Sing that song about the bucket! I wanna hear the funny-bucket song!” Max calls out after the fifth round of patty-whack. I try to understand what the hell the funny-bucket song is, and then I realize and start singing to him.

“There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, there’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole!” I continue on, singing the Henry parts in a deep voice and the Liza parts in a high-pitched voice, and Max loves every minute of it. He claps along and giggles and repeats “dear Liza” and “dear Henry” in the appropriate parts. When I’m done I open a puzzle for him and tell him that I’m going to make a phone call and that he can start the puzzle without me. He pouts, but starts fiddling with the puzzle-pieces anyway.

I walk to the kitchen and slump myself down at the table. I take the phone and dial Hannah’s number.

“Hello?” Hannah’s mom answers.

“Hi, it’s Sarah. Can I speak to Hannah?” I ask. Hannah’s mom sniffs disapprovingly at the sound of my voice, but calls Hannah to the phone nonetheless.

“Sarah? I knew it must be you; my mom had such a look on her face. She’s never going to get over what you – quote unquote- did to me.”

“Geez, all I did was take you to a punk-rock show. Everyone gets bruised and beaten at punk shows! I mean, we were in the pit for gods-sake!”

“I know – it’s her who doesn’t understand. Honestly, you’d think that at 17 she’d be a bit less protective and give me some independence. I had a blast at that show, but she only cares about the bruise on my collarbone and the split lip. Anyways, what’re you calling about? Aren’t you at work now?”

“Yeah, I am, but I needed some respite from the three-year-old’s excitement. Listen, you up for going out tonight? I mean, I don’t have work tomorrow, since it’s Saturday and Max’s mom will be home to take care of him.”

“Sure! Out where? And with who?”

“I dunno… I didn’t really think it through, I just want to get out tonight for a bit. Are there any good shows around tonight?”

“Wait a sec, let me check the paper. Ok, um, there’s a jazz show at the Pallet club, there’s some lecture at the Secret Theater and there’s some band I don’t know at The Slob. I say the first two are a no-no. But the name of this band at The Slob sounds promising- Dragon Blood. It’s only 5 bucks, and it starts at 8, so I can even be home by my stupid 11:30 curfew. You want to check that out?”

“Sure, I’ll meet you outside The Slob at like ten to 8? Ok, great. Oh, and invite Mathew and Steve, they might be up for a good show.”

I hang up the phone feeling a little more cheerful, and waltz back into the living room, ready to take on the incredibly energetic infant.

Back home, I get ready to go out. There’s not much to do: I don’t wear make-up beyond eyeliner, and I dress pretty much the same for every outing: my black jeans, a black t-shirt [generally sporting the name and/or image of a band on it] and my black Converse. That’s pretty much how I dress daily, only with the bonus of the eyeliner.

I head out at seven-thirty and walk towards my meeting place with Hannah. The Slob is this very cool music club. Apart from their folk-night evening, they normally have pretty good bands that play there. I hope my band will be able to perform there sometime in the not-too-distant future as well. It’s the smallest venue around, but it’s a great place to get noticed.

I arrive at the doors of The Slob and Hannah’s not there yet. I lean against a lamp post and look around hoping to catch a glimpse of her or the boys. It’s pretty crowded, which means that this band we’re seeing has some sort of following. There’re actually a couple of girls in obviously home-made t-shirts bearing the words “Dragon Blood” on them in bright red glitter.

“Sarah!” a masculine voice calls from somewhere behind me. I turn around and see Steve. I hug him, and we begin chatting about the last band practice we had. Steve is the drummer, I’m the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Hannah is the lead guitarist and Mathew is the bassist. They always say, form a band with your friends. That’s exactly what I did 4 months ago when I decided that I wanted music to be my career.

Nightclub

As you enter, you hit not so much a wall, but rather a whole cathedral of sound. There is no escape, no corner where relief from it can be found. If you’re there, you’re not looking for that kind of relief anyway. No, if you’re there, if you’re one of the mass and crush of bodies that fill the place, you’re looking for the kind of relief that can be found only in surrounding and drowning yourself in sound.

Darkness – though punctured by swirling colored lights one moment and a bright flashing white light the next moment – is still the feeling and the living presence that dominates the space. You can feel it in every square inch, the darkness being beckoned and welcomed as a savior, as a necessity, as a living thing to be worshiped. The throng of people treat the darkness as a blessing, a way to keep their anonymity, a way to overcome shyness or fear, a way to live out their wildest sides.

The music is no less important than the darkness. It seems to induce madness, or perhaps levitate towards ecstasy, as people lose themselves in the movement, in the noise, in the never-ending thrum of the bass in their hearts and stomachs. Smoke coils endlessly in the air, the pungent smell of strong alcohol mixing with it, as cigarettes are lit one after another, as drinks pass from hand to hand.