What’s In A Name?

When I taught music full time I would greet each group with a hello song. This served several purposes. The first was to refresh my memory of each child’s name. You can imagine that in an elementary school of 200 plus children that it was easy to forget names of children that I saw for a half hour twice a week at most. The second was to gauge the room. to see who was eager and who was laying back. The children were seated on the floor in a circle (campfire style) with me as part of the circle and the song had as many verses as there were people in the room. Hearing or saying your name in a song is important. It is an affirmation that you matter. You exist. You are famous! I would include aides and If there were visitors in the room I would include them as well. It was all very Pete Seeger!

The song I used most of the time was a little ditty I made up called : “J’aime Mon Nom” Which translates to “I Love My Name”. The children would “patsch” (clap thighs and hands on alternating beats) and we’d all sing: “J’aime mon nom, J’aime mon nom, J’aime mon nom, J’aime mon nom” And then I’d sing and gesture to a child “Je m’appelle….” and the person chosen sang their name. This is a very effective way to read the room and get even the slightest effort and engagement from even the non-engaging students.

in the higher grades I would try and drop this because I already knew their names, and I had lots to stuff into the half hour together, but the children would ask for it, being lovers of routine. It didn’t hurt.

Teachable moments would arise from this according to the situation. On Hallowe’en I’d ask for the name of the character they were disguised as. Several times a child would say that they didn’t like their name so we’d change it to “Je N’aime pas mon nom”. We could use it to access different activities such as: your favourite hockey player’s name, your “girl/boyfriend” (imagine the giggles and/or horror), favourite breakfast, favourite teacher, etc. The opportunities for expression were only limited by the imagination, so, in my case, limitless.

One day, as a grade three class entered, I happened to have a rubber rat on my piano which piqued their curiosity. The reason I own a rubber rat is another short story which I will try to synopsize here.

Before teaching at the School Board I had worked for a decade as a music therapist with children with Autism, PDD, etc. Our Music Therapy room was in a basement of our school in Westmount. We were two therapists who usually worked together with small groups of children and their “shadows” (educators). One day my co-therapist wordlessly gave me the hand sign that she needed to use “the facilities” down the hall and I understood. When she returned, she was stammering and utterly speechless. I eventually made out through her gesturing the words “rat” and “dans la toilette”. She was utterly freaked out! I went down the hall and there was a small rat swimming in the toilet. I flushed, and it disappeared back into the sewers. Bye bye rat. We got some maintenance workers to install mesh and the problem was solved.

Until I saw a Hallowe’en toy at the dollar store…. A life size black rat with red eyes and a squeaker inside. OF COURSE I HAD TO HAVE IT. I bought it and when I got to work, I put it in my co-worker’s desk drawer. I was not in the room when she opened her drawer. I was upstairs, but I still heard her scream…. I got to the room and Marianne was standing outside the room making similar gestures to several days previous. I got the rat and showed her that it was a prank. The horror switched to anger and I was chopped liver for the rest of the day. The next day we were back to normal and she could laugh about her reactions. All was fine until a month later when the rubber rat “appeared” on the piano as Marianne was sitting down to play. This actually went on for months…. I even snuck it into her car!

So, that was the rat story. Back to the story at hand. The rat went into a box and followed me around to several schools and stayed in the box until I put it on my desk with the intention of “naming” it in a song.

I sat in the circle with the kids and said “I have a rat. The poor rat doesn’t have a name. Can we think up a name for a rat that has never been used before?” I sang: ” j’aime mon rat….” I named him something like “zgworrrdndillybop mc wa wa” as an example. I asked the children if they thought that name had ever been used before. As the song (and the rat)went around the circle, names like “Blackie” and “Ratty” were tried. I would ask the class if they thought those names had ever been used before. Most agreed they were not original. As we got further there were many creative examples: “George” , “Matilda”, ” Queen Rat” etc. Not original. Some children tried names in foreign tongues I would poll the class after every try and most agreed that there was a strong possibility that somewhere on earth at some point in time there was a rat that had received this name before. One kid tried “Ratatouille” and another said that was Disney’s imagination which set off even more discussion. It was all very educational and creative and fun. I then had an idea. I asked the class if they had ever heard the story of Rumpelstiltskin? To my amazement (and horror) none of them had!!!!!!!! I said “We are out of time, but I will read it to you next time. As fate would have it, I was reminded by a student that it was a double period that day as I was doing a favour to their teacher who had an appointment and it was a prep period for me. Woo Hoo!

I love stories! I love reading stories aloud to children. I was read to, I read to my own children and my nieces and nephews. I could not believe that by third grade, these children had not been exposed to this wonderful story.

I read it to them off the internet complete with “interjected lies” such as: “then they grabbed a burger at Harvey’s” just to see how attentive they were. I fielded questions throughout and I used all sorts of funny voices for the King, the girl, the imp, etc. The kids were rapt.

Their teacher arrived to take them back to their class and the kids all groaned. They told me that the story was amazing, the best class ever One boy asked where to get that story and told me that I “made the words come alive” and they never realized old stories could be so much fun. I was elated that it went so well, I saw little light bulbs lit.

Almost totally unplanned, yet hugely successful. My elation of having done a good job was tempered by a sadness that many of these kids did not have the same nurturing and opportunity and privilege that I enjoyed growing up.

A Small Life

It’s been a small life

Caught somewhere between
Monumental and mundane

Between the roaring,
boastful beacon bonfire

Lucky lux

And the Kind Candle. 
Feeble flame flickering 

Trying to make 
a difference to the indifferent
A dent in the surface
To give meaning to absurdity

Fighting the current,
The reasons, 
the blames,
False titles,
Wrong  names

Finally accepting 
The ebbing tide. 
Not to drive, but
To finally ride

Who will be 
my eyes?
My ears?
my heart?

Who will remember
Ten years hence?
If not gone, going

But for today…..
Rejoice

Bourgeois Suffering 

Sunday evening, while on a family zoom call, my brother-in-law used a term that was new to me, but the meaning of the term was extremely familiar. 

Earlier on Sunday, while grocery shopping, I was very frustrated with my shopping list which had several items on it that I had difficulty locating. There were crowded aisles and seemingly no workers to ask, my overcoat was too warm for being inside for longer than about five minutes and the omicron numbers in our province were way up. A recipe for me to get cranky. 

I was getting more and more grumpy as I went from one failure to procure to another. Even the things I did get were not quite right. I needed to get Rolled Oats (not quick). I checked the cereals. 32 different products and none of them were just oatmeal. I figured maybe they would be in the baking section. No. Maybe they were in the display of everything baking at the end of the aisle? Nope. I returned to the cereal section and found a box that did not use the word “Quick” (it did say “fast rising” or some other synonym.) I put it in the basket. Wrong!!!! I was also asked to get large zip-loc bags. There was a huge selection. I found Zip-Loc. I found large. I put it in the basket. Who knew that there are different kinds of large Zip Locs? Not me. What I bought was for vegetables and not cookies. I tried to call Sharon and see if she had any suggestions, but she was not picking up….. 

Usually I don’t let the small stuff bother me, but it was a perfect storm for exasperation and kvetching. I did not do this in public, but  did in private. . The rolled Oats SHOULD HAVE been where I looked for them! There SHOULD NOT have been so many confusing Zip Locks to choose from. There were TOO MANY people shopping and I was TOO hot. Woe IS ME!!!!

Bourgeois Suffering. A phrase coined by the Buddhist Nun Pema Chödrön.

It is sort of like “First World Problem” in that, the problem at hand is not life threatening, but an inconvenience to my entitlement. A mere blip on the radar of what is important in life.  

 I was once in line a few years ago to get a coffee at The Second Cup in Westmount. There was a “Karen” ahead of me who was freaking out on the kid barrista because the franchise had run out of Mocha flavouring. The woman was quite rude and nasty to this poor kid. I was next in line and when it was my turn, I jokingly said “I guess I shouldn’t order a Mocha then?” and the the Barrista said in all seriousness: “Welcome To My Ghetto!”. I stored that away and wrote a song about it. 

Another story from around the same time was when I was sitting in my car waiting for someone and doing a cryptic crossword when the car ahead of me backed up and hit my car. I was immediately getting all my testosterone gathered to give this person a blast of shit when he scurried toward me and I rolled down my window. He said “Please forgive me!” which blew my testosterone out of the water. “Of course!” I replied. 

When I take a step back and see how silly my attitude can be in the face of trivial problems, I reset my attitude from entitlement to gratitude and things go much better. 

On Sunday, people in my age group became eligible for the booster shot (3d vaccine) and I went on-line to book, but the site kept crashing. I’d either “time out” or the slot I was hoping for became unavailable. I got frustrated but shrugged and gave up after about 30 minutes. Sharon had two devices going trying to do the same for me and she got quite flustered as well by something she could not change. She gave up after 45 minutes. I decided to try my luck with walk-in (sans rendezvous) on Monday. I tried three locations without success.

Meanwhile Sharon got me a reservation on-line for tomorrow. 

I will probably always have the feeling of Bourgeois suffering to go with my white privilege, but I have the tools to keep it in check and stay healthy. Gotta remember that “Namasté” and “Fuck You” are opposites and the first is harder to access, but better for me.

Dave Gossage Sep7et (a fan’s perspective)

Where do I start? Last night I attended another concert at Café Resonance on Av. du Parc by this wonderful assemblage of Montreal area musicians playing the music of flautist Dave Gossage.

Let me begin by saying that in Montreal it is a rare thing to hear seven musicians playing high caliber Jazz outside of festival or concert settings, but in a café, it is almost unheard of. I try and catch them every time. Every time I go home smiling ear to ear.

Visually, the ensemble is striking. The front line consists of Dave himself looking like a wild lion maned wizard stage right with his electronic arsenal of effects that makes the word “flute” seem basic. He uses these effects Svengali-like to great advantage, making the breath of humanity into a nuclear hurricane or a murmuration of birds and anything in between. To his left, Alto and Bari sax player Samuel Blais (who also employed electronics (but more as colouration) and Tenor saxophonist Frank Lozano whose appearance as mild mannered accountants belies their fiery and intense expressionism on their horns. Stage left was the domain of stoic guitarist Steve Raegele (who resembles a medieval Norman soldier from a Monty Python film) sporting a hybrid cream coloured custom Stratocaster made by local luthier Ted Stevenson. His tidy lines and thoughtful counter melodies offering clean, subtle but integral support to the music. When he took a solo, he’d kick into overdrive and roar past the others like a sports car jumping a queue with tires spinning and engine racing.

Behind the front line, the rhythm section of David Guttierez Osei-Afrifa on piano and synthesizer(s), Double Bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Rich Irwin. This time around, my sight line of these three was perfect. The movement and expressive body language of these three being as entertaining as their superb musicianship. David sometimes supporting “conventionally” on piano and sometimes offering other worldly sounds on his synths and bank of Gizmos. His sounds always delighting and surprising without overtaking. One of his solos, mind you, sounded like middle period Chick Corea with soaring melodies and liberal use of the “bend” feature on his synth while always his entire body was swaying and writhing entirely inside the music. The ubiquitous Adrian Vedady was the only musician on stage (besides the tenor) who went straight into an amp sans effects. He was basically (pun intended) holding everything together with his superb, deep, round sound, his solid sense of time and his aura of trustworthiness as he bobbed his head and was seemingly chanting the somewhat tricky ostinato lines of Dave’s music. Rich Irwin on drums and electronic drums also held things together rhythmically and confidently. Not only did I feel that his beat could be trusted, but his creative bursts and his personality not only supported, but elevated the music. The several other times (pre-Covid) that I saw the band, I did not have clear sight lines for the drums. He is super fun to watch.

The music itself (all written by David Gossage) which varied from funky and bombastic to pastoral and sweetly melodic might be considered “challenging” to the casual listener much as trying to follow a conversation in another language might be a challenge. I think that even though one might not “understand” the language, these men displayed their distinct personalities fully in what struck me as a collective love fest. This music is not about fame or money, although I’m pretty sure either would be a welcomed bonus. To me, the Dave Gossage Septet is about musical friends who are so different from each other coming together as a cooperative and creating light in the relative darkness of our wounded world.

I hope that there will be more offerings from this outfit in the near future. I’ll be there. You should be too!

a few snippets from a crappy phone

Micro-Rich

I am re-reading “Palm Sunday” and all of the other works of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. in my library which I mostly read when I was in my twenties. I like re-reading things. I have recently re-read Mark Twain, C.S. Lewis, Steinbeck, etc. 

Sharon thinks it’s nuts. She reads voraciously and is single handedly keeping Chapters/Indigo in business. She seldom re visits a book. She moves forward in her knowledge.

My thinking on the matter is this: if a book made me feel a certain way once, and it was a pleasurable experience, why not read it again? It is the same book, but I am not the same “me”. I could read a new book,sure, and I do, but have I gotten everything I could have out of the books I already own?

If I go to a favourite restaurant, I order what I like. For example, at Mr. Steer it is a #2. I don’t go there any more since they ruined the decor from cowboy kitsch to generic corporate crap, but the #2 was the bomb! I like to return to things that I know I will like. Today, I had a new sandwich from Premiere Moisson. It was not one that I had had before, neither was it as good. Tried and true works.

I like to watch movies more than once as well. I must have seen The Wizard Of Oz, Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now and The Big Lebowski at least six times each. 

Sometimes watching a movie that influenced me profoundly at an earlier time can lead to disappointment on re visit. “Easy Rider” was that for me. I found it shallow and trope filled and obvious. I learned much from that re visit. 

Music is something I re listen to as well. I hear nuances with each new listen, and my tastes change over time. I love Ornette Coleman now, but didn’t have ears at first. I have softened my opinion on John Denver recently and listened pleasurably. I don’t immediately barf when I hear Abba anymore. 

Any artist would be glad to be revisited. Appreciating art takes time. There is no way I could read/watch/listen to everything new, I take time and love things I know I love. If an author/artist I love comes up with some new material, I give it a listen, likewise if I find an artist I am unfamiliar with whose music I like, I search out more of their stuff. I get much pleasure from music that has existed for a long time. I am listening to Billie Holiday and Lester Young repeatedly this week. So old, so new. So great.

We are all running out of time. Appreciation of the arts takes time. A glance at a painting is not enough, music playing in the background is not enough, being unable to recall scenes in a movie, or unable to discuss at length the nuances of a novel are indications that we may have only scratched the surface.. go deep or go home…..

I don’t have the kind of mind that gathers info and spews facts. I can’t be omnipotent, or even close to it.

I know a little about a lot,  And I know a lot about a little. 

I love being micro-rich

I like to linger. To savour, to immerse myself in what I am experiencing. I’d rather visit a few countries intimately than tour the world in a whirlwind. 

When you find love, love. 

Roll into Tim’s to win….

We didn’t have adequate milk supply at the cottage, so We visited one of the Tim Horton franchises in Lachute on Saturday so Sharon could have a latté. I placed the order via the intercom and as I approached the window of the drive-thru with five bucks in hand the Tim’s worker on duty handed me the coffee and said “la madame en avant à déjà payer ton café”! Sharon insisted I give the cashier the 5$ as a tip, which the lady tried to refuse, but ultimately accepted. Win/win, right?

Yesterday we had to return to Lachute to get a baking thermometer and my sister asked if we could pick up 2 dark double doubles for her and my bro-in-law. We saw that there was a huge lineup at the same drive through, so I said “f…. it” and we drove past and up the hill to Canadian Tire for the thermometer. There was another Tim’s there, so I drove in to the parking lot, but the lineup was very long, so I thought maybe going inside and ordering would be faster. The lineup was such that I didn’t even get inside, and in the five minutes I stood there not budging, no one came out either. Again I aborted and thought we’ll just forget about the coffees. As we retraced our trip back into the centre of town, Sharon saw that the lineup there had shrunk to only a few cars. I turned in and ordered three drinks and got to the cash where the same lady served me and said “bon appetite” in the way that some English people mangle the french language on purpose(like merci buckets) and then repeated what had happened the day before: “La madame en avant à déjà payer” only this time she closed her window as fast as my dropping jaw so I couldn’t pay her a tip. It was completely surreal. How can this rarity occur twice in a row? On the way back to the cottage Sharon and I discussed the absurdity of it all and posited several theories about what may have happened and why. I think this may be how conspiracy theories get invented. Was it a Thanksgiving thing? Did she recognize my voice and decide to repay the tip from the previous day? Was it a Tim Horton Illuminati plot that tracks Anglos in green jeeps? Maybe it was a special effort by Tim’s to make people more generous and sell more coffee, or maybe it is just that some people are just kind and enjoy surprising others. It was fun. We were surprised and thankful and it put smiles on our faces. 

Small Town,Main Street, Saturday Night.

On Saturday, Sharon and I were tasked with getting pizza for the gang (my brothers, sister and all our spouses). Our rental cottage was in the hills outside of Brownsburg which is very near the town of Lachute where I had gone to High School fifty years ago.

Lachute is a hub for the surrounding agricultural community and is a fairly large small town. When I was a teen the place to get pizza from was Princess Pizza. My exact memory of that place is gone, but when I got to Main Street I did remember another place with booths that I had gone to as well. Chez Carole was still there, so I went in and ordered three huge pizzas “to go”. They told me it would be about twenty-five minutes so I went out to wait in the car with Sharon. 

The layout of the street is somewhat like a very wide boulevard. When I visit this street, I am always reminded of 50’s era movies of American small towns and/or small town scenes painted by Edward Hopper. They used to have angled (zig zag) parking, but switched to parallel.

There is parking next to the sidewalks and on either side of the median. I was parallel parked next to the median facing east. When I got in the car after placing the order Sharon remarked on the number of motorcycles and mullets she had seen. I replied “Small town, Main Street, Saturday Night” as an explanation. Clusters of teens walking in groups, older couples looking for a place to dine out, etc. Driving up and down the street itself were several restored vintage cars and many Harley Davidson motorcycles.

We watched a couple on the other side of the median getting prepared to mount their bike. Each article of biker clothing carefully put on in a ritual dance. Chaps tightened, vests attached, bandanas adjusted helmets fastened and sunglasses donned. Then some little stretches and the rider got on followed by the driver who had an extra adjustment of his junk before straddling his hog, kicked off the kick stand and fired up the electronic ignition. They rode away slowly and deliberately showing off their leather and poise. I said to Sharon that everyone is on parade tonight.

Just then we saw two identical fire engine red Mazda convertible sports cars in tandem. They slowed and the first driver made a gesture to the following driver and they parallel parked in unison. I was amazed. It was like some synchronized swimming choreography we were watching. They backed in as if attached and then went forward about a foot and then back about half that, all in unison. The passenger doors opened as one and two former trophy brides got out and turned to watch the tops of the cars glide into place and then the two drivers struggled to get out. I recognized the effort of two large bald men with bad knees attempting to look effortless. They succeeded and rounded their vehicles to join their companions and cross toward a restaurant. It struck me at the time how unhappy they presented and I imagined that the men had probably been relevantly employed in industry, but had been cruising on their initial success for the last twenty years and now were too entrenched in their ways to be able to handle any change. The expressions on the faces of the female companions had a strange fadedness to them. Bottled blondes in clothes just a wee bit too tight and shoes that pretended to be stylish, but weren’t. 

I thought that maybe these people were former classmates of mine (they certainly could have been) disguised by fifty years. My imagination placed them in this same scenario every week-end since the mid seventies. I could see at a glance that they played golf, but probably didn’t enjoy it. 

As they walked away (still synchronized on auto-pilot) I forgave myself for being so judgemental and turned to look at Sharon and I was filled with thankfulness for her, for the week-end away, for the time with my siblings at Thanksgiving.

photo by Sharon Cheema

A Senses Census

Most people neglect their senses which makes no sense to me. This morning in my quiet time for thinking I was intensely aware of the sounds near me and I thought I would start a list of sounds in nature that I love. I then thought, ”why stop there?” How about other sounds made by humans? How about sounds you hate? How about the other senses: Touch, smell, taste, and the most used one (unless you are blind), sight. This got me to thinking about some of my friends and acquaintances who are missing one or more of their senses. I am grateful that I have my senses and I am aware and focusing on them.

It can be argued that there are more than five senses. Proprioception (body awareness that tells us how much strength to use for a task, for example) and the Vestibular sense which gives us information as to where our head and body are in space. I learned about these senses from Occupational Therapists in my career working with children with Autism, but these senses  are also useful and necessary in helping music students with the ergonomics of their instrument.

 For the sake of this essay/ set of lists I will deal with the five main senses and I will limit my lists to a top ten favourites, although within each category there are subsets and subsets of subsets…. oy, what have I started?

Sounds in nature that I love.

I love the sound of water…. not so much inside the house where it can signal a leak or a run on toilet etc.

The gentle lapping sound of a lake on the shore, on a moored boat, a dock etc. puts me in a calm and happy mood.

The powerful cymbal crashes of an ocean’s waves reaching a beach like in Cancun or rocks like at Peggy’s Cove, N.S.

The placid calm of a river’s stealthy flow or the roar of fierce rapids or a waterfall

the babbling of a brook

Then there are the different sounds of rain: gentle rain on differing surfaces, steady pouring rain, the tattoo of hail. 

Thunder-all kinds

Birds all have unique sounds. Here are some that I love:

Honking geese high overhead in v’s… usually signalling a change of seasons. The sad departure signalling the impending arrival of our long winter or the delight and hope of their arrival in spring.

chickadees, song sparrows, Blue Jays, crows, the white throated sparrow. mourning doves, kookaburra laughing. woodpeckers pecking, red winged blackbirds

I love the sound of wind in trees both coniferous and deciduous …the cracking of sap freezing.

I love cicadas, crickets, bullfrogs, galloping hooves, wolf howls (distant)

Man-made sounds that I love (aside from music…another category)

I love most train sounds… the clickety clack of wheels, the grinding, searing sound of switching tracks, a lonesome whistle in the distance ,  steam locomotives hissing, chugging.

zippers make a pleasant sound…Metal Zippers have a great sound both opening and closing. Plastic ones, not so much.

Car tires on a metal grate bridge deck. The Victoria Bridge in Montreal was built in 1860 to accommodate trains. It was the first link between the island of Montreal and the mainland. Built for trains. In 1899 the part that one could drive on was opened. As a child, I looked forward to visits with Uncle Charlie and Aunt Hemmy who lived in St. Bruno on the South Shore. We took the Victoria bridge even though there were several other faster routes in part, because my dad loved the sound as well.

air being let out of a tire or a bottle of carbonated liquid being opened are distinct sounds that please me.

corduroy 

wood being chopped 

park swings

the sound between stations  while dialling on an old tube radio.

empty churches

languages that are different from mine

Sounds I  hate 

velcro adjusting sounds like someone gathering phlegm in order to “gob”.(spit).

powered garden tools

60 cycle hum fluorescent lighting ballasts

any unwanted sound in a mic while recording.

microphone feedback

worn disc brakes

vocal fry

yelling,whining, patronizing

a needle dragging across a vinyl disc…also unwanted pops and clicks and click repeats…. I don’t mind these sounds in hip hop music, however. So, unintended

smells I love

peeling cucumber

slicing watermelon

camp fire

cooking curry, bbq, frying onions, bread, cookies, cake

vanilla stuart factory where they made cakes Laurier street

cooking with butter

baby shampoo 

Nathalie’s perfume

froesias- especially yellow ones.

smells I hate

cooking smells on clothes toaster, fried food, curry

housefire

pig/ sheep manure

stepped in dogshit. picking up poop with a bag is ok, except when the poop is “smooshed”. 

cigarette smoke first hand/second hand Has always been gross to me. As a child I had a friend whose clothes always smelled of stale smoke

stale breath…sour alcohol breath smoker breath, garlic hot dog burps

marigolds. They look lovely and last forever, but their scent is kind of sickly.

wet grey flannel pants. So sour smelling.

gasoline. -Oddly, I like the smell of Gasoline, but hate it on my hands after filling the tank.

touch I  love

the feel of real fur coats in the hall closet

cold smooth pebbles on my skin

the touch of my father’s stubble at the end of the day

the first tentative kiss before the heat.

velvet, satin, corduroy both wide and narrow

flannel sheets

smooth planed wood.

touch I hate

tin foil on metal filling.

putting on cold or wet, or cold and wet clothing.

emptying a pumpkin or a Turkey cavity

even the thought of someone touching my collarbone

tastes I  love

well toasted crumpet with melted butter and marmalade.

Fresh baguette with salted butter and honey

ripe in season cherries

watermelon

the cracklings on my mum’s roast beef

This list is by no means exhaustive, but if it makes you, the reader think about your senses or evokes similar visceral memories I am glad you have finally come to your senses.

Life Loves On

It was a rainy day in Montreal, I was kind of Blue having heard of the death of a close friend I had known since high school. I was reading The Atlantic magazine articles on line. I came across this one: https://www.theatlantic.com/press-releases/archive/2021/08/september-2021-cover-press-release/619694/ which is a story about how losing someone in 9/11 affected a family from the perspective of 20 years later. The story resonated with me.

While practicing my nylon string guitar later that morning I started playing a couple of chord sequences that caught my fancy. I was zoning out and started to ad lib words and “life loves on”stuck. I decided to try and build a song around that phrase. I love turns of phrase and tried many before settling on life loves on and love lives on which are subtly similar and yet somewhat different. The actual 4 note motif for “life loves on” fits the “Hallelujah” part from an old Anglican Hymn: “All Creatures Of Our God and King”

I was staring out the window at the teeming rain and the phrase “into each life some rain must fall” which I thought might be a bible verse because my mum had used it often. I googled the line, and It turned out it was a line in “The Rainy Day” written in 1842 after the death of his first wife, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The entire poem fit neatly into what I was trying to create, so, rather than re-invent the wheel, I set his poem to music with only a slight adaptation and some repetition.

The Story Of Jack Gas

Chapter One

This is a story about Jack Gas, a boy who grew into his name. Jack grew up as a normal boy who did normal things and everything about him screamed normal except for his name which was an easy target for the bullies at school and at the playground. He was teased mercilessly because his name sounded a bit like “jackass”.

In 6th grade, as “the puberty” visited, Jack developed quite a nervous stomach. He quite literally grew into his name. Jack became chronically flatulent. His body began producing methane at an enormous rate. Jack needed to expel this gas very frequently to avoid debilitating cramps and severe discomfort. At first, his “outbursts” arrived every five minutes or so, which Jackie tried to disguise by lifting a cheek off his chair and manually lifting and separating his buttocks to minimize the noise. Unfortunately this had the effect of making his gas “SBD” which we all know is “Silent, but deadly!”.

For some reason the farts smelled worse if there was no noise. The snap and pop of his noisier farts dispersed with a lesser olfactory effect. It was impossible for Jack to “sneak one by”. Anonymity was not an option. Everyone knew that all smells and all rude noises came from Jack Gas. This was actually convenient for some his classmates who could fart with impunity and never be blamed. A whole new perspective on “passing” gas. Jack Gas was given credit for other people’s twinkies. 

The toll on Jack Gas’s school/social life was extreme. He became ostracized No one wanted to be seated near Jack at school, the girls all thought he was gross and the boys, although some were secretly jealous of Jack’s ability to expel air at will, played along with the girls in calling out Jack Gas for being gross. Jack was reprimanded so often by the teacher for his classroom clearers that eventually Jack Gas was given permission to leave the class discretely without raising his hand first if he felt an eruption coming on (which was frequently). 

Jack Gas’s home life also had become quite different. The constant flatulence meant that Jack ate in the kitchen at dinner time rather than around the dining room table with his family. Road trips together were also a thing of the past as Travel with Jack was quite unpleasant. Jack Gas’s only road trips were to see any one of a plethora of medical specialists who tried to get to the bottom of Jack Gas’s condition. Dieticians, internalists, allergists, just about every medical specialty ending in “ist”. Then the were the non medical “ists” and “paths”, herbalists, naturalists, mycologists, osteopaths, naturopaths, pathists, istopaths, none of whom could offer any relief. The only thing relieved was Jack Gas’s dad who was relieved of hundreds of dollars with each futile attempt to fix the problem.

Isolation began to take it’s toll on Jack Gas. He never got hugs from his parents, never horsed around with his brothers anymore. Jack Gas no longer played any team sports, didn’t go on field trips, in fact all extra curricular school activities had to be stopped. No scouts, no choir, no summer camp.

The family dog, “Pizza” didn’t mind most of Jack Gas’s smells, and only left the room for the most vile smelling ones. You knew a bad one was in the air if Pizza left the room.

Jack Gas was still afflicted by the time he had to start Junior High School. He had hoped to be better, but to no avail. His hormones were full on raging and Jack Gas started to notice girls. Girls noticed him as well, but only in order to avoid him. There was a girl he saw from time to time in the library who didn’t move if he sat down near her, and who treated Jack Gas normally. Her name was Lorna. She was what you might call “bookish”. She spent all of her spare time in the library. Jack Gas started to spend more time in the library as well now in hopes that he would somehow encounter Lorna. Even when he did encounter Lorna he had to wait until the engrossed Lorna surfaced from her reading. Jack felt like a polar bear waiting near a seal’s breathing hole in the ice for the seal to arrive. 

One day, as Lorna closed her book, she took off her eyeglasses and was cleaning the lenses when she looked up and there was an awkward moment when she and Jack Gas made eye contact. Jack nervously spoke first. They discussed the book she had just read and had similar observations about the plot and the characters. The small talk was good, but Jack had a question he was dying to ask her. He finally just blurted out “How come you don’t avoid me like everybody else?”

Lorna replied that she has no sense of smell, and furthermore, likes to be left alone to read, so  she didn’t find Jack Gas’s smells offensive, and as a bonus, no one bothered her if she sat near him. She continued by saying that she liked that Jack was respectful of her space and didn’t interrupt her reading. They started to hang out together and even walked home together as Lorna’s home was a mere block and a half away from his. 

One day, Lorna invited Jack Gas to come inside for a snack and to play backgammon. Jack balked, but Lorna reassured him that it was OK, her mum was deaf, so couldn’t hear his farts, and Lorna had inherited her poor sense of smell from her dad, Ernie “Hot Rod” Morris. Ernie got his nickname from a local hoodlum named Gary, whose only apparent skill was in giving nicknames as slurs to his neighbours. Gary had observed that Ernie was a very timid driver who drove at a snail’s pace through the neighbourhood. Ernie was not, in fact, timid, but drove slowly in the neighbourhood because of the dozens of children and pets that lived there. Jack’s nickname from Gary was: “Pepe” short for the Looney Tunes skunk Pepe Le Pew. Lorna was soon to become “Pepe Adjacent”

Hot Rod invited Jack to stay for supper. Cabbage rolls….. 

Jack Gas and Lorna became inseparable. Their friendship blossomed and seemed to be headed towards becoming a romance as well, but fate intervened. Maybe not fate insomuch as the inevitable cruelty and unfairness of life in the pitiless substrata of high school cliques. Lorna soon discovered that being Pepe Adjacent meant that she was soon unable to follow her other interests (choir, weaving, debating and puppetry) because of the gossip and cruel innuendos of her peers in these clubs. She had to decide if it was worth it to remain Jack’s friend. 

Lorna was in tears one night after she had gone to bed. Her dad had noticed she was not herself at dinner and when he heard the sniffles through her closed door, he knocked and entered. Lorna spelled out her dilemma to her father and he set himself to thinking about how to solve her problem. 

Her dad remembered years ago how out of place he had felt due to his lack of scent. His peers would put salt on his cornflakes and serve him actual dog biscuits. Could have been worse. Ernie told his dad about it and his dad suggested visiting a “word-of-mouth” man named “Ruby” who had a semi-hidden kiosk in a lane off a cul-de-sac in Chinatown. Ruby had various cures for sundry human conditions that actually worked. His ointment to destroy warts was his biggest seller, but he also had a balm for shingles, he had a pill that could give a man a 24 hour erection, and on a related note, an oil for any number of venereal diseases. Ruby had many other concoctions as well. When Young Ernie went with his dad to visit Ruby, he recalled the dimly lit, smoky hovel with deadly accuracy. When told of the problem, Ruby stroked his tiny grey beard and started to pull out several drawers and gather some ingredients together. Each ingredient was in a tiny box or vial that had icons on them that Ernie assumed were words in Mandarin. Ruby mixed seven dry ingredients that may have been herbs, or dried mushrooms or powdered bones, etc. Only Ruby knew exactly what the ingredients were, and he almost never spoke, hence these were secret recipes. When he had mixed his concoction for Young Ernie, he separated the powder into 8 piles with a razor blade and placed each pile into the centre of small brightly coloured origami papers (I know, Origami is Japanese and Ruby is Chinese). He then folded each little paper into neat envelopes that easily opened only one way and provided a natural spout to pour the powder either directly into the throat, or into a receptacle to mix with liquid. Ruby said “Good for 8 days” and “twenty dollars” and ended with “one small side effect, nothing free”. He never divulged what the side effect was, but it became clear after Young Ernie took his first dose and began smelling smells much more vividly than we ever could. It was like he got smell and taste on a level with a dog’s hearing. Ultra smell and ultra taste akin to having an operation on your eyes and going from blindness to fully sighted when the bandages were unravelled. Words like “lush”, “opulent”, “savoury” come to mind. The drawback was that each smell was like an overdose. Each taste was overwhelming and all together made for unpleasant eating. Young Ernie learned that day that living without scent and taste was not so bad as being overwhelmed by it to the point of paralysis. He flushed the seven remaining packets down the glugger.

Lorna said to her dad “I’m not asking for me…..It’s Jack’s problem.” Hot Rod said that maybe Ruby (if he’s still alive) has a cure for flatulence. Let’s go check it out. Lorna called Jack and they drove to Chinatown and parked on the outskirts. Hot Rod and Lorna walked along oblivious to all the wonderful aroma encounters available in Chinatown, but Jack was familiar with all the fried smells, the sugary smells, even the not so great stench of the trash bins behind each establishment. He bought some Sesame balls with the red plum paste inside to have later. 

Hot Rod’s memory navigated to the last lane before the cul-de-sac and he almost missed Ruby’s kiosk as it looked even more decrepit and over run than it had twenty years previous. He opened the door gingerly and squinted into the dark. Sure enough, on a stool behind the counter sat a wizened old gnome with a scraggly beard who bowed to him without speaking. Hot Rod started “you may not remember….” And the old man said: “no taste, I remember, want more?” Hot Rod  responded in the negative, the old man laughed…”side effect too much, huh?” And Hot Rod nodded.

Jack Gas didn’t need to describe his problem to Ruby. Ruby said “too many fart, yeah?” Jack shrugged. Ruby said “one minute” Ruby went about the same ritual he had done with Hot Rod twenty years earlier. Drawers flung open and shut, boxes and vials extracted, only the ingredients were different or maybe not, only Ruby knew. Ruby pulled out his mortar and pestle and began grinding ingredients in the mortar. He was humming lightly a melody that was all at once universal and unfamiliar. No words, just sounds, although to our ears a foreign language seems to be just sounds…. We don’t know if it was an incantation or just happy unrelated music. When Ruby was done, he separated the powder evenly and placed eight piles each on their paper origami paper and folded each one meticulously. He turned to Jack and said “good for eight days, no charge this time, next time forty dollar.” Ruby added: “not so small side effect, nothing free…!”

Hot Rod, Lorna and Jack returned to the car and started for home. Hot Rod suggested that Jack take the first envelope right away. Jack poured the powder down his throat and chased it with some iced bubble tea. Almost immediately Jack’s gas stopped. The relief was short lived, though as they discovered the “side effect”. Twenty minutes after ingesting the powder Jack sensed a humongous explosion building up inside of him and he knew it was going to be a ripper.

FRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR………………appppppppppppppp

I am not exaggerating when I say that from the time it started until it’s last murmur Hot Rod’s car logged 2 kilometres in city traffic. The volume and force of this particular fart might have even registered on the Richter scale. Aside from the force of it, both Hot Rod and Lorna who supposedly had no sense of smell, rolled down their windows and leaned towards the fresh air gasping. Some side effect. 

After the Guinness worthy fart, however, Jack experienced a relief that was to continue until the next day. Twenty four hours fart free. The potion worked.