Sunday, July 9, 2017


I started this off naming one of James Thurber's funniest stories, because it rings so true for my own life, which has been an endless series of confusion, pratfalls and just plain idiocies. I could jump in just any old place, and come up with some stupidity or other; either mine or someone who is close to me. Being homeless for eleven months just helped to enrich that craziness.

So, not very long ago, on the 15th anniversary of my mother's death, I discovered through my own pulmonary doctor, that my own copd, which had taken her life, will not take mine. The last symptom, the scar tissue that inhibits exhalations seems to be gone, according to my pulmonary specialist. When I discovered that I had copd, I made it my mission to try and help others – as well as myself – and began going through Clinical Trials; I have been in one trial or another since 2012. To say that this is startling news, really throws shade on how important this is. In the past, the most people could hope for, was that their copd could be arrested, and if the patient had quit smoking – which I did in 2010 – there should be no worsening, although that is not always the case.

My mother had a genetic predisposition to copd, just as she did to essential tremor – although, alas, she was never diagnosed or treated for essential tremor. I just know it from consultation with my own neurologist and discussion with my aunt, who is a terrific observer of such things. Both of these traits show up on the same genetic strand of DNA. And I know this how? By reading my own medical chart. These are primarily the only true medical weaknesses we possess, lest you count the pure bat-shit insanity and pure cussedness on both sides of my family.

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, most people who quit smoking don't get worse, but by the time my mom quit smoking it was very late in the game; she had 13% lung function. I had 43% lung function when I started my Clinical Trials, but within 2 years, it had gone up to 90%, however, I still had those damnable scars that made exhalations and true exertions very hard on me.

Well, it had dawned on me somewhere after I did Japan – read “Mr. Bean Does Japan”, after I lost my blind cane - that I didn't have that “elephant sitting on my chest” feeling at all. Me essential tremor was being a mess, but I'm generally a mess and don't pay that any mind; it won't kill me. And then, last Monday, I had a thought (and no, it didn't get lonely and leave), but I needed a hill to try out my thought.     

I had to go to my bank, which is up a small hill facing Nebraska Avenue. I went and got the rent, and then went back down the hill. Then, I ran as fast as I could – I was a runner in high school – back up the hill, and capered and danced around, chortling to myself and just having a fine time. I did this for about 20 minutes, without ever getting out of breath.

I told my “pretend adopted son” Alex about this episode and he said, “You just know someone saw you and said, there goes another Nebraska Avenue loon!” So, we had a good laugh about that.

On Wednesday night however, I pulled an even bigger stunt. I'm a restless sleeper. I always have been and it was a latent sign of my essential tremor. At least, I never sat up in bed and jacked my better 2/3s in the eye, as is the case with my mom, when she gave my dad a black eye. When he said “Ow! What did you do that for?” She was all huffy with her response: “Just be glad you're a fish! You can write on Sundays!” I'm sure untold generations will be pondering the profundity of that meaning. My dad said sleeping with me when I was tiny was like sleeping with a bulldozer. My poor dad.

Anyway, somehow, I'd gotten turned around and was sleeping with me head, where my feet should be. I woke up at some point, thirsty and was looking for my water bottle. I saw it, and reached for it-wtf????

I fell out of the bed, and landed on my head and shoulders with my feet up in the air. I lay there and laughed like a loon for about 20 minutes, feet still in the air, before I recovered enough to pull myself up and get back in the bed, with my water bottle. It is a good thing that I'm still so limber and agile, because there are times I don't have one brain cell in my head.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

#IWSG – July 2017 Check in – Depression Really Ain't All That

I'm not going to start this with the usual organ recital of how I had an essential tremor episode, landed in the hospital, came out and got the Plague that everyone had for about 40 years it seemed, but was closer to 7 weeks and then had my cell phone stolen, and then I went to bed depressed for two months, until I got sick of my own pitifulness and drop-kicked my ass out of bed. We've all been there in one form or another, and my particular pity-part seems to be “I suck, hate myself, never did anything good, am a rotten person and cannot do anything well...” What horseshit.

Any one who has to deal with mental illness goes through this cycle and we know that things will get better. I'm at my best when I'm fighting for something I believe in, or if I have a job to do. Simple stuff; easy-peasy. And I've got the tools to take me to next step.

Anyway, it's time for me to move on to the next step and get on with my life. Symphony rehearsal starts in about 7 weeks and I've been approached by NTI, a company that provides work-at-home jobs for people with disabilities; the extra money will help.

I NEED to start writing again too. When I'm really creative, it keeps the bats out of my brains and keeps me motivated. I'm sorry I just sort of dropped out of sight. Alex Cavanaugh and Juneta Key came looking for me, just as I was climbing out of that hole. Thanks, you two, and to any others who may have sent emails I missed, thanks to you as well! I know you care! I hope everyone has a productive #IWSG month!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Every so often, on a Sunday, the Internet, Cable and phone will go completely to hell, and by that, I mean, it all stops working. For everyone. It doesn't matter who your ISP is, it just goes away, and it's usually for a full 8 to 10 hours and always on a Sunday. It's not every Sunday, and it doesn't happen with any regularity or frequency that we can report on, so we just all sit here, like clams in the dark, until our Internet, Cable and phones start working again, generally around six pm'ish.                   

I tried reporting this outage to my internet provider and they were just as much in the dark and mystified as I was. They had also had several other calls from customers in our area reporting the outage and they had no explanation; everything looked good. It wasn't until we read a little blurb in the paper, that we discovered that the Department of Transportation had purchased several of the older houses in and around the areas of I-275 that they were going to expand and rather than tear down these fine old houses, they decided to move them to other parts of the neighborhood.              

I'm all for the preservation of history and we do sport some pretty nifty old houses and all, but only in or around Nebraska Avenue, would the Government come up with something so cock-eyed.           

Yes, we must expand the freeway, but rather than tear down these old houses, let's buy 'em for lots and lots of money from their owners, (who've skipped off to Key West), and spend lots and lots of money to move them to empty lots that we've ALSO bought from some other people (who fled to Monte Carlo) for lots and lots of money! Then, let's move the houses, but let's move them in the most inconvenient way possible; say, like, by Conestoga Wagons and Oxen, and turn off everyone's Internet, because we're not sure that it's safe to leave it on when we move these here houses, because we're the Department of Transportation, not the Department of House-Moving; I mean, we have to figure out some way to use up all of this money, so we'll get more next year? Right?              

And, another house gets moved in a stately, glacial manner down the Avenue. . .

Saturday, April 8, 2017


Ever'body around here wants to be a gangsta, 'cause it's so fly. Gangstas get to ride in nice, tricked-out rides, they get all the babes, and all the blow they want and all the power and money they can burn through in a week. So, ever'one around here tryin' to be a gangsta. They's oney one problem with this plan, man. Dey ain't got no do-re-mi, so what we have is a bunch a damn idiots ridin' around on tricked-out bicycles, and scooters, with boomboxes tied to their handlebars, blasting ghetto shit to the masses and looking more colorful than usual.

Mr. Pimp-My-Ride

Man, I could write a book about this cat. He lived in my house and he tricked out his bike with tin foil. He worked as a mechanic, but couldn't drive; had lost his license, because of too many DUIs. He also was the proud owner of a "Big Booty DVD that someone stole, watched, and sold to someone else for a joint, who watched it, and then sold to someone else in our house for some pills, and then after the pill guy watched it, he sold it back to this cat for twice what he paid for it and the dude still didn't catch on. We had two houses full of folks like this when I was homeless. It was something new every day. Remind me to tell you about the "columnoscopy" story. It's a gem.

We've even figured out how to make a “boombox in a box” which you carry in your hand. It just supplies the rhythm, and you make up the rap for it. Yes, you too, can be a gangsta, with absolutely NO wheels, now. You just have to have a gadget that supplies the beatz, and you can rap to your heartz content!                

There are some very, very beautifully tricked-out bicycles on the Avenue, that are worth thousands, that the gangstas proudly ride on.

Have somethin' to say? Say it in a rap! Have nothin' to say? Sat that in a rap, too! Just rap it on out there and prance around like a ninny. Never has the 'hood been so colorful or fun! And people wonder why I stay indoors.                

This, and "Mr. Pimp My Ride at the very top, are more typical of what we're likely to see and hear on the Avenue and its environs. People will be happily peddling away, sharing the most god-awful tripe and having the time of their lives. It's fun to watch!

I haven't given in and started wearing headphones on the bus or when I'm on the street for the simple reason that I feel like I NEED to be aware of what's going on around me, either because I might miss something, or because, I suspect, I'm really still bemused by the panoply of humanity that lives here in this area. I never know what to expect, and to be honest? I'm still continually surprised at the things people come up with here in the 'hood. So, let the “gangstas” trick out their bikes and their scooters and have their fun. Let the rappers-in-a-box have at it. It's part of the rich tapestry here on Nebraska Avenue.

Friday, April 7, 2017


Fracas is so appropriate because it is something that occurs with MUCH frequency here and around the Avenue, and they are usually over singularly stupid things that would occur nowhere else on the planet and they generally leave me grinning from ear-to-ear, if not just melted down into a puddle of laughter over the idiocy of the arguments; all fought with the fervor and immediacy of the saving of the Free World kind of passion that we see in the cheesiest of Hollywood Spectacles. Today, I was treated to one of those spectacles and it was priceless.

This is the building that looks like it would be the "Checkers of the Damned" from my "Hysterical Buildings" post from last year's A-to-Z Challenge.

Firstly, I had to go to one of my favorite places to drown my sorrows; my sorrows being that I had to pay my rent, which is a huge chunk of my “Disability” check, more than 1/3 and while I rusticate on the Tampa Housing Authority List, I'm stuck. I'm better off than most however, so I really can't complain. My needs are few and I'm careful, but the insecurity is real and I can't really save much, so I headed off to Checkers, where my favorite building, the “Checkers of the Damned” lies right across the street. See my post “Hysterical Buildings” from last year's A-to-Z Challenge for a description of that place. I still wonder what it was supposed to be.      

Anyway, as I'm trying to decide what brand of grease I want to chow down on, this cat comes driving through on the wrong side. Checkers and Rallys are known for having drive-thrus on both sides, but they only go one-way. This dude just careened in from the street in his crappy Ram Pick 'em up and started driving the WRONG way thru the drive-thru, and all kinda folk were hollerin' “man, you can't do that! You goin' the wrong way, man!” Dude hollers back, “I KNOW what I'm doin'! I got dis!” Like he's soloin' a jet plane to Mars or some shit. He parks his ass all fat and happy in front of the window, facing the wrong way. The girl goes up and I can't hear what is being said, but behind me I hear “he KNOW what he doin'... He don't KNOW shit. He gonna get his ass run outta der so quick...”

I see a lot of gesturing going on between the dude and the cashier, and it gets kinda hot and heavy, like Italians at a speak-easy or something, then, she whirls around, hair flying, and SLAMS the window and goes off. Dude sits there for a moment, then he kind of wilts and drives off...      

Okay, so it wasn't a full-blown riot, but there was intense muttering for a while. The whole incident was hysterical and Mr. "I Got This" got his comeuppance for being a total cretin.

I can still hear muttering behind me; “Man thinks he GOT dis! He gonna get bitch-slapped. He don't know what direction the sun rises in the morning. . .” Murmurs of assent... I'm just laughing. Pretty soon, the dude in the crappy Ram Pick 'em up, drives up thru the drive-thru the RIGHT way and gets served by the Manager. He's very polite and very chastened. This kind of thing happens ALL the time on the Avenue; so often, that we say, ONLY ON NEBRASKA AVENUE!      

The only thing that would have made this better, would have been a full-on tackle or scrum, by the window, but hey, I'll take my chaos where I can get it!

NOTE: I described this entire incident to a very good friend of mine, who is my co-Leader in my gaming Clan. We've known each other for ten years and he's very familiar with this area and my tales. After I'd gone through this entire narrative, his comment? "And I just know this is a daily occurrence around there, isn't it?" Yup, it is! 

Thursday, April 6, 2017


One of the things that is really popular in this mixed neighborhood, is the cuisine. The people who live around me are from mostly Hispanic countries, and the food is scrumptious. One of my favorite dishes, or treats really is the Empanada, which originate in Galicia, Spain, but is also made in several different countries: Argentina, Colombia, Belize, Cape Verde, Venezuala and even India. The word “empanada” comes from the Spanish “empanar”, meaning to coat or to wrap in bread.     

In spite of the fact that these are fried, the filling is very light and you can eat about a million of them, before you feel full. I love the light, savory taste of the beef, although the chicken empanadas are very good, too!

Empanadas come in a variety of flavors and the dough is usually made with wheat flour and beef drippings. The dough is folded over with meat and/or cheese, olives and then they are either fried, or baked. The best are fried and they are a real treat. During the Lenten season, they are filled with tuna, and are still scrumptious. Empanadas are pretty small, and it's easy to eat five or six in one sitting.

The Nebraska Cafetería is across the street from where I live and next to my VERY convenient laundromat. It's hard to stay out of the Cafetería, when they have so many good dishes there!

I'm not even sure if you can buy them frozen; we've always bought them from the little Honduran Cafeteria across the street, where they're made fresh every day. There are several shops in Tampa that sell Empanadas and they're all good. If you ever get to downtown Tampa, be sure and check out one of the Cafeterias and try a chicken or beef empanada. They also make them for vegetarians!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Today's letter, “D” for dope, can be taken literally as well as figuratively. Dope is something that is so very prevalent on the streets in and around Nebraska Avenue, and yes, the people who indulge ARE dopes. The drugs of choice vary and run the gamut from marijuana to a legal concoction called “spice”, which is manufactured and sold over the counter. The reason it's legal, is that when the FDA analyzes the current witches' brew that is making the rounds, the chemists will change just one molecule and voila! The drug then becomes “legal” again.     

Our drug dealers are a lot slicker with the handoff. A customer will come up, the dealer will say, "Just a second" and head off to the east, to a house where the drugs are kept. He never keeps a supply on his person, so he can't be busted for intent to sell.

This has a two-fold effect. First, the drug is becoming so adulterated that people are just losing their minds when they smoke this shit. I was standing at the bus stop one day, and one user, a tiny woman, fixated on me and came jittering over to me, like something out of the “Walking Dead”. I acted before I would let her get anywhere near me; I took my cane and pole-axed her in her sternum and she went down like a pile of bricks that had lost its support. She kind of laid there for a minute, then got up and, having forgotten about me, tottered off in another direction. It really does make people lose their minds.     

"Spice" or synthetic marijuana, has been altered so many times, that it no longer resembles the milder form of the original drug it was supposed to mimic. It has horrific side effects, including causing hallucinations, tremors, dementia, and paranoia.

The other problem is that because it is so adulterated, it encourages this kind of behavior in people and the police are up to their ears in arresting people for all sorts of criminal behavior that has arisen from the use of this drug. Along with spice, people are still out there smoking crack, shooting up heroin, and smoking marijuana, which seems quaint, now, in terms of what I've seen on the street.

Once, I was coming home and there was an idiot who was just lying flat out on the pavement on his face. I walked up to him and hollered, really loud, “ARE YOU ALIVE? WAKE THE HELL UP AND GET OFF THIS GODDAMNED PAVEMENT! THIS IS NO PLACE TO TAKE A NAP!” One eye opened, and fixed on me, and the dude slowly dragged himself to a sitting position. Someone else had already called an ambulance. They came and took his vitals, and deemed him fit to stay out on the streets. I scolded him, and told him to go and sleep it off, but not on Nebraska Avenue! Really. Once, another dolt was nodded out at the bus stop, and I poked him really hard with my cane and told him to get the hell out of the bus stop; he could barely comprehend what I was saying.

It's a never-ending battle, out here on the Avenue and what people don't understand, is that even though I'm partially-sighted, I do see all of the drug deals going down and know who is responsible for the flow of drugs and the chain of command. At one time, I remember seeing three drug dealers standing together talking and thinking “How in the hell does anyone make a profit, if they're all dealing? Do they sell to one another?” Beats me how it works, but they stay in business.     

This cat is typical of the type of "customer" that frequents the various drug dealers that ply their trade on the Avenue. Every so often, one of them keels over dead, but generally, I just have to yell them awake.

The police do what they can, but in Florida, it is illegal to take pictures of or record people doing these things, or making transactions, without their consent. So, a civilian's hands are tied and we are left to surveil through the cameras in various businesses around the area. We've had mixed success in that regard, but we've managed to at least, keep them off of OUR street. As long as they stay out on Nebraska, I don't care what they do, unless I'm on the Avenue. If I'm on the Avenue, they don't like to see me coming, because they know I'll raise hell, and NO SLEEPING ON THE GODDAMNED SIDEWALK!  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Nebraska Avenue encompasses a wide variety of cultures and different enterprises in and around its environs. As we saw with Bo's, we have a sort of retro 50's kind of place, that is reminiscent of the old soda shop, minus the juke box and soda fountain. At the other end of the spectrum, we have Ybor City, which is rich in its own history. Filled with Cubans of third- and fourth- generation emigrés, Ybor City was once home to the world's largest producer of fine, hand-made cigars.


This is the original cigar factory that was founded by Vicente Martinez-Ybor. There are several others around, and one burned down a few years ago. One is still in operation and you can tour the museum and watch cigars being hand-made.

The first factory was built in 1886, by Vicente Martinez-Ybor, who moved his operation from Key West to the new company town he founded just northeast of Tampa in 1885. The first cigar factory and holding company was a three-story building and the largest cigar factory in the world at that time. Over the next few decades, skilled cigar makers or tabaqueros would roll hundreds of millions of cigars on wooden workbenches set close together in the building's wide, sunlit rooms.

The skilled cigarmakers had a great deal of economic and social power until the 1930s, for they could always be recruited by other firms. They set their own hours and often left early to dine on Seventh Avenue or visit a club. Their wives were rarely in the work place, as they were part of the traditional social order of Spain and Cuba. Eventually, women began to enter the work force, but didn't hold the top artisanal jobs.

Often, the factories themselves were owned by Anglo or British owners, but the Management and Supervisory duties and all of the day-to-day functions were performed by Cubans or Spaniards. Each role within the producing of the cigars had clear-cut definitions of who would perform those roles, as each role had its own sphere of influence.     

For example, the Spanish handled most of the jobs directly concerned with the manufacturing of cigars; wrapper selector, packers and knife-sharpeners, while the Cubans rolled the cheaper cigars, and Afro-Americans cleaned and did janitorial work. One of the most important and influential positions was that of el lector, who sat on a raised platform – la tribuna – and read the news and other items to the workers as they worked, a practice that had been started in Cuba and important in any labor negotiations, was highly prized and sought after.

The hand-rolled cigar business continued right up until after the Second World War, when mechanization was introduced and with it, began that slow and steady loss of a colorful industry that still, to this day, has one functioning hand-rolled cigar factory. It's on everyone's itinerary for a visit to Ybor City and it's fun to watch the skill and dexterity that it takes to roll and perfect these Cuban cigars. You also don't have to worry about smuggling them in from Cuba!

Monday, April 3, 2017


On the other side of the Interstate, I-275 that is, running parallel to Nebraska Avenue, is our “sister” avenue, Florida, which for some reason, is not nearly as colorful, or junky, or as full as miscreants as we here on Nebraska like to think, although the residents on Florida I'm sure would beg to differ. They do, however, have some pretty neat establishments over there, and while we can boast of our “3 Coins Diner” and our “Ella's”, they do have us beat with “Bo's Ice Cream”.

Distance from my house to Bo's. The route is I-275, which is the delineation between the two Avenues, which are as different as day and night. 

Bo's Ice Cream has been around since the Eisenhower Administration and it carries some of the finest ice cream anywhere; all of it home-made. When I lived over there on the “other side” I could actually walk to Bo's and order me up some of the BEST homemade pineapple ice cream with real chunks of fresh pineapple in it that I've ever had. It's probably a good thing I'm living over here off of Nebraska now, because, now, I have to take two buses to get my Bo's fix and I have a problem with my sugar and Bo's is certainly not the place to remedy that. Besides their simple homemade ice cream, they offer everything from ice cream floats, to upside-down banana splits and everything in between, and it's all good. Bosanko's favorite treat is the Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae; he makes the brownies himself!    

Kenny Bosanko hasn't changed the decor; preferring to keep it retro over the years. The patrons like it that way. 

The owner, Kenny Bosanko's father established Bo's in 1954, when the family moved to Tampa from Ohio. The building was already an ice cream stand in 1954, called Kreme King, but it struggled because the owner didn't keep regular hours, hanging signs that read “Now” or “Not Now”, so it took the Bosanko family time to turn the business around with regular business hours and it's been a going concern in the Bosanko family ever since.

Two big favorites; the soft swirl vanilla, dipped in butterscotch, and the Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae, with Kenny Bosankos' homemade Brownies. 

The place on the corner of Flora – the street where I used to live – and Florida Avenue didn't open a drive-thru until 2001 and didn't accept credit cards until 2004, 50 years after the opening of Bo's. Kenny is a last-millennial kinda guy and accepts that. He remembers the days when everyone could leave their doors and cars unlocked, and also remembers the crippling tide of drugs and thievery. That's pretty much gone now, and he has a lot of repeat business from police and firemen and says “There are a lot of radios around; we're pretty heavily armed”.     

Although this isn't the cheapest ice cream in town, it's certainly the best! A sampling of Bo's menus.

At any rate, this place will make any kid swoon, and as to how many days the establishment has ever been closed over its venerable career? Exactly two, and that was during the time in 2004, when Hurricane Charley cut the power to everything in Tampa. But, any trip to Tampa MUST include a trip to Bo's for some of the best ice cream to be found anywhere in the country!   

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Blogging from A to Z April Challenge: Announcing: The A To Z Challenge Simulcast Blog!

Blogging from A to Z April Challenge: Announcing: The A To Z Challenge Simulcast Blog!


If this sounds a bit familiar, it's because it is. An area so rich in history and characters, deserves to be written about; preferably as much as possible, because there's so much going on here, the overall feel of the place changes from day-to-day, while underneath, it really remains the same, because the human condition and the basic human response to poverty, disease, disaster and hunger doesn't change much. That's not to say that there's nothing humorous going on here. There's plenty of rich humor to be mined here, and it helps to have a good sense of humor, if nothing else, because it can get strange out here on the streets, and along with the humor, you have to have some smarts to survive.

Less than 2 blocks from my house. Too bad we can't see the "Checkers of the Damned".

I'm here to observe and occasionally, to make sure the bad guys don't always win, and also because I can't really afford to move anywhere else. I have the perfect disguise and can stand right out there in public and watch things happen, and no one ever suspects that I know what's going on. But that's a story for another day, and this is just for the A-to-Z Challenge; more fun little stories, some factual, and some totally 100% “fact-free”. I'll be sure and let you know when I'm posting “fake news” as is the current parlance, like last year's “Hysterical Buildings” and the “Community Garden”. Also, this year, I'm collaborating with my “pretend adopted son” Alex, who does go out and about, much more than I do, because unlike me, he doesn't get into fist-fights with the locals.


And yes, gangstas please. Feel free to drive by and share your crappy music with the 'hood, any old time, day or night. I particularly like that one tune that goes, BOOM. . . BOOM, BOOM-BOOM! YO-YO! BOOM. . . BOOM, BOOM-BOOM! YO-YO! eleventy-billion times in a row and does nothing else, especially through your shitty woofers that broke the day after you installed them and blasted them out of existence! Nothing sounds finer!               

We are going to be sprinkling in stories of some of the “local celebrities” of the neighborhood; people who have lived on the streets around here for so long and survived, that they're legends. Alex has a list of questions to ask, and we'll be telling their stories about why they're living on the street and why they prefer it to living in a more “scheduled” manner. These mavericks don't necessarily get Social Security, or food stamps, nor are they always drug addicts or drunks. They just don't want to be part of the system and we're curious as to why. We've already got a few interviews under our belts. Not all of them wants their pictures taken, so it's possible, they're on the lam. Who knows, and Alex doesn't pry.                                                

I always imagine Alex being something like this, but this is the farthest thing from the truth. This picture actually links back to an article that the UK Independent ran about a guy who was feeding all this sleaze to Fleet Street, yet it was made up of whole cloth. Alex is scrupulous as to detail, and he and I work closely together. He's also from the D.R. (Dominican Republic) and is about 6' 4" tall and can be intimidating.

I'm not going on vacation this April, and won't be traveling again until summer, so I'm looking forward to finishing this and have started writing posts ahead of time; something I've hardly ever done before, but I'm excited about this project for another, secret reason. Anyway, happy A-to-Z'ing everyone! I hope you enjoy this trip down and around Nebraska Avenue!

Monday, March 27, 2017



Young Person's Guide to the OPERA

Young persons today have lost sight of the fact that opera used to be the 19th century's version of “Jersey Shore.” Well, kind of. Persons in operas did all sorts of outlandish things that just were not done in polite company. Actually, this analogy doesn't play out well, because all of the shit that goes on in “Jersey Shore” pretty much goes on in real life. Never mind.

Anyway, opera was THE form of entertainment back in the days before television and iPods and all of that, so composers and librettists were hell-bent on coming up with some pretty outrageous stuff to keep the hoi-polloi amused. In Italy, Puccini ruled and he wrote some beautiful stuff. Between Puccini and Guiseppe Verdi, Italian opera was well represented.

The Germans on the other hand, had a few problems. One of them was the Kaiser. Kaiser Wilhelm was a bit odd. He, uh decided, much like Stalin did in Russia several decades later, that he would decide what was acceptable for German audiences. Never mind that the Germans had been raised on the Aesir and Ragnarok and were already of a Berserker mentality. There was a problem with his favorite composer, who later became Hitler's favorite composer. Herr Richard Strauss lived long enough to achieve this dubious distinction, but Strauss really didn't give a fig what Wilhelm, or Hitler or Göebbels thought and went on to compose operas that were, ah, indeed in questionable taste.

The other is that for sheer crazy, German opera just can't be beat. Before Richard Strauss, we had Richard Wagner, whose magnum opus is the “Ring Cycle,” 20 hours of mayhem. Incest, death, destruction, war, 20 questions with dragons, trolls, witches, stupid but good looking heroes, Brünhilde, Rheinmaidens, Välkyrie, Valhalla, topped off by Götterdammerüng. A very happy batch of operas indeed, called "Das Ringen der Nibelungen," or "The Ring Cycle." I'll let Anna Russell describe it for us.

This set the stage for Richard Strauss who thought wholesome stuff like Salome, during Kaiser Wilhelm's reign, prior to WW I - and who was a bit of a stuffed shirt about morals in public, but behind closed doors? One of his ministers would drop dead during some bacchanal or other while wearing a pink tutu - would be perfect for operatic treatment. Herr Strauss was an awesome composer, but he had not clue one about anything socio-political during his long life. He thought it was a swell idea to collaborate with Stefan Zweig as his librettist during his stint as Reichsminister of musik for the Third Reich under Josef Goebbels. Herr Zweig was Jewish and living in London. Herr Goebbels was pissed about it and Strauss was lucky not to get a one-way ticket to Dachau.

Well, during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm, who was a notorious blue-stocking, Strauss thought it would be a hella idea to do an operatic treatment of “Salome.” D'you remember this story? Antipas marries Herodias so he can get at her daughter Salome. John the Baptist is locked up in Antipas' prison under the palace. Salome gets a gander at John, as he squabbles over theology with some pharisees and goes all googly-eyed over him, but John spurns her for the harlot-in-training that she is. Antipas wants to see Salome dance, but she's all like, “Ewwww.” Herodias is rather annoyed at both Antipas and John, spiteful bitch that Herodias is, and she tells Salome to dance for Antipas, because Antipas will give her whatever Salome asks for, and she should ask for John's head.

Herodias is sick and tired of Antipas mooning over both Salome and John the Baptist. Antipas is afraid of John, as John is a man of God and keeps saying all this scary stuff from his cistern. So, Salome says, “Okay, A, I'll hip-hop for ya” and does the “Dance of the 7 Veils.”

  This is a more modern treatment, but the staging is so well-done, I chose this.

Once done, she asks for the head of John the Baptist and the evil deed is done. Next comes perhaps the most unbelievably hellish passage in music imaginable, as a huge hand rises out of the cistern bearing the head of John the Baptist. (Unfortunately, this is a bad edit, and you get part of her love/death song to Jokkanaan).

Antipas is horrified, but the nightmare is not yet ended. Salome proceeds to roll around on stage with the severed head of John the Baptist and sings the most glorious song of love that is also horrifying, but beautiful. 

So, Antipas has her put to death by the Roman guards. Curtain falls.

Great stuff! Seriously, this is music I grew up listening to and played, so even though my ears are by no means jaded, one can see why I am pretty tolerant of today's Rammstein-like groups and less than thrilled with precious music like Mozart. I love Haydn. Haydn took chances and is wonderful. Enough digression.

Strauss went ahead and debuted this opera without the Kaiser's approval. The Kaiser's favorite minister later died wearing a pink tutu at some function or another. So much for propriety; the Kaiser had a really bad year; the Archduke Ferdinand of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was assassinated shortly thereafter, and the Kaiser's year was about to get REALLY bad.

I played in Opera Tampa for 12 seasons, so I have plenty of rich material to draw from. We did mostly Italian opera. Maestro Coppola (the same family that produced Francis and Nic Cage) summed it up this way: “Anyone can play a Goddamned German opera. It's just 1, 2, 3, 4. In Italian opera there are so many rubatos and tempi changes it requires so much artistry. You are all here because you were hand-picked. Be proud.” Tyrant. I miss it. Maestro wasn't necessarily wrong, although in his waltzes, Richard Strauss affords lots of rubatos in the Viennese style. You may have picked that out in the "7 Veils." For the record, I LOVE playing Richard Strauss; supremely challenging and he pushes orchestras to the limits. In "Ein Heldenleben," (A Hero's Life" with him as the hero) during it's debut, one of the first violinists complained to him that a certain passage is unplayable. He casually looked over the score and said, "Don't worry, it's unplayable in the flutes, too." It is in the violas as well. Let's end this with one of the funniest Bugs Bunny cartoons ever.

Probably one of the best Wagner treatments I've ever seen. I played with the Warner Brothers Orchestra, after jumping ship from the Disney folks up in Detroit, many years ago. Man, did you have to play your ass off, but it was a HELL of a lot more fun! 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


I'm still trying to catch my equilibrium and get back into a semblance of my previous routine, prior to our whirlwind tour of Japan, and this is one of the problems with being so damnably hard-wired. Once out-of-whack, it takes a while to get everything back in order. It didn't help that my phone never made it out of Florida, or at least out of the United States, and it got lost, along with my mind, I fear.

This is apparently how they like to land in Japan, like a freakin' dart, head-first! We had some interesting flights and as both of my parents were pilots, I had a pretty good idea if we were in good hands or not. We were, but we did have some interesting take-offs and landings in the 7 flights we took during the tour!

I spent a couple of weeks playing catch-up with doctors and practicing and for the first time in many a year, I was thrown for a loop with a piece of music I had *gasp!* never heard before, although I know the composer fairly well. The composer is Gustav Holst and the piece is called “Bela Mire” or something equally nondescript. I'm too lazy to go look at the thing in the next room as I pound this out on my computer, but it IS a delightful piece! The first movement is a sort of Chabrier “Espana” type of affair, with that Spanish flair to it.

We haven't played the second movement yet, and the third movement is apparently inspired by some goat herder that ol' Gustav heard from miles away, as he sat on the hillside, playing his goat-skin bagpipe, with hollowed-out goat horns for drones. According to Holst, he heard this “melody” for two-and-a-half hours and it stuck with him. And boy, howdy, will it stick with you after you've heard this bastard. It starts out kind of slow and very drone-y and mysterious in the violas, on our two lowest strings and the movement of the melody is in 4ths and 5ths, lending an open, very eerie quality to the sound. We start out so softly, you have to strain to hear us.

Meet "Wolf", my viola. He's an Italian snob, and gets his own seat whenever we fly. The gentleman next to him is Alex, who plays trombone. It was a great tour!

As the sound builds, it becomes a bit more robust, but really isn't any happier, and then all of a sudden, the oboe and winds burst forth with the upper strings (along with us) and we play this hell-bent, 20-minute (or so it seems) very closely-intervaled snake-charmer type-thing that changes meters every so often just to keep it interesting! Twenty minutes (not really) of this is really pretty mesmerizing and I can understand why Holst was taken with it, but I sure as HELL would NOT want to play this version of “Bangalore's Greatest Hits” for two-and-a-half hours. We're also playing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto and I actually taught it to a student years ago.

My friend, Dana Tollan, a violinist from Rumania and I in front of Yokohama Harbor. This was about as warm as it got. From here we went to Sapporo which was 305 miles from Siberia as the crow flies. Gorgeous, ancient Sapporo, which we thoroughly enjoyed!

Even though I'm a violist, I taught violin and I had this advanced student who wanted to learn it. I thought, “Great, time for the woodshed.” I stayed just about two weeks ahead of her as we plowed through this thing. My current stand partner had done a similar thing with a student of his, so of course, we were “air-playing” the solo part in the back of the section, when the violas were resting. Never grow up. That's my motto.

Sapporo, home of Shoguns and Japanese Macaque monkeys that live in the hot springs pools.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to continuing my “Nebraska Avenue” series this year for the #A-to-Z Challenge 2017 and FINISHING it this year. I will have no commitments, or few to keep me, and will not be going on any vacation until the summer, when I hope to join my better 2/3s in the Badlands for a bit; ridin' horses and ropin' steers. Baloney. He's gonna play bass, and I'm going to SEDATELY ride whatever nag is assigned to me. . . maybe. Anyway, I've not written much lately and need to get back to it. I miss the creativity and the fun. How is your #IWSG?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

#ThrowbackThursdays - #ROW80 - Artwork For Sale (Ha Ha)

I posted this four years ago today and when it popped up in my Facebook feed I was delighted, because I remember how damned silly it was and I'm all for silly. I've done nothing but brood and carp over Trump and it ends NOW. I'm getting back to my fun, 100% fact-free posts and getting in shape for the A-to-Z Challenge that begins April 1, 2017 and in keeping with last year's theme, I'm going to continue to write about all of the hoo-ha that goes on around here on the Avenue. Nebraska Avenue, that is. There's just too much “specialness” going on to not take advantage of the human condition or the everyday idiocies I see, and boy howdy, there are a butt-ton of 'em, whatever a butt-ton is.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my little journey into the Visual Arts. My dear friend, YumaBev, or Bev Mittan-Ribaudo, who has Parkinson's Disease, is an actual, real-live, award-winning photographer, along with her Wonderful Husband. Just think of me as the anti-Bev. And, oh, yeah, I got those e. t. blues treated and am playing up a storm on the viola.

The trip to Japan was a smashing success in that I came back alive and Japan is still standing! I'll have more posts and tons of pictures to write about; I've just been busy unsnarling my life, since my phone never left Florida, along with my mind, apparently. I've been spending the time getting playing, practicing and caught up with doctor's appointments and untangling the fine mess that my bank made when they canceled my card 3 weeks early, because it wasn't a “chip” card. All is well and my financial status is good. Sheesh! Anyway, enjoy this little post that I originally wrote for #ROW80, four years ago today!

This is not just any artwork. This is artwork of the finest photography taken by my ever-shaking hand. Call me the anti-YumaBev. In terms of clarity, form and content. This here is some murky stuff. Just take a ramble through some of my fine pictures:

Jim and cat napping. If you look in the left 1/3 of the picture, you can imagine two white paws, very restful. Price: free.

See, I helpfully pointed them out. This is free also, should you wish to possess it. Actually, just copy the damn thing.

Animals make cute subjects for photographers, since I am not one, I find them to be a singular pain in the ass to try and take pictures of, yet I persist. This is what happened, when I was testing my new camcorder one night, which also has no night filter, and lent that extra-special dimension of creepiness we all hope for when we're taking pictures of the family doing family things about the house. . . alone. . . and in the dark.

I think I had some artsy-fartsy idea of seeing the cat through a victorian era lamp, but what I've appeared to have captured is some Lovecraftian "Colour Out of Space" horror that resides in our living room. Best call out Chthulu from under the kitchen sink. He's been napping far too long anyway. He needs to go on va-cay. Price: I give you Skittles to take this off my hands.

Before I took the famous picture of Mama kitty napping with Jim, I had to test the camcorder to see if it was photo-graphing or if it was taking moving pictures. Since I don't see well in the dark (or the light for that matter) it was highly necessary to stand in the kitchen and press several buttons at once on a device about which I knew nothing. (Gee, Mary, couldya have gone in the bathroom, shut the door and turned on a light? What? And ruin all this fine art and fun!) This is what we referred to as "learning" when I went to school to become a computer engineer. We had these things called "books" but hardly ever read them. This was a much more fun way to learn and also un-learn the messes we made that were referred to as "programs."

Anyway, I discovered the proper sequence for producing still photographs after many stops and starts and some amazingly amazing non-action sequences of my stove-top. Of course, I couldn't be bothered to turn on the light, because, eyes and I didn't want to wake the little darlings snuggling in the next room.

Bonus points for my finger in the lower right. Price: Let's haggle.

I haven't even gotten around to the videos yet. YouTube pisses me off. Every time I upload one, they say, "this seems a bit shaky, do you want us to fix it?" What, and ruin my great art? How do you know that's not part of my artistic statement on the world, YouTube?

Here's a picture I took of Mama and then I kind of morphed it with Pic Monkey. She was all sprawled out on the bed, happy as a clam.

It was too blurred, so I filtered it, and removed most of the shadows. She loves to sleep like this.

The only other pictures I've ever taken that were worth a damn was the one down below of her on my blog and some of my viola and the one I took of the house down the street. I'm no photographer, but it sure is fun taking pictures and I'll have more of my "artwork" on display during the A-to-Z Challenge, 2017!