Un-honorably Un-mentioned

There it is, folded on the coffee table. The newspaper’s culture magazine. Their annual writing contest with all winner’s works printed inside, just a few feet away from my shaking hands.

I’ve submitted many times before, but feel this is the year I get published. I’m going to win because I took a chance. I didn’t send something I thought they were looking for. I do that every year. And lose. Instead, I sent an original, edgy, witty, and clever piece to the newspaper jurors. Adult Prose section, here I come.

newspaper photo for blog 004I open the magazine. Adult Prose First Place winner – not me. Okay. I wasn’t expecting First Place anyway. I turn the page. Second Place. Not me. You know, it would be nice, just once, if I won … anyway. I turn the page. Another writer has taken Third Place. But, wait – something new this year, the List of Finalists, names of writers whose works were considered extremely worthy but didn’t make the cut. If I’m on the list, some progress has been made.

I wiggle my index finger down the page of ten names. Mike Andberg is not among them. Who are all these people? I’ve never heard of any of them.

The Honorable Mention section. I flip the pages. Quickly. I have not been mentioned in the Honorable Mention section either.

I check the Teen section winners. I never mentioned my age in my submission to the paper. Who knows? Maybe they placed my winning entry in the Teen category by mistake. I check it. Twice. My name’s not there. Teenagers are already in the paper and they’re, what, fifteen? I’m how old?

I peruse the Kids category. Jesus. I mean, how good can these pieces be? I’m not included in this section (whether accidentally or deliberately).

I envision tomorrow’s newspaper folded on my coffee table. A giant apology. It was all a printing mix up. Excluded from the Annual Writing Contest winners was Mike Andberg’s glorious, witty, funny, unique, and cutting edge piece. It could happen, right?

I can only hope it wasn’t placed in Obituaries.

 

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Oh, Brother! Song is Your Religion

Dons Cathedral stain glass 003Silent Night. Holy night.

I’ve gotta get outta here. Now.

I’m shaking, and so sorry I’d paid any attention to this sudden urge.

On a lark, I’d checked the Yellow Pages for churches in my area. No way I’d find a Lutheran church this close to Mexico, right? But there it was, listed under Santa Fe. Curious, I headed out to see it.

What crazy urge had led me to believe I’d find a New England style-looking Lutheran church in New Mexico? This church was a brown box with cross on top. Yearning still, I walked inside the house of worship, hoping to rekindle a childhood memory of Christmas Eve’s past.

Forget dark ambience, all-wood vaulted ceiling, stained glass windows, and stubby pew pencils Lutherans were famous for providing congregations. The interior here was white-walled sterility.

Even the program was different. On the first page, the opening hymn had been scrapped, replaced by a song from some guy named “Paul Stookey.”

I sat to think a second. Could this be the same Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary fame? The famous Peter, Paul and Mary characters not in the Bible, ones I’d been forced to study in catechism class? Was there a cover charge at the door tonight I didn’t know about?

Sure enough, five minutes later, “Paul Stookey” stood before the congregation and sang. He looked like Stookey, sang like Stookey, thus, had to be Stookey. An actual celebrity was here among us, and he was Lutheran. I didn’t know Lutherans were allowed to become celebrities.

The wooden pew I sat in, the only truly authentic element I could spot from my boyhood church recollections, warmed me to the church’s modern thing going on. Completely scrapped hymns. Hip musicians. Hip songs. Relaxed dress code. Brighter ambiance. Bring it on.

Then the minister took over. Standing at the pulpit, he pumped out the day’s Bible reading, the Gospel, the Epistle – “Oh, brother on high,” this, “Oh, brother on high,” that. Trapped, I left his tiring, pious world for a far loftier one by humming “Leaving on a Jet Plane” for fifteen minutes straight.

After the minister left the podium, the congregation stood. All hands enveloped open hymnals while open mouths poured out the song’s first line, O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie ….

Tingles went up the back of my head. My chest constricted, as if the pews were grabbing hold of me and wouldn’t let go.

Above your deep and dreamless sleep / The silent stars go by. / Yet in thy dark streets shineth /  The everlasting light. / The hopes and fears of all the years / Are met in thee tonight.

Images poured in. Our Christmas tree. The dark Christmas Eve sky and all its stars. Siblings Don, Doug and Cathy opening presents beside me on the basement floor. Mom looking happy. Dad acting happy. Eggnog overflowing. All other days of the year forgotten for this one moment. As various reflections on Mom and Dad lingered, I realized how much I missed my parents, and how much I loved them, or desperately tried to.

My eyes welled from hearing the tune. I couldn’t let people see me cry. I must not let them see my cry.

I bit my lip. I stared at the walls. I breathed deeply. I reviewed the upcoming Sunday NFL schedule. I toured the inside of my bank.

It was the bank tour that did it. I needed every image of cold teller cubicles and financial offices to block my feelings. I’d won, although wondered why a tender melody should cause such turbulence.

Tired, wounded from fatigue, I hoped to rest during the sermon. But the minister pounded his “Oh, brother” message over and over again.

I shot back with multiple rounds of “If I Had a Hammer.” Unfortunately, humming “Hammer” was tiring, too. Wrecked, exhausted, I closed my eyes.

Go forward, go hide. Go fight, go rest. Go feel, go numb. Mom, Dad. Then, now. Block, release. Religion, self-determination.

I opened my eyes. It dawned on me the fire of religion had drawn out just about every conceivable emotion in me during childhood. Living in our suppressed family household, had religion been a good thing to experience after all? Even now? Something from religion had to have been good for me, right?

A book cracked. The man next to me opened his hymnal to Hymn number 646. “Silent Night.”  The “Silent Night.” I grabbed hold of the pew like I’d never let go.

Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.

Just two lines, and  I surrendered the fight.

I give in to all of what “Silent Night” meant to me. Its timeless melody put my body at total rest, mind at ease, and eyes in a place to shed their load, and, for one moment, blended all the good I’d ever known about church into one experience of blessed musical sounds, not to mention a little revisionist’s history. It’s as if someone from the back row had been saying, “It’s the music, brother – it’s music!”

This was a personal essay based on an episode in my memoir, “Maybe Boomer.”

Photo:  Don Andberg

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Dear Todd – Texting Uback w iphone: SWHSE (sorry, we hired someone else)

hoodie for text blog sory 006Out from a dark gray hoodie, a pink-flushed face appears. It’s Todd’s. He’s ready to review his job application with Mr. Deale, the store manager, clad in a vivid red polo.

Reading the top of the first page, Mr. Deale stops and squints his eyes. “You’ve written here that your middle name is … ‘IS‘?”

“Yeah, text for I’m Sorry, ‘cuz, I mean, I don’t have a middle name. Is, is that okay?”

“Is that … okay? I suppose. No need to be sorry.”

“Cool.”

“Now, Todd, I see for ‘How long living at your current address,’ you wrote WRT?”

“With Regard To.”

“Then you scribbled the letter Y?”

“Y – you know, for the word, ‘why’.”

“Why what?”

“Why do you need to know how long someone’s been at their current address?”

“Well, it’s just a formality …. Todd, looking down your application, I see it’s all abbreviations.”

“Texts. Figured you go through a lot of applications, sir, and this would speed things up.”

“For ‘Salary desired,’ you wrote IAG, NBD.

“It’s All Good. No Big Deal.”

“And PT.”

“For Part Time. Part time, you know, that I don’t want full time.”

“Using all these texts, it’s highly irregular. For ‘Position applied for,’ you wrote, ‘IT.’ What’s ‘IT’ mean?”

“You mean, you don’t have an IT department?”

“Oh, IT. Of course we …”

“‘Cuz if you sell tech stuff, I’d like a job there.”

“On the line about any crimes, convictions, or sentences you may have had imposed, you wrote IDNDT.”

“I Did Not Do That.”

Todd’s iPhone rings.

“Just a second, sir,” he says, pulling the smooth, blue device out from his pocket.

As Mr. Deale scans the application further, Todd texts back, ‘dude’z clulss. wtf. w2f!!!‘”

“Okay. Done. Sorry. I’m all about technology, sir. You sell iPhones here?”

“I see that for driver’s license number, you wrote BOT 953 IIRC?”

“If I Remember Correctly, I think my number’s 953 BOT.”

“953 BOT is your plate number, Todd. What’s the number on your wallet?”

“Oh, that thing. Worst abbreviation ever. And for what?”

“That’s because it’s not text, Todd.  And for ‘Means of transportation,’ you wrote GF.”

“My girlfriend, Mindy, well, till the old BOT gets fixed. But I’ll be here on time, sir.”

“References are very important, Todd, yet you left that entire section blank, blank except for NA. What’s that?”

“Not Applicable, which I crossed out and switched to WB – will Write Back, which I crossed out and put NA again.”

“Why?”

“Well, mothers aren’t references, are they?”

“As for work experience, under ‘Name of last employer,’ you wrote JTLYK MOM?”

“Yeah, for Just To Let You Know, my last job was for Mom.”

“Your reason for leaving the position was ‘POS‘.”

“Parent Over Shoulder.”

“Then, in parentheses, NC?”

“Not Cool. I mean, you know what I mean, right?”

“And then SLY?”

“But – Still Love You. S’all good. I’m ready to work.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-three.”

“Well … Todd, after going over your application and body of work experience, I see you’ve done some respectable work, but it’s not exactly Target level employment material, now is it?”

“But, I’m ready to work, sir. I really am.”

“Just curious. Below, you printed your name, but left the signature line blank.”

“Oh. Cursive is dead, sir.”

“Just curious. Do you know how to sign your name?”

LMAO no! Laughing My Ass Off – no! They don’t teach that anymore.”

“Right. Well, it’s been nice to meet you, Todd. We’ll let you know if anything comes up.”

“Cool.”

CUL8R. For See You Later. I just made it up.”

“Hey, gonna write that down, sir.”

“Try writing it in cursive some day.”

“Ha! LMAO, sir. LMAO!”

“Right. LOL back at ‘cha, Todd.”

“Cool. You got my number! Text me.”

 

 

 

 

 

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The Postal Service: We Deliver Zombies

RT, Prority Mail, 008Today’s the day. I can just feel it. It’s 10:15 – exactly between the time the Post Office opens when everybody’s trying to get ahead of everybody else and noon when everybody’s sneaking over on their break. I already notice the parking lot’s far less full. Not a whole lot of people mulling around the place either. Yes!

I enter through the squeaky, automatic glass door, turn left, and there they are – twenty-five people, all holding packages, snaked around the long desk in the middle of the room. The shock and awe on my face must resemble what I look like after having sat on a tack. Or the face on the guy in Munch’s painting, “The Scream.” All I want to do is get the right postage to send off an 8×11 manilla folder containing a long letter to my friend.

I should have known better. Next time, I’ll write my letters here, right on the desk while I’m waiting in line – I’ll have time to compose ten pages if I want.

As Customer Number Twenty-six, I try to regain control by calculating just how long I might be here. Too depressing. Bored, I read the poster on the wall, “Summer Stamps.” It’s November now, not summer, which reminds me it was June when they discontinued the automated customer ticket system. Yet, on the digital wall counter, number 32 still flickers, presumably left over from Customer Number 32 on that long-lost June day. I imagine him still standing here, a zombie, holding a parcel in his rigor mortice-stiff arms.

As Customer Number Twenty-seven enters, I now get to enjoy his look of shock and awe. Same with Customer Number Twenty-eight. (Edward Munch must have frequented post offices.) Customer Twenty-nine turns around and leaves (along with impatient Number Eighteen who follows suit). Now we’re getting somewhere!

There’s five clerk postal bays in front of us. I’ve never seen five postal clerks in here – ever. Today’s there’s three. If the customers looked dead, the clerks come across as coldly limp, at best. One goes in the back and never returns. Did she die back there, die with all the others who’ve never returned to serve us? Just wondering.

I notice one clerk’s been with a customer for ten minutes. When did sending mail get so complicated? What could they possibly be talking about? What’s he mailing – air bags, cremated remains, ammunition?

But now I see the clerk smile. Hey, he’s not supposed to smile or chill or chat! He’s here to serve us – and fast. But can I blame him? Why speed up and service 500 irritated customers a day when you can get away with 300? Even 300 – isn’t that slow death for any clerk to serve in one overworked day?

I see the next customer has 8 packages. I hate Christmas. I hate it already. And it’s only early November. Someone embalm me – now.

So, as I stand here waiting in line, I compose my “Ways to Improve the United States Postal Service” list:

*Just sell stamps

*Let customers redeem their two foot-long Post Office receipts for stamps

*Eliminate Christmas altogether

*Or just disband, like aging rock groups do. Living Death, Crushed Butler and Lucifer’s Friend did (their names gone, but not forgotten, explaining exactly how I feel right now – probably Postal workers, too).

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Underage Appreciation for the Long Gone Classical Music Composer

"Orchestra at Ground Level," 15 x 23. Inks on paper

“Orchestra at Ground Level,” 15 x 23. Inks on paper

I turn around from my second row seat in Albuquerque’s Popejoy Hall and see the capacity crowd is standing and clapping. On the stage, the New Mexico Philharmonic conductor bows and the orchestra members stand, but it’s the absent composer I’m madly applauding. It’s too bad he isn’t here tonight to receive the flower bouquet laid at the conductor’s feet because Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony, the “Pathetique,” is a masterwork.

I’m aghast how this symphony – considered a masterpiece now – was panned by critics and audiences the first time it was performed in 1893. Many great works have been panned after their first public performance, and still are. Classical music has always been owned, at least most appreciated and patronized, by older, wealthier people. I assume it was this base that panned Tchaikovsky’s sixth because, to generalize, older, wealthy people tend to be on the conservative side. Among many changes they didn’t like, perhaps the hardest was listening to the long, somber ending. What, no rousing conclusion to the fourth movement? Anything that feels too “new” or isn’t as great as the composer’s most previous work the musical establishment often scorns.

Caught up in my fervent clapping, as if hoping Tchaikovsky might hear me, I cannot believe anyone ever slammed his sixth. I don’t care what they were expecting. Beauty is beauty, isn’t it? To not be moved, I repeat – moved – by this music, seems then to have fallen upon deaf ears.

While exiting the hall, I hear negative audience response to “Circuits,” a modern piece that opened the program. Again – too new, too different, too soon for most folk? I, too, cannot see classical music evolving to the sound of “Circuits,” a rather edgy 1990 orchestral piece that places an emphasis on experimentation over “beauty.” Then again, beauty is in the ear of the listener. And wasn’t Tchaikovsky experimenting in “Pathetique,” too, a large reason audiences had difficulty with it, especially it’s “downer” ending?

When I hear raves for the night’s highlighted piece, Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in b minor, played masterfully by Zuill Bailey, I mull the fact that as classical music has changed, audiences have not. Classical music audiences tend not only to love concertos that display musician’s virtuosic abilities (and always have), but the majority of audiences are composed of the sixty and over set. My earliest concert memories attending Kennedy Center programs during the nineties were smothered by a preponderance of aging audience member’s tepid response and involvement to the events generally, complete with coughs and snores heard aplenty during them. However, in comparison, New Mexico Philharmonic patrons seem livelier and engaged, but are nevertheless overwhelmingly seniors (despite the availability of great seats for students at a huge discount). This audience loved the violin concerto and Tchaikovsky; not so much “that opening thing they played.” Sometimes when I hear responses like that, it comes across as though the people have been spoon fed what to like.

Tonight, I was caught up in all the glorious trappings that come with classical music events. I admit to my own brand of symphony snobbery by only buying seats located close to the stage. It is there I feel comfortable and most a part of the music. I can see the performers’ physical efforts of perfection, often their sweat; I bask in being surrounding by a world of concert hall browns, dotted by beautiful blacks and whites from the musician’s strict dress code, however upstaged by flower arrangement decor. While music is playing, I have difficulty sitting still like a good classical concert go-er should. And after the music is over, I clap for somebody who’s not even in the room.

I guess I strike a bit of discord with the base of classical music patrons around me, but I’m the happiest one in the hall.

The New Mexico Philharmonic performed this program October  24, 2015.
Artwork and photos by Mike Andberg.

video test, Doodlets 005 UNM stage piano

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Clear Sight As Only A Shop Teacher Can Give

010How is anyone to know in seventh grade what they’ll be when they grow up? From my school experiences to that point, the one thing I did know was that the last thing I ever wanted to be was a teacher. Bland, boring, there didn’t seem much to appreciate about them. Until I met my Industrial Arts instructor.

Mr. Silvey. The entertainer.

On the first day of class, with his thick, black southern accent, I listened to Old Man Silvey modify, if not maul, student names during roll call.

“An, An, An–a, Anabird?”

“Here,” I said.

“Bear, Bear-a, Bear-a-Bear-a Bearatrone?

“Here,” Bertron said.

“Cor,  Cor, Cordit, Cordedreedio?”

“Si,” Peppy Cordero said. Shy, reclusive Peppy was Eastern Junior High’s only Mexican. Because of Mr. Silvey’s pronunciation, however, Peppy was now known as Cordedreedio to everyone in class, perhaps the whole school.

By the time Mr. Silvey got to the end of the alphabet and, “Val, Val, Val-val-val-val Stee Val?” – the real Steve Val looked impressed Mr. Silvey had gotten a name just about right.

After roll, Mr. Silvey kept the enunciation Olympics going, describing to the class the great shop project he saved for last every year, the  “the dee … dee … dee … fis shape coin holda … widda  … fell-cova unnerside like you see here, boys.” As I watched him stroke the smooth shellac coating of what we interpreted to be something called a deep fish-shaped coin holder he displayed in his hand, I knew I had to make one of these fine, wood products.

Then came the second day, the real first day of Mr. Silvey’s Industrial Arts course.

Sitting at my workbench, I watched Mr. Silvey snap shut his attendance book and announce, “Na, na, naz time for … film, ah ‘Warnin’: Safey Firs,’ boys.”

“Uh no,” the tall, pimply guy sitting next to me said. “Not ‘Safety First.’ Last year, three guys left class to go to the nurse after watchin’ that film. One kid didn’t make it and puked everywhere.”

“Puked? From watching the film?”

“Believe me, I saw it. Some real gory shit.”

“What, the puke?”

“No, the blood ‘n guts ‘n all. You’re gonna die watchin’ this film.”

If the film was that gruesome, it’d make somebody throw up today for sure, which would make me do a rebound throw up. I made up my mind I’d close my eyes through the entire movie.

And I did. Almost. I peeked. Twice. The first time, I saw a giant, curly-shaped burr get shot out from a two ton drill machine that mangled some kid’s face. The second peek, a grisly operation on the kid’s eyeball, followed by another operation on a kid’s arm, shredded to fibers from an even worse shop catastrophe.

When silence filled the room and the lights came on, I scanned for pale, puke-prone faces and wobbly gaits, but saw kids celebrating the film instead, reveling in real life gore. How sick. I didn’t get it. With all the blood and guts, why would anyone want to be in this class, let alone teach it? This is “art?” Who is Mr. Silvey?

For weeks after, the only power machine I got near was the soft cloth buffer. Not only unthreatening to life or limb, students who operated the buffer didn’t have to wear safety goggles, and ours were disgusting. Who knew who put the oily layer of skuzz all over them? Some geek with acne? A kid with flu? One of the grease balls guidance counselors dumped in shop classes every year?

In choosing so many buffer projects, I never got to make the coveted end-of-year fish-shaped coin holder. A lot of guys in class saw me as slow; Mr. Silvey did not. Instead, he encouraged me with what I could do. Come May, sensing my interest in the unpopular, mundane plastic envelope project, Mr. Silvey gave me the project’s plans, master template and my very own bright green piece of plastic pulled from his personal locked cabinet of materials.

By the end of his course, I saw Mr. Silvey not as a teacher with oddities, but man of empathy, enthusiasm. He reached me. He got it. He was my favorite teacher.

Bored in all my other classes, I drew caricatures of teachers during lectures. Caricatures of the male instructors came easiest. They fashioned outrageous sideburns, moustaches and beards – even nose and ear hair if they could grow it.
It wasn’t long before I’d identified a curious subset of middle-aged, balding instructors who exhibited something I labelled “the angle of incidence = the angle of reflectance” principle. This rule posited that teachers with little hair above the eye line had more forced hair growth below it, suggesting the angle of reflected bald head surface above equaled the greater incidence of hair below. And, interestingly enough, I found that the angle of incidence rule was true mostly of math and science teachers (fortunately only the males).

Wasn’t this the work of a true genius, a student far from average, with tremendous art ability to boot? Except for Mr. Silvey, none of my teachers saw this. I didn’t get it. And why did anyone become a teacher if he wasn’t interested in inspiring students to do something great, or at least, motivate them to be the best they could be?

Mr. Silvey cared. He helped me see how teachers could motivate students: in his case, much through an entertaining delivery as anything else. I saw how important teacher inspiration was to student learning and, in the process, it angered me how teachers failed to motivate students. In fact, it angered me a lot. You could say it even motivated me.

How was I to know eighteen years later I’d be a teacher? Go figure. I even taught art, all a reflection upon one very entertaining and empathetic instructor – Mr. Rozell Silvey.

This was an excerpt from the chapter, “Education,” in my memoir, Maybe Boomer.

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The Second That Takes Forever

ArizBlur cr 48bit 800 dust047This just happened yesterday, September 26.

It comes out of nowhere. There’s a car only twenty feet in front of me, sideways to my grill. I push the brake pedal. I don’t even realize I’m pushing until I sense it’s not stopping me fast enough. I’m so close to the car now and it’s not moving away quick enough. Is it moving at all? Or is everything slow motion during this second before impact? There’s nothing I can do. I hear the tires screech but they’re only guiding my missile directly toward the car. It’s almost here. The injury. The hassle. The insurance crap. Having no car. An emotional, angry motorist I’ve hit. I see the driver’s face, looking at me like I’m crazy for hurling my car at his. But he’s moving now, completing a u turn, a stupid u turn, and I’m mad. Take this, you mother fucker! Take this! If I cannot stop, if I cannot avoid you, then take it for all it’s worth, you idiot for luring me into your stupid world of dangerous carelessness.

It’s the unmistakable sound cars make crashing, equal amounts bass and high-pitched treble. His car takes the brunt, getting knocked off course. Mine plows through and stops. No whiplash. No smashing glass. No head to the steering wheel. Clean, precise direct hit collision. Then silence.

My longest second is over. Time for its ugly, timeless aftermath.

I drive to the shoulder, crank the parking brake, open the door and prepare to meet the consequences head on. A hysterical driver? A bloodied driver? A mess I’ll pay for for months?

Nothing. The car is gone. Just over the hill from whence I came, I hear the car speeding off. An entire plastic bumper unit sits in the middle of the road, surrounded by small debris. The guy had no insurance. That has to be it. Why stick around when he knew he’d made a huge mistake – that’s what I think.

An ugly split on my bumper, a slightly cockeyed hood, but nothing else. Like a metal missile just hit a plastic tug boat. He’s gone. I never want to see him again. I’m glad there’s no insurance claims, no police scene. Should I feel bad for saying this? I clear the road of the bumper and various parts while cars slowly pass, passengers rubbernecking to view.

For such a crash, so little damage. For one so unlucky to be the guy behind him, luckier still to walk away. What remains are surprising thoughts, the collision of thoughts that flashed through my mind so quickly, as surprising as spotting a car coming at you out of nowhere.

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