HIS SPIRIT LIVES ON! ... BONER, THE PIANO DOG ... November 27, 1994 ... February 20, 2010
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March 11, 2006
It took thirty hours to get home!!! I'll never do that again. Enough said on that. I came home on a beautiful sunny day. The first thing I did was walk through the house. My friend Barbara had cleaned it for me as her donation to the cause and I really appreciated that. Other friends also helped out. My neighbor Larry took in my mail and drove my other truck from the house once in awhile so people didn't think I was dead or on a trip away from home. My friend Cindy gave me use of one of her family plan cell phones. My friend Wes took care of my website for me. My niece Heather stopped by the day before I left with some coffee cake for the morning departure and a 7/11 coffee card for the trip. Nice stuff eh? I was past exhaustion. I was too tired to be tired. I was happy to be home. I was elated to have accomplished the trip and elated over what a success it had been. So guess what I did next. I jumped in my other truck and took it for a drive... real fast. I needed a sense of normalcy. Then I came home, picked up my mail, took a shower and Bo and I went to our beds to sleep for a week.
The project has not quite ended. As you may know if you have ever had an experience like the one I just did with this tour, it does not just disappear into the sub conscious. I want to stay connected every minute of every day with everyone and everything about the past month. Especially seeing first hand the ongoing need and difficulties that everyone will face for a long time. My heart wants to continue to reach out even more so than before in many ways. I want to stay connected with the friendship, the friendliness, the caring, the ability to give, the feeling of being wanted and needed and appreciated and unconditionally loved and to return that. The only thing missing was sex. All the other human needs were filled as far as I am concerned.
Sidetrack for a moment. I had a friend who's family got lost in the hype of that KY2 thing or whatever it was when the world was supposed to end a few years back. They had prepared by stocking up on survival food. They spent something like ten thousand dollars on seven gallon plastic containers full of food to last many years. Well they were sick of looking at it in their garage and being constantly reminded of the foolishness of what happened. They were just going to dump it and I said no, I'll deal with it. My home has been known to be a clearing house of all sorts for goods and materials that are to be trashed. I'm always recycling and thinking of ways to put things to good use for myself or someone else. I moved it all into my garage. Eighteen hundred pounds of food. Part of me said eat it for the next couple of years. Another idea was to go and sell it to the local Chinese Buffet. I started to give some to the neighbors.
So as I am thinking of everyone down South it dawns on me that I have a substantial amount of food sitting in my possession. I put a posting up on the Craigslist internet site seeking a transport for food from anyone driving down to the Hurricane affected areas from the North. I immediately had four replies. Michele, from Gulfport and the South Mississippi Humane Society called me on her way home from Vermont after having traveled North for the last week to drop fifteen animals to adopt from the storm. As I live very close to the interstate she stopped by on the way home with an empty van to be filled with eighteen hundred pounds of beans, oats, rice, instant milk, etc... and delivered to Emergency Communities in New Orleans. I also had two sixty gallon bags full of towels and sheets for her to give out.
So Raggin' Piano Boogie just keeps going... and going... and going... and going... and going...
March 10, 2006
Man, oh man, oh man. I'm a going home. Everything is packed and ready. I don't want it to take three days. Please no, I just can't do it. I need to just get home. I'm going to drive straight through. It will be an experiment going straight through. Well, it was so absolutely amazing for the first six hours. This trip is not going to leave me behind. Everyone is coming home with me. I had no less than fifteen cars and trucks honk their horns to wave and scream in acknowledgment and to say hi as we were driving on the interstate. Most were carloads of volunteers whom I had met in both Louisiana and Mississippi driving home themselves. The entire group from Virginia Tech passed me, this was the fourth time we ran into each other. It felt satisfying and reassuring and like I had company with me. I got stuck in rush hour traffic in Atlanta, Georgia. As I sat there forever looking at the city from the highway. I had good vibes and it as it seemed to be a beautiful city. I would not want to deal with their rush hour traffic if I lived there that is for sure. Some guy pulls up along side of me and beeps as he rolls down his window. "How was New Orleans", he asks. That just totally amazed me. "It was great, I was in Mississippi too" I yelled. He gives me a thumbs up and drives through. That was very gratifying.
Then the trip started to become difficult. I tried to find a bright side. I only needed two quarts of oil for the entire trip and had no problems with the truck. I had brought a case of oil with me but after I left home the car engine never leaked. Going home will be a piece of cake I'm thinking. Driving at fifty five miles an hour is driving me crazy. Bo is showing signs of fatigue squirming around in his seat, chewing on his leg out of boredom and then he started to fart. It wasn't a nice space to be in. We stopped every hour or two to stretch and get some exercise. Not because we wanted to, but because we couldn't take being in the truck any longer. My tailbone is killing me. I keep shifting from left to right, right to left, nothing works. I have listened to Country and Western music now for five or six hours, some of it really bad and some of it really good. Bo kept looking at me like please turn it off I need some quiet time so I turned it all off.
All of a sudden my Magellan roadmate screen goes blank. I'm in no where land, no roads showing, no paths, nothing except a blue screen. Its like I'm in the ocean without a compass. Pitch black, no street lights, no road signs no trees or buildings, no travelers, only highway and riding on less than a quarter tank of gas. That kept me from falling asleep for a good thirty five minutes. I was on a brand new road in uncharted territory, the arrow on the roadmap screen found its way back. Rain, heavy rain starts. Who cares except for how draining it is on my focus and energy. I see a big billboard for Daddy Joe's Rack O' Ribs, I think it was South Carolina. Yea, thats it. Get a good meal and the ribs down South in nowhere land where they should be thick and juicy and cheap. It was. They were. Whoever thought up the idea for barbecue coleslaw should not have. I could not force myself to eat, yuk. "Taking a break will make you feel good and give you energy and you need a break". I ate ribs for the next three rest stops. I needed a break, it didn't help.
At about fifteen hours I was asking myself why I was killing myself to get home. I went back and forth about a hotel and wether I wanted to pay, how much, where, when etc... until I found a visa reward Fairview Inn. I had one night left with my visa reward points. I did my usual big smile at the front desk while letting the clerk know how exhausted I was and how thankful I was that he was there to comfort me. He was an ass. Totally by the book and irritating. There was no way to sneak Bo in as they only had a second floor room available. I signed in, loaded the equipment from the front seat of the truck along with clothes and the basics onto the dolly and nonchalantly walked past the hotel desk towards the elevator with Bo right next to me. "Excuse me sir, no dogs". "But...but...but... I said, "let me talk to the supervisor", etc... it went on ad nauseam. I worked it for all it was worth. I could have let Bo stay in the truck but I couldn't do it to him. He was as in as bad shape as I was. If he had to suffer I had to suffer. I now hated the place and just wanted to get home. We went back on the road. I finally caved in after about eighteen hours of driving. I just couldn't do it anymore. I crashed at a rest stop. Put on my thermals, hat gloves etc... and squished down in the truck seat with Bo on top of me and we snoozed till the sun came up.
March 09, 2006
I'm becoming more resistant to continue these writings as I'm nearing the end. Maybe I don't want it all to end. Maybe, I'm just burnt out. Maybe it means when its over I will have to start again, with anything nothing in particular. I do know if I started this trip over again it would have to be different in someway. Like more physically comfortable and with other people maybe. I'm defiantly done with sleeping on the ground, or not knowing what ground I will be sleeping on, or the fact that I might get thrown off the ground that I am sleeping on.
I was planning to leave today but I decided to take advantage of Bea and Bob's offer to stay another night. Besides, I did not get a chance to take them to dinner which was the least I could do to thank them. They have been really kind to me. It is supposed to rain so I would like to just chill, lay loose, hang out, tie up some loose ends and take my time packing. I'm not looking forward to the ride home. I had the opportunity to play some improvisational music for Bea in her backyard and that was really nice. I am just going to continue to ramble my thoughts out here. I have been amazed at how I have not felt tired when I wake up. At home I am always tired when I wake up. I am so unaware of time because I am constantly moving and being stimulated by new and exciting life experiences. I have really lost track of the days.
Bo and I went for a walk in the woods. We both love to explore uncharted territories together. There were no bugs so this is good. Listening to the breeze through the pine trees is awesome. I collected some huge Mississippi pine cones to take home. I used to collect rocks from wherever I traveled. I get older I'm lightening my load. Boner and I found ourselves on the top of a big hill, a meadow type area with fresh green grass about two feet high and yellow and white wildflowers surrounding us. I couldn't help to resist laying down and making a bed for myself in it as it was so soft. I did it when Bo was not looking so he would come jumping around to find me. We rolled around and played in the grass together and he settled on his back, tongue hanging sideways out of his mouth while I rubbed his tummy for awhile. It was one of those, "just he and I" moments of total bliss and contentment. I have never reached that feeling when it is not a delusion with another human being yet but there's still time. It never rained today.
I thought of how since I started this trip I don't feel alone anymore and just as amazing, I have had ten phone calls of significant people in my life checking up on me making sure that I was ok, if Bo was ok, and if the truck was still rolling. This is true. In my entire life of having gone away from home many many times I have had only one person ever call me and that was only one time.
Bob, Bea and I went to dinner and ran into, for the second time, this sloppy shirted looking kind of Bluegrass Christian musician guy, almost obese with a big flappy belly over his gut. I had met him briefly at the first camp I played for. He came across to me as self-absorbed and had no interest in anything but his agenda. I was a little interested in him as I never knew there was such a thing as Christian bluegrass. As we were talking about it Bea mentions that he is also a judge. What?!!! "Yep, it was true, she says". "Don't you have to go to school and get a degree to be a judge"? Bea says, "not in Mississippi you just get voted in". Yikes. Yikes. Yikes. Yikes. Yikes. Yikes. Yikes. I thought.
So here we are at "Catfish Point". I wanted some real Mississippi down home style food. I'm looking for the Mississippi version of my fantastic Louisiana meal experience. Well, Bea hit the magical button as this place was a "ten" and then some. Here we are in rural Mississippi at a family style restaurant, probably the only one around. It is an all you can eat catfish, hush puppies, cole slaw and deep fried dill pickles kind of place. Not much more on the menu if I recall. They didn't need anything else. Everything breaded, nothing greasy and it tasted and felt totally healthy and satisfying. Who ever heard of breaded deep fried dill pickle slices? It was all really delicious and a perfect mix. I will remember this meal for a long time. I want to keep this restaurant and its simple menu a secret until I open up a restaurant chain just like it. It certainly would be unique and a first in my neck of the woods. Forget the Texas Steak point sell. Gimmi' some of that Catfish! The place was packed and it was Thursday night.
March 08, 2006
Today was the climax of the tour, a truly exciting day for me. I had no idea what was to come. I started out in the morning for Pass Christian to perform at the FEMA tent city. I had been going back and forth in my head as to whether I should contact the local television stations. We had made tentative plans to do a taping when I arrived. I was not looking for any promotion it was to avail myself to the public for performance venues. I did not want to create a conflict of interest for Bea as her station is the rival television station and she was going to meet with me again at lunch to do more taping for her show. I called to talk to her. She said it was not a concern if they both ended up being there at the same time. We thought we could have fun with it now that she and I are friends. I felt I should follow through so I cell phoned WLOX ABC News while driving on the highway. The cell phone "thing" is completely foreign to me. I just have never had use for one. It was crazy trying to dial the phone without my reading glasses which I had lost and driving and talking at the same time while keeping the phone up to my ear. That has always been my number one pet peeve with what other people do while driving and now I was doing it! Friends think I'm nuts because I have not had a cell phone until now but, "It is what it is". I know my voice was not clear, I felt stupid and did not even know what I was saying and I could not hear whom I was talking to. I didn't really care I just wanted to make sure they got ... Ragtime, Boogie Woogie Piano Guy Danny Kean and Dog Boner on Back of Pickup Truck from Philadelphia Pennsylvania Performing in Pass Christian, Twelve Noon... I wanted to let them know because I said I would call them during my stay. That was it. They probably thought it was a crank call with all the highway noise. I think it was the station manger. He thanked me for calling and we hung up.
I arrived to set up. The energy was really nice. Everyone was upbeat and happy for me to be there. The security guards were helpful and genuinely having a good time. The college group I had met the night before happened to be building a childcare playground right next to where I was stationed. It felt good to run into them again. I forget faces so I did not remember who they were at first, I have issues in that area, but they reminded me. When I started to play all the little kids went crazy on the fence nearby. Bea started pulling in people walking by to dance with them. This is where I will forever kick myself for discouraging Bea from filming too much and taking pictures. She took some for her own personal photos thank God. I was too overly concerned that the tour would look like promotion and because of that thought, I have very few visual souvenirs. This all was a first to me and I have little experience when it comes to exploitation so I decided to error with less is better. I am learning, oh well. Bea started her shoot and at the same time, the television station arrived to shoot. There was a real buzz over my being there. After they left a group of local neighbors came over to the truck.
One older lady took a special interest in what I was doing. She stared intently at my playing until I was drawn to her. I assumed she was just being nice and paying close attention to what I was doing to show that she cared. She did care. When I finished, I asked her if she played the piano. She said, "oh yes". I said, "would you like to play"? "No, no", she said and I pushed the issue a little further. It took only a slight push as I said, "oh, you must play on the Raggin' Piano Boogie truck come on, you..." she interrupted me, "OK", she said. "Wow she must really want to play", I thought. I went to heaven. I wanted this type of thing to happen with all my heart. This was special for me. A piano player was going to play on my piano and she is from the South. Dorothy, an eighty-three year old piano player and here I am helping her climb into the back of my truck to play the piano on it. I'm thrilled. She sits down to play and I just could not believe what was happening.
This refined Southern black woman with the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen is sitting in the Raggin' Piano Boogie truck outside on this beautiful day by the ocean playing Old Gospel Boogie piano. She had bounce with her rhythm and energy that would be difficult to describe. It was perfect. I was so happy to see that someone could be so alive with thier piano playing with so many years under their belt. She had a perfectly classic Southern look. I was so happy I was beyond crying. She started to sing with the church songs she was playing. Her friends joined in and everyone was singing gospel hymns with Dorothy putting some Boogie rhythm to it. Then she made sure to try to connect with me also by asking, "maybe you know this one, it's called Shanty Old Town" and she began to play that. Her energy was very caring and exceptionally giving. A friend standing by who has known her for many years exclaims, "Dorothy, I never knew you could play the piano"! Dorothy responds in a slow Southern draw, "oh yes, this one I learned when I was six years old", and she begins to play. I was beside myself. I thought, "this is why you came here, this is the biggest thing you wanted to do, give a piano player who doesn't have a piano a chance to play for awhile". She was dying to play. I'm sure that playing the piano helps keep her alive. Such joy, so much joy. As she plays she says, "oh yes, I played day and night. When I woke up in the middle of the night with a tune in my head I would go to the piano to play it. But now my piano got washed away".
A strange thing happened at that moment. She was having such an experience. So was I. Mine was total and complete joy, I was so up that there was nothing, no way anything was going to come down. I just said, "you have to have a piano, you are going to get a piano." Then I started to back track trying to figure out what I just said. I laugh as I think about it, but I had made the decision it was going to happen. I had to extend the joy. My creative mind went to work immediately. First, I said to myself there is no way out of this, then I sort of mentioned out loud, "we need to get you a keyboard or something". I got her address and we left it at that. I thought, "maybe I can find something cheap on Ebay when I get home and send it down here". Dorothy went to lunch and I just stood around in awe. I felt so alive. I found out later that Dorothy is a retired Mississippi schoolteacher, very well known and loved in her community. She reminded me of my best friend Gertrude who was a white haired, four foot high, Irish woman, a retired school teacher herself who died when she was ninety years old. We met right when I stopped teaching piano many years ago. She became my only student because as she kept upping the ante until I could not refuse the fee she offered. She went back to school at age sixty-seven to get her teaching doctorate and started taking piano lessons at age seventy-six.
I was so thankful that Bea was there to witness it all. Bea and I were creating a very special friendship swapping life stories at every chance we could. We had to be conscious to give each other turns because it was so easy to talk with each other. It was continuous. We talked about being open-minded people and dealing without judgment, each person as an individual. We went for a drive to do a segment for her show where we would both would sit on the bench in the back of the truck and talk. Once again for the second time during this tour, I was silently struck by natures amazing power. It was such a strange parallel to be enjoying such a beautiful day with the wind, sun, the beach and sand along with the trash and debris. As we are hanging out, this guy comes rolling down the street on a walker. Mind you, the street is trashed and littered, nothing is around. He lives in the area and is as friendly and as happy as can be.
As we are hanging out, this guy comes rolling down the street on a walker. Mind you, the street is trashed and littered, nothing is around. He lives in the area and is as friendly and as happy as can be. He stopped to say hello, and as the conversation developed we were bonding North to South and he mentions that he used to be a peddler in New York city. That stopped me. "peddler", I said? "just how old are you"? I forget what he said but it was definitely in the nineties. He was telling us how he is using the walker this week because he fell off his bike last week while riding it on the highway. Someone in a truck had stopped to help but he did not need any and then a mile later he fell again and then someone stopped to drive him home so now he is going to take it easy for a week or two. When he left, he was not rolling along. I turned to Bea and said, "look at that, look where he is already," He was barreling along about a block and a half away in less than a minute. He was running on his walker.
That brought me back to age, and then to Dorothy. He was just another angel reminding me to get off my butt. We did not have much time, I needed to get Dorothy a piano and right away. She was no spring chicken and needed as much time as possible to enjoy piano playing. Then I realized Bea and I had nothing to do for two hours. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do in that time period earlier in the morning. I had told the volunteers I would play at God's Kitchen that night so I was stuck with time to kill. How convenient. Then I realized synchronicity was kicking in, "Bea, we have some time, lets go check out some of those pawn shops I saw driving here in Biloxi by the destroyed Casinos. Lets see see if they have any keyboards." Off we went. The largest shop had one crappy small keyboard and I thought, "you can't give someone something you wouldn't like for yourself, she needs to have the best you can get." I asked if anyone knew a music store in the area, and no one did. We were looking in the phone book when another customer had over heard us and suggested a small place about twenty-five minutes away on Pass road. Bea said she knew the area so off we went.
We found the store and I ran in. It was a typical music store, they were shifting inventory so boxes were all over the floors and keyboards were stacked on top of each other etc... I was in a rush so I quickly found the pianos that were there and waited while listening to what seemed to be the owner giving a loud, aggressive and pricy sales pitch for a cheap amp to a clueless customer. I thought, "this isn't going to be fun", then I reached out to grab the first employee that ran by to show me what they had in stock hopeing to avoid having to deal with him. There were only two standing pianos and one looked like crap so what I really wanted to know was the price for the one with all the junk on top of it. Was it used or new. I needed to try it out, real fast. I started to play it and the piano felt good. It also had a good strong sound. The aggressive guy came running over to say it was new, it cost about $1400 and he would sell it for $1100. I told him what I was doing and that I needed to move on it pronto. He said it had a microphone input on the front so that you could also sing through the piano at the same time as you play. I had never heard of that before in a piano but immediately thought of Dorothy's singing while she played earlier. It was a sample grand piano which is what I use on the Raggin' Piano Boogie truck, (that's right the piano on the truck is not an acoustic piano). The keys were weighted like a real piano. It was black and sleek looking, a real nice upright piano. Not a keyboard.
I took a moment. I put my face in my hands to have a talk with my inner self. "God", I said, "I have all this cash wrapped around my ankle that I was to spend if I needed hotel rooms but that need never materialized and I'm at the end of the tour. The parade gave me a thousand dollars. I wanted to contribute to the local economy and here I am in a local music store. Please let me know if I am being ridiculous." Then I thought, "Danny, you are ridiculous. This is so you. Look at the timing and synchronicity here and what is best is that you know that you are capable. (life struggle issue here) You have the ability to create this wonderful gesture. It is selfish even. You can extend your joy. You are responsible. You are empowered to empower someone else. To empower someone else's ability is also your favorite thing to do." So I decided, "If he goes for a thousand, I'll do it." I looked up and said, "one thousand and you have yourself a deal". He fumbled and said, "cash"? I said, "right here at my ankle", and lifted my leg. I pulled out the cash and the deal was done. He called the store guys for the move while I drove the truck to the back of the store. We made just enough room to fit it in the Raggin' Piano Boogie truck. The entire event from my walking in the door of the store to driving out of the parking lot all happened in less than fifteen minutes. Now there was two pianos in the Raggin' Piano Boogie truck!
This was so much fun. It is as fun as it gets for me. This was full of surprise, playfulness, anticipation, big payoff, generosity, spontaneity and immediate gratification. Again, thank God Bea was with me to share in all of this. I was so not alone. (another life struggle issue) I was flying so high I could not address the fact that Bea was sitting there stunned. I had Dorothy's address and my handy dandy Magellan roadmate next to me. We were on a mission and there was no time to lose. I felt urgency as I had committed myself to performing later on that night. We drove right to Dorothy's house. It was gutted out. There were two trailers in the front yard. I went to the neighbors trailer to make sure it was the correct house and to try to find where she was. I was feeling out any possibilities for leaving the piano there. She lived in the one trailer her daughter in the other. She was probably going to dinner back at the tent. So there we went. She was not there. I asked the site manger to help and he was more than willing. We found a bunch of guys to take the piano off the truck and it was agreed that they would keep it in the tent and even make sure it was delivered to her house for her. I did not really want to be around to give it to her. I was somewhat embarrassed about it because the buzz was really flying. "The piano guy on the truck just brought Dorothy a piano!" People were coming out of the woodwork and I was beginning to feel like the Extreme Home Makeover guy. I said to Bea, "lets get out of here I need to get over to the other place".
Bea said, "but you will deprive her of the opportunity to thank you. Here have a piece of cake and if she's not here buy the time your done it will be God's will." So, I had my piece of cake and went to get a cup of coffee to go. As I was leaving, in she walked. I simply told her I brought her a piano and lead her to it. It was hard to read how she was taking it all but she was clearly gracious throughout. She sat down and started to play. She said she thought she would only get a small keyboard. I chuckled to myself, "good thing you followed through Danny because she wasn't going to forget what you blurted out earlier". I told her there was only one condition, that the piano be put in her trailer right away or wrapped up and stored in her house until the home was ready to open up again. Her daughter was present which was comforting for me and said there might be room in her trailer in the kitchenette area. I did not want any volunteer group or church hall to store it for her only to have it gone missing, or for her to feel pressure from anyone to leave it somewhere for everyone else to enjoy. She had made it clear earlier how she enjoyed her times alone like in the middle of the night playing her own piano.
Mission accomplished. I was glad it was over. Everything was as it was meant to be and it was in the moment. I had a totally wonderful and complete experience because of someone partaking in my life by playing on the Raggin' Piano Boogie truck. It was a magically synchronic and clearly spiritually driven with pure motives, love, respect, care and joy. Someone who grasped the opportunity for their own life experience that was "out of the box". Playing on the back of a pickup truck is "out of the box". We were mutually fulfilling needs, she needed to play, I wanted her to play, She was a person for of interest and I wanted her to be interested. It was in the process where I had the most fun. I will just leave it to Dorothy to continue the process as I move on.
My focus went to God's Kitchen. I had to hurry to get there and play. I arrived to find people waiting for me because I told them that I would be there and also I had found out that the television station had done a segment on the news for me. I thought, "isn't that interesting, this is probably why I felt such an tugging urgency all afternoon to not be late." I did my usual bit and everyone cheered and danced and then I went into playing my improvisation music with a beautiful moon lit night and sharp shinning stars. I fell into the freedom of creating sounds that were of my own and letting my spirit flow. The positive response was inspiring. A van stopped along the road and a group of uniformed kids with straw hats on ran to watch me for a spell. I was curious because they looked so unusual and asked where they were from. "Amish from Pennsylvania, we are here volunteering with building houses". "Way too much", I thought. I told them that I was actually thinking of the Amish earlier that I ran into just about every group during my time down South except for the Amish and here they are! There was a guy roaming around the truck the entire time I was improvising and he seemed to be enjoying it. When I finished we started to talk and he told me that he had seen me in the Argus parade in Louisiana for Mardi Gras. He saw me on the news tonight he had to come to listen. I was impressed. He was a musician also. We had much to talk about because of my new start with musical improvisation. Did I mention in these writings that I have been performing the same one hour of Ragtime and Boogie Woogie music for the last nineteen-years? That is correct, one hour of music, nothing else. There was a period when I was younger where I would perform that same hour of music for a job five and six hours a day.
I was missing Bea. I was trying to think when I last saw her. It was when I arrived. I could not blame her for going home as she had been following all day in my footsteps. Lucky she drove her own car along with me so she could escape, I thought. She was so thoughtful in the way that she stayed by my side to be supportive without interfering with me all day long. She respected the flow of my manic shenanigans. That is a true talent! Then all of a sudden she appeared. She had been with me the whole time listening and watching in the background. Talk about being able to put your ego aside. It must have been a challenge. Bea is used to being in the spot light herself as a major local celebrity talk show host... with her own weekly show... four years running, called, "What I like About the South"... which can be seen all throughout Southern Mississippi on Sunday mornings... at nine in the morning... for the FOX WXXV television channel (just a little plug here). Bea said my music was so beautiful with the night breeze and the sounds of the ocean that it made her cry. This is all new to me and very gratifying. I want and need to share my music even more than supplying pianos to deserving people... I think.
March 07, 2006
I woke up to an empty house as everyone had gone to work. For breakfast I ate one of the sixty power bars that I has packed for this trip and also fruit from New Orleans. I was determined not to gain weight while traveling so I planned with nutrition bars for emergencies. I did not want to become too hungry or go crazy when a healthy meal was not to be found. I wanted to stay off of the quick fix cheeseburgers and potatoe chips. In the past I treated myself by stashing varieties of junk food in the truck because, "that is what you do", to have a good fun trip. Not this time. I now want a healthy mind, body and soul although I did have one slip.
I cannot say enough of how crazy it made me while traveling on the interstates with signs constantly baiting me for Mc Donald's, Arby's, Burger King, etc... at just about every mile for the entire way from Philadelphia to Louisiana. The advertisers really know how to work people and the politicians know how to work the money. These advertisements are much more efficient then billboards because of so many repeated impressions and the fact that they are road signs. After seeing three to four thousand of them, the message is fairly ingrained as a viable option. Every traveler needs to look at the road signs and not miss one. All of this is under the guise of providing a service to the public. The fast food joints are working the political highway systems and those in politics are working money and... and... people like me are working our way to overeater's anonymous? Anyway, this is the kind of stuff I was thinking while driving until I needed to use a bathroom. So I take the closest exit and drive into the first business I see to use the facilities. It's a Mc Donald's restaurant with a big sign saying, "Bacon Cheeseburgers for 99 cents"!!! "I'll take four of those please"!!!
Back to the day. I needed to focus. I wanted to get on track as to where I was going to perform. I call Yankee Stadium as I was told a FEMA tent city was located there. The person in charge said, "I guess we could let you play here but you can't eat lunch." I said, "who said anything about lunch"? Then I thought, "that statement just said it all ... I don't need to put myself in that kind of environment." I decided to drive around having no idea where to go or what I'm going to do. I decided that I'm going to let God deliver me. My first stop is the nearest gas station to fill up. While at the pump, a local guy, older, hard-core, rural, pot bellied type of guy approaches me with a friendly smile just to say hi. I reach out my hand and introduce myself. He wishes me luck and goes inside to pay for his gas while I'm thinking, "wow, that was really nice of him, talk about my wrong projections concerning people". As he leaves he stops by once again and says, "you know if you keep straight on this road for about ten miles instead of going onto the highway you will run into a tent city at the end of it, located at a Methodist church".
As I drove on I thought, "this is perfect. Look how I am getting help right from the first moment. I'm being given clear direction." I know what I know and in that moment, I knew an angel had just passed through my life. I could never express how much I appreciate experiences like this. I have them often. I know why. It is because of three things that I keep a conscious awareness of. I acknowledge these experiences, I am consciously grateful for them, and I share the experiences whenever it is appropriately possible. I called Bea, as she wanted to meet up with me so she could tape me for her television show. I drove into the parking lot of the C.O.R.E. volunteer tent city. Bea followed shortly. As the organizers were going back and forth as to weather they wanted me to be there Bea stepped in as a good assertive mom, loyal protector, and travel host with, "just let him play, what's wrong with you, be a good Christian etc... etc... "I loved it. I did. However, I had to say, "Bea get a grip", "stay out of it", "button up" or you will wreak it. Let me do my thing I know what I am doing". She complied. There is a complete timing to situations like this. I need to be aware of give and take, sense any openings to make room for suggestion, find how to maneuver through the hierarchical ranks in order to keep everyone happy. It is important to make sure no one feels threatened, to be sensitive with issues, reassure them that everything will be ok, help them to understand they will love what I have to offer and allow time for them to process the concept. There are lots more and all while creating a little confusion and chaos about it. And then at just the right moment I need to jump onto the truck and start playing for the final sell. This is all without them knowing what just happened. Of course it is a lot more fun when I just say, "do you wanna hear some key banging" and they say, "sure" and I jump into the truck and give it to them.
I realize that some people are very wary of unstructured and unusual entertainment properties, traveling musicians and dogs, especially those who play free. I am invading their space of organized structure and it all could crack and fall apart. I understand this. Been there, done that. Completely different from New Orleans but completely similar to repeated situations over the last nineteen years of presenting Raggin' Piano Boogie. I was raised this way. They were appreciative and accepting of what I had to offer and I applaud them for opening their minds and hearts for me. We arranged that I would come back at night. Bea had some work to do so I went on my own.
I heard about a FEMA tent city in Pass Christian a town the hurricane completely wiped out. I had no idea where it was. I was driving along the coast and noticed the slant on what was once a grand old yellow house. I turned up the street to get a closer look. Two ladies were walking by so I asked them if they had heard of a tent city in the area. They said yes right over there behind the tree. I looked to my left and there it was. I set up plans to perform there for lunch the next day. The eating and sleeping areas in this tent city were separately run. That was important to know for some reason. The eating tent was majorly different from any other eatery experience I had. We are talking someone's making big bucks here. Carpet floors, air conditioning under the tent, nice chairs, tablecloths, everything was catered. No home cookin' here, this was down right fine dinning. The tents reminded my of the television show mash. Expensive looking green military canvas houses all in a neat row after row after row. The town center was just getting started again with three corners of the intersection doing business in trailers. One was the bank, the other was a food and hardware store and the third was city hall. There was about to be an occupancy shift in the area over the next few days.
Bea and I hooked up later and she took me on a tour of the coast. We went to scope out the area for more performance situations. There were casinos, condos a wal-mart, there was a mega church, buildings that looked like they were built on stilts. That's because the first two floors had been washed away. I could see that Bea was having difficulty as she talked about her favorite eateries, the big beautiful old houses that she has cherished for a life time, gardens that were carefully landscaped, museums, she was showing me that they were all gone. She pointed to where a front porch step was, a pile of rubble, groves of beautiful hundred year old oak trees bare from salt water damage etc... Enough writing of this stuff, it depresses me.
We drove on and found "God's Kitchen". This is another tent city where food is served twenty-four hours a day. I found the site manager and his people to feel them out. He said, "we only have Christian music here". I said, "what does Christian music look like, what is it, what makes Christian music different from other music? They thought a second and then someone said, "words". I replied, "well my music does not have words and I express my spirit through my music and I am here to give my spirit to the residents and volunteers". That was good enough for them. I went and played a spell. The place was full of college groups from every state and people from around the world came to help the area clean and rebuild. I struck up a conversation with a group from Virginia Tech and started to tell life stories about Raggin' Piano Boogie and about my relationship with Boner. I could not stop because they were so interested even though I began to feel like an old man who needed to talk and reminisce. It was almost funny. I told them I would be back the next night to improvise for them. It was a commitment and they left anticipating it. We went back home and Bea cooked some dinner for Bob and myself and then I setup for the next day.
March 06, 2006
My friends Alberta, Jim, Cor and I were to have a final breakfast together in Louisiana that never materialized because the Made with Love Cafe where we were to eat did not serve breakfast on Sundays. Core went to make a few breakfast fruit drinks for us as I sat with my last minute decision as to what I was going to do. I also had the opportunity to meet and have a good talk with some of the camp hippies whom I had been observing over the last week. I was surprised to have had a conversation with Cor's girlfriend about the name Cor had suggested for the new bamboo bog he was planting. It was to be the startup project for the building of the educational camp he is creating. I had donated a hundred dollars to the cause and in appreciation Cor suggested the bog be named, "Boner's Bog". His girlfriend thought that was a bad idea because the name could be misconstrued as sexual and would turn people off. I did not want to get in to it... but of course I did. I didn't care if he named the bog Boner or not. I do have a problem with people insisting that their experience with the name Boner has only one connotation and that is all that matters and that it must also become my experience wether its true or not or they will... etc... etc... anyway I pulled one of the guys over to ask him where his mind went to when he heard the name Boner. He said, "well you know...". Cor's girlfriend interrupted with, "that's the name of his dog" and then the guy said, "oh, well in that case... when it's the name of a dog that's a different story. I've known two dogs named Boner, it means a different thing when it's the name of a dog."
While I was becoming bored I noticed that two guys had just passed wearing colorful suit jackets from the free clothes bin tent and I was curious as to why they were dressed up. When the third passed I stopped him and asked him why everyone was dressing up. He said they were all going to church. This was really strange but very interesting. It was interesting to see what dressed up hippies look like. I said, "really, do you do this every Sunday"? He said, "No, this is our first time. The church leader and his congregation across the street won't join us here for meals because we don't go to church. So we are all going to church. He was sincere in his desire for community, I could feel it. My first thought was, "talk about respectable". The fact that the men and women at emergency communities are so inclusive and fearless, the fact that they are so willing and have so much love really warmed my heart.
After I said my goodbyes, I left feeling very fulfilled and looking forward to getting myself home. I had had enough and felt that I had accomplished quite a bit. I needed to let all the experiences soak in. I was about two hours North on my way to Alabama when my cell phone rang and it was Bea, the Mississippi contact. In a singsong kind of enthusiastic way she says, "Hi, how are you, when are we going to meet"? My head started to spin and I said, "Bea, before you continue I'm on my way home" whereas she replied, "oh no", in a very downtrodden fashion. I thought to myself that she had probably not called me back until now in the hopes that I had found my own accommodations and it was a safe time to cover her ass so it did not seem like she blew me off. I decided to be truthful with her and I told her that I thought maybe she disconnected the call because she didn't know what to do and I assumed she did not call me back because she didn't want to deal with the uncomfortably of what we were going through. She kept replying, "oh no,no,no". Her cell phone went dead so she could not call me back and she never got the messages. She sounded sincere. I did not know what to do or think. She said, "you can't leave, you have yet to have your best experience, the best thing about Mississippi." I said, "what would that be" and she replied, "meeting me"! The thought went through my mind once again of how I need to cut people slack while I'm down here and I must give them as much rope as they need and I want to be as accommodating as possible as the goal is to provide unconditional service. I said to her, "let me pull over to the side of the road and lets talk this through". We both were conscious of the fact that I already had a good start homeward. I told Bea that I really did not have it in me to continue relocating every night and I could not continue without a home base to work from and I needed a place where I could safely keep the truck overnight and setup shop. She said her concern about me staying at her house was that she lived in a rural area and it was a good forty-five minutes to an hour away from the devastated areas where I would be performing but I was welcome to stay with her. I thought a moment and said well if I can stay at your place I will turn around and she said that would be fine. I headed back to the coast. In the mean time, Bea had told me later, after we finished the conversation she immediately went out the wood shop in the back of her house and said to her husband, " please don't kill me I just invited the piano man on the truck to stay here for a few days while he looks for places to perform". She had also told me later how she was concerned if I would be satisfied with the accommodations. She did not know anything about me. She did not know what surroundings I am used to. I was about three miles from the house when I phoned because I think I took a wrong turn. I said, "Hi Bea I think I'm lost" then my cell phone went dead. The service area ended. I was not worried I knew we would find each other. Bea was not taking any chance of losing me this time she had jumped into the family truck and came looking for me.
As I thought about it, Bea and her husband Bob are conservative Christians, a military family living in rural Mississippi and a complete stranger is coming to unload his packing, store his truck and spend who knows how many days in there house. He will be taking showers and sleeping upstairs in their home, a single man traveling, a musician, a Northerner who lives off of playing the piano and he plays it on the back of a pickup truck with a dog who sits on top of the piano. These people were really taking a chance. I know if I was in their shoes and it was my space and a stranger was settling into it along with all of my pre-conceived ideas it would be a difficult decision and situation for me. The operative word in all of this was "Christian". Somewhere in one of our conversations, we had established a mutual grounding through my upbringing in Christianity and that had given Bea something to hold onto with trust and faith. These people consider themselves true Christians in every sense of the word. They are always conscious of that fact and they exemplified it wonderfully. Their faith and spirit in action was constant every step of the way. I was unbelievably comforted and impressed by it. Of course there was always a tinge of, "what if" floating around in my head but we worked hard to stay out of "troubled waters". It worked by having and giving trust.
It was really interesting, fun even, when I met Bea"s husband Bob and we all sat around the dinning room table for our introductory talk. Bob was originally from Pittsburgh, like thirty years ago, and we used that to be ok each other, we used whatever we could to bond. It was not that difficult because all three of us being good people had a good sense of ourselves. That did not stop us from eye balling each other for a good hour and a half. We were careful with each other and sought to find common ground. We did that naturally. We made room for each other. We did as good people do and I was very appreciative and grateful for their generosity and to have met them. I have had a lot of preconceived ideas myself and I was wary of that fact.
I learned something about prejudice from Bea. We were talking about it. I started it. I've never been one to shy away from sensitive issues. I came to understand that it is easy for me to stereotype, criticize and create prejudice when I group people together but its nearly impossible when I respect each person on an individual bases. It just does not happen. I must stay away from the group mentality. I can overcome any prejudice whether I grew up with it or whether I learned it by focusing on the individual person. I could see that Bea's thoughts really resonated when I spoke of the importance of witnessing someone's life before passing judgment of any type. Thank god she was there to witness my life in the coming days so I had someone intimately to share it with. My main issues in life surround the intimate sharing of my experience, strengths and hopes. Bea was there for me she witnessed it all and it was all good stuff. It was a good night.
March 05, 2006
I am having second thoughts about going to Mississippi. I am tired. I need to digest all the experiences I have had. I am getting weary of not knowing what I am going to do or where I am going to stay. I do not really have it in me to continue without a home base to work out of. I need a place where I can set up all my papers, clothes and equipment. I'm doing other stuff while on this trip like preparing for my wildest dream ever, my office needs, keeping the house up at home with bills, staying in contact with friends, checking the web site etc... About a month before I left for this trip I sent out a mass internet mailing to let people know what I was going to do and I sent a sent a press release to the media down South hoping they would help connect me to situations in which to perform and to help make myself available to the public.
I received a few responses from Mississippi and one of them was from a local television show host who expressed interest and offered to connect and help set me up when I arrived. She was so friendly I was suspicious of her authenticity. Way too bubbly and very friendly like it was so much that I had a hard time accepting it was real. I called her after I arrived in New Orleans to let her know I had arrived and she instructed me to call back the day I was to leave for her neck of the woods. She said she would see what could be set up for me as in a place to stay as well as for performing. So today, I called her. It was awkward. I was feeling out the situation to see what she was going to do for me. I wasn't crazy about continuing the trip as it was, I really did not want to pay for a hotel room and if it was necessary, I did not want to pay much. I needed a safe place for the truck overnight. I did not have the guts to ask her if I could stay with her. I wasn't sure if I wanted to. I knew nothing about her. She was hedging the conversation also and I thought to myself, "well this woman offered to assist me. I don't need to feel uncomfortable if she didn't follow through in any way". The situation was uncomfortable for both of us.
Then the phone went dead. I called back and her answering machine came on. I left a message. I called her house and it was the same thing, I left a message. She never called back and I started to assume she was too chicken to deal with the situation in a mature way. As time passed, I tried to stop negative rationalizations of why not to go to Mississippi but I could not help myself. That over Christianized, irrational right winged, Miss America acting fake. There all like that! Not that I am a prejudiced person mind you. Its only when things are not going perfect for me and it is more convenient than being a good person. I was really trying to work myself out of carrying through with the second leg of my trip. I received no phone call back that night.
In the mean time Cor and I went back to the streets to perform for individual residents working on their houses and I wanted one last look and to try to get a few pictures of my playing on destroyed, dead, neighborhood streets. We both started to lose our perspective and sensibility. We started to repress the truth that it was all horrible using sarcastic joking of what we were doing and seeing. "How about playing on a truck in someones living room", Cor commented as we viewed a trashed pickup truck, upside down next to a couch in the middle of someones home. It was defiantly time for a break.
March 04, 2006
I woke up with a rasp in my throat but a few mentholated drops took care of the problem. I was definitely breathing mold last night. This was to be my last day in New Orleans. It was about seven in the morning and I needed to get ready to perform for the neighborhood spring cleanup event. It was for the Old Arabi Gateway into St. Bernard's Parish and was meant to be a jump start for the community in creating an exciting and alive entrance. This area needed some life. Residents, politicians, corporate sponsors and volunteers all showed up to give a hand. They had flowers, food and entertainment. I was the entertainment. Core came to drive the truck for me as I traveled from block to block performing on the road. This all has worked out so well for me in finding a complete variety of situations and scenarios in which to perform while I was here. I think I was more appreciative for the opportunities then the recipients were of my donated performances. It was really interesting and defiantly too depressing to think about the few people who were actually living here to keep the city alive. After we were done Alberta, Jim, Cor and I went back to Alberta's mothers house to take pictures of each other. It was a beautiful warm sunny afternoon. I was so thankful that it had not rained one day while I was here. I had stored travel materials in the house while I was camped and of course all the Mardi Gras beads. I went to pack the truck up.
Before the sun set Jim wanted to show me his Old Plantation house a couple of miles away. We drove through the gateway as they tried to describe what the place once looked like starting with what was left of the signature moss that Jim had cultivated over the years throughout the property. He was really into his landscaping. They were describing the deep cultural history of the house as well as the personal family history pointing out its special character and features as well as what were once beautiful family antiques. They described how the house had been a museum and they had used it for fundraisers and Christmas teas but nothing really fazed me about it until Alberta pointed to an old bible from the Netherlands that was about three feet long by two feet wide and one foot thick. She told me she was afraid to open it as it had been sitting in the floodwaters. The bible was hand written in 1635. My heart sank. It was at that moment that reality set in for me. I was not experiencing a house that was neglected or needed repairs from not being used. All the furniture was not lying haphazardly and the china was not piled on top of everything because it was not placed with thought. The destroyed oriental rugs hanging on the railings out side were not there because they were old and trashed from use. This place was completely victimized from the storm. It was hard to digest. Jim just walked around in a silenced daze. I was thinking of how these two people had worked so hard all their lives to have and enjoy nice surroundings and how intolerable it must feel to look at it and live in it now. Its not like they are spring chickens and can just rebuild and replace it all.
Jim and Alberta had given a virgin parcel of somewhat swampy land in their back yard to Cor so that he could build an educational outdoor sort of playground school type of action hero training camp, I think. He said the area was about 15 acres. Cor had already created one in Mexico and has settled on this area for his next project. He had been clearing out the debris, being sensitive to the environment, and he took us back there to see the work he had accomplished thus far and to explore the area. I was constantly amazed at these people, their energy and determination to continue along with the difficulties that life has thrown to them. I watched as Jim climbed over six foot tree limbs with Alberta helping and we scoped out the entire area through trails that Cor had cut through. They all were like kids. Me too. They never stopped moving they were in perpetual motion always doing something in having a variety filled life full of activities.
March 03, 2006
I decided at the last minute to take a tourist day. After the unexpected pleasure of experiencing two Mardi Gras parades on Saint Charles street and the local suburban culture in Metairie as an observer, I felt I could not leave New Orleans without seeing the French Quarter. I had come such a distance and have heard so much about it all my life I felt remiss to pass up the opportunity to experience it. I drove into the center and realized parking was a problem. I saw two meter maids walking down the street and asked if they knew of a place I could park for a couple of hours. They said I had cargo, which was the piano in the truck, so I could park in the loading area around the corner as long as I wanted. This was a major convenience and it was right out in the open, safe, and in the center of all the action.
At first, I left Boner with the car while I went to get a bite to eat and feel out the environment. I was drawn to the Neapolitan eatery, which was in a very old building on a street corner. I had my first Muffalatta sandwich made with ham and cheese with a relish inside a freshly baked roll. This is a New Orleans specialty and I enjoyed it very much. I realized Bo would not be a problem on the streets so I went back to retrieve him. As we walked to Jackson Square I came across two women, one Chinese the other black who were street musicians performing with a guitar and an electric violin. They were really enjoyable and I was thinking about putting money into the economy so I brought their CD's. For the first time in my life as a result of my recent musical epiphany, I now understand what it feels like for other street musicians. I "got it" as far as the simple joy that comes from creating music purely for the sake of creating music. I myself have finally experienced the beauty of performing music outdoors, just for the sake of the music. I realize what I am writing here may be hard for most people to believe or understand but it is true. While listening and talking with these ladies there were several people who had seen me performing in Saint Bernard's Parish during rush hour the day before. They approached me to tell how they had stopped to listen to me perform and take my picture. They wanted to introduce me to their church group of about 50 members who were staying in Covington about an hour outside the city. They asked if I would play at their campground that night. Without thinking, I said of course I would be delighted. So much for my day off. It doesn't take much "stroking" to get whatever you want from me.
I still had time before I had to leave for the night's performance. I heard an old ragtime song in the distance so I went to search it out. I almost gave up searching, resigning myself to the fact that it must have been coming from a store when I turned the corner to see a huge steam ship with small tuffs of smoke billowing to the rhythm of the music. Sure enough as I walked closer I couldn't believe my eyes or ears, What came into focus was a figure way up high on the bow of the ship playing a steam calliope. I thought that cannot be a real person but it was! A woman dressed in yellow on the top of a huge steam ship, on the bow performing ragtime piano music on a steam calliope. I thought, "this is even stranger than what I do! She is outdoors playing ragtime music on a keyboard, I must meet her." She was in the middle of a set so I had to wait for her to come down. I asked a stranger to take my picture with her performing in the background and asked him to send it to me. I was truly fascinated. The sound was loud and I mean really, really loud. I asked the ticket takers how long does this woman perform for and they said all day. I asked if the music ever drives them crazy and they said, "what music?" So much for that question. The captain came down and as the interested person that I am, I asked him a hundred questions. He has been captain of his ship for thirty years and had taken it up the Mississippi river to put it behind an island for protection from the hurricane. I asked him if he ever gets tired of the music and he looked at me with astonishment. He said he loved it all the time, every day. I waited for thirty five minutes until the steam calliope player took her break and she knew I was waiting because I had been waving to her to hurry up down. Barbara performs on this ship four hours a day. She plays out in the open air looking out into the sky with no obstructions five days a week. The next piece of information is what really got to me. She has been at this job for sixteen years! I was amazed to experience someone as crazy as me. I do it on a truck she does it on a ship. I asked her the question that I am asked the most. "What do you do when it rains"? She replied, "I wear a yellow hat and raincoat." Cheezzzzzz...
I continued my travels to Bourbon street. It was mid afternoon and the music was flowing from several establishments with doors wide open. I was drawn to a great Cajun band that was performing and while Boner introduced himself to every patron in the bar, I went to purchase their CD's. As we continued through a street of art galleries, we ended up talking to an artist who I commissioned for a portrait of Bo and myself. She took about forty pictures of us and I think captured something special. Seeing as I had recently lost all of my photo archives both personal and business this piece of art will have great meaning for me. Bo is such a star he really has a presence. Someone went into a store and brought for him a cloth water bowl just as a nice gesture. A couple came running across the street from Iowa to ask about him as they are looking for a dog that is similar. These are normal everyday occurrences with my dog, Boner. I stopped off for a smoothie before heading to the Evangelical Church group I was to play for.
My contact had started to give be travel directions but I had assured her that was not necessary. All that I needed was an address with my handy dandy Magellan road mate. It was a long Friday rush hour, stop and go drive with a ten-mile bridge ride across water as I watched the sun set. It was setting behind me and I was getting concerned about being able to see and the fact that I had put a wrong number in my road computer for the address. I had been driving an hour and a half and I did not want to turn around to leave because I did not want them to think I blew them off. I was determined to find them. Where was I, in Covington, Sidell?
In the meantime, I called Alberta on my cell phone to setup the performance time for the next day. She said she needed me at eight in the morning. I said, "you've got to be kidding I was thinking about one in the afternoon". She said everyone would be gone by then so I made arrangements for the two hour drive back to sleep at her house because there was no way I would be able to get up early enough and have enough energy to climb up onto the truck to play. She "guilted" me into it.
So, its dark and I end up on a dead end road with two kids in the driveway of a house. I ask them if they knew of any churches in the area and they tell me, there are a few in town. I'm driving in no where land for a few miles in total darkness until I finally come to a street light where I am about to make a left turn. Then I remember someone mentioned a tire store, that the church is up the road from the tire store. I happen to look to my left and there is a tire store so I turn right, all of a sudden the road appears on my road mate and in two minutes I arrive at my destination. It was all too coincidental and not at all unusual for what has been happening all along.
I played in the dark and had some conversation with a welcoming group of Evangelical Lutheran creationists. I was very interested to learn about their church and viewpoints. Someone from the group had surprised me by placing a full meal for me to find on my car seat to eat on the way home. I ate two dinners that night and I needed them. It had been a long day I headed for Arabie, Louisiana where I would sleep in Alberta's mother's hundred and some year old house that was one of the first houses ever built in the area. It had no electricity, heat or water, as it had been flooded. At first I had planned to sleep on the floor but I was worried about the mold and the air flow so I choose to sleep in a bed that was up off the ground, one that was used by the rescue workers who had taken over the house in the days that followed the storm. They had used this house as a communication post because it was higher off the ground than the other houses. The room was full of antique furniture and pictures that were piled on top of each other and had all suffered damage. Alberta and Jim were living in a small trailer with no water or heat next to the house.
I was concerned about Bo with the air so I made sure I left the door open. He has been such a great guy throughout this entire trip. He expresses an enormous ability to adjust to the environment and my needs and he does it with such willingness. His tolerance and patience is just so amazing. I appreciate every bit of it. I will be eternally grateful for having him in my life. I fell into a deep sleep with about twelve musty blankets covering me.
March 02, 2006
I had told the people at the common ground relief center I would give them a full day of my time along with performance. This was the day. Today was the day the entire group was moving to their camp to a new area. They had been stationed at a small church where they had built additions and rooms with bunk beds and other areas needed for operations. Across the street was one of the distribution centers made up of tents and holding areas. They were moving to a larger space, a destroyed and abandoned school gymnasium and parking lot about a mile away. The move would be unsettling for the many who had called this location their home for the last six months and they wanted to have a special party in the new area to help settle comfortably into the unfamiliar space. I found common ground an interesting group and different from Emergency Communities. This particular group was founded by a local resident verses a variety of volunteers from different backgrounds. It was more political and motivated towards environmental activism. It operated with more structure and rules but it had the same motives and services as the other organizations that I came across. They were also as welcoming and friendly. I performed at their community center for a few hours in late morning. The truck became useful in the afternoon to help move food and materials to the new building. I performed in the late afternoon for the residents picking up supplies and for everyone who was working. I was stationed on a street corner to the side of the road. It became really fun as I began to play also for the rush hour work traffic driving by down the street as they left the cleanup and rebuilding for home. Cars honked with acknowledgment and many needed a second take as they drove around the block to stop and take a picture.
This night of performing was special for me. The night was pitch black except for the moon. I was in the worst flood affected area, the ninth ward. The environment was disgustingly dirty with chemically grey dried mud and debris everywhere. There was no evidence of life except for the volunteers and bugs like mosquitoes and the sounds of crickets. The words that came to mind were dark, trashed and dead. The environment was very quiet. The air was warm and still. I felt sadness and emptiness. The mosquitoes were ferocious. They visibly covered Bo and the piano. They were attacking my head with full force. Lucky I had prepared for this before I left home. I covered myself, Boner and everything near me including the truck with repellant.
Everyone who had been eating and spending time inside began to venture outside to sit on the school steps to listen to what I had to offer. That really warmed my heart, especially with that fact that all the bugs did not deter them. They seemed desperate for something to break the monotony. They seemed to want a sense of security. There were several hundred volunteers here tonight. I met this young local guy from the neighborhood who wanted to introduce me to his music. He was black and I mention that as he was the only person there who was black. I sensed he felt alone. He was a young rapper and had made a CD in his friends basement. As we were listening to his CD in my truck he was telling me how he wants to be a musician. I listened to his flood story. I listened to what happened to him, his house, his family, his neighborhood. He is the only thing still here. He told me how he has been in the Military and recently served time in Iraq. With concern he talked about how the government now is trying to make him go back even though he has served his time. He told me how he feels like he has to hide in his own country and is being threatened with jail. This young man was dazed. He was full of confusion and fear. There was nothing I could do but be with him and listen to him. I wanted to do more.
Believe it or not my creating music and having people give their full attention to it is a totally new experience for me. The response and appreciation I received was amazingly wonderful. Along with the usual Ragtime and Boogie Woogie piano music, I was creating my own improvisational music. It has been only eight months since I had a musical epiphany. I broke through a life long torturous barrier that I had been reinforcing. I had kept myself from accepting the expression of my soul's beauty through music. I know my writing something like this and what I am about to write may create some snickering but "it is what it is." While creating music that night, I was given intuitive insight. The experience was environmentally visual and spiritually nourishing. I was giving music not only to the volunteers I was giving it to the night. I was healing the soul. I was giving nurturing music to the air, the environment, the debris, the earth and sky. I pounded my performance of Boogie Woogie and Ragtime to shake the ground until it began to open up. I played harder and harder until I felt that I was raising spirits, bringing all the dead houses and the people who lived in them back to life. I was stirring the energy. I kept giving it everything I had until I shook the ground enough to see smoke raising from the cracks in the foundations of each house. I wanted to create a fire from within to breath life and richness back into this area rich with history and culture. Then I began to play my own personal music. My feelings and visuals took a turn to nurturing the new life that was expressing itself and the life that already existing. I gave love with value and respect to everything, the good and bad.
As I finished, I had to make a decision as to where I would sleep. I was offered accommodations inside the gym, which was better than outside on the ground where I would freeze my ass off, but it was not better enough to make me pack everything back into the truck from the other camp, bring it there and unpack it again. I had too much to deal with in my head as it was. I needed to keep a base of some sort in order to functioning. I prepared myself for another night on the ground covering up with layers upon layers of clothes and blankets to fend off the cold and the fact that I would probably have to deal with the five hundred yard walk to the portapot in the middle of the night. The fact that I had made friends and felt totally accepted at emergency communities also provided for a feeling of "home" that I wanted.
March 01, 2006
My performance experience today was my only brush with, "there's always one trouble maker in the crowd". There was a volunteer entertainment coordinator for the camp. When I first arrived, I knew nothing about her or that there was such a position. I had been setup with the truck and placed by the directors and asked by the site manager to perform whenever I could. I was introduced to this coordinator when I suggested playing some improvisational material around the campfire at night. She resented the fact that I was there because she did not get to authorize it. This job was her purpose in life and it made her feel important and special. I have no problem with that as I know it all too well for myself but I had no idea what was going on. She was too self absorbed to realize that fact and was hell bent on letting me know her feelings were hurt. She started to act out dysfunctionally. First it was like, "oh we are very booked until Thursday you can do it then". Sounded a little strange to me but I said, "no problem". I think she wanted me to feel like she was doing me a favor for even letting me be there. Then she came back a half hour later, "oh, no you cannot play were all booked for two weeks" I said, "no problem". I was not there for my own performance needs. I charge a lot of money when it is like that. I setup to play as planned for the dinner lines and was introduced to another musician. He is a traveling musician who lives in his van and is well liked. I was looking forward to meeting him. I introduced myself. He wanted to establish a pecking order with me first and foremost and then all of a sudden he and the volunteer coordinator started to argue as to where I was going to be positioned, how long I was going to play, how loud, etc... until I stepped in to say, "yo guys, whatever is going on stop it because its all been already setup and has been working great.
The musician said to me, "you deal with her". He left and the volunteer came to me and asked, "could you please turn down the volume it's too loud for everyone. That hit a button of fear for me because I have had enough experience to know I am going to be officially the target of ongoing dysfunctional behavior. I was confused as hell and just wanted it all to be nicey, nice. I did not figure out in my head what was going on with her until the following day. First time I said, "sure", and complied to keep the peace. Second time five minutes later, "still too loud", I said, "ok", third time five minutes later, "still too loud", my button was pushed and I said, "I already turned it down twice, it's lower than the established level by everyone earlier but I will do it one more time". Fourth time five minutes later, she came over and turned my speakers in another direction. That was it. I said, "please do not touch my equipment and leave me alone". She started to continue and that meant drastic measures. I turned to the crowd and asked, "does anyone here think the music is too loud"? The people waiting in line to eat... started to eat her. She ran away crying and I harvested the good energy of what was left of my performance time. I started to feel insecure and at that very moment, my new friend Cor appeared in front of me with a great big smile. I needed that.
Cor said lets go sit in the teepee they are having a gathering for everyone to just, "be and talk". Sounded good to me. I had never sat in a teepee before, in a circle around a fire. I was surprised at how big it was inside. You could live in one of these I thought and then I realized, "yepper Indians used to live in these, some people probably still do". Then I really started to regress with, "I think I want to live in a teepee or is it a wigwam". I zoned out in there for about 2 hours until the kid next to me who was a major pot head started talking about wanting to smoke pot and share it with everyone ad nauseum and could not understand why he could not. They asked that their be no smoking. When it was my turn to talk, I felt the need to be a responsible adult and said that if he had smoked I would have had to leave when I did not want to. A little while later I said goodnight to everyone. I was told a bunch of the teepee people had to leave immediately to get high after I left. I think they must have come down with a syndrome I call, "pot on the brain". Ahh... to be a rebellious teenager.