RSVP (children are welcome in my cellar)

Brief administrative thing here before we resume normal usual  programming:

I turn 50 in May. I would celebrate this the usual way, by adding a new number in my “about” information in the right-hand column of this blog, but my wife insists that Austrian custom requires something more elaborate.

So we booked a cellar* for 9 May, which is a Saturday. Please let me know if you can come (metamorphosist(at)gmail dot com).

Here is more information, if you are the type of person who needs more information:

If you read this blog, then I probably consider you a friend and you are invited. The cellar is in the village of Königstetten, a bit west of Vienna, across from the church, directly beneath the police station. Transportation there from the nearest train station can be provided.

It will probably start around 7PM. Children are welcome. There will be food, nothing fancy. If any vegetarians RSVP then I will endeavour to include some vegetables. We are looking for a band now. There will also be wine and beer, and cake.

The cellar is a really neat-looking old wine cellar. If there is some sort of catastrophe during the party, involving radioactive fallout, say, you will be glad you came.**

*Please, no Austria/cellar jokes.

**Also, I am fanning the embers of this intense self-pity and depression I am currently experiencing in connection with the upcoming festivities in the hope that they burn themselves out and I am a real fun guy at the party.

Early Shakespeare, and orchestra report

Shakespeare’s Father: Forsooth, my lad, thou weep’st more loudly than a maid at the deathbed of her betroth’d!

Shakespeare: Father, verily, I beg thee, rein in thy anger and desist in your violence!

Shakespeare’s Father: Aye, thou dar’st call that violence! Weep’st thou? Weep’st thou? Wilt thou sound reason for weeping? Thou maid! Shall I provide thee with sound reason for weeping? Verily, I shall fetch mine girdle and give thee sound reason for weeping!

Everything sounds better in Shakespeare.  Now if I could only remember what this was supposed to segue into…

But, no luck.

Did your dad used to threaten to get the belt when you were a kid, too?

Damn, it’s gone.

I was out of town with the orchestra this weekend. I was awfully sad most of the time, despite the fact that our rehearsals were held in a castle in a nice little town in a nice scenic area and I didn’t get lost driving there. I had a nice room, pleasant roommate, the food was awful but that’s not high on my list of priorities. It snowed, and that was pretty.

The rehearsal rooms were big enough and the acoustics were good. But the entire time I sat there feeling sad and thinking that playing the cello is, for me, like being married to a beautiful woman who will never love me. And I thought back on my cello career, and how the predominant emotion I associate with it is despair and not joy, which made me wonder whether now would be a good time to look for a new hobby.

I was seated next to a young woman who was a far better cellist than I am, with wicked technique. Very crisp bowing, which made it necessary to pay close attention to my own bowing to avoid collisions i.e. accidentally bowing in the wrong direction and poking her. At first it was just more stress and the vast difference between her ability and mine added to my despair, but then I noticed that I had learned more about bowing in the few hours I had been playing next to her than I had in the past several years, and my perspective began to change.

I plugged in my theremin during a break and various people goofed around with it.  I sometimes forget that not everyone is familiar with the theremin. It was fun to watch people try it out.

While brushing my teeth I noticed in the mirror that I still have paint flecks on my glasses from painting a room at our house weeks ago, but every time I remove the glasses to clean them, the paint flecks are no longer visible.

We played our first concert of the season on Sunday, in an excellent venue, in a new building with fine acoustics and a stage large enough for the orchestra. The only thing missing was an audience. We played, let’s see, works by Haydn, Beethoven, Kodaly, Bizet, and um… Bartok.  The orchestra played very well. It was too bad that so few people came to hear us, but maybe eleven AM on a Sunday is not the best time for concerts.

It was great fun to play with so many talented kids.  I made relatively few mistakes, and nothing really awful. The teachers who run the show are all brilliant, and our conductor is especially wonderful.

Another concert next week, and the week after that we go on tour to Italy. For a weekend, but still.

So it’s all very nice, but my relationship with the cello remains as desperate as ever. I really don’t know whether to stick with it, or change to the double bass (a slightly heavier, plainer woman who might or might not love me), or spend more time with the ukulele (a woman who is in a good mood all the time) or what. Maybe look for a new metaphor.

Five secrets of happy people

  1. Whenever he was left home alone as a boy, Eric Chernobyl went into his mother’s closet and wore her shoes, especially the corduroy boots with the zips and black crepe soles, although he wasn’t picky.
  2. Yolanda Smith shoplifted a pint of peppermint schnapps while on a ski holiday in Austria.
  3. Walking to catch a train, Boris Egan saw a naked lady standing in the window of a big yellow house. For the following month, he made sure to walk past the house at the same time of day every day, but he never saw her again.
  4. Pat Gregory goes to yard sales, where he leaves trinkets to which he has stuck price tags, after stealing them from his wife.
  5. Belinda Carlisle doesn’t really understand twitter.


One held the other one to the gouged wooden floor. It smelled of sawdust and stale beer, chewing tobacco  that had missed the spittoon, spicy chili con carne, bacon and eggs, but also… hang on, it’s almost lunch time. One just held the other one to the gouged wooden floor. “You, what, you want me to just lay it out for you? Tell you the way it is? You want me to be your daddy? You looking for a daddy, is that it? Is that it? I’m supposed to just spell it out for you?” Adrenalin made the first one repeat everything. He pressed the muzzle of a… of a what? WTF is a muzzle anyway? Does only a shotgun have a muzzle, or is it the business end of any gun? If he turns the skull of the second one a little and presses the muzzle of a Saturday Night Special against something, a temple or an eyeball or something, will gun buffs laugh? Would he press the barrel of a Saturday Night Special against the whatever-bone, or the muzzle? If he presses the barrel, does that mean he’s pressing the gun sideways and aiming it somewhere else? All the online dictionaries say “business end of a firearm”, but what do they know? And you can’t just whip out a shotgun, whip, like that, when you’re holding someone or some… some thing to the floor in a place where the floor smells like sawdust and whiskey and the other stuff. The first one turned the second one’s head to face him and, still holding it to the floor, pressed the muzzle of a Weimaraner to his eyeball.

“Answer me, you varmint,” he growled (he pronounced it varmit). “This thing has a hair trigger.”

There was a stage, and upon the stage a band, and the drummer struck a rim-shot on his snare-drum.

“I was holding a sleeping kitten,” the second one said. “It was twitching and making odd noises so I rolled it over, and noticed it had a boner, conical and red. I felt sorry for it, it reminded me of me somehow,  although I harbored exactly zero curiosity pertaining to the content of its dreams. All I could think was, you’re getting fixed tomorrow, enjoy it while it lasts. So, hell, no I don’t need you to spell anything out. Where the hell did that come from, anyway?”

“Beats me,” said the first one, holstering his Weimaraner, and leaning back against the bar. “Insomnia is a harsh mistress.”

50 things I want to do before I am 50

  1. Relax, which eliminates the other 49 because I turn 50 in May and scurrying around to achieve a bunch of stuff would just be a big headache, even if I managed to get my wife to organize stuff, like she used to, but she’s on this DIY kick now,  as in, ‘do it yourself, Mig.’
  2. Although: do celebrities count as things?

What was in my coffee this morning? The scoops weren’t any bigger than usual, and I didn’t even finish the pot* but I’m sitting here smoking my slicks like a dragster, man. What a week: Monday my daughter axed me for money for the train to France because how long can a girl be expected to exist without Urban Decay products? Tuesday I write a story for a book and it is accepted after some revision to add additional craziness. Today, who can say what today will bring?

Here in Austria one is expected to ask for something big for one’s “round birthdays”, otherwise the guests at the expensive dinners you are expected to pay for feel uneasy or something. You’ve always wanted to see Iceland, someone said to me, for example. Actually, I’ve always wanted tickets to Sigur Ros, and find Björk hot in a björkish way, but it would be nice to see a geyser and a pony and people shaking their fists outside banks and stuff.** I’ve wanted to go to Scandinavia in general. To the North. To places where it is not so fucking sunny, and you can see the Northern Lights. Aurora borealis: a summer or winter phenomenon? And, I say not so sunny, but the days are longer in summer, so does it average out? I say not so sunny, but if it’s dark most of the time that might be overdoing that, winter-wise.

Here is what I know about Scandinavia, besides Apocalyptica:

Sweden has moose and mosquitos

In bars in Copenhagen, the bartenders are topless and Filipino transvestites hit on you.

Norway: ???

Finland: Nokia, interesting choirs, Leningrad Cowboys.

So an educational trip would be appropriate.

OTOH, are dobro ukuleles any good? They sure look neat.

*of coffee, dur

**in truth, if any Icelanders are reading this, I have wanted to see Iceland for a long time and I know it is a very beautiful place. I am not slagging your country.

The international ukulele tuning schism, and the nature of passion

A friend called me after orchestra rehearsal, while I was sitting around the music school trying to compose something for soprano, theremin and cash register in time for my meeting with the composition teacher and asked whether I could help him hang three acoustic panels from his dining room ceiling, as he had discovered it was a three-person job, not a two-person job as he had planned. I said yes and he came over and gave me a lift to his house, and we stood on chairs and held up the panels while his wife tried to hook them to hooks he had put into twelve holes he had drilled into the ceiling, but it turned out he had measured the ceiling incorrectly and would need to re-drill the holes. So his wife gave me a lift back to the music school and I had my meeting and then drove back to his house and we tried it again and it worked fine. Then we stood around discussing whether the panels curved too much, hung the way they were, from the corners only, but I convinced him it was fine but to keep an eye on them and if the curvature increased at all maybe add some hooks in the middle after all. And we chatted and traded malapropisms like a couple cautionary characters from a 2009 remake of Reefer Madness until I raised the topic of ukuleles, because he had promised me a ukulele a long time ago because he had some extra ones left over from a class he had been teaching.

I felt kind of sleazy, basically asking for a ukulele that way, but a promise is a promise, and I had just helped him hang acoustic panels. I got my pick of white or green (I took green, since St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner) and a sheet showing tablature chords.

When I got home, I googled how to tune the ukulele after Beta complained it was out of tune and everything I played sounded atrocious (as if tuning it would make my playing less atrocious) and discovered a million ukulele sites. So I twittered Pam, who responded immediately with the information that the ADF#B tuning I was using was popular in Britain and Tin Pan Alley (and by extension Europe, I guess, Europe being an extension of Tin Pan Alley) while the Hawaiian tuning is gcea.

There is an international ukulele tuning schism, who knew? So I’m fucked, basically. How is this supposed to work? Do I use the European tuning, which all the ukulele players I know here use (my friend with the ceiling) or do I use the Hawaiian tuning, which strikes me as more appropriate for a Hawaiian instrument (although, okay, it was imported from Portugal, right, which makes it European, but today, you think Hawaii when you hear ‘ukulele’) and is used by all the American ukulele players I know (Pam)?

It would be a serious quandary, were there anything serious about my ukulele playing. I guess the solution would be to get a second uke, and learn both tunings, but who has the time for something like that? Although, dobro ukes look pretty cool.

Anyway, on an unrelated subject, my cello playing seems to lack temperament. This sort of came out during my cello lesson last night, when we worked on a tune that must be played with temperament. I spent this morning thinking about the word temperament. Is the root temper, or tempera? What about ramen?

I think the word was being misused last night, in fact, and the tune in question called for passion, and not temperament, the latter being the term for, you know, an individual’s personal combination of sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholy or choleric. I mean, okay, I tend to be pretty much a straight-ahead phlegmatic temperament with a little melancholy, more sanguinity on a good day, choleric only in traffic or when my wife pushes my buttons. But I think the tune called for passion, or emotion, and not, say, more cholera.

Cholera, the new cowbell.

My teacher tried to rouse me from my phlegma by yelling at me, and I didn’t even notice until another teacher came in to see WTF he was yelling at. What he fails to grasp, I guess, is the fact that my phlegma is the sole thing standing between him sitting on a chair in the classroom and him describing an arc to the parking lot outside.

That phlegma is locked in tight, baby.

I dunno. Maybe a little green soprano ukulele is a good instrument for me. I associate ukes with sanguinity. My playing currently sounds like cross between Arthur Godfrey and a concussion, but who knows, after a little practice?

I don’t see it solving my passion problem, though. Infusing my cello playing with passion would require something stronger, I think. Electrocution maybe. Those of you with passion, how do you do it? It seems to be absent from every aspect of my existence, at least those perceptible to me.

How is passion done, earthlings?

This morning, in the circus truck

Clown:  So anyway, yeah? There’s this guy, Ev Williams something. And ten years ago he and Al Gore invented blogging or something. Blogger or something.

Lion Tamer: I know. Something dot blogspot.

Clown:  Exactly. And he had no revenue stream, except some ads. And it got real popular, and important, and sold for zillions to Google. And now he has twitter, and no revenue stream at all, and it’s real popular all of a sudden after sort of idling for a couple years or something.

Lion Tamer: And your point is?

Clown: Uh, well, I’m just curious that the same guy hits the nail on the head twice in a row, and this is way cooler than facebook, twitter is, in some ways, and I’m just curious what his, you know, business model is, who’s going to give him a zillion dollars this time. Did you see that? Was that a deer?

Lion Tamer: What?

Clown:  Your mother woke up at three this morning, and then she woke me up, and then we woke the cats up. So I’ve been awake for five hours already, okay? And I caught her jetlag.

Lion Tamer: I think I’m going to France this week. Did I tell you already?