Moving Day

movingWell, it looks like the contract negotiations are coming to a close and an offer is on the table. We’re going into another wholesale move – meaning, everything we own is being boxed, moved, and unboxed. That’s okay. I think I have the system down by now. The good part is that the move is corporate sponsored, so all I have to do is babysit a bunch of sweaty men who smell like cigarettes and stale coffee. So, I said that we have the system down by now. What exactly does that mean? Here’s some advice for dealing with movers.

The number one thing that I’ve learned in being moved – which is by NO way anything like moving YOURSELF – is that you have to get to know your team. Think of it this way: These guys are going to be fondling EVERYTHING that you’ve owned, kept, considered valuable and treasured and nobody likes trusting intimate fondling to a stranger or, worse yet, an angry stranger. Treat them like houseguests. Invite them in and immediately ask them if they want a drink or some fresh, hot coffee. I always let them know that while they’re at my house, they are going to be fed. These guys live out of their trucks for most of the time they’re working and always appreciate a meal being handled for them. The other thing is that they don’t make a ton of money and they know that you’re paying a LOT more than they’ll ever see. As I’m sure all of us have experienced in our lives, that starts a worker out pissed off. If they feel like your guest and friend (you actually should TRY to genuinely be friendly, not just act it – they think that it patronizing, because it is). Obviously, cooking a 5-course, home-cooked meal isn’t really practical because, you know, they’re putting your shit in boxes, but it’s really easy to call in a pizza, run to the sandwich shop, or call in some Chinese food. Why would I feed these guys? I know, it’s disingenuous to give to people with your reciprocation in mind. You really have to do it for them, but there are a few things that you will probably get from them. First of all, you’ll probably be removing a burden from them. Yes, they bring their lunch sometimes, and after moving thousands of pounds of boxes, moving around, and being on their feet all day, that’s just “another thing” that has to be handled when they go home (back to the sterile hotel or back to the sleeper in the truck). Another benefit is that they will probably feel that they should take less time on break and more time working. I’ve never noticed guys taking long breaks when they’re happy. It helps if you eat with them. Hang out, it definitely won’t kill you. I’ve met some of the most pleasant people ever doing this, and at first sight, I would have taken them for a serial killer. People who “don’t look like you” are sometimes a little scary. NO, that wasn’t racist, I mean [for me] people who have tons of tattoos and have more hair than a gorilla – that type of “don’t look like you.”

Every time I’ve been moved, I feel like I’m just standing around. Believe me, they feel like that too. You’re in the way. You can do one of two things: do some work or stay out of their way. There’s a few things that are, for me, no brainers. The first one is to make sure that each packer has the drink that they need/want. Often, these guys are shy and will not tell you. Tell them that you’ll ask the other guys on the team if they don’t just tell you. Usually, they think that’s pretty clever, it gets a laugh, and then they tell you. Another thing to do is to make sure that garbage is getting collected and removed. If the movers are sloppy – they usually clean up after themselves at the end of the job – clean as they go. Usually, after a mover finishes up a room, I’ll go through and collect all of the empty tape rolls and pieces of paper and trash on the floors. Most movers will have a “garbage box” that they take off-site with them, so use that. You’ll have PLENTY of trash for the local garbage pickup to take. Don’t fill your bins with mover trash! If you see drink cans, cups, plates, anything, just trash it. When they go back to clean later, they’ll really appreciate the break. Remember though, stay out of their way. Don’t make them stop to let you work. Nobody wants that. Do it while they’re on break, fetching more empty boxes, smoking a cigarette, anything, but stay out of their way! I can’t emphasize that enough! When you’re not finding things to do, go have your mint julep. Let them know where you’ll be so they don’t have to “find you” when they need something or have a question, and stay available. That means not to get on a long, animated phone call with Aunt Tizzie. If they see you on the phone, they won’t bother you as easily. If you plan on being a social butterfly on the phone, then make sure you’re very clear with them that you are interruptible at ANY time and that they shouldn’t be shy. Make sure they know that their job is more important today than any of your things. They will appreciate the respect.

If you’re paying someone to move you, chances are that you’re doing better than they are, financially. Maybe not, but probably. Another thing about moving is that you start to realize that your life is buried in shit you don’t need or want anymore and that these things have just become invisible parts of your daily surroundings. If you’re going to give/throw stuff away, ask the movers if they want it or know anyone who may want it before you trash it or call your other well-to-do friends if they want it. Once when I was moving, I discovered a bunch of baby stuff in the attic above the garage. I really had forgotten that I had it at all. As they were bringing it down (another thing that they did for free because I was nice to them when they arrived), I noticed it. One of the guys had mentioned that his wife was pregnant for the first time and that they were due soon. This guy totally lit up when I offered him the stuff. He got a co-sleeper crib, 2 strollers, 2 brand new diaper bags, a ton of toys, and a giant pack-n-play with an umbrella attachment. It was easily $1000 of stuff. I thought about putting it in my truck and dropping it off at a second-hand store. I’m glad I talked to the guys when they arrived and had a coffee with them! Wow, the look on his face. I’ll never forget it. In another move, I had several pieces of furniture that I just didn’t want anymore. I asked the guys if they wanted it, but nobody could use it or get it back to where they were living. So, I put everything out on the curb for a couple of days. Some stuff went and some didn’t. At the end of the moveout, I had a GIANT pile of furniture on the curb and the local garbage company didn’t want to take it because the pieces were too big. Shit, I’m getting on a plane in 2 hours and can’t leave a cyclone at the curb. The movers were so relaxed and happy at the end, they said that they would load it on their truck and toss it in the dumpster at the main office. Seriously, being nice to these guys paid off in spades! I wasn’t what I was expecting from them, but sometimes, a little make-nice pays off.

One other thing that I started doing that worked out REALLY well was that they usually move the largest things last. And, if you live in a place where major appliances stay with the house, then you have even more reason to do this. I offer, rather, insist that they do their laundry while they’re working. If it’s a local move, most guys just go home at night, but if they’re traveling, it’s a real pain to have to take care of that stuff AFTER a long day at work. They threw everything in the washer and I dried it and folded it for them. They didn’t know what to say. They were so happy to not have to go to the laundromat. I mean, for me, it was nothing. I do laundry all day anyway.

I’ll cover a couple of questions you might have.
Doesn’t all of this stuff cost a lot of money? The last move that we did cost approximately $35k! I know that most people don’t have 5000+ square feet of house, but an average 3-bedroom, move with packing and no car carrier is about $4-5k. A standard pack crew is only 2-4 people. Chipotle for 4 people is under $50 – that’s on the high side for a meal and almost never provide 3 meals for the crew each day. So, it’s under, way under, $150 a day.
Do I still have to tip? If so, how much do I tip? As nice as it is to take care of your people, food isn’t cash. The food shows your crew that you like and respect them and that they’re welcomed into your home to fondle your valuables. And you do want it to be more of a “fondle” than a roughhousing. These people depend on the tip at the end of a job and you shouldn’t take into account that you “paid them partially in food” when it comes to the tip. The actual amount of the tip varies greatly and there is really no standard tip, but as far as I can see through pretty lazy research is that you tip anywhere between $20 per guy to 5% of the total move cost. I looked at that for my move and I couldn’t stomach upwards of $2k, so I gave $600 total tip. I know!!! It sounds like a LOT of money. I suggest that you budget that money at the beginning of the move. It really is part of the cost of the move. So, the protocol for tipping is that you tip each team member in private, in person. You do not tip the foreman and have him distribute it. I like that idea, because on the last move I did, two of the movers were outstanding and the other two were kind of sloppy and lazy. I gave $200 to the really good guys and I gave $100 to the lazier ones. Fortunately, the two really good ones were a team (they’ve been driving the same truck together for years) and were a little pissed about the other two guys, so I was able to tell them that they got more of a tip and to please not discuss it with the other guys so they didn’t feel shorted. I guess it was slimy, but I didn’t want butthurt, and I certainly felt that the better workers got a better tip. In most of my moves, I had to tip on both sides because the trailer was driven half way to its destination and handed off to another driver to take it to the final destination. It’s pretty standard in long-distance moves.
Do I have to tip the delivery/unload/unpack team? Yes, definitely. The only difference is that I tip them less as they do much less work. I still feed them and take care of them as house guests. In several of my moves, the unpack wasn’t included in the cost, but because I treated the team so nicely, they spent their spare time at the end of the gig unpacking boxes. Trust me, when you have 4 guys unpacking who have NO emotional attachment to the stuff that’s in the boxes, they go really fast. Besides, they take the paper and empty boxes with them. I could write a freaking book on the empty box and paper issue! I’m not getting into it here.
Which, is where I leave this diatribe of my thoughts: what do I get from all of this? After all, you’re paying these guys and people should do their jobs and STFU, right? Sort of, I mean, they’re hired to do a job, period. On the other hand, everyone wants to feel special. I know they get paid, but their pay doesn’t make them special, you do. I guarantee that people who feel like they’re helping a friend are much more likely to do you favors, take extra care with their work, get along with each other, and do a generally better job in every way. Most of the time, the crews will arrive early because they have bagels, coffee, and donuts waiting for them. Yes, I tell them at the end of the first day that breakfast is at “x” and what will they want.

 

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I’m Back (I think) – With Fewer Books

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It’s been a very long time since I’ve written anything in this blog. I don’t know why, but every time I’ve taken the time to do it, I felt like there’s been nothing to say. The last  years has been immensely stressful, but we’ve been getting through it pretty well. To make a long story short, since September of 2014, we have 3 major moves; with another major move coming again in the next month. There’s a lot more to it than that, but suffice it to say that we’ve had enough moving. The upside is that I’m getting very good at organizing all of our crap and I’ve given away/thrown out TONS of stuff that I just don’t want to see anymore. We had easily 50 cases of books. When I read, I get emotionally attached to the books that I’ve finished. They’re hard to just give away. But after walking up (or down) thousands of stairs with hundreds of boxes, you start getting a little jaded. When the kids and I went through the books this time, we were ruthless! If it wasn’t a first-edition, special binding, or signed by the author or relative, it was GONE! Textbooks, musical transcriptions, essays – GONE! In the next couple of weeks, the movers are coming back. I get to go through all of our stuff one more time to see if I can lighten the load.

There’s really nothing much more to say, except for the fact that I’m back writing and will try to keep this blog updated. I might even add a YouTube channel and video links…Who knows!

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Why Do We Need God to Go Back to School?

SchooligionThere’s been quite a buzz out there in cyber-land about getting God “back in school.” To me, it occurred to ask, “Did he quit, was he ejected, or did he just fail out because he got it all wrong?” [BTW, I wasn’t struck by lightning or crushed by a meteor for saying that – He’s got a sense of humor. Yeah, someone had to create humor.] I mean, it’s practically impossible to learn anything new if you already know everything. Believe me, I went through my entire teenage years knowing everything and I didn’t learn anything for almost a decade! Seriously though, we live in a country that was founded almost primarily on religious freedom (I’ll get to that soon). So, putting God in school would be contrary to that, because not every religion sees God as their deity – or deities. Really, what I’ve been led to understand is that those who want God in school are looking for their version of God in their school and that everyone else should allow them to proselytize the gospel of “if I don’t like it, then you’re not religious enough.” Frankly, what I’ve really noticed is that when people say that we need to let God back in school, they really mean that they want Christian values taught in school. Wow, schools are for teaching children things like reading and writing. You get your values primarily from your upbringing (parents).

Before I go off, I want to just say that if I refer to God as He, it’s just like saying mankind, it’s just a word. Personally I do think God is a male because, insofar as the scriptures are concerned, God did a lot of things that only a guy would do. That’s not a topic for this post. I’ll have to get to that later. In the United States, freedom of religion is a constitutionally guaranteed right provided in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Specifically, the only regulations that would take place over religion would be to ban such religious practices as human sacrifice or self-immolation. There have been some amendments that also specify that there is to be no preferred religion either. Nowhere in the first amendment does it mention that a religion is specific to God, per se. In short, if you’re asking to put God in school, you’re asking to change one of our most fundamental rights. It is, after all, the first amendment to our constitution. To be clear, and this is why, perhaps, people may be confused as to why God is not permitted in public learning institutions, it wasn’t until 1925 when the Bill of Rights was “incorporated” to include all states, that it was official that the Bill of Rights applied to all states. Originally, the Bill of Rights was implied for all laws, but interpreted more narrowly to apply only to laws enacted by congress. That wasn’t the intention of the BOR, but needed to go through legal channels to be more clearly and decisively disseminated. Either way, it’s clear that our religious beliefs are to be coveted as basic freedoms. It would be just as bad to put religion in public schools as it would be to make a law that says you can’t say that you love Jesus. Yes, there are laws that limit your free speech. You can’t shout, “fire,” when there isn’t one and you can’t verbally threaten to hurt another. Yes, you have free speech, but there are consequences. So, you’re not disallowed to tell someone you love Jesus or God, but you aren’t allowed to tell someone how, when, where, and why you do unless you are in an appropriate venue for that. Incidentally, that’s just about everywhere and at any time, so don’t go thinking that you’re being picked on because of your religious beliefs. You’re being protected, and have been since the very beginning – and that’s why we don’t want religion in schools.

So, what of it? I mean this God in school thing. Do you think that having God in schools will help our children learn? Do you think it will help them to be safer in school? Do you think that the teachers will be happier and be able to teach more effectively? Listen, religion doesn’t make you smarter, learning makes you smarter. Private school kids tend to do better because people who pay for school are just more involved and put a higher priority on education. I went to Catholic school. I learned because I was afraid of the consequences of not learning. And yes, it makes you want to do bad things. It’s not the topic of this article, but it’s true. You can’t scare a person into behaving. You can only scare them into behaving for you. Seriously, if you think religious environments are safe, you can start by asking the children that have been abused by the clergy how safe that environment is. And, while we’re at it, I will just refer back to scaring people into behaving: God wasn’t able to scare them enough to not molest children. I mean, how vicious can you get as a guardian. After all, God did essentially wipe out the entire world with a flood because people weren’t behaving. That’s a bit harsh for an omnipotent being who technically, could have just fixed it and not have to kill everyone to start over again. You know, omnipotent, unlimited power, able to do anything – I’m just going by the definition of the word and what the bible says. I’m also not here to make fun of your beliefs. Trust me, I have lots of my own, and I care not to discuss them with you. I get blank stares from my family and friends. Not that they’re crazy, they’re just, well, mine!

Religion in school isn’t going to stop the terrible things in school. If you really want to go toe-to-toe, I’ll tell you that most, if not all, of the most terrible things that have happened in this world in the last 2000 years have been driven by religion. I can’t name one time where there was a war started by atheists because the “other guys” weren’t heathen enough. And guess what, those guys who flew planes into the World Trade Center thought that they were doing God’s highest duty – eliminate the infidels!

It would be a great idea if we could spend a little more time in our education system teaching children about ethics and justice. It might be helpful if we were able to teach in more gentile ways. But I think it’s much more important to send your child to school with a sense of morals and ethics that we the parents teach them. It’s not a teacher’s job (you know they’re called teachers) to instill values in their lessons. They’re there to help children learn, and hopefully, if they’re really special people, help the student learn to love learning. I’ve had hundreds of teachers in my life, but I only really remember a handful. Those were the people who fired my imagination and taught me to love learning. With a solid love of learning, you have no limits for smarts, but you might not have any ethics or morals. If you want religion in schools, teach it at home. Teach your children to love learning about spirituality and the robust history and moral lessons of The Bible, Qur’an, Gnostic texts, anything, just help them get enjoyment and excitement from it or they will resist it. Frighten them with it, and they will rebel. What you teach at home will follow your children everywhere they go. Even in countries where you are forbidden to have any religion at all, what’s in your heart and mind can NEVER be taken away. So, God is only in school if you say it is. If it’s not, then you must not be bringing Him with you. Nobody can check your bag for God, so you’re free to take Him with you anywhere you’d like. It’s one of your most basic rights as an American.

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Diction is Important – Unless it’s Not

country-mouseWhen I was attending the University of North Texas, I was dating a person, who, incidentally, is now my wife. She was an opera Master’s student at the time and there was to be a master class by a famous soprano from the Met. Being the good boyfriend, I went with her to watch the master class. Honestly, at the time, I was taking [as my elective in my Master’s in jazz performance degree] choral conducting – to broaden my knowledge, so the master class was academically relevant, but not exactly what I would choose to do in my spare time.

Anyway, the woman started the master class by telling a story that happened while traveling from the airport to her hotel which taught the importance of understanding language rules and diction. Her story (which happened to be true because the student who accompanied her verified it) started when she left the DFW airport and headed off for the La Quinta in Denton. This was back in the day when there was no GPS and Google Maps didn’t even exist, so you got verbal directions and hoped to get there without incident. And when you got lost, you stopped at a gas station for directions. As it turns out, this is what happened to these distinguished guests from the Met. Once in town, they got turned-around and had to stop for directions to the hotel.  They chose a gas station because that was usually the place to go for directions – back in the 20th century. The attendant was a nice, friendly local who was every so happy to give directions. This important opera “star” asked the attendant if he knew the location of the [diction is important] “Laah, Keentah” Inn.  He thought, then said, “The whuuut?” She answered, “Laah Keeeentahh,” to which he claimed didn’t exist – to his knowledge.  Mind you, Denton, Texas is a relatively small town, and the “Laah Keeeentah Inn” is a rather fancy-pants hotel for that particular area. So, she explained that she was from New York, which, by the way, carried no weight whatsoever in rural Texas, and that she was given these directions from a local university professor. As a matter of fact, it actually diminishes your credibility on a grand scale with the locals if you start throwing around big cities and education, as they really don’t care where you’re from or how smart you think you are – especially if it’s not Texas. After going back and forth on the “Laah Keeentah” thing for a while, she shows the station attendant the directions that she had gotten through the mail (yes, snail mail). He read through them, slowly, then got this look of enlightenment, put a serious look on his face, lowered his voice a bit and corrected her.  “You mean the “Luh Qwinnah!” Needless to say, the diction Gods were angry, as was the diva who was being corrected. I’m not sure, but I think she might have felt a bit faint.

Stupid out-of-towners, can’t even speak the language!!!

This story got the audience on their feet.  Although Denton, Texas is in the middle of nowhere, it houses the UNT School of Music, which, for reasons unknown to anyone, anywhere, is world-class!  I always guessed that it was because there was NOTHING to do there except to practice and study.  Who knows… All I can say is that when I was there, I practiced and studied because there was nothing do to otherwise.

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NOT Singing in the Rain – Adventures With Bruce Kirle

LeakAfter several incidents on the gig with Bruce, all of the musicians – including the subs, were just fed up with him. There were a relentless barrage of insults, nasty looks, and condescending attitude towards all/any of us. Honestly, although this was a second-rate theater, all of the musicians in the orchestra were top-notch players. This was a gig that paid, ended early enough to play club gigs, and was easy to sub-out. Why sit on the couch at home and make nothing when you could at least get a little bread! I digress, I’m not sure what brought Bruce to this lowly place called Florida, but I can tell you that it wasn’t my fault and I wasn’t going to suffer without a healthy dose of retaliation. Unfortunately, the genius of the following scheme wasn’t my brainchild, but I did willingly participate!

We were playing “Singing in the Rain,” in a small dinner theater in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The theater was a renovated historic fire station that was refitted as quite an interesting venue for a theater. The ceilings were very high and the building was, essentially round, with no obstructions over the audience, other than the lighting rigging. Once, we did “Barnum,” a musical about the late P.T. Barnum, and at the beginning of the show, the person who played Barnum would slowly zip-line from the back of the theater down onto the stage. The point is, there was lots of space. Acoustically, it was a bathroom, and yes, you could hear Bruce swearing at the orchestra during the show. The pit orchestra was located above the stage and off to stage left.  We were easily 2 stories up – if not, a little higher. The audience could, at best, see the top of the piano/conductor’s (Bruce’s) head. So, we were essentially invisible, which was nice because we literally could wear anything from business suits to beachwear. Nobody really cared, but Bruce always wore a very threadbare tuxedo that reeked of stale cigarettes, body odor, and alcohol.

The stage setup for the show was actually quite ingenious. The theater had a stage in which the lip of the stage that protruded out from the curtain, was a huge lift, so it would go from ground level to about a foot above stage height. The stage manager, who was a super guy and a great stage manager, had a great setup for making it rain on the stage for the “big number.” He had modified the lift so that it was basically concave. In the lift room below the platform, he built a pool to retain the water and hooked it to a pump that would eject it to the outdoors. Nobody wanted the “dirty water” pumped back onto the stage after they had kicked it around, so they used fresh water. Above the stage, there was a network of PVC pipes, sprinkler heads, and pressure regulators that made it rain using a garden hose from the outside of the building set up on a solenoid switched valve. So we were essentially “up in the clouds,” but the rain setup never any closer to the pit than 8 or 10 feet. I would say that there was NO WAY that water could ever get in the pit from the rain rig – just not enough pressure.  Not even the piping for the rig came anywhere close to us. The water supply was run from the other side of the stage.

One evening, Bruce was being particularly profane with the band. Our drummer, who was mentioned in another post (Over the Edge – Adventures With Bruce Kirle), decided to play a little experiment. If you read the aforementioned post, you will already know that it was necessary to keep small aqueous firearms (water pistols) in the pit to put out fires that would erupt from underneath the piano bench due to Bruce’s constant smoking during the show. Bruce knew that he was forbidden from smoking during the show – Fire Marshall rules in Florida, so he kept his head down when he was smoking so that the stage manager couldn’t see the glowing tip of the cigarette from his booth across the stage from the pit. Incidentally, he and the stage manager would play a little game of cat and mouse with the smoking thing. Every time Bruce saw the stage manager leave his booth, he would put out the cigarette and fan the air around him to get rid of the disgusting plume that surrounded him most of the time. Given the theme of the show, and the smoking, and the particularly opprobrious way he related to the orchestra – more the latter – Ken decided to make a little rain of his own. The “big number” in the show starts with a short scene with dialogue before the music starts. It’s dark in the theater, because it’s supposed to be night on stage, so you can’t really see the rain rig or the water droplets too well. So, when the rain started that night, Ken squirted a very tiny bit of water up in the air onto Bruce. He looked around to see if anyone else had experienced this. Mind you, Ken didn’t tell anyone but me that he was doing this, and Bruce couldn’t see my face unless I was looking at him from between my music stand and the clip light on it – especially if my stand light was off, which it usually was at this point in the show. Nobody was even paying attention. You know, nobody really looks at the conductor unless the music is about to begin. They’re reading magazines or making reeds, or whatever. After a while, Bruce gives up and ducks back under the piano to smoke. Ken shoots a little more water; up comes Bruce looking around like a chipmunk…nada from the pit. He shakes it off again and goes back to his cancer practice. Each night after that, Ken would do a little more and a little more until it started to drive Bruce crazy. He would stare at the pipes on the ceiling, stand up and lean out of the pit – I wish I could have seen that from the audience, he even went as far as to bring opera glasses to inspect the pipes. Every time he looked, the water would stop! After the first few nights, we let the band in on it. It was hysterical! Sometimes we felt the rain, and sometimes we acted like it had never happened before.

Bruce was a man of action, so after the first week or so of “living with it,” he approached the stage manager. The stage manager had the stage hands inspecting the pipes, standing in the pit, running the water, over and over. Of course, the found nothing and Bruce was still getting wet every night. There became a point that Bruce started becoming threatening to the stage manager – I mean threatening by he would become irate and threatening to the stage manager, but the stage manager could probably have killed Bruce by just thinking about punching Bruce, so we were certain that there was no real danger. We did feel badly though, because the stage manager was going crazy looking for leaks. It just didn’t seem plausible that water could get that far off base. Hoping that we wouldn’t get in too much trouble, we decided to fess-up to the stage manager, in confidence. His reaction was surprising. He told us to keep it up, and that it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. After that, stage-hands would go up to the manager’s booth during the number just to see Bruce getting crazy. Bruce was becoming so irate that he was swearing out loud during the number and hanging out of the pit waving his hands at the stage manager. By this point in the joke, most of the pit musicians were hiding water pistols and periodically spritzing him during the number. This went on for at least 3 weeks, until one fateful night Bruce came into the pit with a large fire extinguisher, sat it on the piano and said, “The next motherfucker that wets me, gets a face full of this!” I guess the story leaked. We found other ways to drive him crazy! Stay tuned…

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Over the Edge – Adventures With Bruce Kirle

Fired, Fired!?!

Fired, Fired!?!

To this day, I’ve never worked with anyone like Bruce Kirle.  He wasn’t a bad player at all, but the baggage that came with him was far beyond any talent that he could have possibly had at his prime, if he had a prime at all.

The claim that he came with to the gig was that he was a renowned pianist on the Broadway circuit in NY. The problem is that nobody ever heard of this guy – at least none of the people who I knew from that spectrum. No matter, he was proficient at the piano, knew the music, could play it by ear if things went wrong on stage, and was proficient at getting the singers on stage sounding good. What more could you ask for, indeed! I do believe that he was from NY. Having grown up in Brooklyn, I recognize a New-Yorker from a mile away – check! The question was, why was he in Florida while still in his mid 40s? After working with him on a few different productions, I think I started figuring it out.  Not really, I figured it out pretty much inside of a week – okay, the first rehearsal. Nobody I know in NY would put up with his crazy shit!

This was all back in the 1980s. I was young, money was tight, and I’m pretty sure that my prefrontal lobe hadn’t quite matured enough to regulate my impulse control adequately. Come to think of it, that goes for all musicians. Bruce was the picture of an angry New York musician: First of all, he was haggard and thin; he chain-smoked like nobody I’ve ever seen; he was a poster-child for NY Jew – not in a bad way, but he wore his eastern European genealogy with a vengeance – dark, thick, tight hair; eyes as big and black as night with the bags to go with it; he had no regard for his health, whatsoever – GOD, the things I saw him eat; he had the telltale attitude of a downtrodden, angry curmudgeon. What more could a bunch of snotty, mischievous, young musicians ask for? It was as irresistible as a rotting carrion to vultures. We could smell this one from a mile away – except that he smelled of stale cigarettes instead of death.

Bruce would show up every night in the pit wearing a tuxedo. You might say that this isn’t too unusual for a person playing a Broadway show – except for the fact that the audience couldn’t see the musicians and never saw the musicians at any time during or after the performance. He had a few odd eccentricities when he played piano. He had a tendency to lift his hands a little too high off of the keyboard when he played, sort of showy, but disturbingly overdone. Grunting, there was lots of grunting and always a very surprised look on his face when he played. He also had no tolerance for mistakes in the music – unless he made them – because he was perfect and flawless. Did I mention that he didn’t like you if you disagreed with him – EVER?  It didn’t matter how large or small the disagreement was. There was one other thing that was intriguing about Bruce; he seemed to be infinitely gullible, which was pretty odd for a megalomanic. In the world of childish musicians, gullible is like gold, and we were the starving masses.

One of the first things that started to bother us right away was that Bruce didn’t think that the Fire Marshall’s rule, “No smoking during any part of the performance,” didn’t apply to him.  I mean, why would it? The musicians were in a heavily padded loft above the stage with only one egress, well two, but the 2nd exit was blocked and opened to the outdoors, 30-feet off the hard, hard ground. Bruce constantly had a cigarette in his mouth and he tossed them on the ground underneath his piano bench when he was done. He would make the motion of stomping it out, but I think that this was just a habit because he rarely actually stepped on the butt, so it sat under his bench and smoldered. After a few days, Ken, the drummer, who sat behind Bruce, kept a loaded water pistol with him to make sure that if the pile of butts ever caught fire, he would be able to put it out, or at least have a fighting chance. Now for us, having a water pistol in the pit wasn’t really that big of a surprise, we had them all the time, but we were also trying to behave for the new music director in town. You know, just in case all of his bragging was actually true? Oddly enough, it became quite a regular thing that Ken, the drummer, would put out small fires under Bruce during shows. I was happy knowing that Ken was on the gig. Good drummers have always amazed me with their abilities. I mean, they can keep a beat going, follow the pratfalls on stage, play horns and bells and whistles out of time to match stage movements, and all while putting out a fire with a dime store water pistol. We, as musicians, make fun of drummers, but they do some extraordinary stuff that has nothing to do with music, while playing music.

The first show that any of us guys in Florida played with Bruce was, “Singin’ in the Rain.” Most of us had played that show at one time or another, so it was really a routine gig, or so we thought. At the first rehearsal, it came to my attention that the book had been enhanced with many, many sloppy, taped inserts and scribbly annotations. I don’t want to brag, but to make a point here, I was known as the guy who could, “read fly shit.” I saw this book and often had no idea what the notation meant or what the scribbles said. I had seen lots and lots of altered show books, but this was something unique. What also stood out was that when you said that you didn’t understand something he wrote, he would just get pissed and started complaining about how stupid Florida musicians were. Okay, if you say so. On one tune, he just told us to transpose it to another key.  “What, you can’t do that?”  Ahem, I noticed that you had it all written out nicely for yourself – What, you can’t just do that? Dickhead! Yeah, I was a jazz guy, but didn’t just transpose arbitrary stuff on a regular basis. And, did he ever consider that we might have to sub out this (shitty, low paying) gig once in a while? Obviously, something had to be done. The pit musicians had a meeting.  Not really, we met on the breaks and complained a lot, but you could read the writing on the wall. This called for childish civil disobedience!

We tried the cutesie stuff that worked on other conductors. Ken, the drummer, always had toys in his drummer bag. We tried the whoopie cushion. He popped it – on purpose! Obviously, he did not want to be laughed at…challenge accepted! Things were quiet for a while after the whoopie cushion incident. There was a tension in the air. What were we to do with this guy? Was he that serious? Was he a joke savant? Had we met our match? One event cemented his fate.

Early in the run, there was an incident during the show. There was a break between tunes, as there always is in a musical show. Most of the time, especially at the beginning of the run of a show, we would all prepare for the next number as the breaks in the music are usually short. Ken was shuffling his sticks around to prepare for the next number. There were many stage queues on this tune, so he had to get his bump and zingee noisemakers ready. He was also, being a typical percussion-type person, auditioning new equipment. This time he was trying out new snare drums. On his kit, he had the new drum in the normal position – right in front of the drum stool. The other drum was on the floor next to the hi-hat. As he was preparing his noisemakers for the next number, he gently laid his sticks on the snare as most drummers do. The lugs on the drum keep the sticks from rolling off, but this was a different drum. He put the sticks down and turned around. They rolled off the snare and onto the snare on the floor, which was, as I call, still “loaded,” meaning that the snare was still engaged. The sticks (I could see it all happening from my vantage point) went, butt first, onto the snare on the floor with about one-half second between them. You could instantly see that Ken was very upset about this – good drummers are noisy, but only when they’re supposed to be. There’s a pride thing is being able to be as annoyingly quiet as they are noisy. Bruce, on the other hand, assumed that this was more shenanigans, and told Ken, quite loudly – during the middle of the show, that if he didn’t stop screwing around that he was fired. After the show, Ken tried to explain to Bruce what had happened. Bruce’s reaction was childishly petulant and, I might add, a bit profane. He told Ken that if he didn’t like it that he could, “Fuck off right now. You’re fired!” In the pit, that we were working, there was a small dressing room behind where we put our instrument cases and stuff and sometimes we’d hang out there on long breaks in the music. Ken and Bruce were the only ones in the pit, the rest of us were in the dressing room listening.  After all, this was some good stuff. I was the first one out of the dressing room, to watch the “show after the show.” Just as Bruce said the comment, he proceeded to push Ken in the chest. I immediately knew what was coming next. Ken was a sweet guy, probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with, but he was no pushover either. Ken grabbed Bruce by the throat and slammed him up against the wall; then dragged him over about a foot to the opening in the pit. Yes, he was going out of the pit, but there was also a good 25-foot drop down to the stage. It took three of us to keep Bruce from going over! He really was off the ground and going over when I grabbed his legs. Ken kept his job and this was never spoken about again, but Bruce seemed to have a new found “soft spot” in his heart for Ken’s antics. Believe me, we took advantage of that!

Although, after working with Bruce for a few years, I ponder why I grabbed his legs in the first place. I think it’s because I didn’t want to stop working with Ken more than it was to save Bruce from certain spinal injury or death. There were much better piano/conductors in the area that would have been more fun to work with. Even “The Dark Queen” would have been more fun to work with. He’s an entirely different post, though. You’ll have to stay tuned.

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“A Chorus Line” of farting…

For some reason, I was always had gigs with a farter. This one time, I was playing a (very) long run of “A Chorus Line.” This gig was dragging to the point that the only people who used the books were the subs. As a matter of fact, I kept a good novel or magazine on the stand and slept during the breaks between numbers. Well, the farting thing became endemic during the run of the show, and there was never a gap in the music that someone didn’t try to “fill.”

If you’ve ever played “A Chorus Line,” you’ll know that towards the end of the show, there’s a long, LOOOONG, monologue by the character, Paul San Marcos, who is talking to the offstage producer, Zack.  In this monologue, Paul is revealing/re-living his torrid relationship with his father and “being outed” when his parents were supposed to meet him after a show, but they were early and saw him performing a most explicit act.  The show was “really tacky” and he was dressed in a ridiculous drag outfit. Insofar as monologues go, it was pretty good, but after the first dozen times, you get a little sick of the acting – you know, the same fake cry, pregnant pauses, etc. The other unfortunate thing was that it was, as I mentioned, very close to the end of the show, and we were all in, “Let’s get the hell out of here!” mode. So in the pit, we would read, sleep, study, pack the gear we didn’t need anymore – whatever – just to pass the time.  This was back in 1985, so there wasn’t any texting or handheld devices that were of much use in the pit. We had to entertain ourselves (God forbid!). Our drummer would usually lie on his back on the floor with his feet up on the drum stool and either doze off or just stare into space. As was standard practice in most theaters, the sound guy would shut off the sound feed from the pit during breaks in the music, for obvious good reasons – page turning, shifting in chairs, dropping mutes or sticks, tuning tympani, etc.

This night, the sound guy forgot to shut the stage monitors down (thankfully, he remembered to shut off the house sound from the pit). At the end of the monologue, there’s a part where Paul starts to cry and says, “…and just before my parents left, my father turned to the producer and said [short, dramatic pause], ‘Take care of my son.’ That was the first time he ever called me that…I…uh…I…[sobbing]”  Immediately after he says the last line and leave the stage sobbing, there’s a beautiful oboe solo of the melody, “Who am I, Anyway.”

At the very point in this monologue when he pauses after saying, “and my father turned to the producer and said,” the drummer, lying on the floor, on his back, with his feet up on the stool, farts the perfect fart. It sounded like a nice slow quarter note with a “doit” accent – minus the “trumpet kiss” at the end, of course. Well, this played loud and clear on stage and in the dressing rooms.

That oboe solo was the most difficult 8 bars of music that I’ve ever played in my life! If you’ve never played the oboe, the control and back-pressure that you need to get a steady tone is astounding – and coming up from a 12 minute break, horn cold, and trying not to laugh…man, I was proud of myself that night! As soon as the stage went dark, we heard the distinctive sound of marching coming from the stage, through the backstage area and up the pit stairs. The door burst open loudly, and (I’m not trying to offend anyone here, it’s just how it happened) and the actor, literally lisping from his “affectation,” hissed at the drummer, who was in hysterical fits of laughter – as were the rest of the pit musicians, except for the piano-conductor, who was really getting tired of all the farting – “Wazz that youuuu?” The stage manager was livid, the cast thought we were heroes, and the farting only got more aggressive, the sound guy became vigilant. What a run!!!

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Professional Musician 101 – Intro to Farting on the Gig

One of my first gigs as a musician when I was 16 was in the dog track band – yeah, didn’t even know that existed. But, it was money and I was broke. The band consisted of some of the oldest musicians known to planet earth (this was in Florida), and they were all grouchy, cantankerous, fat, old bastards (not really, once I got to know them, I learned that they were some of the funniest cats I’ve ever worked with).

The good part about the gig was that all they did was  , old marches, and all sight-read. All of the woodwind players took turns on the sax, clarinet, piccolo, and flute parts. If you’ve ever played those old marches, they’re hard! There was a spot on the back wall of the band shell that was full of tick-marks. I thought it was the number of shows played or something, but after some time with the band, I started noticing that in every gap in the music, someone would fart, loudly. These guys were marking only successful, in-time farts. If they were not right on the beat, they didn’t count. Needless to say, the pit wreaked at the end of the races every day – I mean, you have about 24 70+ guys pushing out farts. One of the most prolific gas-bags on the gig was particularly stinky one evening. Amongst the gagging and laughter, one of the guys said, “Jesus, John, what did you eat?” He said, “Well, after the matinée show, I had a couple of boiled eggs I brought from home, then went to [a bar] and had the darndest hot bowl of chili I’ve ever had in my life; then I had a couple beer and played a couple sets of tennis and came back to the gig.”

I learned to read “fly shit” on that gig, learned a TON about playing my woodwinds well, and learned how to fart on queue. Most importantly, I learned that playing a gig was serious business, but that didn’t mean you couldn’t have fun. These guys would only let you have fun if you weren’t playing bad notes. After all the notes got played, anything was fair play.

ON THAT SAME GIG: For all the newcomers, they had stored in the back room a few crushed horns that they bought at various yard sales and pawn shops over the years. At some point, when they decided the “newbee” was an okay player – if you sucked, they were awful to you until you quit – they would let you turn your back on the break when everyone was leaving the band shell, take your horn aside and throw the crushed replacement on the floor acting like they had just tripped over it. After my own, “initiation.” There was nothing funnier than seeing someone’s face who thinks that their precious Selmer MK VI just got turned into a $3000 repair job on a gig that pays like $25 a show. Priceless, and an endless source of entertainment!

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The weather has forced me into moral bankruptcy

Those of you who know me know that I hate to wear pants. I will go in shorts well into the winter and will hit the shorts as early in spring as possible. I thought that starting into shorts in May was totally reasonable, well up in Chicago it is apparently not a good idea. Shorts and t-shirts are like a religion to me, so when I switch, it’s like a promise to the holy trinity. Today broke me. I got up and it was raining and 36 degrees with a very stiff wind. I made it through the morning in shorts, but after working on the windows and taking a shower, I was too cold to carry on my religious crusade. The weather had gotten me and I gave way to the evil blue jeans!

The local community pool opens this weekend and everyone is excited about starting the season. How could they possibly get an outdoor pool to a swimmable temperature with the outdoor temperature in the 30 and the wind at 20 mph. I think there’s going to be a lot of disappointed, entitled Highland Park moms asking them why they can’t control the weather better in the district. It is a really nice pool though. It’s got a big pot that fills and spills and lots of squirt-ey things and 2 giant water slides. A good friend of ours brought the kids with her and her children just after we moved here. I, on the other hand, have a CPO certification and know way too much about pools. I honestly won’t swim in a public pool. Too many dirty asses out there and every one of them that goes swimming leaves a little of that for me to swim in. If I want shit in my face that bad, I’ll rub my face in my dog’s ass. No strangers’ poop for me today, thank you!

It’s official now. I incorporated last week and I am now legally RentAZack.com, Inc. Home improvement extraordinaire! It was a long road to get it all going, but I have it done. Now I have to get some customers and get some income! I can’t wait! It’s been so long since I’ve done this kind of work for profit. I’ve done probably $20k worth of work for free around my house and still am only half done. It’s hard to stay on task when you’re not getting any money for it. I’m just not inspired when the work is free.

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Mo and Jo have left the building.

Have you ever had one of those days at the gym where everything’s just extra hard (yeah, I know, “that’s what she said!”)?  (Advertisement) This is why I wear the Polar RS400 heart rate monitor (End Advertisement)!  Seriously, I felt totally broken yesterday.  On a normal day I can do cardio for between 60 and 90 minutes and bounce between zones 4-5 the whole time.  Most machines have a heart rate program where they will do that for you, which is great because I hate monitoring my watch or watching a timer for the entire workout.

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