funny, music, Portland, true 1 Comment »

A few months ago, I had a funny conversation with a friend of a friend, whose very unusual first name began with an M.  When my friend introduced me to M, I said, “Oh, you must know [GhostBand singer].  I think she might have been in the same school program as both of you were.  Were you at the Goodfoot?”

“Nope,” M replied.  “Never been there before.”

“That’s weird,” I said, “maybe I’m wrong about the school program, but I met another friend of hers—maybe from college?—and there are two of you with the same name.”

“I don’t think so,” she said.  “If there was another one of us, I’d know about it.”

“Yeah.  It’s an unusual enough name that I wouldn’t forget it.  But she exists.”

“I doubt it,” she said.  This is starting to get weird.

“Okay.”  I said.  Resistance was useless.  Fast forward a few minutes into the conversation, and the little group of us was talking about food and restaurants; a favorite subject here in Portland.  I mentioned one and gave it a good recommendation.

“Oh, I love that place,” M said.  “Too bad it closed down.”

“Really, when?  I was just there.”

“A few months ago, or a year, maybe.”

“No, it’s still open.  I ate there a couple weeks ago.”

“No, it’s totally closed.”


I get no pleasure from arguing, and only resort to it if the subject is really something worth fighting about.  Things like people I’ve met, or restaurants that aren’t closed, those aren’t even arguments, they’re wastes of time that could be better spent in a good conversation.  I had a similarly funny and surreal one with my stepmom this past weekend.  The subject of music came up, and she had a question.

“Who’s the guy from Hoquiam [tiny town on the coast of Washington state] who died?  The musician?”

“Kurt Cobain?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

“He was from Aberdeen, though.”

“No, he was from Hoquiam.”

“I don’t know if he was born in Aberdeen or not, but he grew up and went to school there.  I’ve watched a bunch of documentaries and stuff about him.”

“Yeah, that’s Hoquiam.  There’s a bridge there, and a memorial.”

“But that’s all in Aberdeen.  I’ve been to that bridge.”

“It’s Hoquiam.”


Well, here it is, the bridge over the Wishkah river.  I didn’t make this video, but it’s a simple and touching tribute.  And it’s in Aberdeen.


And since we happen to be on the subject of Nirvana and documentaries, I can’t recommend this one, “About a Son,” highly enough.  It’s told exclusively through audio interviews, and filmed in a very compelling way, and it walks you through Kurt’s entire life story.  You never see him speak, but his voice narrates the entire thing.  It’s candid and haunting, and I think you’ll agree. 


eight seconds

blogging, funny, true, Yakima 1 Comment »

When I was in sixth grade, one of the crazes in that myopic little world was for everyone in the class to have a small stuffed Garfield doll.  Guys had them, girls had them, everybody had them.  We didn’t play with them, per se, the thing was just to have one in your desk.  Incidentally, my mom told me a few months ago that with the release of the new Garfield movie, the little stuffed dolls were becoming a craze with kids again, thirty years later.   I never saw THAT one coming.

A more universal craze of the time was the Rubik’s Cube, a maddening brain teaser of a toy that took the country, and indeed the world, by storm when it was released in 1980.  You know, one of these:

I was hooked on it too, and even bought a book on how to solve it.  You start by solving one side, then another, and it all sort of comes into place that way.  The book was full of these arcane strings of formulas with acronyms like, “F L U2 R2”, which stand for Front, Left, Upper 2, Right 2, etc.  Some people just gave in and pulled their cubes apart in order to ‘solve’ them, and some people pulled the stickers off and moved them into place, which I think would be a prohibitive amount of work, and it would make the stickers look crappy once they were back on.  But I digress.

I learned to solve the Cube in record speed.  When they would have national competitions on TV, like this one, from the show That’s Incredible. . .

. . .I would always beat them ‘by a large margin’, as my brother used to say.  I wondered how they got to be on TV and everything, when it took them an eternity—like forty-five seconds!—to solve it.  My hat’s off to you if you sat through that entire piece of crap video, by the way.  The episode of the show is staggeringly boring, and the video ends before we even get to find out who wins the contest.  What a letdown!

The world record for solving the Cube was seven seconds, and I could only whittle my time down to around eight.  When I was in New Hampshire visiting my grandparents, one of their neighbors, upon meeting the eleven-year-old me, handed over his scrambled Rubik’s Cube and said, “If you can solve this, you’re a better man than I am.”  Little did he know what he was in for.  I whipped it around and handed it back to him a few seconds later, completely solved.  He gave me a stunned look, and was actually a bit angry and petulant about the whole thing—although he tried to hide it—which I found hilarious.  I got the feeling he didn’t particularly care for kids, and he wanted to give me something to keep me occupied and out of the way of the adults.  I had my secret skill, however, which foiled his little plan.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was telling a friend about this story on the phone today and afterwards said, “This is probably a blog story.”

“It’s totally a blog story,” he replied.  “You should call it ‘Eight Seconds.’  You can start it like this.”  He lowered his voice in imitation of a melodramatic TV announcer.  “Eight seconds.  That’s not the length of time I can stay on a bull, or the amount of time before I have an orgasm, that’s how long it took me to solve the Rubik’s Cube.”

We both laughed, and then he had to get off the phone and return to work, as did I.  I liked his suggestion for the name, but I obviously took some liberty with (i.e., completely disregarded) his other suggestions.

In the interest of even more disclosure (is that possible, after proclaiming the last disclosure ‘full’?), unlike my skill at playing Ms. Pac-Man, which hasn’t ever really dwindled over the intervening decades, my ability to solve the Cube has completely evaporated.  Sad, I know, but it’s the kind of skill you have to use, or else you lose.  I might still have my old Cube in a box somewhere at one of my parents’ houses.  Amazing how little of that childhood stuff actually survived, and also amazing are the things we adults WISH had survived.  My brother and I do still have a bunch of our original Star Wars action figures, and my little Yoda one is the mascot for my recording projects, to remind me and the people working with me, “Do, or do not; there is no ‘try.’ “  More than anything, I wish I had my collection of toy cars.  I have a couple of them, but most of them got given away, or lost, or given to Goodwill, or just. . .vanished.  I also wish I had my collection of cassettes from childhood through high school.  My brother and I made tons of cassettes in which we acted out skits, or made up songs, or just recorded ourselves talking and playing with our friends, being our dorky selves.  Those are my favorites.  I still have a couple of them, but we made tons, and they don’t seem to have survived.  The ones that have survived are worthy of their own separate blog entries.

By way of the television industry calls a ‘teaser,’ I’ll tell you that my favorite of the tapes, which has been safely stored away from almost thirty years until I recently copied it onto my computer and digitized the audio, is entitled, “One in a Million,” and it’s quite possibly the best thing ever.  If my brother will agree to it, I’ll write the story out and post the audio on here.  If he doesn’t, then I’ll have to just tell the story minus the audio, which will still be entertaining.

There is more to come.


funny, music, pictures, recording, true, Washington, Yakima No Comments »

When I was about eighteen years old, my friends and I had been writing songs for our first band.  We had about fifteen or twenty songs in various degrees of completion, and we’d been recording demo versions of them on a four-track cassette recorder.  There were lots of other short song ideas, some of which were done with our tongues firmly planted in our cheeks, but we definitely learned a lot about the recording process, and how to make instruments work together in a song.  In retrospect, it’s easy to see that that’s where I learned many of the musical skills I still use today.

What had started as a two-person group had morphed by then into a five-person group, and we felt it was time to make some professional recordings that reflected and showcased our new members.  I went to the phone book, called a studio that seemed promising, and booked some time.  The studio owner and I would turn out to be pretty good friends, but he was also one of the most enigmatic people I’ve ever known.  He has used multiple versions of his name throughout the years of his professional careers, so in the interest of anonymity, I’ll go ahead and refer to him as Enigma from now on.  He was always a jack-of-all-trades, and he dabbled in music, photography, and even acting.  In fact, here’s a recent profile picture from that online movie database.  I suspect this was taken on a film set, but that’s how he used to dress all the time, right down to the bandana.

He owned a small recording studio in CityOfAngels and had recently relocated to Yakima to take care of his aging mother, as well as to live on the cheap for a while.  I don’t mean to paint him in a negative light, or give you the impression that he was in any way a bad guy, because I don’t think he was.  He was just very mysterious, that’s all, and though we knew each other for years, I never felt like I knew him very well.  He seemed to have lots of secrets, and he liked to live off the grid.  He had inherited a bit of money, so he bought a bright red Toyota four-wheel-drive pickup, loaded his camping gear and his two white Siberian huskies, and floated between Yakima, AngelCity, EmeraldCity, and NearestLargeCanadianCity.  He kept his lifestyle simple, so that he could pack up and leave at a moment’s notice.  And he would, too.  He would disappear for months on end, and none of his friends would hear from him.  He’d turn up like nothing happened, with no explanation for his time away.  Everyone suspected that drugs were involved somehow, but he claimed not to use or sell them.  In fact, he was a very health-conscious guy and a long-time vegetarian, well before vegetarianism was de rigeur. I’m not saying that vegetarians aren’t capable of doing drugs—they certainly are—but I spent enough time with him, at all kinds of crazy hours, that I like to think I would’ve noticed anything out of the ordinary.  Who knows.

He met one of my college friends, a beautiful blonde girl, at a party one night, and asked her to be his ‘assistant’, since she already had a boyfriend.  She reluctantly agreed, and she answered phones and kept his books and all sorts of other thankless tasks, while constantly rebuffing his romantic advances.   After a few weeks of working for him, she asked me, “What does he do?  For money?  I don’t do much all day, and he hardly gets any business.  I don’t get it.  Does he sell drugs or something?”

“I don’t think so,” I replied, “but nobody really knows for sure.  He’s so hush-hush about his life.”

She gave me a conspiratorial smirk.  “I think I’m gonna try and find out.  You know, I’ll ‘get close’ to him and stuff.”   I thought the idea was hilariously diabolical, and told her so.  It just might work.  I told her I would do my part to pry information from him too, to the extent that I could, and we both pledged to share whatever we found out about him with the other person.  We both came up empty-handed, and he disappeared from town again.

Enigma was a bit of a conspiracy theorist, and a self-professed ‘huge fan’ of Area 51 and UFO’s and all that.  In fact, in the outskirts of Yakima is a top-secret NSA listening station which can be briefly glimpsed from the freeway up in the hills just north of town.

(photo taken from Creative Suggestions’ Flickr page)

Like I said, it’s a top-secret installation (one of many in the Yakima area), and if you try to drive out there, you’ll be stopped by soldiers in jeeps, with guns.  Enigma called them on the phone more than once, and when they asked who he was and why he was calling, he was shockingly candid.  “Well, I’m a big fan of secret government operations, and I’m an American taxpayer and a concerned citizen, so I was just hoping to find out what you guys are doing out there.”  As if they’re gonna roll out the red carpet for him and invite him on an all-access tour.  “No comment,” he was told, and the connection was terminated.  So he tried driving out there, with similar treatment from the soldiers in the jeeps.  “Turn around and go home,” they told him.

This entry is meant to provide context for the next couple of stories I’m going to tell about Enigma, each of which is fairly long in its own right, so I thought it best to break them up and give each one its due, rather than cram them both into one mammoth entry.  Besides, if I think of more stories, then adding them individually is definitely the way to go.  In order to tantalize you, I will say that one story involves an arson fire that destroyed the largest music store in town (Enigma’s second studio was located in the basement), and the other involves Enigma, my bandmates, myself, and a singer getting shot at.

To be continued.

the pillow incident

beautiful, funny, pictures, true, Washington No Comments »

The first part of this entry is kind of gross; I’m not gonna lie about that.  The good news is that it’s also really funny, and it’s about a joke I played on my brother when I was about fifteen years old.

We shared a big bedroom at Dad’s house.  One day, Brother was lying on his bed doing homework, and I was lying on my own bed reading a book.  He got up to take a break, or watch TV or something, and at the same time I got the urge to pass gas.  Being the older brother, it was my natural impulse to walk over and pass gas into his pillow.   I repeated that action as the need arose, and I thought it would be even funnier if I was able to really stink up his pillow as much as possible, so I took my shoes off and rubbed my smelly socks all over it, inside and out.

A few minutes later, Brother walked back into the room, and I was reading on my bed, as if nothing had changed.  He reclined on his bed, with one elbow on the offending pillow, and returned to his studies.  After a few minutes, he sniffed the air and said, “Do you smell something?  It smells weird over here.”

“Hunh,” I said, as casually as possible.  “I don’t notice anything.  Smells fine here.”  My bed was ten feet away from his.

He turned back to his books for a while, but then curiosity got the better of him again.  “No, really,” he said.  “Are you sure you don’t smell anything?  It’s pretty bad.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, shrugging my shoulder.  “I don’t smell anything weird at all.”

He turned back, determined to find the source of the odor.  He sniffed up and down, then got a really strange look on his face as he looked toward his pillow.  That was the moment I’d been waiting for.  As he brought his nose closer and closer, the realization hit him, and I burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter.

Gross! What the heck did you do?” he asked, as he pulled off the pillowcase, smelled the pillow itself, and grimaced.

I was still laughing, but I finally pulled myself together enough to give him an answer.  “I might have farted on it a few times.  And I also might have slipped and accidentally rubbed my socks all over it too.  Yeah. . .I might’ve done that.”  I started laughing again.  He did too, as I recall.

A few years ago, I told a girl I was dating about The Pillow Incident, and she was slightly repulsed by it.  She saw the humor, but she also never quite believed that I wouldn’t do that sort of thing again.   I assured her that I wouldn’t, since I was thirty four years old, and she of all people had nothing to worry about.

Why am I telling that story now?  I’m not sure, exactly, but it came up in conversation with a friend the other day, so it had been bopping around in my brain lately, and I figured that I should tell it here too, under the heading of Childhood Stories.  I did learn that I shouldn’t tell that one when I’m on a date.  Not a very sexy story, as it turns out.  Ha ha.

One other funny childhood story (this one’s not gross, don’t worry) that took place in that bedroom was when my brother and I were wrestling one day, and it kept escalating and escalating, like it does sometimes between brothers.  We were joking around, pulling clothes and stuff out of each others’ dressers, and pretty soon we started pulling the blankets off of each others’ beds too.  It was all in fun, as if to say, “So, you wanna start something?  Okay, well, how about THIS?”  We kept one-upping each other, until all of our clothes, blankets, sheets, and mattress pads were strewn around the floor of the big bedroom.  We were laughing like hyenas, and my brother reached for my actual mattress and started to pull it from my bed frame.

That’s when Dad walked in.  He heard the commotion and came over to see what was going on.  His jaw dropped.  “What the hell are you guys doing?” he yelled.  “Clean this crap up now!”  His tone of voice broke the spell of our laughter, and we looked up, somewhat mortified, to see that we had completely destroyed the room.  Our beds were in a gigantic heap in the middle of the floor, and it looked as if a tornado had touched down in our room, but had spared the rest of the house.  He stood and watched us incredulously as we put everything back together.

That house was really great.  It was owned by family friends who went to our church.  Their aging mother lived in the house for decades, and our friends lived in the house up the hill.  She was in her eighties, and was starting to be unable to live alone anymore.  They wanted someone to live in her house, but they wanted it to be someone they knew.  It was a perfect situation.  They kept the rent low for us, and we happily moved in.

The house is over a hundred years old now, and it used to be the only house on the street.  It’s situated on the old Evergreen Highway in Vancouver, which runs right along the Columbia river.  We used to be able to walk down to the waterfront and play down there.  These days, all of the roads are private, and gated, and so far I’ve been unable to find a way down past the railroad tracks to the river.   Our old house is now surrounded by a group of newly built houses, and the wild, wooded hillside is now a sleepy cul-de-sac like a million others.

Such is the way in America, I suppose.  Open spaces don’t last long, particularly in Portland, where the Urban Growth Boundary is strictly enforced, and space is at a premium.  Vancouver doesn’t have a law like that, so urban sprawl is the order of the day, but this house is in a long-developed residential neighborhood, and we felt lucky to have had the opportunity to live there.

It’s probably worth mentioning that our bedroom at the time of these stories was in the bedroom on the back of the house, on the far left side of the picture.  The layout of the house changed sometimes, too, because at another point, we lived in the upstairs room and could look out over the river and the airport.  We even bought an airport radio and would sit up there for hours with binoculars and a notepad, writing down the names and flight numbers of the planes as they landed and took off.

If you’d told me when I started this entry that it would morph from a disgusting tale of pillow desecration into a nostalgic musing, I might not have believed you.  Yet here we are, and I stand by my choices.  For the record, I solemnly swear not to soil any more pillows, and I won’t tell that story on any more dates.  In fact, if I’m on a date, and you hear me start to launch into it, I hereby give you permission to step in and save me from myself.


best of BFS&T, 2010 edition

beautiful, blogging, cello, dreams, funny, love, music, Oregon, pictures, Portland, recording, sad, true, Washington, Yakima No Comments »

2010 has been very strange.  At the beginning of the year, I was still on blogging hiatus, so it took a while to get back up to speed.  Springtime was crazy, with lots of great musical endeavors and memorable trips.  By the summer, both my life and this blog went into overdrive, when I really started writing again, and found my full stride while sharing a bit too much about my childhood.  Suddenly it was October, which is the month of my birth, but this year was also the month of my stepdad’s death, which has sent everything into a tailspin since then.  A surreal trip to Yakima for the funeral was followed by multiple trips to Seattle, both for gigs and for family functions.

There were some standout moments from this last year that didn’t manage to make it into the blog, for various reasons.  For example, here’s a video of a particularly interesting recording session that I was lucky enough to be involved with, albeit in a small way.  A local singer-songwriter, who is also a friend, put the word out on SocialNetwork that she wanted to create a cacaphony of 50 pianos, all playing an F chord at the same time.  I jumped at the chance.  She rented a piano showroom downtown, and my friend and I (and forty eight or so other people) joined in to participate.  I brought my camera to capture a bit of the action.

Another memorable moment from this last year was Trek in the Park.  This theater group gets together every year to re-create a famous episode from the original Star Trek television series.  This year’s was Space Seed, in which we meet the infamous character Khan (who returned in the movie The Wrath of Khan).  It was a very well-done production, with live music and everything. . .and it was all free of charge.  Here’s the climactic fight sequence between Kirk and Khan.

IrishBand released our self-titled EP this year, as well as an amazing animated video that a friend created for us.  I would post that here, but our band name is very unusual, hence the pseudonym.  To celebrate, we went to Port Townsend, Washington (the hometown of three of the band members, and an adopted home away from home for the rest of us) to play a CD release party and catch the Rhododendron Festival and parade and everything.  It’s always a huge party weekend for PT, and this year was the tenth reunion for PT High School, which included Violinist and a bunch of other friends, so I actually went to the reunion barbecue in Chetzemoka Park during the afternoon, since I knew so many of the people there.  (God forbid that I actually go to any of my own class reunions; I haven’t yet.)  I also performed in the parade, in disguise, as an honorary member of Nanda.  I’m the guy with the Mexican wrestling mask, playing the bass, miming along to the dance music that was blaring from the speakers in the back of the truck.

I had the opportunity to see the Oregon Symphony perform many times this last year, with some pretty big-name performers.  Violinists Midori and Hilary Hahn, violinist Pinchas Zukerman and his cellist wife Amanda Forsyth (who, incidentally, gave a cello master class at the Old Church that afternoon, which I also attended, even though I’m far from being a cello master) who performed Brahms’s Double Concerto together, and a number of others.  This month, I have a ticket for pianist Emanuel Ax’s concert, which I’m very much looking forward to.  Yo-Yo Ma performed here a month or so ago, but his concert was sold out in the spring, only a few weeks after tickets went on sale.  Curses.

So it’s been a good year, overall, but I’m really hoping that 2011 is better, or less confusing at the very least.  I have lofty goals for the upcoming year, which include finding a job, finding love and a real relationship, taking care of some things that have been dogging me for a while now, and producing more CD’s.  I have a bit of news on the music front, actually.  A friend of mine hurt her arms a year ago, and has since been unable to play the piano, but that hasn’t stopped her from singing, or from writing lyrics and melodies, or from having tons of ideas.  She e-mailed me at some point to ask what people in her position do in the music business.  I told her I don’t know about ‘the music business’, but I’d love to give the songs a listen, and that maybe I could put music to them.  She sent me some mp3’s, and I instantly felt like I knew where the songs should go.  They felt familiar without being predictable, which is always a good sign.  That was about two months ago, and we already have five or six collaborations in the works.  Pretty awesome and exciting.

In other news, December is the fourth anniversary of this blog, so it seems appropriate to have a little birthday party, no?  Come on, let’s have some sis-boom-bah.

So anyway, on to the Best Of.  Here are the lists of what I consider to the best entries BFS&T has to offer from this past year, which naturally includes a list of the most interesting dreams, as well.  Enjoy!


SteamCon – the steampunk convention in Seattle in which PolishCellist and I played, and had a total blast doing so

tragedy – the death of Stepdad

struggle – the early aftermath of the death of Stepdad

sitting here thinking about the Holocaust – one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard on the radio

folk festival fun – Portland Folk Festival, starring IrishBand, Dan Bern, Roll Out Cowboy, etc.

I’m kind of an a-hole – see for yourself

birthday present – prostitute schmostitute

the unicorn code – love it, learn it, LIVE IT

no one’s laughing – a peek into our family dynamics

d̩ja vu Рwhat it feels like, and a friend who claims to never have experienced one

the truth is out there – interesting UFO story, I promise

it’s not for shaving – Occam’s Razor, and how it applies to recording music

what if it is? – a very memorable and touching moment from the show Six Feet Under



love and curiosity

he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

the final innocent tryst



lights, camera, dream

festival dream

shape shifters

inimitable and imitable

subconscious and libido

this needs a name


Just in case this wasn’t enough for your insatiable appetite for blog entries, here’s the Best of BFS&T 2009 entry, for your gluttonous pleasure.

Thanks for being here and reading all this, and for supporting this blog for such a long time now.  I really appreciate it.  I hope we all have an excellent New Year’s Eve, and Day, and that 2011 allows us to learn, and to grow, and to change for the better, a little bit each day.

Happy New Year!