Cynosure

Cynosure: (n) something that strongly attracts attention by its brilliance, interest, etc.:

I remember it like it was yesterday.

I had a meeting with a fellow who dubbed himself “Bundy Boy.”

I don’t know why he selected this handle since it was nowhere near his name. But he was young, energetic, and full of what the old folks used to call “piss and vinegar.”

He agreed to have a meeting with me because he was thinking about promoting our little music group and taking over management of us—thereby assisting us in getting national attention, a recording contract and, well, just something far away from our poverty.

I remember it so well because he had a spiel. He called it “The Five Thingalings.”

I wanted to laugh, but after all, I was in a subordinate position, sitting in the office of a guy who might be able to throw some light in the direction of my shade.

It was the first time I ever heard this word: cynosure.

He asked me if I knew what it meant. I didn’t. So he explained, “It’s about what’s bright and shiny. Humans are human, but they’re also beings—and as beings, they’re attracted to… are you ready?” he asked me.

I was. He continued, “They’re attracted to sex, silliness, a sad story, beauty and money.”

I thought about it, had no reason to disagree, and so I nodded my head.

Confident that I was on his wavelength, he proceeded. “Cynosure is when you turn the lights up so people can see more clearly what you have to offer. That’s why you’ve got to be sexy. Everybody likes sexy. Even religious people like sexy. They don’t talk about it—but they think about it. And everybody likes to be silly. They pretend to be serious, but after a short time, they’re ready for a good giggle.”

“But,” he went on, “we do like a sad story. It cleans us out—makes us feel we’re really sensitive because we care about what happened to somebody on the rocky road of life. And that story—that story I’m telling you about—it’s much more powerful if it’s being shared from a beautiful package. Just as people like sexy, they like pretty. In their minds, sexy and pretty go together. Nobody feels sexy if they don’t feel pretty, or handsome. And of course, money. Even the Bible says that money answers everything. If you think about it, any problem that comes up in your mind—well, a nice stack of cash will go a long way to solving it.”

After Bundy Boy finished his speech, he sat and looked at me.

It was time for him to offer his evaluation of my “package.”

He was kind, merciful, but truthful.

“My friend,” he said, “you aren’t sexy. Now you might be silly, but if you’re silly and not sexy, it comes off goofy. I suppose you do have a sad story, but when you’re not sexy and not silly, and you have a sad story, people think to themselves, ‘well, of course. He’s a loser.’ And if you’re not sexy, the chance that you’re beautiful is small. And even though we pretend we like beauty on the inside, it’s only something your mother actually feels. And,” he concluded, “by looking at your clothes—especially your shoes—I can tell. You’ve got no money.”

He concluded, “So even though I like your music and I do like you, I can’t work with you. I can’t bring the magic. I can’t cynosure you.”

He stood to his feet and walked toward the door, which I assumed meant that I was also to stand and depart. He patted me on the back and offered a lame, “If there’s anything I can ever do, let me know.”

So I have gone through the majority of my life with no cynosure.

It’s been painful—but I have managed to eke out an existence.

 

funny wisdom on words that begin with a C

Cynophobia

Cynophobia: (n) an irrational fear of dogs

Sometimes I am hesitant to tell you a story because I fear you will think I am pulling your leg (or tugging on your heart).

Just like all writers, I am guilty of some embellishment, but generally speaking, the plot line, characters and conclusions actually happened in some way, shape or form.

While traveling in Texas (which, by the way, could be the beginning of a dozen novels…)

Anyway, I found myself in a tiny community just south of Austin.

It was a place that was proud of being tiny, away from Austin and south.

Need I say more?

I came in with my music group to put on a series of concerts in the region—because apparently the person who did our scheduling hated us.

Our music was too hip, our clothes were too modern, my hair was too long and the girls had that look in their eyes—of equal rights.

The whole event was a struggle, which we were actually succeeding in overcoming. That is, until they told us where we would be staying.

A lady offered her mobile home as a place for us to stay.

She failed to explain to us that she bred pit bulls.

She explained that she would not be there to greet us, but that the trailer would be open, and to “just go on in.” It never crossed my mind to ask about dogs.

So, driving up in our van, suddenly seven of the little monsters came running to the fence, alternating their barking. Three on one side, four on the other, back to the three on the one.

It was like a hellish chorus from a Wagner opera.

The animals stared at us—an uncomfortable probing, as if they were sizing up how long it would take to get us to the ground for the final kill.

One of the girls—who believed “doggies were really sweet”—thought she would step up to the fence and greet them, to see if she could allay their fear of strangers. As she did, one of the beasts from the left-hand chorus leaped up, sank his teeth into her purse and would not let go. We were barely able to free her from the purse so that the dog would not drag her into the pit of death and terminate her singing career.

We stood at the fence, gazing at these creatures for ten minutes. Twenty minutes. We were silent because nobody had any good idea on how to get into the house without being partially consumed.

After about three-quarters of an hour, the owner arrived and asked us why we hadn’t “gone on in.”

Without saying a word, all three of us pointed to the gathered horde.

She ridiculed us—especially me. She said, “You claim to be a man and you’re afraid of these puppies? What a pussy! They won’t hurt you!”

She then tossed her hair and looked at the three of us, saying, “Come on. Follow me. They won’t bother you.”

She was wrong–the dogs knew we were spooked.

Every time we tried to follow her through the fence, they jumped into the air, ready to attack.

At this point, the young woman turned to us, astonished, and said, “I don’t know what’s going on. They’re never like this. Did you do anything to hurt them?” We shook our heads. She continued. “It’s like they know you’re dangerous or something. Do you have evil spirits?”

Well, this was too far for me.

I declared, “Well, actually, we have good spirits. And apparently, these demon mutts are out to swallow them.”

The lady did not like my response. She headed inside, saying, “When you get up the courage, come on in.”

Seeing her leave, the dogs gritted their teeth, content that they had us to themselves. The girls in the group were stymied but I wasn’t.

I was unashamedly experiencing cynophobia.

I had officially met dogs who were not puppies, but instead, possessed the Mark of The Beast.

We went to a Holiday Inn, which, by the way, did not allow pets.

funny wisdom on words that begin with a C

Cream of the Crop

funny wisdom on words that begin with a C

Cream of the crop: (n) the fatty part of milk, which rises to the surface

Audacity can be richly comical if you don’t take yourself too seriously and believe that any one of your proclamations or dreams is sacred.

I’ve always been a music man with a poet’s heart, and the body of a lumberjack. (An overweight lumberjack.)

I’ve wanted to play songs, and I reached an age when the music part of my show was just not bringing in enough dough.

What I had available to me was a wife and two sons. So I decided to form them into a music group. We were not exactly the Partridge Family, the Jacksons nor the Osmonds. We were more like the…

Well, like the Smiths.

There was talent there—but the nine-year-old had just started playing drums, the fourteen-year-old was faithfully practicing on a bass guitar that was mostly broken, and my wife… My wife sang like a wife.

I was an old war horse who had done music for so long that I convinced myself, and quite a few other people, that I was proficient enough at doing it that I should not quit. So I decided to tour with my family.

I am not going to try to rationalize my decision nor disparage it. It was what was available, it was what we could do, we would be together, and no animals would be harmed in the process.

I taught them five songs. That’s right—five. It took a while. The sound was not great, but it would have evoked a smile of approval from the grouchiest member of an audience.

We needed to make a tape we could offer for purchase after our little shows. This way, people would have the music and we could have a few dollars for bologna.

We rented a studio and went in with our five songs—plus one, which I added the day of the recording session. Over the next five hours, we recorded them, mixed them down and ran off a master copy for duplication. Considering that I was working with a nine-year-old, a fourteen-year-old, my wife and my own nervous energy, the production quality hovered just north of bad.

The engineer turned to me and said, “What would you like to name the tape? Because I have to write something down on the label.”

I paused. I thought about the fact that these were the only six songs we knew, and there were no prospects in the near future of adding to the roster.

I thought about naming the tape, “The Best So Far.”

I mused the title, “Our Greatest Hits.”

I lamented that the title, “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” was already taken.

Finally it came to me.

Since it’s what we had, and we did our best, and it seemed we were at the top of our game at this station in our musical journey, I told the recording engineer to name it, “Cream of the Crop.”

He winced—but obeyed.

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Covered-Dish Supper

Covered-dish supper: (n) meal to which guests contribute food, as casseroles.

 When I was nineteen years old I had no job, but I had a music group.

It was constantly brought to my attention that I could have a job and still sing and play with my combo on weekends.

I did not favor that idea.funny wisdom on words that begin with a C

I thought the only way to be a professional musician was to insist it was your profession, long before your bank account confirmed it. Money was infrequent and when it arrived, we were so hungry for it that often we blew it on a desire rather than what the bills might require.

Because music groups were plentiful in that time, no one wanted to offer hard, cold cash for playing songs—even if it stimulated great enthusiasm, joy and clapping. What was offered—and may I say, even touted by a sponsor desiring to schedule our musical abilities—was a covered-dish supper.

In other words, after we got done singing, we would go down into the basement of the church and eat the food that had been brought by the concert attendees for just such an occasion.

Certain dishes were pretty well guaranteed:

There was always fried chicken (even if you were sure it came out of a bucket instead of a frying pan.)

Macaroni and potato salads were plentiful.

Someone always experimented with a rice dish, putting in some teriyaki sauce to give it “flare.”

Brownies, cakes of all sorts, pies, garlic bread, four or five concoctions with spaghetti, and once in a while some grilled hot dogs or hamburgers would appear.

By the time we got done singing, we were hungry. Also, we were starved because during the week we had not necessarily been able to procure grocery money to satisfy our growling innards.

So we learned two very important procedures:

First of all, you get more food when you compliment the food. If we found out who cooked what, we could center our appreciation in on that person and pretty soon they would bring their pot over and dump the contents onto our plates to “make sure we got our share.”

The second thing we put into practice, which took some trial and error, was to ask the smallest (and usually feminine) member of our band to walk over and chat with the ladies, asking for recipes. Well, these fine women looked at the dainty, somewhat underfed waif of a girl and loaded her down—not only with index cards containing the ingredients for their delicacies, but also boxes of leftover everything.

So even though nobody ever gave us money, we walked out of covered dish suppers with full bellies and enough food to last for two or three days thereafter.

Now, some people might think this is a terrible way to live, and I certainly can appreciate their point of view.

But I, for one, think it is quite charming to have a remembrance in my life when I literally did live hand to mouth.

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Combo

Combo: (n) a small jazz, rock, or pop band.

Being clever is similar to setting a bear trap down in a room full of balloons. It is so easy to spring the trap and bust all your balloons of hope.

In my early years I had a music group and was desperately trying to promote us–at least to the point that I could make enough “jack” to pay for “Jill.”

Money was rare.

Now, opportunities and gigs seemed to pop up everywhere–but when the subject of remuneration was suggested, there were offers of free coffee, “help yourself
to the day-old pastry,” or “we have a garage where you can sleep overnight.”

I knew I needed to do something drastic to set our group apart from the rest of the marauding musicians trying to fend for the single crust of bread, so I put together a damn good press release.

Now, wait.

Understand–this was an era when bands did not advertise themselves via printed material, but rather, through audition tapes or live performances.

I got a great picture of us, looking our cutest (and surliest) and attached our release. One of the things I discovered in writing the piece was that if you’re constructing a great article, it should not repeat words.

I kept landing on the word “group.” “Group?” “GROUP!”

So thinking myself extremely clever, I went to the Thesaurus and looked for different words to communicate the idea “group.”

One of those was “combo.”

I was ecstatic. The word sounded good to me, so I stuck it in the press release a couple of times and sent it off.

I noticed when I started calling places back to see if they wanted to schedule us based on our fine piece of promotional material, the proprietors would grumble, “We’re not interested in a jazz thing.”

I tried to explain that we weren’t jazz, but by that time they had hung up the phone and I was left standing, listening to the dial tone of the day.

Finally, one of the gentlemen I called suggested a nightclub down the street that specialized in jazz.

I squeezed in my question. “We’re not a jazz group. Where did you get the idea we played jazz?”

“Really?” he said. “Your article said you were a combo, and I never heard of any band calling themselves a combo unless they were jazz.”

I wanted to tell him about my journey through the “prehistoric thesaurus,” but instead, I went back to my creation and removed the word “combo.”

Needing to replace it, I inserted “adventurers.”

 

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Cocoa Butter

Cocoa butter: (n) a fatty substance obtained from cocoa beans used for a variety of cosmetic purposes

Long before SPF meant anything in the world around me, I was a very white, fair-skinned, blond man who wanted to get a tan.

There were those who warned of the danger of too much exposure from the sun, but it was like they were speaking their concern in a private closet adjacent to a loud dining hall.

Nobody was listening because everyone wanted to go to the beach and get brown.

There was a consensus that in order to get brown, first you had to get red. And getting red meant you had to spend some time with Papa Sun unmercifully beating down upon your pale skin.

Now, I traveled in a music group with two girls. One of these ladies was very health conscious. She rubbed her body with cocoa butter before going out into the blaze.

The other girl used a concoction of baby oil with four or five drops of iodine added, shaken up and spread all over the skin. The concept was that the baby oil would fry you up like a good fritter, while simultaneously the iodine would paint your epidermis.

I chose her potion.

I got the worst sunburn I ever had in my entire life. It was so painful I couldn’t wear pants. I went to a drug store and they gave me some spray–“Solarcaine”–but my skin was so hot and inflamed that the spray turned into little balls of cotton.

I was miserable for two-and-a-half days. But on the third day, I began to turn a little bit brown. So for the entire summer I used baby oil and iodine–as the other female comrade favored cocoa butter.

I got browner and browner. She stayed as white as the Ku Klux Klan.

In the middle of August, I noticed that my iodine–which I thought had melded into my skin–began to flake off–at first, little tiny portions, but then, bigger chunks. Soon I was a combination of white, red sunburn and iodine tan.

The girl who used the cocoa butter called me “Leopard Boy” because I had spots.

I now realize the wisdom of SPF. But for that summer, I was temporarily brown and looked damn good.

I couldn’t have done it with cocoa butter. I needed what my other traveling friend referred to as “Baby-I.”

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Coast

Coast: (n) the part of the land near the sea; the edge of the land.

It was a Thursday afternoon. (Actually it probably wasn’t a Thursday afternoon, but I needed someplace to start this essay.)

I was twenty years old, had a music group and was gradually starving my way to success. The definition of that process, by the way, is that there may be visible signs of progress in your career, but you’re also about ready to be evicted.

I had spent all of my youth and the beginnings of my adult life living in the midwest and visiting the mid-south. I had no complaints about the region–just felt deprived of the opportunity to go to the coast and see the ocean. Any coast would have been fine, although I did not favor Northern Canada and the Arctic Ocean.

No opportunity came my way to go and view the glorious blue. So finally I just decided to make an opportunity. I scheduled a little coffee-house gig for us in Sarasota, Florida. Matter of fact, I ended up being able to procure three such opportunities on our way down there. This trifecta of bookings was certainly not going to be enough to cover expenses. I didn’t care. I was going to the coast to see the ocean.

Our vehicle was in terrible shape, so on the way there we broke down–once mechanically and twice from bald tires, which finally exhaled all air.

Yet we finally arrived in Sarasota. Breathlessly, with my hand shaking on the steering wheel, I headed off to see the beauty of the ocean, the waves crashing onto the shore.

It was mind-altering, as all new experiences should be. I just sat there with the members of my group, and we stared at it for two hours. I was so excited that I went to a nearby cafe to order some lunch, which considering our budget, consisted of sharing a muffin, a hot dog and a cup of coffee among three people.

All of us were bubbling over with enthusiasm, as we shared with our waitress that we had come all the way from Ohio to Sarasota to see the ocean. Each one of us had a brief testimonial of how much the experience had impacted our life.

The waitress stood and listened patiently, and when we finally fell silent, having completed all of our praise, she quietly deadpanned, “That’s not the ocean. That’s the Gulf of Mexico.”

She walked away, confident of her geography.

I looked at my two comrades. They were just as distressed as I.

Staring out in the distance at the waves, it suddenly seemed meaningless.

Me wept.

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