Dapper: (adj) neat, trim and smart

There’s a huge difference between dressing up a banana and a grapefruit.

Take a moment and think about it.

A banana has lean, straight lines and almost anything you put on it looks rather dapper.

A grapefruit, on the other hand, is round—sporting a circumference—which makes almost anything you place upon it appear to be an overlay.

This was my situation growing up—wanting to be a musical artist and stage personality but having the body type of a beachball.

I wanted to be dapper.

What was that definition, again? “Neat, trim and smart.”

So I immediately eliminated “trim.”

“Neat” only required that everything be well-pressed and fitting.

“Smart” normally is considered to be an intelligence issue, but we’re all mature enough to know that “dressing for success” is not just a slogan.

When I was nineteen years old, traveling around and appearing in coffee houses, I wanted something distinguished to wear. At the time we were emerging from the hippie era, so I yearned to pursue that look and apparel.

May I explain to you, however, that if you want to dress hippie, you can’t be.

Hippy, that is.

There were no clothes my size at all. I tried.

I literally began to hate Ashbury.

So I convinced my young wife—who had never sewn before in her life—to draw up a pattern for pants that I could wear onstage, which had a button-up fly and bell-bottoms.

I can still remember the horror on her face when I finished my request. I tried to make it sound adventuresome and assured her that whatever she came up with would be perfect.

I was wrong.

I don’t know how she came up with the design for the pants—but the waist was too big, the legs too small, and the buttonholes, tiny.

So when I pulled the pants up, the leg holes barely let my feet pass through, the waist hung down as if severely depressed and it took me fifteen minutes to get the buttons to go through the holes.

After I was done, I looked in the full-length mirror.

I resembled a sausage in the midst of being cased.

I still loved them. I decided to wear them to the next coffeehouse.

I managed to get them off and get them back on performance night. But when I walked over to sit down at the piano, my chubby thighs burst the seams of the legs, as I sat there in front of an audience with my white skin protruding through every seam.

I will never forget that I had to wear those pants the rest of the night, covering up my protruding fat thighs with my hands, which is almost impossible to do while still playing the piano.

Due to a shirt that was more or less a huge poncho, I succeeded in coming as close as I possibly could to dapper—mainly because God was merciful.

And the coffeehouse room was dimly lit.


Copyright: (n) the exclusive right to make copies in music

I had just turned nineteen years of age when I was sitting in the back area of my mother and father’s loan company which they had opened in our small town, and for some inexplicable reason, there was a piano situated in one of the corners.

I don’t know how it got in there. I don’t know whether someone was unable to pay their loan and offered their piano as penance—but it was there.funny wisdom on words that begin with a C

I was also present—with my new wife, whom I had only been married to for about seven months, but we already had a first son. (You do the math.)

Long story apparently being made longer, I decided to walk over to that piano and write a song. I had sung songs for years. I had done my karaoke versions of popular tunes long before the “Kary” came from “Okie.”

I don’t know what gave me the idea that I could write a song. Maybe it was because I was nineteen and pretty convinced I could do anything. Somewhere in the expanse of the next hundred and eighteen minutes, I wrote two songs. I had no idea if anybody would think they were good—I was so damn impressed with them that the notion of seeking another opinion seemed redundant.

I did not know if I would ever write another song, so I immediately wanted to make sure these two songs were not only recorded, but copyrighted—to make sure that no less-talented individuals would steal them, attaining great notice and gain.

There were two ways to copyright my songs. I could make original copies of the lead sheet and words, and mail them to myself, and never open that envelope because it would have the stamped date on the outside from the official Post Office.

This did not sound dramatic enough to me.

So instead, I pursued the other avenue, which was to contact the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C, and receive innumerable forms, which I filled out, paying a small price for each composition. From that point on, once it was cleared that my songs were indeed original, I would have a copyright for all time.

My God. Who could resist such majestic red tape?

I went through the entire process, and even today, somewhere buried deep in a box in one of my closets, is a certificate informing the whole world that my two songs made a visit to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and returned home again—sanctified.

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Chit-chat: (n) inconsequential conversation.

Perhaps the greatest kindness we do to other human beings is to listen to them. But we must be aware that if we point eyes and ears in their direction, we also must be prepared to endure.

Sometimes it astounds me–what people think is important. Even more bewildering is why they think I would feel it is important.

Yet at the cost of the losing a huge wedge of my time, I will stand and listen to people rattle on about their granddaughter’s or their grandson’s innate ability to play piano, beginning with the surprising revelation that at age five they had mastered “Chopsticks.”

On top of this. visual aids suddenly appear. Yes, pictures come out of purses and wallets. (This requires that I comment on how attractive the children are, no matter how much their features may contradict my praise.)

It’s called chit-chat. And the main problem with it is, once you’ve been targeted as a victim, you lose hours of time for very little appreciation.

After all, nobody walks away and says, “That guy is a magnificent listener!” Actually, they stroll away thinking how interesting they must have been–for me to remain for so long.

Yes. I end up encouraging a verbal criminal–someone who forces himself on other humans, raping them of all sensibility.

Chit-chat is often used to avoid real conversation about pertinent issues. It’s a way of saying “I like you” without ever saying, “I love you.” It’s a way of being heard without needing to listen, especially if you develop the annoying vice of interruption.

When the world is falling apart and the meteors are streaming to the Earth and the atomic bombs are exploding in every direction, there will be some person standing on a street corner, boring a friend, talking about his daughter’s amazing second-place finish in the school spelling bee.

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Bass: (n) a voice, instrument, or sound of the lowest rangeDictionary B

Tom was my friend.

I think that’s why we hated each other so much.

There are people we meet that we were never meant to be linked with, but because of projects, proximity and maybe even personality, we get slammed together with them in an uncomfortable relationship of tension. Unwilling to call them adversaries, we resort to the generic term, “friend.”

Tom and I sang together in a quartet. It was a group of our own making, and considering the fact that we were just teenagers, we did a good job of holding it together and doing more than practicing–on occasion actually performing in front of living people.

Tom wanted to be in charge of the group, but unfortunately, I already held that position–with accompanying diadem. So there was always friction about every decision and every musical composition we selected to mutilate in our inimitable style.

When Tom joined the group, I sang bass. There were many reasons for this.

First of all, I was the only one who could sing a Bb below middle C, which is mandatory for those with testosterone tones.

I also thought the girls really dug guys who sang low, feeling confident they were masculine simply by hearing them warm up on scales.

Tom didn’t think I was a good bass singer. He was always trying to undermine my efforts.

One day, he brought in a record to introduce us to a song that had a very low bass note, which was showcased in the middle of the tune as a solo without accompaniment. He coyly asked me if I could hit the note, and being young of years and mostly insane, I insisted it was within my range.

It wasn’t.

Honestly, it wasn’t within anybody’s range unless they were in a recording studio with the help of knobs and buttons.

So the first time we sang the song in public, Tom waited for that part to come along, where I was supposed to growl something in the basement of human vocals, and when the music stopped and it came my turn to lay in the part–well, let us say that I didn’t even come close.

Tom was ecstatic.

No one could really say that I missed the note, since I was not even able to frog out anything near its pond.

Tom later convinced the other members of the group that I was not a bass singer, and shortly thereafter, I left.

It was only a few weeks later that Tom and the boys returned to me, asking me to sing again–since I was the only one who knew how to read music, play piano and arrange vocals.

They now wanted me to sing lead instead of bass, and we launched the group again.

A few days passed of peace and tranquility.

And then Tom decided I couldn’t sing lead …

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Basketball: (n) a game played between two teams of five players in which goals are scored by throwing a ball through a netted hoopDictionary B

I was the fattest kid in my class.

It is a distinction without appreciation.

But I liked basketball.

I started playing it when I was seven years old with another kid who ended up being a champion at hoops. So I was fairly good–especially for a fat boy.

But I did not look like a basketball player. This was troublesome to folks–because talent needs more than ability. It requires a “look.”

Basketball players are meant to be tall and skinny.

I was 5 foot 11in every direction.

So when I joined the team there was a chuckle and a cynical ripple among my peers. When I competed, there was some amusement.

And when I made the first string, there were those who were astounded that there was nobody to beat me out, and grown-ups who thought I might run up and down the court and have a heart attack.

It’s been this way for me in everything in my life:

  • I am not an attractive man, so some of my friends thought I would never procure a woman.
  • I have short, stubby fingers, so most people thought it would be impossible for me to play piano.
  • I never went to college, so how do I have the audacity to compose and write?

More often than not, we require the “look” of basketball along with the skill.

And as fans, we often are not satisfied unless all the visuals are present … to accompany the slam dunk.


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From the toy shop to the manger, an advent calendar of Christmas stories, beginning on November 30th and ending on Christmas morning.

We need a good Christmas this year.

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dictionary with letter A

Anomaly: (n) something that deviates from the normal, standard or expected

I liked music.

At eighteen years of age, I’m not so sure that I was totally devoted to a career in the field or whether there was a bit of laziness tied into the equation, because playing piano sounded easier than punching a time-clock. (After all, we get ourselves in the most trouble when we try to purify our motives instead of accepting them a trifle sullied.)

One afternoon during that eighteenth year, I took my girlfriend, who was soon to become my wife, into a back room of a loan company owned by my parents and sat down at a piano which had been given to our family, but because we had no room in our house, ended up stuck in the back corner of this lending institution.

I had never written a song before.

As a teenager, I sang in choir, a quartet and for nursing homes, pretending like it was a big gig at Madison Square Garden.

Yet on this day, I suddenly got this urge to compose. It was not stimulated by a professor at a college asking for an assignment, nor was it motivated by my ancestors, wishing that I would abandon all normal courses of occupation and pursue a musical path.

It was truly an anomaly.

  • It was contrary to what everybody wanted me to do.
  • It was an open, seething contradiction to my cultural training.
  • I sat down at that piano, and in the course of the next ninety-four minutes, wrote two original songs. I didn’t know if they were good and certainly was not confident they were great.

But something came out of me that wasn’t a conditioned response or a well-studied answer for a final exam.

It was mine.

Whether it was good or bland, it came from me. It excited me. It encouraged me to muster the perseverance to survive the critique of my society and even overcome my own fits of lethargy to pursue it.

It still excites me today.

Hundreds of songs later, I still feel as thrilled when pen goes to paper, words appear and musical notes cuddle up next to them.

No one in my family ever took the course of action which I chased, beginning with that afternoon in the back room behind that piano.

But it is the selection of that odyssey that has made me who I am.

There are two things you have to remember about an anomaly:

  1. It is never immediately accepted.
  2. It always takes more work than you expected.

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dictionary with letter A

Andante: (adj) used as a direction in music to mean a moderately slow tempo.

I have found that a little bit of knowledge gives you just enough confidence that you can stumble into creative ways to make a fool of yourself.

It’s much that way with me and music.

I had three years of what you might call “formal training” in playing the piano, and then lots of extemporaneous encounters which have afforded me a scholastic understanding of the craft, similar to storing old papers, discarded clothing and unused appliances in a utility closet. There is no plan for organization–just a bunch of stuff.

So when I saw today’s word, andante, what popped into my mind was what I believe to be a title to a small composition I played when I was a child, pursuing the eighty-eight keys set before me.

It was called Andante Favori. Now let me explain–I do not know if this music actually exists, or if it was a cute title that my piano teacher applied to a piece she wanted me to attempt, and decided to try to make it more appealing.

But as it turns out, as I prepared for today’s essay, I looked it up on the Internet, and discovered that there actually is an Andante Favori. It was written by Beethoven, designated WOO57.

I’m not sure of the translation, but I’m pretty convinced that the title simply means, “A Favorite Andante.”

Not very clever, but in that day and age, composers had to make their living as teachers, and since there was not a lot of printed music available, they penned their own lesson tunes for the students who were given to nobility, but not necessarily talent.

So as I’m writing this today, I am literally punching in a You Tube of somebody playing the piece. I can tell you that it’s not stunning, it’s very simple, and is exactly what an andante should be: completed but not memorable.

So it is with a combination of rejoicing, awe and yet a bit of being unimpressed that I share this with you today.

It’s just nice to know that Ludwig actually wrote the song and it wasn’t an andante of my imagination.



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dictionary with letter A

Anagram: (n) a word or name formed by rearranging the letters of another word, such as cinema, formed from iceman.

The reason I am reluctant to have anyone refer to me as “smart” is that it is so easy for me to come along and disprove their assertion.

It’s not that I want to be counted amongst the ignorant or ill-informed. I don’t wish to be perceived as a dolt, but by the same token, there is a great pending tragedy in allowing oneself to be considered hyper-intelligent.

There are things I do well. For instance:

  • I can write.
  • I can sing.
  • I can play piano.
  • I can compose.

But there are things that demand thinking, intellect and reasoning which for some reason, totally escape me and thrust me to the back of the pack–to the disappointed glances of those who were once my promoters.

So on those occasions when I’m watching television right before prime time, and Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune come on, back to back, I am always humbled by the fact that both of these shows make me feel like an alien to my own species.

Jeopardy!–because there are always questions they call “general knowledge,” which make me look like a major fool in a private arena for dunces.

Wheel of Fortune–because I get so nervous about solving the puzzles but never can beat the people on the show, and end up either making excuses or switching the channel to reruns of Law and Order.

Anagrams are that way with me. Some people can look at them and see words leaping out, forming themselves in mid-air. They have determined the hidden idea within the collection of letters–while I’m still waiting for a “vowel movement.”

I know it’s good to try to learn new things and increase one’s perspective and insight by collective experiences, but I think somewhere along the line you have to determine the aptitude of your own brain, the ability that exists in your gray matter and pursue those adventures with greater zeal–and allow the experts in other fields to surpass you, and hopefully teach and protect you.

It’s not shameful to be dumb sometimes.

The shame only comes when you insist that you really knew the answer … or “somebody cheated.”


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by J. R. Practix

dictionary with letter A

Accordion: (n.)a portable musical instrument with metal reeds blown by bellows, played by means of keys and buttons.

It’s just another thing the Beatles did.

As a young boy, I had run across traveling evangelists who usually had a wife who played the accordion because it granted them a portable musical instrument so they could go into places that did not have a permanent piano or organ. Matter of fact, I have sat through my share of hymns played on this ridiculous squeeze box, and felt, after about fifteen minutes, that I was testing the borders of my sanity.

I don’t know if it is possible to play the instrument well, but it always sounded like it was being played poorly. The combination of whine and the sound that fluctuated from rock and roll decibels to the whisper of lovers in the back seat of a car was aggravating to the human ear and made you wish for the pleasantry of fingernails on the blackboard.

But unbelievably, John, Paul, Ringo and George put together a song and used the accordion in such a way that it almost appeared to have real life and function. It was in We Can Work It Out. I remember turning to one of my friends, nearly gasping, as I asked, “Is that an accordion?”

Yes. The Beatles had taken the cursed sideways keyboard, complete with its bellows, and turned it into something cool.

What I learned from that experience is that you must never turn your back on things that seem doomed to irrelevance or obscurity. Often it’s not the instrument that is truly significant, but rather, the hands that caress it.


by J. R. Practix

dictionary with letter A

Accommodate: (v) 1. of physical space, esp. a building, provide lodging or sufficient space for 2. to fit in with the wishes or needs of.

Yes, I am susceptible to being sucked up by the vacuum cleaner of publicity.

So when HBO announced that it was doing a movie on Liberace, I felt somehow compelled to tune in to see how the subject matter was handled, especially when the performances by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon were touted as awe-inspiring.

I even know this morning that I am supposed to appear to be “intellectual” and part of the flow of our entertainment-minded society by accommodating to everybody’s wishes and making favorable remarks about this offering.

Here’s the basic premise: a guy who can play the piano and not much of anything else, who dressed like a drag queen and lied his entire life about his true personality and sexuality, while simultaneously going through a whole series of obtuse relationships, with the main one being quite emotionally abusive, ends up contracting AIDS and dies in the midst of a cover-up to still convey that he is heterosexual.

Is there anything redeemable here? In the midst of all the discussion about gay marriage and gay rights, this movie flops across the screen, essentially warning us of many of the dangers of sexual promiscuity.

It’s difficult for me to accommodate a society that does not need any traffic to involve itself in an accident. Socially, spiritually and culturally, we keep running our cars into the wall and getting out angry because our vehicles are dented, but having no one to yell at but ourselves.

Of course, we won’t do THAT.

Here I go. At the risk of coming across as out-of-step, failing to accommodate the general hum and drum of our present-day thinking:

People aren’t interesting to me unless they overcome difficulties and find a way to help others.

Creating difficulties for yourself and expanding those problems throughout your life, while displaying a single talent which garnered some sort of notoriety, is not what I call an inspirational tale.

It’s not even a cautionary tale, because it leads people to believe that you can be a successful asshole. I just think that’s an oxymoron. I think if you’re an asshole, we have good reason to question your concept of success.

I do not begrudge the talent of the actors, nor the quality of the scenes. I just think that if the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life would have had a 2013 ending, with George Bailey gunning down Mr. Potter in the street, it might not have had nearly as much lasting effect.

And I will guarantee you, even though I am tempted to accommodate my present surroundings with nods of approval, the present flow of thinking and what we deem to be enriching will be a source of mockery within two decades.

I do not wish Liberace nor his family any ill will. I think he was a very disturbed man, living in a cautious time, who chose insincerity as a protective blanket for his bewilderment.

I just don’t know why it’s a movie.

If you’re going to accommodate all of the fits and fancies of the world around you, you will always find yourself the joke of the next inspired movement that uncovers the present stupidity.