Concert

Concert: (n) a musical performance given in public

At a very early age I convinced myself I could sing. Growing up in a small village, there was not much competition–and since I was willing to intone and offer my voice as a possibility, folks around my community had no reason to doubt my prowess.

So when I graduated from high school, rather than heading off to college and finding out if anyone outside of Delaware County thought I funny wisdom on words that begin with a C
could sing, I put together a music group, started writing some of my own songs and planned concerts.

I immediately learned the difficulty in concert promotion.

  1. Just because you think you can sing does not mean anybody wants to hear you.
  2. And if you can convince them to come to your concert, it may require that you offer some other stimulus, like refreshments. Or prizes.
  3. If anything else comes up before the concert, or even on concert day, which is more alluring, chances are that promise to attend, even by your friends, is quickly forsaken.
  4. People’s patience in hearing you sing is based upon how well you can take them to a happier (or sad) place and make them glad they went there.
  5. Just because you can sing doesn’t mean anybody wants to buy a recording of you doing it, so they can play it in their free time.

These were tough lessons.

So ferocious was my training during this period that I often found it difficult to supply food for my family and was only able to lodge as long as I could dodge coming face-to-face with the landlord.

It was actually many years before anyone, of their own volition, walked up to me and said, “Hey! When’s your next concert?”

I froze the moment in my mind… and replay it frequently.

 

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Community

Community: (n) a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.

Our little village was filled with community pride.

It was cute–a little bigger than a postage stamp, yet you could walk around the entire downtown area in less than ten minutes.

Growing up there, I was taught that community is not so much sharing a location, but rather, absorbing a basic ideology.

I’m not sure who came up with the standards or the principles which were passed down among the locals and inhaled like air, but generally speaking, you could do well in my community if you understood the mindset and the dress code.

If for some reason, you wanted to vary from the common universal brain, or clothe yourself in such a way as to gain too much attention, then you were initially viewed as comical.

If you persisted, you went from comical to being deemed confused.

And if confusion was maintained, then you would be considered dangerous and need to be dealt with by the negative approaches established by our community.

It was a very successful system.

We were able, through this system, to keep all blacks, Hispanics, gays, lesbians and long-haired rock and rollers far from our borders–without ever firing a shot.

The teeny tiny handful of those who remained were simply ostracized–or maybe just received really poor mail service.

None of the people in our community considered themselves prejudiced–just enamored by a preference. After all, if you wanted varying behaviors, you could drive twenty miles down the road to the Big City, where there were all sorts of options available, complete with rape, murder and a variety of other crimes. We were thoroughly frightened of the outside world, without ever being officially indoctrinated into a cult.

But our community was a cult.

I found this out when I wanted to stray from the daily routine and pursue my own ideas. No one struck me, no one physically attacked me, and no one even openly rebuked me. They just left me out of everything.

The system works to this day. All across America little towns have a network of gossipers who warn of suspicious arrivals, allowing the community a chance to provide the inconsideration to drive good folks away.

 

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Clean-cut

Clean-cut: (adj) giving the appearance of neatness and respectability.

He was Mr. Wintermute.

I did not know his first name since I was a young boy and was not allowed to speak it, or for that matter, hear it. He was our village barber.
He cut hair.

I didn’t like to have my hair cut. I didn’t have any reason. Mr. Wintermute was a nice enough fellow. I suppose in today’s culture, we might accuse him of having “soft hands,” but such things were not considered when I was a young’un growing up.

He offered two possibilities in his shop. The first was called “regular,” and the second was called “butch.”

A butch haircut was one that was combed to the top and then clipped down to look like grass on a putting green.

A regular haircut was a little splash of hair left on the top and white walls on the sides.

Mr. Wintermute did not take special orders.

He had a little speech he delivered every time I went into his chair. “Yes, it’s good that you came. You’re looking a little shaggy, like the dog in the Disney movie. Let’s see what we can do to make you look clean-cut again.”

By clean-cut, Wintermute meant shaving everything in sight, leaving unattractive stubble around the ears, and a clump of what appeared to be crab grass on top. Of course, that clump needed to be clean-cut also, so he offered Brylcreem to smooth it down. And even though “a little dab’ll do you,” Mr. Wintermute was much more generous.

I would actually walk out of the barber shop feeling chilly–because suddenly my ears were on their own, to stay warm. My chubby face now just looked fat–and all the adults around me, who were advocates of clean-cut, “o-o-h-ed and a-h-h-ed” to maintain the belief that how one cut one’s hair actually had something to do with character.

Mr. Wintermute has long ago passed away. I think he would be very pleased that I wrote this essay about him, highlighting a time in American history when how we looked was the essence of who we were.

 

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City

City: (n) a large town.

The fear of the unknown is the beginning of bigotry. (I just came up with that. What do you think??)

This was clearly expressed to me growing up as a boy. (I started out as a lad and decided to stick with it.)

I lived in a Village of 1,500 people. This is the crowd size for a medium-famous rock band.

It’s small enough that you can eyeball everybody, size them up and make ridiculously quick decisions on who they are and who they aren’t. It’s not so much that everybody knows everybody–it’s the fact that nobody really knows anybody, but because we’re so close together, we draw conclusions anyway.

You had to drive ten miles to get to the Town. We hated them. They were our arch-rivals–because they had about 25,000 people. They beat our high school teams in every sport, and we were convinced they were all brats, strutting around their houses smirking at each other and sneering at our little Village.

Sometimes the boys from our Village would go down to the Dairy Queen and pick fights with the Town guys. We always lost. But at least we tried, right?

Now–another twelve miles from the Town was the City. Even though the Village was only twenty miles away, the City was the “Dark Side of the Moon.”

There were only certain reasons to go there.

Movies. There was only one theater in the Town, and it usually just showed Disney flicks. If you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to the City, which meant you had to listen to a fifteen-minute lecture from your mom and dad about the dangers lurking in the metropolis, which had several hundred thousand folks.

They also had restaurants instead of “Mom and Pop food.” When I went to the City, I always thought I was going to be robbed, raped or killed–maybe all three.

As a youngster, it caused me to believe that the smaller things are, the more pure they stay–that it was impossible to live in the Town and do good works, and certainly beyond imagination to dwell in the City and find favor with God.

The fear of big things caused the young people of our Village to pick up on the vices of the City without ever receiving the benefits of culture, convenience and camaraderie.

It took me years to overcome the little box that lived in my head, which was supposed to contain everything I needed–yes, a long time to go into the City, bringing what I had learned in the Town, while maintaining the heart and soul of my Village.

 

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Barn

Barn: (n) a large farm building used for storing grain, hay, straw or for housing livestock.Dictionary B

I grew up in a small town of 1,500 people.

One of the nice things about living in a village is that if you own one thing that others don’t, you are cool–and if by some miracle you have two, then you are rich.

I was on the junior high school basketball team.

A friend of mine lived right outside town and had a barn adjacent to his house. His parents had built, in the hayloft, a basketball court, complete with two hoops and a lovely wood floor.

It was magnificent.

I’m sure if I saw it today, it would appear rustic and dank. But to us, born in a little burg, it was Madison Square Haygarden.

My friend had never invited me up to play basketball. Other members of the team had been numerous times, but I was never included.

It hurt my feelings.

So one day when I was at his house, I just popped off with the question. “Hey, why don’t we go out to the barn and play some basketball?”

My friend was nervous but agreed. So we climbed up the steps, onto the court, and were bouncing and shooting away, when suddenly the floor just beneath my feet broke through and I fell straight down through the hole, catching myself by my armpits.

There I was, legs dangling to the floor beneath, wedged into a small opening, unable to get myself out.

Finally my friend was able to gather three or four other guys, along with his dad, to pull me out of the crevice and set me back onto firm lumber.

My friend then explained that this was why he had never invited me to the basketball court–he knew I was too heavy and might break through, but kept praying the whole time that everything would be okay.

It wasn’t.

I learned two valuable lessons that day:

  1. If you’re going to be fat, sometimes you’ll be left out of the skinny games.
  2. Prayer doesn’t always keep you from falling through the cracks…and dangling by your pits.

 

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Ballboy

Ballboy: (n) a boy who retrieves balls that go out of play during a game such as tennis or baseballDictionary B

I grew up in a village which was about 20 miles from a big city.

Even though we insisted that we were an autonomous population. we privately knew that we had to go 20 miles to actually be entertained or purchase clothes that were not second-hand.

Every once in a while, the big city would invade our little burg with a possibility. This happened when I was ten years old.

The minor league baseball team which headquartered in the big city decided to bless the neighboring burrows with an opportunity–to let one of the favorite sons be a ballboy for one night at the park.

It was a big deal.

You got to go to the game, put on a uniform and run out and chase balls that went awry, or give bats to the superstars.

So they further made a big deal of it by holding an audition to select the ballboy, which drew a crowd of about 45 kids between the ages of ten and twelve.

I was one of them.

Even though I did not like baseball very well, I was fairly athletic and certainly competitive. So at the end of fielding flies, chasing balls, and even some opportunity to use the bat, the committee selected me to be the ball boy for this game.

I had never won anything in my life expect the privilege of being born.

My skin was tingling, my head was swimming and the rest of me just wanted to pee.

So they took me into a room and pulled out the uniform I was to wear for the game and asked me to try it on.

It didn’t fit. Not even close.

I was chubby, which is what my parents called it, and everybody else knew to be fat.

I tried hard to fit into that uniform. I said that by next week I could lose some weight. But reluctantly, they awarded the opportunity to the boy who came in second place. Even though he had less ability, he also had less blubber.

I was shocked.

I was devastated.

And on top of that, I heard a giggle or two from the gallery, causing me to feel humiliation.

Until I sat down and wrote this essay today, I did not realize that I still had remnants of feelings about the injustice. Here’s an idea–one we might want to use in the future, even when electing our leaders:

Let’s find the best person for the job, and then pick the outfit.

 

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