Ponderings and Musings

Time Passes.

In fourth grade I was the only student in Room 202 to be selected for the new “Enrichment” program at our elementary school. Funded by the local BOCES*, “Enrichment” gave select students considered “gifted” the opportunity for educational pursuits outside the traditional classroom paradigm. As described in a newspaper article from back in the day…

“… this program is aimed at meeting some of the special education needs of the school’s more gifted students. One of the more pressing of these needs is that of providing stimulation for the “gifted” child to pursue his or her school learning experiences beyond the limits of the regular classroom curriculum. … Placement is made on the basis of scores achieved on a (locally developed battery of tests. Exceptional social, intellectual, psycho-motor and creative development are among the personal attributes which the tests are designed to identify”.

The Pulaski Democrat, May 2, 1979.

I remember my mom going to the school for a parents’ meeting to discuss the new program, having concerns of me being the only one in Room 202 that was eligible, and ultimately telling me I would be participating in this new program. I can vividly remember my participation in grades four and five, by grade six the funding disappeared and we no longer attended “Enrichment”. The program kept me sane as a student, especially in fifth grade. It was that year that a normally second grade teacher taught fifth grade for the first time and the school decided to mix things up when it came to deciding who would be in what classes. This fifth grade class contained many of that year’s instigators, and it was decided to put five or six of the smarter kids in the class to provide balance for the classroom experience. The experiment was ultimately a failure, I learned what it was like to be bullied for being somewhat intelligent and very different, professional psychologists were brought in to help get the class under control, and it was the very first time I had seen a teacher walk into a closet and shut the door behind her. That was in Room 209, and luckily, the “Enrichment” room was across the hall in Room 210 and the teacher would encourage those of us in the program to go across the hall when things were getting crazy.

This was also the time when it was starting to click even more that I liked boys in the way that I was suppose to like girls and there was one teacher that really piqued my interest, and that was the Enrichment teacher. He was in the building only a few days a week, as he also conducted the BOCES-funded program at neighboring schools. I remember him being a super-nice guy, with a big, red, bushy beard, a very pleasant demeanor, and to a fifth grade boy that was starting to like other boys, super cute. One day he came in clean shaven and I still found him super cute, it didn’t change his demeanor at all, he just looked different, and then he grew a mustache within a month. I last saw him when I was in high school, he was attending a gathering of some sort with the special education teacher and other teachers from the county. He had the big beard again, gave me a hearty hello, and shook my hand. Honestly, my heart melted again, I felt my teenage hormones kick in, and I entertained that memory of him later that night.

I was bored the other night and decided to Google the teacher’s name to see what he was up to. I don’t know why he crossed my mind, but I had remembered him being a couple years younger than my folks and that he was originally from the western part of the state.

He passed away this past December. No photo, no family mentioned, and very little other than his birth date and where that happened, the date he passed, and the funeral director handling the arrangements. No mention of spouse or children, what he was doing, where he was doing it, just that he passed and handled by a funeral parlor.

This made me a little sad.

As I grow older I sometimes wonder if we’re suppose to thank people in our past for the joy they brought to our life or apologize for something we did when we were stupid and then realized it was stupid when we were smarter. Is this suppose to be part of this thing we call life? I’m sure my Enrichment teacher was very private about his life, obviously his obituary points to this, so I share these thoughts here.

Thank you, Mr. Rayburn, for being a steadying force in a tumultuous fifth grade experience by just being there in Room 210. Thanks for being my first crush. Rest In Peace.

 *BOCES stands for Board Of Cooperative Educational Services. This is a New York State Educational program providing shared educational services for a region. When I was in school it was generally by county, since then the regions have become larger and the services more centralized.

Memory.

We went to a small family gathering today. My uncle brought along a photo album with some old photos; here I am with my sister and Grandma City. I can vividly remember this photo being taken and I think I was somewhere between two and three years old.

There were several other photos that I scanned with my phone and they make me smile. It’s been a good weekend here in Central New York and it was wonderful to see some of my relatives. Tomorrow we head back home to the desert and I’m looking forward to that as well.

Perspective.

There are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on this blue marble we call Earth. I choose to never forget this fact. It keeps me humble. Our moment in this life is fleeting, nothing more than a flash. After the last breath, my only hope is I am remembered with a smile.

Photos taken tonight at 7:00 PM MST from four miles up Mount Lemmon with my iPhone 13 Pro laying on a steady spot. No flash, no zoom, no special equipment. Keep it simple.

RIP JoAnna Cameron.

In 1975 one of my favorite shows was the latter half of “The Shazam/Isis Hour”. Hyped up on Honeycomb cereal with two extra tablespoons of sugar, all smothered with raw milk from the dairy farm down the street, my sister and I watched “The Secrets of Isis”. JoAnna Cameron was the lead as Andrea Thomas who could pull out an Egyptian amulet, face the sky, and proclaim “Oh Mighty Isis!” and turn into a superhero to save the day. Many Gen-Xers can incant, “Oh Zephyr Winds which blow on high, lift me now so I can fly.”

Ms. Cameron passed away earlier this week at age 70, after suffering from a stroke. She had retired from acting in 1980, though at one point she held the Guinness Book of World Records for having appeared in the most commercials.

RIP JoAnna Cameron. Thank you for bringing many smiles and warm memories to my life.

Gracefully.

Aging gracefully is a beautiful thing. There’s a meme going around on Twitter where we’re encouraged to post a photo if we wear glasses. I posted a photo and immediately lost three followers. I don’t usually notice my follower count, because honestly I don’t really care how many people follow my inane tweets, but the change in number caught my eye and I was a little bit surprised.

I wear glasses. My mustache is gray. I have a gut and I don’t have a six pack that anyone can see. I’m comfortable in my skin, I’m probably in what could be called my mid-50s and I know who I am.

I’m happy being me.

I don’t feel the need to color anything or pull anything tight or inject anything to smooth anything. I’ve earned the laugh lines and I’ve learned to laugh more.

I’m happy being me at 53 and I look forward to what the future brings.

Dead.

Work just started a company obituary page on the corporate-wide website to do the typical obituary thing for co-workers that have passed. Many have passed recently due to “COVID-19 related complications”. Too many.

I think the biggest thing I’ve lost during the pandemic is my compassion for folks who choose to remain ignorant.

Cleanliness.

We stopped at a McDonalds on our way home from Vegas this past weekend. The self-serve kiosks were malfunctioning, no one was at the traditional registers, and their seemed to be a sense of panic from the back.

Plus, folks didn’t care if paper was strewn all over the lobby as they picked up their food.

We are not in what I would call “the golden era of American society”.

Remember When…

One of things I like about the Photos app on Mac and iOS is one can type the date into the search bar and see all the photos taken over the years on that date. I’m sure you can do this with Google Photos and the like, and it probably works better than the Apple counterpart (albeit with less privacy) so ultimately this practice is fun for the whole family.

I typed in today’s date and was reminded of a trip to Kansas City. My husband was there on business and I was working remotely (as a digital nomad) and discovering the convention area where we were staying. I didn’t remember much about this trip until I saw this photo pop-up; I stopped into a barbershop outside of Kansas City and got a shave from this barber who posed with me for a Yelp photo. I remember the barber, his name was Jarrit (with that distinct spelling). I also remember he didn’t cut me or slice my throat or anything.

Socially.

I try not to comment on “deep” subjects on social media, especially on Reddit, but I was having a lucid moment when I was browsing through r/space, so I shared a few thoughts there.

Artistry.

In the fall of 1986 I was headed to SUNY Fredonia as a Tuba Player with an intended major of Music Education. In high school having performed in both chorus and band, and all the school musicals, and every “select” and “all-county” and “all-state” avenue possible as a high school musician, I figured as a young gay man I was destined to become a music teacher. I would probably end up in a rural school district not much different than the small town school district I grew up in. I’d teach music to junior and senior high schoolers, probably garner a few rumors in the mill about my homosexuality, and do my best to educate our promising artistic youth. Personal questions would fall to the wayside.

Ultimately it turns out that’s not the way I’m wired.

I originally auditioned at SUNY Fredonia as a vocal major but they deemed me not good enough. I was “too pop or Broadway” sounding and they wanted me to be able to sing in three different languages in an operatic voice. My singing voice to this day is more geared to covers of Human League songs (hey hey hey hey). Not to be deterred, I auditioned at SUNY Fredonia a second time (it was the only school the family could afford at the time) as a tuba player and I was accepted into the music education program. This acceptance was probably on a wing and a prayer. As a tuba player the audition process was easy; there wasn’t that many tuba players and as long as one could read music and play a B-flat scale, you were in. All-county band was the same way. All-state band was the same way. It’s what a tuba player does. There’s usually three tuba player slots in any given band or orchestra, and we’d be lucky if three tuba players auditioned to begin with. Grab a baritone player if you have to, and all that.

By the end of my senior year of high school any passion I had for playing the tuba has dissipated. Deep down I knew this. I never vocalized it. I soldiered on. I had other career ideas; computer engineer, civil engineer, airline pilot, but these things didn’t seem gay enough and I knew I was gay and knew that gay boys did things like music and art. That’s the way it was, at least in my head, and I had no gay role models or avenues to know otherwise. I had no plans other than to be come a music teacher. After all, in 1986 that’s way gay boys did: fly under the radar, do what gay boys do (like become a music teacher), keep your mouth shut, and your liaisons private. Yes, Mom and Dad, I was still a virgin when you dropped me off at college in August of ’86.

I lasted two semesters at SUNY Fredonia because I had lost the passion needed to achieve my preconceived goals. I was still figuring out who I was and that was taking too much bandwidth from my studies. This, coupled with my lack of passion for what I was suppose to be doing, destined me for failure.

Playing tuba was fun but ultimately tedious. I could take it or leave it. I didn’t feel the drive to hole myself up in a practice room three hours a day to run scales or “Flight of the Bumble Bee” on a tuba. I really wanted to sing. Since I had bombed the initial audition (I knew the day of that vocal audition that I had bombed it but it would be a week or two before I had confirmation via U.S. Mail), the team at SUNY Fredonia threw me into a “remedial vocal lessons” class with a handful of other student failures in an attempt to get us to sing like Pavarotti. I ended up sounding like the front guy of “Simple Minds” and still cracked an A in the course. The professor of remedial voice has no idea why I was in the class, as I could “sight sing” and had nearly perfect pitch when asked to sing a scale or a designated part in a complicated piece. I just did it all as if I was on a stage on Broadway or in a dive bar. And I did it loudly. In high school we were all trained to sing loudly as the school couldn’t afford a sound system for the 700-seat auditorium. In the interim I had discovered the art of being gay, drinking some alcohol, and watching men take a shower and more importantly to my wiring, shave in front of the sink in their underwear in the communal dorm bathroom. That was hot.

When I ultimately failed out of SUNY Fredonia, simply because I had lost my passion for my artistry and what was really not where I wanted to begin life, I was not sad. In the second semester of my freshman year I had several opportunities to sing with others; we formed a cover band and sang in the student center. A bunch of us would jam in practice rooms of one of the smaller performance auditoriums in Mason Hall and sing a bunch of current hits. Our voices would mingle, the keyboards and other instruments would sing, and it was a glorious experience. It was like “Fame” without Shady Sadie. Collaborative artistry is a beautiful thing and that was the only time I ever felt fulfilled as a person at SUNY Fredonia. As a tuba player I never found that magic. As a vocalist, I could sing all over pop songs with little effort. We even laid down some tracks in the newly christened recording studio on campus and did our own cover of Toto’s “Africa”. I never wanted to sing solo, I always wanted to be in the background singing vocals to fill-in the musicality of the piece. The first time my backing vocals were multitracked in that recording studio on the left at the end of the hall was magical. My heart soared and I was beaming ear to ear. The tape was subsequently erased because we were just fooling around with the equipment, but it was a magic I knew I loved.

I haven’t found that satisfaction as a musician since those days in 1987. Not to worry, my life has not been lacking in any way; I have done plenty in my life that I’ve found artistically and aesthetically fulfilling, but I would give anything to get together with a bunch of other middle aged musicians one more time and have a weekend long jam session covering 80s tracks. Once in a while I’ll peruse through ads on Craig’s List looking to see if any 80s cover bands are looking for singers. I once sent a recording in response to an ad in Chicago. I never heard anything back from them. Maybe I should look around here in Tucson.

Pop music of the 80s was a magical time. It still required real musicians, autotune would be over a decade away (and still way too soon), and there were only basic electronic gizmos adding to the mix. You didn’t have to be pretty, you had to be talented. Pretty helped as the 80s wore on, but in the early days it wasn’t important. You leaned on your talents first.

I think of these things when I see old music videos from the 80s, especially the first half of the decade. Sometimes I wonder if I had to stayed on a vocal path with a passion fueling that path if I would have had any chance of maybe singing backing vocals for someone famous someday. After my stint at SUNY Fredonia I did lay down a couple of backing tracks for a band in Cleveland, Ohio, and for a friend who was majoring in Sound Recording in Connecticut. I know what happened to the backing tracks in Cleveland; the band didn’t really hit success and disbanded before the end of that decade. The Connecticut tracks were never to be heard again. But being in a studio, much like that studio on the left at the end of the hall in Old Mason at SUNY Fredonia, was never daunting. It was magical.

Before I kick the bucket, I need to find that magic, at least one more time.