That NEW Adage

A pressure-relief valve about God, and just about everything else.

God’s Mysterious Ways Often Become Clear to Those who Wait

I was born in Florida and grew up in Memphis. I always took pride in the fact that I was born where my father was born, and while I am proud of the music heritage Memphis has, the town always left me disappointed in almost every other area. Racism is in the DNA, the politics and general mindset are archaic and mired in a ditch, and crime is stratospheric. Education is teetering over the abyss, and job opportunities are scarce.

There are thousands of world-class musicians and artists, but in order to be heard by the world one must leave.

As a child, my parents stressed education and diversity of interests. We had books on a wide array of subjects — geography, animals, trees, national parks — and we were given an appreciation of things like nature and solar systems and music and vocabulary and sports and writing and drawing. I wanted that for my progeny as well. The kids with whom I grew up had the most mundane desires and often ridiculed me for liking “white boy stuff” like books and chess and the like. And it was only because I had parents who were teachers and who values education and home-training that I could represent myself fairly well when speaking formally.

Once I got married and had kids, my wife and I always hoped to move to Nashville so that she could have better employment choices and so that the children would not have to go through what I went through. But I wasn’t going to move with no musical contacts and have to wind up getting a job in a factory or a call center somewhere. I wanted to be established first.

Before we moved here to Las Vegas, work was drying up like water in the Serengeti in June. I want to be this famous saxophone player and songwriter, and Memphis was showing itself to not be the place for ME. People just don’t call sax players first for jobs. We are non-essential extras. Kathy was on maternity leave and didn’t want to go back to that dead-end job, and finding a new one — even though she is a college graduate — was proving impossible. Bills were piling up with no prospects of being paid… Life was miserable. We were constantly knocking on God’s door begging for assistance with waning faith.

The best thing about Memphis for us was our church and our families.

My daughter and youngest son have eczema (it had taken a lot of Diana’s hair, and her skin was always breaking out), and my eldest son has problems with all the pollen and such in Memphis. We were also wondering about how they would develop when they started school. I’m a proud product of the public school system, but things are so different now… Homeschooling was not an option for many reasons. I wanted my kids to be broad-minded but proud of their heritage and culture, and Memphis is such a racially polarized town.

Fast forward to now:

Everyone is FLOURISHING!

I have worked in Vegas numerous times over the years, and I never was overly impressed — not being a gambler. The Strip is beautiful, but I thought once you got past that, there was nothing else to see. How wrong I was!

This is a wonderful place! Mountainous (which I always wanted) and picturesque. There is actually an attractive quality to the desert. And there are a thousand things within a few hours’ drive… The Grand Canyon, San Diego,  Hollywood, Hoover Dam, San Francisco, Yellowstone, Yosemite…

The area is incredibly diverse, so my kids won’t have to suffer life in a racist fishbowl to the degree that I did (although…). And they will have interests that extend beyond the usual — TV, video games, and a 9 to 5. They will see so many things that we wouldn’t have been able to afford to show them.

The area is spread out enough that a good neighborhood is not one block away from a bad one like back home. The architecture is interesting, and the weather is more to my liking because I HATE being cold!! And there are more work opportunities for me here if my current gig plays out. I make three times what I made back home, where saxophone players are considered “options” like heated seats in a car, or 50 inch plasma televisions, or shiny, spinning rims.

I feel exactly like a biblical figure saved by God from a famine, a flood, or a fire. He got us out of a place that — for us — was becoming desolate and depressing. He uprooted us and lined events up in so obvious a way that we had no doubt that God was orchestrating them. And then, He showed us what would have been. It is almost spooky, knowing that there is actually Someone else — who we cannot see — in the room doing stuff! God changed so much for us! We paid off our car early, got my son in a great school, got a second vehicle big enough for all of us, and we got a bigger, more comfortable home with nice amenities. Diana’s hair is thick and full, her skin is soft, and Max doesn’t have nearly the issues with allergies as back home. My kids are blossoming before our eyes like dogwoods. Kathy is exercising — even running — and is much, much happier with life than she was a year ago.  And we both have drastically changed our eating habits in order that we may be here for the kids. Little to no salt and sugar, smaller portions, no sherbet :-(, no candy, and no fatty foods.  We have both lost a lot of  lbs. in the past three months. I’m actually writing this between weightlifting sets…

All this came from my saxophone, which was another answered prayer.

But there is a problem… In order to achieve all this we had to move 1,600 miles away from every single person we love! It is incredibly difficult to juxtapose missing mothers, fathers, siblings, church members, and best friends with the advantages existent here. It is like our arms are running while our legs are walking leisurely.

We used to have Sunday dinners at my parents’ house weekly. They got to see the kids on a regular basis, something I never had with MY grandparents and always wanted for my children. Moving so far away meant that they would no longer be able to see the children grow up and develop. They would not be able to see them at the drop of a hat. That alone made this the hardest decision I have ever made in my life. While my folks are happy for us, I KNOW they’re heartbroken but won’t admit it. In order to function, I have to try to not dwell on it too much…

Before I got married, I saw my parents five or six times a week. I would come home from road gigs and go to their house in the middle of the night and sit at the foot of their bed in the dark and tell them stories about what happened and we would just laugh… Once I got married, though, I stopped all that in order to be true to the biblical mandate to “leave and cleave.” But we still had Sundays when we, my sisters, and my nephews would all get together after church. I had a weakness for Bluebell Homemade Vanilla ice cream, and Mom knew that and kept a ready supply for me in her freezer. I treasured those days and never thought about them ending.

But I think about biblical times when, if a family moved away — as so many did — it could mean they would NEVER see their loved ones again! At least we have planes now. My parents moved away from their childhood homes — my father moved almost as far away as I did. That, in part, was why I wanted my kids to have relationships with their grandparents, since I never really did.

Weighing the pros and cons, though, tipped the scales in favor of the move. There were just TOO many signs, answered prayers, and obliterated obstacles! And I couldn’t show myself to be the true head of this family if I couldn’t bear the excruciating pain of leaving “Mama” to give them a better life. I’m not naive! I KNOW this is Vegas with all its attendant pitfalls and dangers. But you should know — as I now do — that Las Vegas is waaay more than The Strip!

I feel stressed sometimes, as the Disciples and the wandering children of Israel did even in the very presence of God, but He has shown Himself  gracious and faithful. My job is precarious in the sense that I have only EVER been fired by THIS particular organization, but God is bigger than all that, and if He brought us out here which He obviously did, He did not do so as some cruel trick knowing what all is at stake… Following Him is like riding out on the wing of an airplane; frightful but exhilarating, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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May 25, 2011 Posted by | Christian Life, Christianity, Family, Fatherhood, Fear, God, God's Hand, Life, Life Lessons, Marriage, Parenthood | 7 Comments

What can I get for two smashed flies?

The last two weeks have been very tough.

Three weeks ago, my wife went to a sort of family reunion that her folks have every year around Memorial Day. I wasn’t able to go because I had to play in an annual Marvin Gaye tribute the same day. (I wish I could post the audio. We had a six-piece horn section, with strings and four background singers! It was AWESOME!)

In attendance was an uncle (my mother-in-law’s brother), who  rarely visited, due to numerous factors — he lives in Denver, and he has been involved in self-destructive behavior. According to my wife, he was very bitter and angry. I say “was” because while at the reunion he demonstrated a dramatic change.

He was kind, joyful, and he went from person to person apologizing for years of hurt and damage. He had gotten saved and was part of — and resident of — a church mission in Denver where people struggling to get back on their feet came to live and worship. He was known to go out into the streets and preach the Gospel to drug addicts and alcoholics.

Kathy told me about it when she got home.

A week later he was dead.

Just like that. Kathy called me crying and saying that someone had shot him. MURDERED him. A man that he had mentioned, Leon, had been “bothering” him incessantly — taking his things and provoking him. He told his family about it at the reunion. This was corroborated by Uncle’s friends. Leon, who had a gash on his forehead, shot him twice in the stomach. In the kitchen of the church!!! The police arrested Leon.

And Kathy made another trip down to the country for a funeral of a murdered man ten days after he had been the source of so much joy and relief. A man not even sixty years old, and not sick, in a box built for someone — anyone — else. It was horrible! There was, through the anger and anguish, comfort and amazement at how God allowed Uncle to neatly organize and stack his affairs before calling him up.

Insult was added to injury, however, when Kathy got a phone call as she was walking into the funeral home for the wake. They let him go. They let Leon go, saying that it was SELF DEFENSE, substantiated by the cut on his head!!! So just as family members had steeled themselves to view the body, the Denver police unleashed the cruelest cut of all!

I am angry. We ALL are. It is said in the black community that black life is worth decidedly less than white life. I have seen schoolmates killed, neighbors killed, and the perpetrators received “11/29”. Less than a year, or no time at all for killing another black person. I have said and heard it said in fights and arguments that, “if I kill you, I’ll be out before they bury you!” and I saw it happen two weeks ago!

I think about Natalie Holloway, and The Runaway Bride, and countless other white men and women who go missing or are killed by their husbands, or are abducted. The world stops spinning. “Inside Edition,” and “Nightline” run them as lead stories, while all I see about my wife’s uncle are the racist comments left by so many online cowards: “Way to go, Leon! That’s TWO niggers off the streets!! Let ’em all kill each other!” I had to make Kathy get off the computer. She was torturing herself.

It is amazing that a man can be shot in the belly in the kitchen of a church mission only to have the investigation wrapped up before the wake, with the killer released because he was defending his life!!! Against what? Why did he have a GUN?!!? What about unlawful possession and/or discharge of a firearm? Throwaway People, I guess.

Curiously, my wife’s own inquiries revealed that:

A. The “Pastor” of the mission got into an argument with Kathy’s uncle right before he left, the argument ending with Uncle’s declaration that he was leaving the ministry.

B. The “Pastor has been under investigation for shady practices.

C. Leon was heard more than once threatening to kill certain people at the mission, Uncle being one.

D. The “Pastor” has — get THIS — taken out life insurance policies on his congregants (homeless and down-and-out people with no one else to fight for them) with himself as the beneficiary!!!

Smoking guns indeed!

It is cold comfort to know that if I suffer the misfortune of being slain, I don’t have the intrinsic worth to get the necessary attention. Justice’s blindfold has a slit in it when it comes to me. And mine.

June 22, 2010 Posted by | Christianity, Death, Life, Life Lessons, Race, Racism | 1 Comment

More MAXims

The REALLY young don’t think they are.

This is to those who seek to hide their bad behavior behind youth, when what they actually do is reveal the cleverness it takes to make the excuse.

“I’m young. I’m only 23. I’m gonna make mistakes.”

If you have enough sense to say that, you have enough sense not to do what you did!

June 18, 2009 Posted by | Adage, Advice, Life, Life Lessons, Maxims, Proverbs, Sin, Words, Words of Wisdom, Youth | 2 Comments

MAXims

Those who can, do.

Those who CAN’T, criticize those who can.

Those who can’t yet, keep trying.

For the jazz snobs.

(“All he’s playing is a pentatonic scale…” “That’s not jazz. That’s just the blues scale.” “He’s just a scale player.” “Anybody can play that. It’s just a bunch of patterns.”)

June 18, 2009 Posted by | Adage, Advice, Jealousy, Life, Life Lessons, Maxims, Music | 1 Comment

The Squeaky Wheel Gets FIRED! *edit

I still blog, but I’ve been busy. Partly, dealing with the following:

Unfair treatment is often a sign of Salvation.

I used to play in this Christian jazz band but the leader let me go in a shady, dishonorable way.

While I was extremely angry at first, it was not for being fired, but for the lies that clouded the firing.

I had many issues with his leadership, and told him so on a number of occasions.

And because I work on ONE of our TWO rehearsal nights — and thought I would have to quit because I suspected that he would not be willing to accommodate me — he made moves (unbeknownst to me) to replace me, rehearsing my replacement while I thought I still played the one time a month gig.

After many heated words and seething anger, I have let it go. I am much clearer of mind not having to deal with the stress of learning so many tunes to only play only once a month. And I don’t have to any longer be bothered with trying to deal with subpar leadership and untruths.

 I have learned great lessons, chiefly that all that glitters is not necessarily Christian, and that God works His wonders through our suffering.

I am further motivated to win — to let fulfillment of potential supplant righteous vengeance. To let achievement be the counter-punch to that slap in the face.

While my desire is to name names and point fingers and give details, God has allowed me — through the THIRD version of this post — to just state the silhouette and move along.

THAT’S what I’ve been doing.

Oh, and I got my new horn!

My Horn

May 14, 2009 Posted by | Advice, Christianity, Life, Life Lessons, Live Music, Music, Work | 7 Comments

How I Learned the Bible

“How you gone just sit there and let all them people in front of you? I got somewhere to be! D&%n Good Samaritan! If you ain’t gone drive it, park it!” exclaimed my father, stuck in traffic behind a courteous slow driver.

“Ohhh.” I thought, putting two and two together… “A ‘good Samaritan’ is someone who helps someone else for no apparent reason.” My parents used to use that one a lot.

“G@d! Je$us! Man, PASS the ball! Quit being so d&%n selfish!!” Shouted my father at Andrew Toney, who played for the Sixers back in the day.

“Ohhh!” I realized, “Jesus is God in the flesh, and He committed the most unselfish act of all. I get it now.”

“If I come in this house and these dishes ain’t washed, It’s gone be Armageddon up in here when I get back!” Said my mother upon reaching the end of the rope.

“Ohhh! Armageddon is the battle that occurs at the end of the world!” I discovered after a few times of failing to meet a deadline due to procrastination…

“I don’t know why you askin’ ME for no money! I’m poor as Job’s turkey!”

“Ohhh!” I gathered. “Job was a man, like Daddy, who had had a lot of kids, and was incredibly poor at some point. And if HE didn’t have nothing, you KNOW his turkey was broke! Sorry for asking, Dad.”

Great teachers I had.

(How I learned Civics) “Bring less than a ‘B’ in here if you want to! It’s gone take a act of Congress to pull me off you!!”

(How I learned what color rice was)“Boy! If you don’t turn off that TV and do your homework, I’mma be on you like white on rice!!”

January 14, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Childhood, Children, Christ, Christian Life, Christianity, Family, God, Humor, Life, Life Lessons, Parenthood, Parenting | 2 Comments

45 Years and Counting…

Happy Anniversary, guys! Thank you for sticking it out when so many don’t. When marriage is seen as something to do, or not do, you have persevered.

Thank you for thinking enough of us to insulate us and to give us two parents who think more of us than of periodic pain. Thank you for being mature and true to your vows to God.

My kids will know that love is more than hugging and kissing — that love is staying and working — and hugging and kissing. They will know because I know because YOU knew. Your children love you, and their children love you.

 

23 Dec 63

23 Dec 63

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And Now...

And Now...

December 25, 2008 Posted by | Anniversary, Children, Christian Life, Fatherhood, Life, Life Lessons, Marriage, Motherhood, Parenthood, Parenting | 7 Comments

What They Taught Me

Boys love their fathers. I am no exception. No one loves his father more than I love mine.

But my mother is equally as excellent in my eyes. They taught me so much — they still do — and now that I am a parent, I want to be the same thing and show the same things to mine.

I know that in this age, it is not as vogue or common to have parents or be parents. If that is you, feel free to change the trend and use my example. There are many more, but these are the ones I can recall.

1 Tough it out. My folks never quit anything. They got up and went to work well or sick every day. I didn’t miss more than a dozen days of school in twelve years.

2 “Don’t let nobody hit you and you not hit ’em back!” My MOTHER told me that before my father got the chance to! Life doesn’t put up with cowards.

3 “Burn the midnight oil.” Ma drilled this into my head. And I saw her raise four kids five and a half years apart from top to bottom while teaching school in the daytime, night school at night, and getting her Master’s degree!

4 Share. Daddy was tight with his Tang (remember Tang?), but to this day, I can’t say, “Ma! That waffle iron is great!” without her trying to give it to me! And when I needed eye surgery in my late twenties and didn’t have the money (I was just starting out as a road musician), my pop paid for it out of his pocket.

5 Know how to fix stuff. My daddy showed me how to work with tools, fix faucets and change alternators. Even though he didn’t have a father to show HIM.

6 Don’t procrastinate. My mother would scold me to death on those perpetual Sunday nights as I wrote my term papers and handed the pages to her to type at three and four in the morning.

7 Be helpful. Be willing to give until it hurts.See number six.

8 Don’t ever hit a girl. I had three big-mouthed sisters. I failed at times, but I got it before it became crucial.

9 Know the answers. My folks stressed education. Bad grades were met with pain, and later with disappointment.

10 Sit up front and shut up unless you have a question. “I’m sendin’ you to school to learn, not to be no clown!” The night before my first day of school.

11 Read. Read everything.

12 Do YOUR job. No matter if no one is looking. Don’t let the next man have to carry your load. Got that from Ma.

13 The worst thing in the world is a thief, and a liar is the second. Ma.

14 Don’t kiss behinds. (I cleaned that one up) Yep. Ma.

15 Family sticks together. If your family member is in a fight, I don’t care if he’s winnin’, you pick up the biggest stick you can find a knock the…Nosy neighbor, Mrs. Burrell to my mother: “Allie, high come I jus’ saw yo’ kids walkin’ up tha street carr’n sticks an’ thangs’?”  I was in a fight up the street.

16 Stay married. No matter what. December 23, 1963 and counting…

17 Don’t argue in front of the kids. Don’t yell. They never did.

18 Don’t be weak. Don’t show fear.

19 Speak up! I still hear my father saying this in my ear!

20 If something’s on your mind, get it off. And be through with it. I get this from my mother. It kills Kathy, but she knows it is a good thing.

21 Nobody’s better than you. But treat them like they are.

22 Don’t half-do a job. (Cleaned that one up, too.)

23 God knows your max. “The Lord doesn’t put more on us than we can bear.” Ma says this to me every time something bad happens. I can’t stand to hear it, but I know she is right.

24 Choose wisely. There was a family that lived on the corner when I was a kid. The husband was always beating his wife up. He would beat her, she would leave him, and every time, she would return. He shot her. She left him, and returned. I remember overhearing the grown folk saying that he was going to kill her one day.

One summer day — I was watching my sisters since my folks were at work on their summer jobs — I was outside on the driveway when I saw the oldest daughter, Cynthia, run out of the house in her night clothes shouting, “He killin’ her! He killin’ her!” She ran across the street to her best friend, Bridget’s house.

Sure enough, there he was, in the living room (the front door was open) stabbing her to death. I was about eleven. I saw it happen. When the police came and got him — he didn’t try to run — he had on white painter’s overalls that were now more red than white.

When my folks got home, my father sat us all down and told us to choose our mates and our friends wisely or else the same thing could happen to us. It’s a cold, hard world.

25 Be loyal, even if they are not. My folks seem to go to a funeral a month now. And when my mother’s rather, I’ll say… “elitist” co-worker got sick, my mother went and served her like a slave, only to have her continue to treat Mom like she was less-than. Ma was confident that SHE did the right thing.

26 Don’t raise brats. My father saw a young child acting bratty and resolved to not let that be the way his kids would act! I can’t stand a brat!!

27 Dance. Be social. If you’re shy, fake it.

28 Don’t let an unlearned lesson come around and hit you in the back of the head. Learn from the past. My mother was abused as a child. She vowed not to treat her children that way, even though that is how the pattern regenerates itself.

29 Fat meat is greazy! Ask your black friends.

30 If you’re gonna fight, don’t talk about it. Do it. In my ninth grade summer, my sisters and I were made to walk, every day, to the park that my father oversaw as his summer job. It was in the serious hood! Kids from all around went there in order to stay out of trouble. My sisters and I were Fauntleroys compared to these kids! It was ROUGH!

In me, they smelled raw meat! I was bullied every day in front of my own father. Being who he was, he must have been thoroughly ashamed of me. It wasn’t that I was scared, I just hated to fight. One kid in particular, Tyrone (his name WOULD be Tyrone, hunh?), made it his mission to build a reputation off of me.

Nothing he did got me to fight. (He never hit me) One day, though, my baby sister was riding a skateboard down a steep hill, and purely to provoke me, he pushed Kim off the board.

Every kid in the park ran up the hill to tell me what happened and to see the fight they knew was coming.

My pops, whose JOB was to keep order, leaned calmly on the monkey bars and watched…

“Yeah, I did it!” Tyrone proudly proclaimed. This was it. Everybody was looking, and I was nearly blind with rage. I put up my guard as daddy had shown me years ago.

Tyrone started swaying confidently, back and forth. “You ain’ gone do nuthin’, punk,” smiling.

Left hook — POW! The world seemed to stop. Tyrone was in the dirt, getting up.

Left hook — POW! He went down again, rubbing his right jaw and blinking back tears. He got up slower this time. He wouldn’t swing. He just stood there with his hands up.

From behind me, I heard a familiar adult voice, “HIT him again! H*ll, HIT him. If you gone fight da**it FIGHT!” His exact words. I turned and looked at my father, the keeper of the peace, urging me on to beat this kid up. “Aw, h*ll! He waved his hand and walked away in disgust.

My heart wasn’t in it, and Tyrone’s heart was in my pocket. It was over. I had won, and hadn’t even taken a lick! I heard the kids who had taunted me all summer consoling Tyrone, ” Man, he didn’t even wanna fight you.”

I thought they would hate me, but they didn’t.

Talking to my father years later revealed that he, in all his ruthlessness, wanted me to beat the brakes off that kid to make up for all that stuff I took all summer. He was proud of me, though.

I had learned: Keep your mouth shut, and don’t put your dukes up until you know you gotta fight. And those who do the most talking often have to eat the most words.

31 Protect your home. I was never more secure than when at home because I knew Daddy was the baddest beast in the forest.

32 Work hard. Don’t make yourself look bad.

33 “Keep your name clean like it was when you got it!” Ma PREACHED that!

34 Don’t bring home no dumb girls. First thing they ever told me about girls.

34 Show love. That’s all they did, and all I try to do.

September 12, 2008 Posted by | Adage, Advice, Boys, Christianity, Family, Fatherhood, Fathers and Sons, Kids, Life, Life Lessons, Motherhood, Parenthood, Parenting, Parents, Proverbs, Quips | 4 Comments

It Takes a Village to SPOIL a Child!

“Max just put a battery in the toilet upstairs,” young Demetrius calmly said to the adults who were downstairs watching the game and having adult conversation.

Exasperated, Kathy looked at me and sighed, “Go up there and get it out.”

“There’re some yellow gloves under the sink you can put on to get it out,” Daddy said, laughing.

As I made my way through the kitchen to the stairs — about eight boys were having a sleepover/party for my nephew, Ryan, who just turned ten — I heard a yell from up in the gameroom, “THASS OKAAAY. MAX GOT IT OUUUT!”

What? As if THAT’S better! So I get upstairs just in time to snatch the wet battery from the soaked hands (and arms) of my boy an inch before he put it in his mouth! I couldn’t be angry at him. I had to shake my head and laugh. He’s incredibly curious, and I know this curiosity will pay off for him in the future.

We were at my folks’ house tonight since I didn’t have to work.

My parents were the most no nonsense parents in the world when they were raising my sisters and me. I said “WERE.” I get most of my parenting techniques from them — with a few modifications. They did not stand for spoiled behavior in us. They spanked WAY more than we do. We didn’t drink Kool-Aid with meals — only water. We did as we were told with no backtalk, no “whys” and no stomping off into another room. We toed the line, no exceptions.

Now, as grandparents, they are doggone marshmallows! You know what I mean…

At home, and in stores, and at church, etc., we have Max pretty much locked down, behavior-wise. He does as he is generally told the very first time. If I say, “Max don’t go in that room,” he turns right around with no whining. We don’t have to get after him that much.

On most Sundays, our family gathers at my folks’ house for dinner, and as soon as we get there, Max, somehow sensing the change in the rules, does what HE wants to do.

Tonight, as every time we visit, he wanted to go upstairs and play with the teen-agers, who were playing video games, pool, and wrestling. Kathy — rightly — felt that those boys shouldn’t have the responsibility of watching a nineteen-month-old Super Ball bounce from one new discovery to the next! It was their time to play and have fun, so we, to the great chagrin of the former wicked witch (NOT in an evil way!!!) of MY childhood and the current jellyfish of my adulthood (Ma) declined to let him go upstairs. He whined and cried all night. To the guests who had never seen him, I’m sure he looked like a brat.

Max is a LOT of work at my parents’ house. There is so much more room, so many more things to get into. Rather than acquiesce to our commands, he chooses to pout, and we — to our fault — sometimes give in to the peer-pressure and the possibility of being seen as mean parents and don’t cut the bad behavior off quickly like we do at home.

My parents have spoiled that boy and he knows it and they won’t admit it. If I did to Max what they did to us, they would probably cut me out of the will like a cancerous tumor!

So, Kathy and I went to the store, and asked Ma to watch Max for us. “Yeah,” I said resigned, “You can go ahead and let him go upstairs, but I’m gonna make him come back down when I get back.”

That’s how he ended up being up there. Kathy and I were only proven right. And as further confirmation, there’s this:

After I took off his shirt and washed all tha HEPATITIS off his hands and arms(!), Ma took him with her into her bathroom while she put up some towels. “Come on, Max! You can stay with me!”  As soon as I got back to the adult conversation and to my four years pregnant wife (that’s why I was doing everything… She can’t MOVE!), I heard Ma in the back; “No Max! No. NO! When I got back there to to see what cat as trophy he had wrought, I saw my mother laughing and wringing water out of the silk-lined shower cap that she hangs on the faucet of her jacuzzi which just happens to be just the right height for a nineteen-month-old baby to reach!

All the adults in the living room, even Daddy, chuckled and agreed: “Thass what she GIT!”

March 15, 2008 Posted by | Childhood, Children, Christian Life, Family, Fatherhood, Grandparents, Humor, Kids, Life, Life Lessons, Parenthood, Parenting, Parents | 2 Comments

…Just another office job.

Some of you may know that I play at BB King’s club here in Memphis on Monday nights. I used to be in the house band, and I will soon tell you how I came to not be. Playing in clubs is a treacherous endeavor. Here is one example of why:

The current house band has been on staff since we, Ty Brown, were replaced back in September of ’03. They back up the highly paid headliners and are required to know all the headliners’ material, as well as perform the last set during the week alone. They are an excellent group of players who tour with nationally-known acts on a regular basis. They have done great work for the four-plus years there, having to be proficient in various music styles such as blues (of course), pop, R&B, jazz, country, reggae, and soul. The guys would rehearse early in the mornings despite getting off late at night.

The year for a working local musician goes like this, generally; busy in the spring and summer, not so busy in the early fall, booked solid during the Christmas season, and hibernating in January and February!

At BB’s in Memphis, the year is about the same, except that Memphis in May is a BOOMING time for them. Beale Street is the main tourist attraction in Memphis — Elvis notwithstanding — and BB King’s club is the premier spot on the street.

I’m no business expert, but I know that a club like that establishes its budget around the busy season and lives off the fat in the slow time. I’ve been told that that is how they do it. Landscapers operate the same way. It is (usually) understood that musicians in a house band are employees just like the rest of the staff, and as such, have a set salary. The pay doesn’t fluctuate like gas prices or my blood pressure. It has never been my experience that this has been the case. Until now.

A new general manager was hired last year, and when she came in, she met with the leaders of the bands who played there and assured them that, unlike the past regimes, she understood the musicians and would work on their behalf to make the environment fair, respectful, and enjoyable for all of us. People have been getting fired left and right since then. (see the film, “I Come in Peace.”)

Last week brought the coupe de grass. She informed the band that due to the fact that the club was doing less business after Christmas, their pay during the week would be cut by twenty-five percent, and that if they didn’t like it, they could walk and that another band could be brought in at less than what she was offering them! Point blank. Cold blooded! Happy New Year! (Our band had its pay cut as well, but our bandleader took the hit and pays us the same as before, which is decidedly less than what we would normally make elsewhere.)

Now, these guys had done nothing to warrant this pay cut, and they should have quit. The hard fact is that the GM was telling the truth. She could bring in some hacks to play five hours for fifty dollars a man or less(!) and the average tourist would not know the difference because they would have no other point of reference and would be so caught up in the whole “Beale Street Experience” that they wouldn’t notice the poor musical quality. Musicians around here don’t stick together, and the union is feckless. There is some bad music on that street sometimes.

I was told that she said that the pay would go back up in the summer, but who’s to say? If they went for this — taking less money and liking it — they will go for anything. If the GM has shown no conscience or loyalty to the band up to this point, why would she be expected to when times “get good” again? All she is concerned with is the bottom line. It is the classic corporate model. Quality suffers while the bosses get richer. Look at all the plastic they put on cars now… But they are ten times more costly to own.

I’ll bet the managers didn’t take a pay cut!

This club can probably go the whole year from what they make from May until Labor Day. I was told by a lower-level manager once when I was in the house band that on a particular Saturday night while we were playing, the club was so packed, the band was so good, that they made 10,000 dollars on food and alcohol in one hour!!

It is funny: The musicians are the reason why these clubs even exist. The musicians are the ones who take thoughts and make them into art. Yet when there is “fat” to be trimmed, the musicians always get cut. Beale Street, BB Kings Club, would be just a restaurant were it not for the live music, and good musicians. But we always get the snotty end of the stick at these times.

I, personally, would have told the GM to go ahead and get some hacks to take the stage. My abilities don’t depend on HER, they depend on those who care to enjoy the ART of good musicianship. Another gig can be found without being insulted in this way. See how long the club would remain the premier spot with some crusty old dude in a orange suit sittin’ on a bucket playing an out-of-tune guitar with four strings on it. If jazz has only a niche audience, in all its elegance, think how small an audience there would be for gutbucket blues 24/7. 

The Bible says that for a time the injustices of man seem to go unpunished. The wicked seem to prosper. This may be one of those times, and I must fight to accept it. But I’m not wired like that! I had to at least say something! I can’t stand unfairness. Before you say it, No, BB isn’t involved with the running of these clubs that bear his name.

And here I thought I was out of the thorny corporate loop…

January 15, 2008 Posted by | Christian Life, Employment, Life, Life Lessons, Music, On the Job, Rant, Work | Leave a comment

Life is Jazz is Life

Jazz is life.

In jazz, you take accumulated technique, knowledge, and skill, and create art in an instant. You prepare, by practice and experience and learning, to take circumstances– chords, rhythms, emotion– and create the best possible way (for you) to maneuver through a situation.

You don’t necessarily know what will happen or how it will turn out. The bass player might go somewhere else, the piano player might play minor instead of major, or the drummer may switch up the rhythm, and your prior preparation will give you the vocabulary to tie it all together and make art.

Life is jazz.

No one knows the future, but our experiences– mistakes and successes– give us the chance to deal with it. Our parents give us training and discipline, as do teachers, friends, bullies, stray dogs, and hot stoves. We take our ups and downs and use them to color the coarse sackcloth that is life’s canvas.

Bad news from doctors, poor drivers, shadowy figures, financial straits, and unrequited loves give us all the opportunity to artfully dodge catastrophe and emerge from a given situation successfully.

In both cases we use what we know to get through what we don’t know.

Life is Jazz is life.

November 25, 2007 Posted by | Advice, Analogy, Art, Axioms, Jazz, Life, Life Lessons, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Swimming Lessons.

My good-hearted 16-month-old son, Max, stands tottering on the shore of an ocean of sorrows. He has what appears to be the most friendly personality of any child in the world. He beams at the sight of other kids, never fights over toys, and when he smiles, he does so with his whole body! He loves to have fun, and possesses a wide-open heart. Life and this World are gonna KILL him!  Beat him to oatmeal! Waiting for him is a sea of sharks, jellyfish, and other predators seeking to drag him under and rip from him all the innocent, uncorrupted joy he now possesses.

Though I could bail him out and be a vessel by which he could navigate this ocean, I can only guide him while he swims alongside. It is with great sadness that I realize this. I have swum this way before, only barely making it without being consumed by rage, hatred, and selfishness. I didn’t know if I would make it, and I don’t know if Max will.

But God knows.

It is He who has given me the map by which I will lead my son. It is He who will instruct me as to what to say when the waves roll high and threaten to swallow him.

”Don’t let Life win, Son.

“Don’t let situations cause you to give up and become that which seeks to destroy you. Don’t be led by those unworthy. Make God your conscience. Know the right answers. USE them. 

“Every girl won’t like you. Some will hurt you. On purpose. Be nice anyway. Don’t let matters of the heart submerge you.

“Pain passes. Laugh when you need to. Cry when you have to. Keep swimming!

“Don’t let people be the riptide, the undertow that pulls you in an unGodly direction.

“Sit up front. Don’t back down. Don’t sell your friend out. You won’t have many.

“Life is hard. Often unfair. God is the prize. Know Him truly.

“Have your fun, but put in your work first. Stand flat-footed on your word.

“When you get tired, God will buoy you by the Spirit-shaped float inside you. 

“Keep this joy you have, only coat it with a veneer of strength with which to defend yourself. With this, you will be able to brush off the arrows hurled by those who will hate your love.” Daddy.

November 19, 2007 Posted by | Advice, Childhood, Christian Life, Faith, Family, Fatherhood, Fathers and Sons, God, Life, Life Lessons, Parenthood, Parenting, Parents, Words of Wisdom | 2 Comments

“Thou Shalt Sell No Bootleg Movies.”

The other day, while the band was on a break, the subject of the new Denzel movie, “American Gangster” came up. A couple of the guys were talking about how good it was, and since it hadn’t come out yet, I asked, “Waitaminnit. How y’all see the movie and it ain’t came out yet?” (My conversational grammar is not always as polished as my published grammar. Besides, there were no White folks around!)

They laughed at me, the church boy.

“Bootleg, mane*! You wont it? I got it,” Dude 1 said. (I’ll not name names here)

“Naw,” I replied. “I’ll wait to see it at the movies.” Chuckling.

Dude 2 laughed and said, “The preacher don’t want to tick the Lord off!”

Dude 1, the seller, eyed me sideways over the top of his shades and asked sarcastically, smiling, 

“The Lord don’t like bootleg?” He was trying to corner me…

“Nope.”

It is important for the sake of timing,  to note that the rest of this exchange came rapid-fire, without pause:

Dude 1 asked, “Aw, rilly**? Where dat at in the Bible?”

” ‘Thou shalt not steal!’  (They fell out laughing!) Yeah, thass EARLY in the story! Thass in the firss act, even before the firss commercial!” (They’re rolling, laughing now, falling backwards and stomping like we Black folk do. We LOVE to laugh.) Yeah, man, you ain’t even gotta be a theologian to know that one! I gotcha, didn’ I?”

“Yeh, mane! I cain’t argah*** witcha right there!” We kept right on laughing.

I don’t get many opportunities to preach to the guys with whom I work, and it is cool when I do. It is a delicate balance– trying to be relevant while not selling out the Lord. They see me as separate, not doing many of the things they do, yet they do not shun me thereby rendering me ineffective.

This is one small reason why I do not see a problem with what I do. I play music for a living. “Secular music.” (I HATE that term! Is YOUR job “secular”?) I don’t get high, I don’t get drunk, I don’t run around with women, etc. And if I slipped, my entire Christian witness would be torn down. But how many street folk read the Bible recreationally? How many of them go to church and ACTUALLY adhere to the ad they hear? We are told to go out inTO the world. That’s where the people are.

These guys knew that selling and buying bootleg movies was wrong. That’s common sense. I didn’t impart some startling new revelation to them. But what I hope I did was to let them know that God is in every corner of life. And that, hopefully by my meager example, it is possible to be holy and still be an enjoyable person to be around. Christian life is not to be boring and stiff! Will Heaven be that way?

*Man
**Really
***Argue

November 13, 2007 Posted by | Christian Life, Christianity, Common Sense, Entertainment, Food for Thought, Humor, Life, Life Lessons, Movies, Playing Music, Work | 2 Comments

“This is Gonna Sting a Little…”

They Don’t Hate You.Coaches.Fathers.

Teachers.

Drill Instructors.

I used to think they hated me. They were so mean. Making me do stuff I couldn’t do. Didn’t want to do. Pushing me. Frowning. Yelling.

They never told me they were trying to make me better, stronger, smarter, tougher. They never said that the purpose was to make a man out of me. I didn’t know the true purpose until years later. I just thought at the time that they wanted to win at whatever the game was, and that I was simultaneously failing and causing them to fail. I thought they were trying to live through me, or to get a raise or promotion.

Had I known, I might have tried harder at more things and not given up a little inside. Maybe then, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to realize I wasn’t a loser that nobody liked. I wouldn’t have had to find out for myself.

This, however, is not about self-pity.

It is about my son. My children.

And perhaps yours.

“Max, the world is hard, and soft things get crushed. Those who can’t take it get taken.

This world sniffs out weakness and devours it, and you will be strong. Some people will try to take advantage of you. I will try to teach you to discern friends from abusers. But learning takes effort. Soft muscles become hard under pressure.

The first time you try to throw a ball, shoot a basketball, or ride a bike you will fail. No athletic endeavor is perfected without hours of dedicated practice.

You will have to wash dishes, wash cars, cut yards, mop floors, learn manners, eat things you don’t like, and not ask ‘why.’ You will at times think me mean, but I will not be swayed by that. It is not my first desire to be your friend, but your parent. You will be a citizen. You will improve this world, not burden it. We can be friends when YOU have kids and understand why I did what I did.

The first, even the tenth, math problem you encounter will be difficult to solve. Your first sentence will sound funny. Repetition is what will bring you understanding. You don’t get to give up. You will learn.

You will learn when to laugh, when to cry, when to fight, and when to listen. You will know when to comfort, how to be loyal, how to treat a woman, and how to pick a friend. You will know the Lord, and show the Lord. Above all else.

We will have a lot of fun in life, but I’m going to push you sometimes. There will be things that I will make you do that you will not want to do. You will fail a little now so as not to become a failure. Just understand that I do it- they do it- not out of hatred, but out of a desire, a responsibility, to make you more than you can become on your own. A knife needs a stone to become sharp. A sword needs fire to be shaped.

Daddy loves you.”

September 6, 2007 Posted by | Advice, Childhood, Discipline, Fathers and Sons, Life, Life Lessons, Love, Parenthood, Parenting, Parents, Personal Responsibility | 1 Comment