That NEW Adage

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

Yes, God is my Father, but He’s also my Big Brother

Back in May, I bought a new horn, remember? I posted a picture of it…

It came with some problems that I shoved to the back of my mind — not wanting to disappoint my wife, and not wanting to think that all the waiting was in vain.

It was made in Taiwan, which until recently had been known for making substandard quality saxophones. I did over a year of research on this particular brand and came to the conclusion that Taiwan was the new Japan in the sense that where they once had a bad reputation, they now were becoming leaders in the industry with brands such as P. Mauriat competing favorably with the big brands, Selmer, Keilwerth, Yamaha, and Yanagisawa — the BIG 4.

So, I contacted the “owner,” the guy who’s name is stamped on the bell of the horn, and placed an order. The main selling points were that these horns were of pro quality but two or three  thousand dollars less than what a comparable one would cost, and that I would have one-on-one contact and consultation with the main guy. You can’t expect that from Selmer!

The one I ordered was their newest model, a copper horn which was about a thousand dollars more than the ones I had been researching. It was way more than I had prepared to spend, but it was so unique… There was something about having something that no one else has.

I received an e-mail from the owner’s “partner” confirming my order. He told me that the demand for this new model was more than expected, and that I would have to wait at least a month. I ended up waiting almost four.

In May I finally got it! When I opened it, there were some problems… It had been damaged in shipping, and one of the key guards was bent. There was a lot of room for the horn to move inside the case, and it had obviously been bumped around.

I guess there was a look on my face, because as soon as I opened the box, Kathy asked me with anticipation, “So, you LIKE it?!?”

“Yeah,” I said, but there was something in the back of my mind…

The brace that holds the body of the horn to the bow was bent as well, and off track. I assumed this was all due to the shipping.

I got out my tuner to see if the horn played in tune, and it did from the lowest note until I got up to the palm keys (I realize that I am speaking in esoteric terms, but you’ll get the gist), where the Eb and E were waaaay sharp! This was disconcerting, but I attributed it to my not having a new tenor in eighteen years.

And there was a problem with the way the left-hand palm keys fit my hand. One key was too high, and another too low, making it hard for me to move with speed.

I got the horn set up by a technician who called it, “a beautiful lookin‘ little horn” disdainfully. I sneered at him and just wrote his opinion off to not recognizing the name. He fixed most of the damage and lightened up some of the springs, quickening the action a bit. But the ergonomics were basically unalterable.

Long story less long, I contacted the “owner” and his “partner” about the problems (and some others I haven’t mentioned here), and was told basically to keep them appraised. Not the first-hand customer service I expected, but I wasn’t eager to have to box up and ship the horn back and wait months more for it to return.

So I played the horn — which sounds a lot better than my well-run old Selmer — in good spirits ignoring that fading ringing in the back of my mind.

I had been steadily checking the internet for reviews of this horn by other players, when after work one night, I was reading and discovered that the two guys from whom I bought the horn had split!!! The owner was continuing to sell horns out of his home as usual, but under different names. The partner was now in the saxophone business on his own.

Not only that, but I found out that the split was over the very model horn I have!

It turns out that the horn was NOT made in Taiwan, but in CHINA! They are known industry-wide for making junk horns in pink and blue and red and orange that play way out of tune and are basically thrown together.

I did NOT spend all my money for a Chinese saxophone! Shoot, I had JUST grown accustomed to the idea of a Taiwanese one! All those nagging fears had been justified.

I e-mailed the owner in New York, and went to tell my wife what had happened. It was after 4 AM Wednesday.

The next morning, he called me. Now, this guy is not a shill. He has almost thirty years in the business making mouthpieces for well known heavyweights.

What he told me shocked me. He said that I did not buy the horn from HIM! That I bought it from the other guy, and that I should contact him if I wanted my money back, but good luck, “cause he still owes ME money!”

I was groggy from sleep, and did not say the things I would have said had I been fully coherent.

I e-mailed the other guy (I don’t really want to name names based on how this all played out) in Austin Texas(!) and asked what the process was for getting a refund since the horn was basically misrepresented.

HE responded that two months was too long for a refund, but that he would be willing to pay for any repairs. He vouched for the quality of the horn.

Now fully awake, I called New York and got into an only somewhat heated back-and-forth. I told him first how sorry I was that his reputation was being damaged and that this must be awful for him, but that to ME this was world-shaking because it was all the money I had, and that I make my living with my horn.

 He seemed to wash his hands of the matter, telling me repeatedly — as though ANYONE would see it — that I did NOT buy the horn from HIM, that I bought it from the other guy!! I threw every logical point at him: “YOUR name is on the horn! I ordered it from YOUR website with YOUR name on it! YOU advertised that these were YOUR products, and YOU stood behind them. I contacted YOU about buying a horn! He was YOUR partner (He was not my partner! He was just my distributor!) He worked on YOUR behalf…!”

He deflected every argument. “So, I’m basically screwed, hunh? I gave you guys my hard earned money for one thing, I got another, and I’m just screwed?”

“No, no, you’re not screwed. I’m gonna make it right for ya.” in his New York brogue. “All ya gotta do is contact the Attorney General of your state, blahblahblah, blast ‘im on the internet, blahblahblah and when I get proof that you’ve done everything you could, then I’ll see what I can do. Butcha didn’ buy the horn from ME, blahblah…”

I was a ball of stress! I felt awful. But through the whole thing, there was a calmness in me. As angry and stressed as I was, I said to God, “YOU gotta work this out for me, ‘cuz I can’t!” And I didn’t fly off the handle and start cussing folks out like many thought I should.

I had to play it cool withthese guys because they had my money and they were spread out all over the country. I had NO leverage. One wrong word from me, and they could just hang up the phone and act as though I never existed. I couldn’t make unreasonable threats and demands because I — as my father says — had my arm in a lion’s mouth!

I posted the bones of the case on a popular saxophone forum. Nothing slanderous and derogatory. By that night, I got a note from the ex-partner (the owner HAD publically called him that) suggesting that we try to come to a reasonable conclusion… maybe I could swap this horn with one of the ACTUAL Taiwanese models (which cost LESS money).

We talked on the phone, the ex-partner and I, for over twenty minutes the next day. He told me what he had in stock, the properties of the horn, and about all the controversy. He gave me a different perspective, of couse, from the one of the owner. Both of them were angry at each other, and I just happened to be the dude that bought th first horn in this new batch and got entangled on this mess.

He was extremely helpful, attentive, and apologetic. This was the kind of customer service I expected from the owner and NEVER got. It was Thursday.

By MONDAY I had the other horn. IMG_2089

It was GREAT! Undamaged, and in a cool case that allowed for no movement. And it played almost by itself! Big, booming sound, perfect ergonomics, and in tune all the way up. Just a great horn!

This was what I wanted all along.

All that was left was to work out the amount of money for the other horn. There was about a $700 difference in price, and the thought of that last pending battle gave me just the slightest anxiety. “God, work it out.”

Two days ago, I sent an e-mail to Texas, saying compactly, “I LOVE this horn! What is the next move from here?”

This was his reply:

I have been trying to think about what would be appropriate and fair to you regarding the situation you got caught up in.  

 I continue to believe the MAC 20 is also a great horn.  It is different but still a terrific horn.  I know you have had your MAC 20 adjusted and that you have it setup for you etc.

Derrick, I think in view of all you were put through that you should just keep both horns. The MAC 8 is my gift to you.  All I ask is that you be fair with your assessment with both horns on any reviews you may wish to write.  I am not asking that you say anything you don’t believe in your heart and if you really feel the MAC 20 is not a good horn you should simply state your reasons.  I respect whatever your opinion is good or bad.  

Blown away was I!! He went from “No refund,” to “just keep both horns!!!”

I never thought it would work out this well. At best , I thought I would have to make an even swap. At worst, I thought I would just have to come to love a horn I only liked. My wife would have felt forever that we got beat.

I can’t express the emotion that I felt as I read that e-mail. Not that I get to keep these two pretty things, these material items — but that through seemingly insurmountable circumstances, God pushed me out of my way and fought the unseen bully into submission.

He made me keep my cool, showed me the moves to make — the perfect balance of firmness and compassion — and he worked it all out.

Some may say that the guy in Texas only made a smart business move. I agree it was smart to treat a customer right.

Some may say that he only let me keep the horn because he wouldn’t be able to get rid of it. But I say that were that the case, why send me another one? The horn is in better shape now than when it was new, and he could have sold it as new, or taken a few dollars off it and gotten a LOT more than the difference in price between it and the one he sent me. But he let me have both.

GOD did this. And there is no remaining doubt in my mind that He really does fight for me. He really is concerned about the ins and outs of my daily life. He really does intercede.

I never had a brother. I had to fight my battles and learn all the hard knocks myself. But in God, I HAVE that Brother. In fact, He has ALWAYS been there… Like the time when that gang of boys surrounded me at the bus stop and had a three inch long pin a millimeter from my eyeball. I had to smooth talk my way out of that close call, and the LORD was in my ear telling me what to say.

He has always told me when to fight, and when to get out of the way and fight the bullies who were too big to engage.

Closer than a brother.

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August 7, 2009 Posted by | Christ, Christian Life, Christianity, God, Jesus, Music, Music Business, Near Misses, Saxophone, The Nature of God, Work, Writing | 2 Comments

More Time, and Righteousness, Credited to My Account

I’m not supposed to be here.

I’m not supposed to be typing, and double-checking, and breathing right now.

Saturday night, Kathy went to the store to get us something to eat. The line being too long, she left without it. Sam’s Club has these really big oranges in this really big bag for a really low price, and I had to have some, so I jumped in the car to go get them.

I am a lead-footed driver, and I like D’angelo. I was indulging in both. The expressway is about a half mile from our house, and I was on it quickly and and moving swiftly, about eighty or ninety, weaving past those without 265 horsepower at their disposal. The music was blasting and I was feeling pretty good, having spent a whole week with my wife and my babies. Being a husband and a father with so much now to lose, I don’t drive like I used to, but this was such a short trip…

I was in and out of the store in ten minutes. The off ramp where I get off does not merge for those — like me — going left. There is a two-lane stop. As I approached, I saw that an suv, a Tahoe, as in the left lane, and that the right lane was empty. I took the right lane so that when the light turned green, I could jump out quickly and beat the Tahoe on my left. I was racing the whole world and winning.

The music enveloped me — “…she’s alwayyys in my hair, my haiiiiir!” — and I was focused on that red light like a drag racer, ready to launch!

The light turned green! Ready… Set…

For some reason now, I didn’t hit the gas. There was no voice that spoke.

I couldn’t see around the hulking Tahoe from my Maxima, but I noticed that the Tahoe didn’t move either. I’m talking about a span of about one second.

Whoooooosh!! From the left, an eighteen wheeler, carrying death and dismemberment, barrelled through the intersection doing about sixty miles an hour!

Everything changed right then. I sat there at that light in the night at the tail end of a short meaningless trip and shook my head soaking in all that that momentary hesitation meant.

I pulled off slowly, and made my left turn, loing to the Tahoe, and like the aftermath of throwing a giant stone into a pond, the water of my whole life flooded in on me and overwhelmed me.

I thought about Kathy, who waited confidently for me to get back home not ever thinking that I was a pureed mass being poured into a body bag a half mile — and an eternity — away. I thought of how torn to pieces she would be for who knows how long.

I thought about Max, who loves me so absolutely right now, who calls ME every day when he awakes, who yells for ME at night when he has a nightmare, who needs ME to teach him all this stuff I can’t wait to teach him.

I thought about Diana, who smiles so wide at me when the cobwebs clear from her eyes at three o’clock every AM when I feed her, making sure she gets that extra meal she slept through earlier. I though about how she stops crying when I pick her up. I thought about telling her about boys and God.

I thought about how many times I have fed them and changed them and comforted them and taught them and loved them and watched them love me back. And I thought about the fact that no matter how much they love me, one small push on the gas pedal a few SECONDS ago would mean that They would only see me through pictures.

Max would ask, “Where’s Daddy? When’s Daddy coming back?” for days, weeks, and maybe even months, but with each passing second he and his sister would forget me a little bit more until in a short while they would remember me no more. Not at all. All the lessons and laughs would go unfulfilled.

I thought about my parents. I am the oldest and the only son. Gone. With just the slightest release of the brake pedal. I know how much they have loved me.

I thought about my three sisters.

And my few close friends. My church family who would have to hear the news on Sunday morning. I thought about all my musician friends…

My life didn’t flash before me. An alternate future played before me like a dvd on 3x. I saw my body crushed amid broken glass, twisted steel and torn rubber on the street while everyone I loved went on obliviously until the phone rang. I thanked God so much and so many times in that half mile ride.

I am supposed to be dead right now. That is not an overstatement. I am supposed to be as dead as someone mauled by a bear, or crashed in a plane. Based on the way I was driving and jamming — I’ve done it many times before — I was supposed to press that pedal, and no one but God stopped me. I should be sloshing around in a bag in a drawer. But I am not.

I walked into the house, put the oranges down, sat in a chair in front of my family, and cried. Hard.

Tears of  joy and sorrow. Boiling water and ice cubes in the same glass.

Shortly after I began to process everything, I thought about the biggest point of all:

As graphic a picture as the Lord had stapled in my brain, as close a call as I had, as surely as He had saved my life, He did MUCH more than that on a hill, far away!

The picture of eternity in hell is infinitely more horrible than a broken body and crying loved ones. Yes, He surely saved me — and my whole network of family and friends — from an excruciating circumstance, but it all becomes translucent in the face of that from which He ultimately saved me.

And everything I do from here out should be in light of that fact. I have the picture. I have the time. What will I do with it?

January 19, 2009 Posted by | Advice, Children, Christ, Christian Life, Christianity, Death, Driving, Irony, Near Misses, Salvation, Second Chances | 16 Comments