That NEW Adage

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

Writer’s Block…

I have been trying for MONTHS to think of some new stuff to write about… Libya? Japan? Charlie Sheen? Life here in Vegas? Missing my family back home? The grace of God through three babies and no health insurance at the moment?  Praise-a-Thon? Anti-Christ du jour?

All of the above?

Bear with me.

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March 31, 2011 Posted by | Christian Life, Christianity, Family, Life, Work, Writing | 1 Comment

Hang on!!

I haven’t quit the blog! I pull it up every day to check in and to have it on hand when inspiration hits me.

But I gotta verrry pregnant wife and two toddlers taxing my time and stamina!

There is a lot to write about — Jon and Kate and divorce, hatred in politics, people dying, people being deceived by “religious leaders,” drama on my job, seeing old friends (and quickly saying goodbye to them),  — and I want to get to it while it is still current, but I can’t get to the forest because all these trees are right in my face!

I want to write about friends of mine who have legitimate questions about my Faith and why there are so many Bible versions, and why Jesus IS the only Way, and why other friends run to other faiths because of how they see so-called “Christians” treat the less-than, and I want to talk about my wife and the relationship we have and cultivate in order to ensure that we make it till one of us croaks… I want to tell folk about the boss I have who is a volatile hothead — but, I’d better not, because I’ve gotten fired a couple of times for speaking my mind (read: RUNNIN’ MY MOUTH!) — and how having all these kids impacts the newfound reserve I exhibit.

I want to tell about the funny things my kids do, and how blessed I am to be called “Daddy” by them.

And I will. But right now, I have songs to learn for church and for next week’s gig and for my regular gig, and I have to wash the dishes, and take the gum from Diana that she got out of my garbage can, and explain to Max AGAIN how Jesus died — and why — and how His death is different (and the same) than ours…

So please hang in with me!

Thanks!

October 18, 2009 Posted by | Blogging, Christ, Life, Writing | 3 Comments

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.

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

I built it — where ARE they?

I haven’t stopped writing. I am just busy. And a little frustrated.

I’m raising two kids, trying to start a band — this blog got me (thankfully) fired from the other one — learning what it takes to master my horn (thanks, Kirk!), and trying to be fully worthy of the gifts I’ve been given. I’m playing in a jazz band that works once a month but takes a lot of my time, I just finished a demo, and I’m attempting to be worthy of the great wife I have who lets me do all I have to do to get what I need out of life.

I am frustrated because most of the people who used to visit my little hole here in cyber-space have stopped coming by after the first week in November. Hmmm. But I have not changed… My moral stances are just as conservative as they always were. And my views on those with less-than are just as NOT conservative. I am just as biblically conservative as I ever have been, and my opinions on Christian fellowship among ALL Christians are just as liberal, if you will. Yet, for some reason, I don’t have the company I used to have.

I don’t have but two or three friends — despite what facebook says — and I don’t see them much. Life gets in the way. I am not a social butterfly like my wife. I don’t get asked to hang out a lot. So this blog, in addition to being a journal of sorts, and a way to hone writing skills, is a way for an extreme introvert like me to interact in a non-intimidating fashion with people of like and UNlike mind.

But after the abomination, I don’t get a lot of visitors. The weather must not be as fair as it was on the third of November.

I still have a lot to say, and I will say it. I love writing this blog!  However, I also have a lot of things to get done, and I want to do proper justice to them all. Thank you who do for continuing to share your valuable time here with me. Please continue to do so.

February 20, 2009 Posted by | Christianity, Conservatives, Elections, False Teachers, Frustration, God, Liberals, Life, Obama, Words, Writing | 13 Comments

Ingreat?

I want to be great.

I struggle with this. I know that God says that He will give His glory to no man. I ask myself constantly if the reason I have not yet achieved my goals is that I want to be glorified in some way. Maybe God knows (I want to say, “Maybe God THINKS,” but I know He doesn’t wonder) that I would not be as humble as I need to be if He allows me to do the same things as those as whom I know I am at least as good. (prepositions! whew!)

Or maybe I simply have not worked hard enough.

I play music and I write words. I often think, when I see humorists and columnists and hear certain saxophone players, “I KNOW I can do this! I’m at LEAST that good! Why can’t I get a break?” I know I’m kind of good, but I want to be great. And not obscure. And I begin again to wonder if what is blocking me is simply my thought process.

Maybe my thinking has to change… Maybe I have to think more about what greatness will mean for God than what it will do for me.

From day one I have been Charlie Brown. I was the insignificant kid, the ridiculed kid, the unremembered kid. I was the one who the girls looked at from the edges of their eyes. I was the one who either ate alone at lunch or went and found others with whom to eat.

I was never at the center of the action, always at the outer ring. Never the life of the party.

When I started to play music, it wasn’t to get girls or to be cool. I just wanted to learn how to play an instrument — something no one in my neighborhood did. All through school, the fact that I could hear a tune and reproduce it and improvise a little bit did nothing to initiate me into that cool musical circle.

When I grew up and began doing it for a living, my mother, who worked at my high school, would ask me to come back and play for assemblies. My own band director (with whom I rode to school EVERY DAY for three years!!!) was shocked when he heard me, remarking to my mother, “I had no idea Derrick could play like that! When did this happen?”

He had not bothered to notice or nurture my talent. He never pushed me. While the cool kids were taking theory classes and playing in the jazz band, I was at home picking out Grover Washington and Spyro Gyra solos. Teaching myself.

When I was in the eighth grade and on the verge of academic mediocrity as a student in the first Optional School class in Memphis, my English teacher brought a knarry tree stump into the classroom and asked us to write a story based on what we saw. I, thinking myself a failure at English, got the highest grade in the class. In me was born the love for words I now have. I changed at that moment. And a lot of the arrogant kids in the class looked at me differently — although being good at English doesn’t make you cool.

Writing didn’t become cool for me until I began getting paid to write love letters for guys — something I was scared to do for myself for a long time.

This very blog is all about me trying to be great. It is more than a geek with a computer corrupting journalism. It is me trying to not just rant, but to make literature. I want to leave my children with something that shows them that their father did not just consume resources, but that he THOUGHT. I want to not get to God’s throne and have Him disappointed because I left unused some gift He gave to me.

I want to MATTER — to be necessary. I want to be great in His eyes AND send my kids to college. Can’t you do both? There is the rub… That which makes ascent uncertain…

Being so consistently rejected bred in me this thing, this need, to prove them all wrong. To prove to — whomever — that I was worthy of note. Not of exaltation, but just valuable enough to be heard, to be listened to. It is the same drive, I think, that led Michael Jordan to prove wrong the coach who cut him when he was a kid. The same drive that made my father put cement and a pole into buckets to make his own barbells back in the fifties when kids laughed at him and called him scrawny.

I hate being treated as “less-than.” HATE it! I am the first one to esteem my neighbor as greater than myself, as long as my neighbor doesn’t presume to assume that position! I’ll get in the back seat as long as you don’t insist that I belong there. It is for this reason that arrogance is one of the things I hate most in the world.

 I want to show all those who belittled me and dismissed my contributions that they are what is wrong with the world. (But it doesn’t consume me as much as it may sound)

Maybe in a twisted way, though, that is revenge… I don’t know. I mean, I don’t have a desire to hurt anyone, or to repay in like fashion, so maybe it’s not vengeance. But maybe my thinking is wrong. Maybe I need to focus more on how GOD would be proved worthy of note if these things happened for me the way I want them to… I know I am not arrogant — I am PROUD of how humble I am! I make way too many mistakes to have an exaggerated idea of myself.

God, however, sees things in a different way than do I. Maybe my thinking is out of synch with His. Maybe if I can figure out how greatness and fame intersect, that last door will open.

Or maybe it is just not time yet.

I know He has not closed the door though, because I have continually been able to support myself, and because step by agonizing step, I have done a little bit better. I have worked with some pretty big acts and have played as though I belonged there.

We all live and eat by having people give us money to do something we are good at doing. Our gifts make our way for us. That is all I want. No Bentley, no floor length mink, no gaudy jewels. No breathless fans or VIP status.

Just ample recompense for art rendered. Commensurate compensation.

Lord, I don’t want Your spot or your shine. And if I don’t speak up enough, it is of shyness, not of usurpation. Create in me that right way of thinking, and even closer fellowship with You.

I’m not so haughty, reader, as to think that my life is so compelling that you just HAVE to know about it. I just hope the words are interesting enough to keep you reading them.

November 26, 2008 Posted by | Arrogance, Artistry, Christian Life, Christianity, Fame, Food for Thought, Glory, God, Greatness, Humility, Life, Music, Saxophone, Words, Work, Writing | 9 Comments

This’ll Be Funny in a Few Years

I’ve been quite busy since Diana got here. (When she starts doing stuff, I’ll be writing about it. She’s just lying there being cute right now.) I haven’t had the freedom to write a frequently as before.

I want to tell you about what has been going on musically lately. Aside from the fact that I have NO movement on my record and starting my band.

I’ve been playing in a band called KW’EST, headed by bassist, Charles Johnson, which plays jazz (fusion) with a Christian focus. This is a different group than the one I gripe about.

We played a gig this past Sunday night that we do at the same place on the third Sunday of every month. The last date was interesting because of everything that went on surrounding it.

When Diana was born, I pretty much did all the nighttime stuff (and much of the daytime stuff, too) because Kathy was recovering from a c-section. Being a night owl made it a little bit easier until the weekends came and I had to work. Most of my work starts on Fridays, but occasionally there is work during the week, too. Plus, there are always some rehearsals and sessions that come up… Sunday mornings were especially rough because I play in the band there, and we have to be there at 8 AM and play both services. We are usually through at about 12:30. I got NO sleep on Saturday nights (not one minute!) because Diana required a lot through the night. She was not happy with being out of the womb! And the foreclosure crisis and astronomical gas prices had her so upset that she could not sleep.

I dealt with this arrangement knowing it would be only a few months before she began to sleep through the night. So on Sundays, I would usually get three or four hours when we all went to my parents’ house for dinner.

When Kathy was set to return to work, however, her shift was changed (this is one of the many dastardly aspects to her job!) yet again. Now, she has to get up at 4:45 AM(!), and so she has to go to bed soon after we really get rolling with family stuff at the house. Our agreement with taking care of Max was that she would do the nighttime stuff, and I would do all the daytime stuff.

Being a person who has always — since childhood — stayed up past two or three in the morning, I had to try to adjust. I have failed. I routinely stay up till past 4 AM against my own will. Obviously, though, my work schedule makes it logical that I watch Max during the day.

“What does this all have to do with music?” you ask. Bear with me.

I quietly made the decision that I would put Max to bed when the time came (he sleeps later than the norm so that I can.), and that I would care for Diana too so that Kathy could get some sleep. She routinely gets about four or five hours.

So, that being the case, I get two or three hours a night on average.

About four months ago, Kw’est booked a recurring gig, and I received three or four cd’s full of music, 95% of which I had to lead. Max won’t let me practice. He tries to climb into my lap every time I pull my horn out, and he pushes and pulls on the keys (and scrunches me in the scrotum, dads) to the point that I can’t get anything done. So when can I learn this catalog of tunes that I have never heard before?

So, to the present. Last weekend ( August 15-16) my family had a reunion in Nashville three hours away.

When my folks — and wife — asked me about going, I said that I would go if I didn’t have a gig. I don’t miss work. I got that from my parents. The band, A-440, in which I regularly (seldomly, lately) play usually has a lot of weddings and private functions this time of the year, and I wanted to be sure that I wouldn’t miss one.

As time passed, though, I thought about all the family functions I had missed over the years, and how many of my beloved relatives I had not seen in so many years, and I decided that we would go. I wanted them all to meet my kids, too. I would just have to miss whatever gig came up. So I thought…

Actually, what happened was that three weeks ago someone called me about doing a job, and I said, “I don’t know. I heard we are workin’ that night. Let me call you back in an hour to see if we are.”

I found out that I couldn’t reach the boss because he was on vacation with his family.

When Kathy heard THAT, she flew off the tracks while she was chopping onions; “Awww, so HE gits to go on a vacation with HIS family while his band is sittin’ at the house, huh?!? Y’all ain’t hardly worked all summer, and he’s been constantly workin’ wit everybody! (that was true) You sittin’ around here talkin’ about you not gonna go see your family that you ain’t seen in years, and you gittin’ ready to turn down some work bein’ laid in yo’ lap cause you got integrity! ‘Cause you tryin’ to keep yo’ word!”

“Well, I jus…”

“You betta call him back and tell him you’ll do that gig!!” And that was that on that!

My bandleader is what we black folk call, “triflin’ ” when it comes to handling the business. A-440, I mean. We would routinely not find out about a gig until the day before. And that was if WE called to inquire! Not to mention allll the other stuff that frustrates the “goodness” out of me.

So I decided then to go to Nashville on Friday and return Sunday, the 17th, to make church. I knew I would be tired, but by now, I was used to it. I could get a couple of hours Sunday afternoon before my Sunday night gig with Kw’est. Or so I thought…

Thursday, Kathy and I realized that due to some “financial mishaps” we were waaay short on some bills that were due to be removed from our account on Friday, the 15th.

“I can’t go to the reunion, ” I told Kathy. She refused to go without me. Okay, so now, we aren’t going. I would not get to see cousins I played with as a child. I would not get to see the uncles and aunts who love me so much and whom I love so much in return. This was my knee jerk reaction. After a couple of minutes of thinking, I called the bandleader. Now, by this time I had already told him that I would not be able to do the Saturday night date.

“Hey, John, this is Derrick. You find anybody to sub for me Saturday yet?” I asked.

“Naw. I got some possibilities, but they ain’t called me back yet.”

“Well, call ’em back. I can’t afford to miss Saturday, so I ain’t goin’ to the reunion.” Now, here, I expected a sympathetic reaction something like, “You ain’t goin?!? Aw, man, I hate to hear that. Thass my bad! I know we ain’t been workin’ that much, but I’m gonna do better…”

What I got was: “Aw. Thass cool! I had called Alan, but he didn’t answer the phone. I’ll call him back and tell him ‘thass okay’.” No regret at all in his voice.

“What time does it start,” I asked.

“8:30 at the Germantown Country Club.”

“Cool. I’ll see you then.” I hung up.

When I told Kathy how the conversation went, she made the “Sister Mouth” and said, “Um” skeptically in the back of her throat and left it at that. (Ask your black friend.)

Upon further thought, and council with the Holy Spirit, I decided we would go to the reunion and just leave at about 4:30 in the afternoon. Which was right when everything was getting going good, it turns out.

I made arrangements to get some money till the weekend was over.

So, I was up all night Thursday night to make sure Diana got fed at about four, which I do every night, and Kathy went to work Friday morning. I got about two or three hours of sleep before Max woke up, and when Kathy got home, we packed and left.

I drove through the rain (I got sleepy about thirty minutes in), and we arrived at about ten. We fellowshipped with family, checked into the hotel, and I got to sleep sometime after 1 AM. I thought I would finally get eight hours of sleep. I thought…

Diana, used to that 4 or so AM feeding woke up angrily at five griping about all the negative campaign ads airing on TV. She, being so dependent on outside help, is a Democrat right now.

So after getting four hours of sleep, I wasn’t able to fall back.

I felt like I was going to have a breakdown. We went to the picnic, and as I said, right when everyone was getting settled in for a day (and night) of fun, I packed up my dejected wife and crying son and drove the three hours back to Memphis to do a gig at a place I hate with a band I don’t enjoy for some money which I shouldn’t need but do.

The gig was over at 12:30 Sunday morning, and I had to go buy diapers afterward because both kids were out of them. I got home at about 1:30, and had to at least listen to the material for church Sunday morning and the gig Sunday night, practically every song of which I had to lead. When did I have time to learn these songs? When did I get to sleep? Well, at least I would get a couple of hours after church, right?

On the way home, I got a text message from Charles, the Kw’est bandleader, stating that since the band wasn’t able to rehearse Saturday (I was excused from that one), we would have to rehearse at 2 o’clock Sunday afternoon! No excuses.

Okay. At least I would be able to come back home and get something to eat and maybe lie down for an hour. So I thought.

The saxophone is the quietest instrument in the band, relying on the vibration of a three inch reed to produce the sound. Everything else is amplified electrically except the drums, which are loud enough by themselves. So, in order to be heard in a group setting, I need a microphone!

When we got to the rehearsal, which was at the venue at which we were playing, there was no sound man, so while everyone else had their own amps, I had to resort to simply blowing harder in order to be heard. The drummer asked me to turn and face him because he still couldn’t hear me.

One keyboard player — we have two in the band — neglected to show up till over two hours later. (When I called him at 3:40 to see whee he was, he was at home asleep!) Two problems; HE was the one who needed the most work, AND the rehearsal was supposed to only last for two freekin’ hours!!! Rehearsing during soundcheck is a professional no-no.

We ended up having to run over everything we had already done when he got there, and it ended up being a four hour rehearsal for a three hour gig!

And I didn’t get to go back home. No food. No sleep. And I haven’t slept for almost five months. And I have already played two church services, and a four hour rehearsal with no microphone. My mouth is SHOT! (imagine squatting for four straight ours…) And I have to be up front entertaining people, playing unfamiliar material confidently and alertly. But “The show must go on.” No excuses.

Oh, yeah, and the person after whom I have patterned my entire professional life is going to be there. And my tank is empty. Here is my chance to have Kirk see me in the environment I claim to be born for, and I have been sapped of all my mental and physical strength. And HE is the one I remember saying that to get that big shot is to be prepared at all times. I wasn’t hoping that he would sign me or anything like that. I just wanted him to know that I was ready. And I wasn’t. And no excuse was sufficient. People spent their money on a product, and they don’t want to hear, “Oh, the food isn’t as good because the cook is sick.”

I couldn’t even remember the horn line to, “What You Won’t Do For Love,” which I’ve been playing for fifteen years! My brain was fried. I felt that I had let myself and the band and the audience down. And the sound man was taping the show! I kept thinking that I surely didn’t want to hear that monstrosity.

Kirk (Whalum) sat in with us and played the paint off the walls! He was great. My parents, sisters, and church members were there in force, and they loved everything. I remember praying to God during one song that He get me through this night because I couldn’t hold myself up. I think He carried me.

The one thing about playing music is that when the audience is caught up in the moment, they can sometimes see the colors but can miss the lines that separate them. Ask Simon Cowell. Listening to a recording can often tell a different story.

The sound man forgot to tape the show! Look at God!

There is no overarching moral here. I just wanted to write about my weekend. But I DO know that God lets adversity occur in order to tone up the muscles. And I don’t mind that. I’m getting pretty strong in my soul bone lately!

August 21, 2008 Posted by | Children, Christian Life, Christianity, God, Humor, Life, Music, Parenthood, Playing Music, Work, Writing | 6 Comments

No, No, No Ya Don’t…

I had to change the words to that familiar children’s song, ’cause every time I turned around, Max was getting into something else he shouldn’t have.

Like just today, he pulled ALL the clothes out of Kathy’s bottom drawer, threw them onto the floor, and put his toy remote control in it. And when he was supposed to be taking a nap, he instead threw all the blankets out of the bed, and was sitting upright with the liner from his dirty clothes hamper on his head. Smiling at me.

Last night, he came into the living room with the vaseline jar on his hand like a glove, and a jar full of vaseline in his hair. He has broken tusks from elephant statues at my folks’ house, phones, and computer keypads, and he has eaten a Christmas light. He tried to climb up into the automatic swing that Diana was sleeping in. He mistimed it, fell, and the swing began mindlessly hitting him until he could get up and out of the way.

Monday, when he was supposed to be taking a nap, I heard him in his room talking. (He knows not to do that) When I burst into his room, I saw him sitting, still as a mailbox with his blanket over his body. “Max! Lie down and go to sleep!” No movement. I walked closer: “Max! YOU know you’re not supposed ta be in here talking! Lie down!” No movement. I pulled the blanket off of him, ready to chastise him for not doing what I told him to do. He was just smiling up at me , all sixteen teeth showing.

In a hurry, I put the blanket up to my face so he couldn’t see me laughing. I laid him back down. See, HE thought that, even though he was sitting up, I couldn’t see him sitting up! His little child’s mind told him that to be very still under that blanket made it impossible for him to be seen. It was sooo funny! That’s my boy!

My mother and sister bought him one of those motorized trucks that you can sit in and drive for Christmas. Now, he is only one year old, and I tried to tell them not to do it, but it was no use. He can’t even associate pressing the gas pedal with making the truck go yet. Well, the other day, I brought it home from my folks’ house (it was too big to fit in the car, I thought…), and when I took it out, Max jumped in it and proceeded to slam it into the car repeatedly. “No, no, no, Max! Stop! Wait! Don’t…!” We just laughed

So in that spirit, and for that reason, I have changed the words and the meaning to that singalong:

No, no, no ya don’t

Don’t you mess with that.

Don’t put that upon your head,

A shoe is not a hat!

No, no, no ya don’t

Don’t you eat the keys.

When Daddy has to go to work,

He’ll be needing these.

No, no, no ya don’t

Poke your sister’s eye.

She needs that to watch for you

You’re a dang’rous guy.

And so on…

April 3, 2008 Posted by | Childhood, Children, Christian Life, Family, Fathers and Sons, Humor, Kids, Nursery Rhymes, Parenthood, Parenting, Parents, Uncategorized, Writing | 2 Comments

“Outnumbered” Chapter one

Jeff, being a newly-graduated police officer liked the fact that he could drive around in his squad car while off duty. “It saves gas, and wear and tear on my own vehicle,” he always told his friends when they asked. It wasn’t as cool, they thought, for a brother to be seen in a po-leece car as it would be to be seen in his own new Mustang. Jeff Stout had always been kind of practical, though.

As he turned in to the main entrance to Hunter Park, he wondered if his boys had gotten started without him. It was after 4:00 in the afternoon, and he was supposed to meet up with them at 2 o’clock for some hooping. Basketball was the one thing that connected him with some of the guys from his childhood. Being grown took everyone in different directions, and paying bills took precedence over hanging out.

It was the first week of good weather after a hard winter, and the brothers were out in full force! It was barely March, but the hoochies had their butt-cutters on, and the dudes were at them hard like bears on a riverbank checking for salmon! Negroes everywhere! And fifteen different kinds of music blasting.

Hunter Park was huge. One of the biggest parks in Scofield. And pretty much all black since all the whites left the surrounding area. You could drive your car through it for twenty minutes and not cross over the same road. It was easy to get lost. There were shaded barbecue and picnic areas, camping grounds, and a few basketball courts. There was a golf course, too, but it hadn’t been kept up in the last ten or fifteen years.

As Jeff drove through the park, he noticed the hard stares he got as he passed people. He was beginning to get used to being seen as the bad guy, but it bothered him. He had always tried to be cool while obeying most of the hard rules.  That was a tough line to walk having been one of the few kids in his working-class neighborhood to have a mother and a father. He got into a lot of fights after being called “preacher boy” or “mammy’s boy” or some other slight designed to make him seem soft. A soft kid in that neighborhood didn’t have a chance.

His parents, though, stressed education and obedience, and made him pay for any transgression with the “rod of correction,”as it was often called in his home. Jeff had to figure out how to stay out of real trouble — theft of any kind, shooting hooky, sex — and still be an allright enough guy to not have to scrap every day. It was tough, but it developed in him good negotiating skills and diplomacy. He had friends from many different walks of life.

So, yeah, the stares and the muffled taunts stung him a little, but not so one would notice.

Up ahead, a group of about eight or nine guys were walking, all in the street blocking the way. They were dressed in the usual baggy, sagging jeans, basketball jerseys, and baseball caps.

As Jeff approached them, he bumped the horn lightly. They kept walking, not even looking back.

“My people,” he muttered, sadly. “Whass up wit us?” He blew again, longer this time. Still no response.

It was said, and is known, that in North Scofield, if a brother is leaning into a car window in the middle of the street, even the cops wait politely until he gets finished! Hunter Park was in North Scofield.

Jeff gave two short blasts from his siren, and said on his intercom in his best cop voice, “Get out the street!”

They stopped. Turned.

“Man!” he thought. “It’s about to be on!”

March 14, 2008 Posted by | Action, Black Life, Drama, Life, Race, Short Story, Writing | 1 Comment

The Night the Lights Went Out

Never in my life. Never has this happened to me.

Kathy and I were watching tivo, and Max was playing destructively, as is his bent. “Bent” being anything he has touched.

Karen from the church gave us one of those easels with the chalkboard on it, for the kids to write on. There is a tray under the board that goes from front to back which is to hold supplies — crayons, pencils, etc. The tray also serves to support and strengthen the easel. Its base is pressboard. Not very sturdy at all.

Max likes to crawl inside of stuff… When Kathy had a contraction last week and slightly panicked and started packing hospital bags and asked me to quickly put the bassinet together, Max crawled into the little space at the bottom where the baby supplies are kept.
Well, we were watching tivo, and Kathy tapped me on the leg and whispered, “Look at that li’l boy!”

He was crawling, legs sticking out, hanging down, onto the tray part of the easel. It was about two feet off the floor. I forgot to tell you that of the four butterfly wingnuts that hold up the tray, only three were actually in service. One being unfindable.
Max is nineteen months old, but he is as big as some three-year-olds. He weighs about thirty-five pounds. I know he will bump his head in life, and I don’t generally rush to save him from every skinned knee and fat lip. I didn’t move. Just watched him…

He pulled himself up into the tiny space, and as soon as he tucked his legs in, in slow motion, the tray began to break apart and collapse. Verrrry slowly. You could hear the pressboard crackling like giant graham crackers. Max, who is MOSTLY head, rolled head-first onto the floor amid a pile of what was now kindling! (I’m laughing now. But I’m scared to laugh anymore…)

Kathy and I howled like two wolves. More like two hyenas.
I laughed so hard. So hard that I couldn’t breathe. My eyes began to roll back, and my head felt like it was floating…This has happened before when I have laughed really hard, but what (apparently) happened next never has.

I was frozen. All I remember is that I was holding my glasses limply in the crook of my thumb and forefinger. I remember that when we started to laugh, we both lifted up the blanket that covered us to hide our faces. And our shame at laughing so hard at our boy.

Now, though, my fingers were curled as though I were still holding it, but it had dropped.
“What happened?” I asked. “What’s going on?” I didn’t feel any pain, but I felt as though I had just awakened. It felt as though days had passed but the same tv show was on.

Kathy was crying, but I couldn’t remember if she was crying from laughing, or crying from crying. So many unformed questions swirled, alphabet soupy, in my head. The fog began to clear when I saw Max walking around swinging a stick that looked like it came from a tray that attached to an easel.

Kathy was leaning over me, scared to death, and now crying from crying. “What’s wrong?!? Don’t play with me like this! You can’t leave me now! We got too much goin’ on!” (I wasn’t dying or anything. She was just scared.)

I was still trying to get it together. “A B C D E F G… Now, smile… okay, I can smile. Move your left arm… okay. So I didn’t just have a doggone stroke!” I knew what had happened… I laughed so hard that I lost oxygen and freekin’ blacked out! (It’s called “hypoxia.” I looked it up online as soon as I got up!) I have gotten that light-headed feeling a lot of times in the past when something reeeeeally funny has happened, but I have never gotten to the point where I lost consciousness!

I asked Kathy what let her know something was off since Max was on her side of the room and she was looking away from me. She said that she knew something was wrong because I had suddenly stopped laughing and it wasn’t time for it to stop being funny yet. She said that when she saw me, I was staring up into space, “What’s goin’ on? What’s happ’nin’?”, as though I had just seen Jesus or an alien. Seriously, I wondered if I had just gotten back from a summit meeting with God.

I guess this is what they mean when they say, “I fell out laughing!”

Folks, don’t laugh at your kids. It could kill you..

March 13, 2008 Posted by | Childhood, Children, Family, Fatherhood, Humor, Kids, Life, Parenthood, Parenting, Parents, Writing | 4 Comments

A Link, But Not a Chain

My friend, Treyka, has tagged me to write seven things about myself that may not be widely known. I don’t do chains, but I felt compelled to do it, so here we go…

Dogs like me. More than I like them.

Every time the weather turns cold, I get a little depressed.

Reruns of “Columbo” are better than most of what is on TV these days.

Revelation, the last book of the Bible, became beautiful to me once I began to understand it!

Irony is one of my favorite literary devices.

Candy is my main vice.

Keilwerth Shadow. That’s what I want! Google it. Beautiful.

Derrick.

February 10, 2008 Posted by | Christian Life, Writing | Leave a comment

MY New Year’s Eve

 Tonight (Monday, new year’s eve) I am playing a party. I’d BETTER be! This is the biggest gig night of the year for a musician. My gig will pay me almost six times my normal amount. It is about a forty minute drive from home at a casino in Tunica, Mississippi.

I found out by text message at about 1 AM last night that the 5 o’clock sound check is mandatory. Now, normally, sound checks don’t involve me because I am just the sax player/background singer and I don’t have to set up any amps or pedals or anything. Usually the boss will tell me to just get there about thirty minutes ahead of time to check my mics and everything. I assumed that today would be no different.

I was wrong.

My wife hates her job. One of the reasons is that, for example, today she has to work. (She works every Christmas Eve, too.) She gets off at five. I watch Max during the day, and she takes over when she gets home. See where I’m going?

I text messaged the bandleader, who has always been reasonable about stuff like this — even on big gigs, to ask what I was supposed to do about sound check since I had Max and that Kathy didn’t get off till five.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that our other car has not been roadworthy enough for extended trips since this old lady ran me off the road and into a curb, and now whenever I have to drive more than a couple of miles, I start to smell tire rubber burning…

What am I supposed to do? I wrote.

In less than a minute his reply was, That’s not my problem.

Not his problem. Motherfather! (sorry. I don’t curse but sometimes substitutes creep into my mind… Pray for me)

So, as far as he knew, my wife would have to leave work early, or I would have to bring the baby with me to sit around and wait for two hours just for me to say, “Check, one two, one two” and come back home and get ready for a gig that won’t start till about 9:30!

Let me inform you here that for the type of gigs I usually do, sound check is a COLOSSAL waste of time. We all knew that if the time was set for five PM, they would not even start running cables until the entire rhythm section was set up. Why did I have to be there at 5? I HATE with a passion having my time manipulated and wasted!

That is EXACTLY what happened.

Heck, the boss — whose problem it was not —  didn’t even get there until 5:20! When I got there at 4:50 or so, the drummer was the only one there!

Okay, lately, I’ve been mulling and praying over the idea of starting my own band. I have a lonnnng list of grievances with my bandleader, the latest of which is the fact that I went the entire Christmas season without playing ONE Christmas party! This is usually the season to be jolly, pocket-wise! Meanwhile, he has been playing with other bands (he is the bass player in the band), renting out his audio gear, and is going to Singapore next week with a blues singer.

I’m not jealous at all. The thing is that we, his band, have been either sitting at the house, or scraping to find work while all the other bands are booked up. Part of the reason why he gets so much more than I do is because it is his job to deal with the agents and the clients, and to find us work! He expects us to be available when he books a gig, but his incentive to do so has been compromised because he has so many less stressful outlets by which to make money. 

It is a lot harder for a non-essential sax player to find work than it is a drummer or keyboard player. (I wouldn’t trade my horn for anything!)

When airing my grievances to the other guys (the boss basically blew me off and tried to string me along when I tried to talk to him), they felt that it was my job to take care of mine, and that when it was all boiled down, Bossman was looking after his OWN family.

Okay.

I always said that I didn’t want to form a band of my own until I got a manager to deal with all the headaches — lateness, drunkenness, drugs, irresponsibility, laziness, skirt-chasing, etc.

But the more I talked, the more I heard, “You’re ready! Get your own group.”

I am making a point with all of this. Bear with me…

I talked to a few guys, none but one of whom plays in the band with me regularly, about the particulars and possibilities of doing this.

“I want to play more jazz and Nat Cole, Frank Sinatra-type standards, and not this top forty/old school junk that we play ad nauseam. Is there a market for this here?”

“Should I deal with an agency, or go by word-of-mouth?”

“If an agency, what measures do I take to get signed?”

“I have no gear. How much would I need for this type thing?”

“How much would a small set-up be?”

“If I do this, would YOU want to play with me?”

“When I get enough cash to make a record, will you work with me on it?

I asked around to get the tenor of the times, so to speak, and a lot of guys wanted to get on board.

The thing is this: Was Bossman’s attitude so cold towards me earlier because he had somehow heard about my possible plans? I was very discreet, but my wife seemed to think that was the case. I felt that since I was not doing him wrong by trying to support myself — without taking any of his guys with me — he had no reason to be upset. Besides, I was only just thinking about it! I wasn’t trying to burn any bridges. The river’s too wide to try to swim back across!

Back to the story…

Everyone had told me to play it cool and not to go off, even though he had it coming! I’m terrible at the poker-face.

So it’s 5:30, and everyone was at the venue, but nothing was set up, and the lone sound man was dragging his feet. Setting up a stage this size is an hour job for three or four guys, so having just one didn’t bode well for us, time-wise. And I had to go all the way back home to get dressed.

Most of the other guys had brought their clothes, but, as I tersely related to the foot-dragger, I didn’t assume that I would not be able to return home from a 5 o’clock sound check for a gig that started at freekin’ 9:30! That’s why I didn’t want to go all that way in the first place! I knew they would be piddling around with my time!

He made a smart remark that left me biting a hole in my lip.

The funny thing is this: When the boss saw me, he smiled, said, “What up,” and proceeded to pass out calendars for next year! As if all this down time were just a blip! He was totally oblivious!

If he were planning to pre-emptively fire me, he surely wouldn’t be doing that!

At 6:40, 6: doggone 40, the lead singer walks in cool as iced tea, and nobody raised an eyelash. Now if he could do that, why did I, as far as the bandleader knew, have to get my wife to leave work early and lose money for me to sit around for two hours before any microphones were turned on?!? Why was it so crucial that I be there to stew in my own suppressed anger with nothing to do but watch the “Beverly Hillbillies” marathon backstage on Nick at Nite?
At 6:45, we were ready to check the mics and the instruments. The lead singer’s mic was awful, and the sound man, frustrated by his lack of help, and by our absence of sound check etiquette (everyone was checking stuff all at the same time. I hate that), snapped at us.
This, this set the boss off, and he proceeded to curse the guy out as I walked past them both on my way to the car for the forty minute trip home to eat and change. I thought it was interesting that he went to bat for the guy who showed up an hour and forty minutes late, but left me to fend for myself earlier without even a thought.
All night during the show, he tried to crack jokes with me and make light while I concentrated on being professional, and sang on a mic that wasn’t even on! I couldn’t even be phoney enough to make eye contact with him.
As the lead singer butcherized the words to “Auld Lang Syne,” my decision was being hardened with every beat.
The show was complete with belly dancers, showgirls, fire-baton twirlers, full-scale pyrotechnics, and smoke machines that made the place look like the devil’s lobby! All I kept thinking was of the rich man in the Bible, all nervous,  saying, “Please! Somebody get Lazarus on the phone! He knows me! Somebody call Lazarus!!”

 I told Kathy about all of this when I got home.

“Baby, now, a new year is coming in!” she said in an attempted motherly tone. “You can’t be ticked off for the new year.”

“Why not?” I asked, ” ‘Cause I’ll be ticked off the whole year?”

“Well, you know,” she said, “History does like to repeat itself…”

“No, it doesn’t LIKE to. It just TENDS to.”

We threw back our heads and laughed. (freeze frame, roll credits…)

This year will be different.

Happy New Year, dear readers! I love you all. Thanks for indulging me in this endeavor, and for encouraging me. May God bless you as He has blessed me, and may He give you the nervous anticipation and hope that He has given me as we all embark on this new journey called 2008.

January 1, 2008 Posted by | Christian Life, Employment, Humor, Life, Music, New Year, On the Job, Playing Music, Saxophone, Work, Writing | 4 Comments

HELP! And Read the Other Stuff, Too.

I need help. I am a struggling musician. I make what some would consider a decent living, and what yet others would call nothing! I want to do more, but I am in a field that is totally dependent upon knowing someone on the other side of the door. I want to make records. I want to write song lyrics. I absolutely love the art of making music.

I also love words and the clever employment of them. So I write. I would like to do it on a professional basis as well. I take care of my baby son (another one is on the way!) during the day while my wife works, and she does so at night when I gig. Writing would give me much more flexibility as far as practicing and taking gigs I don’t want to take because I need the money. I have musical standards, but having to eat and live indoors makes me step all over them!

 I started this blog at the advice of a friend and church member who suggested it as a way to build up a following of sorts. I have posted a lot of things on subjects about which I am passionate, such as Christianity, parenting, politics, race, and various other social issues. The problem is that the only things that get read are the posts I write about crooked preachers. That is fine, in and of itself. Apologetics is a passion of mine, and blogging about charlatan preachers gives me the perfect opportunity to defend God and Christianity. I HATE to see people deceived and treated unjustly! Those guys need  the literary butt-whuppins they get, and more. And I love it when I get either an “amen,” or a challenge from a supporter of that mess.

My current dilemma is that while I feel that the primary purpose of this blog is to enlighten, entertain, and educate people, to the extent that I can, I need for the other things to be read as well. I need feedback and assistance in my endeavors, as we all do. I am not the boldest person in the world. As a matter of fact, this blog (and ESPECIALLY this particular post) is perhaps the most forthright thing I’ve ever done in my life. Even asking my wife to marry me was kind of easy, because I knew she was gonna say yes!

I need an advocate. Like an actor needs a manager. I can do the artistic stuff. I can stand on the stage and play because there is a thin veneer of separation that exists, however unnoticeable, between it and the audience for me. This is the mechanism I use in order to be able to perform effectively. I can hide behind my horn. I can write things that express emotion for essentially the same reasons.

But I am not the kind of person who can go from door to door trying to sell vacuum cleaners, or whole life insurance policies. (Don’t buy “Whole Life,” by the way…) I need some help in the marketing of myself. My (flawed?) thinking is that the gift will make a way for me, that these words and stories and turns of phrases will speak for whatever ability I may possess. My thinking is that if I play well enough, or arrange cool enough horn parts– which I do as well– someone will engage me in some fashion. Apparently, I am wrong.

So if you are reading this and feel that, “Man! THAT guy needs to put this stuff in a BOOK!” Or that, “Man! I am a literary agent (or an editor), and I see a market for this kind of stuff!” leave at least a comment. And if you happen to be a musician who can’t write lyrics, let me know. I feel really awkward doing this, but that may just be my paranoia gene kicking in. The art of self-promotion is not one in which I am trained.

At the very least, don’t just read the stuff I’ve written about the false teachers,  Juanita Bynum, Creflo Dollar, Paula White, Kenneth Copeland, or the Word of Faith prosperity movement. Read about my time onstage and my thoughts on parenthood, morality, and life in general, too. And tell me (and many, many others) what you think. Thanks, Derrick, the Daddy of Max.

See how I threw those “tags” in there to justify drawing you here? Was it not subtle enough? Thanks for indulging me. I thought it was funny… Sorry for the subterfuge. Not trying to be disingenuous.

October 18, 2007 Posted by | Christianity, Columns, Creflo Dollar, Employment, False Teachers, Humor, Juanita Bynum, Kenneth Copeland, Opportunity, Paula White, Prosperity Gospel, Recording Industry, Word of Faith, Writing | 14 Comments