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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

A Simple Qwirkle Of Fate

I don’t know how my children ended up in an attic in a ramshackle house at the edge of the map.

A man likes to fancy himself in control of his world. An actor, not being acted upon solely. It’s mostly illusory, that feeling of wisdom you get when you set down your family’s roots in a familiar and salubrious place and settle in for the long haul. Other fellows might have had the same idea you did, only they lived in northern France in 1939. Hey, what could go wrong? 

Lots could go wrong, and often does. But many more things will go right if you let them, no matter what’s going on around you. You have to let it be. You cast your bread upon the waters and hope.

My older brother is coming to visit us. A visitor from away is a rare and exciting thing here. I live in a fairly remote place. Thirty-plus years ago, my older brother taught me to play music. He did it in an afternoon in his rundown flat in Providence. He was very poor, and I remember it was very cold in his apartment that day. I’d shovel my walk in shorts and a wife-beater in that temperature now. In that one, long afternoon, he explained my instrument to me, and the entire essential framework of the music I might play. He then made a phone call and got me a job, for money, playing in a blues band at the Metropolitan Cafe in Providence, Rhode Island a week or two later. I was no worse than anyone else in the band. I didn’t do that. My brother did that.

When my older son was very young, my brother sent him a Spanish guitar, and an instruction book for wee children. My son studiously ignored it. But it was in his room, and after a while, he wanted me to play it for him. It got so he wouldn’t go to sleep until I played him a lullaby of my own devising on it. I didn’t do that. My brother did that.

After a while, I used to take my older son to my music jobs, when they were salubrious enough for a child. I remember being dragged on a flatbed truck through downtown Provincetown in a July 4th parade. He was a kindergartener, and got to ride on the float in a big mob of people, and throw candy, a little too hard, I thought, at the onlookers. I played a bunch of hoary pop and rock anthems with my mates, and the float won the first-place trophy for the parade. I had a moment of near-panic towards the end when the crush of people on the float obscured my vision of him overlong, and I went wading like a bouncer through men, women, and children alike to the back of the truck, and there he was, my boy, hugged tight on the lap of the float’s sponsor –who made Marilyn Monroe look scrawny — with one huge breast on either side of his head, holding the enormous trophy.He looked as if he might like to have something to do with music.

The littler fellow never spoke. I’d take him everywhere and talk to him and wonder. One time I sat him on my lap at my drum set, and moved his hands in mine to play a back beat. He’d wince every time the sticks would hit a drum head, but he loved it. He tried to do it himself, but his feet didn’t reach the floor when he sat on the drum throne. He’d resolutely hit the high-hat, then then snare, and then climb down from the chair, step on the bass drum pedal, and then climb back up and do it again. It lent itself to a languid tempo. We attempted not to laugh.

When we moved to Here Be Monsters, Maine, we set the drums up in an empty bedroom, one formerly reserved for squirrels and rainwater. I never play anything anymore, but I figured the older one might find some friends, and owning the drums means you practice at your house. The little fellow sat down and played a perfect backbeat, exactly as he had been shown, even though four years or so had passed and he’d never touched the drums since. You never know about these things.

Because I am ostensibly their teacher, I am given a lot of credit for their playing, but I don’t deserve it. I just showed them in the same fashion as what I can remember from the way my brother showed me. My wife and I allow it to happen. We encourage. We help if we can. But whatever they’re doing they’re doing for themselves, and I hope and imagine they will continue to do so.

But I really do want my brother to hear them. Because he did it.

9 Responses

  1. and what's neat and awful at the same time is watching them each pick up something they can do from within themselves.
    Your two could use my second eventually, as he comes naturally to being able to bring out what makes a band sound best in a given situation, doing magic with eq's and making this louder than that which is quieter than the third. playing the sound board much like a concert pianist playing a grand.
    The first one speaks the language of the byte. Making inanimate things do seemingly magical things.

    And to think we could have condemned them to sitting in an air conditioned room with a bunch of other beings the same age because it was what someone told us was "best" for them.


  2. God, he's beautiful. The little one. You have to tell them that to their face as often as you can, before they're too old to know it.

  3. I've always told my daughter that the definition of luck is preparation meeting opportunity. You, sir, are one lucky man! The video gave me a boost that lightened my step and will see me through the rest of the day – thank you!

  4. *wipes tear*

    that was such a tribute to your brother…

    oh, i did laugh at your description of finding him on the float

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