He’s back, and he came to play!

Welcome back! I’ve taken an extended hiatus from the blog due to a chronic condition (unemployment) that I developed back in January. Not to jinx myself, but things might be looking up for me in that department, and I thought I’d celebrate by engaging in an activity that I thoroughly enjoy: spouting off to you, loyal readers.

This three-and-a-half-month period has not just been about me frantically looking for a job. It’s been a soul-searching journey as well. I have a wonderful opportunity to remake myself professionally. In some cases, I’ve taken some chances. The best job I’ve applied for thus far would have taken me to the Middle East for eighteen months covering front line military units for Stars and Stripes newspaper. My wife was surprisingly supportive. As long as I sent the checks home, I could do it. Unfortunately, it did not come to that. They gave the job to someone else. But I feel I grew somewhat as I redefined what I could do professionally. It would have been a tremendous opportunity, but I think there’s a victory in just putting one’s name on the line for a position like that. It’s something I never would have done before.

I continue to apply for mainstream journalism jobs, but I have come to the somewhat painful conclusion that I must, at least for the time being, divorce myself from the idea of working in a conventional newsroom. Most of the jobs I’ve applied for have been public affairs or communications specialist positions with state and federal governments and colleges and universities. What I lack in a public relations background I make up for in twelve years of being a spin recipient. I feel pretty confident I can write press release or broadcast copy that’s not going to end up in the circular file because I’ve spent twelve years of my professional life making that determination myself, from the standpoint of a news writer and editor. And I do admit, the prospect of being on the inside and looking out is quite enticing. I’ve never wanted to be Governor or Mayor of anything. I’ve always been the kind of guy who just wants to serve at someone’s pleasure, whether that person is the President of the United States or the Utah Railroad Commissioner. To paraphrase a line from one of my favorite movies, I’m comfortable being the guy behind the guy behind the guy.

David and Cyndi, another good friend and a helluva performer. This photo was taken on the Beach Trip of 2002 (near Charleston, South Carolina). Good times.

David and Cyndi, another good friend and a helluva performer. This photo was taken on the Beach Trip of 2002 (near Charleston, South Carolina). Good times.

In any time of crisis, there are often more tragic events that help you put your own life into perspective. In late March we lost a dear friend, David. I say “we” because his was the kind of spirit the world needs so much, and because I honestly think that the world is diminished by the loss of such a powerful force of generosity and humor. It was impossible to be in a bad mood when you were around David. Where some people might be accused of sucking the life out of a room, David was the kind of person who radiated positive feelings. I had known David since high school and had the pleasure of getting reacquainted with him years later in Lexington Singers. He was blessed to have a loving partner, Jeff, and scads of friends who will miss the energy he always carried with him wherever he went. My thoughts continue to go out to Jeff and to David’s mom, dad, and sister.

Friends have been an important support system in the last few months, and I’ve been lucky enough to reconnect with several, one of whom I have been out of contact for far too long (I’m not going to tell. I’m mysterious. Live with it). Reuniting as we all have, whether in person or via the magic of the Internets, has been enough to stimulate my creativity and force me to unload some of the things that have burdened me and perhaps held me back from the human race. In spite of my unemployment situation, I feel such a burst of personal power. I think I know where it comes from, and I’ll be damned if I let go of it again.

Wailin' on my horn at MSU homecoming 2008.

Wailin' on my horn at MSU homecoming 2008.

There are other elements (the “little things”) that have helped me cope during this personal crisis. Music has always been a big part of my life, and although I have never achieved any great level of talent at it (other than being featured in a duet on the Lexington Singers Pops Concert Greatest Hits CD…if you were me, you’d probably brag about it too), it is as necessary to my existence as water. And I do love my water. I can’t pin down anything in particular I’ve been listening to in order to pass the time during my exile, otherwise I might have written a “Listener’s Guide for the Unemployed.” Come to think of it, that’s not such a bad idea. Alas, what I find enjoyable is good for me, not for everybody. I will say that there are two pieces of music I’ve listened to in the last three months that never fail to put me in a good mood. The first is “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin. The other is a 1976 live recording of “Four Brothers” by Woody Herman and His New Thundering Herd. Listening to that one makes me wish I’d been a more diligent study on the saxophone. I wasn’t bad for being self-taught, but no one is ever going to throw undergarments on the stage if I start playing again. Not female undergarments anyway.

I also have been reading more books. I’ve read some real crap and I’ve read some decent stuff. It’s a blessing just to be able to make the distinction. Ordinarily, I’m not much of a reader, but I’m trying to follow the admonition that “writers read,” and it’s helped me immensely. I’m no closer today to finishing the next bestseller than I was three months ago, but I think I’m putting together a great bag of tricks concerning what works and what doesn’t. In my writing exercises, I’ve taken some chances, developed some bravery, “written naked” in a manner of speaking  (try to erase that mental image quickly, would you?) and come up with some surprising results. Will those exercises ever see the light of day? No. They’re only the result of a game of solitaire “Truth or Dare” designed to answer the question “Can I?”.

So, that’s my exile in a rather large nutshell. I hope this heralds a new chapter in my life and that I’m able to put the bad stuff behind me. There’s a song that poses the question: “Is the way to get over someone just to get under someone else?”

In the context of my job, I hope that it is.

Our Gaby

Pet ownership is a joy, and in spite of the accidents, infighting, and just plain orneriness they display sometimes, the animals in our house add to our enjoyment of life. They are as necessary to our home as the furnace that provides heat, and Julia and I could not imagine life without them.

Gaby (The Beautiful One)<br>1988-2008

Gaby (The Beautiful One) 1988-2008

Sadly, we lost one of our feline family members recently, and the emptiness left by one still hangs in the air and is felt by all of us, whether we walk on two legs or four. Gaby, Julia’s lovely 20-year-old long-haired tortie, died on Monday evening. Her mood had taken a downward turn on Sunday, and she was showing signs of dehydration. A family friend, fellow Scott County Humane Society volunteer Traci, came over on Sunday to give Gaby fluids to at least give her a chance. But as the day wore on into night, Gaby did not move from where she lay on the bed, stirring only when stroked. Many of the cats in our home—fosters and the ones that we have adopted into our family (although it’s hard to draw the line sometimes)—sat near her on the bed as she rested. Gradually, they left her alone, having (I can only suppose) said their goodbyes to her. The only holdout was Chance (aptly named…I may write about him at some point in the future), who sat right next to her, even after death had come.

Most of the animals in our house fall into certain roles. For example, Zephyr is the greeter, Evie is the chatty girl, Jersey is the muscle. Gaby’s job was to look beautiful and to let everyone know it.

When I first met Gaby at Julia’s apartment in Chicago, I decided she was going to be my favorite. Julia’s response to that was something to the effect of “Just you wait.”

It turns out Gaby was a diva—”The Beautiful One,” as we called her. She’d only come out for certain people, and when she did come out, attention was generally expected. If I was laying down on the bed reading a book, she’d hop up beside me and start head-butting me. If I was sitting on the sofa and she walked by my ankles and I just happened to reach down and stroke her back, she’d stop and let me do it. But if I’d stop, she’d just sort of look up as if to say: “Excuse me, monkey, I believe I’m still standing here.”

Gaby will be missed. Even if she was a bit high-maintenance at times, there was always love underneath, which she doled out sparingly to those who deserved and appreciated it. We will not forget her.

And it occurs to me that I ought to be writing more about our cats while they’re still alive because these obituaries are just too depressing. So in the months ahead I’m going to shoot for profiling each of our cats, and maybe a few of the distinguished foster cats who are shacking up with us, and some reminisces of those who are no longer with us. They are our children, after all, and if you’re proud of your children, you let the world know about it.

Look for the first in the series, coming in the new year.

Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Batman!

I never knew this guy‘s name, but we all knew his music.

I doubt there is a single one of my three readers for whom Mr. Hefti’s 1960s “Batman” theme is not indelibly etched into the folds of their gray matter (or grey matter if you like). And the theme to “The Odd Couple” is just toe-tappin’ fun.

TV music of that era just doesn’t happen anymore, and it’s a shame. I could be blindfolded and watching an episode of “Star Trek” (try it sometime) and know when Captain Kirk is coming to blows with a Klingon/Big Green Lizard/His Own Evil Twin thanks to Alexander Courage’s score. I could be in the other room and know when an episode of “Gilligan’s Island” is about to end, or when Mike Brady is about to deliver some fatherly advice to one of his kids. Or even to one of the blonde chicks that belong to the broad.

What Mr. Hefti (and other composers) mastered was use of the leitmotif, which is something that Richard Wagner (pronounced “Sha-DAY”) used extensively in his operas. Through the ages leitmotif has been employed theatrically (John Williams’ “Imperial March” whenever Darth Vader appeared in the “Star Wars” films) and in television, from James T. Kirk’s fight music right down to whenever someone loses on “The Price Is Right.” That four-note theme played by a tuba and followed by a descending glissando is actually called “Leitmotif for Losers.” Seriously. Look it up.*

Anyway, Mr. Hefti used this and other compositional tools to craft his memorable television soundtracks. But with the “Batman” series, he had the added bonus of being able to score horn licks to coincide with landed punches, and that’s got to be a composer’s Nirvana.

So, rest in peace Mr. Hefti. We hope you went out with a “BANG! POW! BIFF!”

* Seriously. Don’t.

Remembering Kita

While much of the blogosphere will no doubt be reflecting on the death of former White House press secretary Tony Snow, I’m a bit more concerned about a certain feline that Mr. Snow might see walking around the afterlife, wondering where her owners have gone.

Kita, our 21-year-old brown tabby cat, died very early on Saturday morning. My wife, Julia, and I were with her in her last moments. At 21 it can be easily argued that she lived a full life, and she did. Julia rescued her 18 years ago. Kita was the first cat she ever rescued. I’ve only known Kita as long as I’ve been with Julia—about six years—and she never acted like the oldest cat of the bunch. When Julia and I met, she had four cats: Kita, Gaby, Topper, and Zephyr. We had to have Topper euthanized in 2006 because of his failing mental health. He was 14. Zephyr is that age now, and still the mascot of the house. Gaby is about 16 or 17, longhaired, beautiful, and somewhat of a bitch. But in her case, good looks really do a lot to take the edge off her attitude.

In recent years, we’ve added a few youngsters to the bunch, Lulubelle, Evie, Cubby Bear, and Jersey, but to me Kita will always be the Grande Dame of the pride.

She was graceful and cool, and had a beautiful face; almost Egyptian. It befitted the nickname Julia had for her, “Princess Kita.” When Kita spoke, she did not do so with an obnoxious meow, but rather a tiny coo. Sometimes, in that coo, you could almost hear the words, “We are not amused.”

She patiently suffered through the dozens of foster cats that have been in and out of our house the past three years, and did not launch into a tirade whenever one of them made the mistake of getting too close to royalty.

At the core of her, Kita was a gentle and fair creature. It really is true that the cat picks the owner, and I still remember the night right in bed when Kita crawled onto my stomach and chest and started kneading her paws into me. It was as though she was stamping me with her seal of approval. Then she started purring and her ears got warm, a sure sign of a happy cat.

We may never know another like her, but Julia and I are blessed for having known her at all.