what’s your plan?


now playing: carly simon, “the stuff that dreams are made of”

sometimes, life will forgive you – even reward you – for veering from the course you had originally set for yourself.

todd came over to my office on friday afternoon, and mentioned that he was playing atporters pub in easton that night, but that it was just going to be him and randy – that jesse had something else that he had to deal with…well, this turned into an invitation to take jesse’s place for friday night – not on drums, but on guitar. so i figured, knowing the place, that i’d go ahead and do it up right – bring all the gadgets and toys, and make an effort to do the absolute best job i could, under the circumstances. i brought a pair of lap steels, both of my dobros (square and round neck ones), mandolin, and one each acoustic and electric guitars. i was loaded for bear, ready to kick some serious ass.

well, this was not to be…not at first, anyway.

first of all, the bug in the whole dobro situation followed me from charlies’ sunday night gig to the youngers’ friday night gig. it just wasn’t cutting it. no presence, no real definition, no volume – it just wasn’t happening. i tried the metal-bodied one a few songs later, and it was cutting through nicely – until it decided to stop working altogether.

so that sealed the fate for the dobros.

i also found that, between my 30’s gibson lap steel and my early forties rickenbacker lap steel, there was a world of difference in the volumes between the two guitars – the rickenbacker was so much louder, in fact, that i was uncomfortable using it…so it, too, sat for the rest of the night.

in fact, all i ended up being able to use comfortably were by gibson lap steel, my acoustic, and my gretsch electric that i brought along.

so much for pullin’ out all the stops.

obviously, i need to set my stuff up at some point and arrive at the best means by which to use it all the way i want to – because there’s no reason that i should’ve had the problems that i had on friday night. my setup is more streamlined now than it’s ever been…so it has to come down to individual instruments. i need to do some serious maintenance on the stuff that i have, to get it into gigworthy condition. both of the dobros are brand new, with brand new pickups in them. the national-style instrument had never even been gigged before – WTF?

pretty frustrating first set, to say the least.

things settled in, though, as the night wore on, and everything loosened up considerably – we ended up pulling some songs waaaay out of our collective asses as the night wore on, and it was fun. i think todd and randy enjoyed the fact that i was willing to drive them (after so many times being the passenger on these little group outings) as well. wendy came along and manned the merch table, too…and we got quite a kick out of trying to figure out where the hell the mohnton exit off the new 222 corridor dumped us – if todd hadn’t woke when he did, we’d probably still be driving.

“she sells sanctuary” was on the CD player when we came to…and i heard a voice from the back of the van reminiscent of jack black in high fidelity:

“is this the fucking cult?”

i laughed my ass off over that one…it was a “you had to be there” moment, but for the remainder of the short trip, todd kept blurting out, “fiii-re woooo-man!” every few minutes or so….

we had picked wendy up at her house, so she was next to be dropped off, after todd, randy and the instruments had been safely unloaded (in the rain) at todd’s house…and i ended up staying there for the night – with my battery-depleted cellphone sitting inaudible in the van. it was 4:25 am when we arrived back at her house, and we both slept well into the afternoon the next day.

i was supposed to get up and go to keiths’ first thing saturday morning, but my cellphone has lulled my once photographic phone number memory into total atrophy, and i didn’t know his number to call him when i did finally wake up and let him know what was going on…my phone was dead, and by that time – six hours later – it almost seemed pointless to call anyway, as he’s normally moved on by then.

seriously, i used to be able to remember phone numbers for years. some of them, i still do. david phillips’ home phone number, back home in tennessee? my old music store owner/mentor? that’d be 925-3610. my ex-fiance’s old apartment on washington street in downingtown? 269-5644. it’s an uncanny skill that i once actually posessed.

now, in the age of cellphones and programmable numbers and the like, i’ve let it slip away from me. i can’t remember shit anymore….’cept for the ones that are already stored in there.

anyway, wendy and i spent the entire weekend together – we went out to a new bar in town on saturday night after bumping into james jewell in line at the movie theatre – he was heading over with his friends, did we want to go too? sure. so we went and grabbed something to eat and headed over – and it was actually quite nice, for the most part. i don’t know that i’ve ever seen that many people at a berks county establishment that wasn’t the silo, though…and after hanging out for maybe 45 minutes or so, i was ready to leave.

i don’t know what it is about places like this – they remind me of a number of truths that i don’t really like to be forced to consider. among them:

one. people have no desire to be aware of their surroundings.

they will look you in the eye as they’re walking into you and knocking loose whatever beverage you’re holding in that tentative grip, and then punctuate it with a beavis-esque chuckle and a “sorry, man” as they keep right on going. while you’d love nothing more than to stomp their sandalled, exposed, hairy little hobbit feet in gratitude, you usually just end up mumbling obscenities on the way to the bar to replace the drink your giggly friend spilled at your own expense.

two. conversation is optional.

that’s right. any attempts to talk to someone will be met with indifference or stares of dumbfounded confusion.
if the band is playing, you will be relegated to vain attempts to lip-read, usually embarrasingly ineffectual…

(him) “what? did you say you wanted to blow me?”
(her) “know you…i said, ‘do i know you’ – not ‘can i blow you’…asshole!
(him) “oh. sorry. later.

extreme example? you bet. but not by much.

three. people, as a rule, are stupid.

you want proof? join a band and find out the hard way. grin with feigned tolerance while you’re trying to carry your gear out past all the last-call optimists chatting up the remaining women in the place while standing right between the band and the only exit. it’s an unspoken rule – the minute the band stops playing, all the inebriated patrons of said establishment will coagulate like hair in a drainpipe right between the band and the door.

it’s a fact. swear to god. and it never fails. it’s as if they’re following some unspoken, unexplainable command that’s hard-coded into their DNA, like salmon swimming upstream to spawn or something…they form a barrier, like riot cops, between the band and their ultimate escape from the bar. no one can offer a rational explanation for it, but it happens nonetheless.

in the twenty years that i’ve been legally allowed in these places, not much has changed. you still have the beautiful girls fawning over guys who, on an intellectual level, make dauber from coach look like MENSA material, but just happen to have the right haircut or smile a certain way….you still have the group of guys who (for what will become apparently obvious reasons, over time) go out together every weekend, sharing their high fives, their all-too-loud private jokes, their “fuck YOU…no, fuck YOU…no, fuck YOOOOOUUUU” chant…they sit around at the bar, within arms’ reach of each other, admiring the women but failing to speak to them. then there’s the female equivalent of that group – the girls who go out together on the weekends, dressing to the nines and dancing with each other and no one else all night long…i’ve come to believe, over time, that they exist to balance out the previous group – to “give ’em somethin’ to think about”, so to speak. there are the working-class guys who come just to have a beer or two and watch the game on TV, and the like – but you really only see them in certain places – these other groups of folks are found predominantly at the “college bars”…the places where people go to put on a person that they aren’t and try them on for size and see how they fit.

the place where we were on saturday night is walking the line between two different places…out on the patio, it was all legs and cleavage and biceps and big smiles and putting your best (fake) foot forward and doing the lab work in Pretensiousness 101, gettin’ ready for the final. you walk inside, though, and you see a smattering of working class folk, sitting around the bar and at the occasional table…the music is on a little louder than maybe it should be, but it’s not completely unbearable…it actually has moments of comfort, in between the influx and exodus of those less experienced in the ways of places such as these.

wendy and i didn’t last an hour – we walked across the street and got back in the van and rolled the windows down for the ride home, to let some air blow some of the stench loose from our clothes. i felt immediately better once we pulled out of the parking lot and the air started blowing through the van as we picked up some speed.

sunday was spent buying groceries, reading in lawn chairs in the back yard with blades of grass between our toes, eating corn on the cob from KFC and going to the late, late showing of Episode Three. i took a picture of the van, sole vehicle in the sprawling parking lot, with my cellphone…as i knew i’d never see that sight again…or at least not for a long, long time.

sometimes, it’s good to have a plan – if you have something specific you want to accomplish.

other times, not having a plan at all is a great way to spend a weekend.

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