Gus, Piano Tuner

There’s a moment before the start of a symphony when vibrations float above the orchestra.

It isn’t music exactly.

But it isn’t cacophony either.

Certain instruments break through the drone and send out sounds like mating calls in a forest — a piccolo looking for a willing woodwind, one tuba looking for another.

Symphonic tuning is more theater than necessity. Virtuoso artists take their chairs knowing their tools are, forgive me, fit as a fiddle.

The assistant leader instructs each section to tune to a note issued by an oboe. If Greenwich Mean Time is the standard for timekeepers and 32º F is the basis for relating temperatures, the A note (440 hertz) above middle C is the key for setting pitch.

Gus Roddy tunes the most mechanically complex of instruments. It has 88 keys connected to a hammer which strikes strings on a cast-iron plate. Each treble hammer hits three strings, tenor hammers hit two, base hammers strike only one.

Whether it’s a concert grand piano or a parlor-room vertical, Gus probes for a sweet spot. He tunes slightly out-of-tune, deliberately, so the piano sounds good in all twelve keys.

Strings stretch with time and are vulnerable to changes in humidity. The goal is 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of pressure across the plate.

Gus studied music theory and developed his ear as an undergraduate. It wasn’t until some years later that he went back to school to become a tuner.

Sophisticated apps have augmented the industry of course, but Gus’ certification exam required tuning by ear. Placing a vibrating tuning fork between the teeth is a time-honored craftsman’s trick.

What kind of music does the piano tuner-in-residence at our coffee shop turn to for pleasure? Beethoven, Bartók, Bowie, and the Beatles have been important to Gus.

But he’s reached an age, he says, when he appreciates silence.


Assault Weapons

Our children are murdered at a rate early Americans couldn’t have imagined.Our Constitution holds that Domestic Tranquility, Common Defense and The General Welfare are non-negotiable goals.

A docile, limp-dick surrender to unregulated gun violence isn’t mentioned.

A school shooter with AR-15 technology can fire more rounds in a minute than a colonial minuteman could muster in a hour.

The Founders trusted us with the power to change outdated laws that threaten our lives and those of our children — we’ve amended our Constitution twenty-seven times.

They prayed we would inherit their Yankee ingenuity, and that we’d show the gumption a free republic needs to survive. Unfortunately those virtues seem to have skipped a generation or two.

Our children will do better.


Putin and Fox News

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted thirteen Russian nationals and three ‘entities’ for sowing distrust, hatred, religious and ethnic divisions to undermine our democracy.

Their efforts began in 2014 and were surprisingly successful.

Experts agree it’s hard to imagine that Vladimir Putin wasn’t aware of his team’s efforts get Donald Trump elected.

During the presidential campaign Fox News Network was broadcasting the same kind of fake-news being spewed by the Russians. Their stories justified and reinforced each other.

Nobody’s saying there was some sort of deliberate sell-out to the Russians but, planned or not, Vladimir Putin had become a regular contributor to Fox News.


Clare and Resiliency

“…The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” — Genesis 2:15.

You don’t have to be religious to understand why this passage appears in the scriptures that define three world religions.

We learned to work with fire. We shaped stone and smelted metals. We came to manage water and to cultivate lands. We domesticated animals for the nutrition and the labor they provide.

Two centuries ago we made an exponential leap. Machines used stream, not muscle power, to mass-produce and transport goods great distances. To feed a ravenous family, we’ve placed more demands on our earth’s resources than during all the millennia before.

“…And I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, and made mine heritage an abomination.” From the book of Jeremiah 2:7.

Clare Tallon Ruen is not a scientist but stewardship of the earth is central to her work as a dancer and a teacher.”

Clare diagrams and executes movements, creating what she refers to as ‘movement models’ which she combines with music.

She introduces school children to the interplay of the earth’s ecosystems. Recently she engaged students in a group pantomime to dramatize how sand and wind work to help common marram grass dominate the dunes of the Great Lakes.

She can explain that by creating a “rain garden” you can disperse storm water from your downspouts and filter the currents flowing across your lawn so that contaminants are diluted instead of concentrating in rivers and oceans.

Clare is involved with the concept of ‘resilience.’ It implies that if we’ve pushed our planet beyond a ‘tipping point’ as some scientists fear, we’ll need to find ways to help it recuperate — in the same way farmers rotate crops to let a field rest fallow and fleets retire from overharvested fishing banks.

Discovering the natural world as a child has fueled the curiosity of great scientific minds. Einstein held that imagination is more important than knowledge and Maria Mitchell wrote that “science is not all mathematics and all logic, but is somewhat beauty and poetry.”

They would have understood and applauded what the dancer and teacher who visits our corner coffee shop is about.


Marion doesn’t type

The woman in our riddle started her career on Madison Avenue during the ‘Mad Men’ years.

Here’s a riddle:

Why didn’t the woman know how to type?

There were no signs of injuries around the digits of her fingers. There was no swelling at the knuckles or wrists, not a wrap or a brace to suggest carpel tunnel.

She kept her nails at a practical length and she used a grip strengthener during conference calls. To this day she spends time in front of the Steinway in her living room.

Here are some clues.

The woman in our riddle started her career on Madison Avenue during the ‘Mad Men’ years. She drove herself to escape the gravity that held stenographers, secretaries, receptionists and ‘gal-Fridays’ in low-level jobs.

Women newly promoted out of the clerical ranks faced a slippery slope. They risked being enlisted to “take a letter” and type it “just this once.” If that happened often they could dragged back into the steno pool.

The subject of our riddle worked her way into senior management positions and came to be recognized as a ‘Women of the Year’ in her profession.

I met Marion when she was recruited as a rainmaker at an international advertising agency. She was exceptionally savvy and we lined up to share assignments with her.

When Marion and I launched our own boutique marketing-services firm a few years later, we outfitted our small team with state-of-the-art IBM Selectric Typewriters.

Although it’s almost certain she had been able to knock out fifty words a minute during college and in her entry-level positions, Marion’s index fingers never once settled on the home keys of our typewriters.

Like many females who broke into the executive ranks in those years, Marion had learned something more important than how to type. She had learned how not to type.


List of Accomplishments

I can’t do that.

Why not?

My parents wouldn’t approve.

So we call them and ask.

They’ve been dead for years.

Aunts? Uncles?

Nobody in our family goes in for that kind of thing.

You want me to give you permission?

Tell me again, exactly what I’m supposed to do.

Make a list of things you’ve learned how to do. Add the favors, even small stuff, you’ve done for people — your years with the volunteer fire department for example. How you honored your father and your mother. How you got on top of your drinking after you guys got pregnant — gold stars there. How you’re not holier than thou. Add points for every time you’ve didn’t offer advice nobody asked for. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Write everything down, memorize it backward and forward.

And I’m doing all this…why?

So that when it’s dark and too early to get out of bed and you’re beating the bejesus out of yourself, you’ll have some ammunition on your side. Maybe you’ll sleep.


Hush Money for porn stars

Donald Trump allegedly paid porn star Stormy Daniels the sum of $130,000 before the presidential election to keep her mouth shut. The Wall Street Journal broke the story.

Paying hush money is nothing new. It’s alleged that Trump wives, students screwed over by Trump University and plaintiffs in various lawsuits have been paid handsomely to shut up.

Who else is on the mute list? If Stormy is worth a king’s ransom in hush money, how much more in unmarked bills are his Russian connections demanding?


Donald J. Shithole

Donald Trump has given us Lyin’ Ted, Crooked Hillary, Crazy Bernie, Little Marco and Low-Energy Jeb.

This week he may have stumbled upon a word appropriate for himself.

You may think that tacking “Shithole” unto his name doesn’t show the respect appropriate to the Office of the Presidency. It’s a year too late to worry about that.



Our son was born without buttocks.

The bone structure of his ilium was perfectly normal and his “gluts” were standard-issue. What he lacked was the meat most folks have on their coccyges. I’m sure I’m misusing these words but you get the picture.

The boy was unaware he was skin and bones until well into grade-school when he came to realize that certain boys commanded the playground. They got to choose the teams during recess and twist the rules however they wanted. They were invited to parties. Girls liked them.

For some reason my son got it into his head — do not laugh — that it was the fit of his pants that was holding him back from joining the alphas.

He became obsessed that the seats of his trousers were baggy. He studied himself in the 360-degree mirror in our back bedroom — something he’d never done before.

It so happens that I sew. Not to brag but I can rip a seam and take in a crotch with the best of them. I strapped on my wrist pin-cushion, grabbed my reading specs and performed miracles on the saddle of that boy’s pants.

Over time he shot up and put on a little flesh on his frame. His face cleared up nicely and he took to wearing contact lens.

During a Sunday supper just after he started a full-time job, he told our family an older woman at the office — she was twenty-two if she was a day — patted him on the bottom and told him she was “into” men with tight little tushes.

We still laugh about that from time to time. But the fact is that the memory of young woman’s come-on would come in handy when a bald spot began to show on the back of his head.

What’s a mother to do?


Firefighter Tom

You’ll find the ladder truck from Fire Station Two double-parked outside our corner coffee shop some mornings.Tom Howard will run in to pick up a round for his crew.

You might think idling a hugely expensive firefighting vehicle for a coffee run is a waste of taxpayer dollars. It’s not.

Think of it as readiness training. Every minute on the street sharpens the team’s knowledge of traffic patterns, access points around town and behavior of equipment under weather conditions. Every emergency call sets off a mesh of calculations and responses.

Tom is part of an eight-member team that pulls a 24-hour shift. They stand ready at all hours to hit that pole and engage with sixty pounds of gear, tools and breathing packs.

Two meals are prepared each shift. You get your fussy eaters, restricted diets and meat-and-potatoes holdouts. It seems that leftovers don’t play well on Sundays.

There are occupational hazards. Firefighters seldom talk about fear but they worry about mistakes. A drop in adrenaline between shifts can feel like a loss of purpose and camaraderie, an isolating work cycle doesn’t help. Tom manages a hotline to deal with exactly those problems.

As an engineer he drives ladder trucks and fire engines and is certified in medical response and Hazmat. His thing is opening cars with kids locked inside. “Good enough to be a cat burglar.” he laughs

The 25-year-veteran firefighter earned a master’s degree in divinity after a deepening of his faith and has been asked to preach at various congregations. There’s that quality about him.

Physical realities catch up with even the fittest firefighters. Tom will be ready for the next chapter of life. “I believe the Lord has called me for something.” he says. And the good Lord willing a ‘98 Harley and a Yamaha Motocross will be part that something.