Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Mailbag

Mrs. E.C. in Fairfax,Virginia,writes in:What do you like to do in your spare time?
Well,Mrs. E.C.,here are a few of my favorite things:
Taking long walks in the moonlight
Going to pet stores and looking at the frolicking puppies
Admiring a beautiful sunset
Meditating on ways to improve the human race,starting with moi
Sitting with my wife before a roaring fire in our home,even though we don't have a fireplace
Haggling over wax lips in a Turkish bazaar
Dressing up like Betty Hutton and laying in a bed of pine nuts
Looking for secret messages from Larry Fine in boxes of Chiclets
Speaking Urdu to a group of barnyard animals,while they nod appreciatively in acknowledgement
Getting wasted in Margaritaville
Trying on mock-turtlenecks while listening to Mannheim Steamroller
Bidding on E-Bay for Ernest Borgnine's back-hair
Declaring a state of war against Zainesville,Ohio
Taking my Chia pet for a walk
Looking for Capuchin monkeys in all the wrong places
Seeing how many times the word "eclectic" is used in any given issue of a jazz magazine (minimum so far-5!)
That's all the time we have for this Mailbag-see you next time!KP

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Laughing Fit

As far back as I can remember,I've had what some might call a "problem" with laughing in very inappropriate,to say the least,circumstances. This could be some kind of weird defense mechanism,or part of a long-standing,and only partially suppressed,anti-authoritarianistic streak.I have a quite early memory,for example,of my mother,exhausted in frustration,calling me a "son-of-a-bitch",to which my reply,"Then what does that make you",was not exactly recieved with accolades for my clever bon mot.I think I was 10 at the time......
Anyway,I know it's not right,but I can't help bursting out into helpless guffawing at all the wrong times.I was once on a long,strange road trip (more about this in another installment) with my friend,trombonist Dan Barrett,when he proceeded to close a van door on his own finger.As he lay on the ground,trying not to pass out,I'm pretty sure the pain was not alleviated by me bending over him and stammering out,"" between peals of unbridled laughter.But there you go.Now we come to......

When I first came to New York,I found myself doing all kinds of strange jobs, so long as they involved me holding a clarinet or saxophone. These included,but were certainly not limited to: Dressing up in a musty Santa Claus suit that reeked of generations of disgruntled Santas past,and playing outside of Macy's in the freezing cold;playing in the lobbies of buildings for some "corporate good-will",where the only person not to completely ignore us was the lady who booked us.What she did,though,was hide behind collonades and spy on us to make sure we weren't (a) taking too many breaks,and (b) passing out our own business cards.And my personal favorite all-time low-a banjo-playing friend and I played the opening of a 7-11 somewhere in the wilds of New Jersey.And, just to help denote the grandness of the occasion,we had to wear red felt vests and fake styrofoam "straw" hats.
Now, a couple things spring to mind-first,why would one even want to celebrate the opening of another 7-11?It's not as if people would only shop there if they felt comforted by the strains of bad dixieland music wafting through the doors;I mean, it's a 7-11!!!!!("Look,Herb,you need shaving cream-there's a 7-11-pull the car over" "I don't know, Betty,this could be one of those rogue stores we've heard about.....but wait....what's that it...When The Saints Come Marching In? Is that a banjo and clarinet I hear? Come on,let's go in and shop!!!!!!!")
The final cap on this engagement was the knowledge that we brought no happiness whatsoever to the customers,as we found that no matter where we positioned ourselves in the store,we were only annoying people by blocking their pathway to the hot dogs/Twinkies/sodas,etc. ("Can't you guys move over there?" was a constant refrain)
The only saving grace about this gig was that we did learn a valuable life lesson: Just when you think you've got it really bad,somebody else has it much worse.This thought came to us as we gazed across the store at a man dressed as a giant Slurpee,and watched as he lurched violently around the shop in a manner meant to convey "joy".....But,I digress....Back to the funeral....

Our assignment was to play for the funeral of a theatrical impresario who loved Dixieland music (is there any other kind?).We were to play some tunes at the funeral home,and then drive out to Long Island and play again as they lowered the casket into the grave.But this was back in the 1980s,when many of us were diligently staying up nights,mixing together various ingredients in our ongoing scientific research into the effects of various chemical substances on the human body.Mornings were not our strong suit....
We showed up early at the funeral home,a few shades worse for wear,only to find we would be playing beside an open casket,facing the mourners.So,naturally,I lobbed a few preliminary comments out-"Don't look now,but I think he just blinked", "This may be a bad time to ask, but when do we eat?",etc--to no discernible effect on the band.Until we started our first number.I saw,out of the corner of my eye,the tuba player's shoulders shake ever so slightly.I immediately burst out laughing,which quickly drew the attention of both the mourners and our now-worried band-leader. I was soon overtaken with gales of laughter so deep that I had to bury my face in my hands and pretend I was weeping,as I staggered out of the funeral parlor,shoulders heaving, past the now-alarmed family and friends of the deceased.The band-leader,at this point, was not happy.......
Now, in the ride out to the cemetery, I tried desperately to compose myself by thinking about the most depressing things I could conjure up-my grandmother's death,my career,etc.,but in a bad foreshadowing of things to come, I kept erupting into truly seismic mirth-quakes.
We arrived at the cemetary-I seemed to be fine as the hearse pulled up.And then one of the pall-bearers stumbled and the casket fell to the ground. I burst out in paroxysms of laughter that must have drawn the attention of both mourners and mournee, as the band-leader barked at me,"For Christs' sake,go for a walk in the woods!!!"But that's not the worst part....
As we were piling into our cars for the ride home (in my case,the Ride Of Shame),I felt a great wave of remorse come over me.I felt really bad.I timidly approached the band-leader to apologize. As I was just beginning to stammer out a feeble "I'm sorry",I caught a glimpse of the tuba player again,and erupted once more. I reeled back to my car and quickly drove away....
Until next time---Ken Peplowski P.S. If there's any justice,my funeral should be a hoot!