There’s a memorable Far Side panel where a goldfish emergency transpires on a stage - a broken bowl, flopping fish - and a member of the audience is standing up and says “Why, yes, I’m an ichthyologist!” The caption says: A lucky night for Goldy.
In A Prayer for Owen Meany, the titular character is doomed for a particular ending, “THE SHOT” the boys call it. Throughout the novel, Owen and the narrator John Wheelwright - amidst the typical madness of characters and plots and all that Irving stuff – practice an odd, highly choreographed and complex basketball shot, obsessively. The final scene of the novel shows you why and it is heart-wrenching and amazing.
It could’ve been chaos and perhaps looked so. The twins are just weeks old and there I am in the kitchen washing bottles, organizing them, filling them, and warming them. Over and over again. There is precious breast milk to manage and divide out. There was Enfamil and ratios and math, more math than I’d thought, percentages and stuff. There were timings and schedules and to-dos and constant juggling and re-prioritizing.
There was the procurement of goods – diapers, wipes, onesies, formula… diapers – and the rotating of the stock and one day it just hit me: No other job path could have better prepared me for taking care of twins than the restaurant business. I’d spent nearly twenty years of my working life, both front and back, in the business by then. It seemed uncanny how it all coalesced. Food costs and recipe development gave me the math; kitchen management, the organizational skills; the improvisation that it takes to keep the priorities straight and get the job done that is the dance of all waiters and bartenders and line cooks and hosts made the sudden swings manageable and, honestly, kept it interesting.
As I continued on as a stay-at-home-parent, I saw this all more and more. Now, I was never a good enough Presbyterian to really get on board the whole predestination ride, but…
Sheer dumb luck?
Maybe, though, maybe we do everything for a reason. Maybe absolutely every move you make, every thought you have, all of it, is terribly important – essential. We just don’t know, always, just quite how.
So, earlier this week I was our local SongFarmers event here – basically just a good old-fashioned hootenanny - at the local library and a woman sang a song and another joined her in the chorus. I just barely recognized the song and can’t remember it now to save me, which is, arguably, not helping the narrative. All the same, it was great, and the song sounded sweet and it was a nice moment.
Across the room from her, a younger fellow sat and listened. He asked if he could tell us all something and proceeded to say that as long as he’d been in the local music scene, he’d always wanted to hear these two, unrelated artists (in fact they don’t really even know each other) sing this song, in particular, together. (Again, what song would help, but I can’t imagine how I’d find out. The style of performance, ‘round-robin’ it’s often called, is fleeting and the moments come and are, as quickly gone.)
Now, what struck me about it, and him as well, is that the whole scene was so incredibly unlikely. Here’s a song, they both know, they’ve both learned and practiced and played for years and, of this one particular evening, it comes together - out of the beautiful void - in the presence of the one guy who’d always wanted it to happen. He was physically and emotionally stung by the serendipity of it all.
I know, for a fact - although I could never verify the numbers - that there are thousands (tens, hundreds) of folks like me and my SongFarmer compatriots playing songs and learning tunes and practicing riffs and improving tone in their basements or music rooms or porches or parlors every damn night. I belong to guitar forums and acoustic performers pages and even get ukulele posts fed to me by FB because, well, correctly for once, they’ve determined that’s my vibe. I certainly don’t mind; I like knowing ya’ll are out there.
Sometimes folks perform a tune and post a YouTube video and a link on FB (which FB loathes and is trying to end) and a handful of people might look at it, perhaps like it, but, at the very least acknowledge it. I love these. Like the “’zines” of the eighties and nineties, or the old recordings made for a few bucks on a 45 or a little self-published chapbook of poetry, they show me what’s important to you. And they show me, fundamentally, that what we do has meaning, worth and is good – always good.
But, back, just one more time, to the cold quiet basements and hot, steamy summers picnic tables where we labor at it all. I feel we are doing it for a reason, always, that, again, even in that seeming silence, we are not doing it for naught, now way… never.
I secretly imagine a scene where aliens land and one little guy comes out, looking annoyed, and says that if someone can grant his one request then all of earth will be spared. “Can anyone,” he asks sheepishly, “show me how the chords in the chorus of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind work? Is that a B minor in there or what?”
And I’ll hold up my hand and say: “Why, yes, yes I do know that part.” And the world will be saved because I’ve played that song to the void a million times.
Glad to help.
Here's a link to the SongFarmers page, if you are curious.