I wrote not long ago about my stupid notion that I might learn to play the acoustic guitar. Listen, if teenage rockers can do it, why not an old fart like me? But upon consideration, I had an even better idea. Why not the ukulele instead?



  • Ukuleles are smaller than acoustic guitars.
  • Ukuleles are cheaper than acoustic guitars.
  • Ukuleles have only four strings compared to six on an acoustic guitar, which ought to make them 33% easier to play.
  • Ukuleles are cuter than acoustic guitars.
  • The sound of a ukulele has far less carrying power than that of an acoustic guitar, which means you irritate less people if you play it badly.



And so forth.
So I shopped around online. Being a cheapskate, I bought one from Amazon for thirty-five dollars. It’s adorable. Everyone online warned me that cheap ukuleles go out of tune easily, which has turned out to be true, but it’s shiny and playable, and tuning it is good practice.




In a few days I learned half-a-dozen chords. I am relieved that the instrument has a soft voice; I can go in my room and close the door and strum away – out of tune or not – and not bother a soul, not even Partner in the next room. My arthritic old fingers still refuse to dance up and down the strings, but – with time – who knows?

(Now – would anyone like to hear a nice spirited rendition of ‘Hawaiian War Chant’?)



(No one?)


Resolutions 2014

resolutions 2014


If you want to know how I feel about New Year’s resolutions in general, please see the above illustration. “Foo” says it all.



But I love the idea of resolutions. What could be nicer than making a fresh start? Suddenly “next year” becomes “this year,” and we have an entire nice expanse of time before us, like a yardful of untrodden snow.



So let’s make us some resolutions!



1)    Stop complaining. Foo. No chance.

2)    Be healthy. Easier said than done, but there’s no way 2014 could be worse than 2013 from a health point of view. If I can manage to keep my organs from actually dropping out of my body this year, I will be doing okay

3)    Appreciate the good things more. This might actually be doable. Today’s bitterly cold in Providence, for example, but the sky is a lovely blue. Why not appreciate the lovely blue sky, even while cursing the weather?

4)    Maximize the love in the world. As a deeply flawed person, it amazes me that people actually like me, and I try whenever I can to return the favor. I already tell Partner several times a day how much I love him. I am also lucky enough to have friends – Patricia and Apollonia – whom I truly love, and who express their love for me in various oddball ways. I have always appreciated this, and after my illness I appreciate it even more.

5)    Work on the family history. This has been going on for over twenty years; I leave it and come back to it, mostly assembling records and keeping track of marriages and deaths. It’s fun and instructional, which brings me back to it, and incredibly tedious, which drives me away again.

6)    Practice my ukulele chords. Every day. I promise.




And finally:



7)    Be a better person.





Student fads: hookahs, porkpie hats, and ukuleles

I work on a college campus, so every year is a fascinating adventure into hipness. What will college students be doing / wearing / eating this year? Hoop skirts? Viking helmets? Fright wigs?



Actually, this year, it seems pretty sedate to me. “It looks,” I said to the shuttle driver the other evening, “like it did when I first came here in 1978. I guess the wheel has finally turned all the way around.”



He snorted a laugh. “Did they have blue hair back then?” he said, nodding toward a girl on the sidewalk nearby. “I don’t think so.”



Well, he was right about that. There are always changes and aberrations. But if you’d shown me a photo in 1978 of what the average student is wearing in 2011, I would have shrugged. What’s so different about that?



College students are very attentive to trends. I remember Bullwinkle when he went to Wossamotta U.: “I’ve got my raccoon coat!” he said. “I’ve got my ukulooloo and my hair stickum!”



(Yes, he said “ukulooloo.” I can hear it in my head even now.)



But modern college students look very similar to the way we looked back in the 1970s: simple, black t-shirts, jeans, floppy hair. 



But Shuttle Driver was right: there are some differences.



There is, for example, the Ironic Porkpie Hat.



A few years ago, all the boys (or at least the cool ones) were wearing classic porkpie hats. It was a little odd, but certainly no odder than the lime-green leisure suit I bought in Spokane in 1977.



Now they’ve moved beyond the conventional porkpie. They’ve actually become post-modern about it.



Today I saw a white porkpie hat. And a straw porkpie hat. And a flannel one, with a little flourish of feathers, like a Tyrolean hat!



And have I mentioned the proliferation of hookah cafes in the neighborhood? That, at least, was not something we did in the primitive nineteen-seventies.



Ah, youth! What next?



(For us, it was disco music!)



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