Sunday, November 30, 2014


            A couple of weeks ago we made our second annual trip to the prefecture to ask Marianne* to let us stay here for another year. Among the paperwork required for our  carte de sejour, Cynthia and I have to sign statements swearing that we will not seek employment in France. This, coupled with my language incompetence has the effect of making us perpetual foreigners and permanent tourists.
            As if to prove it, this year Cynthia set for us a touring schedule at times so hectic that I wondered if her doctor had given her only 6 months to live.  We bought a used car back in May and have already put nearly 15,000 kilometers on it. This might not seem like much to an American, but considering that until two weeks ago we were living in an apartment, using public transit and shoe-leather express most of the time, it's a shitload.
            *Marianne is the symbol of France.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Harold Betters


            Not only is it about time I wrote something but way past time for another Trombone Hero. I might have mentioned before that Pittsburgh was a great place to grow up for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that it was such a great place for jazz. Just off the top of my head I can recite the names of Roy Eldridge, Mary Lou Williams, Slide Hampton, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Billy Eckstine, Errol Garner, Dodo Marmarosa and Billy Strayhorn as all being from the Pittsburgh. And if you played trombone, Matty Shiner, the low brass teacher at Duquesne University was world famous and a lot of his former students ended up teaching in the area. I was lucky enough to have been taught by one of them, Jack Lapato.  When Maynard Ferguson started touring the States again in the early '70s he came to Pittsburgh a lot, possibly because one of his trombonists was a local, Randy Purcell - a fabulous player who, sadly, died fairly young a couple of years ago. But one of the undisputed kings of the local Pittsburgh jazz scene was a guy named Harold Betters whose trombone could be heard for 17 years at a club in Shadyside called "The Encore." Like most jazz clubs it's long been closed and I read it's now a lingerie shop, which eases the pain somewhat.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mr. Big Stuff

Today I succumbed to that Facebook Throwback Thursday nonsense and posted the above picture of me the day in 1980 that I graduated from the Phoenix Police Academy. It did remind me of a few things, some I'd rather forget, one of which was an essay I wrote some years back at my wife's instigation. It involves a few "war stories" that I used to tell and was, of course, never published. Rereading it today, I realize why. Originally, I wanted so badly for this to be good but have never been satisfied with the way it turned out. It was rewritten so many times and  I tried too hard to be funny that finally I just gave up on it. So here it is, a bit lengthy but I just can't make myself rewrite it anymore. It also occurs to me that this is the first time I've ever shared anything of length on my career, such as it was. I hope you make it to the end.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hit The Road, Hans

German soldier on the quay in Bordeaux in 1940
            August 28 in Bordeaux at exactly 11 a.m., they rang the Grosse Cloche, the Big Bell. This was an experience for us for a couple of reasons. First, it proved that they really can be on time here - the sonnerie was announced for 11 and that huge bell started swinging right on the tick.  And we were proud to be involved, even if only as spectators, in commemorating the day in 1944 that Bordeaux ended four years of German occupation. This is not something Americans know much about.

Monday, July 28, 2014

WTF is That?

           This post continues a theme touched on last time, namely language and cultural characteristics of which I usually haven't a clue but find entertaining. You're hereby warned that much of what follows will probably appeal only to those whose maturity and sophistication levels approximate mine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Gummi Puppen?

This post is dedicated to the memory of a friend.

            A long time ago I abandoned the idea of ever making any money writing or that anything I had to say was of much interest to anyone. This blog is evidence of that, more or less. Despite this I always write with the idea of trying to please some unknown someone (writing for your readers) but this one is for me. I have nothing more in mind than pleasing myself as I remember a dear friend whose worth to me became even more apparent after he'd gone. So I'm warning you now that this post has a bunch of video clips attached to it and I have no idea how it'll turn out. The idea occurred to me sometime before June as we were approaching the 70th anniversary of D-Day but between travel and preparing a presentation on the trombone for Bordeaux-USA, I'm only getting around to it now. In putting together my trombone project, I learned how to use Imovie and went a little nuts making videos. The same thing happened again and for the past week or so, I've been working on clips to stick into this post.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Il y a 70 ans (70 years ago)

             Last week marked the seventieth anniversary of D-Day; I'm sure you heard about it. Another 70th anniversary that probably didn't get much publicity outside of France took place four days later in a little village in the Limousin. The opening paragraph of Sarah Farmer's book, Martyred Village, tells the brief yet complete story of what happened:
            Among German crimes of the Second World War, the massacre of 642 women, children and men of Oradour-sur-Glane by SS soldiers on June 10, 1944 is one of the most notorious. On that Saturday afternoon, four days after the Allied landings on Normandy, SS troops encircled the town of Oradour in the rolling farm country of the Limousin and rounded up its inhabitants. In the marketplace they divided the men from the women and children. The men were marched off to nearby barns and shot. The soldiers locked the women and children in the church, shot them, and set the building (and then the rest of the town) on fire. Those residents of Oradour who had been away for the day, or had managed to escape the roundup, returned to a blackened scene of horror, carnage, and devastation.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Incident At Milepost 49

The HoJo at Oakmont looked just like this

             Lately, I haven't been posting much for reasons that really don't matter but have resulted in my going through some of the essays and other writing that I've had laying around for a long time. Over the years, I've accumulated a trove of mediocrity that I once thought was pretty good. At some point, everyone even semi-serious about writing imagines their masterpieces being featured in the New Yorker or some other lofty publication and I was no different. But most of my stuff was written with no idea where it could possibly find the light of day. I paid no attention to any of the advice every aspiring writer gets on researching markets and how to appeal to editors or anything else that might have at least gotten me some encouraging rejection slips. So now I've decided that if none of this stuff is ever going to make me a member of the next Algonquin Round Table, I'm foisting it off from time to time on whoever runs across this blog accidentally in the course of surfing for pornography.
           The first of these I've rewritten so many times I can't stand it anymore. It was intended originally for some now defunct online magazine in Pittsburgh and I think I was encouraged by most of the previously published pieces being worse. I'm not sure Thurber would have gotten very far, either, if his mantra had been, "Shit, I'm not that bad."

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Duke's Place

Duane "Duke" Wareham

            This is a post I've been meaning to do for a long time. If you've read my "About Me" page, and made it to the end, you would know that at Springdale, Pennsylvania, High School, I played in a jazz big band that was then known as the "Mellowmen" and for every member it was the musical equivalent of being a star athlete. I made it into this group my sophomore year and by the time I graduated in 1970, the continued presence of females meant the band would eventually have to find a new name since "Mellowpersons" just wouldn't cut it so later editions were known simply as the Jazz Ensemble.
            It's not a stretch to say that being a part of this outfit is what got me through high school. (Most memories of these years that don't involve music cause a state that can only be relieved by judicious applications of medicinal spirits.) Of all my life's experiences, playing in the Mellowmen has probably had the most lasting and profound effect, except for the ones that filled me with bitterness and resentment so I guess I should say it had the most positive effect. It helped to create a passion for music, particularly jazz, that's never left me and was a big part of the reason I retired early to earn the music degree I'd wanted all along. Most of this was thanks to one guy in particular.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Steve Turre


           When we lived in New Jersey in the early '90s, I got to hear Steve Turre a lot since he played all the time at a club in Montclair. Being around New York and all the jazz clubs was one of the big reasons I starting thinking about getting back into my horn and Steve was a big part of that. It wasn't just that I dug his playing or that he's, to me, a direct descendant of J.J. and Curtis Fuller. Possibly because of his gig on Saturday Night Live, he was pretty visible at the time and was always being interviewed. In one of these he talked about the history of the instrument and how important players like Vic Dickenson, Lawrence Brown and Dicky Wells were. These were guys I'd never heard of before so I started checking them out which sparked an interest in the trombone's place in jazz that hasn't diminished.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bruce le Mec Blanc


           As my wife and family can tell you, I'm possessed of a disposition so perpetually sunny and upbeat that, knowing they can't possibly match it, others are sometimes brought down. Knowing you're everyone's favorite Pollyanna can be a pretty heavy burden at times and that could be why I've spent the past couple of months at the whogivesashiterie. Maybe I've been here long enough to be turning into a brooding existentialist - a sort of human version of Henri le Chat noir. Incidently, Henri's French isn't much better than mine so I must be making some progess if I'm picking up on grammatical errors in a cat video. Anyway, I hope the recent sparseness of postings hasn't disappointed anyone coming here looking for their positivity fix.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Doin' The French Mistake

           Things are finally getting back to normal around here after the trip to the States and a short run up to Normandy. And that means the struggle to learn enough of this language to preserve my honor continues in earnest. This week's lesson was all about the subjunctive. Before Wednesday, I couldn't have told you what this was in English. Just so you know, in the sentence, "In France, it is important  that I be speaking French", be speaking is the subjunctive - I think.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

How To Gain 15 Pounds In A Month (Guaranteed)

            We just came home to Bordeaux after spending a month in the States. This was my first trip back since moving last September. I hadn't thought I'd been missing much in the way of food except a good steak. The beef in France leaves something to be desired, and a couple of steaks was the only thing I planned to eat. But being constantly confronted by things we couldn't find here, well, something came over me. By the time we left I was having a hard time putting my pants on and when I worked up the nerve to stand on a scale on Friday, I'd gained 15 pounds. I haven't weighed this much in a long time and what surprised me was not how much I'd gained but how easy it was. So if you've ever wanted to gain a lot of weight in a hurry, with little effort, here's how I did it (your results might vary).