How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!
—-Shakespeare, The Tempest
A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.
Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.
Today’s story, for day Twelve – King of Jazz, by Donald Barthelme
Read it online here:
When I was a little kid I played trombone for a while. Actually, I think I was beginging to be pretty good at it. I can’t complain – it has given me an understanding of music that has served me to this day. After a couple of years we moved to a place that had no brass bands open to me and I made the discovery that it is impossible to play a trombone by itself. Probably for the best; it was about this time I learned to type.
So today we have a very short story (as is his wont) about a trombone player by Donald Barthelme. The trombone player is named Hokie Mokie and he is the new King of Jazz… now that Spicy MacLammermoor, the old king, is dead.
I remember when I played trombone in the school band, the most frustrating thing was the challenge system. Anybody could challenge a higher seat and if he won, he would take the place. I was first seat but I had to constantly contend with a bevy of lesser players that would game the system. The fact I was a young freshman made me an especially tempting target. They would practice one single piece until they had it cold, then challenge me with that piece. I was a better player, so I would usually win, but they kept coming and all I had to do is make one mistake and down I went. The bandleader would encourage me to challenge back as soon as possible, but I tired of the game pretty quickly.
In this story Hokie Mokie is challenged right off the bat by a Japanese Trombone player named Hideo Yamaguchi and the title King of Jazz is suddenly up for grabs.
I came upon the writings of Donald Barthelme in an odd, backward way. I stumbled across an article in the New Yorker (Good Losers, March 8, 1999) written by two of his brothers, Stephen and Frederick. It was an eloquent piece about an extremely successful family, the father a famous and influential architect and three sons that were noteworthy writers. The article was about two of them, Frederick and Stephen, who had become terribly addicted to gambling. It was fascinating and horrifying to read how these enormously talented and intelligent men were destroying their lives by driving down to the cheap casinos along the Mississippi coast and blowing all their livelihood on blackjack binges.
During the course of the article the brothers wrote about their older brother, Donald, and his revolutionary genius as an author. That interested me enough to do some research and to start to read his stuff.
Most of what Donald Barthelme writes are very short stories, flash fiction. They are unique and unusual bits of text – not what you are expecting or used to reading. They give up on a regular plot arc and make the reader figure out the meaning from a series of seemingly unrelated, often ridiculous statements, occurrences, or facts.
It’s a bit of an acquired taste. At first it was attractive to me because of its short nature – I figured I could read these little morsels of tales in some spare seconds here or there. But their simplicity turned out to be an illusion. The stories were more complex and deeper than they appeared on the surface. It took longer than I expected and were more work than I was prepared for – the tiny things had to be re-read and thought about.
“What’s that sound coming in from the side there?”
“You mean that sound that sounds like the cutting edge of life? That sounds like polar bears crossing Arctic ice pans? That sounds like a herd of musk ox in full flight? That sounds like male walruses diving to the bottom of the sea? That sounds like fumaroles smoking on the slopes of Mt. Katmai? That sounds like the wild turkey walking through the deep, soft forest? That sounds like beavers chewing trees in an Appalachian marsh? That sounds like an oyster fungus growing on an aspen trunk? That sounds like a mule deer wandering a montane of the Sierra Nevada? That sounds like prairie dogs kissing? That sounds like witchgrass tumbling or a river meandering? That sounds like manatees munching seaweed at Cape Sable? That sounds like coatimundis moving in packs across the face of Arkansas? That sounds like – “
“Good God, it’s Hokie! Even with a cup mute on, he’s blowing Hideo right off the stand!”
“Hideo’s on his knees now! Good God, he’s reaching into his belt for a large steel sword – Stop him!”
“Wow! That was the most exciting ‘Cream’ ever played! Is Hideo all right?”
In New Orleans for Tulane’s graduation last week… when I rode past the terminus of Bayou Saint John on my way to City Park and the Parkway Tavern I saw a Xeroxed poster on a telephone pole. Bike Easy, an organization that promotes cycling in New Orleans, was having a bicycle second line on Sunday.
What a great idea.
For those of you not familiar with New Orleans’ traditions, a second line is a special type of parade, unique to the city. The origins of the term is that the main participants in a parade, followed by a brass band are the “main line” or “first line”. The informal group that forms, following the band, is the second line.
The second line parade has taken on a life of its own and has become a hallowed tradition of the city.
The comedian Hannibal Buress did this bit on Jimmy Fallon’s show that explains the second line and how it works.
So, when Sunday rolled around I begged out of my other obligations and set off on my bike across the city from the Garden District to Bayou Saint John. This was the third day I had ridden this way (after going to City Park and Parkway, then to the Bayou Boogaloo) and I finally had the route pretty well figured out.
I arrived early and hung around talking to a few folks as the crowd grew and grew. I was wondering how they would work the band (walking would be too slow… you can’t play a trombone and ride a bike) and that was answered by the arrival of a truck pulling a trailer.
Everything took longer than anticipated so the ride didn’t get started on time, but that didn’t matter. The crowd had swelled to around six hundred cyclists of all types and abilities. I talked to a few folks that had bought new bikes and were going on their first rides and, of course, there were plenty of strong cyclists too.
Compared to, say, a Critical Mass ride in Dallas there were a lot more cruiser/commuter/comfort bikes and a lot fewer road bikes and fixies. That’s not surprising considering the rough roads, shorter distances, and general relaxed attitude in the Big Easy compared to my city.
Everyone piled into the street and the parade was off.
I’m not actually sure of the entire route we rode – I think it was Desaix Avenue to St. Bernard and Rampart Street. There we took a break in Louis Armstrong Park for water and hot dogs before we rode down Esplanade to Decatur and through the French Quarter. We wound through the Central Business District and then out Canal back to the start. The route was an easy eleven miles or so, but caught some of the most interesting parts of the city.
Six hundred bicyclists of varying speeds and abilities can stretch out for a long way. The ride had a motorcycle police escort that would blare down the opposite side of the street – all sirens and lights – to get ahead of the parade and block the streets. It was a complex, rolling dance of motorcycle cops, helped by volunteers on bikes that would help block smaller residential streets.
It was an operation that could only be done in New Orleans. It was obvious that the police knew how to organize and escort a parade – that they had done this many times before. We shut down traffic on some large and vital arteries, but again, New Orleans is used to this and everyone smiled and waved.
I fought my way through the crowd to ride near the front. I wanted to hear the band. We would stop at strategic places to allow the straggling riders to catch up and that was a great time. People clapped and danced along to the music. The band was really good – and had the stamina to keep playing the whole time.
Going down Decatur through the French Quarter, I noticed a ride volunteer standing in the middle of the street. The flow of bicycles was splitting on either side of her. I wondered what she was doing there until I went by. She was standing astride the biggest pothole I had ever seen. A bike wheel would plunge down there and disappear forever. You have to think of everything with a ride like this. Another tricky obstacle was the streetcar tracks on and around Canal. These ran parallel to the ride – and would swallow an uncareful wheel.
As we headed out of the Cetnral Business District a guy riding next to me shouted out with glee and enthusiasm, “We’re shuttin’ down Canal!”
The ride ended back where it started with everyone dispersing, either to the Bayoo Boogaloo or off into the neighborhoods. I checked my phone and my folks were getting together at the Columns Hotel, so I borrowed a bike map and planned another route across the city.
I seem to always be taking pictures of banjo players.
and there is my favorite – the banjo playing woman singing on Royal Street in the French Quarter, in New Orleans
I often say (boast?) that with a bicycle and a transit pass I can get anywhere in the Metroplex. I think I have proven that (at least to myself) it is possible… but I never said it was always easy.
Jeffrey Sailer, a friend of mine that runs Bike Friendly Carrollton invited me to the Saturday event at the Cobra Brewing Company, a relatively new brewery in Lewisville. It looked like a great time – craft beer, three bands, beard contests, food (the party was also the first anniversary of Juniors Lone Star Barbecue Sauce) and lots more.
We were to meet at the Dowtown Carrollton DART station at 10:15, in order to get to the brewery by noon. Since I can always count on the Gods of Transit to be against me (every time I arrive at a train station, the train is pulling out, every traffic light I hit on my bike takes forever to change) I had to leave home two hours before that.
I packed up my Xootr Swift – carrying some extra weight (bottles of iced water) to verify that my homemade panniers are up to snuff – and rode down to the Arapaho train station. I bought the slightly more expensive regional day pass – until now I didn’t realize that it covered the A Train to Denton as well as the TRE to Fort Worth. I caught the Red Line downtown and then waited for the Green Line which took me out to Carrollton.
We met there and road a short trip to the Trinity Mills Station where we caught the A Train. One of these days I need to do this ride and take the train all the way to Denton (a fun city to visit and ride around in) but today we only rode it one stop to the Hebron Station then went the rest of the way on our bikes.
It seem silly to buy a train ticket for only one stop – but this is all new construction, fast stroads, and empty space filled with wetlands and there is no way to ride through there. Someday there will be bike trails, lanes, or more friendly roads, but now it is in the hands of the car-exlusive mindset of developers and suburban governments and they can’t see beyond the dark-tinted windshields of their Tahoes.
We climbed off the train at the Hebron station (the Old Town station is closer, but we wanted to get a couple of extra miles in) and rode up to the Brewery. Our timing was good, it was opening right when we arrived.
The event was a blast – one of the best Brewery Events I’ve been to. Good beer – loved their Best Mistake Stout (but I am a stout fan, after all) and their Junior’s Snake Bite JPA (a smoked jalapeño IPA) was really good. The jalapeño aroma was amazing and the heat was balanced just right.
There was a lot going on – music, classic Triumph sports cars, plenty of facial hair for the beard-growing contest, two guys doing vintage tintype photography, and vendors of everything from food to growlers to mustache wax.
It was also the one year anniversary for Juniors Lone Star Barbecue Sauce – there was a lot of praise for their products. They arrange their array of sauces by heat – most folks settled in at the jalapeño level, but I, of course, want to try the hotter habanero variety.
One nice thing about these brewery events is the wide variety of folks that show up. Young and old, rich and poor, bearded and hairless – everybody is there and everybody is friendly. This one was especially diverse and I’ll be back sometime… even if it takes me three trains and about a dozen miles of bike riding to get there.
The festivities went on until six, but I left a bit early – around four. That was eight hours after I had left my house and I was getting a bit tired and dehydrated. I rode to the nearest train station and drank the water I had packed – which made me feel a lot better. I thought about riding back, but my train pulled in and I decided to call it a day. Always better to leave too early than too late.
The point of the event was to dress up in costumes from the roaring twenties (with various degrees of success) and dance to tunes of the time. I enjoyed the music a lot – there is something about a live band…. The first group – The Singapore Slingers were an especial bunch of fun.
A lot of people don’t realize this Elvis Song Are You Lonesome To-Night was written in 1926.