It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter III (Part I)

(Editor's note: Earl Fando is currently writing a novel as part of the insane National Novel Writers' Month Contest. As of this post, he has managed 12,000 words and has attempted to remove his own spleen at least once without the use of anaethesia or surgical implements.)

Chapter 3
The Incredible Lightness of Swearing

Church was nice the next day. I play and sing during the service and the lovely bit is that they let me. It is a small church though, so I’m always torn between the notion that I am blessed with some talent, and the notion that I am blessed with not being entirely tone deaf. The best thing about the music was that it kept me from thinking once about the novel. Had this not happened, I almost certainly would have missed twice as many chords on the guitar part than usual. People there are nice about it, though. There’s always someone who will come up afterwards and offer a compliment. When I mention that I missed quite a few chords or got off a bit here and there, they will smile, muster some small sense of awe, and say, “I never noticed at all,” even though their hair is still wildly out of place from where their head jerked rapidly at my playing a G-sharp add 11 when I should have been simply playing a G. This is a profound expression of brotherly love.

Playing music and singing in front of people is a very strange feeling. At church it’s not so bad, because the people are supportive and no matter how clumsy the music, the sense of worshipfully reaching out to God creates a nice reverie that places things in perspective. Plus, God clearly loves a joyful noise, not simply a tuneful one. God’s not only loving, but very, very patient.

Busking on the square or playing in other locales though, it’s all quite weird. Some people walk by and say they liked a song or toss a bit of spare change in your case. Others walk by and look at you as though you were the weak member of a skiffle band, playing at a hoe-down. The weirdest thing, I think, is the unspoken competition between musicians. It’s not so much a battle to win anything tangible, so much as it is a contest for respect. When two musicians sit down to play together for the first time, no matter how relaxed they seem or enjoyable the results, inside there is a little musician fighting for respect.

You can see this most plainly in music stores. At any given time in a fairly busy music store there will be up to 3 or 4 guitarists, all sitting around playing versions of Stairway to Heaven. However, after this old tradition (and joke), each guitarist will then launch into two or three things they know that best show off whatever skills or range they have. As this will all be happening at the same time, to the casual listener, the results would not be much different than if Alban Berg, Anton Webber, Arnold Schoenberg and Sid Vicious all formed a band. For those of you who have no idea who the first three gents are, just remind yourselves of the end of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

The goal is not that one guitarist can suddenly stand up at the end, throw his guitar aside and declare victory. In truth, almost no one in a music store playing a guitar actually owns it, so this would be quite reckless indeed, especially if the musician in question were playing a 50’s era Gibson Les Paul Classic, which was the model I was trying out when I made that mistake for the first and only time. Fortunately, it landed on the clerk who dove 9 feet through the air to save it. I made a special point to compliment him on his agility as he escorted me out of the store.

No, the goal is respect. Musicians, like any other practitioner of an art form, writing being the only notable exception, long to be taken seriously by other musicians, particularly those they respect. If this becomes unlikely, due to an obvious gap in technique and talent, then the only self respecting thing a lesser-talented musician can do is to annoy the better musician. A great example of this was when I was in another music store in the acoustic guitar section. The only other bloke in there was playing a classical guitar and playing quite well. His right hand technique was quick and precise, but he brought a sophisticated sense of feeling to the music as well. He knew his difficult piece by heart. At one point the store manager even came into express his appreciation at the skill and quality of the music.

So, being self-trained and quite unfamiliar with the classical guitar repertoire, I felt quite inferior, despite my own familiarity with a variety of guitar styles and songs. Therefore, I did the only thing a self respecting guitarist could do. I pulled an electric off the shelf outside, plugged it into the biggest amp I could find, and played the famous riff from Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water. My classically trained counterpart suddenly decided there was another music store he needed to visit. I helpfully suggested the one a half mile south on that street, pointing out that they didn’t allow me in there anymore.

I would have followed up this quiet triumph with the riff from Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper, but it didn’t have the same magic after the store’s proprietor explained that he was all out of cowbells.

When I arrived home from lunch after church, my first inclination was to take a nap. As I dropped off my guitars in the computer room, my eyes were quickly drawn to the mysterious DVD. It sat on the computer desk where I had left it. Its very blandness seemed to taunt me. In all honesty, I’d been totally disinterested in the thing since I’d discovered it wasn’t a bomb and had decided I had bigger fish to fry, douse in vinegar and salt, and serve up with a side of fat, crispy chips. Yes, I was still hungry after lunch.

I walked over to the desk and picked up the disk. It was quite new. There were no underside scratches, and so far as I could tell, no fingerprints or smudges of any kind on the disk or case, aside from the fajita grease I was currently leaving on it. I decided I ought to have a look at it, so I reached down and opened the DVD drive, put the disk in, and turned to sit down. In the chair, was my daughter, who in the time it took me to load the DVD had entered the room, sat down, logged into her Windows account, and started up a session of Runescape. As the DVD software came up, she deftly canceled it.

I made a loud, obvious coughing sound. She looked over at me, smiled, and without missing a beat said, “Dad, do you mind? I’m trying to play my game here.”

So, I got my nap after all.

The phone woke me a few hours later. It was Linus Coconut, our other contributor at the blog. He had called because someone had told him that Zimpter had called the day before. He was afraid Zimpter was working out a plot to get ahead of him in post totals. Linus and Zimpter had an unofficial contest to see who could post more. Linus was ahead three to two.

As this was about .2 percent of my own posting totals, it had long ago become obvious to me that this contest was merely about who could avoid being the contributor with the least amount of posts. I also realised that Zimpter cared a great deal less about the contest than Linus, but that it did add a bit of spice to their conversations with each other and me. Once I confronted Zimpter on the phone with the observation that he had fallen behind to Linus. Zimpter responded by saying, “Huh?” and then changing the conversation to the likelihood that Martin Scorsese would ever win an Oscar.

“Linus, Zimpter called to apologise for not having written anything in over a year,” I revealed.

“I’m not buying it,” Linus replied coolly, “That’s just his way, to create a sense of false security and then suddenly post twice and upset all the efforts I’ve put in.”

“Linus, the two of you haven’t put half a dozen posts together,” I protested.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” Linus insisted.

“Well, then why don’t you simply post a few times this week, then,” I suggested. “Given both your work rates on the blog, Zimpter wouldn’t even begin to catch up for at least a year.”

“You just don’t get it, do you Earl?” replied Linus.

He then offered his best to my family and excused himself to go and have a nap of his own.

I sat there with the cordless phone in my hand, ruminating on why the blog was in the state it was. I almost dropped the phone when it rang again. This time it was my Dad, making his weekly call to see how things were. After about 60 seconds of listening to me muttering things like, “Don’t they see the potential of what we’ve got here in this comedy blog?” and “I wonder if they sit around Instant Messaging during the bleedin’ day on the nearly effortless ways they can make Earl mental?” Dad asked to talk to my wife and daughter. I sat there still contemplating the blog. At least three times my wife said something along the lines of, “Oh no, he’s just fine. He’s just a bit tired. No, I don’t think therapy would help much.”

A few minutes later my wife called my daughter in to talk to her Grandpa. I thought this would be a good opportunity to check out the DVD but as my daughter passed by she sternly advised me that she was busy collecting berries south of Varrock for a special pie to feed a dwarf, and that she needed to finish or she’d fall behind on quest points. I made a mental note to myself that while I appreciated Tolkien as much as anyone, enough was enough. Then I sunk into the couch and watched the telly until my daughter strolled into the room and calmly notified us that she was done with the computer and did we mind if she changed the channel because a new episode of Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide was on. Not only did we not mind, I watched both episodes with her and my wife.

After supper, I strolled back to the computer room, taking careful notice of my surroundings to make sure my ninja-like child didn’t slip by me on the way. I settled in the chair and momentarily panicked when I noticed that the DVD case was empty. I erratically shuffled some of the papers on the desk, hoping the disk might fall out.

“Has anyone seen the DVD I had sitting back here on the desk?” I called out, irritably.

“You put it in the computer, Dad!” called back my daughter.

I pretended to not hear the sympathetic laugher that followed this observation from the living room. Instead, I opened the DVD-CD drawer, and closed it again. The DVD software came up in a window on the monitor screen. The DVD started to play a video. It began with a black screen and then the Phoenix Corporation logo faded in, accompanied by a really cheap electronic version of the opening movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I could have sworn I heard a cowbell in the mix.

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