At 4 AM

At 4 AM, everything is dark. The sun has not yet crept over the edge of the world.

At 4 AM, all lights are bright. You get dressed in the dark so as not to wake the house with blaze of the hall light.

At 4 AM, everything is very loud. You tiptoe out of the bedroom. The cat greets you, bellowing, and you wonder if the crinkle of the catfood bag will wake the whole street.

At 4 AM, nothing is happening. The television offerings are so bad, you think perhaps it would have been best for TV not to have been invented in the first place.

At 4 AM, nobody is awake. Unless you count alcoholics, angry loners, the unemployable, and me, who is worrying.

At 4 AM.

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Something Happened Today

Body-positivity is not easy, you guys. It takes a lot of hard mental/emotional work to get to a place where you are happy with the body you HAVE. This is doubly true if the body one inhabits is not the body that society/media/the world tells you is acceptable or desirable.

Lucky for me, I’m not terribly concerned with being accepted or desired, but I’m still human. I’d like to lose a little weight. I’d like my clothes to fit better. I’m fairly healthy but I’d like to stay that way now that I’m like, an actual adult person. But it is HARD to walk around in a body that people abhor and even fear.

AND I’M NOT EVEN THAT BIG. I’m on the border of a size 14 and size 16. It’s not the happiest place to be, because shopping is problematic on the best day, but that’s where I am and it’s fine. I am an average-sized woman. Genetics are NOT on my side – while there is a range of sizes amongst the women in my family, I was pretty much destined to have either a big ass or a big chest and SURPRISE!! I GOT BOTH! Thanks so much, doughy German ancestors!! MORE SCHNITZEL!

Anyway, aside from all that, I’m also a runner. I am fat and slow and that’s my lane, but I run. Slowly. I was doing that today! I have a 2-mile loop that I stomp around, and my current mantra is “fuck this, finish strong” so I run hard (for me) for about the last 100 meters, from the trail to where I park my truck.

This leaves me all red-faced and sweaty and generally pretty gross. Salty. I forgot deodorant this morning so I’m a little funky. And I’ve been recovering from bronchitis that turned into pneumonia, so my lungs are still getting back into the swing of that whole “breathing” thing. Freddie says he’s going to get me a shirt made that says “I’m not dying, this is just how I breathe.”

This was my state when I made it to the car, fished out my keys and started to stretch.

Two women parked next to me looked over at me and one of them snorted, “Fat girls look so tired! I’m so glad I don’t have to work that hard to stay this thin.”

Oh. OH!!

Now, some of you know that I am a big fan of the witty comeback. I spend a lot of time in online comment sections being hilarious and clever and a little bit rude. I’m not always like that in real life because honestly, who has the time, and 90% of the time I’m not paying attention anyway. But today? Oh.

I stood up.

I walked over to this woman and looked her straight in the eye, smiled, and said, “It’s so nice the sun is out today, isn’t it?” I never break eye contact.

She stammered some kind of reply.

I kept smiling, kept looking her in the eye.

“Sorry.” [mumbled]

Still smiling, still making eye contact.

“You will be.”


Then I got in my truck and went to Starbucks for my big-ass bucket o’coffee.

What did I mean by “you will be?” Welllllll that’s the beauty of that kind of statement, isn’t it? It means everything and nothing at the same time. I hope it confused her. I hope she takes a look at the women in her family and realizes that yes, the adipose will come for her, too. Or maybe her family is full of thin women who are cold all the time. Maybe she’ll find that someday, she does indeed have to work “that hard” to stay “that thin” and she’ll wonder if it’s worth it.

I know what I meant. Someday, she will, too. In the meantime, I will continue to run, continue to be slow, maybe be less fat (probably not, though).

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Karaoke Dreams

I am not a singer. Not in any socially-acceptable way, that is. Whatever musical talent I have is localized in my hands, and even that is questionable. I sing the way I used to play oboe: LOUDLY, and with more enthusiasm than skill!

But I really, really, really love to sing, and whenever we play the three wishes game, one of my wishes is always “to be able to sing better.” Now, maybe with some time and training I could improve, but I will never be asked to sing by anyone with functioning ears. There’s a difference between enjoying something and being subjected to it, after all.

In my car, I’m a superstar, and these are some of my karaoke jams:

1. Only The Lonely – The Motels

2. Never Surrender – Corey Hart (could this be any more Canadian?)

3. Come Sail Away – Styx

4. Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper

5. No Myth – Michael Penn (I might be the only person who likes this song)

6. Father Figure – George Michael

I’ll sing anything, and god knows my brain is about 84% song lyrics, but I rarely sing in front of other people, except Jillian. She has the misfortune of being related to me and since I am her principal chauffeur, not only does she have to listen to whatever I want to listen to, but she has to hear me sing it, too.

Poor kid.

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I am taking a Facebook break. It’s become obvious to me that there are some people out there who should have been drowned in a bucket when they were toddlers and I am tired of interacting with them, even in the most passive way (scrolling past).

It will probably be good for me, since for the first time in my life, my blood pressure (which is traditionally hilariously low) has been “elevated.” Gosh, I wonder why that might be? Anger and frustration are not a good combination at the best of times and we are nowhere near the best of times. If this is what “making America great again” looks like, I’m going to have to opt out, thanks.

At the moment, I’m doing homework. Most of what I have to do is read and write papers, but I’m taking a logic class which includes problem sets that are giving me fits. Not to worry, this is a 100-level class so just by showing up and breathing I will likely pass. The quality of questions being asked by my classmates is… well, most of them are freshmen and it shows, let’s say.

This semester is much more of a challenge than last semester. Fall was more of an experiment, to see if I could fit academia into my chaotic existence, and it went pretty well. I didn’t have to actually kill anyone, and I only had to screech at the family a few times. The novelty aspect of it all helped quite a bit, too. But this semester? This is a challenge. Increased workload both for me and for the family means that we are all running at full speed all the time. They say it takes a village, but we only have ourselves. Busy times.

In other news, the dogs do not seem to enjoy the musical stylings of Radiohead. I never noticed that before.

What I really need, and will not get until nearly August, is a full weekend with no commitments. I need this block of time because my closet REALLY needs to be cleaned out. I have so much stuff that I don’t wear anymore and it needs to go! I’m looking at the calendar, though, and… August. Maybe.

ADHD being the 4th family member in my household doesn’t really help. I am battling the early stages of a cold and really needed an extra hour of sleep this morning. That means What’s-His-Name needs to get up at 7AM (instead of his usual 7:30) to get the kid up and moving because nothing happens in this house in the morning unless I’m doing it. 7AM rolls around and he’s still in bed breathing on me, so I said “you’d better get up.” Yeah, yeah, he says.

Now, having an ADHD kid is akin to driving a truck with no power steering. It might go in the direction you want it to go, EVENTUALLY, but it takes a hell of an effort to get it there. Over the past 6 years, we have established a morning routine that is successful about 85% of the time and MY GOD I CANNOT STRESS HOW IMPORTANT THIS ROUTINE IS.

10 minutes later: “You know, routine is pretty important and you’re fucking it up.” He got out of bed then.

I don’t even feel bad – I explicitly asked for something I need (extra sleep) and he agreed to take over the morning shit so I could get that and he dropped the fucking ball. It’s annoying because it’s almost as if he thinks I am asking for the fucking moon sometimes. I’m really not. In the end, I got about an hour of sleep that I sorely needed and everyone got out the door on time, so all’s well that ends well, but fuck, man. Frustrating.

Currently taking a study break to read a GQ interview of Tom Hiddleston. So far, my takeaway is that if I go wandering through some of London’s park, I may run into the man who loves to wander aimlessly through them. TICKETS BOOKED!!

Just kidding, we’re not doing a big vacation this year!

That reminds me, I never wrote the Germany travel blog. I should get on that.

Ohhhh it would seem that Hiddles is a fan of Jonathan Franzen. Ugh. He should stop that because Franzen is such a hack. Maybe if I can get Hiddles to just stand near me and be pretty and we never talk about anything of substance? I’m more than happy to discuss the weather with him. Oh, but he’s tall! Hmm. We’re back to a balance point, then.

I should go to the gym today. Well, I should have gone to the gym today. I went yesterday, despite feeling a bit blah, but I felt worse this morning and now it’s a bit late for me to do that and still get home and showered in time to leave for my class. I’m at the point now where I feel a cold coming on and I’m not sure if exercise will kill it or make it worse. Winter sucks.

This blog post will probably post to Facebook. I think that’s how I’m going to do this for the foreseeable future – I’m not going to interact directly with Facebook, which means any likes or comments on whatever we’ll call this particular bit of drivel will go unseen. Like I said, if you need me, you know where to find me. And if you don’t… there’s a deficit in your existence, isn’t there?

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Three In A Marriage

When Freddie and I first got together, nearly 21 years ago now, we didn’t give a lot of thought to things like meal planning. We went out a lot, and he cooked for me now and then, but for the most part, we were in restaurants for much of our courtship.

When we moved to Indiana, we kept up that habit. It was easy then – we lived in an apartment the size of a NYC city block and paid $400/month for it. We were fucking loaded (living off grad school loans and my three jobs). Then we moved to New Jersey and things changed. We downsized from a fairly palatial spread to a teeny tiny garden apartment for more than twice the rent. He went to work and so did I, but money was… different for us. We had to eat at home a lot more.

Enter: Jamie Oliver. You know him better as The Naked Chef. Right around the time Freddie and I got married, I acquired the first Naked Chef cookbook. It was a revelation – instead of a rigid list of ingredients and instructions, his book encouraged the reader to trust their instincts and wing it, when necessary.

Now, THAT is how I like to cook. None of this measuring bullshit for me! A handful of this, a pinch of that, extra garlic, more butter, cook until it’s done. How long? UNTIL IT’S DONE.

And so, Jamie Oliver became a very real and important presence in our marriage.

Fast-forward sixteen years – Freddie is working full-tilt, 25 hours a day. Jillian is in school and basketball and Scouts and cello and Hebrew school and and and and and and and all of the busy-ness that a good suburban Jew kid gets up to. I myself am back in school because I have too much free time and money, apparently.

Through it all, Jamie Oliver has been my go-to, my godsend, my guru. I have 11 of his books and they all show signs of heavy use: tears, grease stains, spatters, post-it notes sticking out all directions. They are my love and my life and if the house ever catches fire, those are the books I’m gonna save. Luckily, they’re near the front door.

This semester promises to be a challenge in almost every way. My classes don’t get out until afte r4PM every day, and most after-school activities for Jillian start around 6. It takes me about 45 minutes to get home, which means I have about a half-hour to get food on the table for people. Thanks to Jamie, I can do this. His book “Meals In Minutes” promises that I can get a full meal (plus dessert, bitches) on the table in about a half-hour and JAMIE DOES NOT LIE. In sixteen years of cooking his recipes, he has let me down only once (some chorizo soup thing that everyone hated). Without him, things would look very different in my house, that’s for sure.

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Who Am I, Anyway?

There are at least 13 legal permutations of my name. I know this because in 2004 when we first applied for a mortgage, I had to ask for more paper to fill out the “other names under which you are known” section.

I blame the state of New Jersey for this. When we got married, waaaaaay back in 2000, I first changed my social security card to reflect my new identity. When I went to change my drivers’ license, it turns out that the state of New Jersey’s computer system can’t handle the badass feminist I was back then (I’m more badass and more feminist now, thanks for asking) and decided that I needed a hyphen between my two last names.

After an 8-hour ordeal during which I challenged the DMV worker to call the governor’s office in Trenton, I left with a hyphen. Which does not match my social security card. Or my passport. On my credit cards, we dropped my maiden name completely, and never added the new one at the bank, so NONE of that matches anything else at all.

When I was going through all of this name-changing identity crisis nonsense, I was a student at Rutgers. While they allowed me to add a second last name to my current last name, they ate my MIDDLE NAME, of which I am quite fond, and slotted my maiden name in there. Well, okay then. Not terribly progressive of you, Rutgers, but we’ll deal with it.

Fast-forward to 2017, 16.5 years since I got hitched, and I have never once addressed any of this. At first I didn’t have the energy, then I didn’t care, then I didn’t have TIME, and now I’m back to not caring. I also find it amusing, that I can choose who I want to be in a given context.

Now I’m back in school and I have at least four “official” combinations of my name. My original, maiden-as-middle-name is one of them. I think that will show up on transcripts and junk. My drivers’ license name, which is the one I usually go by and sign to papers and exams is another. My OTHER official name, which erases my maiden name entirely (The person “Rachel A Zack” doesn’t technically exist), and my email, which is rdiroll. HILARITY ENSUES.

Example: “Excuse me, Mrs. Zack?”
“Mrs. Zack?”

Another Example: “Rachel D——– Zack?” (Very, very few people can pronounce the maiden name correctly. Hell, half of the family gets it wrong most of the time)

“Rachel D Zack?”
Sure, that’s me, I guess.

It’s very confusing being me. People joke sometimes that they don’t know their own name, but I ACTUALLY DO NOT, at times. I also confuse my left and right hands, but that’s a topic for another day. I’ve also called the kid by the dog’s name which is something my grandmother used to do but in her defense, she has 9 kids. I only have one.

On the one hand, I really should just get a couple copies of my marriage license and pick one name, and make all of my things match. On the other hand, I rather like the chameleonic aspect of having 13 versions of my name. Each one of those ladies inhabits a different version of me, so why not give them each a name? It’s not a split-personality situation (because who has the energy for that, honestly), but more of a way to name my various moods, you know? Sometimes I’m a nice lady who opens doors for old people and says please and thank you and smiles a lot. That’s probably “Mrs Zack.” Other times, I cut people off in traffic and flip them the bird and mouth “ASSHOLE” at them when I pass them on the highway. That’s clearly “Ms Diroll.” Most of the time I’m just doing my thing. That’s what the hyphen is for, I suppose.

As Vonnegut said, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Luckily for me, most of my 13 names are the name of a complete badass who is just trying to be her best self, most of the time.

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Some Things Stick

Sunday, February 29, 2004
Happy Leap Day! i just had to post today, even though i don’t have much to say. eh.

last thursday we went to happy hour at Houlihan’s (it being the closest thing to a local bar) and we were playing the trivia game. as usual, i was kicking major ass. i looked over to my left and noticed the guy sitting next to me. i had to look again. and again. and then i had to ask Freddie if he would look at the guy.

the guy was a dead ringer for Bono. hilarious. hair, earrings, everything. it made me laugh. he was playing trivia too. and his nickname?



so we’re all playing and goofing off and stuff and Billy Squier comes on the music. FakeBono and his friend start arguing about whether Billy Squier was in Band-Aid or not. FakeBono says no, the friend says yes. so they tap me and ask me. heh.

Me: no, Billy Squier wasn’t in Band-Aid.
Friend: but didn’t he sing a christmas song?
FakeBono: [singing]: but tonight thank god it’s them, instead of you….
Me: yeah. he did that ‘christmas is the time to say i love you.’
Friend: oh. RIGHT!
FakeBono: [to friend]: see! i was right! [to me]: you know how i know that?
Me: because you look like Bono? unhealthy fixation, perhaps?

turns out that FakeBono is in a U2 tribute band called Unforgettable Fire. ACK!

unfortunately, i didn’t get a chance to talk to FakeBono much more because that’s about when Freddie decided we needed to leave so he could watch The Apprentice. heh.

I almost NEVER go back and read my own writing because so much of it is uniformly terrible. This, however… this is an interesting snapshot into how my brain worked back then and it’s amazing to me how far my writing has come since then. I’ve been a first-person observer for so long that I am having trouble transitioning to straight academic writing, but the one thing I know I DO have is a clear voice and a pretty good command of the English language. Even when – especially when – I make up my own words. This post right here is a good illustration of how much I’ve improved, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. I’m glad I finally embraced the use of capital letters – is there anything more annoying than some pretentious asshole blogger who thinks she’s worthy of this kind of conceit? e.e. cummings and bell hooks can get away with it because they are fuckin’ geniuses. I’m more of a special-ed genius.

It blows my mind that 2004 was 12 years ago. I have problems wrapping my head around that sometimes because it doesn’t feel like more than a decade has passed since I wrote this little blog snippet.

We were pretty close to being Actual Adults by then. I was 29, Freddie was 30, and we were living in our very last apartment before buying our first house later that year. We both had like, real office-type jobs (he’s still with the same company whereas I have had at least 5 other jobs since the one I held then because I am bad at adulting, we’ve come to find). We weren’t planning to have kids, ever (oh, how the universe LAUGHED AT US), but we had a cat. Our decorating style had progressed from “post-college desperation” to “we went to Value City!” We were, as the song goes, movin’ on up.

I remember this particular day SO clearly. We met friends at Houlihan’s after work, which we did most Thursdays. They had trivia at the bar (it used to be called NTN but now it’s BuzzTime) and because I am full of random facts and useless knowledge, I was in the lead. Over the years, I’ve found that this really pisses people off. My handle is “Piglet” and every now and again, I’ll see dudes peer around the bar, all “who is this Piglet? Fuck, man. I want to beat this dude at least once!” They always, always, assume that a guy is at the top of the scoreboard because ladybrains? Get the fuck out of here! No way a LADY can beat a dude at trivia! But I can, and I often do. There was at least one guy across the bar, looking around and muttering when I was tapped on the shoulder by FakeBono. To my credit, I neither laughed nor spit my beer out (I was likely drinking Bass or something else boring… the switch to craft beer happened later).

This incident makes me laugh every time I think about it. I’d like to bump into FakeBono again, because I have so many questions that have occurred to me over the years. The tribute band is still together and still playing, according to their website, so maybe I will get a chance to do that and let them know that I think of them every time I hear Billy Squier’s “Christmas Is A Time To Say I Love You.”

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I Just Want To Tell You How I’m Feeling

Good luck.

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Do They Know It’s Bullshit?

Well, kids – the holiday season is upon us once again. This is the time of year when we’re meant to look around us and give thanks for our blessings and to treat our fellow man with good cheer and wish for peace on earth and all that noise. I have to say, though – it’s all bullshit.

Why? Because if people really felt that way, they’d act like that all year ’round. And most of the people I see around me don’t. I suppose if I’m being honest I’m not a huge fan of peace on earth and goodwill to man, either. I generally distrust and dislike humans on a general level, but the ones I love – I really really really love them. They know who they are.

But, you know, we do try, and charitable giving tends to peak this time of year. It’s as if Thanksgiving creeps up on us and we all go, “oh shit, there are hungry people out there! I’d better give them the expired can of beets from the back of my pantry! Oh, and there’s that irritating Salvation Army bell-ringer. I think I have 35 cents and some pocket lint to stuff in the bucket. There, I’ve done a good thing so I’m a Good Person! All set for another year!” And then we go punch someone in the neck for walking too slow in the mall. Those bargains aren’t going to buy themselves, you know.

It’s all rather pointless, don’t you think? Not to ring my own bell, but I give an awful lot of cash to various causes all throughout the year. I’ve automated a lot of my donations so I don’t even have to think about it. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or if it’s the epitome of slacktivism. I’m not sure I care, actually, as long as the sweet tax deductions roll in.

Celebrities are no different. Whenever there’s a big catastrophe somewhere, you’ll see stories about how So-And-So Famous Movie Star gave $50K to the Red Cross to help with the relief effort. This is almost always someone who is paid something like $20 million dollars to make yet another shitty movie full of explosions and they want to be canonized or knighted or fellated for having given up $50K of it. Fuck that. I hate those people.

Sometimes, though, the famous actually put forth a little effort. That’s when things get interesting.
The mid-80s were a fertile time for the Celebrity Charity Song. MTV wasn’t just a cable channel by then – it was an incredibly powerful cultural force. The visibility it offered was unparalleled and hasn’t been matched since its demise. If you were a musician and you wanted people to see your work, you were on MTV. How else would I know about a band called “Helloween?” It was around this time that MTV figured out it could be a force for good. Sort of.

Between 1983 and 1985, the country of Ethiopia suffered a terrible famine. It wasn’t the first famine to happen there, nor would it be the last, but it happened at a time when communication was truly beginning to go global and people outside of Africa were being confronted with harrowing images of stick-thin babies, their huge eyes imploring us to help them, do something.


Our Bob was born in 1951 and raised outside of Dublin, Ireland. He had your basic hardscrabble childhood, and spent some time in Canada as a music journalist before returning to Ireland in 1975 to front the Boomtown Rats. The band ended up being known more for their frontman’s mouthy punk attitude than for anything else (except maybe that one song that you’ve heard of), and they didn’t enjoy nearly as much success as another band from Dublin which you may have heard of: U2.

Like his counterparts in U2, Bob got into social activism relatively early. He did a gig for Amnesty International in 1981, but it was when he was exposed to images from the famine in Ethiopia that he had the ultimate “a ha!” moment. He sat down with Midge Ure (of Ultravox) and together they hammered out what would end up being both the best and worst Christmas song of all time: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Bob asked, cajoled, and threatened most of the UK pop world to get together with him and produce this record. In the end, he had about 40 different musicians there from all over the UK, and also Kool & The Gang, who happened to be in town and were therefore invited along. The music starts out appropriately Christmassy, with chimes and bells and Paul Young taking the first line the most amazingly tone-deaf lyrics of all time. Remember Paul Young? I bet you don’t. But Come Back And Stay! We’ll figure it out!

Now, I love this song more than I really ought to, given that I don’t even celebrate Christmas and that I know damn well that it does, in fact, snow in Africa. A large part of the varied populations of Africa don’t even celebrate Christmas, so to treat an entire fucking continent like a monolith is absolutely asinine. Not everyone in Africa was affected by the famine. Not everyone in Africa was starving. There are two references to Africa being this massive, arid desert, which is just completely untrue.

In short, the lyrics of this song are complete shit. They’re really, really, really bad and even “Sir Bob” (he was made an honorary knight for his humanitarian efforts but isn’t technically allowed to use the title “Sir,” yet the nickname stuck) has said that he is responsible for two of the worst songs ever, the other being “We Are The World.” Bob gets it.

The lyrics weren’t the point, though – it was all about the money raised. They had originally hoped to raise £70,000 but within a year of its release, the song had generated over £8,000,000. It had succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

I think, on the whole, the intentions behind this and other songs of its kind are good. Even the most terrible of the genre managed to raise quite a bit of cash for their chosen causes. Would it be easier all around if the famous people involved would just write a fat check and not go through all of this “let’s make a song” malarkey? Sure. But had Band Aid not been formed, and had they not written and performed this, the best and worst of all songs, my life would have been missing something important.

So this year, when you hear Bono doing that whole Bono thing with the line: “tonight thank God it’s them, instead of YOU” take a look around you and do just that. Then maybe open up your wallet or set up an auto-pay donation and try to “feed the world” all year long, not just to “let them know it’s Christmastime again.”

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A Great Deal of Noise

November 25, 1985 isn’t going to go down in history for anything terribly exciting. It was a Monday, and I was 10 years old. Rocky IV was the most popular movie at the time, and if you haven’t seen it, stop what you’re doing right now and go watch it before you talk to me any more. It’s the best sports movie of all time (yes, including Rudy), and I refuse to argue about it.

But I digress. And I will continue to do so, but I have a point, I promise.

In the show Doctor Who, there is an episode titled “Let’s Kill Hitler.” In it, the main characters discuss the idea of using the TARDIS to go back in time and kill Hitler before he can completely fuck everything up. It turns out that messing with the timeline isn’t as easy as you’d think. There are some things that are simply fixed points in time and therefore cannot be changed, however much we’d want to.

November 25th, 1985 is a similar fixed point in time. Had that day not happened exactly as it did, I really doubt I’d be sitting here at my laptop now, in 2016, writing about it. A quick internet search doesn’t turn up much for that day, but for me… it is THE DAY.

It is the day of my very first saxophone lesson.

I was in 5th grade, and I’d never played an instrument before. I wasn’t a natural musician – I have very little natural rhythm, and I have been asked, more than once, to just not ever sing in public, ever. My parents aren’t particularly musical, either. My dad can whistle, but there wasn’t much musical creation in our household.

ENTER THE SAXOPHONE. I didn’t even know how to put it together, so that was the bulk of Lesson One. I was sent home with a book and an instrument in a case that was nearly as big as I was, and told to give it a half-hour every day. So I did. I made terrible noises. Horrible, awful, “who is stomping on a duck” kinds of noises. My mom asked me to “please, for the love of God, practice before I get home from work, please.”

About three weeks after that first lesson, I performed in public for the first time, because when you don’t know how terrible you are, you don’t care. It was Grandparents’ Day at my school and with Christmas coming up, I thought a rousing rendition of Jingle Bells would hit the spot. It did! It was loud and awful but everyone applauded and that’s when I knew what I was going to do. I was going to be on stage, making music. I spent the remainder of fifth grade going to my lessons and practicing until my face hurt.

In 6th grade, we all started band. Up to then, everyone had been taking weekly lessons and learning on their own. Now we were going to get it together and REALLY make some noise. If you’ve ever had to sit through a first-year band situation, you know. We were objectively terrible, but that’s by design, right? I was First Chair saxophone, a position I grew to love. We played horrible music, badly. One notable tune we played was John Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the USA” arranged for a beginner band. It’s a square song already, and this band full of small-town white kids had no swing whatsoever. It’s been 30 years, and I can still hear it in my head.

The next year, when I moved up to 7th grade, I was met with some competition. 7th and 8th grade band was mixed together and there was an 8th-grader who was miles ahead of me, musically speaking. How I envied her! I practiced SO HARD that year and never even got close to her natural talents, and that is when I started to branch out.

I acquired a flute – my sister, who had played flute in high school was off to college and needed money for books, so she sold it to me for all of my babysitting money. I bought a book and taught myself how to make even more horrible noises! I was now a multi-instrumentalist! Still not the best musician, but I put in so much work that year. If the flute section needed an understudy (with roughly 22 flutes vs our three saxophones, they did NOT), I could have stepped in and played any of their parts, no problem.

In 8th grade, I was back to first chair. It was the last time I’d sit there. By this point, I was a technically proficient musician. I wasn’t a genius, and I wasn’t truly gifted with it – my skills were the result of practice and practice and more practice. I was very, very good, but there was something missing that kept me from being great. I was never very emotionally connected to it. The very best musicians feel the music they’re playing, and they make you feel it, too. I was never good at that part of it, because ew, gross, feelings! Yuck!

And then… high school marching band. My one and only true love. If I could have stayed in high school for another 4 years just to be in marching band, I would have done it. There are few things in life I love with the intensity of the love I have for marching band. So much work. Such ugly uniforms (our uniforms redefined the words “tragic” and “uncomfortable”). SO MUCH FUN. I learned so much in marching band, and decided to be a band director so I could be in marching band FOREVER AND EVER. My career path was decided!

For concert season, I was asked to switch to oboe. Since there was no way I’d be First Chair saxophone anytime soon, I agreed and set about learning that. Horrible noises ensued, et cetera, and my band director asked me to go to an EXTRA band camp over that summer between my freshman and sophomore years so I could get more practice in on the oboe and be ready for concert season, and that’s what I did. I met a friend there and we are still friends to this day because band bonds are unbreakable.

By the time I graduated high school, I was a pretty talented multi-instrumentalist. I played saxophone in marching band, saxophone and flute in jazz band, and oboe in the wind ensemble. My grades were good enough in my other classes that I spent a good 90% of my senior year in the band room and nobody seemed to notice or care. I won all the awards that were available to me, including the John Philip Sousa Award, which is kind of a big deal.

I thought college would be more of the same – go to class, go to band, football games on Saturdays, be awesome, repeat. And for the first year, it kind of was. I did not pass my oboe audition but I was admitted as a saxophone major, and I did fairly well under an immense workload and a considerable amount of pressure. I fell asleep in a practice room under a piano more than once.

Then… well, then we entered what I like to think of as the Dark Times. A lot of things happened between 1993 and 1996, few of them good. I left school for awhile and then went back, but it wasn’t the same. Whatever spark that had been driving me was completely snuffed out and music, once my joy and my comfort and my “thing” was now a source of pain and frustration. I quit playing.

I’d get the horn out from time to time – in 1998, What’s-His-Name and I were in an impromptu klezmer band at our synagogue. That was fun, for awhile. But the idea of getting my horn out and playing would cause me to have panic attacks. Being on stage, once my Entire Reason For Living, was literally the last thing I wanted. My horn sat in the closet and gathered dust. The last time I played music in public was in 1999, when I played flute for a Mother’s Day thing at our synagogue.

Nowadays, I spend a lot of time trying to get The Jillian to practice. She plays piano and cello now, so “go practice!” is a refrain heard every day at my house. I still have my saxophones (three of them), my flute, and a clarinet I bought in a drunken eBay binge about 12 years ago, but I don’t play any of them. I got the flute out a couple of months ago to show Jillian, and I played for her a bit, but… whoa, man. It’s definitely not like riding a bike.

The saxophones are in the closet under the stairs. I guarantee they all need some maintenance before any of them are playable, and I toy with the idea of taking them in to my local music shop and getting them into workable condition. I hesitate, though. “I don’t have time,” I tell myself. “I physically can’t do that anymore,” I say. “My favorite neckstrap broke and none of the replacements were ever comfortable,” I hedge.

Those are just excuses, though. The truth is that I am afraid. Of what? I’m not really sure. Maybe someday I’ll get out a horn, clean it up, and see if I can do something with it. I know my hands still know what to do, but I’m not sure my brain and my heart are up for it. We’ll see. Someday.


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