From the Platform to the Couch

Every morning workday morning as I stand on the platform and wait for the train, I perform a small, but significant ritual.  I reach into my left pocket and pull out my smart phone.  That statement in and of itself speaks to how my world has changed and that I recognized it.  Then I reach into my murse and pull out my headphones.  These day’s I use the yellow ones – I like how they fit my ears, but they are probably the least awesome pair have.  The jack slides in the top and I push the icon for the music to play.  I’m no longer another commuter with 200 others on a platform.  I’m in my own music booth, feeling the melodies, rhythms and emotions of any random 1 of the 1200 songs I have preloaded.

Each song brings with it its own set of emotions.  Sometimes, a stray tear finds my eye.  I have an emotional connection to many songs; “Dance Away” by Roxy Music always takes me back to my first real break up and I always sing “More Today Than Yesterday” by the Spiral Staircase to Lambchop.  Today my inner queen wanted to dance while I listened to the Tubes remake of Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time.”  In the 80s, The Tubes should have been bigger as dance band.  Maybe there were. I was a bit too cool for that in college. What is a blog if not for my Midnight Confessions?

What is always amazing to me is that my love of music was not learned.  I never played an instrument.  My parents did not particularly love music; the stereo console was more for looks than functionality.  My parents are young, contemporaries of the Fab Four.  One of my favorite party games is to ask my mother to name the Beatles.  She struggles for Ringo and then gives up.  I pull that out every 2 or 3 years to make my brother laugh.

My father was not better musically.  He had a copy of “Cheap Thrills” (Big Brother and Holding Company, but most of you are probably thinking Janis Joplin) and “Born on the Bayou” (The pride of El Cerrito, Creedence Clearwater Revival), probably because someone at work said he should get them.  I don’t recall my ever hearing my father play those albums, though I’m sure he did twice, just to justify the purchases.  I’m sure he identifies “Proud Mary” with CCR, but I am positive if I mention Big Brother and the Holding Company he won’t know what I’m talking about.  Nor will he think twice about the iconic R. Crumb cover of that album.  I knew all my album art backward and forward.  Yes, my dorm room was covered in Roger Dean art.

As I think back, I recall getting a cube of a clock radio when I was young.  I had it through high school, but I must have gotten it in 2nd or 3rd grade.  I remember listening to it at night, setting the sleep time for the full 60 minutes and listening to the local pop station.  Yeah, I really wasn’t that cool for a 4th grader.  But my growing up was probably a bit different from most of my peers.  My parents were young and ambitious and while we were undoubtedly loved, I don’t think any of us look back and think of them as nurturing.  Dad had a temper to be avoided and mom was always busy with charities or cleaning the house.  We had a black and white TV and it was not be our babysitter. I think we also watched what Dad wanted, but I could be wrong. I learned to enjoy reading.

I was never the most popular kid, but I was also not the weird kid, ostracized by others. By extension, while I often played with the kids in the neighborhood, I also found myself alone in my room, with my books. I read quite a bit and the backdrop was always music, never silence.  Music became part of my environment and 40 years later, I couldn’t be happier about it.  After my bar mitzvah, I added a small stereo to my room, thanks to my grandparents.  This allowed me the freedom to buy my own music – or more accurately have others buy it for me – and define my own tastes, far beyond the reaches of pop and bubblegum.  I think that junior high defined most of us.  I made new friends, my world expanded beyond the square half mile I lived in and I like what I saw.  I embraced these changes.

One of the first bands I grew to love was Genesis and by extension Peter Gabriel.  I didn’t discover them until after Peter Gabriel left the band, but nevertheless, I spent countless hours listening to “The Return of Giant Hogweed,” “The Musical Box,” “Supper’s Ready” and other jaunts into to fantasy and escape.  It should come as no surprise that I saw both Genesis and Peter Gabriel several times once I learned to drive.  I have great memories of those shows, but I haven’t wanted to see Genesis since they went pop and I haven’t seen Peter Gabriel since 88 or so.

Several months ago Lambchop announced that she’d never seen Peter Gabriel and she’d like to see him.  Seeing no reason to deny this wish — I mean I had made her seen UK and Marillion among others — I bought tickets and the seeing was scheduled for the large and anything but intimate Shark Tank in San Jose.  The first 2 times I had seen him at been at the San Jose Civic (1980) and The Greek Theater in Berkeley (1983) both fairly intimate (especially where I sat.)

Peter Gabriel’s first 3 albums are all entitled “Peter Gabriel.”  It makes it hard to keep them straight, but we fans manage. The third album (often called Melt), one of my favorites, is filled with songs about alienation (“Not One of Us” and “Intruder”), introspection (“Lead a Normal Life”)  and politics (“Biko” and “Games without Frontiers”.)  Delightful, no?

No Self Control” is about anxiety, introspection and an inability to solve ones issues.  Did we call it OCD then?

I know I’m gone too far
Much too far I gone this time
And I don’t want to think what I’ve done
I don’t know how to stop
No, I don’t know how to stop

Musically, it moves quickly and the song is urgent, pleading and self-aware.  There is no mistaking this as anything but straight ahead rock and roll, though I believe it was a bit boundary pushing for the time.  He recognizes his problems and won’t give into them.  The song is a metaphorical cleansing scream as he tries to figure out how to not give into his issues. Its powerful and bordering on anthemic.

Music, like people, changes over time.  I used to think of it as static, but music is organic; it grows and changes if you let it.  The Grateful Dead embody this philosophy.  We have all seen singing competitions on TV where one of the judges tells the contestant that they’ve brought nothing to the song.  Sometimes an artist brings new life to a song, with that one wrinkle that changes everything.  I saw that when we saw Peter Gabriel.

The original “No Self Control” was a rallying cry for change; an internal attempt to reboot.  32 years later, Peter Gabriel is no longer 30, his perspective has changed.  The song I heard that night was not purely rock and roll; it had been give what I perceived to be a jazz beat and rhythm.  The vocals were no long pleading, searching for solutions.  Sad, mournful resignation reigned over a devastated life.  There was no mistaking the change in perspective and meaning.

You know I hate to hurt you
I hate to see your pain
But I don’t know how to stop
No, I don’t know how to stop

The implied fist pounding for change was gone in this version.  This was not the apology it was meant to be in 1980.  It was despair.  It was powerful and hit me in the gut.  As I looked around the audience I’m not sure everyone got it.  This was reinforced later when the crowded cheered in the middle of another powerful song, not knowing there was a break and texture change at the emotional climax. It was so off it was wrong.

We get older; we are no longer what we were or have gotten to where wanted to be.  There comes a time where we need to accept what is and what we failed to achieve. It is easy to forget what we wanted long ago, the dreams and ambitions of youth.  I’m not going to be 30 again, but that does not mean I have to let go everything I believed in. It is still important to have dreams and goals; they’ve morphed but I still have them.  If this was intended as a wake-up call for the audience, I hope it worked, but the cynic in me doubts it.

I am a Friend of Chauncey Gardiner or a Modest Admission

My name is Lee and I am an addict.  It’s hard to put this out there.  I’m pretty sure most of you will judge me harshly. I know I should know better , but I can’t help myself.  I doubt  you’ve been there.  Its my own private torture.  I have a succulent addiction.  In a pinch I’ll settle for a cactus.  I find reasons to go to Home Depot, Lowes or OSH looking for cool little $3 plants.  Who could not love a $3 plant?  In pots or in the ground, they grow, sport colors and make the world a happier place.  Sadly, some die, but in Nature’s Kingdom that just makes room for more.  And my addiction grows like a ravenous vine.

Sometimes the hardware/home improvement stores aren’t enough.  Then, I travel to Cactus Jungle in Berkeley. A joyous nursery devoted to colorful and eye-catching succulents.  Its like my crack.  I dream of adding colors, textures and visual magnets to my yard and the house.   I can’t have too many.  Aeoniums, agaves, aleoes, crassulas, echeverias, sedums, sempervivums and more.   I go to Cactus Jungle too often.  I walk in and the staff see dollar signs.  when you spend $200 you get a $10 off.  I often give them a full card (20 punches) and they almost always give it back to me for the next trip.

some of my plants

For as bad as my addiction is, I  am lucky that Lambchop humors me.  Mostly.  I wake in the morning to see how the patch outside my window is growing.  I grab her to see things growing beyond my expectations.  I slyly avoid pointing out the deaths and prat falls in the garden.  Perhaps she notices the empty, growing stack of terra cotta pots. I haven’t gotten to hiding them yet.   Sometimes the squirrels dig out the ones  I’m propagating.  And I use the word propagate too often I’m told.  It is about to replace Spartacus as the drinking game du jour  (“apologies” and “gratitude”) in our home.

For several months I had talked of making a pilgrimage to Succulent Gardens in Castroville.  This might be the holy grail of  succulents.  I found them when I was looking for ways to make a vertical garden and they specialize in them.  They specialize in everything.   Before I get ahead of myself, we had to get there.  Lambchop had suggested a day trip a while back.  We had settled on May 26, because we were free.  It turns out so was most everyone else. It was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and the road was packed.  Castroville, you see, is the artichoke capital of the world.  Perhaps everyone was going there.  Or could it be that Castroville is on the way to Monterey and Carmel.  Well, maybe that was it.  Our 110 mile,  two-hour drive took closer to  three hours.  That happens on holidays.  we got there around 2:30pm  and they closed at 4pm.  Would I have time to browse?   Seriously, this place has 4 acres of plants.

Driving in, there was small empty parking lot and a giant “grow house.”  I don’t think it was a hot-house.  The landscaping facing the road and around the grow house was fantastic . I should have taken photos but I didn’t.  I was awestruck.  We walked in and were blown away with what we saw.  Plants, Plants and More Plants.  This photo I took.  This is a very small sampling of what we saw.

I was overwhelmed.  2′ plants. 3″ plants 4″ plants 6″ plants 8″ plants and 10″ plants.  It took an hour just to walk the 2 houses and small open space that were open to us.  I had visions of spending thousands of dollars to feed my beast, but I limited myself to a modest number, taking home 3 larger plants and about 20-25 smaller ones.

One of the joys of succulent overload is matching up various smaller plants in bowls or unique containers.  They tend to live harmoniously and grow into a visual delight.  While some folks plant larger plants in this type of arrangement, I tend to go smaller so as they grow I can see what’s happening and then add or change the arrangement to suit the container.  I had bought a lot of very small plants to build arrangements and a few gifts.  As we walked – well, wheeled the wagon – to the car Lambchop commented on how restrained I was.  In retrospect, I did hold back — but then I  was already planning my next trek to Succulent Nirvana;  Disneyland in Pots. Probably August.  I could have spent a few thousand dollars and still wanted more.  No worries, It was no more than a very nice dinner.  No, not French Laundry nice.

One of the most striking about the excursion was the help.  The two gals working the nursery were helpful, knowledgeable and, above all, patient.  As one helped me with the two fluorescent Aloes I wanted (they looked like someone set them aside and angering other patrons was not on my to do list) I made my usual comment, “I’m hope plastic is OK.”    Believe it or not I think I was in the last place on earth that took checks.  Cash or Check was my only option.   For just this reason, I always keep an emergency check in my wallet.   I would have had to put several plants back, I didn’t have that much cash in my pocket. I’m still amazed at that checks are accepted at a retail establishment.  Well, it was Castroville.

I realize that I have a monkey on my back.  I’ve embraced him and garden frenzy I create and maintain daily.  Today I ordered several difficult to find books on succulents and their health, propagation (DRINK!) and sprawl.  My monkey needed a banana.  He’s satisfied.  For now.