Sunday, December 7, 2014

Knee Braces

Taking my shoes off as a sign of respect. I never had a problem with that. This wasn't a scene from Scared Straight, where the convicts were telling you to throw your shoes in the trash. This wasn't that airport in Italy where they made me take off my hat. There was a dim light and a low ceiling. Everybody was speaking in hushed tones and avoiding personal interaction for the most part. The poster on the wall of Bikram Choudhury made me feel like I was in a meeting with the political revolutionaries supporting Bob Avakian. This was a different place. This here was something akin to practicing a revolution of your relationship to your body and it's own relationship to your soul. This was my first class of Bikram Hot Yoga. The woman who would become my wife was my guide into this world. She had lived inside of it for several years. I wasn't afraid of the scorching heat you often hear about. I welcomed it. As long as this wasn't cold Yoga, I thought I might be able to relish the experience. Having the whole front of the room being mirrors was something else. You know how some people say they'll take your camera if you take their picture? You have to know who you are and what you want to sustain eye contact with yourself for more than five seconds. Having yourself almost naked takes it to the level known as next. I still remember the mirror at a regular Yoga studio I entered back in the day when I was just a Yoga dabbler. The mirror bore the inscription: "The real teacher is you."

I placed my mat in the back row where there was no chance of me looking into my own eyes. My glasses are back in my locker anyway. I've been told they will be useless in this environment, and would slide right off my face from the sweat. I awaited the teacher as the heat in the room started to swell. My head was already sweating more than I have sweat in years. I joined other students in a pre-class meditative state. I found myself reflecting on the very beginning of my extraordinarily personal relationship with my knees. It was my knees that would be the root cause of me seeking healing from something as hardcore as Hot Yoga.

It was Nineteen seventy nine. Suburban Little league. My parents were still together. My grandfather was still alive. I played for the Dodgers and was one of the best guys on the team. I had perfect vision and not an ounce of fat on my spirally little frame. We were playing in a park in Monroe New York. I heard that somebody from the news on TV was in the crowd of parents and friends. I was a catcher, and quite sterling at it. My dad helped me oil my mit. I was on third base and running for home. I was going to score! I was going to win the game for everybody!

That's when my knee completely dislocated for the first time.

"AGGGHHHHH!" I cried out in terror.

I had a straight panic attack as my knee opened up and separated itself as I was running. In shock and total fear I stumbled, fell over and slumped onto the ground. My knee snapped back into place somewhere along the way. Massive pain ensued. Only five seconds had passed, but my world was turned completely upside down. I had no idea what actually happened and was too afraid to move. Home plate was the last thing on my mind. Amazingly enough, the other kids stopped playing and all came over to see if I was OK. I was carried off the field to applause. My knee, engorged with fluid, looked very confusing to me. I didn't know then that knee problems would pin me to the mat for the next thirty years. I didn't know then that each time I would try to get up, one of my knees would slam my face back into the pavement, reminding me of my place.

Back in Yoga class, it's now one hundred and seven degrees in the room. The standard. I wondered if there might be a river of lava nearby, or maybe a lake of fire. My first Yoga teacher entered the room, Rick. I still can't get over how his name seemed to fit him. Rick was wearing tight black spandex and a fleece vest. He was a slightly small white guy with huge glasses and an enormous head of gray kinky hair. Eighties vibe I thought to myself. As soon as he started talking I was into it. He created real drama in what we were doing, especially with his countdowns. He spoke softly without a microphone, making it personal. I felt like I was in a scene in some kind of science fiction film. First up was a deep breathing exercise. I immediately thought of the benefits to my trumpet playing. I submitted completely and tried to suck in vast amounts of wind. I thought of tree tops bowing over under the force of powerful gusts. I became the wind. I was blowing over all the landscapes of Earth at a considerable velocity.  

Next was the half moon, as another connection to nature was invoked. If this was the healing process, then I was in. I didn't notice that my clothes were already on their way to total saturation. I started dripping up a rainstorm. Nearby, I witnessed a woman who became her own monsoon. She already had a big puddle right in the center of her mat. Now realizing that we were going deep into this process, I was inspired that some real healing might take place. As Rick told me to bend my knees right to the edge of what I thought was possible, I experienced a flashback to the next stage of my journey that led me here. 

My repeated knee dislocations have not fared well. The doctors have now prescribed double knee braces for me to wear all the time. These early versions had metal bars on both sides that were supposed to prevent the bones from slipping out of place. The velcro straps don't work very well. Most of all, these things are just embarrassing, even for a kid. I wasn't trying to be Forrest Gump. I chose to risk further dislocation instead, and not wear them. My knees graciously obliged in my request for destruction. Gradually, I lost function of my right leg and had to have surgery. Total reconstruction. As I recall, my hamstring had to be unhooked and reattached. Lots of bone pieces were swept out. The surgery lasted six hours. The cast and physical therapy continued for months. I was fifteen though and was able to conquer the adversity. I had faced worse than this when my folks divorced, my grandfather died, and then my Mom almost died. Unfortunately, my left knee was also in a gradual state of decline. One day I brazenly tried to play football with the football team without pads and without my brace. Being in the marching band playing trumpet just wasn't enough for me I suppose.

When I refused to go down with three guys tackling me, I felt a drill pierce my knee from the side and twist. I felt bone grind against bone. The world blurred and spun. Panic came and washed over me with the intent that I drown in dismay. Down on the ground helpless, I checked to see if the knee was back in place. The problem was, just touching it after dislocation caused agony. I knew then that time was running out for this knee. Despite the danger, a few weeks later I decided I had recovered substantially, and went right to the basketball court after waking up. Clearly I'm the proverbial glutton for punishment.


My dad found me laying down unable to move for a couple hours. My second surgery was a week later. This time without insurance. Naked and blind on that cold table without my glasses, I was actually awake at the beginning, but quickly descended into the abyss. I awoke too early in recovery and started hitting on the nurses. "We should take a vacation together to the islands." I quickly faded away again. That night I woke up in searing pain. I was out of painkillers but screamed and begged for more to no avail.

It was a long night.

Back in class, Rick gave us the new directive. "Next we have Awkward pose. Go ahead and sit down in your chair." Awkward pose was just that, awkward. The chair is imaginary, and you have to sit as low as possible. I still watch as everybody sits down and I half sit, knowing that one day I will descend my keester into the rich plushness of my imaginary rest sanctuary. My knees don't enjoy Awkward pose. My left knee will often raise the white flag in just a few seconds. Both of my knees don't entirely approve of more than half of the poses. I always listen. I have no choice. They still have a way of grinding and twisting until I yield. But each week, they creak a little less. Each week I grow stronger. While I used to have to stop many of the poses halfway, I can now do some of them on a much deeper level. Down the road a bit, I left Rick to study with my girl Amanda in Manhattan. Amanda is really extraordinary. She's a Yoga master who has won Yoga competitions. She always brings an over the top positivity. She even sings in class. Last week she broke out into straight Opera!

"Push! (Higher) Push! (highest with mad vibrato!) Puuuuussshhh!!"

Next up in class it was time for some shapeshifting. I became an Eagle and was told to twist my arms like ropes. Standing head to knee followed. Then it was standing bow pose, where you become both the bow and the arrow. After six months, I'm actually able to touch my right ankle! I achieved a vaunted focus in following pose called Triangle. Balancing stick pose came next where you tried to become the letter T. Then it's standing tree where you try to take root in the floor. I reached a place of simultaneous exhaustion and exultation. I physically felt pain, fear, and anger leave my body at the cellular level. With the standing series over we were blessed with a two-minute rest period, known as Savasana. It was time to reflect on the next chapter of my ongoing knee novella.

I made it for years without any issues after my surgeries. I didn't really take care of myself that well. The doctors had told me back then that I might end up with Osteoarthritis, which I chose to forget. My real escape became my beloved bike riding. Up and down the west side of the Manhattan bike path. I spent countless hours doing this, usually listening to music. It was a cathartic transformational self-physical therapy of sorts. I had a brand new bike and was loving life when my left knee returned one day with a brutal message. Delivered in a way that I'll never forget.

One bright sunny day I was riding at full speed when lightning struck my knee in a blinding flash. An acute pain came over my entire left leg. I almost crashed, but slowed down and pulled over. It was little league all over again. This wasn't a dislocation though. I just had a severe and sensitive pain. I could barely walk. I had been in no accidents. Had my knee just run out of gas after all these years of freedom? I conducted a few tests with the same result of a crippling pain. I had a severe and fragile limp home. I have never returned to my cherished bike path ever since.

Weeks later I was still carrying this albatross of misery. My condition was deteriorating. It was getting so bad that I could barely make it through a day of work. Even though I had grown to distrust doctors as much as I distrusted the police, I realized they might be my only hope. Surely our venerated American health care system will take care of me. Our ample amount of precocious doctors will surely devastate any adversity I may face. First up was an MRI X-ray.

Getting an MRI is somewhere between becoming the stage floor during a heavy metal concert, entering the Atari video game Yars Revenge, or entering some kind of matrix test tube. You must leave everything behind, even your glasses. You wear a gown and are given ear plugs before the 20-25 minute procedure begins. The last thing you see as the conveyor slides you in is a giant General Electric symbol. The operator in the next room tries to communicate with you through a little speaker that sounds like those garbled messages from the Subway conductor's that make no sense. After it's over the operator leaves you alone on the floor to figure out how to find the elevator and make your escape from the sub-basement. Real life medical science fiction.

The results were in. Severe Osteoarthritis. The doctor, who seemed to genuinely not enjoy his job, delivered his prognosis: Knee cap replacement. No work for a month. Surgery. Again. I needed more time to dwell on this and opted for steroid shots and drum roll please, a new modern day knee brace. I would end up with three knee braces. The last one I wore for almost seven months straight. The metal bars were sheathed in a stylish black rubbery substance. The circular device at the center was supposed to keep my knee cap stabilized. Its task was to hold the center. Doubled up straps on top and bottom made it awkward for any blood trying to reach my feet. The whole brace had a Darth Vader vibe. Remember when Obi-Wan told us that Vader was more machine than man? I didn't want to end setting off metal detectors. Physical therapy and drugs had no effect. The problem was that I couldn't take a month off of work and survive. To have surgery would throw my whole survival system in the fire. As my condition worsened, I became desperate. I was now walking around with a cane at forty-three years old. I Never noticed how so many people were walking around NYC with a cane. I was now one of the fallen. I took my tax return and went to see a doctor that specializes in stem cells in deep Queens. I couldn't afford stem cell treatments, so I was offered the "budget package." Oxygen injections that would enable rapid healing. I spent my last dime on these treatments. They came with a lot of expensive drugs. I achieved a fair amount of temporary stability, but I had found no cure. After the treatments, the doctor told me I had too much lead in my blood. He could "clean" me though, for two-thousand dollars. I'd never forget him telling me a parable in his office about the "stupid" man, who was supposed to be me if I didn't cough up the two large.

Still denying surgery I decided that If I lost weight and changed my diet maybe I could conquer this on my own terms. I had read that one pound of fat equaled three pounds of pressure. I needed to be purged. Forty pounds would be shed as I danced on the outer rim of starvation. But what about exercise? The bike was still impossible. I tried to do my physical therapy training at the gym. Still not enough. I needed something more. It was here that I actually believe that Hot Yoga saved my life.

Just this last Sunday, it was time for the floor series with my teacher in Astoria Queens, Alina. Like Amanda, Alina is a master. She noticed my two big knee scars instantly and tried to help me adapt to the program. She might be no more than a hundred pounds, but her spiritual power is boundless. The floor series gets me off my feet, but my knee flexibility is pushed to the extreme. Now it was my lower back and neck getting pulled apart. Time for Cobra pose, Locust pose, Half-tortoise pose, Camel pose, and Rabbit pose. Camel pose in particular may be the scariest pose of all. During camel, you open your heart chakra as wide as the sky and as deep as the ocean. Still have feelings from a relationship twenty years ago? There they are. There's that book you wrote together with that lover you could never forget. A brutal head to knee pose follows, ending with an impossible spine twist. After we finish, we have a reverse breathing exercise where every last trace of air is expunged from the body. I open my mouth wide enough to breathe fire. It's the ultimate waiting to exhale. With the 26 posture series completed, we enter an optional deep state of meditation. It's here where I work on releasing anger. I also practice very focused visualization in an attempt to make all my dreams come true. So far, its worked!

During the floor series, I am often dizzy and ask myself If I'm going to make it. In truth, I should stop, but stopping is not what I do. I only stop when I'm being forced to, when choice is taken away from me. I have yet to pass out. The biggest difference now is that I experience no knee pain whatsoever. My knees no longer warn me or tell me to back off. I even "ask" them if I can keep going at times. In response, I always see a huge green stoplight. The message being GO. KEEP GOING. I'm fragile when I gingerly leave the Yoga chamber, but I have no limp. Seemingly I have discovered my cure without surgery. I'm addicted to it and will most likely have to practice for the rest of my life, but that's OK with me. I have my nutri-bullet at home and have strived to continue to eat every kind of anti-inflammatory food in the world. I throw in some bioflavonoids, wheat grass, and Glucosamine. Stability achieved! There's nothing better to me than a natural solution.

Throughout all of my knee drama, music has been my passion in life. I have an orchestra called the Twelve Houses. We just left the studio last week in fact. The highlight of our recording featured my violinist Laura Ortman. The piece I wrote for her is called Knee Braces. Knee Braces represent so much more to me than being muscle supports. They represent how life forces you to evolve through direct confrontation. Everyone on Earth will face their own transformation trial at some point. Some say that pain is a gift. I learned a painful lesson. While I knew a change was needed in my life, it wasn't until a lose-lose situation was dropped on my doorstep that I rose up and did what I had to do. So often these days, we wait until tragedy strikes before we take any action. Anybody out there that desires to know who they are and what they need to be doing in life, I might suggest you head on over to Hot Yoga.

Head on over there and burn.


Monday, December 1, 2014

How to tune the World. The Novel.

War. Starvation. Greed. Apathy. Torture. Arrogance. State sanctioned racism and murder. Rampant consumerism. Religious fanaticism. The human race continues its protracted state of adolescence in the longest tantrum of all time.

The Natural Forces have had enough. Hurricane, Tidal Wave, Volcano, Tornado, and Earthquake have decided our time has run out. The Earth is to be cleansed. They intend to act soon, in unity, to assure our complete removal.

We have one last hope. Terra, the last great humanitarian, will try to get us one last chance at redemption. Sent by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, John F Kennedy, and Mother Teresa, Terra will be tasked to meet with the natural forces to plead our case. The Sun will sit in final judgement.

After the Natural Forces teach Terra how to tune the world, she will reach out to the human race to attempt to create a final ceremony that unites us all. But is she too late?

Will Terra be able to save the Human Race from complete destruction?

Will Terra be able to tune the world?

Find out in 2015. Or 2016.

Find out by 2020. In a theater near you. Virtual reality perhaps.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Peas and Lub. The Great Will Connell.

"The human race is in a protracted state of adolescence." -William Connell

The first time I met Will, or Brother Starcharts as I called him online, was in the basement of the Westbeth houses. We were both headed to the same rehearsal, but I can't remember what the event was. Before I knew his name, he was telling me he had just been through some rough medical stuff, and wasn't sure he was going to make it. There he was though, ready to make music when he should have been home recovering. I quickly tracked down a record he made with Steve Swell and Lou Grassi on CIMP. I found Will to be a hardcore alto player, who would bring that high energy. I found out later about the flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet. Sabir Mateen told me about Will's history. Core member of the Horace Tapscott community and the copyist on Ornette's great orchestral work Skies of America. Boom.

I would continue to see Will around the scene. We ended up talking about Astrology. Will shocked me when he told me that western astrology was all a big hustle, and if I was down with that, I was just fooling myself. He said he could straighten it out for me, and would make copies of stuff for me to study that he would give me whenever I ran into him. I asked him if he would practice around Horace. Will told me about an incident when he was in a room with all his Astrology books out when Horace entered and slammed a big book shut that Will was studying.

"No words were needed or said." said Master Will.

Will and I got to play together now and then, more often in large ensembles with Steve Swell, Warren Smith, and Sabir Mateen if I recall correctly. One time Chris Forbes had us both playing at University of the Streets together in a quintet, a personal favorite. Every time I saw Will I would hope for another story. He was very generous with them. Two of his favorites:

Will was at a community center of some kind, playing a jam session. The whole stage was lined up with tenor players. Everybody was playing full bore, going for their ultimate music as if Trane were in the house listening. It was then that none other than the great Rahsaan Roland Kirk arrived.

Rahsaan walked on stage with his tenor. He went up to the first player and listened to what he was doing. He then started playing the guy's music right back at him, but at a higher level. He was able to absorb the style and concept instantly, and then improve upon it and play it back better than the guy who was playing it. Rahsaan would play what the cat was trying to do. Eventually, the other musician would stop playing, and Rahsaan would move on to the next cat. Same thing. Same result. Then a third cat. No matter what anybody played, in or out, Rahsaan could turn it around on them and elevate it. He went down and did this to the entire line. Finally, he was playing all by himself. Nobody could touch him.

Next was one time when I saw Will at Sam Ash around Christmas time. I asked him if he was celebrating Kwanzaa, betting he would tell me something that I didn't know about.

"Don't get me started on Kwanzaa man."

Will told me a story how two sisters invented Kwanzaa at a community meeting, I think in Philly. They did it just to show they could pull it off, but never meant for it go that far. Whenever Will came in after that, I would tell him he gets the Kwanzaa discount, which would always get a smile and hearty laugh from him. I must have done that for him at least ten times when he came through for reeds.

I think a great example of just how supportive Will was, was that every time I would see him, he would never talk about himself, but he would ask about brother G right up front. (The notorious Giuseppi Logan for folks not familiar with my prose here at Fat E-Flat). Will insisted that all G had to do was contact VH1, and their music cares program. I eventually took that shot for G but was met the most barren of responses. VH1 made it quite clear that they couldn't care less about brother G. Will  and I always talked about different ways we might be able to help him out. Will explained that G had too much pride to ask directly for help in most situations but that he should bite the bullet. Will was a survivor himself. When Sandy flooded out the Lower East Side, he watched the water rise right up to his apartment. On the brink of destruction, the water subsided.

The last few weeks Will was in an upbeat mood. He had acquired a residency at the Stone. He kept saying over and over that with his luck, he gets a residency during Christmas week when the place is either closed or nobody was in town. He was still greatly inspired by this and plunged in to arrange some Horace Tapscott music and add some new pieces. In a great honor for me, Will said he wrote a whole piece to feature my flugelhorn. Now a third master has let me know that the flugel is my clearest voice. One of the other cats being master TAZZ, seen playing above in a photo with Will and myself. Sabir was the first to tell me this. I have always had great respect for the elder cats that blazed trails before me. My respect for master Will was boundless. Will was a truly humble cat, who brought it musically, every time. He was stone cold serious when it was music time. A New Years Eve concert comes to mind featuring Will, Sabir, and Roy Campbell. Will burned on this occasion. I'm betting he was inspired by Sabir and Roy, whom he greatly respected. Will considered Roy to be one of the greatest trumpet players of all time. You know the staff here at Fat E-flat agrees.

One thing I just can't shake is how death operates. Even the greatest spiritual masters of Earth can't get a bead on death. People look at astrology charts after someone dies and say it all makes sense, but nobody, nobody knows when death is going to make his move, and why. Clearly, we have to accept that higher forces have made a decision that trumps anything we think is happening down here that might be important. I mean, Will's birthday was just a few days later on the 22nd. (Demonstrating vast spiritual power via the 22). Plus, Will had this great residency coming up. Couldn't he get a chance to play that music? The other thing was the COLD. Just like when Roy died, there was this bracing cold just causing pain everywhere you looked. When Death is near, does the temperature just drop like that? I will brazenly question Death's method. It just doesn't make any sense the way his timing works.

Say what you will.

Death is no angel.

But brother Will Connell may just have very well been one.

Peas and Lub brother Will.

Peas and Lub.


For Will Connell, who signed off his emails Peas and Lub. One of the last emails I received from Will after a concert a few months ago said in bold, big letters: CATS! THERE ARE NO WORDS. THANKS FOR MAKING A WAY OUT OF NO WAY.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I Was A Telephone Psychic

“Are you going to be pregnant in a few months? Is your man cheating on you? Maybe it’s time to return that ring! Need the answers today? Don’t worry, Miss Cleo is here for you. Call today, and at only $2.99 a minute, I’ll answer all of your questions and more!”

Surely you remember Miss Cleo. She had made a great deal of money before she went down for fraud. Before she left, she spawned an entire industry that thrives today, twenty years later. Google the word psychic, and you enter a whole subculture. This population consists of millions of people with questions and thousands of people willing to give them the answers by any means necessary.

Folks are lonely. Like Freddie Mercury told us in his song, some people just need someone to love. Like Nat King Cole told us, the greatest thing in life, is to love someone and be loved in return. Some people need escape. Some people need validation. Some people, are out of work and need to know when their going to get a job. A great deal of women need to know when that married man they’re having an affair with, is going to leave his family to be with them.

“He said he loves me. He’s telling the truth right?”

My initiation into this realm began years ago when I met a true psychic, fourteen years older than me. In minutes, without knowing me, she told me about two women that I was involved with, and described both situations with high detail. We had never met, how could this be possible? I was baffled, but most of all I was intrigued. I wanted her power for myself. I endeavored to study with her, and we became close friends. Entering her world, I became immersed in astrology, tarot cards, color meditation, runes, astral travel, and channeling. We didn’t do the palm reading thing. My channeling experiences are a story for another day. Perhaps you heard of Seth, a spirit who wrote a series of books through a woman named Jane Roberts. 

My psychic mentor and I tried to make money using our skill sets. We even opened a shop for about two months. I never felt comfortable adding a financial aspect to it all, but she was deep into that. Eventually, I accepted that there wasn’t enough consistent money to be made, and I turned in my pink slip. We stayed in touch, and years later she called me up insisting that I join her on staff with an excellent organization you may have heard of, California Psychics. She was making a killing with them and thought I could escape the retail jail I had been in for years. Coincidentally, I was at the end of my rope running a cash register forty hours a week. I was desperate, and looking for a way out. I was vulnerable to attack.

Still, I would have to be insane to leave my job and become a phone psychic right? I begged my job to give me part time hours, but they wouldn't budge. Besides working, I was a full-time musician, and I needed control over my schedule. With music being my true calling, I had found my validation: I’ll be a telephone psychic so I can focus on my music full time. I’ll work around all my music projects. In time, music will take over, and I’ll get out of this nasty business. With the validation in tow, I decided to then leave it up to fate. In order to acquire a position, I would have to be tested by three bona fide psychics. Inevitably I would fail these tests. After all, I’m a pretty spiritual person, and I’ve had my moments helping people, but over the phone therapy with people I don’t even know? I expected to fail in the first round. What I didn’t understand at the time, was that I was entering a business. The people running psychic lines wanted to know if I could sling knowledge. In other words, could I talk to people in this situation and pull it off as a psychic? Was I believable? Could I represent their brand and generate income for both of us? Getting down to the crux, could I pull off the hustle? I was mildly surprised when I passed all three tests, and was informed that I indeed possessed “the Gift”.

The die being cast, I quit my job and signed on with California Psychics full time. I began a descent into my own darkness. I could validate my aggressive, rash, impulsive, and illogical action with astrology. What I did was textbook Aries.

I had much to learn about “the business.” First of all, you’re a brand within a brand. You have to sell yourself within the environment. People that arrive at the website are ready to go, but they still have to choose between up to thirty psychics at a time. I needed them to choose me. Factors included gender, race, age, my picture, and my profile describing my skill sets. At this early stage, I had decided that I was going to be my real self and try not to hustle people. I wasn’t trying to sell; I was just trying to make it work for myself. I was told early on that the site would watch me for repeat callers, people that come back to me time and time again. This would be considered in regards to my “growth within the company.” I didn’t take this seriously. I decided that if I could help somebody find an answer, then there was no need for us to continue to circle around an issue that had already been addressed. Unbeknownst to me, I was practicing bad business. I could pull it off, but California psychics needed me to BECOME the brand. The brand and the person had to be one and the same. We had ads on television 24/7, in addition to massive internet advertising. There was a staff of one hundred fifty. I quickly learned that to compete with the other psychics and to generate some scratch for myself, I would have to log heavy hours. The goal was still to develop a following. I dived in and discovered that in twenty-four hours of phone time, I made the same amount of money I made in forty hours running the cash register and making sales. It was two-dollars a minute to speak with me. I was still selling, just a very different product.

I never knew what would happen when the phone rang. After I did my scripted introduction, I would try and build a foundation to stand on. Most people were generous with information about their situation. In the pursuit of a satisfying conclusion, callers would try to help you achieve a successful consultation by giving you the answers they hoped to receive. Listening was paramount here. Once I had the basics of what we were going to talk about, I got into it. In the beginning, I tried to be very technical. I would ask for their birthday and then I would apply astrology and numerology. I would spend time explaining this stuff, which frustrated some people who wanted quick answers. Some people wouldn’t tell you anything and just came right out with a question. That was always a little scary. Hit and run vibe.

I remember this one girl who called me all the time, for just a minute at a time, with the same question: “Is Charles cheating on me right now?” I would end up talking to her about who Charles was, and what kind of person he was. Going deeper, we would discuss why she was involved with someone who would cheat on her. She deserved better. Other “highlights” that I recall are a man who just refused to accept that his wife had left him. He would call up very upset and want me to tell him that she was going to figure out she had made a mistake and would return to him. He asked me to consult spirit guides in regards to this. Another man would repeatedly call to try and reach his recently deceased wife. Painful stuff. One time a woman called who was a high-ranking police officer in the NYPD. She was in charge of two-hundred police officers, and the stress was breaking her. The strangest caller for me was a man who always called while he was on the train after work to discuss his racquetball game. Our conversations were often an hour or more, mostly about which racquet would be the best choice to use in his upcoming match. Somebody called me up for advice on buying a boat once. Still, as I often tell people, the most frequent calls were those woman in love with married men. Some required me to deliver a time-table. Will he move out next Thursday?

So it seems like my crazy world was functioning, right? I had logged in over five thousand minutes and over a hundred hours. I received a thousand dollar bonus for time logged in one week. It was then that I got served my notice, perhaps directed by a higher power of some sort.

“Dear Matt,

While we have appreciated your service with us, due to your low call statistics coupled with our evaluation results, it is in the best interests of both parties to discontinue our relationship.”

I was shocked. I was also on vacation. I called them to discuss it, and they said it was also due to negative testimonials that callers posted about me. Here’s a negative one:

“I had a career question for Matt, and it took a weird turn. He started answering questions that I didn’t ask, and only half answering those that I did ask. He answered my specific questions, but the answers were vague, or broad. I felt like he was guessing, or that the answers didn’t feel right. Afterward, I didn’t feel any better or further along than prior to my call.”

Here’s a more positive one:

“Matt’s voice came across as warm, spiritual, but intimidating. He’s very intellectual and can be hard to understand for someone not immersed in the metaphysical realms. He’s inspirational and speaks with wisdom. He does get sidetracked at times answering questions because he has a strong tendency to be a bit preachy.”

Time to cut my losses right? Nah. I had moved upstate and was low on funds. I had learned everything I did wrong. Now I knew what these people were looking for. I thought I had a real handle on what this was all about. There’s moolah to be made.

The Psychic Center was up next. I had a more permanent schedule to make myself more consistently available. My profile listed the following skills: Clairaudience, Clairsentience, Numerology, Native American Medicine Cards, and Tarot cards. They let me set my own price. This site also gave me a larger profile and published an interview with me to give callers a better understanding of what my deal was. The profile indicated how my first channeling experience went, and how esoteric spiritual practice was in my family. This was true. My aunt is a master astrologer and gave me my birth chart when I was just a kid. In the interview I explained how I work, which made it easier when people called me. I was more inviting. I mentioned working with Native American animal totems, which I still do today.

Unfortunately, the darkness just wouldn’t stop. One woman in particular latched her claws into me and wouldn’t let go. I had to have a separate notebook just to track all the drama in her life. This woman was a pure hustler. A single mom who had some kind of executive advisory career, which sounded copasetic, except that her main objective in life was to take advantage of men with big bank accounts. My role was to help her figure out who had the most money and who would be the easiest prey. Going deeper, we would consider the kind of people they were. We would discuss just how to act and talk to infiltrate their worlds. We also discussed how she should dress. How were these men vulnerable? When’s the best time and best way to make a move? Should sex be used as a method of taking power and gaining control? We spoke up to eight hours a week. The more this went on I started asking myself who was more twisted. Was it her for blatantly trying to hustle men, or me for helping her do it? Business from other callers was crawling. I was clearing one-hundred to three hundred fifty dollars a week. Lame.

I decided to pursue the big bucks. It was time for all or nothing. I was either going to make it doing this or wrap it up, fold up my tent, and raise the white flag. It was my psychic mentor again providing the hook-up. This time we worked for a psychic company based in France. Psychic Solutions was their brand name. This site promised serious loot. Their thing was that we would do readings via chat online. I found the chat method more efficient. I was making better money than my usual when I got an email from them saying they had to close, and that they had no money to pay me. It took me three months of sending demanding emails to get my thirteen hundred dollars. My last day working for them was three hours on Christmas morning. Finally, I had enough.

I still get emails offering me psychic work believe it or not. Lucky for me, I actually got the job back that I had surrendered whilst I made a mad attempt to climb psychic mountain. Whenever I look back, I still can’t believe that I went there and pulled it off. It’s not exactly something to be proud of. Still, if you believe for a second that spirit guides might be real, then you might enjoy what my spirit guide Samuel asked me a few days after I walked away from being a telephone psychic forever:

“So my friend. Let me ask you something.

What did you learn?”


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Joe Sarubo

There was my name coming out of the speakers all over the store again. Everyone in the store could hear it. It wasn't about how I'm a great looking person that you needed to know about. The voice would reveal the latest task that I needed to perform. Aisles one through twelve, the backroom, and the parking lot were all informed in case I couldn't grasp the reality at hand. The in-store shopping music was always interrupted. My mission instructions were more vital to store operations.

"Matt! The recycling machines are full again. Change the bags."

"Matt! Time for a cart roundup!"

"Matt! Restock milk Matt."

"Matt! Make a bale in the back!"

Of course, the one that everyone has heard at some point in their life.

"Clean-up in aisle seven Matt!"

What was it this time? The worst was those big glass sixty-four ounce mayonnaise jars. Sweeping up slimy glass is such a drag. The voice coming from behind the speakers was low and gravelly. This person always sounded tired with a slight urgency. The vibe was always let's get this done so we can get the hell out here. When you saw the man behind the voice you might have thought you were on google images and looked up supermarket manager, but without the fake and forced smile. Wide, round, and bald head with the famous ring of hair around the sides and back. There was almost always beads of sweat glistening on the top of his head. Thick coke-bottle eye-glasses. The ever-present red A&P vest with his manager name tag on it. Short sleeve white shirt with extremely hairy forearms. Massive belly that he couldn't and had no interest in hiding. Walking with a slight waddle and always a little out of breath. Weighing in at about four-hundred pounds, this was my boss, Mr. Joe Sarubo.

Joe was a nice guy most of the time. He had a wife and two kids in Haverstraw. They all had weight problems. I used to cringe when they all got into a car that would then sink to about one inch above the ground. Besides food, Joe was also into smoking and drinking hard liquor. Many times I would see him at the bar just up the way from the store. Joe was the assistant manager of the store and was always at the heel of Vinny, the store manager. Vinny was always an asshole and talked down to women somewhat. Vinny sat up high in the office on his throne while the rest of us did the work. I remember him floating me fifty dollars once and holding it over my head like he owned a piece of me forever since he had floated me a loan. I was a seventeen-year-old kid who was working after school to try and raise money to go to school. It was a classic American scenario. Back then I didn't know well enough not to push Joe's buttons. We developed a unique relationship. It was somewhat adversarial, somewhat like we were partners. I was always on time and worked hard. Seeing he had a tool to work with, Joe pushed my nose right down to the grindstone. Eventually, he trusted me with larger responsibilities, which didn't always work out.

In the front of the store Joe always built elaborate displays of something we had way too much  of that was on sale. His displays were often massive and built very high, too high for many customers to reach. There would be displays built of cereal or paper towels for example. No big deal if something fell down. Joe got over ambitious one time and instructed me to build a huge display of sixty-four ounce glass Apple Juices that we of course, had too much of.

"Joe, I don't know about stacking up all this glass. Will it hold?"

Joe was already out of patience due to the fact that I was talking. I witnessed an extra bead of sweat form on his shiny head, glaring in the store lights. His glasses seemed to fog up.

"Are you questioning me? Get your ass to work and stop all this whining."

We had these little metal platform stands for the foundation. Joe had instructed me to find strong cardboard boxes and cut out "floors" that matched the size of the platform. Four apple juices could fit on one platform. If we placed a strong cardboard "floor" on top of the four apple juices, then we could stack another four on top. Then we could stack another four, and another. Joe said that customers would eventually have to ask us to take one of the apple juices from the display for them as the display could become fragile. To my surprise I was able to build this giant and delicate glass apple juice display. It looked dangerous, but this is what Joe wanted, and it looked like I had pulled it off.

That night I was sloshing up and down the aisles with a massive floor machine. The floor machine was a kind of water tractor that you pushed around. It had two pads that would spin on the floor obliterating all the dirt from the constant foot traffic all day. I was turning around the corner by the apple juice display when a female cashier waved at me and smiled. Unable to smile back, wave, and maintain control of the floor machine, I clipped the base of one of those platforms holding up the apple juice display.

At this point, the world seemed to move in slow motion. Right after I tapped the display I heard Joe shout out from somewhere, "Matt! Be careful!" It was far too late.

I watched in horror as my apple juice monument started to buckle. One apple juice from the bottom where I had hit the platform fell out and busted on the floor. Just one smashed apple juice was going to be a mess. This one apple juice was vital to the structural integrity of the entire display. All I could do was watch as the entire display slid and collapsed to the right. I found myself paralyzed and rooted to the floor as the apple juices smashed in rapid succession. Pop! Pop! Pop! A river of apple juice and glass flowed all around me. It spread out in all directions about three inches high and seemed to flow on forever. Customers stood at the banks in awe. Once all the shattering had finally subsided, and all that sticky juice had reached its final destination, there was Joe looking at me. He reminded me of a wine bottle trying to pop his own cork but couldn't. I thought he might be a bomb trying to explode himself. Luckily for me, all he did was hand me a snow shovel. No words were necessary. I'll never forget shoveling the sparkling river of apple juice shards into giant garbage cans lined with three bags each.

Joe and I closed the store on Sundays. We would lock the doors and spend a couple of hours getting everything finished. One summer day we were working during a heatwave. Hundred-degree days kept coming one after the other, building up a general feeling of oppression. To make matters worse, we had a power outage right after closing time. All the frozen food was now in danger. All the milk was getting warm. Joe called the electric company and learned that power would not be restored within twenty-four hours. With all of his frozen food, meat, fish, and dairy in grave danger, Joe decided there was only one course of action we could take. He got on the intercom once again:

"Matt! Meet me in the backroom by the ice cream freezer!"

When I arrived at the freezer in the back, I found Joe already there with a makeshift table he made from a delivery cart and two makeshift chairs made up of empty milk crates. He had a box of spoons as well. He explained the dire nature of our situation: All of our ice-cream would be lost. There's nothing anybody could do to prevent the carnage. Our course was clear. Joe issued the command.


His expression was extremely serious though there may have been a twinkle in his eye.

We got to work, and found the ice cream had already achieved a pre-shake like consistency. At first I looked around for my favorite flavors and then realized Joe was planning on going far beyond a simple snack. I grabbed up a half gallon of my old stand-by, Breyers Heavenly Hash and dived in. Next up for devouring was mint-chocolate chip, my brothers favorite. Finally, I settled on the old classic Neapolitan as I blended vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry all into a swirly masterpiece. Exhausted, I had to tap out, not wanting my legacy to be that I died by ice-cream. Joe proceeded undaunted and suggested that my credentials as a man were now in question. Eventually, he told me to go home, and I left him there eating by himself. We never spoke of the ice-cream incident after this.

Next was the time I pushed Joe too far and caused him to lose his temper. It was again on a Sunday after we closed. I had recently watched the film starring the late great Robin Williams, whom I would meet in person years later. In the film, Robin plays a radio DJ in Vietnam. He starts off his radio show with a long drawn out announcement: "Gooood Morning Vietnam!!!!"

I was flying so high on this moment from the film, that I decided to retaliate against Joe's intercom orders by taking the intercom and delivering Robin's message to him throughout the entire store.

"Gooood Morning Joe Sarubo!!!!"

It wasn't morning at all of course, but I delight in making myself laugh from doing things like this. I chose the wrong time however. Joe was not amused. At first there was just silence, until Joe picked up the intercom and said "Get back to work or you're fucking dead!" I was surprised he was so angry, which killed my buzz. He found me in the milk aisle, and was coming at me to deliver a lecture of some kind, when I knocked over a stack of empty milk crates in his path and then went to hide in the back room while he cooled off. He cooled off eventually, like he always did. Before I left I found him in the deli with a full tray of buffalo wings and a bib on. When I looked at him funny, he cursed me out and sent me home.

In time, I would leave the job to attend college. After my college plans had collapsed like my apple juice display, I ended up working the new night-shift at the store when Joe wasn't there. I wish he was as I discovered a twisted work environment that included guys doing cocaine, and worse, giving away food to dealers in exchange for crack. The same intercom that Joe used would haunt me further as I received orders from a different boss for a far more sinister task.

"Matt! Bring a box of straws to the bakery.”

It got so bad I was walking around with a hammer to protect myself. None of this would be going down with Joe around. What eventually happened is a story for another day. My last memory of Joe was I was sitting in the bathroom stall and seeing that somebody drew a picture of a snowman with a caption that said "Big Joe playing in the snow."

Twenty-four years later I googled Joe and couldn't find anything. I don't even know if he's still alive. The way he took care of himself I always thought he was playing with fire in regards to his health. I hope he and his family are well. I'll never forget him. If I ran into him again after all these years, I'm sure we would share a smile. We worked together in the trenches and survived to tell the tale. We did what we had to do. I'll take these memories with me as excellent examples of the ongoing saga of the human experience down at the bottom level, where we live check to check. Wherever you are big Joe, I raise as glass of scotch to you, your favorite.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Jazz meets Death

There once was a great music. It was born in America and branded with the name Jazz. The music was later re-named madam Zzaj, by one of her lovers, the Duke. She grudgingly accepted the moniker of Jazz over the years. It was how she was bought and sold after all. Jazz had several intimate relationships over the years. Each one of these caused her to experience tremendous spiritual and emotional transformation. There was the great Armstrong, who raised her from the brothels. There was the Bird, who taught her how to fly. There was the Prince of Darkness, who seduced her. There was the great Train whose tracks led Jazz to Interstellar Space. After growing and growing and growing some more, Jazz found herself in a real rut. People far younger than her, who knew none of her lovers, were telling her and everybody else who she was. At the same time, people all over the world kept pushing and prodding at her extremes just to prove what she was not. All the conflict caused Jazz to enter a period of deep stagnation. She felt like a polluted and cloudy pond. When she looked in the mirror, she no longer recognized her face. It became so bad that one day Jazz passed out into a deep coma. So deep was her sleep that even Buddy Bolden himself could not wake her, blowing the loudest cornet of all time from New Orleans.

Finally, Jazz was able to open her eyes, but she was no longer down on Earth in New York City where she last remembered being. Jazz found herself in a room with a man wearing a heavy dark cloak who was holding a staff that resembled a cane from the Cotton Club perhaps. Sitting down with the cloaked man were all of Jazz’s past lovers. Armstrong, the Bird, the Prince, and the Train. Everyone looked sad. The cloaked man introduced himself as the one and only angel of death.

“Jazz my dear. You have lost your way. You don’t remember who and what you are. It’s time for you to find out. We are here to help you remember what made you what you are. We need you to return to Earth and answer three imperative questions. If you can answer these questions correctly you’ll be allowed to live and be reborn. If you answer wrong, then, unfortunately, your time on Earth will have come to an end.”

Next it was Armstrong who spoke with the first question. Always known for his big smile, it was shocking to see him so filled with misery. He was greatly concerned for Jazz. In his gravelly voice, he asked:

“Lady Jazz, what are the Blues?”

Next the Prince of Darkness spoke. Sinister and menacing was his vibe. Lady Jazz felt a powerful intimacy with the prince. It was as if he could see right through her. He spoke in a raspy tone:

“Who’s owns music? Who’s owns you Jazz?”

Next it was the Train who spoke. The Train had traveled great distances and seen many things. The Train was very tenacious and never missed a stop and was never late. He was known to be able to travel at great speeds and carry an enormous amount of cargo and passengers. He spoke softly and sounded like a preacher from the southern United States.

“Hello Jazz. My question for you is this: What is the tonic in the key of F?”

Death explained to Jazz that it was time for her to return to Earth. She would return in one day with her answers for better or worse. Before she could leave, the Bird came over and gave her huge hug. He whispered to Jazz in her ear, almost as if to not let the others hear him.

“To find the answers to these three questions my love, you must seek out counsel from two people back on Earth. Seek counsel with the proclaimed King of Jazz, residing at Lincoln Towers. After your time with the king, seek out a the Coalman. He lives in a place called Chelsea. I’ll give you a map. Based on their responses, come back to us and reveal the truth about yourself once and for all. Don’t be afraid. We know you're going to do the right thing.”

With that Jazz found herself at the gates of Lincoln towers. The doorman said that the king was indeed home. When Jazz was announced as a guest, she was escorted right to the penthouse. She was treated with supreme respect. The King welcomed her with open arms. He was alone.

“Ah, lady Jazz. I’m so glad you have come. I’m well aware of your reason for coming here to see me. You’ve come to the right place. It is I who have saved you and preserved you. It is I who am your translator to the world. I have made the decision of who you are myself. You must trust me. I will now answer your questions three.”

“The Blues are where you come from. It is a feeling you should have. Blues are played in groups of twelve measures at a time. You follow a one four five chord progression. When you are played, notes can be bent to show that you sound like you have a feeling. You have to play the right notes with the right chords and be in tune. If you’re feeling aggressive, you can add some vibrato to yourself. You may enjoy slight note ornamentation. Taking real chances and risking complicated ideas is not recommended. It’s more important to play the blues correctly."

“Now the question of who owns you. Well, you were created because America believed in slavery. The slaves brought African influence to the music made in the states. The people that created you should own you, but they don’t. It’s the same people that named you Jazz that own you now. You were taken back then and never returned to your owner. Now it is the people with money and power that control how you are represented to the world. Here in the kingdom it is I who represent your brand. There's a lot of money going down. The money we make could help some people that are closer to you Jazz, but to be honest with you, authenticity is no longer truly relevant. It’s more about following the holy laws of swing. We teach you in schools. I’ve gone around the world to tell everyone just who and what you are.”

“The answer to your third question is very straightforward. The tonic in the key of F is simply F. Some folks may suggest it is the forbidden flat five. I’m telling you that the tonic in the key of F is F.”

The King gave Jazz a kiss on the cheek and held both of her hands gently. He made eye contact with her.

“I would give my life for you Jazz. Take my answers back with you, and spend the rest of your life with me. It will be a peaceful life. It’s time for you to rest. We can spend the rest of our days together reflecting and celebrating your past.”

Jazz felt like she was being proposed to. She smiled politely and headed downtown to meet with the Coalman at the spot on the map given to her by the Bird. She found the Coalman, not in a mine, but simply seated at a table in his loft near the kitchen. The Coalman was wearing an unusual purple suit. He was gentle and soft spoken as he poured Jazz a glass of root beer and lemon juice. The Coalman also knew that Jazz was coming and what her questions were.

“Isn't it amazing that we can have this conversation you and me? How are my old friends? I studied the Bird's flights very carefully in my early days. The train and I spent many hours practicing together and talking about our favorite person in the whole world, You.”

Jazz was touched by the Coalman’s loving gaze. She listened humbly and politely as the Coalman told his version of the truth.

“The Blues are a feeling inside. You have to be a human being to feel the Blues. The Blues are what it feels like to be a human being. The Blues are what happens when life teaches us painful lessons. Blues are often about the pain that comes with the ending of a relationship and lost intimacy. The Blues are when the soul cries out when its needs are not being met. The Blues are that feeling you get when you KNOW someone is telling you the truth. The Blues are something you feel in the marrow of your bones and the bottom of your soul. The Blues is where you come from Jazz. You do not exist without the blues. The Blues is what unites us all. You know this deep in your heart, you know it.”

Nobody owns you Jazz. You have to own yourself. Nobody can tell you or anyone else what you are. You need to believe in yourself again. Everybody is trying to tell you what you are. When you are yourself, you will see that nobody could ever own you. You are a part of nature itself. Just because were intimate with you doesn't mean we can claim to own you. It could only be fear that would make a musician try and do that. Jazz, you are eternal, pure and simple. Remember how close you were with the Duke? Do you remember what he said when he was asked what you are? Duke said you were freedom of expression. Duke also said you were a tree. Duke said your branches extended to twigs. At the end of each twig a beautiful flower blooms that is different from any other flower. Duke said that as your branches continue to grow, you always pick up whatever influence you may desire, but you always remember that your roots are in the mighty blue soil of Africa. What Duke said then is truer now than ever. You must remember who you are. I think it’s starting to come back to you.

Finally, I will explain to you Jazz that the answer to the third question is not a note! The intellectual and theoretical answer will never be correct. The tonic in the key of F is YOU. You’re the tonic. Any key that you feel, any note that you hear, must be the right one. You have to learn to trust yourself once more.

Before leaving the Coalman smiled and gave Jazz a gentle hug. He was leaving himself but wouldn't say where he was going. Before he left, he spoke a little more with Jazz.

“I know you’re going to the right thing. Your life will continue. Your mission isn’t over just yet. I’ve been with you my whole life up to this very day, and I’ll never leave you. Please tell all my friends back home that I can’t wait to make music with them again.”

Jazz went into the deepest sleep of her life that evening and woke up back in the room with the cloaked man with the cane, Mr. Death. The Armstrong was smiling. The Bird and the Prince were joking with each other. The Train remained calm and serene. Death asked Jazz to answer the questions. Jazz spoke openly and from the heart.

“My beloved friends. I do believe that I have received the lesson you meant for me to have. So blessed am I to have you as my caretakers all these years. I owe each one of you a special debt of gratitude. We have always been there for each other, you and I.”

“While the king was sage, and believed in his mission, I could not entirely trust him. He was telling me who I was. The Coalman said that I am myself. I am me. I swing. I’m inside. I’m outside. I shout. I scream. I come from the Blues. While the Blues does have a certain structure as I was reminded by the king, the Blues I believe are a feeling. In fact, I feel that feeling now. It’s all starting to feel new again. The Blues contain that feeling that no matter how tough life gets, we must carry on. The blues are how we deal with the adversity that could destroy us. We must know that no matter how hard life gets, were going to be ok.”

“I remember now when I was branded with the name Jazz. The King likes calling me this, but he doesn't realize that it insults and hurts me to a degree. That name is how I relate to the world and how we see each other, so I’m going to keep it for now. The King wanted to possess me and spread me around the world as a brand, but now I know better. At least those people who are trying to prove what I’m not, or who try to break me, respect me enough not to claim they own me. I own myself. I belong to me!”

“Finally my friends, it is with great delight that I exclaim to you that I’M the tonic in the key of F! Whatever I feel, that’s me. Whatever key I’m in, that’s me. Whatever note I want to be, then that’s what I am. I must say I feel as though I’ve awoken from a long and terrible nightmare. I feel as though I am restored. I am me once more!”

Since Death had no face, it was difficult to read his emotions. If he could smile, this might be the one time that he did. A grin from ear to ear. Big ol’ teeth smile from the master of death. He spoke:

“Lady Jazz you have passed our test. Go now and return to the world fully restored. Please remember to take the lessons we have taught you with you. They will always serve you well. Your friends here all want you to know how much you are and always will be loved. Should you see the Coalman, please remind him that his friends send their regards. One day they will all have a great big Happy Reunion, just like that song written by the Duke.”

Lady Jazz returned to Earth as her life began anew. She planned on calling a blues right away.

The Armstrong: Louis Armstrong

The Bird: Charlie Parker

The Prince of Darkness: Miles Davis

The Train: John Coltrane

The King: Wynton Marsalis

The Coalman: Ornette Coleman

Monday, October 6, 2014

Jury Duty

The first time I was in Jury duty in Queens New York, somebody had told me that if you donate Blood, they might let you leave. At the very least, they might put you to the front of all the thwarting lines. I don't know why I believed that, but  when asked to give, my hand shot up like when I used to answer multiplication questions in fourth grade. I had to be first and correct, the Aries curse. I was on a severe self-created diet at the time, placing me in a precarious position. As I watched my blood get extracted and start to swirl up the tube, I noticed how burgundy it looked. I recall adjusting my focus to a planned indulgence of the Oreo cookies they had out for when you were finished. It was then that the whole world gradually started to spin, suggesting a heavy inebriation. When I woke up, the technician was scrambling a little and looked concerned. A woman donating blood next to me said, "I have never seen a white person turn opaque until today." I was a little frightened, but I pressed on in my mission. I went right to the judge seeking forbearance. He was more interested in adjusting his robe then engaging in profitable discourse.

"You look fine to me sir. Return to your seat and fulfill your civic duty. Being a United States citizen isn't free."

I ended up in what could be the lamest TV court drama of all time. An oil company wouldn't pay the medical bills for an old woman that had tripped over their delivery hose in the street. There was no warning sign or people nearby. Some lawyer was trying to discredit the morals of the old woman, showing me that justice was clearly no virtue here. All my trepidation about being there was confirmed.

When I ran out of deferments to serve in Manhattan in 2012, I could only wonder what jury duty would be like right near where the World Trade Center used to be. My pilgrimage downtown led me to a line of about two hundred people standing outside. It was frigid and blustery. I had neither gloves nor a scarf, and started to catch an ice burn on my hands and face. I tried to hold onto a hot coffee cup which proved fruitless. I swallowed a big bagel from a food cart whole and tried to troop it out. Forty minutes later I discovered I might as well have been entering airport security area. Belts off, shoes off. I was surprised they didn't run a gloved hand up my inner thigh like that one time in Germany. The first thing I noticed inside, was that the court system seemed obsessed with not being tagged on diversity. Every staff member was not 100% anything. There was a white guy cop with a big afro; a thugged out street tough white girl cop, an Asian cop, and a Spanish cop. The post offices in NYC are largely staffed by African Americans and Asians, but this was different. All the judges would turn out to be a white woman.

Everyone was led into a room to watch a video about civic duty and to get lectured on the laws of the game. People being herded in groups and not knowing what's coming next reminded me of Holocaust stories. People just submit to the process and try to ride it out. Eventually, we were led in groups to a courtroom interview process to see if we fit the bill to sit on a jury.

Translation: The lawyers will try to figure out if you're a person who won't mind if the truth becomes misconstrued. Just a little. As doctors say before they deliver, a shot, this will only hurt a bit. 

I learned through keen observation that the way out of this mess was to become a broken part of the machine. If the court system was a human body, I had to become poison. I most certainly wasn't trying to suit up as a white blood cell. I could tell people were uncomfortable being there, but were too suppressed to attempt an escape. Language barriers were insurmountable. Attempts at communication with the non-english speaking folks led to deep levels of mutual bewilderment. Eventually, the judge would ascertain that somebody couldn't speak English.

Or could they?

The first day I wasn't chosen and never made it to the interview. You spend an entire work day waiting for nothing. My second day adrift in the abyss, I felt I was headed into a direct confrontation between me and civilized society. I tried to pass the time writing music to no avail. I was amazed how much people that didn't know each other starting talking and finding a repor. Finally, I was led to a case between a rapper and the police. I was shocked and baffled that this insipid drama was playing out in real life and that I was being tasked with a minor role. The musician in me was offended. I would take anything over a farce like this. The rapper in the system seeking street cred. Is my life going on hold for a famous rapper fantasy? Am I juror number three? Bring back the old lady who tripped over that oil delivery cable.

The worst was the judge lecturing us before the interviews about civic duty once again.

"This trial may last up to two months; the Court understands your sacrifice."


It reminded me of the garbled recorded message you hear from the broken speakers on the Subway when the trains stop. They never make even a shred of sense. I have a newsflash for you: A recorded computer apology is not legitimate.

The judge embarrassed herself, and all of us further:

"Does anybody here know the rapper MC Doo Doo?"

I had no choice at this point but to believe this rapper has coined his name after, yes, human excrement.

As the interviews started up, the question was raised about trusting the word of the police. You had to be able to hear them with one-hundred percent no-bias. It was at that moment that I saw a way possibly evade the darkness. Maybe I could elude them. My light in the dark had appeared. I devised my plan at once.

I Know, we're all starting to know, that cops have no accountability. They lie to cover up when they abuse power. The system protects them. The recent murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are the latest in a long and unending list of tragedies at their hands, while they hide behind the holy badge of forgiveness.


I enter the Bodega on forty-eighth street and tenth avenue in New York city. I order a sandwich. I'm ignoring the police van outside and cops inside. That's when a cop online behind me starts whispering in my ear requesting me to have a problem. He leaned in and pressed into my back.

"Come on you piece of shit. C'mon. Start something with me. Have a problem. Just turn around and look at me."

I abandoned my Roast Beef and left looking at floor. I slinked out of there like a weasel on crack. I watched the news that night and saw a story on cops being behind on quotas and doing anything to get an arrest. After all, it wasn't that long ago when cops moonlighting as bouncers murdered my friend Hilton Ruiz, and then had it covered up.

Back in court, I thought of how Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sanctioned the murder of Amadou Diallo. I thought of how the cops sodomized Abner Louima. I knew in my heart that I couldn't give any cops even one ounce of trust.

During the court interview, I was already a suspect however.

"What do you do Mr.Lavelle?"

"I sell trumpets."

"Do you sell them on the street? Do you understand English?"

I was already being sized up for having too much street in my soul. Finally, the judge gave me my opening:

"Is anyone here unable to trust the word of Police one-hundred percent?"

My hand shot up just like I was back in fourth grade. I was the only one in the room of almost seventy people with my hand raised. Soft spoken but with a revolutionary fire in my heart, I confirmed that I do not trust any policeman. Not one single pig in the whole world deserves my trust.

"You're excused."

I left the courtroom with escape velocity. On my way out a Latina, just excused because she couldn't speak English, came over to me and said with crisp articulation in clear English:

"I am so glad I got out of that. Being a member of society comes with a price. I wish I at least had health insurance instead of their measly forty dollars a day we get in two months."

I was then directed back to the jury selection room. I had not yet achieved freedom. I was watching this gay dude attention freak putting on a show for everybody when my name was called. I was released at last. I picked up all my plastic bags with books I thought I might read and my notebooks for composing music and vacated. I caught a few snide glances for looking a little homeless. I had survived Jury Duty once again.

I thought about how next time I'll show up for Jury Duty as Dracula, drunk on too much blood.

"Isn't it true Mr.Lavelle that you enjoy biting on necks and sucking the blood from innocent victims?"

"No. Not me sir. Just ask my buddy Frankenstein over there. The guy with the gun and the badge".

For Cecil Taylor