OUR NEW ALBUM
is now available online
Sorry it took so long, but anyway, it’s up and running. This is the album that I made last summer with Bob Hawkins. It’s called Covers, although it is spelled weird. Kevers with upside down e’s that I can’t reproduce in this format. It’s a dictionary pronunciation guide kinda thing. Anyway, very clever, whatever. Point is, here it is.
It is comprised of ten cover songs performed by an acoustic duo (us). They are:
LOST MIND Percy Mayfield
EL CUARTO DE TULA Gonzales Y Siaba Sergio Eulogio
SAN DIEGO SERENADE Tom Waits
FISHIN’ BLUES Henry Thomas
HOME AGAIN Danny Elfman
SIXTEEN TONS Merle Travis
TAKE OUT SOME INSURANCE Charles Singleton and Waldenese Hall
CAN’T FIND MY WAY HOME Steve Winwood
YELLOW MOON Aaron Neville
YOU SHOOK ME ALL NIGHT LONG Brian Johnson
You haven’t lived until you’ve heard AC/DC done by an acoustic duo. Or, well, maybe you have, but you’ve been severely deprived, clearly. I feel sorry for you. And because I am so sympathetic, I am willing to bestow upon you our new CD. Just fifteen bucks. That’s $15.00. To order, go here: http://tinyurl.com/ap8yeq7
You can sample songs at the site, and you can purchase mp3s, but I recommend you buy the CD because you get liner notes, the excellent artwork of Ken Mattson http://kenmattson.com/ , and I make a few more dollars. Believe me, I can use ‘em. I need to sell 100 CDs just to make back what I’ve spent.
And while you’re there, consider purchasing my solo CD, Just When I Thought I Was Done. It’s good.
Also, there are still discs available of the live show my trio did back in Boston, called Troy Mattacks & Brown Live at Captain Carlo’s. I was listening to some of it the other day and I have to say, man, that was a good trio. It’s good music.
It’s all good.
Let’s review, shall we? We began with how John started surfing when he was a kid in Southern California and competed in Hawaii and was part of the so-called short board revolution. Then he left surfing to be a musician in Boston. He returned to SoCal and after a 40 year break started surfing again. He surfed for a couple months and then one day forgot to strap his surfboard to the top of his car. It flew off & nearly killed the driver behind him. While he was dealing with the guy he had almost decapitated his surfboard was stolen. Served him right.
If you’d like to review the story in more detail, go here: http://johntroy.com/jan13.html
Let’s read on as John tells us what happened next!
Yep, my board was gone. Gone, gone, gone. I knew it. Someone, some fellow surfer, some comrade, some other lover of the sea, had seen a nice board lying on the road, pulled over, and grabbed it. Goodbye, board.
The thought of going home without a surfboard on my car was intolerable. The healing had to begin. I drove down to Stewart Surfboards in San Clemente and bought another board with a credit card. I had now replaced a board I couldn’t afford with another I could afford even less. Do you know the phrase, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging”? Well, I couldn’t stop digging. I had to have a surfboard. I just had to. Sorry.
I went online and announced the loss. I posted pictures. Someone responded who, crazily enough, had found a surfboard on the road in the exact vicinity where I had lost mine, but that, as it turned out, wasn’t. Mine.
So, that was that. The incident shook me up, as you can imagine. I rued the loss of the board, but what haunted me was how a moment’s inattention nearly resulted in disaster. That guy could have been killed. Really, actually, literally killed. The board could have gone through the windshield and into his face, his neck...it could have taken his head off, fer crissake. Because of my negligence, a person could have easily, on that day and in that moment, been violently killed.
What struck me was the mundane nature of the cause of the accident. My mind had been elsewhere as I performed a common task. What do you think about while you do the dishes? Do you, zen-like, observe the action you are performing? Or are you thinking about something else? Do you ever leave one room to get something, and when you get to the other room you can’t remember what you went there for? Have you ever started to back out of the driveway and suddenly remembered you left your wallet in the house?
Well, this was exactly the same sort of inattention. Except that when you leave your wallet in the house it doesn’t fly out the window and take someone’s head off. Context is everything.
Being in the moment is a good thing, but especially so when you’re driving.
I’ve been working on being in the moment lately. I’ve grappled with mild depression and anxiety most of my life, so much so, in fact, that depression and anxiety seem a natural and reasonable state of mind. It’s almost impossible for me to imagine feeling generally good or somewhat happy.
For years I tried to focus on gratitude, but it’s just hard to be forever ecstatic that I don’t have cancer. Yes, I’m grateful. Of course I am. But as soon as I’ve reviewed all the things I’m grateful for, my mind returns to the past (depression) or the future (anxiety). My mind toggles between depression and anxiety. It always has.
That’s why surfing and martial arts and writing and music, or any other endeavor that takes concentration, is such a relief: Because while you’re doing something that requires undivided attention, your mind cannot be in the past or the future. It has to be in the moment. There is no depression or anxiety in the moment. There’s just right now. And right now is all you have, really.
So the trick is to be in the moment all the time. And it’s a pretty fuckin’ cute trick, pal. Try being in the moment for just one minute. Stop reading and try it.
Did you? It’s hard! It’s hard to keep your mind still. You ever try to pick up a dog that doesn’t want to be picked up? It’s nigh impossible. My brain is that dog. I try to hold onto it but it relentlessly, frantically tries to break free to do its repetitive, annoying behavior, peeing on the carpet, chewing on the furniture, and barking at people. Bad, BAD brain! I said come HERE.
They have a word for keeping your mind in the moment, those folks who have words for things: Meditation. Meditation is the practice of turning off your mind. Nothing I’ve tried has gone further toward a general sense of well being. It’s been described as “deep listening”. That’s all it is. It’s just observing what you’re doing. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
I do it all day. It is impossible. And fun. And mind blowing how impossible it is. Try to simply pay attention to what you’re doing, whatever it is, for just 30 seconds.
Back to context. Letting your mind wander while you’re doing the dishes is one thing. Letting it wander while you’re driving is another. But look where your mind goes while you’re driving. Ho man. I drive by instinct, my mind is sometimes so not there. You ever get off your cell phone, even if it’s hands free, whatever, and realize you weren’t really there for the last few minutes that you were gabbing? Your mind was in the conversation not on your driving. Your eyes were open, you were watching the road, you’ve traveled twenty miles in traffic while you were on the phone, but you weren’t really there. You ever notice that just after you hang up? I do. That’s not good.
At 70 mph you’re covering about 103 feet per second. That’s about 34 yards. That means it takes you three seconds to cover the length of a football field. Three seconds.
This is why I leave lots of room in front. It is also why I marvel at all those who don’t. People ride each other’s asses like they’ve spent months choreographing it, like they’re the goddamn Blue Angels.
Leaving room in front pays off, too. Oh baby. There have been times when I’ve taken my eyes off the road just for a moment. Just a moment! And not to grope in the back seat or reach for something on the passenger side floor. No no. I mean just a glance at the radio. Or maybe a moment’s lingering on some billboard (they have these ads for breast augmentation out here...hooboy). It’s right at that instant that traffic has stopped in front of me. Brakes! Whew. And I am reminded, again, that if I didn’t have the hard wired policy of leaving room in front I would have hit the guy.
You leave room in front, you’re giving yourself room for error. Why people, most people, it seems, don’t, is an absolute mystery to me.
Where was I? Oh yeah. This being-in-the-moment stuff has been augmented for me lately by yoga classes. It’s hot yoga, actually. It’s just what it sounds like: You do yoga in a dark, hot room. The temperature is hiked to 95 - 105 degrees, this drone-like music is played, and a young woman guides you through tortuous postures of sublime excruciation. Talk about focus. It keeps your mind in the moment, alright. Only occasionally is your perfect peace punctuated by claustrophobic panic or a random thought such as, “I think I’m having a heart attack.”
It really does, though, tend to still the mind, and I’ve come to look desperately forward to it. It’s an escape from reality. Or no, an escape INTO reality. All those places my mind goes are not reality. What is happening right now is reality.
It’s about 20 miles down I-5 to my yoga class in San Clemente. On a Wednesday, exactly three weeks after the Day of the Flying Surfboard, I drove there for the 9 AM, one hour class. It was a beautiful day. The traffic was free flowing both ways. I exited at Estrella and proceeded to my class.
It went as it usually goes. I spent the hour absolutely focused on what the teacher was telling us to do as she guided us through movements and postures that grew increasingly difficult to the point where the best I could do was make an attempt to keep up. The core work (abdominals) toward the end of the workout was worthy of Torquemada. Finally, we adopted what is known as the Corpse Pose, which is just what it sounds like. We held that for a few minutes while chanting, droning music with distant gongs played as our pulses returned to normal and our minds drifted where they would. Mine went surfing.
When it was done, so was I. My shirt could be wrung out just as if it had been immersed in water. I typically lose 3 - 5 pounds of sweat inside of one hour of hot yoga. I took my time in the locker room, showered, got back into my street clothes. I fairly floated back out to the parking lot. I went into Trader Joe’s and bought what I needed.
Back in my car, I headed for the on-ramp to northbound I-5. Depending on the topography of an area, you can sometimes see the traffic condition of the freeway before you get on the ramp. I like that. I like it when you see snarled traffic before you’re on the ramp. You say “Whoa!” and seek alternative routes. Other times, though, you can’t see, you don’t know the state of the traffic until you’re committed, until you’re halfway down the ramp with cars behind you, and you’re merging into that mess whether you wanted to or not.
Such is the case at Estrella. You’re on the ramp, you’re in it, before you see the freeway.
Of course, at certain times of the day, like between 7 and 9 in the morning or between 5 and 7 in the evening, you can expect the traffic to be slow. But today, at this time, you can pretty much expect it to be flowing nicely. Just a couple hours ago, for the drive down to San Clemente, everybody was doing 70 plus both ways. Piece a cake.
I drove down the ramp. It curved around. The freeway came into view. It was a parking lot. I don’t mean slow. I mean stopped. Nothing was moving. The wheels, first place I look, were motionless. All four northbound lanes were frozen dead.
“Shit!” Luckily, the on-ramp from Estrella is followed almost immediately by the exit for Camino de Las Ramblas and the Beach Cities. “Whew!” There’s this access, on/off lane on the far right for cars entering from Estrella and exiting to the Beach Cities. I just stayed in the lane I entered from the on-ramp, the only one moving, and got right off the freeway again. “Woohoo!”
I headed into Dana Point for my not at all unpleasant drive back to Laguna Hills on so-called surface streets. I was relieved to have avoided that snarl. I was also curious as to what caused it. I turned on the news channel. I quickly learned that there had been “a fatality” on the northbound 5 just south of Ortega Highway.
Those of you who have been with me long enough know that I’m a student of driving, that I’m very interested in what works and what doesn’t, and that I want to know what causes accidents. The proximity of this fatality pricked my interest even more than usual. I pursued it the following few days, learning all I could.
I learned that a Lexus SUV, traveling at a “high rate of speed” in the number 4 (far right) lane, had rear-ended a tow truck. The driver, a 64 year old man, had been killed instantly and pronounced dead at the scene.
I thought, “Another one of these aggressive assholes getting what he asked for.” I drive, as I’ve said, with a lot of room in front, and I also keep it between 65 and 70, pretty much. And I’m about the slowest driver out there. People hurtle by me all day. I putt-putt along at 70 and basically try to stay out of the way. I find particularly annoying and dangerous the ones who increase in size alarmingly in my rearview mirror and, because there are already a line of ducks zooming by on my left, veer into the far right lane so they don’t have to break their 95 mph stride.
So this guy was driving at a “high rate” of speed in the far right lane and, whaddyaknow, the tow truck wasn’t. Surprise surprise, asshole. At least he didn’t kill anyone else (the truck driver was slightly shaken up, taken to the hospital, examined, and released).
I kept reading. The story was repeated in all the local online news sources. The comments started coming in. They were full of shock and grief. Apparently, this was a well-loved man. His friends, family, employees all loved him. He was so helpful, so generous, so giving. He was such a good man. A wonderful husband and father. He had an infectious laugh. By all accounts, a wonderful guy. A good guy.
I started to feel a little sheepish about my initial reaction. I also began to wonder: Do great, good, wonderful guys drive like assholes? Do you have to be an asshole to drive like one? Do people change when they get behind the wheel?
I began to obsess about this guy. I’m not sure why. I had driven down to my yoga class, and while I was in there, this guy had been killed. He hadn’t planned to get killed. He didn’t wake up that day and say, “Today I’m gonna get killed. I’m going to leave my house for the last time. I’m going to get in my car, pull onto the freeway and never see my family again.”
He wasn’t thinking that.
Maybe it would have been good if he had. Maybe it would be good for all of us to stop every morning and remind ourselves that this could be it. This could be the day. Who knows? Maybe you’ll slow down, be a little more careful.
I thought about it for weeks. Every time I return from yoga class I drive right over the spot where this guy bought it. It’s the far right lane just before the Ortega Highway off-ramp. I don’t do it anymore, but for days and days I couldn’t help putting myself in that guy’s place, wondering what he was thinking, what he was doing in the last moments before he died. He didn’t know he was about to die. Of course he didn’t. If he had, he wouldn’t have died! He wouldn’t have been going at a “high rate of speed” in the number 4 lane.
So what was he thinking? What do any of us think while we’re driving? His mind was probably chattering away like all of ours do all day. There was nothing in what I read about him being on the phone, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t. I don’t know.
As I drove up from Estella every day for the next three weeks or so, passing particular points leading up to Ortega, I would picture that guy, I would identify with him. Sitting behind the wheel, feeling the wheels hum under me, I almost felt as if I was replaying his final moments. I mean, after all, I was driving north in the right two lanes (the ones I’m usually in), and, as I passed Las Ramblas I’d think, “I’m still alive,” and as I passed Camino Capistrano I’d think, “I’m still alive,” and then I’d see the sign for Ortega Highway coming up, and I’d think, “I’m still alive,” and then I’d see the exit up ahead and I’d say, “I’m still alive,” and then, just before I drove by the on-ramp I’d say, “Now I’m dead.”
Bingo. You’re alive, and then you’re dead. You should pay attention.
And that’s when the Day of the Flying Surfboard began to merge, to intermingle, with my obsession about this guy’s accidental death. The two events combined to make life seem awfully precarious. Awfully precarious, indeed.
Last week some ex-cop went nuts and started shooting people. The first two he shot, before anyone knew it was the beginning of a spree, we killed in Irvine which is adjacent to the town I live in. Although it turned out not to be, it appeared random. It was random as far as the victims, a young couple, were concerned. Sins of the father kind of thing. The shooter was aggrieved at the girl’s father for some perceived injustice back in 2008. So, for her and her boyfriend, it really was totally random.
Just a couple days ago, some 20 year old shot a female guest to death at his house, then went on a car jacking, killing rampage. Up in Tustin, where Zito’s is, one of his victims was a guy a little older than me, a Vietnam vet, who lived here where I live. He was on his way to work, sitting at a red light, when this guy walked up out of the blue and killed him.
Yesterday morning, as I emerged from Trader Joe’s, I looked out across the busy parking lot, ringed as it was by Starbuck’s, Ralph’s, CVS, UPS, etc., and I found myself eyeing each person within range. I’m really getting the feeling it can happen here; that it very well could happen here. Hell, it IS happening here. All around here. Scanning my environs is beginning to become a habit. I can’t really say to myself any longer that it’s safe to assume that no one in this bustling public place will produce a firearm and start shooting people.
I found my car, got in, and opened the windows. I looked at my phone. The sun was suddenly blotted out as a gigantic pickup pulled into the space next to mine. I looked up at it. It was a Ford F-250 Super Duty XL. Jesus what a monster. The driver got out of the other side. As he walked toward me around the front of his tank, a woman addressed him. I didn’t make out what she said. But I heard what he replied: “Yeah, well, I’m from the great state of Arizona where you can still have guns.”
Some pitches come down the pike that are so fat it’s nigh impossible not to take a poke at ‘em. This was one. The guy was right next to my open window now, folding in his side mirror. I spoke quietly at his back.
“We still have guns in California, pal.” He turned.
“Not if Feinstein has her way. They’re gonna take away our guns.”
“Don’t worry, man. Even if her bill is passed, you’ll still have way more guns than you’ll ever need.”
He looked at me. I looked at him. Our expressions were identical, but they said different things. His expression said, “Socialist, gun-grabbing, Liberal cocksucker.” Mine said, “Paranoid, delusional, Conservative prick.”
BECAUSE I COULD NOT STOP FOR DEATH
by Emily Dickinson
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.
We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.
Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.
We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.
Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.
Everything changes. We all know this. The longer one lives, the more one knows it. You think back the way things were, then look at the way things are, and you know it. But you have to think back because living through the changes is like watching grass grow: You don’t really notice while it’s happening.
Pictures can be jarring, though. Photographs. That’s when you see the change big time. You look at a picture of yourself just a few years ago and compare it with what you see in the mirror. Hoo boy. Time is marching on. It’s marching on your face.
Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! The time is maaar-ching!
Stam-ping hard down-on-your-face!
Another way to have it really brought home is to return to a place after a long interval. My time away from the West Coast was broken by many short visits so I was able to gauge the changes as they happened, but since my return seven years ago (really?), I’ve noticed some subtle changes, changes that are not quite so overt, so conspicuous.
They are in the language. Here’s one:
When I was a kid growing up in Southern California I became accustomed to the weather, as one would expect, which included days of total cloud cover near the coast. It was referred to back in the 50s and 60s as being “overcast”. You couldn’t even make out the clouds, really. It was just a high, gray ceiling. It was overcast.
I don’t think I’ve heard that word once since I’ve been back. You know what they call it now? Marine layer. Sounds like a hooker working at Camp Pendleton, doesn’t it? Marine layer.
At some point, while I was back East, the weatherman saying “It will be overcast today until early afternoon” was replaced by the weatherbabe saying “Today there will be a marine layer until early afternoon.”
Isn’t that just weird? Here’s another one:
We get fires out here. There is actually a fire season. That’s when the firefighters put out fires. Ah, but they don’t! They knock ‘em down! Whenever they’re talking about a fire on TV, it’s always about how the firefighters are gonna “knock down” a fire. They don’t put out a fire anymore. They knock down a fire.
A marine layer is actually good for knocking down a fire. It usually means the wind is low and the humidity is high.
I’m slightly bemused by the change. Slightly put off. Or, should I say, placed elsewhere?
Yes. The marine layer places me elsewhere.
You’re going to have to wait just a bit longer for the continuation of my story “Mine Field”. I have too much to do still today plus get ready for the gig tonight. Sorry. I’ll try to wrap it up next week.
I didn’t use any offensive language. Shit fuck.