For this week’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday, we were asked to “find a word that starts with the letter ‘u’ and use it however you’d like.” Someone wrote a piece about the ‘ukulele’ which got me thinking. Here’s my stream of consciousness:
How many people do you know who play the ukulele? Unless you’re from the glorious state of Hawaii, I bet your answer is the same as mine: None.
Oh, I’ve heard people playing the ukulele. If you’re old enough you’ll remember Arthur Godfrey’s ukulele playing and his signature greeting of “How Ah Ya? How Ah Ya? How Ah Ya?”. And let’s not forget Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles”. Hell, even George Harrison mastered the ukulele; he played the instrument for at least 20 Beatles songs; bet you didn’t know that. I have no idea how many ukes George owned but you can be sure it was a lot; he didn’t just like the instrument – he was obsessed with it.
Still, I never gave the ukulele much thought. I had nothing against it; I just never thought about it until one day I heard something so wondrous, so ineffably sweet and touching, I sat mesmerized by the magic coming from the radio. It was only after the song was over that I realized I was crying.
Give a listen, won’t you? Don’t worry if you cry; it’ll be our secret.
NB – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole suffered from obesity throughout his life, at one point weight 757 pounds while standing 6’2” tall. He endured several hospitalizations because of his weight. With chronic medical problems including respiratory and cardiac issues, he died at the age of 38 in the Queen’s Medical Center on June 26, 1997, from respiratory failure.
PS – I read recently that some readers outside the US, especially in the UK, cannot view the videos I post. That’s a shame because they are relative to the story and make for some damn good viewing. If you are unable to watch these videos, please drop me a line in the comments section. I think there’s a way around it; how easy it is I have no idea but I want you all to get the full benefit of my stories. Thank you!
Here is another Six “Sentence” Story challenge/invitation from my friends at GirlieOnTheEdge, the prompt word being BOOKMARK. In the (alleged) words of William Faulkner: “Punctuation be damned!” 😎
My cousin Nina and I went to Italy during the late 80s, stopping in various cities along the way including the ever-glorious Florence, famous for her art museums, precious gold markets and some of the best leather products in the world – the perfect place for two 30-something savvy American women to leisurely stroll – and it was where I fell in love with a beautifully aged and well-preserved leather bookmark engraved with the image of La Scala Opera House in Milan with the name in script below the image – soft as butter to the touch and a lovely fawn color, it immediately became my favorite accessory which I slipped into my purse after bargaining with the vendor for a ridiculously low price leaving him muttering something about “irresistible American women” and he smiled devilishly at me remarking that he could never resist a woman with eyes as green as the Mediterranean.
Nestled between the many gold and leather stores was a tiny book shop which beckoned to me and I found myself in a cramped yet delightfully appointed treasure trove overflowing with tomes of every sort, including a volume which drew me in like the proverbial moth to a flame: Grandissimo Pavarotti – A Celebration of the Career of the World’s Greatest Tenor on the Silver Anniversary of his Debut; as a musician and huge fan of The Maestro, I knew I had to own this jewel of a picture book and I held it in my trembling hands, opening the front cover only to discover to my amazement that it was a signed copy, one of a limited number of editions, forcing me to quickly snap the cover closed but not before sneaking another peek to make sure I hadn’t imagined seeing what was clearly there in black and white – the honest-to-goodness signature of the greatest tenor ever – which then made me glance at the price while holding my breath; there was obviously a mistake as the cost of this gem was insanely low for a first edition signed copy of anything let alone a gorgeous photo album of the magnificent Pavarotti.
Acting as nonchalant as possible for someone about to pee her panties, I gracefully waltzed up to the register, handing my selection to the young male clerk who gazed into my sea-green eyes and scanned the label without so much as a second thought; I said a silent prayer to The Creator for gracing me with such apparently mesmerizing eyes, purred a “Mille grazie” to the love-struck cashier and left the store while cradling the book in my arms like a newborn baby, not even daring to show Nina my impressive find until we were safely back in our hotel room which I insisted we return to immediately, acting more like a secret agent than even I realized, praying no one in the area noticed while being extra-careful not to look directly at anyone with my dangerously alluring occhi il colore dell’acqua del Mediterraneo.
Upon our return to the hotel, I lovingly wrapped my precious new purchases in layers of tissue paper and placed them between newly-bought scarves made of silk from Como (gifts for my mother and sister); Nina laughed at the care I took in packing, exclaiming they were just paper and leather, not the Hope Diamond, to which I explained that to me they were as fine as any jewel and she wouldn’t understand because she did not possess the heart of a musician which didn’t seem to faze her at all; however, I was very content knowing my goods were safely locked away in my suitcase and would remain there until we were back home in The States.
We were met at JFK airport by our family members who smothered us with Italian hugs and kisses, loudly thanking God for our safe flight and equally loudly admiring our tans and new Florentine gold necklaces; I’m sure the women were wondering if we had jewelry in our luggage for them – which we did – but I knew I had something even more valuable, at least to me, and I couldn’t wait to display my new book on my coffee table at home (of course, the bookmark would travel with me always in whichever book I was reading but The Maestro would remain at home, center stage, for friends to gaze upon in awe).
Now settled into my usual routine, I returned to my job in Manhattan via the Metro North train from my apartment in New Rochelle; it was a pleasant ride and I had a book with me and, of course, my beloved bookmark which was standing guard in this week’s book of choice – Agatha Christie’s “Appointment with Death”– mysteries being one of my favorite genres; however, it was an unhappy and puzzling realization when I returned home from work one day to discover my book and treasured La Scala bookmark were nowhere to be found and I had no idea what happened to them or where I last saw them (having gotten distracted by a lengthy conversation with a friend preventing me from enjoying my daily read the entire train ride); I repeatedly emptied my purse praying they would turn up but they did not so I sat at the piano to calm myself when suddenly the phone rang and an unfamiliar female voice asked for me, saying she found my book and bookmark on the Metro North (thank heavens for taping that label on the inside cover of the book with my name and phone number); fortunately the woman who found my priceless belongings lived nearby and delivered them to me that very night, and by the sparkle in her eyes I believed she knew in her soul that my beloved bookmark held a place not only in my book but in my heart as well.
Just like all people, I have my talents and weaknesses. There are some things I can do very well with pride and great ease. At the same time, there are tasks in life for which I have no talent whatsoever and have zero chance of accomplishing even with someone holding a gun to my head.
It’s been a known fact since elementary school that I’m absolutely terrible at mathematics; I just didn’t have a head for numbers. Having to tackle word problems would make me sick to my stomach and anything beyond basic math would cause me to break out in a cold sweat. It was quite distressing and I’m sure I failed every math test I ever took. There’s no grey area in mathematics, no wiggle room, and I found it to be stifling and utterly confusing. Clearly my left brain was dominated by my right. Eventually the time came for me to study algebra and geometry. The situation was so traumatizing for everyone that the school principal and teachers took pity on me (and themselves). They had a discussion with my parents where it was decided I would be dismissed from further math classes and allowed to concentrate of different subjects. I was granted a pardon from the warden and permitted to double-up on courses such as English, foreign language, music, history or religion.
Two other things I’m really bad at are playing sports and drawing. Can you imagine the humiliation of never being chosen to play on any sports team? I was always the last person standing on the sidelines, staring down at my shoes waiting for my name to be called. Likewise, in art class I couldn’t sketch a decent stick figure or draw a crooked line let alone a straight one and most of my work was unidentifiable, leaving people scratching their heads in bewilderment.
My stronger points lean toward the creative and dramatic, including the ability to learn foreign languages, music, singing, playing the piano and organ, acting, cooking and gardening. If there’s a trivia game, I’m the girl you want on your side. I was always good at fashion and makeup which opened the door for some modeling. I’m also a damn good driver, unafraid of bad weather, 18-wheelers or New York City taxi drivers. And let’s not forget my great love – writing – a true passion realized later in life. I’m good with words and turning a phrase, my imagination is unstoppable and I’ve got fantasizing down to an art form!
While I’ve only been writing in earnest for five years, music has always been a huge part of my life, hence my nickname “Top Alto”.
In school I auditioned for and landed the lead role in every musical. I can sight read any piece of music I’m asked to sing. In fact, when practicing my alto lines at home, I would often play the soprano, tenor and/or bass line on the piano while singing the alto line. It’s not that easy to do but an excellent way to learn your part.
Now, please don’t misunderstand; this is not bragging – it’s simply stating the facts. And if you want a list of other things I can’t do very well I’ll be happy to provide one. Believe me – it’s a long list! But that’s not the purpose of this story. Today I want to tell you about a time I failed at something I normally do very well. I didn’t just fail; I tanked. Royally.
You see, our choir was practicing for a special Mass, one we had been anticipating for weeks. Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York, along with a retinue of religious bigwigs and officials, was going to visit our parish and I was chosen to be Leader of Song for the Responsorial Psalm. The melodies of some Responsorial Psalms are complex while others are rather easy. This particular psalm was bordering on ridiculously easy, a tune I could sing in my sleep. It consisted of ten words all chanted on the same note. Let me repeat that: ten words, one note, ridiculously easy. This was not Celine Dion belting out “My Heart Will Go On” while precariously balanced on a replica of The Titanic in Las Vegas.
I practiced a lot; the Mass was a big deal. The Cardinal, previously mentioned bigwigs and a church packed with the faithful as well as TV crews from Catholic Faith Network and Fox News were in attendance. Did I say it was a big deal? Now, I’ve sung at countless Masses in front of packed churches for years; this was a no-brainer!
The choir looked resplendent in robes of red and gold and I was hell bent for leather. Fifteen minutes into the Mass and it’s time for the Responsorial Psalm. Ten words, one note, Top Alto.
The organist played the intro, nodded at me to begin and I opened my mouth to sing. Now, let me just say if I choked and nothing came out of my mouth it would have been preferable to what did come out of my mouth. I, a mature, confident, talented woman, had suddenly been transformed into Alfalfa from The Little Rascals!
This was supposed to be a piece of cake and I was so damn sure of myself. I was ready; I didn’t clear my throat or wet my whistle before singing. Nope, I just plunged into the deep end of the pool.
Ten words, ten frog-like notes, Alfalfa.
Everyone averted their eyes and I couldn’t blame them. To say I was stunned and humiliated is an understatement; I just sort of slunk down into my chair and hid behind my music binder. Why is there never a rock to crawl under when you need one? I couldn’t help wondering if Cardinal Egan was asking himself “WTF was that?”
It’s all water under the bridge since that debacle and it’s something I can laugh about now but at the time I just wanted to croak. Come to think of it, I did!