Some of you know already through the modern miracle of 'social media' that I went out last Friday night - a night out for the first time in many years. I had been considering it for a couple of weeks, because (again via Facebook) I learned that my friend and former guitar partner of many years' standing, Tim, was having a gig with the new(er) iteration of his band at a venue in Fremantle that we'd actually helped to open way back when. I was gripped with a desire to attend, and a consummate desire to examine this very desire.
Anyway, I went and had myself a time, as they say in South Park. Here are some learnings I have made, as Vernon God Little (not from South Park) would say. In no particular order.
1) Girl wargamer nerds really do exist.
In one of Freo's many open-air arcades I spotted a gaming shop (actual games-type gaming, not the euphemism for gambling these days) open way past the usual time and filled beneath the harsh neon with Warhammer players (I think it was Warhammer, I'm not 100% on these things) around a few high tables, all set out with miniature figurines, citadels and the like. Serious rapid-fire chat and action with dice and tape measures was taking place, and my stereotype glands were set to stun as I noted that yes, pretty much all dozen-and-a-half or so players, and all the hangers-on, looked exactly like the Warhammer gaming nerds you expect to see in such a place. Late teens and twentysomethings on the pallid/pasty side, well-worn-in basic casual clothing and sensible shoes without a designer label or anything resembling an actual hairstyle in the place, and with the one mandatory exception of the unusually tall skinny guy in black jeans and badly skewed glasses which jangled about his face every time he opened his high-pitched and overly-articulated mouth they were all just one or two notches on the burger side of a healthy weight. Those with long hair just simply tied it..........wait, what......THAT'S UNDOUBTABLY A WOMAN!!! CRIKEY, A LIVE SIGHTING OF THE MYTHICAL FEMALE OF THE SPECIES!!! And I looked a bit closer. In fact, very nearly half the combatants were without a Y chromosome, it's just that as they dressed pretty much exactly the same as the guys you didn't notice, as you do in other subcultures with more gender-specific fashion rules. I was most pleased. It made me inexplicably happy. Because I'm pretty sure no-one was there primarily for the sex. Then again........
2) Stereotypes can bite you for good reasons.
Strolling before sundown about St John's square, enjoying the deep and dappled shades beneath the remaining ancient Moreton Bay figs, paying no particular attention to any one thing or person, a young Aboriginal woman caught my eye - she was part of a family group sort of encamped along the benches next to the play equipment, all passing around a cask of wine - and in that fleet moment she reached out towards me, arching her back as languid as any feasting Roman senator's favourite lady, opening her mouth to speak. I expected as one might naturally expect in such a moment to be asked for a cigarette and/or cash for some spurious reason, so imagine my surprise when I saw instead in her outstretched hand an open packet of Camels - once my very favouritest brand of tailor-made cigarettes (I most generally preferred to roll my own, back when I smoked) and she said "hey brother, you want a smoke or what?" accompanied by giggles from her cohort. Momentarily shocked as I was by this classic reversal I still managed to utter, exactly as if I'd been asked the more expected question "I don't smoke". She half sat up, fixed me more steadily in her gaze, and smiling in an eye-twinkling saucy way just said "Yes you fucking do..." still holding out the packet.
She was right. I was tempted, and primed for a 'big night out' in which I anticipated imbibing coffee, and had already considered a soupcon of alcoholic beverage as well; and here was this (admittedly rather attractive) young woman keyed straight in to my most sinister erstwhile vice, with the right brand and all. It's a brand in Australia that you would simply never associate with the urban Aboriginal demographic either. Maybe someone gave them to her and she didn't like them. Why was she doing this? I was being a bit teased in that "let's see if the white guy gets uncomfortable" sort of shit-giving way - not at all unfriendly mind - but there was just no apparent motive apart from the fact that she wanted me to take one.
And I did. And walked off, thanking her.
3) I cannot actually smoke - classic lols!
Scleroderma and scleredema share many typical symptoms, one of which is the 'mask-like' face that develops with hardening and induration of the skin. It removes your wrinkles (take that, ladies!!), prevents you closing your eyes properly, gives you a bit of a botox effect generally, and pulls your lips back into a bit of a grimace. And they get sort of hard and inflexible. So they don't close. As they need to if you're going to make a seal around something like a cigarette. I had bought a lighter and determined to have a smoke of this gifted Camel, meditatively and gratefully for whatever the experience might bring. Only to find that as I couldn't draw on it I couldn't light it. With my dodgy hands it takes two hands to use the lighter anyway, but in the end I did manage to get it going - noticing the deeply historic smoker's desperation surface unbidden to hurry me along - and discovered I could sort of get an inhale happening if I wedged it in a corner of my mouth and sort of squeezed my face as shut as I could get it. I have to say, it was rather good, that nostalgic taste and headspin. I enjoyed it in that moment.
The next day I could still taste cigarettes, having brushed my teeth and everything. I also discovered I had utterly no desire to repeat the experiment. Nice.
What I'll do when I next have to do a random breath test with the constabulary and can't blow through the straw I don't know.
4) Force of will still works when you engage it, but it comes at a cost.
I'd been unwell you see, with an eye infection, gastric woes caused in large part by the meds for the eye issue, and a general downturn in health indicators. I'd known this gig was on for weeks, and had 'maybe-d' myself back then. I'd looked at why it was I was so drawn to going and decided that this was a pointless exercise and that I'd just accept that the desire was not really waning. The day approached and I had been on the mend, true, but was feeling cautious. I didn't want to take a chance with my eyes and a 2-hour night drive home (in case they weren't up to it; what then?) and with my rather antisocial set of nocturnal symptoms don't particularly like the thought of inflicting them on those friends who always extend me invites to stay. Plus, I rather like my own space these days. So I resolved, cleft as my mind was, to allow for an omenological determination. I'd previously seen a reasonable-looking accommodation option for a good price in Fremantle, easy walking distance etc, and said to myself if it was still available at such short notice (it being now Friday lunchtime) that I'd go. It was. I booked. I knew I could just make myself well enough to enjoy the adventure through simple decision, and a bit of positive mental discipline.
And so it proved. In Spiritualist circles they speak of a thing called 'magnetic healing' which describes when a hands-on energy healer uses their own internal energy to heal another rather than acting as a conduit for directing the Universal or God energy or what-have-you. I had to use both, so in the end, was a little drained. But I did show to myself yet again, that where there's a will......
I made sure I consciously blinked a lot (there's that joke about putting the stethoscope on a blonde's brain and hearing :"breathe in....breathe out...") and kept my gastric biofeedback loop going fulltime, to be ahead of any imminent events and keep things feeling comfortable. Had the chi monitor going and kept my pace of everything nice and steady. Most muscular and blood-pressure effort was corralled for talking, and I did mange to remain speaking nearly well enough for much of the evening. Yay!
5) I was a better guitarist than I gave myself credit for.
There couldn't have been less of a clear idea in my head about what I'd experience at this gig. To set the stage, as it were, Tim and I played together for years and years. At first I was his student, then quickly things progressed until we culminated as the guitar nucleus of his sort-of flamenco-fusion band for many years, ending in the late-ish '90's. We were, and are, very close friends in an emotional sense, but not so much now in a day-to-day way. This doesn't matter. He was always the senior partner and main composer, and has composed some truly remarkable and outrageously original music in his time. I was effectively second guitarist, and frankly was pretty comfortable keeping things that way.
So here I was, unable to play anymore, in a very familiar venue, watching from the outside. Tim's new guitar partner Harry (whom I'd not met but whom Tim had previously praised to me) cut a really different figure than I used to, so there was a whole different vibe to some very familiar tunes. Rounding out the event were Pranjal, a clearly gifted and sensitive tabla player, and good old Tony, the last of the bass players we had together in the band days. So; different, but the same, in many ways. Naturally enough, I was focussed on the guitars and it's incredible how fast I fell instantly into wanting to get into the sound guy's ear and sort out the sound (no matter how long a sound check you do, unless you work with a real pro it takes a few songs to balance the sounds of nylon-stringed flamenco guitars in a multi-instrument setting) and then noticed that my hands remembered everything.
If I started thinking about what was coming next in a tune I'd played a thousand times and recorded to within an inch of its life I often crapped out and stumbled - which was fun because it was like hearing it anew in a way - but if I just paid attention to the very, very tiny movement my fingers were making all on their own; miniature analogs of what they'd be doing in real time if I were sitting in, then I became aware that the body was still entirely in tune.
Let me elaborate: It was not just that I bodily remembered everything, it's that I knew what was coming next. And of course, in the almost decade and a half since I last played with Tim, even the real old pieces had changed and morphed. And Tim now clearly has a looser sense of arrangement than we used to. I had two roles in the band of old, you see. One was second guitarist, so as much a part of the rhythm section as not, but also as psychic translator for Tim to the rest of the band, and fix-it-on-the-fly guy when stuff got a bit crazy. Back in the day, our on-stage connection was oft commented upon, and it was a joy to see Harry do his version of the tune-in. Because Tim was obviously proving cantankerously unruly with his arrangements. Pranjal was watching closely too, reeling Tim back gently from rhythmic brinks and laying down a few solid hits to refocus after some hair-raising excursions. Tony, bless him, remained as unflappable and bass-playerlike as always. Just watch, and adapt by ear, that's the way. Tim, though older and more carefree in his attitude to musical outcomes, showed the same particular brilliance as always.
Now Harry is a very fine guitarist, of this there can be no doubt. He has an entirely different style and approach to mine, and besides takes a lot of opportunity to solo out on his own while Tim pedals back with some rhythm. I never really wanted much of that. So comparisons, while to some degree inevitable for me, proved as always odious. Harry is Harry and is one of the finer specimens of the art going around, and it's silly to even think about who did the role better, if for no other reason than that the role has changed. But watching and listening, eyeing some old riffs Tim still knocks out that I used to do too, I saw myself as if in a time warp and finally allowed myself to really accept that I was actually rather good at what I did. I'd heard enough praise at the time for sure, but never really took it on as truthful and sincere opinion - preferring to armour myself from the commensurate responsibility to maintain such a foisted-on standard by silently deciding that the one lavishing such praise had simply not yet seen a *really* good flamencoesque guitarist. Or had ulterior motives. But you know what? I agree with those folks now. So belatedly with sincerity, thanks everyone.
After all these years. Ironic that I get more satisfaction from that thought now - well, I suppose it's safe to have now isn't it? - than I did when the musician's life was my mainspring.
6) Old friends can still surprise you with their love.
I didn't expect to see Tony, I thought it would be a trio, and I didn't speak with him until the interval. He'd heard stories and bits about my wellbeing and so on, and I'd actually seen him maybe a couple of years ago by chance in Fremantle. But unlike so many people who for whatever reasons avoid the issue, he quickly asked about my health generally, and upon my simplistic assertion - with a smile - that it was all a bit fucked, and pointed to a few one-word symptoms like hands, eyes, voice ("as you can hear") his face remained empathetic yet composed, but suddenly dropped in a moue of concern: "but are you in pain?"
I let him know cheerfully, that no, it didn't give me much pain for the most part, and I loved the look of relief on his face. I have always thought of him as a very genuine man. To show such compassion without engagement in a pity-party; to care for another's feelings first and foremost, beyond notions of longevity or inconvenience, to acknowledge the horror of pain we all share, and to be selfless and unselfconscious in this......I'm hoping this is the new Australian Male. Thanks Tony. He's a dad now, which gives me greater hope for the future of our young.
7) I still think it's fun to push people's buttons a bit. For a good cause, is my excuse.
I'm pretty unselfconscious about the whole tube thing these days, and less self-conscious about the speaking issue. I just accept that half the time when I open my mouth to a stranger they're going to have a distasteful reaction to whatever they perceive as my disability (I'm pretty sure most think I'm somehow mentally handicapped, or brain damaged, or something) and that this is entirely their problem unless it interferes with my doing what I need to do. So I'm less impatient with them and by extension with myself. Then there's the other half. They clearly wonder wtf? but carry on and just adapt to the task at hand without faux behaviours - being overly solicitous or needlessly terse for example. These are humans that make me smile more.
Using Proloquo2Go can be fun too. I am just now starting to use it more, and am easing myself into it by making it do lots of swearing and using other disarming phrases. Because its inflections are so kooky, that no malice can ever really come across, so a phrase like "Sorry, I am still getting used to this fucking thing" comes over with the humour it is designed to carry, not angry or bitter as it might perhaps be said.
But really, the tube. In combination with the whole speech thing I can enjoy messing about a bit with people's expectations. I was sitting with my old chum Horatio T Birdbath at the cafe, waiting for the gig to start, when along wanders Beatriz, wife to aforementioned Tim and friend of just as long standing. She's surprised and effusive, and has a friend in tow I've not met before, a woman of delightful vibe called Marie. They organise coffee, and return to our table. Beatriz points at the 2/3rd coffee sitting before me and asks something vagueish about "am I OK with drinking that lately?"
"No." (In stereo with Birdbath, we always did have comedy timing)....Smile.
"So you can't drink that."
"No" (again, stereo. He is a fearsome stirring partner.)
"Do you want a straw or something?'
"No." (Strike three stereophonics!..Much gigglery) Poor Beatriz is trying just to care and make sense of things and her friend is unsure about what she's witnessing too. "It'll be fine, you'll see"
Every minute or two I feel the glass, testing for temperature. Have a little smell. Every time I make a move for it both Beatriz, who's given up asking stuff, and Marie both eagle-eye me. Eventually I start removing things from my pockets: a wad of paper napkins, and a sort of phallic translucent sex-toy looking thing which serves as a syringe holder, and nonchalantly as anything, whip out ol' tubey, plug in, and pour down the coffee followed by a glass of water.
"So now it's gone......." I mean, what else could she say? Marie did not so much as bat an eyelid. Teasing Beatriz was a nostalgic pastime. Sorry Beatriz, couldn't help it.
Maybe I'll outgrow it and start being deliberately sensitive to others' possible problems with tubeing in public but for now I'm on the judgmental bandwagon and have decided on a should. That people should just treat it as being as normal as eating or drinking. Same with breastfeeding - are we over that one yet?
8) A night out is what you make it.
This is not a new learning, just a summation. I chose to follow my strong instinct, and was rewarded with some unexpected surprises and delights. And a little bit of a hangover, unpractised partier that I now am. Thanks be, eh?