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Ain't She Sweet, The Invisibility of Old Guys, Back from Canada, Working Out

My First Music Gig


(Well, the first in 50 years*)
My mom is 99 and is living in a rest home. She lives in a wing with ladies in their 80s and 90s, maybe 15 of them. As are many people of this age, they have varying degrees of forgetfulness or confusion. Yesterday I took over my ukulele and sang songs with them. My repertoire of uke songs consists mostly of old tunes from the '20s and '30s' like of the flapper era. When I played the uke in high school, these were the type songs that had ukulele arrangements.

The ladies had been playing Bingo and were all sitting around a table, looking bored. Boredom is a big problem for people in retirement homes. I was a bit nervous, but Clara, one of the caregivers, urged me on. She said they'd love it. I took the uke out of the case - none of them knew what I was going to do - tuned it, then played and sang Five Foot Two.

Five foot two
Eyes of blue
But oh what those five feet can do,
Has anybody seen my gal

By god, they all sat up. Sparkles came into eyes.

Turned up nose,
Turned down hose,
Never had no other beaus,
Has anybody seen my gal


It was a hit! Some of them were bouncing to the music. Big smiles. One lady, sitting next to my mom, was singing along, as were maybe 6-7 of them, and she had a clear, lovely voice. I focused on her and we sang together. Her eyes were bright and shining. She could really sing. Another lady, who I'd seen before, and always looked pretty out of it, never smiling, was transformed. Her face lit up, and she sang along. One of the caregiver girls was dancing in the background.

Bye Bye Blackbird/Ja-Da/When You Wore a Tulip/Over the Rainbow/Toot Toot Tootsie/My Little Grass Shack/Coney Island Baby/Singin' in the Rain/Ain't Gonna Study War No More/Peg O' My Heart. We must have sung 30 songs. I was sweating. It was fun!

They liked the peppy ones like Ain't She Sweet, but they also seemed to love the sentimental ones, which I ended up singing to them, like I'm In the Mood For Love, or I'll See You in My Dreams. They clapped after each song. It was a very forgiving audience

Music can transform people. It cuts through everything, direct to the heart. I realized that these were the songs that these ladies had danced to and listened to with their beaus in the 30's, and they (the songs) are mostly forgotten now. They want a return engagement this Sunday. I'm starting to practice at night. A few of them wanted to pay me and one said she was going to give me $750. I told her cash, check or money order.

*In high school (Lowell High, San Francisco, class of '52), we had a quartet called "The Uncalled Four" and sang at rallies and parties. I had a Martin ukulele and one guy played the washtub bass. (One of our members was Bill Bixby, who went on to fame and fortune (The Incredible Hulk, My Favorite Martian, etc.)

The Invisibility of Old Guys


Grey hair has meant I can walk down the street virtually unnoticed. There's none of the former sparring around with alpha males. I'm not considered a threat. And women? I saw an old friend recently, a guy who was a dashing figure in his earlier days; girls always noticed him. He said, "I walk down the street now and women don't even see me." When I'm in my reporter's mode it's great to go unnoticed. At times I wish I could be invisible, so I could observe "purely," as it were, without my presence (and camera) altering the people I'm observing. Maybe by the time I'm 80 I'll be totally invisible.

Back from Canada


I got back about 10 days ago from a trip shooting photos of carpenters and their work in and around Vancouver island, B. C. It takes me about this long to decompress, to get back into home mode. I'm pretty whacked out when I travel. On the road I operate at about 50% of my normal energy. A different bed every night, long periods driving. But at the same time I love it. Going down a road I've never been down before. It's hunting, except with a camera instead of gun. I love the Pacific Northwest and the people up there. It was a great trip in terms of gathering material and hanging out with new-found sympático friends. The worst thing was not working out for a month. Hard on the body. When I get back and start running or paddling again, I get such a rush of energy and good-feeling. It's a very real addiction,

Working Out


Bob Anderson, the author of Stretching, says "You never hear anyone say, 'I'm sorry I worked out.'" Often I'm just too lazy or comfortable to get out and run or surf, but every single time I do I feel great. It never fails. If I make myself jump in a cold creek, I end up feeling incredible. Gotta do stuff like that more often. Talking to myself here.

Blogging from Vancouver

This is my 28th day on the road and I'm in a light airy apartment of friends in Vancouver getting ready to head south and home. Yesterday I finished my final shoot in the rain (what else?) of a sculptural house on a small island off the coast of West Vancouver. Hey, that's a wrap, I thought, feeling movie-director-like, and now I get to head on down the road to home sweet home.

I've been cold every day (off and on) for a month. Home-made muffler and Alpaca wool hat, 5 layers of clothing, gloves, rain boots, and still a shock each time I get out of my truck. Rain, snow, hail, wind, towering white clouds and fast-moving water-laden black clouds. One day of magical snow on Hornby Island. The trees grow like mad here in the Northwest. People living in the country have to beat back the ever-encroaching woods. I asked a guy in Tofino what the rainfall was and he said "Ten feet." But the great thing about winter here is the lack of tourists. Tofino ("Tough Town"), the picturesque seaside town on the west coast of Vancouver Island, is a dream this time of year. Down to the locals, no strolling crowds, good vibes.

Here are a few things this San Francisco-based observer has observed up here, meaning Vancouver Island and vicinity:
  1. People are more competent. They have to cope with tough weather. Nature slaps you around. There are a lot of young people who can do real stuff: building, fishing, gardening, welding. People seem sincere, straightforward; it's a relief to get out of California for a while.
  2. Native culture and art are still very powerful here. Most of the Northwest Indians may have been wiped out by Whitey, but a lot of the strong ones have survived. You see native people everywhere and the art (totems, masks, paintings) is vibrant and alive.
  3. This is sea-people country. It's a water wonderland, with not only the ocean, but inlets, passageways, fijords, islands, thousands of miles of every conceivable type of waterway, and there are boats of every description everywhere.
  4. And finally, the carpentry: before I came up here for the first time last year, a friend said "You don't have anything in Home Work like the buildings up north." Lo and behold, he was right. This is my 3rd trip (out of 4) to Vancouver Island and vicinity shooting photos for a book, Builders of the Pacific Northwest Coast, and I've been constantly delighted by the creativity and craftsmanship of these carpenters.
Vancouver is a wonderful city. Clean, brght, on the sea. I just had the best meal of the trip (actually out of a lot of good meals) at Restaurante Baru Latino on Alma Street. The great feeling when you realize that every bit of food has been carefully and lovingly prepared. I started talking to the chef, who was a sympático soul, and asked him if there were any good blues clubs in Vancouver and he directed me to The Yale Hotel (at Granville and Drake) and it turned out to be a large rambling room with pool table, plenty of tables, bar and dance floor in a 170-year-old building, and talk about good vibes! The band was Texas Flood, so named after a Stevie Ray Vaughn Album, and sure enough they were channeling Stevie, down to the guitar player wearing a Stevie-type hat. Turns out to be a great venue. James Cotton had been there a few weeks back, the Reggae Cowboys the night before, Walter Trout the next week. There isn't really a blues club like this in San Francisco.



Well, so much for my plans to blog frequently on my trip — just didn't work out that way. I DID keep up with my email, but never seemed to have time to post anything. I'll try to get some stuff up when I return home, after I get through the first week of decompressing and unloading info (2,500 photos among other data). Tomorrow I'm headin' south!