Harry Chapin wrote this great story song. We decided to give it a try during a Will Read and Sing For Food show August 25, 2014. Here are the wonderful voices of Jasmine Ruckriegel and Jon Light, along with Bryan Bolin (the critic). They helped us raise $540 for Community Food Bank. Thank you, Harry.
The first part of this song is a beautiful original by Buddy Hart. It leads into a Les Paul driven Beatles cover, I Feel Fine.
Jasmine Ruckriegel is one fourth of the wonderful quartet Sisters of Second Avenue. As you can imagine, getting four busy sisters together at one time is pretty difficult. So, sometimes, at my relentless urging, she joins our show solo–though she’d rather be surrounded by the other three. Listen to the audio below of Jasmine covering James Taylor’s Valentines Day–without the safety net of her sisters or musical instruments. She helped us raise money for Tri-Cap earlier this year. Jasmine will be joining us for Show #50 tomorrow night to benefit Community Food Bank.
Scott Saalman: On being in San Francisco when Robin Williams died.
By SCOTT SAALMAN
I first visited San Francisco for 24 hours four years ago. A business stopover with my coworker, Jon. We stayed in a frou-frou boutique in the financial district, conveniently close to work, though our travel budget basically put me in the basement boiler room. I believe part of the deal was we had to shovel coal into the furnace.
Unfortunately, Jon beat me to the registration desk. I heard him say, “My partner and I are here from Jasper . . .”
The word “partner” echoed in the lobby, carried up the stairwell and elevator shaft and into the hallways, seeping beneath the door crack of each guest room.
Those in the adjacent social area glanced up from their books and magazines and fireplace and two-figure drinks — men, all men, mind you. Suddenly I felt like a fresh cut Kobe fillet placed on a freezer rack of ground round. “Dammit, Jon,” I muttered.
The hotel clerk looked confused, wondering why my “partner” and I requested separate rooms. In the elevator, fueled by his faux pas, I advised Jon to refer to us as business partners (which we were), not partners — so as not to, if anything, raise the heads and hopes of our fellow hotel guests. “This is San Francisco,” I added. Hadn’t he at least seen “The Birdcage?” It wasn’t that I was worried others might think I was gay; I just didn’t want them to think the best I could do was Jon, who is too old for me. We laughed, went our separate ways, unpacked and shoveled coal.
Recently, I returned to San Francisco for 72 hours, falling in love during my walkabouts with this hilly city by the bay.
Beyond the Chinatown Gate, red lanterns dangled over Grant Avenue, dense with pagodas, gift shops, Asian cooking, tourists and locals. Corner musicians slid bows over their two-stringed erhus, sad Asian songs snapping at my heartstrings, primal tears simmering.
I ate breakfast at The Posh Bagel on Sutter Street, a place I vowed four years ago to return to for the ham, egg and cheddar bagel, my best breakfast experience ever. I rushed in, ordered the Eggwich Deluxe and sat at the front window.
At first bite, I noticed a homeless man sleeping outside against the glass at my feet, our different lives divided that morning by nothing more than thin window pane, this vision bringing with it a moral dilemma not encountered in the small, homeless-less town where I live. The dream bagel hovered between me and the down-and-out Asian, his dime-store tennis shoes and skinny ankles sticking out a red, ragged blanket.
WWJD came to mind, as in What Would Jen Do, Jen being Jen Chapin, my humanitarian/musician friend who is on the board of WhyHunger.
A venomous fog of traveler’s timidity engulfed my conscience though, making me too fearful to tamper with the food chain of a strange town, causing me to move farther from the window so as not to see the sidewalk sleeper. I didn’t want to disturb his sleep. Self-justification in action. Still, this thought haunted me: “Would Jen give him her bagel?” A few chews later, I wondered, “Would Jen give her half bagel to him,” since I had selfishly scarfed the first 50 percent. Eating the second half, I pondered buying a whole bagel for the man, but not without first asking the owner if it would be OK since it might unwantedly attract the other homeless to his storefront.
I was reading USA Today’s story about Robin Williams’ suicide when the homeless man rose. He rolled his blanket and hobbled away, leaving behind a cardboard mattress. “The Fisher King” came to mind. Dumb pigeons inspected the vacated spot for crumbs of the hungry. I felt ashamed by my inaction. I lost heart in San Francisco.
Being in San Francisco during Williams’ suicide compounded the news’ sadness, for he lived here. I recalled how he moved me in “Dead Poets’ Society,” and suddenly his “seize the day” mantra contributed to a spur-of-the-moment decision to pedal across Golden Gate Bridge. It was my last evening. I might never return. A bike rental booth and $14 was all that stood between me and carpe diem.
It was about a five-mile bike ride to the 1.7-mile long bridge. On a couple of steep hills, I walked my tourist’s bike while wafer-thin cyclists flashed by on titanium-frames, a rainbow blur of Lycra brilliance.
The world-famous suspension bridge is not flat. Movies don’t show its gradual incline, nor its suicide hotline phones. The bay’s gusts were bike-toppling. Dismounting, I nearly crumpled from rubbery legs. Shooting a selfie, I nearly lost my phone to the wind.
The dizzying height, the whipping wind, six lanes of rushed traffic inches away, an overindulgence of lunch, not being in biking shape, the ghosts of countless jumpers and being outside my comfort zone discomforted my stomach, alerting me that I was going to upchuck on this famous landmark. I imagined leaning over the railing and unleashing a 245-foot free fall of vomit. I didn’t want to look down, period. What if a passerby thought I was jumping and intervened? Onward I pedaled, despite the bad taste and burn of bile, over, then back. Mission complete. Carpe Diem.
Strangely, it was the suicide of a beloved actor who encouraged us long ago to “seize the day” that inspired me to bike across the second most used suicide site in the world.
Next morning, I left San Francisco with a satisfied, sunny sensation of an un-wasted life swelling within, yet feeling too the pang of knowing that fog will roll and Na Nu Na Nu is no more.
Scott Saalman and the Will Read and Sing For Food players will perform their 50th show Monday, Aug. 25, at 7 p.m., at VUJC to benefit Community Food Bank. Admission: suggested $10 donation.
By SCOTT SAALMAN
For me, the first five or so minutes in the gym are the most trying. That’s how long it takes, if I’m lucky, to muster the Hemingway code of grace under pressure while I twist, stretch, grunt, sweat—and if no one is near, whimper, make silent deals with deity and curse (so much for grace)—before even beginning my actual workout. Yes, I’m talking about that seemingly endless time it takes to untangle my iPod’s earphones.
I could more quickly solve a Rubik’s Cube with just my bare toes than untangle my earphones. No matter how neatly I roll them up after usage and return them to my pocket, they always uncoil and entwine like snakes in heat before my next workout. What causes this knotted chaos? Pocket poltergeists?
I believe this is what Bob Dylan is referring to in “Tangled Up In Blue,” a song on my playlist. Only when I completely untangle the cords can I take the critical step of capping my ear canals and crank up the tunes.
Music is a must. It gets my mind off what I have paid good money to do even though it’s something I would rather not do: exercise.
I prefer starting off with something from Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s “‘Live’ Bullet,” arguably the best concert album ever. When the announcer says at the start of the recording, “You are here because you want the real thing. Let’s bring out Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. Now!!!” and “Nutbush City Limits” kicks in, blares, blocks out all gym sounds, I experience pure funk, soul, rock n’ roll nirvana. “They call it Nutbush, oh Nutbush, call it Nutbush city limits …” Faster than you can say, “Run Forrest run,” the treadmill is no longer the “dreadmill,” the machine and I married by motion.
A good run for me can be sustained with a string of “run” referenced songs on my playlist: Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” Steve Miller Band’s “Take the Money and Run,” The Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running,” Tom Petty’s “Running Down A Dream,” Van Halen’s “Running With the Devil.”
Without music, there’s no way I could mentally withstand doing time on a treadmill, which really is nothing more than a glorified hamster wheel. You run but never get anywhere.
Sometimes the Bee Gees play (I’ll deny this if you tell anyone). It’s a guilty listening pleasure. But more importantly, “Staying Alive” reminds me why I endure exercise. I do it to stay alive.
I used to run outdoors, on actual pavement. The last time being Thanksgiving morning 2011. My 47th birthday. It was unseasonably warm. Misty. I ran Jasper’s Riverwalk though things just didn’t feel right. I was plagued by perpetual calf cramps. I felt stiff, like the Tin Man attempting a 12K in the rain. My rusty knees throbbed. I was in dire need of WD-40. A “run” related song summed up the experience, “Running on Empty.”
I was out of gas by the time I hobbled to the finish line in eyesight of the Jasper cinema. The marquee mocked me. “Happy Feet 2” was showing. I kid you not. There was nothing happy about my feet, my knees, my calves, my anything. So, this is 47? Shoot me now.
As a birthday present to myself, I bought a gym membership.
Running indoors has proven to be easier on my joints, but there is one pitfall, that being when my mp3 player’s battery dies halfway through a workout. It seems each time this happens, Singing Guy just happens to be in the gym. Singing Guy listens to music through earphones but he obviously forgets that people can still hear him when he sings along. Other than my own singing voice, there is not a worse voice than that of Singing Guy. Even famous American Idol reject William Hung would laugh at this guy. Marine biologists, you need not research any further. Singing Guy is the reason that whales beach themselves.
Sometimes I try to read an e-book on the treadmill, but this can be dangerous, especially with a Dave Barry book. For example, I downloaded Dave’s “You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty.” I started laughing out loud, which is no big deal since everyone else was secretly listening to the Bee Gees through their earphones and couldn’t hear me. A few pages later, I had to grip the treadmill’s bars for support. Then, tears of laughter ensued and I doubled over in dangerous delight. Had I not hit the Stop button, I would’ve likely been overtaken by the momentum of the moving belt, passed through the rollers as if caught by undertow, disappearing then reappearing cartoon-like with each treadmill revolution.
There should be a warning on the cover of Dave’s books: DO NOT READ WHILE OPERATING EXERCISE EQUIPMENT. ALSO, MAY CAUSE ANAL LEAKAGE. Don’t ask.
I’ve wasted way too much time telling you about treadmills. Now I need to actually get on one before they’re all taken, just as soon as I get these damned earphones untangled.