Friday, January 8, 2010


I got lost in the fog yesterday afternoon. I missed a turn on a back road up in the hills and found myself in the world famous Sonoma valley. The sun was setting, but the fog was so thick I couldn't figure out which way was west. I drove and drove for an hour. I never came to a town. I passed Fifth Street three times and Eighth Street twice. I drove over little bridges with signs that said "Sonoma Creek" at least ten times. I was trying to get to downtown Petaluma. Eventually I found myself driving East, away from downtown. The thing was that I had started out east of downtown and I had never driven through downtown, but there was downtown, behind me.

Eventually, I got turned around and drove around downtown for a real long time and finally found a place to park. California is supposed to have a twelve percent unemployment rate. I think the whole twelve percent spends its time driving around Petaluma, looking for parking places. Petaluma is a beautiful little town. The craziest people in the world live there and I do not mean that in a good way.

I wanted to go to the music store in Petaluma. It is a really classy old store, so packed full of stringed instruments that it is hard to walk around. I heard they had a five thousand dollar Martin ukulele. Sure enough, there it was. Five thousand dollars in a glass case next to a gazillion dollar one of a kind Martin guitar. They weren't going anywhere.

I have a two hundred and sixty dollar Republic metal bodied resonator ukulele. I have always wanted to try one of those fifteen hundred/ two thousand dollar National Resophonic metal bodied ukuleles. There was one of them sitting right there. All I had to do was pick it up and play it. I did. It really didn't sound as good as my little Republic. I liked that music store but I didn't need to spend any money there. I walked out smiling.

I was really going to a meeting of the Petalukes ukulele club. The meeting was held in the Moose Lodge. I got there early and a Moosette tried to convince me that it would be to my advantage to become a Moose. I know she was a Moosette because the Men's and Lady's room doors said, "Moose" and Moosette." A couple of minutes later a couple of guys came in carrying ukulele cases. They saved me from the Moosette. I liked them right away.

Thirty five people ended up showing up for the meeting. Chairs were pulled into a big circle. Music stands were set up. Big notebooks of photocopied sheet music were unpacked along with a whole bunch of ukuleles from brand new cheapo ukes to classy old well loved ones. After a round of introductions and a disclaimer from one woman, "I'm not the 'leader' of the group. The group doesn't have any leaders", we started a wonderfully chaotic sing along. Sometimes the whole group was playing together and most of us were singing. Sometimes half the group was playing and singing at one speed while the other half was half a verse behind them. We weren't singing rounds or anything, we just weren't singing the same thing. Sometimes part of the group had sheet music in one key while the rest of us had it in another.

The group was mostly pretty old, but it was California and they were mostly pretty old hippies so we sang "Ripple" by the Grateful Dead and "Yellow Submarine" by some other band. We tried to do a medley of "God Bless America" and "This Land Is Your Land" but only one guy knew all of the chords and he kept shouting out the changes to us. We sang a couple of Everly Brothers songs. There were several really good players, a bunch of sort of competent strummers and a few people who could barely understand what was going on. It was a big goddam mess and lots and lots of fun. I got to make tons of mistakes without looking dumb. Every once in a while it even worked and sounded pretty good. I showed one guy a couple of tricks to get through some of the harder parts. A couple of people taught me things. One woman told me, "We can only agree to play in one key and that's 'Anar-key'. " I was smiling and smiling.

I did not get lost on the way home. I listened to Shonen Knife and The Monroe Brothers. I kept smiling and smiling. Every once in a while I said to myself, "Jesus. That was really fun."

Fine Artiste Blues- R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders- Buy

14 comments:

ib said...

I am glad your Republic kicked the ass out of the Resophonic. That is sweet.

"...the whole twelve percent spends its time driving around Petaluma, looking for parking places."

Ha! Our Housing Authority - the notorious GHA - finally got round to fitting a little spring-loaded bollard in our parking lot to dissuade passing motorists from stealing a space. It didn't stay up long. The fucking thing is so inobtrusive that our elderly tenants kept on forgetting it was there. The drove over it so many times they let the bollard die face down on the ground.

Now the parking lot is full of torn up cars rusting under the snow.

@eloh said...

35 people! Sounds like you have found one of your retirement gigs.

How often do they meet?

What if only half of them were able to attend that day?

All sorts of wonderful questions when you find a whole crowd of like minded folks.

Todd said...

ha! Petaluma?...lived there for a couple of months in 93...even stayed a while at the "Petaluma Hotel"

mmmmm....interesting...lotsa stories even only after being there a month or so...

as a young hipster from the southern part of the state, one thing i remember was that while making a few nice, but very wild chums while there...a lot of the folks my age seemed very aloof, full of themselves like their crapola didn't stink?

anyway, if that store was on the main street in downtown...i've been there...traded a bass guitar...they got the better deal of course...

so glad you had a good time :)

Jon said...

Todd, there are still plenty of fools in Petaluma. Too bad because it is really pretty, as you might have noticed. Like I said, some of the craziest people I've ever seen too. I've always wondered about the Petaluma hotel.

@eloh, they said 35 was the most people they've ever had. They meet once a month but some of them get together between meetings. There was some talk about doing fun stuff. One guy has been teaching ukulele to some nursing home residents. I'd probably enjoy something like that. There was also talk about a ukulele flash mob. Have a big group walk into a restaurant or bar in town, play Five Foot Two and run out. I'd be up for that too.

Todd, I'm sure it's the same store. Been there forever. They're dealers. They buy cheap and sell dear. No hard feelings.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

I imagine if you went to a ukulele jamboree in Newfoundland the only key they al agree to play in would be malar-key.

A damn entertaining peep into how Depression America is keeping itself entertained.

kass said...

Jon,
Here's a ukulele piece for you. It showed up in an unlikely place... on the site of my favorite economic commentators, Max and Stacey.

http://maxkeiser.com/2009/12/27/sunday-video-club-ukulele-weeps/

Am enjoying your blog. I remember you from a year or two ago on Doc40. Good idea to start your own. You had a lot to say then too, often on a slightly different level. Nice how there's room for everything on the net.

Jon said...

Hi Kass, I still comment on Doc 40 sometimes. I will always be a Mick Farren fan. Jake Shimabukuro is a big star, even outside the ukulele community. He's very popular in Japan. He just performed for the Queen of England. Somebody sends me a link to that video at least once a week.

kass said...

Sorry, Jon, to have added to the flood of weeping ukulele links. Makes me realize I'm not so good at net signals. That video showing up in an unlikely place had me flashing on "unique" whereas "ubiquitous" was more like it.

About the other, I'm thinking I wasn't very clear. Didn't mean to imply you "left" Doc40 in any way (I remain a fan too), but I do see what I wrote may have attributed my needs to your actions.

Mick is as hip and as sharp as they come... not only a super entertainer but a take-no-prisoners dissector of the cultural/political scene. No blog does better what he does. But there were times when I longed for some of the points raised in comments to be taken further and deeper, yours among them, so I was really glad to find exactly that happening.... on your own blog.

Maybe this is gonna be too personal, but I realize I'd like you to understand where I'm coming from. The reason your exploring the so-called small things in life (and you do it beautifully) means so much to me is that I have spent the last year in a personal hell helping my daughter through (not that we're through) cancer... a very rare and nasty one at that.

So much falls away when you face something life threatening. What's left are those simple, intimate things. Funny how deep they go. They seem all that matters. And they are what you write about, like that visit to your father in Alameda. It said so much.

I haven't visited blogs for months but someone spelling me for the holidays got me trying it again. What I quickly found is that hip doesn't help me right now. Reading your blog does. It's calm and comforting and very positive. It's genuine. It's close to the bone. It's real in a way I need right now (maybe in a way everyone needs right now in these times, cancer aside).

I feel like I'm having to learn to walk all over again in some way (in words and feelings, I mean). You help. Guess what I'm trying to say is, thank you!

ib said...

Amen. And I don't mean that flippantly.

Jon said...

Kass, if you feel the need for forgiveness you are certainly forgiven. I feel like a just got a communication from the other realm. To be a parent struggling for the life of your child is beyond my imagining. I spent a few happy years as a step father and moved on when I was relieved of that responsibility. I still have opinions about the big world but have mostly come to the conclusion that my first responsibility is to save the world that I come in immediate contact with. Mostly I am trying to save it for a minute or two at a time.

I am pleased to have you here and grateful for your appreciation. If you want to follow a real blogging genius I recommend @eloh of Alabama. There's a link to her blog at the bottom of my list of links.

Maybe you need to be writing some of this down yourself.

Jon said...

Kass, I've been thinking about what you said. You know, when I was younger I thought the details of my personal life were unimportant compared to THE BIG PICTURE. Now I feel like the people places and things that make up my life are holy. I think that goes for all of us.

kass said...

Jon, I SO agree. I'm thinking treating what's close as holy is the only way the world may ever be saved that's lasting. And I think it can happen without someone even consciously thinking in those terms, saving the world terms.

A minute or two at a time, like you said. Hell, maybe a minute or two at a time is all there ever is anyway. That thought feels good. Anything more is too overwhelming.

Plus, it means we get to do it over and over. All those new chances every couple of minutes (though it doesn't do to be too conscious of it... feel a major headache in the wings). Getting carried away, but thanks for the insights.

Nazz Nomad said...

"It was a big goddam mess and lots and lots of fun."

a better concept of heaven I do not know.

Jon said...

Nazz, yeah, it was definitely not the kind of chaos I enjoyed when I was younger but it was fun chaos all the same. Sort of good natured, easy going chaos. I didn't know how much I missed that combination of music and chaos. I guess I figured that was, you know, the past. The lesson, if there is one, is keep it simple and fuck a bunch of perfection. Same lesson as ever.

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