High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Brassed Out

The US Open Brass Band Championship is held in Arlington Heights each year, because that is the home of the Prairie Brass Band, which hosts it. This year, the Catholics turned us out and we had to rely on a public school for a venue. Regardless of location, though, the competition starts brutally early and it's not a time for me to be fucking around with long-distance travel. Fortunately, a clan member resides nearby and, welcome or not, I impose on her hospitality.

I was wishy washy about my Friday plans. I would've liked to attend Old Town's First Friday festivities to see Rita Ruby, my harmony teacher, perform and pick up one of her newly released CDs. However, the featured performer doesn't start until 8:30. I wasn't up to sitting through the ensemble performances and getting to my sister's quite late.

However,I had an uncharacteristic late afternoon brainstorm. A few weeks ago when I first posted about my hoarseness issue (still ongoing---I need to find an ENT), KB suggested Icelandic Moss lozenges. In looking to purchase these, I found numerous publications supporting their utlity for hoarseness, pharyngeal/laryngeal inflammation, etc. I also found that they might as well be China White as far as American retailers are concerned. Actually, China White would be considerably easier to obtain.

But, I reasoned, if anyone was likely to carry them, it would be the Apothecary shop in the Hunnish Heart of Lincoln Square. Thus, I decided to drive up in that direction, take a stab mossward, and see if I could at least pick up one of Rita's CDs and wish her a good show.

Unfortunately, my attempts to get out of the house then turned into a Three Stooges episode crossed with a Fellini film written by Ishiguro. I couldn't decide on clothes. The clothes I'd banked on didn't look right together. I couldn't get my medications together. Had I actually packed a contact case? Would I grade during the downtime or would I knit? Better bring both. OOH, pepperoni sticks in my knitting bag! Yum yum! I wound up with significantly more gear than a Bedouin on the way to dry season camp.

On my way out the door, my spouse reminded me that I probably would like a book to take along. Ooh shiny! He brought me Thud and Dead Beat, which I carefully placed on the back seat of the Canyonero (and by the back seat of the Canyonero, I mean the coffee table in the living room, obviously). Just as I was about to pull away, I realized that I'd left my directions and competition schedule sitting on the printer.

Seventy-six hours into the process of leaving my home, I was on the road along with 3 million of my close Chicagoan friends to experience the joy that is Friday rush hour. Lincoln Square is 13 miles from my house. A lean, mean, 98 minutes later, I was pulling into a parking spot a quarter of a block from the Apothecary.

I'd only just gotten there before closing, which meant that everyone was eager to help me and get me the hell out of the store. I asked a woman stocking shelves if they carried the lozenges and she looked dubious, but said she'd ask the Herr in charge. I followed her to the back of the store and listened in to her conversation with a guy who looked like Ben Kingsley. He could've been Italian, Arab, or Russian. The only think I'm sure he is not is German.

He stared at me suspiciously for a long moment. I wondered if there were trials one needed to pass to merit the moss. With a stern frown he said, "ISLA-MOOS?" in demanding tones. Thanks to my research, I knew that this was one brand name under which they were sold. "Yes, Isla-Moos, please."

Another long moment in which I'm sure he'd assessed what kind of underwear I was sporting before he reluctantly said, "Wait here." Hoping to catch me off guard, he then stuck his head around the corner from the stockroom and demanded, "How many packages?"

"TWO!" I panicked.

He came back with two small boxes, about 5 inches long, half an inch deep, and 2 inches wide. Wrapped in plain brown paper, I shit you not. Thoroughly rattled by now, I paid the nice, crazy potential poisoner and headed out. I made my way clear of the store's windows and tore off the paper to reveal a perfectly ordinary-looking box of cough drops in green and white cardboard packaging covered all over with text in German. I have no idea what all the cloak-and-dagger was about. I popped one in and was relieved to discover that the taste was not nearly so bad as one might've feared given that the lozenges themselves look like congealed slush.

I made my way to the wine store to procure a housewarming gift for my sister. While browsing, I suddenly remembered that I'd forgotten to print out the directions to the new house. After a brief moment of panic, I realized that I could hit the internet cafe for some tea and jot them down. Based on the cold reaction from the staff when I returned 10 mintues later with tea in hand, I guess my suddenly bolting from the store, cursing under my breath may have looked oddish.

After the giant tea, the Isla-Moos, and the general running around, stopping at Old Town was no longer just a maybe. I had serious need of their lovely public restroom. Although I managed to accomplish that goal with comparative ease, the rest of my evening was slated to be inefficient and unproductive. Rita's CDs were nowhere to be found and the volunteers at the front were not even aware of their existence, despite the fact that they had a "CD RELEASE PARTY" flyer taped to their tabletop. I managed to catch Rita after her soundcheck, and she told me I'd probably rather wait until the versions with the full artwork arrived in a few weeks. I wished her a good show and headed for the music store to pick up a giftie for my nephew. The music store that is, of course, closed at 5 on Fridays. Sigh.

I had already managed to obtain one of my favorite Beverly Cleary books for my niece, so the lack of present for the nephew was particularly problematic. Karma decided to take pity on me, and the book for the niece completely disappeared at some point in the evening's festivities. I fully expect to find it inside the leg of my tights or something the way my night was going.

The drive to my sister's place was fairly uneventful. Her directions were good enough to get me most of the way there, but her specificity regarding the location of her caul-da-sach (sic) left something to be desired. To complicate things, L called at the exact moment I was prowling around in the dark, striking fear into the suburban heart with my hat and shifty hippy looks, trying to find any single fucking house number that might aid me in my search. This added a good 15 minutes to my trip.

Their new house is great, and the visit was quite pleasant. I attribute this in part to the fact that I put on make-up before leaving the Acres, thus evading our most common subject of argument.

I wound up scoring my niece's bed, the most comfortable in the house, by virtue of the fact that it was the only nonparental bedroom containing an alarm clock. It's the very same alarm clock that I have (in fact, I requested it after this event last year), so you'd think that, even slightly tipsy, I'd be able to set it correctly. I did set it correctly, of this I am certain. Nonetheless, I was having nervous and disrupted sleep all night, partly because of the wine and partly due to anxiety over whether or not my precaffeinated inner being would manifest in a particularly nonfunctional way in the morning. I was awake at 5. 5:30. 5:47. 6:07. 6:18. And then all of a sudden, it was 7:34. SHIT.

I leapt out of bed and ran hither and yon, vainly striving for some kind of efficiency. My brane was crying out for some hydration and maybe a decongestant as I struggled into fancy crepe pants and wondered why there were white Xs on the ankles (basting thread holding together the cuffs at the deep slit on each leg). By 7:52, I, my dry season gear, a bottle of propel fitness water, and a Diet Coke with splenda were out the door.

Googlemaps had decided to play merry hell with me and send me on the most ridiculous, circuitous route to the High School. Quite seriously, I believe I could see the fence surrounding my sister's subdivision from the parking lot, yet my route was about 7 miles total. Having passed the entrance to the parking lot once, I doubled back and heard L's voice in my head telling me to pull around back to park, because the auditorium was there. Og was simply not up to figuring out the mechanics of "around back," because they involved exiting the front parking lot, going about 3 steps, and turning into another. Stupid lot.

Then, for some godforsaken reason, I decided that the front door of the school was probably not worth trying. We were supposed to go "around back" after all. Thus, we and most of our wordly goods (we'd paused to pull underwear, bra, dirty socks, and other random dainties out of our backpack and strew them throughout the tailgate storage area, pulling the cover over them only as an afterthought), walked about 3/4 of a mile around various outbuilding to arrive at US Open Central, which was down a short hallway from the front door. Oh yes, we left our band schedule in the car, too.

Much to everyone's benefit, there were others available to help do radio troubleshooting. My approach was likely to have been giving the radios a swirly en masse. Soon, we were well into the crazy preshow preparations.

The competition is really well run, but there's always a manic feeling beforehand (my theory is it's karmic payment up front for a good show). It always amuses me (in retrospect) that volunteers can be simultaneously so helpless and so officious, as desperate calls for things that need to happen NOW and need to be known NOW fly over the radio.

In truth, there's not a lot for me to stage manage except physically herding bands and buskers on and off. This year, miraculously, we got considerably ahead of schedule. Probably this was because the buskers were, for the most part, actually scheduled, and there wasn't a lot of panicked time spent trying to find them and decide who should play what when. Speaking for myself, however, I feel that the downside to being ahead of the schedule (it creates problems with the bands' having their full 30 minutes in the warm-up room) is by far the lesser evil than me going to jail for killing those who think that things just magically work by themselves.

The highly talented and (and ever so slightly high maintenance) Brass Band of Central Florida was scheduled to be the last band before the lunch break. If any band was likely to feel that they had gotten screwed out of warm up time, it was they. As a result, L called for a pee break from 11:30 until their scheduled starting time at 11:45.

However, their percussion set-up team was already at work by 11:20 and by 11:25, the entire band was breathing down my neck at both wings. Probably by design, their conductor was as far as humanly possible from me in the wings at stage left. At stage right, the percussion team assured me that their set up was completely finished and the band was ready to go. At stage left, the conductor began telling people to take the stage, which I was not at all sure was ok in the context of the competition. I asked for clarification on the radio, and got, instead no clarity and a riff on "icing the band." Regrettably, I got a bit touchy, as the conductor began shouting at me across the stage, though I'd asked him to hold for a second while I checked with the organizers.

Naturally, it turned out that they weren't even close to done with their set up, as they needed to clear every chair and music stand from the front. In the end, it was all good, and that was really the only real moment of tension (aside from a few missing and latecomer buskers) for the whole day.

The results of the competition were surprising, at least to me. Central Florida took first, once again, but second place went to Motor City, which had one of the weakest performances last time (as I told L, I believe that they one on the merits of the coonskin cap and Davy Crockett jacket worn by one of their members as part of their cowboy theme). Fountain City, which I'd picked as giving Central Florida a run for their money, took third narrowly from Prairie Brass, which had a great program. The last three positions were all bands that hadn't competed last year (two of which were, I believe, complete newcomers).

The only other excitement at the competition was when I was viciously attacked by a marimba. My forearm is healing, but it won't soon take on percussion that we have ridiculed in the past.



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