THIRD TIME OUT: The confessions of a perennial beginner.

“Ain’t it funny how time slips away”, we all make plans then magically, poof, life changes everything. I guess that’s part of the difference between being a child and being a so-called adult. As a child, you can say, “no thanks not today” but as an adult, you rarely have that luxury, and so it is with music. As a child, you can get lost in the music until suppertime or when it’s time to go to bed. As an adult the roof over your head and food on the table takes precedence. For many of us, as adult beginners, learning to play is second fiddle to the plans “life” has in store for us. Playing music can be an obsessive luxury.

I was beyond my mid-thirties when a mandolin lick grabbed me by the collar and slapped me upside the face. “Hey I can do that”, hit me one more time! Oh, to be like Bill Monroe or Sam Bush but mostly I wanted to be David Grisman, however, I’d settle for John Duffy of the Seldom Scene, or John Moore mandolinist for the band California or perhaps Tom Corbett with the Acousticats…” let me at it, show me the way”. Ron Edsall introduced me to Frank Javorsek and the Blue Ridge Pickin’ Parlor. With my buzz box mandolin in hand, I said, “I can do this, I know I can do this”! A short time later the economic bottom fell out in the early 1990’s recession and so did the mandolining as life had other plans in mind.

The second time out, by 1999 we had relocated to North Monterey County into a community called Prunedale or as the locals called it “Prunetucky” near the Santa Cruz County line. It’s K-Pig radio country, Saturday bluegrass with crazy Cousin Al, a friend of Frank’s as I recall. The bug hit me again as miraculously the mandolin, still firmly ensconced in its’ case, had made the trip with us. Now to find it, where could it be? Time was limited but I managed to start again picking out some tunes from Franks lessons and the tab notes. Life was good again except for the dog and others in earshot of my playing.

“Time oh good, good time where did you go?” for our daughter’s 20th birthday we rented a cabin in Tahoe and went snowboarding. I took some lessons and ventured down some slopes with the troops. On the last run of the day I was cold, wet and tired. The slope appeared more death-defying and ominous than the other snowboarding trail. The troops kicked off down the slope with me in tow and totally out of control as I completed face plant after face plant while digging a trough with my body through the snow. If I wasn’t doing face plants into the snow then I was flopping around like a ragdoll thrown out a car window on the 405 Freeway. When I got to the bottom and tried to remove my left-hand glove I knew something was wrong.

After the x rays, I was given a referral to a specialist who informed me that there were only three bone fragments that were identifiable in the large joint of the little finger, everything else was “smush”. Furthermore, there were only two options available given that the joint was totally destroyed. Option one was to pin and set the knuckle at 45 degrees which would provide no mobility to the lower part of the finger but would make a nice pick for picking one’s teeth or nose. Option two was to do nothing and let the bone heal itself if you can stand the discomfort. The joint may regrind itself and you could, maybe or maybe not, have some mobility and flexibility. Thank you, but I’ll pick my teeth with a toothpick. Option one was not an option.

Third time out, fast-forward 11 years, our daughter, who is now fully grown and living in Africa, was home on Christmas Holiday. We decided to spend an early Christmas at a dude ranch in Wickenburg eating well, riding horses and shooting trap, in the upper Sonora Desert.

While walking to the main ranch house our daughter grabs my arm and points at an old, beat-up, sun-faded, white SUV and says, “look at the door, what’s it say”? The letters were barely perceptible, “The Mandolin Store”. There’s an old ranch wrangler climbing out of the cab that’s spent too many years in the saddle. I ask him if he plays the mandolin. He just smiles and holds out his fingertips, worn and callused with double groves running at a slight angle. We talk, he tells me The Mandolin Store was in Wickenburg but is now in Surprise, a community just north of Phoenix.

Two weeks later I’m in the truck headed for Surprise wondering if I have enough motion and flexibility to grab the 9th fret, we’ll see.

The store is small but has a large inventory as most of the business is over the Internet. I meet Dennis and Brian, cool guys both transplants from the Midwest. I tell Dennis I’m interested but there’s this slight issue. He hands me an Eastman 305A, they’re thin necked. The cranky pinky won’t quite get there but it will be doable with time. So then the wallet gets a little thinner followed by a quick stop at the local In & Out Burger before heading up the hill and the drive back home.

Much has changed since then, I learned from Rich Zimmerman, the mandolinist for FY5 that the perfect number of mandolins to own is one more than you presently have so I bought a Collings MT. From Pete Martin I learned to play by ear, a work still in its infancy. But more importantly, I learned if you have an obsessive/compulsive personality you can only get obsessed over one thing at a time. So Pete if you’re out there someplace and run across this, well, I love you man and I’ll be back for lessons just as soon as I’m done with these “dad-gum, dad-gum” adventures in real estate.

These days I’ve given up on being Grisman and company, I’m just happy being me. So if you’re ever at a bluegrass festival and you see one of those green and white R-pod travel trailer things and should you hear strange noises like mandolin strings strangling a cat, well that’s just me. Come on over, bring your instrument, and we can both beat on some strings, howl at the moon and make noises like we’re strangling a few cats with our tunes.

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