10/22/12 (originally scribbled on 10/14/12)

You remember the old toy: ball-on-a-string-with-a-cup. Playing with it now, I’m finding it quite transfixing. Soothing, even. Like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, but instead of baseball & mitt I’ve got ball-in-a-cup. (Plus, I’m not stuck in “the cooler”.)

By ball-in-a-cup standards, this one seems quite nice- large, wooden, appears handmade. Alluring red, blue, and yellow stripes painted on the precisely carved cup, which barely fits the ball- as it should be. It dares you not to pick it up. A monastic monk couldn’t say no.

It was sitting in this vacant apartment I’m squatting in. Had a couple gigs in Bloomington IN, with a day to kill in between (I wasn’t really out to kill it, but I am giving it a good beating), and a songwriter/realtor friend kindly offered up the digs- tiny table, folding chairs, air mattress, coffee maker, boombox, ball-in-a-cup. A feller could get some thinking done. Or he could choose to take a breather from getting some thinking done…

The walls are bare except for a vintage postcard -early 1900s era- thumbtacked up in the dingy kitchen. It says “French Nude” but the 2 ladies aren’t actually nude. They’re wearing knickers, black thigh high stockings, and them pointy witchy-poo shoes. They’re sitting on a fake roof, fake chimney between them- each holding a glass of wine and smoking long, skinny pipes. Risque stuff. From their rooftop perch, the fake stars are twinkling, the fake moon has a face resembling Charles Nelson Reilly. Whoa- maybe Charles Nelson Reilly’s great grandfather was the Man In The Moon! That thought had somehow never occurred to me until right now, sitting here playing ball-in-a-cup.

The smell in here is an odd combo of fresh paint, grease, and roach spray. The ceilings weren’t painted- they’re full of cobwebs and…splatter. Must’ve figured prospective renters wouldn’t look up. It’s familiar for 2 reasons: First, I had a job after high school cleaning vacant apartments at a grimy complex in West Chicago. Second, I lived for months in a squalid apartment in Austin, TX, off East Riverside- away from the lights. 2 folding chairs, card table, a lamp & coffee table I scored at Goodwill. Only once did 2 people stop by at the same time, so one of ’em had to sit on my guitar amp. Bed was a foam pad a guy at a party gave me. I once invited a persistent cable salesman in to prove that cable was the least of my needs. I cut off the roach’s food supply and eventually their numbers shrank. One night in the dim light I saw a BIG one scurrying and after I reflexively stomped it I realized it was a gecko. Sorry, old friend…

Sometimes I think cops could spice things up a bit with their sobriety tests: “Sir, you appeared to be weaving back there. I’m gonna need you to step out of the vehicle and try this ball-in-a-cup…”

I wanted to heat up this mornings leftover see-through coffee, but each electric burner I cranked on smoked and stank with some…mystery residue. There’s things crawling around in here but so far it’s mostly spiders & crickets- not things I’m worried about transporting back home.

Inside the fridge are the dregs from last nights gig- relish tray carrion. Cold cuts fingered and torn in half, slices of hardened cheese- now darkened around the edges. Soggy chips & gloppy dip containing pieces of broken off…stuff. I’ll pass, although the inebriated me will likely be less discerning. Besides- I’m a seasoned traveller- I’m packing kippers & apples, jerky & crackers. And libations.

The food was drug here by a few nice gals who were also on last nights bill: a couple locals (including the landlord) and a fine singer down from Toronto. We had a couple nightcaps, listened to some Calexico. They mused on lethargic husbands and mammograms. One gal had recently finished breast cancer treatment and had a viewof life that we who HADN’T cut the deck with Death couldn’t fully appreciate. She walked in, took a big pull off the flask, THEN asked what was in it. I think they liked what I’d done with the place. So ladies…how’s about a little ball-in-a-cup…?

You can judge a town by it’s late night Sunday radio. At least there’s good public radio here- 91.3, WFHB. (Not saying that JUST ’cause they play my records.) Was gonna head to a watering hole to catch some Sunday Night Football but I got distracted by ball-in-a-cup, so I just found it on the radio. Besides, I have whiskey & kippers. The station currently on is bouncing between what can only be described as old horror movie soundtrack music and electronica. Good weird. The jock was admirably matter-of-fact: “Some of you will dig tonight’s show, some of you won’t.”

When driving and spinning the dial I like me some good ‘ol hellfire & brimstone- in small doses. The farther South, the more there is. Caught some tonight. Preacher was PISSED and somehow knew EXACTLY what I oughta be doing. And while I sample and can appreciate all types of music, why is radio Christian music so God-awful?! C’mon, step it up- give the people SOMEthing! I can’t speak for Jesus, but when i hear this stuff I can’t help but think that He’d frequently be disappointed, even embarrassed. Michelangelo didn’t spit out charcoal carnival caricatures just for a quick buck, he got on his back and made the effort…

Tonight’s ball-in-a-cup record is 3 straight, left-handed. Since the damn Righties are always trying to keep Lefty down, I can’t help but suspect that somehow this thing is engineered to favor the weaker brained Righty. I’m playing with both hands ’cause thats what we Lefties do- we adapt.

If I had a Christmas list (I don’t) and you were on it (you’re not), I would get you a beautiful American made ball-in-a-cup. And after all your shiny packages are tore open, and the traditional whiskey & kippers have been consumed, I bet that your i-crap & digi-shit, gewgaw & gimcrack, gadgetry & gimmickry would be piled in a pile, and you’d be perched on the ottoman in your new sweater vest joyfully flipping a ball in a cup.