Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Science Proves: Music Makes Your Brain Happy

That reminded me of the Segovia lp I bought used when I was a kid. I don't even remember where I found it, as I didn't go to garage sales or thrift stores or the annual Pilgrim Place sales where the retired missionaries unloaded the curios they picked up in the Far East, as I was not, like many of my young friends, scouring for antiques and collectibles. But I used to play that record a lot, and I shared that record with Frank one time. Though, really, I shared more meals than music with Frank.

My sister, being older than I and so understanding more of the way the world was put together, would habitually bring her boyfriends home to share a family meal. While some would merely suppose that's because men (or growing boys) always have an appetite, the reality was these guys as young men didn't earn very much money and welcomed (and needed, more than mere sustenance) such generosity. Callow and more cynical types might look on this the same as feeding stray cats. This was the early '60s, and in a small geography of limited employment opportunity and real financial necessity, Frank wore a suit and white shirt and a tie then nearly every day that he showed prospective customers engagement rings, wedding bands, and cufflinks and crosses at Zale's Jewelers. They sometimes had a few glittering specialty items on display in the windows. Frank would especially laugh about those tiaras. So even though he worked every day, as indeed nearly every one else was forced to do, the wages were low, like nearly everyone else's.

Frank possessed very good manners at the table, and he was quite elegant as a young man, much different from the slouching rednecks reared in and still trapped in the vicinity, who would place their orders in public places by saying, "Gimme a coke." Frank's manners seemed even more refined when the parental units were hosting the meal. Once, on an exceptionally rare occasion when wine glasses were set around the table at home, Frank turned his over stem-up to indicate he would pass on the wine. That seemed to me to be expressive of very archaic manners. Once, on a special occasion like my Dad's birthday, he accepted the wine and raised a glass to my dad and took just one sip. Thereafter, his glass remained untouched and full until the meal had ended. As we cleared the table, my sister grabbed all the wine glasses and swept them into the kitchen where she poured the remainder from each quickly into her mouth at the sink. I chalked that up to the strain she experienced when dining with parents.

Occasionally, unchaperoned, we'd ... not dine out, exactly, but go to markets so small they should have been called mark-ettes, or visit other groceterias for fixings (though I ever after avoided the gross-ery store mentioned earlier). Or, we'd go get take out. And we hit a small variety of eateries unique then, establishments so idiosyncratic they should have been called eaterias, places that could only be found in the Pomona Valley. Delia's Grinders served a submarine so large three people could dine easily. Not so much for dessert, but merely to satisfy the sweet tooth, we'd travel far, because donuts could only be found in Pomona, but we'd spurn the neon-lit Winchell's though the plastic franchise was open around the clock and we'd avoid also the local dive called Carl's that deepsputtered their sinkbombs in sizzling vats of goo in favor of the rare and occasional and quite exceptional spudnut (a local phenomenon, a donut made from potato flour developed and served in an enterprise by the same name). And once in awhile to move away from canned evaporated milk as cream for the coffee (and the pot was always set to perking the moment Frank made his arrival, the intent every bit as instant as instant coffee), a trip to Mr. Milk Bottle was sometimes in order; that was a drive-thru creamery which in addition to huge stacks of grey cardboard cartons containing fresh ranch eggs also offered milk in glass jugs from a local dairy, milk that hadn't been tampered with too much, much less pasturized. They became quite famous later as Altadena dairy.

When my parents were footing the bill, the restaurant dining experience could be much finer and Frank was invited along on a number of occasions. We once traveled up twisty canyon roads, the cliffs a rich red dirt that local potters would scoop up and harvest for glaze, to Padua Hills. After plates of enchiladas, we listened to a live band in red sashes perform their high vocal harmonies over guitar and guitarron. Because my mother after incessant prying determined Frank was Italian, and so by definition must like Italian food, we dined once at Vince's ("The Largest Spaghetti House in the World"), a place famous for huge mounds of pasta and long loaves of garlic bread and because of their renown for huge portions, popular with local families. And another time (once only), we ventured to a pretentious eatery called Italian Village. Located in what could be regarded as the beating heart of precious village, the restaurant was a pretentious anomaly even for the vicinity -- only open for dinner, in the hopes of attracting a finer clientele than the occasional college students who might find their way into the village during daylight hours. And located then on a corner, surrounded on each corner facing by official buildings such as the Spanish-style library with walled courtyard, the town hall that held old-timey town hall meetings that could impress only those weepy with nostalgia who don't realize that's where strident yap-happy money-grubbing Republicans assembled, and the Spanish-style post office that ran Old Glory up the tall mast on the front lawn every day and had a swinging sign on the sidewalk out front with a picture of Uncle Sam showing his teeth and pointing his finger at all passers-by as if laughing at them or accusing them of something.

The most memorable thing about that meal at the Italian Village was that my mother became inexplicably and vociferously quite dissastisfied and began acting up at the table, which culminated in her adamantly refusing to allow the waitress to recite the single item on the dessert menu. The Padua Hills meal was likely among the most truly enjoyable, and though we did all go once to a place inconveniently positioned miles away through the Ontario prairie and abandoned fields and fenced cow pastures that I believe was called Marie's (a family-style Basque restaurant that served an appetizer of marinated tongue with bits of diced onion and tomato in small dishes), by that time my sister and Frank preferred to sit a bit farther away from my parents than they once had.

The most memorable meal out was a trip to the brand spanking new International House of Pancakes down on Holt, part of another new chain and the self-proclaimed "Home of the Never Empty Coffee Pot" which because of Frank's propensity for caffeine and his staggering near perpetual coffee intake might have been the root of the original suggestion. Other than that, this basically was just another in one of those new chains and becoming famous for serving pancakes for dinner with three or four varieties of supersweet syrup. My sister sneered in disgust when my mother suggested the place, because she recognized this as a budget outing and also because my mother was using confused phrases like "Kids like pancakes." Drawn like moths to a flame in their search for modernity and a new dining experience, the line of expectant diners stretched out the door at dinner hour. The meal was not memorable, and the new culinary experience nearly forgettable, and my mother later wondered why people made such a big deal about the place and pancakes in general, and finally observed that the restaurant charged too much "for just flour and water."

In the kitchen at home, music came across the radio. We'd try to avoid the hokey C&W and corny pop, the Bible-beaters, and those who spoke in tongues on the far, far right of the dial ... "Oh, K-WOW" Frank would sneer in response to hearing the station's call letters ... (his sarcasm ranged from the dripping acidic to outright venomous) ... and sometimes when twisting the knob, it seemed the whole radio was broadcasting nothing but tripe and swill and crud and pap, and that nothing good could ever conceivably come out. That was my job, to twist the dial in search of something suitable, and once in desperation I settled for "The Tennessee Waltz" which infuriated Frank. He was angry because it wasn't a real waltz. He went home and composed a waltz which he showcased to us within a month. He played the elegant "Guitar Waltz" for me, and he had composed that quite early on in his career, long long before it found its way to a recorded version. It was quite delicate, and short in duration, I joked, "scarcely a minuet long."

We also ate coffee shop versions of Reuben sandwiches at a coffee shop called Walter's in precious village, a cafe that had "Mahi-mahi" actually printed on the menu. We once ate much better versions of anything you'd care to order at Green's delicatessen down in Pomona, where the red-head twin sons managed the counter while dad ran the business in the back.

And thereafter because everyone was busy and because I lived hundreds of miles away, I didn't see too much of Frank after that until I went home for infrequent visits. One time I arrived and he came over, with my sister announcing he had just got his first record contract. This could have been cause for a celebration, but there was only the announcement. Which is a shame, we should have celebrated somehow as he already had a history of having been spurned by record companies. It was a lot more difficult back then to make a record, you know. And you know, too, Frank was not the only person to be rejected by Dot records (I was turned away, as well, but for a much different position. Years prior, when I was only 13 or 14, I was wildly optimistic and assumed the company was bigger than it really was and they might hire me and pay me some money to do something for the summer. I could grab a ride everyday into downtown L.A. with my dad, just as my sister had done when she worked that summer her first year out of high school at Clifton's Cafeteria (The famous landmark called The Pacific Seas, so we said my sister was spending the summer in the South Pacific, but we didn't say that too often). Well, what seemed like a big record company with a such a short name was run by a two- or three-person office. Although someone from Dot did call to inquire if I played music, I didn't get work from them and was sent a rejection letter on fancy stationery complete with an embossed printed envelope. So I applied there even before Frank did, but Frank kept his rejection letter, probably to fume over, just like e.e. cummings was known to do.)

For a subsequent year or more, in part due to being in the vicinity, my sister stayed in occasional touch with Frank. One time, when I was down for a visit she drove me all the way across L.A. to a little house that seemed no bigger than a single room, situated at the top of a hillock large enough only for the house where we had to climb many stairs to get to the front door. Frank responded to us at the door with "What do you want?"

Thereafter, I did see him here and there, every few years or so. He did fly up to the Bay Area for one reason or another at one time during the Free Speech movement, because I saw him around there at the time. That was back when P.S.A. airlines first launched and you could fly from L.A. to San Francisco for ten bucks!! Then I saw him a few times around Los Angeles, specifically at Cantor's, once at the deli case long about '65 when I lived in that big sprawl known as Los Angeles, but that was a place which I rarely went to (I much preferred walking to the deli in my own neighborhood rather than commuting vast distances) and in fact I stopped going Cantor's at all as it grew more popular with the music biz people and hangers-on. Although my sister took me there once on one of my visits in '67 or so and I saw him seated at a table and she asked me, "Aren't you going to go say hello?" I was certain she was joking.

A few years later, for reasons I'll never understand, people tried to give me tickets and entice me to see a new act called Alice Cooper at the Berkeley Community Theater. And I wasn't interested, so the tickets ended up in the hands of a teaching assistant I'd got to know who was reading for a sociology class I was taking. She attended the show and hated the whole thing, said it was the worst thing she had ever seen. I certainly wasn't interested in such shit after hearing a smidgen of description. Figures, I sneered to myself.

Once upon a time, many years prior, my sister, Frank, and I went to Laguna Beach for the day. He showed up at the front door wearing a pair of bright white clam diggers with small satin multi-colored ribbons of red, white, and blue factory-stitched down the side as decoration and a loud blousy tropical print shirt with the ends tied at his waist in a knot like a rhumba dancer. Clam diggers of yore were as popular at the time as hula hoops had been, and they came in one color (bright white) and were not baggy; they had a much tighter fit, and in fact had to have notches cut out and stiched just to allow for knee movement, and the trousers (more like pedal pushers, really) ended rather unattractively inches below the knee; back then Frank was quite lean if not downright skinny.

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Compiling the best online articles about music so there will be more of both in the future. In periods of drought, the reader will be innundated by my own blogs on the matters.

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