Monday, January 24, 2011

Teaching Guitar: The Hurricane Papers

Fresh from getting my master's degree, I was searching for work. Determined that I not end up in an unrelated field and let the four long years I spent getting my degree were not spent in vain, I searched high and low. I spotted an ad in the paper about "Metro Music opening its studios and teachers were needed." I reluctantly (I didn't want to drive that far from Charleston) called the number and this perky woman answered. She asked the standard questions and requested a resume and I sent one. She seemed pleasant enough. What the hell, it was a gig. She eventually called me back and told me that I had indeed had gotten the gig "because no one else was nearly as qualified." That, on paper, was probably true as most guitarists are self-taught and my degree, however useless in the real world, had some cache with my new employer.

Carolyn was middle-aged, perky, excitable, very talkative and had the quirky temperament of most female piano teachers I have met (with some exceptions). She had music and piano paraphernalia everywhere. Treble clef pencils, happy smiling eighth notes dancing on the wall, and other such things that reminded me of my days spent in music education classes. Everything to her was "neat" and I imagined that, in the entirety of her life, she had never had anything stronger than a sip of Apricot Brandy-only on one special occasion. Maybe she had carefully sipped some beer at one point, I don't know. I was, unbeknownst to her, living a carefree bachelor life which included weekend debauchery all in the pursuit of female companionship. More than not, countless money was spent on alcohol and 99% of the time no female companionship was to be had. Nevertheless, I liked Carolyn. She was of a different cloth than me, but we got along just fine.

Metro Music was her parent's house, all cleared out to make way for multiple teaching rooms. Carolyn had her studio on the first floor. When I walked in the door, it was as if she was seeking some adult conversation after teaching kids all day. She wouldn't let me get up to my room without an involved conversation about one topic or another. She paced as she taught her students. Though I think she cared, Carolyn may have had a little bit of "fuck it" about her.

Students followed with her spreading the word, and soon I was teaching two days at week. On breaks, I would walk down to the local grocery store and grab a pre-made sad tasteless sandwich. Though Hurricane looked like it was stuck in a fundamentalist time warp, my employment there made me feel like a working Joe. I had a j-o-b. Not much of one, but still a job.

I had one kid who played bass that had some mighty fast fingers. Every riff I gave him, he devoured instantly. Every exercise, the same thing. Often during lessons, I pitted him against a metronome and the kid's right hand could easily spend the afternoon in the 120bpm and much without a hitch. What my expensive education had taught me about right hand finger movements, this kid had naturally. He was a joy to teach.

On the flip side, I had one poor kid that nearly drove me insane. Carolyn brought me this scraggly looking kid whose family situation was bad and funds were negligible. She, being a kind heart, found a way for him to afford lessons. She, no doubt, was the source of the funds. Every lesson he wore the same yellow punk rock shirt that depicted a guy pissing on some records with the words "Golden Hits." I wondered about the parents who couldn't put the proverbial two-plus-two together on what the kid wore. All this I could look past, but what wore me out was the amount of time he took between each note. Let me illustrate:
Silence for 20 seconds.
A strangled, garbled "E" open string makes its way out of the amp.
Silence follows. For a minute plus.
I inquire, "What note is next?" Silence.
"F?" comes the tentative response.
"Yes. How do you play the F?"
Indeterminate silence follows.

It got so bad, I would stare out the window and watch the birds flying over the fields thinking, "Take me with you, pleeeeasseee!!!" Or I would write poetry to myself about "the dull hammer of meaningless notes." It was not even ambient music, but glacial rendering of notes bearing no relation to each other. It was downright horrible and when Carolyn inquired, I told her the truth. She asked to bear with it because of the poor lad's circumstances. So when piss yellow t-shirt came for his lessons, it was not a teacher's dread of a defiant student, but rather one of the worst boredom I have ever experienced. Except for one other delightful lad.

This awkward lad with braces could not understand between the letter name of a note and its rhythmic value. For example, after drilling him over and again, I would ask,
"What LETTER is that note?"
"Quarter note."
"No, what LETTER NAME is that note?"
Pause. "Half note?"
And this would go on like this for thirty minutes, thus giving me a glimpse of one possible hell especially designed in my honor. That kid, although of sweet disposition, was another that ground away my patience and damaged my teaching enthusiasm.

Let's Digress Again

Ah, but let us digress here for what steady readers may have grown accustomed- a lesson of love. Or lust masquerading as love or divisions thereof. Although I was the first teacher at Metro Music, Carolyn added other teachers and one of them was a violin teacher named D. When mine eyes laid upon the enticing D, I wanted to connect.

Somehow, we began by leaving little messages for each other in the mailboxes. I'm not sure, but I think I initiated it. Carolyn was excited and encouraged our little romantic notes. She enjoyed her matchmaking part.

One note I left was the clincher. Carolyn told me that, after D read it, she replied: "How can I compete with that?" When love (or lust) inspires me, words flow out effortlessly. They may not be Keats or Shelley, but they did the trick. We set up a date.

At the Panda House in South Charleston, we both ordered Zombies- one of those totally frilly and very strong concoctions served in a ceramic cup with parasols. We had two each I believe, enough to make us both happy and hardily enjoyed the spicy and delish food. Conversation flowed easily and I thought secretly that she might work out well as a girlfriend. Well, yes and no, dear readers.

Back to my house and to my bed we went. I'm not sure how long we lingered afterwards, but when I dropped her off at her apartment, I had the impression that perhaps another date was in the bag since the evening had been stellar.

Oh you naive and stupid, stupid man.

You see, kind readers, men are always accused of being the hit-and-run, able to compartmentalize, love-'em-and-leave-'em types while women, we are told, are emotional creatures whose sexuality is inextricably tied to their emotions. Lies, lies, lies, myths and big mistakes. D was out for one fun night and a fuck and nothing more. Despite her being nice and saying yes to my phone call inquiries about another date, somehow she could never squeeze me in. I harbor no ill will against Ms. D, but a little honesty would have gone a long way. I still would have been bummed out. You see, for all my searching on those lost, hazy weekends, what I wanted was a steady girlfriend and D would have been primo. Oh well.

The End of Metro

I showed up at Metro for my usual round of students and Carolyn looks more serious than I have ever seen her. "My husband tried to kill me." She told me that her husband had been in jail for public intox or something else or other (She did tell me that he was a heavy drinker.). While incarcerated, he told the sheriff that, when he got out, there would be "a murder-suicide." Well, true to his word, he came over to the Metro house, armed with a .22 handgun and tried to kill her. The two small bullet holes, one of them going through to the outside, were all the evidence needed to back her story of struggling with her crazy ass husband. The sheriff came and got him-again. You got to love cops sometimes. They evidently didn't think that a death threat was enough to have a psych evaluation or keep him in jail longer. Motherfucker has to go and try to do it first. Ah, our legal system comforts so.

That ended Metro Music as unceremoniously as it began. Craolyn told me she had to move (No doubt!) and get the hell away from the man who was hell bent on killing her. It was, by far, the strangest ending to a gig I ever had. Them's the breaks.

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