In addition to “Au Clair de la Lune,” I am practicing “Lavender Blue”, “Edelweiss”, “By the Rivers of Babylon” and “Simple Gifts.” I could make a poem out of that, but music? Not so much. I am getting slightly better, I tell myself.  Small and white, clean and bright, every morning instead of greeting me the  notes scatter like chickens confronting a cobra.  I shoehorn in a bit of rhythm. A syncopation.  Rhythmic variation implies a level of facility with the standard oom-pah, My variations have a simpler name: mistakes. Left hand wants to do what the right hand is doing. Don’t do that. The right hand is making its own blunders.

Tis a gift (I ain’t got it—not yet, anyway) to come down where you ought to be.


Jennifer and I are doing an exchange, gardening for lessons. Before my lesson we worked in the garden, raking the soil amendment called ‘Walt Whitman’ over the lawn area, discussed the parsley, sage (and later on the deck above) rosemary and thyme. And oregano. Trimmed the lemon. Inspected the worm bin.

In the music room, before she got half through with her question about what kind of music I was most interested in playing,  I answered “Waltzes.”

“Okay, great. There are a lot of beautiful waltzes.”

We work on Au Clair de la Lune, the tune we had glanced at last week. The bass hand, the bellows, the keyboard hand, the notes that keep changing line and tempo.  In pencil I write following J’s lead beneath the notes, OCOC OC OC etc. standing for Oom-Cha. Oom, music of the spheres, Cha, music of the hips. I sally forth, and manage a whisper of actual music in the wheeze and disorder. It all seems so impossible, as if I will have to bulldoze new passageways through a thick brain.  I wonder if, you know, I am hopeless.

Jennifer says, “This is way we’ll do it, you’ll learn one song then the next. We won’t move on to new songs until you’ve mastered the three I give you.”

Au Clair de la Lune is rising in the charts.



Isn’t that the bottom line, why you’re here? You want to have fun. The good news is that wherever you are on the continuum of freedom in the water, you can have fun. Two feet four feet six feet a mile.

I spout this with complete confidence though this belief is not watertight. There have been students for whom every time entering the pool is taking bitter medicine. Tina looks over at Celeste to see her reaction. Celeste is tense just thinking about the water, thinking that one day she will have to let go of the wall. An observer might question, why is Celeste so afraid? The water is less than four feet deep. She’d have to work hard to drown.

Celeste would do the work, or thinks she would.

So fun is a seedling undernourished. Sometimes why is obvious, a plot line that fiction would scoff at. “My mother cut out headlines of every drowning and put them in front of me.” Almost always the why is less interesting than the how, how to dismantle the fortress built of half-truths.

Silly is fun. Get silly. Let the four year old splash and shriek. You’re safe.

Celeste can imagine that. That’s a start.

Sober Bob meanwhile looks at the clock, wondering how much longer this is going on.



Apocalypse, as anyone who survived the twentieth century knows, comes in many flavors but this was a new one. Accordion Apocalypse, as in, “Why don’t we take a trip down to Accordion Apocalypse tomorrow and you can look at accordions and I can get mine fixed?” During Friday’s inaugural lesson, while playing “Those Were the Days,” Jennifer discovered that her C-minor key was sticking.

Accordion Apocalypse is open two afternoons a week. On Saturday Jennifer and I drove down Folsom to a section of San Francisco on the cusp of Twitter Apocalypse, an ice floe in the hot market. The sign was less than conspicuous, Accordion Repair. The door was locked. The only indication the bell was functioning was a barking dog. Then we saw a shapely pair of legs in cut-offs descend the stairs, and a young man with shampoo-commercial blonde hair opened the door. The barking dog came careening down the staircase, prompting Jennifer to ask it its intentions. Friendly, thankfully. On the first landing  was a table with accordion sheet music in disarray, some primers included. Up a few more steps we entered a bright apartment without curtains on the windows, part shop and part, it seemed, home.

While a young woman behind a workbench operated on Jennifer’s instrument, I investigated the accordions displayed on shelves and pedestals. There were a dozen or more, many vintage, in ivories and pea greens and blacks with ornate grillwork. Each exuded melancholy. Tempus fugit, oom pa-pa. A small red one on a plinth, glowing like a startlet with a hint of cheap, was offered as Deal of the Month. It had two rows of bass keys. Most of the other accordions had rows upon rows of bass keys, a wilderness of them.   I asked Jennifer’s opinion about me getting the deal of the month. She strapped it on and played a bit. “It’s too limited. No minor chords. It’s okay if you want to play only songs in major chords,”

“No melancholy songs.”


Melody appeared from somewhere and introduced herself. I gathered she was the principal. Besides being career appropriate, her name conveyed her (chosen? acknowledged? preferred?) sex. Her scuffed army boots gave evidence of the intermediacy of where she had put down stakes.

Jennifer asked if I wanted to see the insides of her instrument, so I leaned in and watched the young woman, I never caught her name, maneuver her unfamiliar tools with unfamiliar movements. Her fingers were wonderfully capable; she never dropped anything, not even the teensy metal washers, but whenever she tested her adjustment, the key still stuck. Or they all stuck. She’d have to take the case apart again and do a little more experimenting. Jennifer winced when she extracted a very butch pliers and started bending metal.

An hour she was working at it. If she was getting impatient, she wasn’t showing it. I was convinced that when at play she picked up her own accordion and got pumping, it would pull you right up out of yourself.

The hour limit on parking was up fifteen minutes ago. Jennifer said she would go to Trader Joe’s and come back.

I went off the library to get a beginners’ book. I had made a decision, to rent an accordion with two rows of bass keys, unfit for minors but okay for newbies. Jennifer approved. For the time being. Later, she said,  I’ll want something more versatile.

That’s assuming the apocalypse can be postponed a while longer.


No, this is not related to binge drinking. The circle of fifths is a term in music theory devised by Pythagorus.   Jennifer asked if I knew what it was, and escorted me to the piano when I said no. She had me draw a circle and subdivide the circumference like a clock into twelve segments. C stood on the top, midnight and high noon. On the piano beginning at C she had me play a sequence of five steps, do to sol. G. Put G at one o’clock. D at two o’clock, and so on all the way back around.

Here we were, at the very beginning, and I’m already Elmer Befuddled when she drops in talk about major and minors and seventh. Pythagoras figured all this stuff out when he was still in his pajamas but me?

Like any good teacher, (good for me, in any case), Jennifer offers praise. I could find Middle C on the piano. She pulls out sheet music for Au Clair de La Lune, and I try to play it on her accordion.   The notation is very simple, i.e., simple enough for moi, and once I figured out where C was on the little keyboard I was on my way. God it sounded lovely. But then there were all those nubby buttons crowded together on the left hand side. They were aligned according to the circle of fifths. Ah, yes, er. Jennifer got a mirror so I could see where to put my big-fat-needing-a-cleaning fingers. She wrote in tiny letters under the notes, om cha, oom cha, oom cha, oom cha.

My first accordion lesson. Will I stand the onslaught of second-thoughts? Is this nuts or what?  Someone with less than average musical aptitude?  Someone with the rhythmical limitations of his too-white ancestry?  Someone who is roiled with impatience when stymied?  Someone who often doesn’t follow through?

I remind myself what I often tell my swim students: slow down.



Mr. Carton gets to the door and his wife Charlene asks if he’s going out like that. Quick on the draw, he notices he has put on only one shoe. Could they declare it absent-mindedness? Absent-mindedness is charming. He would be charmed if it happened to someone else, if it was a sock. But a shoe?

He doesn’t want to look at Charlene in case she looks alarmed. If Charlene is alarmed, he would be required to be alarmed too. He just wants to find his shoe and get out the house.

How could he lose his big shoe in a small house? Charlene believes in faeries and imps and such. Why would a faerie steal his shoe? Oh let the faerie have his shoe. He has a new pair that he never wears that he bought last winter for the rainy season that never came.

There is something very likable about the new shoes. Why has he not worn them before? When he walks it feels as though he is leaving impressive footprints, like Neil Armstrong’s on the moon. He feels undeniably iconic.

Later he will find they crimp his toes.


Since it is a well-known fact that it matters more how one is perceived as performing, rather than what one actually says or believes, I want to add my voice to the chorus of pundits evaluating last night’s candidates’ debate. I know I made a splash. It’s true I was not one of the chosen ten. Why only ten? I would ask. It seems so discriminatory. But then, I’m not a whiner. I’m more of a decider, in the Republican tradition of rough riders and deciders. As I was about to say, I decided that since I am known for strong opinions and have appeared on “Buffet of Pundits” numerous times, I feel qualified to add my perceptions regarding my performance, grossly underreported by the liberal media in Washington and New York.

First of all, I was gaffe free. I said nothing controversial about guns, God, or a man’s right to choose what’s right for a woman. Did I break through the jam of candidates? What do you think? Of course I did.  It’s true I don’t have a fresh face or much hair but it’s a comfortable face to many people who watch TV each and every Sunday morning, and I believe those people are the real Americans, the Americans who want to see us stay on top of the world and not be submissives to ayatollahs or sexual deviants.

During the awfully long debate I did not look at my watch a single time, but then, before you get all gotcha, I admit I don’t own a watch. Hillary owns a watch, I saw her check it when she appeared on “Buffet of Pundits.” My lapel pin, disappointingly, a flag with a cross superimposed (see pdf.), got no coverage in today’s media. (Note to self: enlarge.) I had scripted something sincere to say about it but none of the moderators brought it up. I don’t want to say the word but I will: conspiracy.

I was succinct with all my answers except when I got snared in the moderator’s trick question about whether we would vote to ban evolution and climate change. The base will forgive me for that.

I can already see a big bump in my poll numbers.