Full-Assed Friday: How attending the NY Philharmonic left me with clean underwear when I needed it.

Welcome to Full-Assed Friday, where I share something awesome, funny, or just plain different. Today I’m going to share what I did last Friday and how it made me end up with an extra pair of clean underwear at work which became incredibly useful when I got stranded in the city Saturday night.

I worked a second gig last week. I was fortunate enough to be asked to help do sound for a reading of a brand-new musical. One not based on a movie, book, or musical artist.

When people are putting together new shows, often they will do semi-staged readings with some production elements in front of potential investors. The idea being that the money people can see the heart of the show with enough production to know if they want to invest. It’s fast and furious and fun, if you’re into the adrenaline rush and can pull it off without screwing up too bad.

Usually the rehearsals and readings are done during the day because the actors and crew are doing other shows at night.

The rehearsal space we were in was near Lincoln Center. They have a bunch of fancy new signs there that tastefully scroll (yes, I said tastefully scroll) the upcoming events. Coming in early one morning I saw an ad scroll by for Kurt Masur conducting the NY Philharmonic playing Schubert and Shostakovich at the end of the week.

Musur AND Shostakovich? Whoa.

My under-caffienated brain started whirring away. I was beside myself with excitement. Let me explain.

First, Shostakovich:

I have an obsession with all things Soviet. I’ve read a freakish amount of Russian history. My most recent foray into this obsession was the controversial book Testimony: the Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich by Soloman Volkov (he kinda looks like Harry Potter in the sketch on the cover). The controversy is over whether the memoir is authentic. It’s a totally understandable question, being that when someone spoke out against the Soviet government, it could mean jail, work camps, and death for the speaker (not to mention his entire family and all his friends and anybody who had ever talked to him).

I believe the memoir is authentic and I was surprised to find myself charmed by Shostakovich’s outlook, passion, and humor. He’s also ballsy, and damn lucky. This is a guy who saw many of his counterparts in music and art disappear into the Gulag for no real reason.

Now, the Masur part.

When I was in college (the second time around, the time I didn’t drop out) I was in the audio program that was part of I.U.’s School of Music. We did archival recordings for nearly every event that happened in all the performance spaces.

I think it was my first semester there that they broke ground on a new Musical Arts Center. The new building was to have, among other things, more performance spaces and a badass control room for us audio geeks. It opened my last semester with a seriously impressive lineup of guest performances.

I remember being in that new control room with my friend Jeff and a couple other students. We all had headphones on and were laying down on the new carpet, blissing out while eavesdropping on Joshua Bell’s rehearsal and the dean walked in. We didn’t hear him at first. Because, you know, the soundproofing, and the headphones and all. He gave us some kind of dean-like equivalent of a thumbs up and left us to it.

For the inauguration of the new building, Kurt Masur came in and conducted IU’s Philharmonic playing Mahler. I don’t remember which one because I’m not a real music person but, being Mahler, there were like nine harps and a bunch of other extra crap and the stage was fuller than I had ever seen it. Mahler doesn’t do anything half-assed either, but he’s just a sidebar today; in this post, he is a vehicle for the Masur.

I was in the booth for the rehearsals and remember being so impressed by Kurt Masur, the way that he spoke to the musicians and the results he got out of them. I watched him pause at places in the score and have actual conversations with sections, heard them laughing, heard them play.

The night of the performance, he strode to the conductor’s platform, raised his baton, and led the IU Philharmonic in the most kickass performance I’d ever heard. It was then that I realized he was not using a score. I’d never seen anyone do that before and it blew me away.

So, back to the here and now. Here I am on a Tuesday morning in Lincoln Center, barely awake and seeing that Kurt Masur is going to be conducting the New York Philharmonic (who don’t suck, even a little bit), play Shostakovich.

Because of my job, I don’t go to many events. If it’s not happening on a Monday night, I’ve got to take a day off from work to “go out”. And if I take a day off, I should spend it with the kids, because I don’t get to see them enough as it is.

But this little nugget burrowed into my brain and wouldn’t leave until finally, at 11pm on Thursday night I got a sitter, got my Friday show covered, and got a ticket. I had a full day in the city, starting with my second gig, so I packed my suit, which I hadn’t worn since March and wasn’t quite sure how it would fit. I included a couple of underwear choices, because sometimes that matters with pants. Particularly if they’re fitting a bit on the snug side.

Here’s where I tell the ending in the middle: I didn’t need the no-lines version of the underwear, which is how I ended up having a spare pair at work when I got stranded in the city the next night because of Snowtober. Sweet!

I got to the hall early. I had a cheap seat but it was perfect. It was absolutely thrilling to be in the presence of a live, full, real orchestra without a single thing mic’d and not one electronic instrument. They mixed themselves. Ahhh.

I don’t mean to belittle the Schubert. It was his Unfinished and it was most excellent, even if it was unfinished. I don’t know Schubert but I totally dug it. But the Shostakovich- oh!

It was the Thirteenth. Babi Yar. And the entire point of this post is to tell you how it’s full-assed.

The program notes matched with what I had read in Testimony, but I didn’t know the details of the massacre at Babi Yar. The nutshell version is on September 29 and 30, 1941, Nazis, with the cooperation of Soviet Secret Police slaughtered 33,771 Jews. Um, that’s the official count, the number that they actually owned up to. Evidence shows that the number is far greater. Even the Nazis knew it looked bad, the way it went down.

There exists a Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who has written many great poems. He visited Babi Yar and wrote a poem about it, because that’s what he does. Shostakovich set it to music, and that’s the opening to the Thirteenth Symphony: big ass Orchestra, Men’s Choir, and Bass Soloist. As my friend Jeff says of this one, lots of low brass. I nearly wet myself when I saw the tuba mute come out.

This all went down about nine years after Stalin died. Everything had changed, but nothing had changed- not really, not yet. People were starting to be less afraid but that part was only beginning. You could still go to jail, the Gulag, or be killed for speaking out against the government.

Attempts were made to sabotage the premier. It finally did premier in December, 1962 in Moscow with a different conductor (the second) and a different bass soloist (the third). Sitting in Manhattan in 2011, I imagined what that premier must have been like- because this poem is heavy; it fully implicates the Soviet government in its role in the massacre and coverup at Babi Yar.

In the performance of the symphony, one dude stands in front of the whole orchestra facing the audience and sings this poem, full out. In Russian. He’s answered by the men’s choir at the back of the stage, singing in unison. In Russian. How I wish I had words adequate to describe the music, but writing about music is ridiculous (yes, I realize I am doing it right now). The music is chilling and it travels through your body.

Accounts of the premier in Moscow say the hall burst into thunderous applause at the end of the first movement, a big no-no when it comes to symphony etiquette (this is why I never lead applause). But people couldn’t contain the emotions this movement wrought out of them.

In 2011 Manhattan, in Avery Fisher Hall, the first note gave me goosebumps. At the end, there were numerous subdued vocal responses out of the audience that were variations of the one in my head (“Holy. Sh*t.”).

I’ll leave you with a snippet of the poem, written by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translation by Valeria Vlazinskaya, from the New York Philharmonic program:

Chorus:

Over Babi Yar the wild grasses rustle.

The trees look sternly as if in judgment.

Here everything screams silently and,

    taking off my hat

I feel I am slowly turning gray.

Solo:

And I myself am one long soundless cry,

Above the thousand thousands buried here.

I am every old man here shot dead.

I am every child here shot dead.

Nothing in me will ever forget this.

**********************

If you ever get the chance, go see it.


Full-Assed Friday: Best In Shelter

Hey. It’s Full-Assed Friday. And I have a guest post. Sweet!

When Julie Davidoski from Go Guilty Pleasures first contacted me about doing a guest post I was pretty psyched. Her timing is so good she oughtta be a drummer. I’m working a second gig this week and have clashing show tunes duking it out for my last remaining brain cells. It’s not pretty. I’ve spent the past hour trying to write a coherent introduction for her post.

Julie claims that she doesn’t do much that’s full-assed, but I beg to differ. She certainly saved my ass this week. Here, she interviews her friend who works with an excellent pet rescue shelter in our state.

Best in Shelter

by Julie Davidoski

 Unlike our beloved Accidental Stepmom, I don’t do a whole lotta things full-assed. Don’t believe me? Examine the 4-foot tall weeds in my backyard, or, if you dare, my spice cupboard. When it comes to raising my dog, Uncle Jesse, however, my derriere is unequivocally rotund.

Uncle Jesse is a multi-generational Australian labradoodle I purchased in 2010 from a well-respected breeder, after hours (days, weeks) of research to find a dog compatible with my husband’s allergies. I wouldn’t trade Uncle Jesse for anything (not even a lifetime supply of champagne and E.L. Fudge cookies), but I often question my decision not to adopt.

Recently, I interviewed friend and animal advocate, Jennifer Brewer. I’m excited to share our conversation, with the sincere hope that you might spread the word.

 

J. Davidoski: Tell us about your organization. Also why that does or does not make you a better person than me.

J. Brewer: 1. No way I’m a better person than you. 1a. Actually, there’s no way I’d admit to being a better person while you’re blogging about me. 2. I’m involved with 11th Hour Rescue in Rockaway, NJ. They pull high risk animals from shelters, and find them homes. They do not euthanize;  even difficult to place dogs are kept until they are adopted.

J. Davidoski: How did you get involved?

J. Brewer: My husband and I are supreme dog lovers. During the five years we lived in an apartment that didn’t allow pets, he converted me from a “pedigree” dog person to a “shelter” dog person. He told me about the feeling of rescuing a dog’s life. He’s persuasive.

When we bought a home, I went online to find a rescue, and I found 11th Hour. I decided we would adopt from them.

J. Davidoski: So you were always an animal lover? Remember our Janis Joplin jackets with the fake fur trim? Could we have gotten more attention with real fur?

J. Brewer: We couldn’t have gotten more attention no matter what we tried.

J. Davidoski: What should you be wary of before adopting a dog, and specifically a shelter dog?

J. Brewer: Spend time with the animal BEFORE you commit. #2 – if a shelter doesn’t ask for references, walk away. They don’t tell you the truth about the animal’s history.

J. Davidoski: Like that unpaid parking ticket [your dog] Shunderson had. What about parents? Are there other considerations?

J. Brewer: Parents should adopt animals. Teach your kids about generosity and compassion. Like every activity with your kids, be involved – make sure you’re getting the right animal. Many people just want a puppy…now. They have no plan for after Christmas, when their kids won’t pick up the poop in the blizzard.

J. Davidoski: Related question: If you could send one message to potential pet owners, what would it be? (Besides picking an awesome name, like, I don’t know, Uncle Jesse.)

J. Brewer: Shelters are never fuller than at the beginning of the year – when the holiday glow has worn off and people have abandoned their now unwanted presents.

J. Davidoski: So if I have a Slap-Chop, will they take that, too?

J. Brewer: You’re on your own with that shitty gift. And, let me just say, that pitbulls are FABULOUS. They were bred to be nanny dogs, to watch children and love their families.

J. Davidoski: Hey. That reminds me. Though I don’t know why. What kind of dog do you have?

J. Brewer: Well… I… er… have a pit.

Editor’s Note: Brewer owns a gorgeous pitbull-mix, Shunderson, a former shelter dog. He’s one of the sweetest pooches I’ve ever met. He’s twice the size of my boy, and puts up with Uncle Jesse’s sassiness like a saint.

Jennifer and Shunderson

 

J. Davidoski: Do you get dirty looks at the dog park?

J. Brewer: I wish that was all we got. People ask us to leave, to leash Shunderson until they can take their dog out. Ridiculous. Do I have enough money to let my dog maul someone????

J. Davidoski: Very similar to what happens when I go outside without make-up.

J. Brewer: You go outside without make-up????

J. Davidoski. Well. No. But imagine! What’s the biggest obstacle in overcoming the number of unwanted pets?

J. Brewer: People think shelter dogs are bad. They’re far less damaged than most people I know. Besides, TONS of shelter dogs are surrendered by breeders and pet stores who couldn’t unload them. If you want a certain breed or age, the right dog can be rescued. Purebred puppies are stuck in shelters, too. And they’re euthanized.

J. Davidoski: After reading this article, people will be dying to know how they can get involved.

J. Brewer: Donations. $10 matters. Dropping off old towels and blankets. Bleach and paper towels are the biggest request of every shelter. But the best way is to go on Petfinder.com and find the rescue nearest you. If you want a dog, ADOPT. The average cost of basic food, supplies, care and training for a shelter dog or cat is $700 to $875 annually. I hope people donate… and to local shelters. I love the ASPCA, but they have LOTS of donations.

J. Davidoski: Yes, that’s why I asked – people think their donations get lost in the sauce.

J. Brewer: For pet owners, when you go to Petsmart, give the buck at checkout to help homeless animals. They can’t get jobs. They can’t collect unemployment. There’s no bailout for pitbulls.

J. Davidoski: They can’t even play guitars and write signs asking for money.

J. Brewer: Exactly. If you can’t donate or volunteer, spay or neuter your pet. The world needs animals, just not anymore than it already has.

J.Davidoski: Okay. I am so keeping you from [more] booze. Is there anything else you would like to share?

J. Brewer. More than FIVE MILLION animals are killed in U.S. shelters EVERY YEAR.

Also. Donate BLEACH and PAPER TOWELS.

J. Davidoski: I am picking up what you are putting down. Thank you!!!

J. Brewer: Crazy dog lady, over and out.

***************************************

I hope you’ll take a minute to check out Julie’s blog and the shelter site:

Julie Davidoski: Go Guilty Pleasures

The Shelter: 11th Hour Rescue

 

 

Full-Assed Friday: Ural

My friend Jason drives a Ural.

A Russian-designed sidecar motorcycle. That he commutes to the city in.

Really.

I think it’s badass, and therefore a fine candidate for Full-Assed Friday.

Jason was kind enough to meet me between shows on a Wednesday and for the small bribe of a grande triple-shot iced vanilla latté, talk to me about his Full-Assed commuter vehicle.

So. Why a Ural?

Well, first of all it’s cool. But when my wife and I moved to New Jersey we thought we were going to need a second car. I knew it would be a beater and I was going to end up being the one who drove it, so I suggested this instead, because you can pretty much drive them year-round.

What’s the history of the Ural?

Supposedly in about 1940, before the Nazi invasion of Russia, Stalin’s engineers got ahold of five BMW R71’s from Swiss intermediaries. They reverse engineered them and made the Ural. They were manufactured in Leningrad until the mid 1940’s, when production was moved to a town called Irbit, in the Ural mountains. They were purely for military use until the 1950’s and then they began making consumer models, but still only for sale in the Soviet Union. They gradually began to export them to European countries, but it wasn’t until after the collapse of the Soviet Union- somewhere around ’91 or ’92- that they began to export them to the US. Today the US is the largest importer of them in the world.

How has the design changed over time?

The only significant change is they upgraded the electrical system on the newer models. It has an electric start now, which it didn’t used to have, but it still has the old kick start. It has an Italian alternator now- a Denso- and a disc brake on the front. The metallurgy is better, just from the evolution of metallurgy. Other than that it’s the same bike.

What model do you have?

Mine is a 2007, which I bought at Adirondack Ural. There aren’t very many of these around, and so not many people that deal with them. It’s more like an ATV that you can ride on the street than a motorcycle. Because they’re so unique and uncommon, it tends to be a pretty eccentric group of people who ride them. There’s an online community of Ural owners who are a wealth of information. They’re the ones who made it possible for me to get the bike back on the road after my accident.

          

Tell me about your accident.

I was stopped, facing a van in a turn lane. We were both making opposite left turns. Everything looked clear and I went but a car came flying from behind the van right at me. The car hit my sidecar side, I flew off, and then the bike flipped. I wasn’t hurt.

I got zero help from my insurance company, but everybody on site was great. The guy that hit me and another witness got out and helped me right the bike and move it off the road, out of the spewing gasoline.

How did the people in the online community help?

They basically made it possible for me to do the repairs. There just aren’t many people who know how to service Urals, so you really rely on the community. I didn’t have the mechanical knowledge before this, and with their help I did everything except the body work.

It is normally a high maintenance kind of bike?

Definitely. It will run pretty much all the time, but in order for it to run well you have to do a lot of tinkering. The good thing is that you can fix it. A Ural comes with a set of tools and you can do just about any mechanical repairs or tweaking on it that you need to with these tools. That’s a big draw to a Ural. It was designed for soldiers to ride, and they needed to be able to fix it in the field while being shot at. It’s so simple it’s like a giant lawnmower.

What’s the draw to motorcycles for you?

I grew up with them. My grandpa was a biker. I rode a motorcycle before I rode a bicycle. I started on motorcycles at age five and didn’t ride a bicycle until I was about thirteen.

What kind of motorcycle did you have at age five?

It was a Suzuki RM50 that belonged to my neighbor. We were in Detroit and moved out to the country when I was five, and my neighbor was a big Motocross guy. He was sponsored by Honda and placed 8th nationally in the AMA one year. A farmer near us let him set up a track in a corner of a field he wasn’t using, and he taught me how to ride.

Your grandpa was a biker- was he affiliated?

There was a big biker war across the Detroit River with Canada that he was somehow involved in. I think he may have been in and out of clubs, but he was mostly done with that by the time I can remember. He and my grandma still had the lifestyle though. He was covered in tattoos and had this really long ZZ Top beard. I didn’t even know his real name until I was in my teens. It was just “we’re going to Nana and The Beard’s house.”

What kind of bikes did he have?

The one constant that he had up until he passed away was a 1947 mint condition original Indian Chief.

Grandpa

Nice! What happened to it?

He willed it to me, but they didn’t have any savings because, you know, they were bikers. So we sold it so my grandma could get the proceeds. He also had a Road King for a while, a Goldwing, a BMW. The Indian Chief was the constant though, and it only came out on special occaisions. Like they would go for rides on Memorial Day.

How did your grandpa influence you?

He took away the taboo on motorcycles for me. There’s a stigma attached to them which I see past- it’s just a way of life to me. I feel more comfortable on a motorcycle than I do in a car. The first time I ever went fast I was six years old and sitting on his gas tank. He took me screaming past my house at over a hundred miles an hour and as my dad tells the story, he could hear me wailing away over the engine having the time of my life, and my mother started crying. Dad knew I was doomed to ride from then on.

From my dad’s whole side of the family I get that independence thing: be your own person, and if you don’t think something is right, don’t do it. Speak up.

The Ural isn’t a very fast bike, is it?

No. The fastest I’ve ever had it going is 63 miles per hour. It’s kind of like a Jeep in that it may not go very fast, but you can take it anywhere. The frame is all one piece, the side car doesn’t come off. That makes it very sturdy. Then the sidecar has an engageable drive. Most sidecars are just passive, but with this, you can flip a lever, engage the drive, and then it’s like a three-wheeler. You can take it over sand, dirt, rocks, snow, anything.

Who rides in the side car?

My dog will get in it happily up until the point that I start the engine. My wife rides in it and also my friend Emile when we commute in together.

Does your wife like it?

She likes it better now since the accident, because it looks cooler. When I had the body work done I got a custom paint job, put more chrome on it, got to trick it out a little bit. Before the accident, she said she felt like an old person in a bathtub, because it kind of looked like an old man’s bike. But now she says she feels like an eccentric person in a bathtub.

Do you have any trips planned for it?

I want to take it up Mount Washington. I’ve also had a lifelong dream to ride a motorcycle across the country- I probably get that from my grandpa. He had taken the Indian cross-country four or five times.

Through my friend Jake I found out that there’s a network of back roads and two-tracks called the Trans American Trail. It goes from Tennessee to Oregon and barely ever hits pavement. I’ve been planning that trip for a while but it keeps getting pushed back because of life and work. There’s a similar network of roads called the Puppy Dog Route that runs through Vermont, and I’m planning a four day trip there in October. That will be the test. If I can make it through that, I have no concerns about doing the Trans American Trail.

Are all those back roads still there in Vermont since the hurricane?

I guess I’m going to find out! I’m confident that I’ll be able to get through- or around- anything in the Ural. And if I start running out of time, I can just bail and head back.

How about all y’all- do you have a favorite motorcycle story to share? Ever ridden in a side car? What’s your ideal commuter vehicle?

Full-assed Friday is a regular feature on this blog. It’s where I share something interesting, funny, or just plain different. I take suggestions and do guest posts. If you’re interested, contact me at accidentalstepmom at g mail dot com.