Monday, September 29, 2008

A Good Buy

One of my favorite sections in the Sunday Chicago Tribune is Home & Garden. For those who do not read the Trib or who live outside of the Chicago area, this section is full of helpful ideas on how to better manage your (drum roll, please) home and garden. Two of the most consistent themes in this section are the environment and conservation, and I can't remember the last time I didn't cut out an article from the section because it was especially helpful, just plain interesting or even inspiring. Yesterday there was a section on tote bags in a feature section called Hello, Good Buys. The pictures were nice and author Shaila Wunderlich obviously did a lot of work picking 5 durable and attractive bags. The recent rise of tote bags in response to those soon-to-disappear eco-disasters, the plastic bag, is a big step in the right direction. However (and you knew this was coming), here, in terms of Ramen noodle packs at $0.25 each, is what these suckers cost:

1. $25 - you could buy 100 Ramens for that
2. $24 - 96
3. $35 - 140
4. $65 - 260, $80 - 320
5. $145 - 580

I put this in terms of Ramen because we Americans (except for that top 1%) are getting poorer. Pretty soon we'll all be eating Ramen and not much else until they get around to inventing Soylent but that's another story. All this is a roundabout way of saying Those tote bags are too damned expensive!!!

At a *garage sale you can get a perfectly nice, durable canvas tote for anywhere from 10 cents to $1. I have many of them that I picked up for next to nothing. Sure, some of them have obnoxious advertising on them. That I'm a walking commercial for the latest miracle drug with nasty side effects doesn't bother me in the least. Who looks at my bag and thinks, "Gotta get some of that pharmacrap, stat!" And I have been lucky to find some that just have pictures, no ads.

If you really want to save money and are determined to do something to help the environment, go to a garage or yard sale. It's the ultimate in recycling and you won’t pay any sales tax. Now that's a real good buy.

*The Chicago Tribune has covered the subject of garage sales, usually in the spring before the season starts.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Friends, Romanians & Countrymen

I have a lot of friends with great personalities. There's Val, who can turn a simple letter in the Slovak language into a laugh fest that keeps us giggling, even though it's been 15 years and counting. There's Elizabeth, who came from Romania in 1980. She is the grandmother of my godchildren who are the cutest, most adorable 5-year-old twins I know. There's Peter, a folk dancer and expert on Balkan singing styles who I met in 1983 and who sang with Slavic Projection for years. There's LindaSue, who is responsible for me getting one of my favorite gigs, playing accordion at Klas Restaurant. And then there's the king of them all, Dennis.

Dennis is the kind of person who, while busy cooking, will say innocently, "Do me a favor," and you'll reply, "Sure!" He holds up a grater and says, "Rub this against your face." (Well, I thought it was hilarious.) Then there is the comment he makes every time I come back from a gig. "Did you get all the tomato stains out of your costume?" Even though it's old, I still laugh. But the best one yet was a few weeks ago when I was practicing the following song (complete with yips) to record on YouTube: and Dennis heard me. He had a suggestion. "If you want a bigger audience why don't you let out a couple barks?"

I'm thinking about it. (After all, the more willing you are to humiliate yourself the better chance you have of getting publicity. Just ask LiLo, Brittney, or Mel Gibson.) JUST KIDDING! I'm one of the stiffest. most humorless adherents to authentic folklore there is, but just thinking about corrupting one of my sacred cows cracks me up! Thanks, Dennis!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A pig is still a pig...

So Obama claims that his remark about lipstick on a pig wasn’t directed at Sarah Palin?


The barb was uncalled for, rude and uncouth. Obama owes an immediate apology…to the pig.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Busking Ethics

Hey, buskers! Are you nicer to people who give you big tips than to those who give you itty-bitty ones? How do you handle weirdoes?

This was my ethical dilemma the last two Saturdays when I played my accordion at Giddings Plaza on Chicago’s North Side. My official policy is to treat everyone with respect and gratitude whether they give me a couple pennies or a $20 bill. My attitude is I’m there to have a good time, talk to people, play songs I like, try out new tunes, and enjoy the atmosphere of “no pressure”. The money is secondary, although if I weren’t allowed to put out a tip jar I wouldn’t busk.

On August 23 as I was talking to a woman from Cluj, Romania who recognized some of my songs, an aggressive panhandler approached us. “Can ya spare some change? I’m hungry and homeless,” he whined right in our faces. More out of a desire to not look like a cheapskate than to help him, I pulled out a dollar from my tip jar and handed it to him. I just wanted him to go away so I could jump back into the conversation. I was supremely irritated despite the fact that I could more than afford to help him out. First because he interrupted me and second because I felt I had let him bully me into relinquishing something I had earned. He didn’t even bother to compliment my playing.

Saturday, August 30 was a New Moon. What you start at New Moon comes to fruition at the next Full Moon so I was determined to start at least one new thing. I had just learned a song that day, Badea-l meu de astă vară (My Sweetheart from Last Summer, a Romanian song from Transilvania) and played it twice that night. I was rocking out. People were obviously into it, judging from all the compliments and tips I was getting. It was a great night for another reason, three six-sensory friends, Kate, Karen and Carol had come to have dinner at Café Selmarie, hang out at the Plaza and listen to me play. With those three shooting good vibes at me I couldn’t go wrong. Halfway through the evening Karen went to Potbellies to get me a roast beef sandwich. It was cut in two. I ate half of it and wrapped the other half carefully, intending to save it for later.

The evening wore on and the tips and compliments kept coming. My friends, having spent more than three hours there, went home. Up came Sir Panhandles-A-Lot. This time it was, “Can ya help me out? I’m hungry and I need to get something to eat.” In my face. This time I was ready. “Wait ’til I finish this,” I shot back. No way was I going to interrupt Sikoreczka świergoli (The Skylark Sings, from Cieszyn, Poland) for that guy. He sat down on a bench and tried to engage a woman in conversation. She was complicit for a moment, but quickly vamoosed. Not only did he horn in when I was busy playing, but he was driving away my audience! I kept playing and formulated my strategy. By the time he hit me up again I was ready. “I have a sandwich for you,” I said. “I need money,” he replied. “You said you were hungry, and I have a perfectly good sandwich. Take it or leave it.”

“You can’t help me out?”

“Sorry.” And off he went. Did I do the right thing?

Late in the evening I noticed a guy sitting on a bench applauding every song I played. He was balding and wore glasses. In other words, he looked intelligent. But as I was packing up he approached me and the reality was much different. He was plastered. “Wish I could give you some money,” he slurred, “but I own an apartment building and I’m waiting for the rent.” Uh…not likely. I responded politely to his ramblings for a few minutes and looked at the photo of himself with Little Wally he was eager to show me. “Very nice,” I said without enthusiasm and faded into the darkness.

Did I do the right thing?