Sunday, September 14, 2008


Martha visits every Monday, and just stays until noon.

The previous sentence may not mean anything to you, but if you learned how to memorize the planets from closest to the sun out to the furthest (normally, anyway) the way I did, you know what I'm talking about.

Hint: Until recently, the period at the end of the sentence stood for "Pluto". I guess it still could, since it's not an actual word... but then we'd have to find a purpose for that comma (or get rid of it).

And, before you post a comment asking about "and", that's the asteroid belt.

The reason that I'm telling you all this is because I didn't want to use the name of that planet for the title of this post for the very reason of the subject of this post. That makes a sort of sense, but maybe not yet.

I took all of my classes up to the computer lab on Friday to play "Multiflyer", a game that helps with memorization of multiplication facts.

See, somewhere back in the past 30-some-odd years or so, it was decided that it was not necessary to memorize multiplication facts. It's still not the fashion to have students memorize them.

Which would be all well and good if it was not necessary to memorize multiplication facts. However, doing simple fraction operations without knowing your multiplication facts is like reading Shakespeare without a good grasp on the early-modern version of our language.

That is to say: Start, stop to look up something, start again, go back a bit to remember what was going on, pass the initial problem point, stop to look up some other something, start again, go back a bit to remember what was going on...

And so on.

Thankfully, a study (or a study of studies) came out earlier this year that said it actually IS important for kids to memorize these things for basically the reason I just stated (but they didn't use the analogy of reading Shakespeare). See, if you're using that sort of "short-term" memory space to actually work out what 6 times 7 is (or using that space to walk yourself through punching those four calculator buttons, I suppose... or look it up on a table, even), you don't have as much available space for actually processing the new math skill you're supposed to be learning.

Okay, vent over. This was supposed to be a funny post.

So there we are in the computer lab, playing Multiflyer. The "story" of the game is that you are flying a missing from Earth to the moon, to Mars, to an asteroid, to Jupiter... and so on (with a couple of space stations in there), but to make the trip, you have to get the right numbers entered before your energy runs out. For each short jump, you have to enter one or two more numbers than the jump before.

The kids seem to enjoy it, and I raised the stake by offering a reward for the high score each hour (the faster you answer, the better your score). So these kids were really into it, announcing when they were at each new location, so other kids would know how far ahead they were, etc.

So I'd hear, "I'm on Mars!" and "I'm on Jupiter!" and "I'm on the asteroid!" and "I'm on the first space station!"

And of course, they were also saying, "I'm on Uranus!"

Middle-school child I am at heart, I had to suppress and giggle every time. And it always got worse. I know some of them pieced it together pretty quickly, and would make near-innocent remarks about the planet--and I'm sure they thought they were sly, because they got away with it.

Not because I didn't want to tell them to stop, but because I was afraid I'd start laughing if I started talking.

So: Crotchety Old Man?

Or Goofy Old Middle-Schooler?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Regarding Mark

So if you haven't read the previous post, this one might not make a lot of sense.

I have found myself over the past few days wanting to talk to somone about Frank and about everything related to this, and I just keep... not doing it.

I'm finding I don't want to talk to people in my old age.




Regarding Frank

So I'm a boy in the chorus again. The first rehearsal was Tuesday night.

I took a year off to regroup and use every free minute to deliver pizza, but now that gas is E.D.A.A.L.B.P.G., it's cheaper to not be pizza delivery guy.

Anyway, I'm at rehearsal, and someone's in MY spot... or what WAS my spot before I had to take a year off to try to get things on track, anyway (there's another story about my taking a year off something that ALSO ends with someone else taking my spot, but I'll hold off on that tale until I'm less bitter about it). Also, as I had to re-audition, I'd been moved from an upper bass to a lower bass.

So I wasn't sure where to sit.

Which was somewhat upsetting, because my chorus buddy (and that was his actual role my first season--the person who introduces me to the whole group and makes me feel welcome and all that) Frank had always sat beside me, and he can sight read much better than I can (which is pretty much not at all0.

Frank hadn't arrived yet, and I was trying to figure out just how many seats to move down from my regular spot. Kevin walked up and said "hey", and I explained that I was trying to figure out where to sit now, and when Frank got there I was going to ask him where I should sit (and hoped it would be within hearing-range of him, since our section doesn't split THAT much, and I could still listen to him for most of the notes).

I should explain at this point that Frank and I occasionally exchanged e-mails (he was the one who e-mailed me to tell me I got my first solo the year I broke my leg and nearly died), but Frank was mainly just a chorus-buddy with whom I could sit next to and joke, and general enjoy the rehearsal period--and also the performances, as he stood right next to me... back when we were both upper basses, anyway.

Anyway, my last e-mail to or from Frank was probably long before I took the year off.

Still, sitting next to or near Frank and catching up with him were two of the three or four events I was really looking forward to this particular Tuesday night.

So, back to the present (of the story, anyway): Kevin looked at me and said, "Isn't he the one who passed away?"

Well, now, what do you do with that?

Some part of my mind had the firm believe that SOMEONE would have told me.

And another part of my mind remembered that I've been without a working e-mail account at least once over the past few months.

Kevin said he wasn't sure whether it was Frank or not (he doesn't know a lot of people in the chorus, and he's not in my section, so he wasn't sure of the name, etc.). He asked me if Frank had been in the chorus since it had started, and I said he had.

And Kevin said, "Well, whoever this was, he'd been in the chorus since the beginning."

That narrowed it down to maybe two or three people... and to just one if he meant "Done every concert since the beginning."

I told Kevin I had to go find Tom (because Tom knew everybody in the chorus, and if this was Frank we were talking about, he'd know).

I found Tom, sat down next to him, and said, "I have to ask you a question that may lead to a very uncomfortable conversation."

Which is a great way to get someone's attention, by the way.

I continued with, "Where's Frank?"

And then there's one of those moments that lasts forever because the stupid brain--even if it sometimes can't figure out how to plan ahead or plan a budget or anything useful--suddenly does all sorts of processing, the side-effect of which is everything slowing down.

I immediately knew it was Frank who died, just from the look on Tom's face.

Three years later, Tom asked, "Didn't you get the e-mail?"

And I replied that I needed to step outside for a bit.

Luckily, my car wasn't too far away, and I could sit in it and do a sort of primal scream thing, and then make it back to rehearsal.

Tom had told me to find him during the break and he'd tell me the details, but yes, Frank was no longer with us.

As far as shock-and-sudden=pain impact goes, this is one of the top five worst deaths I've ever been "close" to.

So it was fun learning new songs (especially the one we sing in memoriam of those who have gone on), thinking of how Frank always made us little holiday pins to wear for the first act of the concert, thinking how I missed EVERYTHING except for stopping by his grave and saying how sorry I am that I didn't even know he'd been ill...

Yeah, good times.

I caught up with Tom for the story. It's a fun one.

Short version: Frank needed a heart transplant. Frank didn't have insurance that would cover his meds. Meds would cost thousands of dollars (or at least a thousand dollars) a month for the rest of his life. The policy in such a case is: No heart for you.


The outrages continue, the next part involving his funeral service and the Catholic church, but I won't delve into that here.

In the end all that matters is Frank being alive came down to a policy decision, and because I was out of the loop for a year (and maybe because I didn't have working e-mail for part of June), I didn't even know he'd died.

And no complaining posts that this is turning into, because I've already thought that.

So I need to find out where Frank is buried and go pay my respects. Maybe I'll take a keyboard and this concert's music and he can help me through teaching myself these songs...