Friday, May 30, 2008

BLUES MEMOIR & FULL REPORT: Useless Tales

"What landed you in New Zealand?"

I've taken a position as a not-so-noted solicitor in the Wellington area. I'll be looking around to play some piano - always an iffy proposition...so much so that I just sort of wait and see and try to fall into something naturally. For me, the days of begging some money-grubbing bar owner for a gig in his booze palace were over long ago. This, of course, means I don't play that much. But...then I'm not out to prove anything or try to become "famous." I'm sort of an invisible and ambivalent bottom-feeder, content with my own rambling and researching of things. If someone wants to hear me though, I'll usually play and sing. Every once in a while someone finds my website and gives me a holler.

I read some of the narrative below on Bobby Radcliff, et al. Having grown up in DC, I remember Bobby well at the Top 'o the Foolery, the Rogue and Jar, and Cousin Nick's down on 13th Street. I sat in with him at the Rogue and Jar. Not long after he moved to NYC. I used to hang around with Big Chief Ellis when he was living over in SE. We'd go to each other's gig. He sold me his Fender Rhodes 88. That was when Bowling Green John Cephas and Phil Wiggins were just getting established and they would hang out with the Chief too. In '78 I moved to New Orleans to try and finish my undergraduate degree at Loyola U. My ulterior motive of course was to play and hang out in the juke joints. I did get a regular gig at an outisde place on Decatur St. called the Gazebo. And Tipitina's called one day in 1980 and asked me to open for John Lee Hooker. That was a highlight in my otherwise lackluster career as a blues piano player and singer. I went to Chicago after that and hung around at BLUES on Halsted mostly. There I met some fading heavyweights and sat in occasionally.

But I soon returned to DC late in '81. Lovey Lee, Jr. (the late Lee Rosenblitt) asked me to join him in throwing together a group. At first we called it The Honeydrippers, and later it was called Lovey Lee's Blues Revue. We played at a few places around town, but it wasn't anything to write home about, especially when you're already home. But we did record some tunes, which I have preserved on my website. I also did a brief stint with Little Red and the Renegades. Little Red (Tom Corradino) is a good man.

I went on to law school in Baltimore, then went into the Army as a JAG officer, got out in '91 and moved outside of Santa Fe for about a year and a half. There I played at a few spots around town and actually gained some short-lived notoriety. Then again, I returned to DC in '94, only to leave in early '95 for Korea. I had gotten it into my head that I wanted to be a writer and teaching might grant me the time and provide the means to stay alive long enough to do some scribbling. (I've since transcibed and added to the lot of writing I started over there - and even before - into three or four blogs.)

So, I took a job teaching ESL for a couple of years in a university over there in Korea. I got it in my head that I might just become an itinerant English teacher, taking assorted jobs here and there around the world. On my first vacation I flew down to Cairns, in Queensland, Australia. I had heard of an American guy who liked blues and lived in nearby Port Douglas. So I looked him up and discovered he owned a pub, bottle shop, bistro, motel...AND he did love blues. I was soon playing happy hours at his bistro five nights a week. And he called me again around the time my teaching contract was up and induced me to do another run down there. It is a lovely place, Port Douglas.

But my roving days were numbered. I had met a good woman in Korea who would "Catch the Coon at Last." (Memphis Slim) I tried to run - went first to Istanbul, then to Saudi Arabia (following in the footsteps of the French Foreign Legion) - but the pull was just too strong and this lifelong bachelor finally fell into the marriage bin in the Spring of '98.

Already a refugee from the law, I started getting interested in consciousness and esoteric traditions and decided to enroll in a course of studies online at the California Institute of Integral Studies in SF. Again I was back in Korea then, at a different university, and trying to get my wife back into the US with me, as I had to do some coursework in San Francisco. She was finally able to join me in SF and we spent our time there essentially in pauperdom while I finished my doctoral coursework. I was playing less and less. It seemed no one was much interested in traditional Chicago blues and the rest of what I had to offer. Eventually, as ever, I migrated back to DC and decided to stop resisting and tried to make a go at doing some law. As luck would have it, I became the perenial piano player for the IMF at their annual International Photographic Society exhibition. This was my only regular paying gig over the past 5-6 years, although I occasionally did impromptu gigs in Easton, often accompanied by brother Fred (Fast Fingers Freddy) on drums. During this time I also tried getting something going with Johnny Tickton, and we did some gigs at Clyde's in Chevy Chase (in my old neighborhood, Friendship Heights) and a few other places, but somehow it just didn't "take." To keep body and soul together I opened a title company and cashed in on the real estate boom until that petered out. But I did finish writing my dissertation and my doctorate in Humanities was conferred in May 2006. The title of my dissertation? - The Odyssey of the Western Legal Tradition - Integral Jurisprudence: Toward the Self-Transcendence of Deficient Mental Legal Culture. (Somewhat autobiographical yet forwarding-looking, and in compensation perhaps for years resisting the law, it essentially is about law and consciousness.)

As things began their slow financial demise in the states, I looked elsehwere and found this new gig in New Zealand. We shall see where it all goes from here. I might try to make the Manawatu International Jazz & Blues Festival going on this weekend in Palmerston, NZ. At any rate, life is a great big adventure when you're out and about as I am once again (wife to join me after some months) - and it's a whole lot better than the past year or so, when life seemed like a shit sandwich and every day I had to take another bite...Aren't you gald you asked what landed me here?

I guess I'm either bored shitless, homesick, or in the mood to tell a sordid and useless tale.

____________________________

Ok, I'm finally set up at home so I can now give you a full report.

The flight here was the longest I've ever been on in my life. It seemed like two nights passed and I lost a day when I crossed over the international dateline. Left LA around 10PM on Tuesday evening and arrived in Wellington at 10AM Thurs. At least the plane wasn't very full and there was no one in the two seats next to me so I could stretch out a little. But it was grueling and I didn't sleep much (the pills a friend gave me didn't do much of anything). Clearing customs in Auckland was a breeze, but they lost my checked bags. And I'm sorry to report that when they delivered them, my big leather suitcase was ripped all along the top. I wouldn't be surprised if it had dry-rotted a little over the years. Luckily though, nothing seems to have fallen out.

The husband of my new business partner met me at the Wellington airport. I liked him right away. He was kind of tall, thin and unshaven - reminded me of my buddy in Australia, Stephen Philpot - scruffy and friendly. He turned out to be a great guy (he makes organic apple juice and cider vinegar). Anyway, I opened a bank account right away and picked up the key to my new place from the rental agency. The three of us had dinner that evening. You can often bring your own wine or beer to restaurants here and we had a couple of bottles of NZ wine, which was tasty and hit the spot.

I rested up on Friday, though I took the train to Wellington that day ($3 each way/ 20 minutes away) to apply for the equivalent of a SSN. Taxes in my income bracket ($60K) are 33%. No wonder people here seem kind of poor. Still, though somewhat shabby in appearance, the folks I've run into so far are mannerly and kind. There are virtually no black folks. You can detect quite a pervasive Maori presence however. There is even a Maori TV station where they speak their own language. The first closing I sat in on was for a Maori couple. I guess there are a lot of mixed-bloods - whatever.

The new pad is kind of drab and dark, but it'll do until I get my bearings. There are two couches, a TV, a kitchen table with four chairs and small kitchen with most everything needed for cooking and eating. There's a full bath downstairs and upstairs there's only a shower (weird, it should be a toilet) There's a queen size bed and a single bed upstairs with a dresser. Two closets and vacuum cleaner. How's that for a rundown? The apartment is one in a series of apartments all under one roof in a two-story building.

In the morning I leave my little cage and walk to work - one block to the Melling train station (end of the line), then right, across the bridge that spans the Hutt River, and then right again onto a walking path that is atop a levee. It's about a four or five block walk and very pleasant. I can hear strange birds nattering in the trees along the riverbank and I don't have to dodge cars. My building is about five stories. My office is on the third floor. My partner, Martha Hu, owns the whole 3rd floor. She rents out part of it the Hutt City Council and part to a locally famous psychic and Pilates person (which just happened after I got here). There are lots of restaurants and bars and stores of all kinds, all within walking distance. You don't really need a bus. And if I need to go into the big city, the train is very convenient. In sum, it has all worked out very nicely.

Our office space is HUGE, very roomy. My office is in the corner, front, and I have a couple of windows. It's all set up with a computer and everything. Martha and her husband Tim invited me to their farm and picked me up Saturday morning after stopping at the farmer's market (where I had been earlier). There's a huge farmer's market just on the other side of the river from me every Saturday morning until about 2PM - lots of fresh veggies and fruit and other stuff. It's great!

Their farm is located up a very narrow, zig-zaggy road and is nestled among some big rolling hills. It's really quite beautiful and quiet there. They've only been there for about a year and a half. So they're still getting it organized. Tim was planning on planting about 150 apple trees and asked if I wanted to give him a hand. So, about 48 hours after arriving, I'm out in this field boring holes with one of those twirlybirds, each of them two meters apart from the next. It was actually invigorating to do something active after being a slug, more-or-less for so long. I had brought two bottles of wine with me. Martha made dinner while I played their piano. In short, it seems like we are already good friends who have known each other for a long time. The next morning we finished up the hole boring and they took me back to my place. As my ulterior motive is to eventually have my own farm here, it is very fortuitous in that Tim is a wealth of knowledge about farming. He's been doing that almost all his life I think.

So I spent the week trying to understand the flow of the office, poring over the files, and learning the settlement process here, which is completely different. There are two other women in the office, a paralegal and a receptionist, who seem very nice and easy-going. But it's almost as if I'm starting from scratch as a lawyer. Still, Martha is sure she made the right decision in hiring me. She wants me to learn to draft Trusts, which is a big part of her business, along with Estate work, and to develop a domestic relations practise. Down the road she's thinking of taking on another solicitor, who can do domestic relations, so all I need to do is kind of know what its all about in order to keep tabs on that once we get the other solicitor in place. There's another, as yet undefined area of practise that she wants to add - I, of course, have some very interesting ideas on that front. Martha essentially wants me to ease into and take over her firm, as she eases out of it, or at least reduces her daily involvement to just a few days per week. It's great because I would in fact inherit her practise and her clientelle. I'm "set up"! But...it will take a large amount of work and diligence to catch up and be competent at the level at which I need to be. I expect to hear from the NZ Law Society soon. Once I know what I must do to qualify as a solicitor and do it, then I can apply for residency, become a partner, and make much bigger money.

That's it, in a nut shell. Martha shares a lot of my own intuition as regards alternate realities and the like. So the chemistry seems good and I think it will all work out quite well. But I do have my work cut out for me. I do hope to start all over again here, but this time in the right way - no cell phone, no car (if I can help it), eating healthfully and exercising regularly. I'll tell you one thing - there is no high fructose corn syrup in anything here, at least that I've been able to detect from reading labels. And the water running in the river looks clean enough to drink. I hear people swim in it in the summer.

I believe the winter is about half over . The mornings are like cold Spring mornings back home. There are some misty days, not really heavy rains, with little if any humidity otherwise. It warms up into the upper 60s during the day. There are tropical-looking plants around, some date palms and some other palms with leaves that look like big ferns. Everything looks lush and green and seems ecologically sound. It's exciting to be back out into the great beyond again, and I'm enjoying myself immensely.

Keep in touch and let me know how things are going back in your neck of the woods.

1 comment:

bmink50 said...

i knew lee, when he was the the heating and a/c business. i notice you say the "late" lee rosenblitt. when did he pass away?