Two and a half hours in Castro’s elevator

Last night I went to see Cheveré, a Latin jazz band (or is it a “red hot Afro-Cuban salsa/fusion band” or maybe a “Latin/Jazz/Funk/Blues Band, mixing Afro- Cuban, Brasilian, Jazz, Blues, and just about everything else together” — so says the wordy Web) that’s become legendary in Chicago music circles. The band was performing with Boomshaka, NU’s percussion/dance group.

There’s no easy way to describe what I heard from Cheveré. The sonic distribution of the drum sets, harmonica, Hammond B-3 and the Gilligan’s Island rest keeps the ears at attention and the eyes struggling to keep up with perception.

But imagine the presidential palace in Havana. Every morning Fidel Castro wakes up from his four or five hours of sleep, rolls his belly out of bed and begins his day. Eventually, he straps on his wristwatch, face down as usual, and heads to the palace offices. Assistants hand him the latest memos and briefs. Gracias. More rafts escaping past the army’s motorboats. More harsh words from the democracies. More crumbling in a crumbling nation.

A gofer yanks open the elevator gate, and Castro steps in, shuffling through the stack of papers, the bad news, on the way to the top floor and his personal office. The door closes, and the dim car lurches upward. Castro drops his arms to his sides and rests his eyes. No mas, no mas.

From the speaker in the car’s ceiling, music begins to fall down on him. The muzak is his own, his choice — a little FM tinny but the instruments make it through. The trumpet soars over the bang of the timbales, and a piano dances back and forth around them. Could easily enough be Cheveré.

He doesn’t even tap to the beat, but he listens intently, eyes still closed. When the elevator reaches the top, he opens the gate and saunters across the carpet of the wide room. He lays the papers on a desk and clasps his hands behind him as he looks out the picture windows. The sun is halfway up the sky, and there’s not a cloud over the trees and concrete of Havana.

In the warmth of the sunlight, he squares his shoulders and puffs out his stomach under the guerilla cloth shirt. It is another day in Cuba, and he is Castro.

Richard Myers – Round Two

You all may remember British Internet executive Richard Myers from our discourse a few weeks ago. (If not, go back and read it.) Well, the dialogue continues.

He wrote to say that I had beaten his son (age five) to registering, but that his son was willing to offer “�50 (about US$80)” for the name. Mr. Myers suggested I take the name “George Harrison” because it had just become available. (Is it legal for a British person to take a Beatle’s name in vain? I suggested he listen to Paul’s new and horrid “Freedom” as punishment. He responded that Ringo obviously had the most talent. Since Ringo was the only Beatle offered the role of Mr. Conductor on Shining Time Station, I’d tend to agree with that statement.)

Also, responding to my assertion that he had stolen the name of my ninth grade English teacher (last row, on the right, bald), he brought up the probability that he could indeed be my ninth grade English teacher.

You can judge a man by the strength of his arguments on ridiculous topics. I like this guy.

My airplane trip with Vernon

I wasn’t supposed to sit next to Vernon on the flight, but that’s where I ended up. After giving my aisle seat to a father who wanted to sit near his daughter, United flight attendants offered me my pick of the plane’s middle seats. There was more leg room in the rows closer to the front, but my chosen row, just in front of my original row, looked the most interesting.

To my left, there was a nervous-looking college girl. To my right, there was an old man, looking as cool as they come. Midway through the flight, this row proved its worth. The man struggled with the snack bag. His wrists were fine but his fingers had lost it. Turned out, in fact, that his wrists were more than fine. His wrists were champs.

For the next hour, I had the privilege of talking to the country’s top over-85 badminton player, 87-year-old Vernon “Tiger” Muhr. Vernon was returning from a medal-winning trip to the U.S. Senior Nationals at Georgetown. He came out with a silver and a bronze and a lot of jokes told. (See the fourth row of photos, as well as this shot. Caution: Photo size is huge).

I’m not a big fan of flying, but Vernon definitely made the trip fun. A note to readers: If your name is Vernon too, and you happen to go to Mt. Vernon, mention it to the security guards. Maybe being 87 had something to do with it, but it got this Vernon bumped to the head of the line.

Vernon picked up badminton while working in an archery store 63 years ago and now practices once a week at the local senior center. He still drives his 1960s Mercedes on the freeways near his California home, volunteers on some weekends and surfs the Web regularly at the senior center. Maybe someday he’ll google himself and come across this page.

Social logistics of the high five

Lindsay and I were discussing the high five today; a man must have invented it, I concluded. Only a man would invent a method of social greeting with less contact than a handshake. I did a little research today and found that many people have researched this topic before me. We can thank the British for this definition: “The slapping of hands above the head which two people do to celebrate.” Unfortunately, this definition does not encompass “down low” fives.

Slate has done a history of celebratory sports gestures that includes the origin of the high five. The history is definitely worth reading. The high five was only invented in 1980! (By a man.)

Also worth visiting: Proper high five technique and, to the apparent amusement of Dutch children, high five tomfoolery.

Sir, the tee is yours

I went to the driving range today. It was a beautiful day, a day that demanded people be outside. So, Jonny, Jeff and I went to the range. Get one thing straight: I am not a “golf guy.” I am a “putt-putt golf guy.” There is quite a difference here, mostly in the general golfing ability (less) and general fun had (more). Basically, when I swing at the golf ball, it’s not a rare occurrence for me to miss; but I don’t mind.

Say, however, that someone watched me as I golfed. Say this watcher sat mere yards behind me as I drove the range. Say he perched on his metal bench, clutching his bag of clubs, with his little golf beret low over his eyes. Say you could imagine his whispers:

“Your time is up, boy. The range row is full of golfers and you’re the worst. Give me the tee.”

Most golf guys would have been perturbed — offended or disturbed even. Yes, I may have been the worst golfer on the range. Yes, I may have been an embarassment to golf. But, sir, you did not scare me.

Though you may look like Alec Guiness, I am not susceptible to your Jedi golf powers. I am a proud putt-putt golf guy. I will yield the tee when I run out of golf balls or when my swing knocks me unconscious. No sooner.

Patience Wait

Reading Washington Technology magazine on Tuesday, I came across the most interesting byline: “Patience Wait.” I checked the tagline to see if this was the writer’s real name, and it was. (“Staff Writer Patience Wait can be reached….”)

I thought about writing here then, speculating on how she got the name, but e-mailing her proved far better. Her thoughtful and funny reply arrived this morning:

Actually, I came by my name quite legitimately. It’s my real name.I had a great-great-grandmother in Massachusetts in the 1800s with the name; she married into it, but I was given it deliberately.

It was a difficult name to carry when I was a kid. We moved a lot (my dad was with a corporation that transferred him frequently), so every two or three years I had a whole new group of friends who would tease me about it until they got used to it.

But about the time I really got into the workforce, I discovered it was an advantage because everyone I met would remember it. (Or something like it — I got called Prudence or Faith or Constance a lot, too.)

The drawback to the name as an adult is the same as the advantage. There are people I met once, 20 years ago, who still remember me; unfortunately, my memory is not nearly as good as theirs!

Years before I got into journalism I worked in product marketing in the computer industry. My company put me in a sales training class, and the very first session the trainer asked everybody in the room about their ice-breaking techniques — you know, how to strike up a conversation with a stranger. When it was my turn, I just picked up my name card and said that for some reason it’s never been a problem for me.

I don’t mean to be so long-winded. I guess it just demonstrates that I’m finally comfortable with it. Thanks for asking — it is fun to hear that people notice my byline, whatever the reason!