6 June 2002
I miss Paul.
I miss Paul (and David) all the time, of course, but I especially miss Paul this week.
Jeri called recently and we had a nice chat about her current activities. One of the
things she's done lately is to put herself on a list of musicians who are available to
march in bands. Apparently there are a lot of parades in and around Boston, especially at
this time of year, and there is a central registry of musicians who have the expertise
(and willingness) to show up at last minute's notice, and sight-read music as they march
for miles to the cheers of parade watchers on the sidelines.
Jeri plays several instruments: piano, clarinet, saxophone, flute and, just recently,
piccolo. She's expert on the first four instruments and has been playing them all
for years. So naturally she signed up to play the piccolo. She figured it would be a good
way to get paid to practice her new instrument. She was also in marching bands through
high school (oh, many's the time we went to band competitions, and I can't see a film of
the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace without remembering Jeri's marching band
I asked her how it was to be marching in a band again and was it like riding a bicycle,
where it all came back to you as you started doing it. She's now twice as old as she was
the last time she was part of a marching band and she's discovering that bones and muscles
do age. Despite the fact that she's quite athletic and races around Boston on foot and
bike all the time, it is another thing to do precision marching again.
But the reason I miss Paul so much is because of her problems with the piccolo.
"Nobody has ever invented a music holder for a marching piccolo player...." It's
a line from The Music Man, the show that has followed us throughout our lives, from Paul
and Jeri being in it when it first was presented in Davis, and Paul doing it in Oakland
one summer, and again in Davis another year. (It was my hope to see Paul doing Harold Hill
eventually, but he didn't live long enough.) Jeri, Walt and I could laugh about her
difficulties practicing the piccolo marching because she had nowhere to put her music, but
I couldn't then go and say that to anybody else. Nobody outside this family would
The Music Man had a great impact on our inability to converse in this family without
quoting shows. I once said that none of us had an original thought any more--everything
came out as a line from a show, or a Stan Freberg record.
When you become immersed in Gilbert & Sullivan, you find that everyone around you
speaks in G&S quotes all the time. You get so accustomed to tossing off one-liners
that when you are somewhere else, where nobody has ever heard of Gilbert & Sullivan,
and you find "the perfect quote," it just lays there, like the egg that it is.
People look at you oddly.
You learn to bite your tongue. Giggle about it in your head, but don't expect anybody
around you to understand or appreciate your great wit.
I remember having dinner with a friend once. He and I both worked for the same Gilbert
& Sullivan company and were used to the repartee that floated around that company all
the time. So I didn't bat an eye when I mentioned something about somebody acting a little
hostile and he said "Well, we're all a little hostile now and then; some of us are
able to sublimate, others can't adjust--you know how it is."
It took me a split second to realize that he hadn't quoted Gilbert & Sullivan to me;
he had quoted Stan Freberg's History of the United States of America, Part 1. I about fell
out of my seat. Bill knew Stan Freberg.
If there is anything as obscure (or perhaps more obscure) than G&S quotes, it's Stan
Freberg quotes. Stan Freberg has been very big in this house forever. Walt and I always
say we dated to the History album.
David loved that album, and had it memorized. He was the best in the family at quoting
Freberg, though all of the kids pretty much know when we happen to drop a line from one of
Since we're now scattered across the country (or in the country...sigh...) the habit of
speaking in lyrics has fallen a bit by the wayside because you rarely encounter anybody
else who will appreciate it.
But it was nice when I heard from Tom last week, telling me that his company was sending
him to London this week, to be able to write "if you pass by the Tower of London,
have a look at the crown jewels for me," and know that he knew to what I was
(the local newscaster is driving me nuts. Phantom of the Opera opens this week in
Sacramento -- I review it on Friday night -- and the promo for the show begins "Opera
lovers...." Phantom is NOT "opera," despite its title! It's like nails on a
chalkboard every time she says that!)