Live Long and Prosper

“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It’s 5 year mission:to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

-Captain James Kirk220px-STWink_Eye

I have always been fascinated with space. I have an entry level telescope and have always been a star gazer. Therefore, I am so excited that the new Star Trek movie is coming out soon. Star Trek Beyond! I will be in the front row. Why you ask? I was a Trekkie from way back. At Allegheny College, we had a whole dorm lobby filled with Trekkies after dinner watching back to back Star Trek re-runs on the Cleveland affiliate station. I watched the originals in the 60s and then when I was in college, it was great entertainment before we had to go back to the dorm room and grind for another test or complete another paper. Star Trek was always interesting because Gene Roddenberry created it as a modern day version of the old Gulliver’s Travels. We all became interested in the characters- Captain Kirk, Sulu, Bones McCoy, Scotty( beam me up), Chekov, and the iconic Vulcan, Mr. Spock. color_nimoy_headshot

Spock was played by Leonard Nimoy who did a masterful job creating the character who was basically a rational thinking alien who was also part human. His history is well explained in the series but he was the right hand man to Captain Kirk. Spock was always in control contrasting the emotional Captain. I used to love the Vulcan mind warp when Spock could delve into the recesses of your mind with a touch to your shoulder. He also could put you out with the same shoulder grab. He was larger than life. He was a Vulcan, and I met him one day, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

My sister was living in New York City in the 80s hosting a TV show called Romper Room. Black and White mirror picture I would visit her and we would take in Broadway shows and classic New York places to eat. One night before we were to go to a show, we stopped to get something to eat at Sardi’s. This was a spot that a lot of Broadway show people would frequent and actors would frequent between show times. There are pictures all over the walls of famous folks and as I was perusing the photos, I noticed a familiar figure sitting in a booth to my left. It was Spock!!!! I whispered to my sister and we both acknowledged the presence of Leonard Nimoy. I wanted to say hello and tell him how much I enjoyed his character over all of the years but I didn’t want to bother him. Somehow, I needed to make a connection and I remembered that I had seen him play Malvolio in the Pittsburgh Public Theater production of Shakespeare’s iconic “Twelfth Night.”TwelfthNight_01 He did a great job and I sheepishly approached his table and introduced myself. I told him how much I appreciated his performance at the Public and mentioned nothing about Star Trek. To my great surprise, he beamed!!! He said,” You saw that production in Pittsburgh?” I acknowledged in the affirmative and he invited me and ┬ámy sister to sit down and have a drink with him and his lovely wife. We blushed and said that we were headed to a show and could not stay but he asked me more questions about Pittsburgh and how much he enjoyed his time there. I think the guy was so surprised that someone recognized him outside of his classical character and he was anxious to have more conversation about it. He was so gracious as was his wife, and thanked us for stopping to say hello. I am so happy I didn’t say something stupid or embarrassing about him being a Vulcan. ” Hey Spock – where are your ears?” Or some other random comment that I am sure he has heard thousands of times.

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One thing I have learned about famous people is that in general, they are just people like you and me. Sometimes they are surprised about the depth of their notoriety and are almost embarrassed by it. Most famous people whom I have met are actually quite humble and although we think of them as larger than life, they really are just plain folks who have had remarkable achievements. They value their privacy but in some cases, they long to discuss topics outside of their notoriety. Everyone likes their privacy and I am sure that many famous celebrities guard their’s with a fervor. However, sometimes you make a connection where you are welcomed and interesting conversations are the result and the celebrity feels engaged and not used with a “selfie” or some other bothersome annoyance. Such was the case with Mr. Nimoy. No one will ever replace him as the Vulcan Spock. But on one night at Sardi’s in New York, he was recognized for a performance in keeping with his extensive training as an actor. Mr. Nimoy is no longer with us but his words still ring encouragement- “live long and prosper.” Thanks for reading.

The Piano Man

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Well, I am going to see the real Piano Man tonight at PNC Park. Billy Joel has always been a real talent in my eyes and although I don’t expect to see him run all around the stage like the last time I saw him, I know his music is timeless. Thinking about the piano, let me tell you a few tales of my piano experience over the years.
It all started when my mom signed me up for piano lessons at 7 years old with Mrs. Chang from the neighborhood behind ours. I was excited to see if I could play and when I got my first music book with the songs “Birthday Party” and ” Sandman”, I worked hard to play them correctly. Mrs. Chang had her mom fill in from time to time and although she was a gracious older lady, she had this habit of passing gas during my chromatic scales. She would bounce one off the piano bench while sitting next to me and it was alarming/amusing as I was midway through the scale.I told my mom who said that it was part of the culture of Asia and nothing should be thought of it. Probably her way of making sure I did not quit.
Fast forward a couple of years to a new teacher down the street. Mrs. Manson was a little more demanding and her social graces more “western” so to speak as she politely scolded me if I did not practice to her satisfaction. My mom would always retrieve me from the field across the street and tell me to start walking to my lesson. I had to step up my game when Mrs. Manson had us do recitals every month with the other students who were mostly girls. As I sat down at the piano with a shirt and tie, the nerves always started to rattle because I did not want to look bad in front of a bunch of giddy grade school girls. It usually started with a clunker and Mrs. Manson would say, ” Start over again Patrick.” The sweat beads began to flow.
What turned the tide for me was when our backyard neighbor, Dorothy Morgan, gave me some music books featuring show tunes from Rogers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Lowe. I found out that I could play these tunes and accompany my mother who had perfect pitch and a beautiful voice. I can remember many parties at my folks where I would spend time playing for my mom to the delight of her guests. This continued when I became the default piano player at Christmas parties. Our spinet at home had many gin and tonics, beers, wine and other alcoholic drinks spilled in the keyboards over the years as revelers at my folks house would constantly bark in my ear,” Play White Christmas……dammit.”
Moving forward, my path to musical anonymity was aided by taking some piano electives at Allegheny College. I had the good fortune of studying under the tutelage of Lucille and Frederic Marantz who were noted classical pianists and performed nationally. A lot of the students in the music program, were studying to go to Oberlin or Julliard and yours truly struggled not to hit the cracks. At our college recitals, I would often come straight from the tennis courts, a ball of sweat, and bang out Scott Joplin’s “Pineapple Rag” as my performance piece while the other more refined and serious students played their sonatas and various piano pieces from the classical composers. Drs. Marantz saw me as a bit of an anomaly and a breath of fresh air in a program that was pretty structured as a feeder to Oberlin and Julliard. Allegheny was probably the high water mark of my piano playing.
I continued to play and had some funny experiences playing in bars and parties along the way which resulted in free beers and laughs. I even had an experience sitting in on Bourbon Street with an old time rag band in a bar. My friend Norm put me up to it on a business trip and the guys were kind to me by playing “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” which was a slow march and allowed me to keep up with my three chord progression in a major key. The sweat beads started to come again but I was happy to have performed as such on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
My piano sits a little idle in my house currently but as I get older, I see the need to keep up what meager skills I have. So I am sure that the Piano Man will inspire me to once again get partially serious about playing and if Janet, Joan and Jack can stand the occasional clunker and crack playing, I will fill the house with some kind of music. The moral of the story is that you are never too old to pick up a musical instrument. Encourage your child, grandchild, spouse, or whomever to play. It is good for your mind and you never know, people might ” put bread in your jar, and say Man! what are you doing here.” Thanks for reading.