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After Work: Practicing My Way To “Poo at the Zoo”

So you feel the urge to make music? Do you take lessons in how to play the sedate piano? Scrape away with bow on string?

Allow Dona Gibbs to explain her astonishing choice of instrument.

“I don’t want to play the ukulele while dancing the hula. Or even while wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

I want to play songs that will amuse my grandsons, aged almost two and almost four. I just came upon a nifty one that I think will be right up their alley. It’s called “Throwing Poo at the Zoo.” It has a nice moral that we’re not so different than our fellow creatures, or so I think.’’

To read more of Dona’s surprising columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/after_work/

When Harold Ross, famous editor of the New Yorker, spotted Dorothy Parker at a midtown speakeasy, he confronted her about her upcoming deadline. The New Yorker was then a fledging magazine and operated on a shoestring.

She would have been at the office, she told him, writing away, “but someone else was using the pencil.”

I’m no Dorothy Parker but I can come up with plenty of reasons why I bump up against deadlines here at Open Writing. Open Writing is for fun, all of it, so says the editor, but oh my, I’ve been motivated – no, make that driven—by deadlines all my life. School. Newspaper. Personal. Deadlines have shaped my life. When it’s for fun, well, I can find plenty of fun talking to people, walking around the city and even looking out my window at the New York playground below, watching kids, grownups and dogs. Reverie can turn deadlines into a foggy goal, rather than an absolute “drop dead date’’.

I recently read the journal that accompanied John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. He needed a certain kind of pencil to write and was downright cranky when pencil points broke under the pressure of his prose.

I’ve given up pencils long ago. So I don’t have Dorothy’s (no pencil) or John’s ( broken pencil) excuses.

But I think I devised the best excuse of why my columns are on our diligent editor’s computer screen later in the week rather than early.

I have taken up the ukulele.

That’s right.

I’ve decided I want to play the ukulele. I don’t want to play “Tiptoe through the Tulips.” Tiny Tim, the very definition of twee, set back the ukulele about a decade or so. Not that the ukulele has ever been hip – even with the endorsements of George Harrison, Bette Midler and Steve Martin. I don’t want to play the ukulele while dancing the hula. Or even while wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

I want to play songs that will amuse my grandsons, aged almost two and almost four. I just came upon a nifty one that I think will be right up their alley. It’s called “Throwing Poo at the Zoo.” It has a nice moral that we’re not so different than our fellow creatures, or so I think.

And I’d like to play that Laverne Baker number, “Saved”. A great gospel song that goes, “I used to smoke, I used to drink. I used to smoke, drink, dance the hoochie-coo.” That I can get behind. I saw a video where a semi-hip guy was wailing away on a uke and singing it.

When this desire to play struck me, I immediately ordered a ukulele.

When the odd shaped box arrived I informed Ever-Enthusiastic Husband of my plans.

He smiled. Or maybe smirked.

I told my son in London. I could hear the smile in his voice. I hadn’t told him about my goal of “Poo in the Zoo.”

I found a teacher. Not so easy when you want to learn the ukulele. It took an Internet search and then some.

I arranged a trial lesson.

I dressed in basic black. One: the pants and shirt were clean and in my closet. Two: I hoped to fit in the musicians’ part of town – the rehearsal studios.

The concierge (Or, I don’t know what you’d call the guy in a baseball cap turned sideways, enjoying coffee and leaning on a chipped Formica counter) told me where the studio was. A man with multi-colored tattoos and a bike entered the elevator with me. He looked me up and down, noting grey bob, black from head to toe and an instrument case.

“”You might want to come to this,” he muttered while searching in a messenger bag.

He pulled out a card to an alternative health and healing festival in an alternative celebrating part of town.

That’s what I call “passing” from my perspective.

I entered the studio. A few minues later, I met my teacher, who was, no surprise, younger than my son.

To his surprise, I was no doubt older than his mom.

He asked me why I wanted to play the ukulele.

I told him that it was a happy instrument and that when someone pulled out a ukulele you knew they didn’t take themselves seriously.

He grinned.

We’ve begun with Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.”

It’s meant to be a hobo’s declaration. Even with practice, it still sounds like a hobo’s dirge.

I’m a long, long way from “Throwing Poo at the Zoo.”

And days away of sending my column at the beginning of the week.



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