Mike Agranoff

Blog - 2022

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November 30, 2022
Ah, Those Were the Days!

I was cleaning out some files in the bottom drawers of my filing cabinet, when I encountered the item above. It's a gig announcement, I'm guessing from sometime in 1989 or 1990 (after the expiration dates of all the offers) in the prehistoric era before I, or just about anybody I knew owned a computer. It got me to thinking about how things have changed since then. First of all, you'll notice it's typed and photocopied; not computer-printed. That old Courier font. It was sent out by good old US Post. A first class stamp was 25 cents back then, so one had to limit the number of copies mailed out so as not to make the announcement cost more than one would make at the gig. No mass email blasts back then. Consequently, the one flier covered 3 months' worth of gigs to save on postage. Three of the five venues listed in the mailing are no more. The format parodied that of those perforated discount fliers from the local supermarkets that used to flood my mailbox. I don't know about you, but I'm not getting any of those these days. And I used to be a lot more creative with my gig mailings back then. A bit silly perhaps, but I kinda like it. It gave me a grin, so maybe it'll give you a grin too.


August 6, 2022
Perseids Meteor Shower

Next Friday, August 12th will be the peak of this year's Perseids Meteor Shower. This annual period of increased "shooting star" activity has long held a soft spot in my heart, thanks to a series of events that happened to me about 50 years ago.

I have a brother, Saul, about six years younger than me. Throughout most of my childhood, the two of us did not get along, and I hold myself largely responsible for that state of affairs. I suppose I could fall back on what a shrink might diagnose as a resentment against his replacing me in our parents' affection after six years of being an only child. We never had any real common interests that might have resulted in some sort of bonding. But whatever the reason, I did not treat him lovingly so long as we both lived under the same roof. After I moved out on my own at age 24, the issue sort of became moot, since we no longer encountered each other on a daily basis, and the hostilities between us dwindled to a simmer.

Until one day in the early 70s in the summer between his junior and senior years (I think) of college. I had lived at home during my college years, attending the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. (I grew up in New York City.) But Saul went away to MIT. Rather than coming home for the summer that year, he, along with 2 or 3 friends rented a farmhouse in central Massachusetts for the summer. Things had healed between us to some extent, but I was rather surprised to receive from him an invitation to come up and visit the farmhouse over the weekend of the Perseids. We would hang out, have a cookout, play frisbee, get high, and when it got dark we'd go outside and count meteors.

I did not fully realize it at the time, but it was the rapprochement, the breaking of the dam of resentment in our relationship. He had morphed from being this pain-in-the-ass kid with whom I was forced to share a bedroom (He would put it the other way around.), to being a fully-formed adult with whom was fun to hang out. And as it turned out, we did have some common interests in music and frisbee and smoking grass, and other stuff. It was a magical weekend and a magical day, capped off by an incident that was almost truly magic.

After we tired of counting shooting stars, we and his friends retired to his bedroom to play a game of Blacklight Parcheesi. Blacklight Parcheesi is exactly the same as regular Parcheesi, except you paint the board and the pieces with phosphorescent paint, get stoned, shut off the room lights, and illuminate the game with an ultraviolet lamp.

Now this farmhouse was also populated by a trio of black, long-haired kittens about 6 or 8 months old. The kittens liked to play Blacklight Parcheesi too. But they didn't understand the rules, and kept messing up the board. So we would bundle them out of the room, and shut the door. The old house had plenty of gaps and orifices and broken screens where a cat could get in and out. Which they did. They would make their way outside, and up onto the roof of a shed or garage or something outside Saul's bedroom window, climb up to the screen, and demand to be let inside with plaintive cries of, "Mew! Mew! Mew!" When we turned our heads to the sound, all we could see in the blackness beyond the screen were the shining teeth and eyes of three black kittens, illuminated by the UV lamp. Three real live honest-to-God Cheshire cats!

So we'd open the screen, scoop them up, and toss them out the bedroom door again. And in 10 or 15 minutes, they'd be back outside the screen again, demanding entry. It was a game they liked better than blacklight Parcheesi.

It was indeed a magical weekend, and a watershed experience in the relationship between Saul and me. And ever since then, I've had the Perseids Meteor Shower on August 12th marked in my calendar as an ongoing bookmark. Saul still lives in Massachusetts We're not exactly close, but we stay in touch, calling each other every now and then to relate things that are happening to us, or just to chew the fat. And every now and then, there will be an occasional visit in one direction or another. He comes to see me perform sometimes when I'm playing in the area. I called him last week to see if he might have me come up for a visit on the night of the Perseids. But he and his girlfriend will be running a bridge tournament starting on the following Saturday, and won't be able to host me.

Well, maybe next year. Meanwhile I'll find someone else to go with, or go out and watch 'em myself.

May 26, 2022
Embarrassment of Riches

Click on images for a full screen view.

As delivered

As stacked

As some of you may know, I heat my home with wood. (See my May 26, 2020 Blog entry, Heating With Wood) Last winter's supply came largely from various downed trees in the neighborhood, which my friend Larry Flanigan had helped me collect and transport in his pickup to my garage, where I split it by hand. (You can see the remains of the split wood behind the new stuff in the 2nd photo.) It's a task I don't mind doing. It's good exercise, and there is something in the job that gives the anal-retentive portion of my mind a mindless sense of satisfaction and accomplishment as I watch the ordered stacks of split wood grow. It's progress in the engineer's ongoing battle against ever-increasing entropy.

Well, I still had a cord and a half left over, but it wouldn't carry me through the next winter. But Larry told me about a landscaper who was looking for someone to take some wood off his hands. I contacted him, and arranged for a delivery. Yesterday that delivery arrived in an enormous industrial-sized dump truck, and it was more than I had bargained for. About 2-1/2 or 3 cords, sawn to length, but unsplit as I had specified, in an enormous pile on my driveway. Some of those rounds were 80 to 100 pounds; more than I could handle. So I called my friend Pablo, who is younger and stronger than me. He came over with his son (younger still and just as strong), and helped me stack them in my garage practically up to the ceiling. Oh, goody! Now I'll have the fun (?) of splitting them, and I think I'll be set for firewood all the way through the winter of 2023-24. And all for $200, plus another $60 to Pablo for his services. Not a bad bargain.

April 8, 2022
New York Botanical Garden

It has been a long, dreary (but not all that cold) winter. A "winter" that's dragged on for over two years in the form of COVID-19. With the onset of April, and the apparent retreat (Knock wood!) of COVID, I had the hankering to get out and do something springlike. Looking in my calendar, I saw that The Folk Project was also emerging from COVID hibernation on Friday, April 8th with a concert by folk legend, Tom Paxton. So I called up my sweetheart Jenny in Vermont, and said, "C'mon down, and let's celebrate spring." The New York Botanical Garden is always a treat to visit, and the onset of spring is the perfect time. We looked in our calendars, and at the weather map, and the choices suddenly narrowed. While the weekend before had been sunny in the high 60s, the whole preceding week looked to be rainy, with the possible exception of the concert day itself. And as it turned out, Jenny had a rehearsal in Amherst, MA at 11:00 AM Saturday. So we resolved to squeeze a whole weekend into one day.

Click the photo below for the Travelogue.

Click photo to enter Travelogue


March 22, 2022
Motorcycle (1)

Here it is, Spring already, and I have not written a Blog entry yet this year. Well, be fair. We are two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and I haven't been doing very much worth reporting. So I thought maybe I'd tell a story or two from my past. For 25 years I rode motorcycles. Anyone who rode a bike for that long will have stories to tell. If he's still alive to tell them. This will be the first of several that will appear in this Blog from time to time.


Not my bike, but the same model

For most of those 25 years, I rode a 900cc 1976 BMW R90s, which I bought sometime around 1980. (Prior to that I had a Suzuki 400cc motocross and a Yamaha 350cc street bike.) The Bimmer was without doubt a classy-looking bike. That's why I chose it. I never got involved in "biker" society. Never joined any clubs or went on any long journeys with others. It was strictly transportation, a personal choice, and a way of using a minimum of space and natural resources when I didn't need to be carrying anything more than myself and what I could fit in my saddle bags, while having a little fun in the process.

At least that's what I told myself. In reality, the gas savings with the bike were pretty minimal at best. I was getting around 28 - 30 MPG with my car, while the bike only got 34 - 36, and required premium octane. Nonetheless, I stuck to my resolve of taking the bike instead of the car whenever I could, even going so far as to ride throughout the winter. I replaced that snazzy-looking bullet fairing with a larger one that better protected me from the wind. I installed electrically heated handgrips and "Hippo-Hands", a pair of leather shrouds that snapped over the handlebars and covered my forearms up to the elbow. I wore down-insulated parka and snow pants when it got cold. I wouldn't say I was warm and toasty when it was 10° out, but it was quite bearable. Yeah, it was pretty irrational, but most people who ride bikes have a stupid-center somewhere in their brains.

This particular motorcycle story involves a trip I took to visit my friend Danny Ruvin in Bala Cynwyd, PA, just west of Philly one summer day. That's about a 100 mile journey for me, mostly on interstates. But the last leg of the trip took me along Roosevelt Boulevard (US Route 1). Roosevelt Boulevard is a major urban thoroughfare through a mostly residential and shopping area of Philadelphia. There are three main travel lanes in each direction with a grassy median between them, and two service lanes each direction, also separated from the main travel lanes by medians. There are cross streets and traffic lights as well, and traffic will routinely be zipping along at 45 - 50 MPH if there's no congestion.

Needless to say an experienced biker will be doubly on the alert in all directions in such a situation. So my hair trigger danger-alert went off when my eyes caught a flurry of movement in my rear view mirrors. At first it was not particularly clear what was going on. There were headlights behind me (It was daytime.) swerving left and right amidst the traffic, and getting closer. And then I heard the noise. It resolved itself to be a pack of motorcycle crazies, traveling a good 10 to 15 MPH faster than the rest of the traffic changing lanes, passing cars between lanes, and coming up fast. Their bikes were souped-up high-revving models with minimal or no mufflers, and these guys were on a tear!

What to do? They would be upon me in seconds, and there was no way to avoid them. I resolved to do absolutely nothing, driving absolutely straight with no variation in speed, so as to be as predictable an obstacle as possible. And then they were on me and I was amongst them. And for what seemed like 5 minutes, but was probably more like one, I was just one more blob for them to maneuver around. And then they were past me and gone, and peace again reigned, and my heart slowed to its normal pace.

And I understood! I didn't condone, but I understood. For those brief few seconds it was all flashing movement and noise and split-second reactions and adrenaline. It was like finding myself on a black diamond ski slope that was beyond my abilities to negotiate, and all I could do was react instinctively to survive. And it was exciting! I liked it! I wanted more!

And then it was over.

I now knew why people do things like that. Particularly youngsters who are immortal in their own minds. I would never knowingly put myself in that situation. My stupid-center isn't that big. But I felt the rush, and can understand the seduction of that rush.

I wonder how many of those guys lived to see their 70th birthdays.

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