Last Thursday (April 29) I went on a Subway Music Tour with the energetic fabulous entertaining interesting artist/illustrator Zina Saunders as a part of the Gel conference (on of my favorite conferences). The Gel conference is basically a 2day summer camp for adults, only it’s in spring. This year it was a combination of technology, design, community, social consciousness, military, religion, art, music, politics, robots, inspiration, joy, whimsy, and some friends I hadn’t seen since last year’s Gel conference.
The conference is just 2 days, with choices of activities on the first day (this year I chose the music tour, and last year I went on an underground tunnel tour in Brooklyn) and an intriguing day of live music and presentations on the second day.
Everyone we talked with who plays in the subway mentioned that it’s a good place to rehearse/practice and, hopefully, make money too, though some of the musicians commented on how much they are ignored by all of the people who walk by. The Ebony Hillbillies performed at the conference on the second day of the conference and said that they use their subway performance times as rehearsal time/space.
Natalia Paruz was studying to be a dancer when she was in an accident that stopped her dance career. She saw someone playing the musical saw when she was in Austria and asked how to learn to play it. She was told to buy a saw at a hardware store and figure it out. She figured it out! She straps an iPod to her leg which plays backup music through an amp and a speaker while she plays her saw. Often people think she’s singing and she has to show them that it’s the saw, not her voice.
One of the musicians we chatted with and listened to was Luke Ryan at grand central station. He pointed to all of the people who walked by without looking at him and diagnosed and identified and stereotyped them and then mused about the commonalities and correlations between people who listen or stop or talk with subway musicians and those who don’t. Can Hunch figure out what inspires or motivates someone to listen or stop or talk or give money to a subway musician? Luke mentioned that he’d like to gather together the 30 or so people who pay attention to him every day and have a banquet — figuring that if they could all sit at a table together, he’d easily figure out what they all have in common. That’d be a fantastic dinner party!
While I was on the plane, flying to NYC for this conference, I received an email that my grandma (my dad’s mom) had died. Within the next day the funeral had been set for Sunday. I had plans for Saturday and Sunday in NYC with friends. By Friday I had decided I’d change my plans, change my plane ticket, buy a new plane ticket, reserve a rental car, and go to my grandma’s funeral.
I hadn’t seen her in a long time (I wasn’t as close to her as I was to my other grandma who died last year). We exchanged cards and photos at Christmas every year. She was always kind and gentle. She made a sock monkey for me as a child that I still have and that my 5 1/2 year old daughter now claims as her own. She spent almost all of her adult life as a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and finally, before she died, a great-great-grandmother. I loved the huge family gatherings with my dad’s family when I was a kid, with so many cousins and aunts and uncles and chaos and noise and diversity.
So I flew home to San Francisco on Saturday (instead of Sunday). My wife had tickets for the NCLR party that night and left a ticket for me on the counter. I changed into a tux and a ruffly shirt (in solidarity with Constance McMillen and Ceara Sturgis who were at the party and had suffered discrimination at their high schools due to wearing or wanting to wear a tux). I checked my wild einstein-curly hair in a mirror and went to find Moya at the party.
The next morning I put on a black suit and went back to the airport to fly to Portland, Oregon, get a rental car, and drive to the church for the funeral. All of my aunts and uncles and cousins were there, but my parents weren’t there. My younger brother read a letter from my dad recanting some sweet stories about my grandma (my dad’s mom). When my dad was a child, my grandma made him 3 shirts all from the same fabric, so people thought he was always wearing the same shirt, not 3 different shirts that were exactly the same. After the funeral at the church, there was a drive to a cemetary to bury my grandma, and then a drive back to the church for a meal with everyone. While sitting at a table with all of my siblings, with relatives and other people stopping by to chat with us, I remembered Luke Ryan’s comment that he’d like to have a banquet table for the 30+ people who stop by every day. Those 30+ people might not have as much in common as he hopes, or they might. In a large room in a church with most of my relatives, who I rarely see, I realized we all have our humanity in common, and that’s enough to treat people with graciousness even if they’re nervous around me or ignore me for whatever reason.