Frank’s Social Experiment: Music

The following took place later in Frank’s life. You’ll be happy to know that he did indeed find a new job, and a friend, and that he kept bicycling with his bicycle group and had numerous adventures with them. But these are all parts of his story I’m not ready to tell, yet. Eventually, Frank decided he wanted a new hobby.

“Okay, so you play B – good. Then E, A, D, G, C, F. Now comes the tricky part! You’re going to Repeat those – but flat this time. B flat, E flat, D, G – and then start the circle over. This is the circle of fourths.”


It didn’t make total sense. It didn’t even make partial sense. But it was a logical picture set before Frank—the musical notes, sitting in a circle, related to each other via some voodoo magic or 12-pointed mystical diagram.

There was an order to the notes, Frank was noticing however—some notes sounded good together, like a sentence formed with a pleasing structure. It rolled off the tongue, or in this case, out of Frank’s guitar as he twanged an artless melody.

“Good job, Frank,” said Mr. Hebert, Frank’s teacher. He was a broad shouldered, burly man with a cigarette dangling from one corner of his mouth, observing Frank’s playing from behind his slightly drooped, puffy eyelids.

“You’re getting it. Now, you’ll have to practice that a bunch more times. But see now—any time you’re playing in a key, you’ve got your tonic note, right?”

Frank nodded. Tonic—the home base. “Doe.” The center where songs often began and rested most easily.

“And you’ve also got your dominant and subdominant notes, right? So if you’re in the key of G major, there are a couple major chords that are gonna fit with a tonic of G, right?”

“Right,” said Frank. He wasn’t sure what else to say.

“Right—so the cool thing is, with the circle of fourths I just showed you, the dominant and subdominant notes are always gonna be right next to whatever the tonic is. Okay, so what’s the order again?” Mr. Hebert twisted his colorfully beaded necklace as a hint.

“B – E – A – D,” said Frank, before being interrupted.

“That’s enough,” said Mr. Hebert. “Okay, so A—based on what you just said, what notes are on either side of it in the circle?”

“Um, well. E. And D, I guess,” said Frank.

“Exactly!” said Mr. Hebert, “The dominant and subdominant notes! His eyes glinting through the cigarette smoke. “So anytime you can’t remember, just think about your circle.”

Mr. Hebert tapped off the ash from his cigarette, took a final pull from the stub, and then smothered it in an ashtray sitting on the window sill of his screened back porch.

Frank sat patiently. He didn’t know what was next. Birds chattered in the backyard, a well-kept lawn mixed with a small garden and flowerbeds. A cardinal—one of the few birds Frank could recognize—flew by.

Mr. Hebert was gazing thoughtfully towards his backyard. “Frank,” he said, finally. “There’s something you need to understand about music. There’s a lot to it. You’ll never get to the bottom of it, but there’s one thing that I have found to be true: music is meant to be shared.”

Mr. Hebert paused. It was a theatrical affectation, perhaps, but Frank didn’t mind.

“You hear that bird?” said Mr. Hebert. “That’s a tufted titmouse. You can tell because they go ‘Peter-peter-peter.’ Well, just like they share their music, we humans have to share ours too. When we don’t, we lose interest–we become discouraged.”

“So,” said Mr. Hebert, concluding his speech, “This has been a one-time lesson. You want to come again, fine. You want to go it alone and learn through YouTube or whatever kids these days are using….that’ s fine too. Just make sure if you aren’t sharing your music with me, that you’re sharing it with someone. Find a place to play, a person to play for. That way, you’ll stick with it.”

Frank nodded. Behind the cigarette smoke and beer breath, he had heard something true, he thought.

“Now that’ll be forty bucks. And get out of here,” said Mr. Hebert with a chuckle.

In Memoriam (Parts of Our Time Together)

Danielle “What is wrong with you?” Phillips has passed on to a new job opportunity unexpectedly at the age of 24. Danielle leaves behind six team members, some of whom are admittedly more beloved than others, as well as approximately 350 other coworkers.

Danielle was adept at speedily accomplishing whatever tasks were thrown her way, sometimes fielding as many as five to six complicated “high priority” requests in a single morning. However, her duties and accomplishments are not all that interesting to talk about, comparatively, for despite Danielle’s high level of professional performance, she was, quite frankly, a weird individual. She loved nothing more than regaling her coworkers with strange statements and stories, only some of which were slightly exaggerated, and always tried to make up for whatever oddness she had put everyone through in the last week by bribing key players with chocolate every Friday.

The most frequent target of Danielle’s bizarreness was her team member Anna, who bore with Danielle’s fits of manic energy (often precipitated by boredom) and subsequent harassment about as well as could reasonably be expected. Danielle’s plethora of only-funny-to-her-jokes, pretence of not understanding certain common words and phrases, and propensity for random, piercing stares were standard issue. One-time “projects” included spending an entire day devoted to utilizing the expression “How do you like them apples?” as often as possible (“Do you like sauce? How about them apple sauce?”), convincing Anna that different colored M&Ms were different flavors and that you could ripen fruit by throwing it against a wall, and an extended monologue concerning the elements of “Fresting” season, a (as Anna eventually learned, completely made up) time when birds go around pecking various objects in order to determine whether or not they are a tree. Anna endured all this and more with only a near-perpetual frown on her face, numerous whimpers, and frequent usage of the phrase: “Don’t talk to me for the rest of the day.”

Likewise, Tom finally realized that Danielle had no real end goal when she asked him to describe in detail every meal he was having – she just liked food and was curious how much of his time she could waste. Danielle was also the reason Justin, a soul whose vacancy was often mistaken for congeniality, once exclaimed “Enough with the cookies!” in a fiercer tone than the team had ever heard him use.

Danielle’s other accomplishments include forging Tom’s business cards, to prove she could, composing a sci-fi-esque theme song for the company’s social media team, to prove she could, and using an empty paper ream box to construct a southwestern diorama, complete with circling vultures, to prove she could. She was the receiver of approximately four Coca-Colas as the result of winning a variety of bets, one of which consisted of sneaking the phrase “Engage with Zorp” (an expression from the hit NBC sitcom, Parks & Recreation) into [redacted]. Other pastimes included roaming the hallways and identifying every security camera in the building, even the camouflaged ones in the break rooms, and searching for whichever vending machine contained the last bag of coveted white cheddar popcorn.

Danielle’s proudest accomplishment in her time at her now former employer was personally throwing out the decaying and musty-smelling fake flowers in the women’s restroom, after the responsibility for doing so was passed back and forth and back and forth between so many official individuals that she decided to just take matters into her own hands. However, contrary to popular rumor, Danielle did not “once eat a banana peel out of the garbage.” Rather, she once took about a dozen overripe bananas that were in a box in the third floor trash can, and made banana bread out of them, and it was delicious, allegedly.

Please take time commemorate Danielle and all her hard work by making one of her favorite noises: a high-pitched shriek reminiscent of a velociraptor, a loud call resembling a cross between a goat and a bagpipe, or the morbid moo of a morose whale.

The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya

Sunday morning means banana-nut muffins, so why has Dr. Agard broken the routine?  Why did he decide to take a nap on the floor?  Why doesn’t he praise his parrot Zeno’s accomplishments like usual?  The professor’s African grey parrot grows impatient, noisy, and destructive as he tries to wake his “servant.”  When the professor’s assistant and men in blue arrive and take Dr. Agard away, Zeno decides to fly out the front door and find a new “servant” and banana-nut muffins for himself.

Zeno and Alya

Accustomed to a life of muffins, Greek philosophy, and praise, how will Zeno survive in the wilds of Brooklyn, New York?  Though well-versed in 127 words and 64 sounds, Zeno is ignorant of such things as home, friendship, and basic survival.  He is puffed up with pride in his own beauty and brilliance, and his favorite words are “Zeno wants!”  Everything begins to change, however, after Zeno’s blunderings and muffin-cravings lead him to the bedroom window of a girl recovering from leukemia.

Alya used to be active and outgoing, used to play sports and climb monkey bars, used to have a laugh that outshone a whisper.  Now, though, she lies still in her bedroom, engulfed by a hospital bed.  She is too weak to climb the house stairs, too dispirited to try.  Her mother, father, her brother Parker, and her friends Kiki and Liza try to cheer her up, but they never know what to say or how to help.  That’s why, when hungry Zeno taps at her window, asks for her banana-nut muffins, and urges her to “try!” to get them for him, Alya doesn’t forget the parrot.  After Alya’s mother Mrs. Logan sends the parrot packing, Alya still remembers Zeno’s exhortation and realizes that she has lost the power to “try” and wants to regain it.  Maybe Zeno can help, if she can ever find him again.

Soon the main characters of The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya by Jane Kelley are caught up in difficulties which will teach them about home, friendship, strength, and themselves – and which will hopefully teach their audience as well.

banana nut muffinP.S. I wanted to share this yummy banana-nut muffin recipe I enjoyed just this past weekend.  Zeno would undoubtedly relish it.  Check it out here at Crafty Cooking Mama.

P.P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about one of this book’s references to ancient philosophy, read Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Friendship.”  The final paragraph of the essay relates to a concept which I first encountered in The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya about a friend being “another I.”  I think Bacon expounds quite well on what this can mean.  This connection between something I learned in a children’s book and from a 17th century English philosopher is another reason why I enjoyed Zeno and Alya and why I love reading widely.

FSE Ch. 5: Avoidance Patterns

Frank had been in an avoidance pattern for much of the day; he needed to complete another job application, but the thought of poring over encyclopedic questionnaires, double and triple and quadruple checking his cover letter and resume for typos, and looking up references, made the thought of having a tooth pulled seem pleasant.

But, fortunately for Frank, there were many other really important things to be done during the day. Though Frank had not cleaned his house in over 6 months, he decided that today was the day for this: it had started with vacuuming his living room, but after this, the clean, perked-up carpet felt so good under his toes that he decided, as long as he was vacuuming, he might as well vacuum his whole house. So he did this. While vacuuming under the edge of his bed, Frank discovered several boxes of action figures and college class notes socked away under his bed–those would need to be organized. And while vacuuming the bathroom, Frank found dust and stuck-on spots on the floor. So after vacuuming, he got out his swiffer and began to mop the bathroom, scrubbing the problem spots furiously.

In a way, it was therapeutic. Feeling satisfaction at seeing a gleamy shine on the white-and-green tile. Frank leaned for a minute on the swiffer, resting his leg–he had been limping less, but his leg became tired easily and still hurt occasionally. Just then, his cell phone rang.

“Hi Dad,” said Frank.

“Hey, sport,” said Bruce’s beaming voice. “How are you doing today?”

“Okay,” said Frank. “Well, great!–actually. I’ve been cleaning my apartment today. Vacuumed, mopped, organized–just finishing now.”

“Ah. Nice, son. How’s the leg?”

“Doing better,” said Frank.

“Great. Oh, how are those job applications going? Applied to that Reliant Solutions position yet?”

“No, not yet,” said Frank, feeling shame at the admission.

There was a pause on the other end of the phone. Frank’s dad was never one to tell Frank what he was thinking, but Frank knew the pause and what he must do: it was time to fill out some more applications.

Sitting down at his computer, Frank resisted the urge to head immediately to Reddit or YouTube to watch videos. Joblessness had had a deleterious effect on his self-discipline, but he knew that, eventually, he would burn through his savings, and then – BOOM – his vacation would be over.

Job. He needed a job. 5 applications in 5 hours. Could such a heroic feat be possible? Frank thought to himself. He was about to find out.