Thursday, August 15, 2019


This is a (sort of) continuation of my previous post.

The past few days here in Daniel Boone Land have been ......particularly trying.
Let's begin with last Sunday and work our way up to the exciting climax.

Wasps are building nests everywhere around the house. That's nothing new, but this year they are extremely aggressive wasps. They attack with sudden, unexpected force like Kamikazi pilots. I was stung three times this summer.

Lately the wasps have been building a nest directly above the back door and every time I open it I get attacked.
On Sunday morning I cautiously opened the door and one  flew inside the house. It immediately hit my left hand and stung me under the thumb.

I always have bad reactions from insect bites, but this one was the worst. The pain subsided within a few hours, but my hand swelled like an inflated rubber glove - accompanied by intense itching.

By Monday morning my gigantic hand itched like an anthill and the itching was traveling down my wrist.

As if this wasn't enough, my back went "out". I always have severe back trouble due to old spinal injuries - but sometimes my back completely malfunctions and the pain is too excruciating to move.

While I'm scratching my ravaged hand and limping like Quasimodo, I suddenly get a bout of dysentery - courtesy of eating too much fermented cantaloupe and ice cream.

On Tuesday morning things are no better. I'm scratching, limping, and battling the shits.

I limp into the bedroom (wearing nothing but my underwear)  and notice that Bosco (the cat) is intensely looking at something.
That "something" is hiding behind an antique trunk at the foot of my bed.

Fighting my reluctance to face another problem, I eventually force myself to take a peek at the interloper.
It's grey, curled up, and has a tail.

I assume that it's a 'possum. I've already had two previous 'possums in the house. They're more annoying than scary.
I limp to the garage and drag in a cage. I put a bowl of cat food in the cage and carefully position the cage near the 'possum. That's how I caught the last two.

After ushering Bosco out of the room, I limp to the kitchen and get a broom. Perhaps I can coax the critter into the cage.

Imagine my surprise when I return to the bedroom.....and the critter is gone.

Imagine my HORROR...

okay, we can all scream now

......when I turn around and see a big snake sticking out of one of my dresser drawers!!!!!! ( I had left the drawer halfway open).

 I grabbed my camera and took this for posterity

My numb mind was having trouble registering reality.
That was no 'possum! It's a gargantuan serpent from hell!

I grabbed a trash can and the broom and VERY CAUTIOUSLY tried to coax the revolting reptile into the can.
It made a horrifying hissing sound, slithered into the drawer, and disappeared!!

I retreated from the bedroom and slammed the door shut. 

Now I'm limping, scratching, and shaking like a pansy in a zephyr.

Despite my agonizing back and knocking knees, I manage to get to the kitchen and....

You are not going to believe this, but I swear to Gawd Almighty it's true

....there's a small BIRD flying around!!!! It must have gotten in when I left the front door open a crack to let my other cat Kitzee out.

So there's a mega snake in my dresser drawer and a wild sparrow in the kitchen. It's like an expunged episode of Wild Kingdom.

I somehow managed to corner the bird and cup him in my good hand. Then I guide him out the front door. He was eager to leave.

I'm only assuming the bird was a he. It could've been a she.

 I start reading everything I can find about snakes on the Internet.
"Never fear snakes. They are our friends."

Yea. Tell that to Adam and Eve.

I cut through the PETA crap and start reading about the poisonous snakes of Tennessee.
Then I study photos, trying to identify the snake in the drawer. It's a complete impossibility.

The crash course on serpents is getting me nowhere. I'm clueless and afraid to go back in the bedroom. 

By now it's early evening. I eventually open the bedroom door a crack. The snake is slithering on a bookcase!
How the hell can they climb so good with no limbs??

I slowly approach, armed with a broom. The thing starts hissing again, slides down, and quickly disappears under a chest of drawers.
This time I'm determined to trap him. I grab everything I can find (boxes, books, etc) and block the entire area under the chest of drawers. I figure there's no way he can get out.

It's getting dark. I valiantly decide to wait until morning to capture him.
AND I courageously decide to sleep in my room.
Hell, this isn't the first time I ever slept with a snake......

I keep a bright light on.
I keep my myopic eyes peeled for danger.
I keep reassuring myself that the revolting reptile is safely imprisoned under the chest of drawers.

Dawn finally arrives.

At this point - trying to make a long story short is a complete impossibility.

 Despite my bad back, swollen hand, and monumental apprehension - I decide to take action quickly. Armed with a broom and plastic trashcan.....
I cautiously look under the chest of drawers.

The snake is gone.

While trying to keep from swooning, I limp into the living room and discover Bosco - - who is completely preoccupied with something.
It's the snake, hiding behind a box and hissing like a deflating dirigible.

After two dozen tries, I finally manage to swoosh the snake out from behind the box. It coils up. I grab a large plastic trash can and plop it over him.
Then I carefully maneuver the trash can to the front door. I lift it slightly and the snake quickly slithers out, over the porch, down the steps, and into the yard.
It looks three feet long.

He's unnervingly close to the house, but what the hell else could I do - - drive him to Nashville?

Here's the big question:
Is this a happy ending?

My hand is no longer swollen, but still extremely itchy.
My back hurts but I'm not exactly limping.
And I'm snake-free. At least for the moment.

It'll take a few months for a sufficient psychological recovery, and I now have another phobia on my (very) long list of woodland horrors. But I'll survive.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019



So, how has my life been going lately?

Let's put it this way: the unmitigated   joy of living in the wilderness is so intense that I usually keep the blissful details to myself - in order not to alarm anyone. 

To fully describe my August adventures (so far) would be excruciatingly long, so I'll start with something simple and uncomplicated - - like the gnats.

Every August, for the four long years that I've lived here, there has been a mercilessly unceasing influx of gnats. I'm not talking a few gnats for a few days. I'm talking one of the plagues of Egypt.

The gnats completely and thoroughly infiltrate the house and there's no way to stop them. They descend upon everything - food, trash cans, sinks, tables, countertops - they thrive in the cat's food and litter boxes. 

To make matters worse, they are EXTREMELY aggressive - attacking my face, racing up my nose, trying to get into my mouth.
It's nearly impossible to eat a meal. I have to keep the food covered while I'm trying to take a bite. And I keep a small fan on the table in the feeble hope of blowing them away.

I left a cantaloupe on the kitchen counter overnight and they descended upon it with the unholy enthusiasm of Aesop's feast.
 It was the only analogy I could think of.

They scurry along the pages of books while I'm reading in bed, and if I happen to fall asleep they buzz in my ears - rudely interrupting erotic dreams.

Their unrelenting presence and indefatigable persistence is enough to make a grown man cry. I speak from experience.

As I'm writing this post, they're playing hopscotch on the computer keys and laughing at the table fan that I have on to dissuade them.

A frantic search on the Internet revealed one ploy to fight back: vinegar.
A bowl of vinegar (with a few added drops of dishwashing liquid) attracts them like flies on a cow pie. Or Democrats on a fake collusion. Sorry - I couldn't resist.

I usually place a bowl of vinegar in (nearly) every room. It doesn't completely alleviate the agony of the gnats, but it does decrease the attendance at their Bacchanalia.

 This is a bowl of vinegar (an old sherbet container) that I had out for only an hour, and it attracted scores of gnats.

I'm going to divide this post into two parts because it's getting kinda long.

Brace yourselves, boys and girls.
The gnats are going to look like a ride at Disneyland, compared to the next horrifying tale I'm going to tell you.

You won't believe what happened to me these past few days.
Stay tuned for the dramatic (hair-raising) conclusion. Coming soon!

Sunday, August 11, 2019


This is an encore of a post I wrote a few years ago. Heck, I'm in a blue mood....

As I looked back at the sprawling smog-drenched cityscape of Los Angeles on that sweltering September afternoon, I knew in my heart that I was leaving forever and would never return.

This isn't the place to dissect the reasons why I left. It's merely a  personal channel to release a surge of nostalgic fondness and golden memories - an arrangement in blue, with love.

Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin holds a significant place in my final year in California. It was the last thing that I ever performed there at a public concert (in August). It was also the music that was playing in my mind on that day as I gazed at the L.A. skyline for the last time.

For that reason, Rhapsody in Blue, for me, is synonymous with nostalgic farewells.

I wrote a solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue when I was in my mid-twenties and living in Hollywood. It has become a personal favorite of all my piano arrangements, and the one that is definitely the most difficult to play. The pianist does all the work - there's no orchestral backup.

Initially, I was never fond of Rhapsody in Blue. It just wasn't geared to my pianistic style. As I studied the music and wrote the arrangement, however, I grew to love it - and to fully appreciate Gershwin's unique harmonic genius.

I've made several recordings of my Rhapsody in Blue arrangement. The one on my YouTube video (above) was made (long ago) at a friend's private music studio nestled in the Hollywood Hills. It was near midnight on a hot summer night. After ingesting a few glasses of Madeira, I sat at the piano and recorded it in one take with no edits. No easy task, considering the length and extreme difficulty of the piece - and the detrimental influence of my semi-inebriation.

Gershwin - 1898-1937

Bandleader Paul Whiteman commissioned George Gershwin to write a piece for piano and orchestra, which would be included in a concert at Aeolian Hall in New York. Gershwin began writing the music in January, 1924 - and the premiere took place on February 12th.

Since Gershwin wasn't completely adept at orchestration, he initially wrote the piece for two pianos. Composer Ferde Grofe (who wrote the Grand Canyon Suite) orchestrated the score for the premiere - and Gershwin improvised the piano part.

Grofe later revised his orchestration in 1926 and again in 1942. These are the arrangements that are most widely known today.

Gershwin originally called his composition American Rhapsody. It was his brother Ira who suggested the title Rhapsody in Blue. Ira was inspired by an exhibition of paintings by James Whistler - especially one entitled Arrangement in Grey and Black (better known as Whistler's Mother).

My solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue is a humble tribute to Gershwin - and one of my personal crowning musical achievements. 

Jon V.

Video is best viewed full-screen