I just finished an informal rehearsal for our live Christmas show. The bluegrass band will be in top shape. So will the trained elephants, the trapeze act, the fire breather, and the guy juggling Broadman Hymnals. And if things work out, I might even do some clogging on camera.
No, I’m only kidding. There are no elephants. And I can’t clog, not unless I’m at my cousin’s wedding reception and the band starts playing Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” while I’m in line at the open bar.
It’s been a long time since we’ve done our live show. A long, long time. Almost a year now. I can hardly believe it’s been so long. Because at this time last year we were on the road. We’d done 160 shows that year, and my wife and I had crossed almost 40 U.S. states in our little plumber’s utility van. It was just what we did.
Don’t misunderstand me, ours was not a glamorous career. Many times I’d perform before crowds of four or five people who often wore malfunctioning hearing aids and kept shouting, “What’d he say?!”
Like the time my elderly uncle attended one of my performances in Tennessee, and after what I considered a great show, in the theater lobby, my uncle’s first words to me were, “I forgot my hearing aids.”
So I hugged him and laughed, and I told him “I love you.” Then, in a brief moment of sincerity, which only shows you the affection between us, he answered, “What the hell did he just say, Eulah?”
But anyway, after all that performing in different places I had become exhausted inside and out, right down to my internal organs. Cheap hotel continental breakfast food had become the affliction of my existence. I was sick of riding in vans. There were definitely downsides to life on the road, but altogether it was a blast. And it’s a shame I didn’t realize I was having the most fun of my lifetime.
Also, lest I forget, performing was my actual job.
Meaning, when the pandemic hit I lost my freaking job. I don’t want to harp on this subject because there are too many people out there who have things WAY worse than me. I have a friend, for example, who got fired from his desk job and takes gig-work delivering things, and still somehow works two part-time custodial jobs. Not to mention my cousin had his new Kia repossessed. Although, to be fair, he’s had three repossessions over the years.
But the fact was, I was suddenly unemployed. No more shows. You’re fired, kid. Bye. And unemployment messes with your self esteem.
I’ve never NOT had a job. Not since I was 14, when I started hanging drywall on a construction jobsite, where my coworkers played KC and the Sunshine Band cassettes on repeat for, literally, eight hours each day. To this day, if I hear “Shake, Shake, Shake Your Booty,” I start to break into cold sweats and fight the urge to use an orbital sander.
You don’t want to even know what happens when I hear “That’s the Way (I Like It).”
When the global pandemic slammed into Alabama like a runaway boxcar we were in Birmingham, doing our final show. Although I had no idea it would be our last one. The next night, all our gigs were cancelled until January 1, 2059.
Magic City shut down. Stores closed. Proverbial plywood hung over the windows. On our way home, we drove past mile-long supermarket lines, and saw people racing to cars with armloads of toilet paper.
A few weeks after that: riots broke out in the U.S. The mortality rate was what headlines were now about. And just when it couldn’t get any weirder, I started getting disgruntled hate mail from random readers. I’d rather deal with door-to-door evangelists than hate mail. People just seemed so mad.
Meanwhile, I spent those first months jobless, sitting in my PJs, realizing that, hey, this was for real.
Again, I’m not complaining, I’m merely saying that mental health has not been my strong suit this year. And it’s not just me suffering, but everyone. Thank heaven for this column, it’s been the only thing keeping me from taking juggling lessons.
But enough about me. I tell you these things to get back to this: I am so very, very, very grateful to have something to look forward to again. Although our humble show isn’t for a live audience, only for live cameras, it’s enough for me. Just hearing that fiddle whine again, hearing the mandolin sing; just being part of something fun, and telling my little stories to a microphone will make me feel so useful.
I think that’s what I miss the most. Usefulness. So I suppose I’m writing this because I am glad. Glad to have something to look forward to. I’m grateful for the small things I never paid attention to before. And I’m embarrassed to admit I was so flippant about them once.
But I’m not going to be like that anymore. I hereby promise myself I’m going to pay complete attention to each drop of happiness I find in this life, and hold them in my hand like chocolate covered Pecan Fiddlesticks from Priester’s. Or at the very least, like Pecan Choc-o-Mellows.
I’m not going back to the old me. We are going to put on a live Christmas show, by dog. I will play music with my friends, and I shall cherish every blessed moment that I am given upon this earth.
And if I hear the right song, I might even clog.