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I have the flu today. Or something like it. Something that involves getting blazing hot and then so cold I shake. Something that makes me sweaty and cold at the same time. Something that makes me burrow under three blankets only to kick them all off after twenty minutes. I have something that makes me feel anxious and worried. Something that makes me wonder if I’ll grade all those exams by Monday and then wonder if I’ll ever write the book I had been planning on. Something that makes me think I don’t practice the drums enough and glad that we don’t have gigs lined up. I have something. Something I’ll just call ‘the flu’.

I’m a teacher and calling in sick is more work than just going in sick. It took an hour just to e-mail all the students because I hadn’t entered all their addresses yet into my address book. It also took me a while to figure out how I would change the syllabus if I didn’t go in tomorrow. After awhile a teacher starts to realize it’s more work to miss the class than just to drag in one’s self, hacking, coughing, and sweaty, to teach the damn class. Missing a class just means getting behind. But after an hour of contemplating that, I started getting dizzy and hot again and nauseous and I realized that going in would mean just more of that. So, I e-mailed the students, gave them a revised schedule and went to bed to sweat out the next round of fever.

The flu always reminds me of my first drum set and the day it arrived. I’ve written about the first drum set before (“Drum Set Sick“), but when I have a fever I always remember it again, because the arrival of that green drum set is so vividly connected in my mind with the fever that accompanied. It is almost as if my spirit was telling my body “get ready, life’s never going to be the same.”

And it wasn’t. But since then, almost two years later, Brian and I have decided to stop gigging, for right now. We did a show on Sunday night, the night my fever started coming on and it was the first time since we started playing out that I didn’t want to go.

We were both napping the afternoon before the show. Afternoon naps are customary on gig night. Not being 22 year-olds means we both schedule naps in the afternoon to ready ourselves for the long night ahead of loading gear, setting up, playing, and unloading gear. But Sunday afternoon we didn’t just nap for an hour, we slept. We slept a heavy sleep for 3 or 4 hours and even after waking we both still felt tired. Our schedules must be getting to us, we thought. Too much teaching and grading, we thought. Too many shows, we thought. Do we have to go? I thought. Of course. We have to go. It’s a show.

And so we went, following quietly or usual routines. Once at the venue, I sat at the bar, ordered a club soda and began reading from a book I was to teach the next day. I wore ear plugs while another band played. Eventually, it was our time to set-up and play. The bar had emptied out. Now were just playing to the sound guy who was reading a book at the board and two guys in the back playing pool. I wasn’t in the mood to play. Why am I here? I wondered. And yet, because of all the playing we had done all year and because of the gigs we had done weekly through the summer, I could still play. Meaning, I could play the drums even without concentrating on it. I was sick. And I was still playing, moving effortlessly through parts I used to struggle through. Brian even threw some new songs at me during the set and without thinking about it, I played them. I didn’t worry about finding the right beat, I just played a beat. The flu, which was starting to come on as a kind of fatigue and sleepiness, kept me from worrying about what I was going to do next. Instead, I just played whatever happened next. I just played. Before I new it the 40 minutes were over and we were loading the car, giving another musician a ride home, and unloading at home by 12:30 AM.

The next morning, a Monday morning, Brian rose at 6:30 AM and was out the door by 7 AM. I lingered on in bed, feeling the fatigue from the night before continue on in my bones. By noon, in front of a classroom of students I felt my body grow warm and sweaty and my limbs begin to shake imperceptibly. Oh shit. I’m sick. I canceled my next class and drove the forty-minute drive with the heat full blast, my body still shivering. When I got home Brian was already in bed, sleeping. He came home between classes to nap.

I slipped into bed, fully clothed.

“When did you get home?” I asked.

“An hour ago.”

“When are you going back?”

“Two-thirty.”

“I’m freezing.” I said, my teeth chattering.

Brian muttered something at me, while I fell into a deep, dark sleep. For the next twelve hours, on and off, I was hot and cold. This morning, I felt slightly better, but as soon as I tried to move too much or do too much the fever would come back and drive me back to bed.

This afternon, after another long day at school, Brian and I talked again about not gigging.

“There was something about that last show,” I said.

“Yeah. I know.” Brian said as I sat down at the kitchen table.

“I didn’t feel like we were accomplishing anything. I feel like were just playing the same old thing even when were doing new songs.”

“I think we need to just record.” Brian said.

“Something needs to change.” I added.

“I know.”

And so we’re not doing shows, for right now. I had an idea for a Christmas EP, five songs, one traditional, 4 originals. I like Christmas songs. I like sleigh bells. I want to play the glockenspiel. I can hear it now: the ringing of bells.

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I saw a friend of mine today who is an animal communicator.  Yes, she talks to the animals.  She had met Jackson the week before I discovered he was a she.

“I thought you could name her “Janet.”  Alicia said with a grin.

“Ha-ha.”

“Or how about LaToya?”

“She’s Jackson now. She’s litter-trained and she’s starting to recognize her name.”

Although, I thought later, if I get 5 rabbits I would name them “Michael,” Jermaine,” “Tito,” etc. and then I’d call them the Jackson Five.

Right now, one rabbit seems like quite enough rabbit for me.

We are new bunny-parents. We want Jackson to grow up happy, do well in school, and attend the right college. We also want our bunny to be healthy. So, we saw the Vet yesterday at Animal House of Chicago, a practice which specializes in “exotics.” A rabbit, we learned, is an exotic.

“Anything that isn’t a cat or a dog is “exotic,” the Vet Tech said as she took the rabbit-history.

“How long have you had him?” she asked.

“Five days.”

“Where did you get him?”

“A pet store.” I said this reluctantly. In philosophy I support heartily animal adoption — all those cats, dog, rabbits in shelters — and I have twinges of guilt that I didn’t get Jackson from a shelter. And yet, we can’t help who we love.

“What does he eat?”

“Half a cup of pellets, two cups of greens, unlimited hay.”

The night before I brought Jackson home I crammed rabbit research and learned what they eat, how to keep them, how to litter train them, when to neuter.

“That’s all good,” she said. “Looks like you did the research.”

Of course, I thought, we’re teachers with advanced degrees. We don’t switch our brands of soymilk without doing research.

After she took the history and said hello to Jackson she fetched the Vet. The wait in between was long and troublesome. Will Jackson have some odd birth defect? Will he have six months to live? Will he require some weird diet?

The Vet was reassuring and helpful. Jackson was lively and seemed inquisitive. He was grooming in front of the Vet which was a good sign. Then the Vet scooped Jackson out of the carrier and had me hold him in a towel while he inserted a scope into his mouth and checked his ears and fur. It was during the fur check that the Vet said, “Uh-oh. I think I saw something move.”

“What?” I asked.

“He looks like he might have lice.”

Lice. Ewww. Sudden pictures came to mind from third grade when one kid would get lice and all the kids in the school would get lined up in the auditorium to have the nurses do a “lice check.” Using popsicle sticks they would part the roots of our hair looking for lice.

“I’m going to have to take him in back and do a tape test,” he said.

“A tape test?”

“We literally take a piece of scotch tape and see if we can catch whatever I saw moving.”

He took Jackson wrapped in his towel to the back while Brian and waited. We waited a while. Meanwhile we worried about life-threatening skin diseases. After 20 or 30 minutes the Vet returned with Jackson scooped up in his arms.

“Well, we have bad news and good news.”

Oh no.

“Bad news: Jackson probably has some sort of louse, although we couldn’t catch it we powdered him with pesticide to kill it off. And the good news: he’s a girl.”

“What?”

“Jackson’s a girl.”

Brian and I looked at each other.

“How can you tell?” I ask.

“Well, it’s hard to tell with these guys when they’re so small, so I had another doctor check it out. If you flip them up that little opening would be round if it was a boy, and square shaped if it’s a girl. We’re pretty sure he’s a girl.”

When he showed me I saw a pink-ish opening in Jackson’s underside. It seemed neither square nor round but I had no idea what I was looking at either.

“Jackson,” I said. “You’re a girl!!”

“Any reason you thought it was a boy?” the tech asked.

“When I found the scab on his butt at the pet store they said he was probably sparring with other males. We just assumed he was a boy. ”

“That makes sense,” she said.

Brian and I then received a revised estimate for what would have been a neutering to a spaying. A neutering costs $350 dollars and a spay, $380. Both figures floored me. A one hundred dollar rabbit just became a five hundred dollar rabbit.

It’s a good thing I love him…uh, her.

Brian and I were in the car with Jackson safely back in his carrier when we pondered the difference.

“Does it bother you if it’s a girl?” He asked.

“No.” I said. “I sort of figured, anyway.”

“How?”

“I don’t know. Something about her name didn’t seem quite right. I mean the name is right, but whenever I said it I wondered if I had gotten it right.”

“Do you want to catch her name?”

“No. I like Jackson. She’ll stay Jackson.”

“Well, honey, looks like you got a trans-gender rabbit.”

“Great. We’ll start a support group.”

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How do we describe falling in love? Is it brown eyes that bat serenely? Is it a fleet-footed gate? The subtle bounce of a rear-end turning a corner? What words describe the feelings of amour when we watch him eat grass?

Ah, there is nothing like bunny-love.

Meet Jackson, the newest member of Short Punks in Love. He was rescued from a pet store on Thursday. It was, perhaps, pity that prompted the purchase. From inside the walls of his fiberglass hutch surrounded by guinea pigs and rabbits, he lifted his rump to me and seemed to say: “Look at my ass!! Look at the bite on my ass! Get me the hell of out of here!”

I lifted him out of the hutch and said to a pet store worker, “Do you know he has a scab on his bottom?”

Without looking up from his task the worker said, “He was probably sparring with another male.”

A duel. How romantic.

We complied with the rabbit’s request, taped him into a cardboard box and brought him home along with $200 worth of rabbit gear. Now, he’s cost at much as some of our music gear.

Hello World. Meet Jackson. Any words, Jackson?

“Kiss my ass.”

Ah, a lively personality to add to Short Punks.

Stay tuned for more on Jackson.

“I had a weird dream last night”

“Oh yeah…what was it?”

“I dreamed we were having a guitar conference in our house.”

“Cool.”

“I didn’t like it though.”

“Why?”

“Because it seemed like a regular conference and they made me wear a name tag.”

“That’s too bad.”

“You liked it.”

“I did?”

“Yeah. You said Jimmy Page was there and he started partying during a session.”

“Ha. You should write on the blog.”

“I think I will.”

Playing the NoteWe did a show on Saturday at The Note. The Note, unlike the bars we play, is an actual music club, where people go with the intention of hearing music and not with the intention of drinking, and “oh look, honey, they have music, too.”

Playing a music club rather than a bar is a promotion of sorts for a band like us. Bars, since they don’t need you to bring in an audience, don’t really care what you play or how you play — as long as it doesn’t bother the customers. Clubs, on the other hand, like their acts to sound a certain way or to have an audience — “the draw” — in order to bring in customers. So, playing a music club is slightly more pressure. I would like to say that we were playing The Note because we’re getting more well-known. But that might be premature. Ten Hundred, Brian’s other band, couldn’t do the show so they tossed it to us. And we were happy to catch it.

The most memorable event of the night had less to do with the fact that we were playing a club and more to do the fact that I had a pretty serious gear malfunction.

We were three songs into the set. “Rosie” set us off pretty well, warmed us up, and got us going. Then “Olivia” started our witty banter. The next song, “Remind Me” — a new one, I am still learning — was when the drummer’s nightmare occurred.

Throughout the set I noticed that the beater of my bass drum kept hitting my shin as I played. That’s unusual. Usually, if the tension is right in the spring it bounces back and hits the head before it hits your shin. But as I played it kept hitting my leg. At one point, the beater head actually got caught inside my pant leg and I stopped my leg for one beat just to lift my leg up and ease the beater out. I kept playing, though. We were two bars into “Remind Me” when, without warning, I saw my white rubber beater head fly out of the bass drum pedal and land somewhere behind me in front of a Marshall stack. My right leg was still going as if there was still a beater but there was no sound. I was pumping my right leg, but there was no sound coming out of the drum because there was no beater hitting the head. The sound of an absent bass drum is the loudest sound I’ve ever heard.

Brian had no idea what was going on. He kept playing and then looked at me when he didn’t hear the bass drum. I tried to shout over the guitar that my bass drum was broken but Brian couldn’t hear me. And we were still playing. My right hand was still ticking time on the hi-hat, my left hand was still hitting the snare, and no my right hand, to make up for the missing bass drum, was striking beats on the floor tom. But we didn’t stop. Brian launched into the verse and I tried to make up for the missing sound of the bass drum by playing the rack and floor toms alternately. I started pushing the hi-hat to keep the momentum going. The next three minutes were the longest and the most demanding of my life. I kept going, tapping out splashing rhythms on the ride to cover the empty spaces where there was supposed to be a bass drum. I used an alternating rhythm on the snare to fill out what the ride couldn’t cover and then when I could I played the rack toms in the biggest fills I could do. The whole time I pushed the time on the hi-hat.

At one point, the drummers from the other bands, rushed to the stage with their drums pedals and held them up to me to offer them as a replacement. All I could think was, “I’m in the middle of a song here…I can’t change now!”

When the song was over, I got up, walked over to the Marshall stack and picked up the beater that lay helpless on its side. Back at my throne, I spoke into my mike: “You’ve just witnessed a miracle everyone. Two bars into that song I lost my beater and it’s a testament to me that I kept on playing.”

There was a mild round of applause. Brian then spent the next five minutes telling the audience about 20th century imagist poetry while I re-inserted the beater into the pedal and tightened the bolts. When I was ready we launched into “Heavy on Me” and I tried to recover. The rest of the set I was slightly off my game, but I kept playing and in thirty minutes it was all over.

We began the race of unloading all our stuff from the stage while the other band moved their gear on. The whole time Brian asked me what happened and in dashes to and from the stage carrying my drums I tried to explain about the bolt on the pedal. The only bolt I didn’t check that night.

Later that night, at three o’clock, while I lay on the couch and Brian lay on the floor with the TV remote on his chest and a cat on his arm, we talked about the incident again.

“Actually,” Brian said. “It’s good when things like that happen.”

“I guess.” I said.

“You did the right thing — you kept playing.”

“That’s one thing I’m learning. Whatever happens, just keep playing.”

For more about the band, go to: www.shortpunksinlove.com

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