Shifty Priorities

Sometimes, I just don't understand the way my own mind works.

For about three years now, one of the Italian bands I play for has made a pilgrimage to a shrine in Pennsylvania to play in honor of Padre Pio. It wasn't a bad gig, especially since we were able to hitch a ride on tour buses taking visitors there from Long Island and Brooklyn. It was always a nice day, and on two occasions my mom even came along for the trip. Back in April of this year, the woman who usually hires us came to one of our feasts in Brooklyn, and told us she was looking forward to seeing us in September. However, as the year went on, the band leader and his son told us that the job had “fallen through”.

Part of me was disappointed, but I got over it quickly enough. I had plenty of gigs with them this year, along with four other bands. One day off wouldn't kill me financially, and might even be good for me emotionally. My father, meanwhile, was suspicious. Last year they lied to two of their regular trumpet players and used a band leader from a New Jersey group and some of his guys instead. I didn't understand why they would lie. If you're a leader, it's your decision who you use, for whatever reason. I don't think it's so hard to man up and say, “Hey sorry guys, I've got someone else on this one, but I'll hire you next time.” I'm not a leader, though. Still, lying seems worse and compounds getting passed over for someone else.

I guess I fall victim to my ego, sometimes. For all the times my dad has said things like, “You're the whole band! They can't do it without you carrying them!”, I've actually started to believe it, like I'm some kind of lower brass quarterback. The truth is, anyone is replaceable. About a week before the job was originally going to take place, the band leader's son and I were playing a gig for the Jersey band leader. At the end of a long day, the leader told the guy he'd see him the following Saturday. I asked him if he had something but he denied it. Perhaps I had misheard. In any event, I had already made plans since the weekend was free, and would be enjoying a mini-vacation in Atlantic City. I have almost no regrets about that, save for getting my credit card bill and realizing I didn't “break even” when I factored in travel expenses.

The following week, I had a job with the Brooklyn group in Queens. They had a big band of about 14 musicians, consisting of their regular members, as well as a few “ringers” from the Jersey group. When some ladies from the society in Pennsylvania showed up and commented, “Hey it's the same band from last week!”, I couldn't help but be suspicious. The band leader just looked really uncomfortable, his eyes darting back and forth and then to the ground. Later in the day, at one of our food stops at someone's house, the woman who runs the Pennsylvania job said hello to me and the two trumpet players. “This is a different band than we had last week,” she commented, fully aware of the situation. We all just smiled uncomfortably, not knowing how to respond. “I know, you guys are the New York crew!” This was true, although not the truth as to why we weren't included.

I was a little mad at my Brooklyn leaders for the rest of the afternoon. I really didn't care if they didn't use me for the job, especially since it freed me up to have some fun with my friends. I could even guess their reasons. Neither of them drive, and on one occasion when no tour bus was available, they rented a van and had our bass drummer drive us. But he's been out of commission with a torn tendon in his ankle, and they probably lost money on the rental that time anyway. The son expressed surprise when I told him the bill included gasoline, which wasn't in the estimate the woman gave him over the phone. The Jersey guys live a lot closer, so it was probably easier for him and his father to take a train in and hitch a ride with them. I understand why some of us were excluded; I just don't get why they lied about it. I don't get why they lied so stupidly, as though we weren't going to find out. And I don't get why they still didn't come clean after it was obvious that the ladies from Pennsylvania had spilled the beans.

On Sunday I played another parade with these guys, and drove them to it after meeting them at a train station. I thought it would be awkward, but none of us brought up the subject of Pennsylvania. Maybe they didn't know that I knew. Maybe I should have said something. But they had no problem asking for a ride; the son said to me the day before, “So when should we meet you tomorrow?” He didn't ask if they could get a ride, but when. And afterwards, they asked me if I could hold on to the bass drum until their next parade in two weeks. Over the years these people have become like family, apparently to the point that they expect me to be a good guy and help them out. Perhaps the bigger idiot isn't the one with the oblivious sense of entitlement, but the one who helps out in spite of knowing people are using him.

I guess I was raised to put others before myself, to believe that the more inconvenienced I am, the more value there is to doing a good deed. I also find that leisure time is more enjoyable when I feel like I've earned it. I enjoy a cold glass of water, but I enjoy it more after I've gone four or five hours working in the hot sun. It's a weird hedonism-only-after-masochism dynamic of extremes. In any event, I had two weeks before I had to see these people again, and I was looking forward to playing paintball with my buddies this weekend. I make plans; music leaders laugh. Sure enough, my cell phone buzzed while I was watching television on Tuesday night. It was the band leader's son. I ignored it. Seconds later, our land line rang. I told my dad to let it go on the machine because I knew who it was. He didn't leave a message though, instead calling my cell phone a second time. When there was an intermission, I checked to see that he had left a voicemail marked urgent. The Jersey leader had a gig on Saturday morning in the city, and needed me.

“You're crazy if you go with them!” grumped my dad from the kitchen, where he was listening to baseball on the radio. “You go play ball with your friends!” It's funny; at some point my parents stopped telling me I was lazy, that I needed to be a hard worker like they were. “You don't see your father and I taking breaks!” was one of my mom's sayings. For some reason, the minute I started following their example and instructions, I stopped listening and didn't notice that they'd changed their tune. Maybe kids just need to do the opposite of what parents tell them. Maybe parents just need to tell kids the opposite of what they're doing. Maybe all human beings are inexplicable creatures who deliberately choose the opposite of our instincts.

As I watched television, I wrestled with the decision before me. The responsible thing would be to do the job. I couldn't turn down work to go play; I'm an adult. On the other hand, I told my friends I probably could make it, and now four days before I was about to cancel on them. I was also not inclined to go play alongside two guys who had lied to me, along with a group of people with whom they had replaced me and other regular players. But it would be bad business to allow personal feelings to get in the way of earning money. In the end, the math wasn't adding up the way I wanted it to, and I'm a slave to mathematics. If I played paintball, I'd not only be losing the money from the gig, but spending more money. If I played the job, I'd not only make a few extra bucks, but I'd save the expense of paintball. I was leaning toward the gig, and not liking it. I planned to sleep on it and call the guy back in the morning with my answer; it was late anyway.

Around 9 PM, our house phone rang again. Once more, he hung up when the answering machine came on, and once more he called my cell phone. My show was over, and this time I answered. Like an outside observer, I listened to myself tersely respond and ask for details. What time? Where were we meeting? Could I do it? Yeah, I could do it. Within about a minute, my weekend plans had changed.

I felt weird, almost depressed, with that sort of lump in my throat one gets on the verge of crying. My mom, overhearing what I'd just done, actually said it was “sad” that I'd “thrown away my recreation”. Who were these people, and where were they when I was growing up? I e-mailed my friend the bad news, feeling rotten, and he didn't take it well, which made me feel worse. Logically, it seems like the right decision. Work and responsibility are the priorities of an adult, right? It's immature to want to go out and have fun, at least at the expense of accomplishing work, right? It's really nagging at me, though there's no going back now. I had my chance to tell the band that I already had plans for the weekend, and I didn't. It's not like this would be my last opportunity to play paintball, and I'm not upset about missing it so much as having to ditch my buddies at the last minute. And it's made worse by the fact that I was mad at the band people for lying to me a few weeks ago.

Sometimes, I just don't understand the way my own mind works. There's a split between doing what I want to do, and doing what other people need me to do. Everything from my faith to my family has taught me that it's wrong to be selfish, to put myself before others. My dad, at 80, still pushes himself, still climbs ladders and works on cars, and finds frustration in the limitations imposed on him by his heart condition. If he's not working, he doesn't see the point in being alive. My mom is constantly working on her garden, or making crafts, and is spending the week getting ready to volunteer at a craft fair, in between cooking dinner and taking care of an ailing senior cat. They don't socialize all that much, save for the occasional phone conversation with their friends. But sometimes, they don't seem too happy, and I wonder if the shift in their advice to me, the sudden repetition of “We want you to go out!” over other catchphrases is the realization that they might not want me to follow their path entirely.

I've always struggled with balance in all things, as much as I recognize balance as the most important thing of all. A little playing isn't a bad thing once in a while; it's not like I party and then call in sick to my day job. I get my work done. I got so much work done this year, that I find myself with 8 unused vacation days three months before the year is over. Can it be? Can it be the lazy kid who would rather watch cartoons than hand his dad wrenches has become so responsible, that all forms of work are a priority? I think I sometimes create work for myself in order to avoid fun, and I don't understand that. It's like the more I go to one extreme, the harder it is to fight the flow and get back to the middle.

Something needs to change, and I need to start pushing back against the current. I messed up this time, at my own expense. I don't want to do this again. I don't know that I won't....



Blogger Spockgirl said...

Prepare yourself, I am going to be honest and blunt in this comment.

For some reason today before I started to read your post, I opened a bag of Cheetos Puffs to eat whilst reading. So, yes, I am fully aware of the fact that at this point I do not have a life, and thus, am reading your blog. That being said, in addition to the fact that I do not know you personally, I am going out on a limb here and saying this: You had already made plans with your friends. When the guy called you about the gig, all you had to do was be honest and say that, then you would have saved yourself this torture. Yes, the guy who called knows you are replaceable, but he also knows that you will come through in a crunch... that you are reliable. And, whether you like it or not, someone who is reliable can easily be taken advantage of.

If you expect honesty of others, you must also expect honesty of yourself.

Sorry if this offends you or your readers in any way. I have no idea why I decided to speak up on this.

9/30/2010 1:36 AM  
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9/30/2010 4:35 AM  
Blogger b13 said...

I do know you and I have two things to say:

1. I would have told the band leader that you didn't mind not playing the PA event, but he should have been up front and honest with you.

2. Go play paintball. When the band leader questions where you were on Saturday, you can refer to point #1.

Enjoy life and don't let others hold you down.

9/30/2010 1:08 PM  
Blogger MCF said...

That's good advice(so of course I probably won't take it), but it's the Jersey guy's gig on Saturday, not the Brooklyn father & son(even though it was the son who called me and they'll be playing for the Jersey guy too). I can't hold the Jersey guys responsible for the Brooklyn guys lying to me.

Spockgirl makes an interesting point about honesty; it didn't occur to me once I was on the phone that I was being dishonest by not saying I had personal plans I'd rather not break. The other problem with dishonest people is that they don't trust others. If I said I had personal plans, I know they would have thought I was really working for another band, even though I've always been honest and flat out told them if some other leader booked me first.

I'm probably whining about nothing. I'm bummed, but I'll get over it.

9/30/2010 10:44 PM  

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