Barely Playing Guitar

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By Jim Hagarty

I am not the world’s greatest guitar player.

I know this declaration will set off howls of objections from people who have seen me switch effortlessly from a G chord to a C – and back again. And throwing in a D with a floursh.

But the way I know the Eric Claptons and Vince Gills of the world have nothing to fear from me, is the fact that I have played my guitar over the years in the company of people who are great at playing guitar. And in those moments, the fact that I am a 1977 Chevy Chevette and they are 2016 Chevy Corvettes is pretty clear to me.

There have been moments, plunking away alone in my kitchen, when I have been heard to remark to myself, “Damn, boy. You are something else.” Then I go out in the world …

Lest you think I am being too hard on myself, I extend this disclaimer: I am totally comfortable making this critical and realistic self-assessment. I am fine with it because I have a perfectly good excuse.

I learned to play guitar 47 years ago when I was 18 and living in a university residence. A guy down the hall taught me. And by the time the school year ended, I was zipping right along. But I ran into a wall and I am, today, about as good on guitar as I was 46 years ago.

Here was the wall. There was no place to practise guitar in the residence. No place that wouldn’t result in my being pummeled half to death by my fellow students. But someone suggested the men’s shower room. So I tried it out. It was amazing. The acoustics were fantastic, although the atmosphere tended to the humid side. I could sit in a corner on the floor of that shower room till all hours and I did. Till 4 a.m. some days.

My friend down the hall, who played like Chet Atkins, Jimi Hendrix and Glen Campbell all at the same time, would show me a new chord, a new lick or two. And I would hustle off to the shower room to practise.

Unfortunately, my timing for the practice sessions was often not the best and I would sit there in the corner being all Chet Atkins-like, while naked men milled about the shower room. I am not a psychologist or any other kind of ologist, but I think what happened to me might be chalked up to “imprinting.” Like a duckling that thinks a friendly rabbit is its mother. It happened slowly, but by the end of the year, it seemed I could only learn new things on my guitar when I was in the company of naked men milling about.

The term ended and I went home. My residence days were over. As were my days sitting in showers with my guitar while naked men milled about.

In the 46 years since then, I have not been around that many naked men (and not nearly enough naked women), at least not when I have had my guitar at the ready. So, my ascent from guitar-less farm boy to the heights of Hendrixism screeched to a halt.

But if some day you come to see play and I am wearing a bandana and playing up a Mark Knopfler storm, you might rightly conclude that I have joined a nudist colony. There are not that many colonies located in the cold part of Canada where I reside, but you never know. I might find one.

This might sound desperate, but I think it is my last, best hope.

To Be. Or Not.

By Jim Hagarty

We spend so much time, in our youth, trying to figure out what we should be. And hardly any time on the more important question of what it is that we are. As it turns out, what we are is all we can ever be anyway. The object seems to be to become something other than what we are, as though what we are is not enough for the world. In other words, we are cats trying to be dogs, dogs trying to be wolves. The nice thing about “being” a “senior” is so much of that stuff just goes away.

The Cockroach Watch

By Jim Hagarty

In 1977 I scored my first job as a reporter on a little hometown newspaper called The Advocate. At least that was the name on the masthead. Readers knew it as The Aggravate.

The job came with a hefty wage of $4.20 an hour and all the cockroaches you could kill. The newspaper was located next to a butcher shop. The roaches came to our place for a rest from chomping on meat and stuff all day.

But there was a bonus, or something that would eventually look like one to me. Among my duties which included chasing a bat out of the darkroom every morning and keeping the sidewalk cleared of snow in winter, as mandated by a strictly enforced town bylaw, was the job of writing a weekly column. I took that up with gusto. It was the prize whistle at the bottom of what really was a very stale box of Cracker Jacks.

My column was aptly named One Day at a Time. And if a person was foolish enough to work at that newspaper with anything but a one day at a time approach, instant madness was the reward. I got the job because the reporter before me lasted only three weeks and at the end was walking around the office in his bare feet. Apparently, he looked ahead a little too far. Like maybe two days at a time. And what he saw literally freaked him out. Last I heard he was selling pencils from a cup on the streets of Toronto and was much happier for it.

So I unleashed One Day at a Time on the world, a world which, I now see, was probably not ready for it. I wrote seriously about all the big issues of the day. But I was confronted with a handicap: I knew less than nothing about all the big issues of the day. But, perversely, the less I knew, the more I wrote. A favourite request of my editor made by readers during this time was, “Make him stop!”

I didn’t stop. Me? Hah!

But one night I ran into a wall. I had taken home my primitive little Radio Shack laptop which weighed about the same as a small tractor. My lap is still depressed where that mammoth machine used to sit. Anyway, I sat there stumped. I was fresh out of no knowledge about the big issues of the day. I had absolutely no ignorance left to share.

But then I noticed something strange. My two cats were fighting over the same heat register. Thirteen heat registers in the house, and they both were willing to battle to the death over that one special register, which was only special because they both wanted to sit on it. If you have ever seen two cats fighting over a heat register, you have seen every world war ever fought, start to finish.

Desperate, I wrote my column about the catfight. And crazily, it was the first column any reader appeared to have liked. No dummy me, cat columns flowed from me from then on like pee from a toddler when the diaper comes off. It got so bad, a letter to the editor came in and was published and these were its very words: “Tell Hagarty to stop writing about his cats!”

I was undeterred. But I got a bit bored with my cats, so I started writing about the neighbour’s cats. And eventually, his dog. Also, about my pathetic home renovations. And my rattly car that was a car in the same way a dandelion is a tree.

And then it happened.

I won a best humour writer award in a newspaper competition. Little did those poor judges know they had poured gasoline on the dying embers of my writing career.

It is popular to disparage awards. I have probably done it myself. But that little bit of encouragement from my peers in the newspaper business was like a flagman on a highway, directing me into another lane.

More awards. Soon, I stopped writing for my readers and started writing to win more awards.

The awards stopped.

But it was OK.

I no longer chase cockroaches and bats.

And I still write about cats and broken down cars.

And love every minute of it.

Turns out, all I needed was an opportunity and a pat on the head.

And to one day finally see all 10 Writer Commandments wrapped up into one line which every beginning writer needs to see:

“Write what you know.”

Shake Speared

Shakespeare

By Jim Hagarty

Big news out of England today.

A letter found in a pew in the Anglican Church in Stratford-upon-Avon confirms that William Shakespeare did not write any of the plays he has been credited with writing for almost 500 years.

In the note, apparently written by “The Bard” on his deathbed, Shakespeare claims he never wrote anything his entire life. Furthermore, he claims he was probably England’s worst speller ever.

“Hell, I couldn’t even spell my ohn name,” he admitted in his final, astonishing confession.

“I signed everything ‘Willem Shakspur’. Look it up! You’ve seen the dinky little grammar school I atended.”

In a related development, The Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada has been sold and is being turned into an auction barn.

Updates at 11.

The Playoffs

By Jim Hagarty

In my younger days, I pursued young women like Sydney Crosby chases the Stanley Cup.

But if I was Crosby, I was out on the ice in my galoshes with a broom for a hockey stick. No Stanley Cups on my mantle.

Then I talked to a wise friend who wore a lovely Stanley Cup ring on his left hand.

“I want to ask this woman out, but I can’t figure out what she would like to do,” I said.

“Who cares what she would like to do?” came his shocking reply. “Decide what you would like to do and find a woman who would like to do that too.”

That was the day I took off my galoshes and threw away my broom. Next time you see me, ask me to show you my Stanley Cup ring.

A friend of ours fell down laughing when my fiance and I told her we were all excited because we were getting together that night to watch the vice-presidential debate on TV. Not the presidential debate. The vice-presidential debate.

Birds of a feather …

Nurses Rock

By Jim Hagarty

It’s an old joke, for sure, but one that has been aptly laid at the feet of every male prude who ever changed the channel during any TV show when the laundry started coming off.

“He never got over the fact that he was born in bed with a woman.”

My older brother first introduced me to that old saw and I thank him for it. My experience with male prudery goes back a long way. I might have even flirted with it a time or two myself.

The only counterforce that saved me from a miserable life of tut tutting was the glorious creature known to the world as the nurse.

Thank God for nurses.

Justin Time

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By Jim Hagarty

I was born in the same hospital as Justin Bieber.

I had the good sense to time my arrival 43 years before his, giving me a headstart in the music business.

Turns out, I needed a headstart.

But he and I have a lot more in common than our origins and hometowns. We both play our guitars left handed. We both write songs. We both have recorded music. And we both have bank accounts with some money in them. And we are males and our first names start with the letter “J”.

Also, we are both incredibly good looking, and while he has merely maintained his Adonish features in that department in recent years, I am as astonishingly handsome as ever, getting Brad Pittier every day.

A few years ago, I decided my singing career needed a jumpstart. So I started looking around for a stage name. Something catchy. I always liked the name Justin, for some reason. And one day I saw a truck go by with the name “Bieber Construction” on its doors. I was kind of drawn to the name Bieber. It had a happy quality to it.

So I settled on the name Justin Bieber and decided to use it in all future publicity for my stalled career.

However, a friend got wind of my plans and told me there already was a Justin Bieber in the music business. Living under a rock, as I always have and prefer to, this was news to me and I was disappointed.

But not deterred.

I liked the way “Justin Bieber” rolled off the tongue. So my friend and I put our heads together and we soon came up with what I think is a workable alternative.

And so I have changed my stage name to Justa Geezer.

The name change has not yet had the impact on my musical fortunes I thought it might. On the other hand, at the age of 65, when I look out from the stage at my adoring fans, I notice an awful lot of geezers among them. Many of them probably born in the same hospital as Justin and I.

Some of them no doubt had the wisdom to arrive years before either one of us.

Justin might have his Beliebers but I have my Geezers.

There must be something in the air at that hospital for it to have produced so many of the world’s great ones.

Even if we are all southpaws.