Thursday, October 30, 2008

jawbone of an ass

I used to work with this guy who is likely best described as a curious redneck. Country as hell, really nice guy, wanted to know about things even though he had no ambitions to participate in those things. For instance, we always went to lunch at the same cheap Chinese food place and he would consistently marvel that anyone could eat food with sticks - not that they did, but they could, and preferred to eat that way instead of with a knife and fork. On the way back to the office, he postulated that maybe they were born with that ability and I cavalierly offered, "I can totally eat with chopsticks, I just never think to ask for them." Why I said this I have no idea, since I'd never eaten with chopsticks in my life. He replied, "No shit? Tomorrow I'm buying you lunch. I want to see you eat that whole thing with chopsticks."

That night I went out to a Chinese buffet, determined to acquire this skill. I fumbled though noodles, dropped countless pieces of sweet-and-sour chicken on my shirt, and may have flung broccoli onto the floor, starting to feel some kinship with my redneck friend - why would anyone choose to do this? - until eventually I got the hang of it, and by the final plate of fried rice, I was a facsimile of a seasoned expert. This is, by the way, how all men acquire whatever skills they have, purely out of fear of being caught in their own pointless lies.

Next day, I passed my test and sent my friend's head to shaking. "Man, I didn't think you could do it. You seem like the type that would show off a skill like that every time." Checkmate. Then he went on "Cuz the only time I've ever picked up a set of chopsticks was when I played this piece by I-annis ZEE-nakis. We had to tap on a metal bucket with chopsticks." I nearly dropped my chopsticks. I had righteously assumed that I was the only person to know about the hidden realm of contemporary music, or at least I knew more than the guy that drove an oversized white truck and listened to Alabama all day.

"Oh yeah, I was a percussion major in college, and we always had to play that crazy shit. There was one where I had to get on stage and play a jawbone of an ass (that piece possibly being John Cage's Third Constriction). Man, I was embarrassed. Right there on the program it said '[his name], comma, jawbone of an ass'. My dad still gives me shit about that. 'I paid for four years of college for you to play a jawbone of an ass!'" I remained dumbfounded, trying to hold my tempura, as well as my dignity, with these flimsy goddamn sticks, realizing Jethro had a much more intimate knowledge of this prized secret music of mine than I ever would. I asked him about it, looking for names of things to seek out, but he said he only fooled with that stuff for class. "I'd learn to play it and then forget it. I-annis ZEE-nakis, though, I'll never forget that name. I had to say it a hundred times before I got it right."

Thank you Kroumata, for being a kick-ass percussion ensemble and for reminding me of this.


  1. the writing here is so good my hand actually flew over my mouth in delight as i was reading.


  2. Yes. Thank you so much for posting this story.