3
The Daily Grind
   In the better adventure stories, I either would have caught a ride again with the Felines, or had an even more amazing ride home (or elsewhere) with the Slug Sloths of Omicron 9 (who were more lively than their name suggests). However, this is the economy adventure version, so I flew back using the return e-ticket from my flight.
And the amazing thing is that nothing unusual happened on the whole flight.  But I did wonder how and if I could explain to my wife about our car being digested by a Multidimensional Space-time Resonator.  Fortunately, if the Multidimensional Space-time Resonator hadn't gotten it, rust soon would have, so I resolved that, regardless of explanations, I'd buy a new car to surprise my wife with on her return.
    First, I would need to sell a few banjos to finance the new car.  So it was back to the daily grind.
    In the old days I started off selling banjos at bluegrass festivals.  This is not hard, for at bluegrass festivals there are banjo players born every minute.
    In fact, although I still enjoy attending bluegrass festivals, I now prefer the challenge of door-to-door banjo sales. I have different approaches, depending on my state of mind. But the basic idea is to walk around a neighborhood playing a banjo, and go up to a house with an open window and serenade them like a demented Christmas caroler.  Once you have their attention, the next step is to verify they have nothing in their hands which they might hurl at you.  That ascertained, from there it is all improvisation. Consider the first sale of the day.
    The old man said, "What are you doing on my porch?"  I explained I was playing the banjo.
    "I can see that.  Why?"
    "I'm going to sell you this banjo." (I call this the direct approach).
    "Like hell," he replied, a bit too vituperatively for my taste.  "I'm not just tone deaf, I'm all deaf. Go irritate someone else."
    "Deafness never stopped Beethoven," I replied.
    "Beethoven never played the banjo," he retorted, a bit too knowledgeably for my taste.  I could see he was smarter than the average banjo player.  But I could also tell by this that either he had some residual hearing ability, or was a good lip or mind reader.
    "If it had been invented when he was alive, he would have," I said.  "But the real point is, you need this banjo."
    "Like hell," he replied, reiterating a previous point and thus lowering his intelligence a bit in my estimation.  "I could never make anything on that device but an infernal racket."
    "And that's exactly my point.  What do you do when a pesky door-to-door salesman calls?"
    "I swear at them and tell them to go away."
    "And it doesn't always work, does it?  But if you played the banjo at them, as only a really terrible player can, you'd have them running to their car shrieking."

  "So you think I'd be terrible at it?"
    "I'm sure you would."
    "I was pretty good on the guitar in my day."
    "I can see now I was totally wrong about you.  Your guitar experience would translate over into banjo and soon have you a favorite on the bluegrass circuit."
    "So if I buy one, will you go running to your car shrieking?"
    "Anything to make a sale."
    Later I did indeed see him at a bluegrass festival, picking contentedly in the parking lot.

    The next stop was a break in the routine.  I started playing the banjo at the front door as usual.  A burly young man appeared at once, and gestured me in.  The house was in a bit of a shambles.  He apologized and said he was remodeling it.  I noticed he had a foreign accent, which I always find interesting, as I seldom travel to foreign lands--just wait for the world to come to me (or an alien abduction).
Before I could launch into my sales spiel, he started in on his own agenda:
    "Have you ever heard the story of the man who was consigned to row the boat back and forth across the lake until someone took the oars?"
    "Was it the Brothers Grimm?"  I asked.
    "It was real.  I too am musician.  My name is Vladivostock Bahclava.  I have an instrument from the old country.  You must see it."
    I'm a sucker for weird instruments.  Even though I hated to let the topic wander far from my sales spiel, I figured if he already had one instrument he might buy another...  He brought out a dusty but intricately decorated relative of a balalaika that, indeed, its like I had never seen before...

   "It is called a Bitar.  You see, it has 5 strings like your banjo.   I will show you how it plays..."  He started playing a weird modal melody.  It was very syncopated and hypnotic.  I started to imagine goats jumping across rocky precipices as he played.  Then he stopped.
    "I have had this since I was 5 years old.  I am the only one to ever play on this instrument."
    "I'd love to have a go at it, I said..."
    "I was hoping you would," he said...
    When I picked it up, it seemed alive.  I checked the tuning--it was indeed a modal tuning not unknown in the banjo circles I frequent.  I began to play "Dig a hole in the Meadow."  Time stretched, and seemed to have no meaning.
    "There's just a couple things I should tell you," he said...  "You'll be free of the curse when someone offers to play that Bitar.  And don't forget to unlock a door before the moon rises.  I forgot last night, and ended up tearing the place up pretty well..."

Then the obnoxious banjo salesman was gone, and I was alone with my fabulous Bitar.  I was free!  Free!  Free from my wife (Wife? Did I have a wife?).  Free from my business (What's a business?).  Nothing to do but play my fabulous Bitar...
    No, that wasn't exactly true...  I thought about the goats, the heights of the mountains, the old country...  There was something the salesman said I should do before nightfall...  Oh, yes, unlock the door!  Of course--the door keeps out the night, and the night is my only friend beside my Bitar.  I went out on the porch, and played while the evening grew darker.  I sang the old songs, in the language I thought I'd forgotten.  Rashtucna!  Pralsh! Fram Fram!
    Foolish young prats came by with their Ipods, unable to hear the real music of the night.  As I played, the moon rose full in the east, blood red in the sky made smoky by distant forest fires...  I set down my Bitar and walked out towards the moon.  A part of me worried that the Bitar might be stolen, but then I remembered the curse, and figured it would be there when I got back...

I walked to the hills, and bounded up the ridge to the brighter moonlight.  As I went up, instead of growing tired, I felt myself grow lighter, almost cat-like (or vulpine, being the mot juste).  The fur on my paws was long and gray.  I hungered for berries.  I came to a mountain ash tree.  I bounded up in the brush to catch a mouthful of the berries.  With  my sharp claws I clambered up into the branches.   Later I climbed a pine tree, and found a hawk's nest to sleep in.  Life was lovely, being a fox.

(Reality Check: Okay, hold it right there, Mr. Crazier-than-thou Stream of Consciousness writer!  I can accept that your alter ego traded personalities with some nutso Transylvanian or something.  No problem there--lots of presidence in mythology and whatnot.  And that he shape-shifted into a were-fox?  A bit wimpier than a were-wolf, but whatever.  But now you're talking about a fox climbing trees... Are you out of your mind?
Brad replies:  I was shocked, shocked to find out today that the Pacific Northwest Gray Fox can actually climb trees, and mostly eats fruit.  No wonder I encorporated it into the story, in spite (or because) of its utter weirdness.

Okay, what's with using words like vulpine, and mot juste?
Brad replies: When I read P.G. Wodehouse, besides his liking to use the phrase "mot juste," (which means "the perfect phrase") he'd also every 5 or 10 pages  throw in some $10 word just to show he knew his stuff.  I don't argue with Wodehouse.  I wouldn't mind chatting with him, but then he's dead...  As it is, I am cursed to carry on Q and A sessions with myself.  Why do I bother?  I already know the answers...)

Yes, I woke up in the morning in a hawk's nest, my body parts dangling off all sides.  I made a cautious descent, then felt drawn to return to the Bitar.  When I got back to the house, I picked it up and immediately started playing.  So that was it.  A double curse--forced to play Bitar by day, Werefox at night.   Could be worse, I thought...  I'd heard of people cursed to turn into fruit bats, flying every night to locate overripe fruit and suck out the cloying essence of them.  Besides,  my calluses on my picking fingers ought to get doubly good, what with running about the woods on them at night...
    I was just getting into playing the atonal nuances of the Michael Hurley song, "The Werewolf," when the door bell rang.

It was Vladivostock Bahclava with a banjo case.  "I don't want any," I said.   "I've got a Bitar..."
    "I know," he said.  "I want it back..."
    "You can't have it.  This is just the kind of life I always wanted."   I tried to shut the door on him, but his foot was in the doorway.
    I said, "You've learned the Jedi sales tricks quickly.  I'm sure you'll be a great banjo salesperson."
    "I didn't realize how boring it would be living in the real world with a job.  I want my own life back..."  He ripped the Bitar out of my hands and started playing.   I had to concede that he was very good on the Bitar.  Given time, I would probably eclipse him, but...
    "So did you sell any banjos?" I asked.
    "Ha, I went to your house and had a good night's rest for once without waking up in a hole or tree in the woods."
    "So what made you come back here?"
    "I couldn't face up to the daily grind.  Banjo selling is so boring!"
    He had a point.
    "Well,"  I said.  We can wrestle all day for control of your Bitar, or I can just sell you a banjo and go away."
    That sale was tougher than average.
Later I saw Vladivostock Bahclava playing with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.  I just don't practice enough to make the big time.  Some guys get all the luck.



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(cartoon ends)
1. A River Too Far
2.The Reunion
3.The Daily Grind
4 The New Car and Treasure
5. The Big 
Bambootees
6. The old
Switcheroo
7. The Ravine Runner 8. The Fabulous
Folk Festival
9. Druid
Fluid
10. Goats of
Christmas Past
11. The Secret Six 12. The Great
White Hunters
13. The Old School
14
Lost in the City
15
Schlemiel
Possession

16
What's in
a name?
17
The Curse of
Bently Manor
18
Shortbottom Possessed
19
The Lost
Treasure
of Iraq
20
Phil Steen
for President!
21
Phil Steen
for Rehab
22
The Adventures
of Handiman
and Fiberwoman
23
Quantum
Uncertainty
revealed
24
Pirates of the Puget Sound
 25
Building a platform, plank by plank
26
The Quest
for meaning
27
Larry and
Phil to
The Rescue
28
Hurrah for
the Reds,
Whites, and
Blues
29
Phil
loses
his
mind
30
Earth
Strikes
Back
31
Harry
the
Potter
32
How I spent
my summer
vacation
33
Help
I am
trapped in
the Present
!
34
Help I am trapped
in the future
35
The
Nose of Death
36
Infectious
Laughter
37
Election
Update

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