praise for
days of naze
e pluribus unum

days of  
n a z e  




strung out 
brush with greatness 
soul food  


An obnoxiously large

(101k .wav) audio greeting

from the Author.

March 31, 1999   
Dear Mark,

I've been thinking about you a lot this week. Probably more than I have since you've been gone.

I played stage manager for a gig that Mr. Avshalomov's friends put together to celebrate his 80th birthday. Because the Portland Youth Philharmonic Association wouldn't participate, we had to scrounge a buttload of percussion instruments and music stands from all over. It was a helluva lot of work. A combination of six loads and unloads of the truck.

You would have liked Peter. He was my partner on this one. Peter describes himself as "musically challenged" but I think he's holding back. He's got a daughter who just graduated out of the PYP (a violist!) and a son who recently gave up the cello to focus on soccer.

He got us a 24 foot truck with a lift-gate, which I initially thought was overkill. Turned out to be exactly what we needed. It was a new International; we put the first 200 miles on it tooling around the metro area doing the job.

Peter drove. I hope it doesn't bother you that the thing that I remember most about you is the delight you took in taking the wheel of that truck when we were stage managers together. You'd get this great big grin on your face as you set us off towards the concert hall. You drove fast but with such precision and confidence that I was soon at ease.

The whole orchestra and an audience of 2000 were depending on us to get the gear there safely and on time. We both got a charge out of that sense of responsibility. A couple of geeks were we.

Peter is different than you in a lot of ways. He doesn't really like driving the truck all that much. To his credit he didn't barrel along recklessly; instead he chugged along well below the limit, cars streaming past us on the freeway. Sometimes he'd crowd way over into the left portion of the lane. I wouldn't say anything except when it was especially tight. "You've got about 3 feet on this side..."

But my time with Peter reminded me of the good times we had, the comradery. He's a marine cargo inspector. Runs his own business in partnership with another guy. He has clients like the Australian trade authorities (forgot the acronym). They are *very* particular about organic contaminants so they have guys like Peter crawl around in the freight cars and ships to make sure they meet the standards.

So as we were headed out to Hillsboro (!) on Monday morning to return the 6 timpani we borrowed, he was barraged with a series of business calls on his cell phone. He'd lean over to grab the little thing and the truck would lurch over and my stomach would tighten up. "Hallo!" he'd shout into the thing. Normally I would be the first person to be cursing someone like this from my little Tercel (yes, the one you helped me purchase by providing a "show of force" in my negotiations with the sleazy dealer) - hang up and drive. But you know, this was his business. We were both skipping work to do this.

Peter can tie more kinds of knots than you could imagine, which helped secure the load. Just like you, he never complained, he just did the job, which I think is the most important quality in a fellow stage manager.

The physical labor was oddly refreshing when contrasted against my life at the office job.

The concert was called "Three Generations at Jacob's 80th Birthday Concert" which hits on the basic premise. The program included "Chinese Dances" by Mr. A's dad, Aaron, which was fun to play. They were written for David, Mr. A's son, on his 12th birthday. Cathy came to the concert which was really nice. You probably remember that she's really not into classical. David conducted "Chinese Dances" and one of his own compositions, "Elegy" which one presumes he wrote in memory of his grandfather and brought Mr. A to tears in the Saturday rehearsal.

"Elegy" is really a pretty good piece of music. It sounds an awful lot like Barber's Adagio for Strings, then Shostakovich and then there is a funky blues/Gershwin section in the middle with the rhythmic annotation "stomp". As odd as that description sounds, it worked. Cathy said that David Avshalomov reminded her a little bit of Richard Dreyfuss in terms of demeanor.

Setup for the Saturday rehearsal was a bitch. Mr. A had given me a precise map of the layout he wanted including a contingency should we run out of room. Peter was late picking me up. Even though we still had an hour and a half before the downbeat, it wasn't enough. The church had a stage extension that we weren't going to get. There was no way the 80 piece alumni orchestra was going to fit. And the contingency plan was not going to work.

I had to set up the viola section down 5 steps from the rest of the orchestra to accomodate us all. By then we were 10 minutes late in starting the rehearsal, which as you know would have been unthinkable in our PYP/Avshalomov years. He took it all with great equanimity.

You should have seen how happy he was to greet his former players. Todd, an '80 alumnus who plays bass in the Boston Symphony, flew in for the gig. Three alumni from the Honolulu flew in. One alumnus had played under Mr. A forty-six years ago. Another is a high school junior still active in the PYP today.

On Sunday we had another rehearsal, which entailed setting everything back up again (this was after all, a church). This time we managed to wheedle the stage extension out of the church administration. We fit beautifully. It took me right down to the wire but I fussed with every last chair and stand until they were perfectly positioned, exactly the way you'd want them as a musician so all you had to do was sit down and play. You and I really took pride in that little extra shine on the job. I'm not sure that most people care that much, but we did, and that's one of the reasons we were true comrades.

After I decided I was going to write this letter to you, I searched for the snapshot Mrs. Frye took of us at the Memorial Coliseum. That was a tough gig. We hated having to move all those stands.

I couldn't find it.

And that triggered all the feelings of loss that I thought had been healed over these last eight years.

I was listening to the radio when I first heard that two Multnomah County Deputy Sheriffs had been killed by a drunk driver who had crossed the freeway median. I clenched, praying that it was another Mark Whitehead and not you. But the evening news struck me like a punch in the gut when I saw your face on the screen.

I set our photo on the mantle and lit a candle for you. I'm sorry that I didn't weep for you then as I am now.

I joined your family in giving a little money to the orchestra in your memory. It felt good to see you name in the program.

Well, Mr. Mark. I hope you're satisfied knowing that I'll never be able to listen to a clarinet concerto without tearing up like a baby.

Yes, dammit, this is embarrassing, so I'll tell you a little more of what happened at the gig and some other news, then I'll wrap this up.

We finished the concert with Mr. A's symphony (which he, of course, conducted), The Oregon, which he wrote for the state centennial in 1959. It's a damn hard piece and I'm sorry to report that I played poorly. It went better for the ensemble in rehearsal as well, which I've found to be true of nearly every concert I've every played in. The second to the last rehearsal always seems to be the best performance.

Before beginning the third movement, The Rose (easily the strongest of the symphony), Mr. A made a verbal dedication: "I hand The Rose, to my dear wife, Doris". Which was a lovely gesture on his part.

Afterwards there was a wonderful reception featuring a five foot long birthday cake (yes, we had to truck that puppy in) with 80 candles, "Happy Birthday" in four part harmony, and lots o' mingling. Cathy asked me to introduce her to Mr. A, whom she had never met. Avshalomov, a consumate charmer, told her that he was certain that I would find a wonderful lady to marry. And she responded comically, as if uncertain whom he meant, "that's me!". "Yes! Of course!", he beamed.

Earlier in the day I met up with an old friend who now works at the University of Washington tutoring athletes. And she dropped this bomb: she knows Rick Neuheisel and actually likes him. I crossed myself and asked her to carry the following message to the new UW football coach: "You are the Devil". She assured me that she would.

I had to leave the reception a little early to -- you guessed it -- load the goddamn truck. It took three of us about an hour.

As I get older, my wonder only grows at what it takes to bring an amateur (read unpaid) orchestra together for 70 minutes of music. Every single person who helped produce the gig, perform or listen did it out of love and respect. It's easy to crank hard when you believe. It's even easier when you're among others who believe.

I get the same kind of satisfaction from a different outlet. I have a little home on the Net where I tell stories. It helps fill the gap left when I had to put aside my regular music groups. Some people think this stuff is lame but obviously I don't. I think you might like it.

I usually labor on and rework a story many times before tossing it out there, but next time I think I'll just write what I feel at the moment and see if it works.

There's so much more to tell but it's getting late.

I just needed to let you know that even though I can't find your picture, I haven't forgotten you.

I never will.



















previously on days of naze: 

a night on the town
a lesson in humility
the longest mile
he plays one on t.v.
shat upon
geek of the weak
pre-game stupid
my affair with a greek woman 
brain baker
occupational hazard
i blame them
brilliant mistake
pleasure victim 
the stupid rules 
driven to distraction 
my corner of the planet 
spawn apologist 
interview with a madman 
an introduction 

what have you done for me lately?
don't even start with me.

May you never be more active than  
when you are doing nothing.  


in the feedbag:

work: The new job is starting to eat my life. Fears of encroachment on days were not unfounded. And yet you may find that I'm a stubborn old bastard not likely to go down without a fight...

magazine: Harper's - Who was Shakespeare?l I was temporarily persuaded by some compelling arguments that the plays were written by the Earl of Oxford. I still lean towards William as the true author, however, many arguments of the Earl proponents are not satisfactorily countered.

vcr: Bottlerocket - from makers of Rushmore. Kind of weird, but in a good way.

pc game: Baldur's Gate - game buying binge should probably end right here. The fact is that the only PC game that I truly love is Rogue Squadron. Which means I'll need to get a copy of X-Wing Alliance, just released last week...


   stupid    strung out   naze   brush   soul food 


e-mail this many hours until the next amazing episode of days of naze 


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