The Stupor Bowl

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[Stu-por (noun): a condition of greatly dulled or completely suspended sense or sensibility and a lack of critical mental function, marked by diminished responsiveness to stimulation and impaired consciousness.]

Every year around this time I feel like I need to do some Primal Scream Therapy. During most of the (what is it — 16 weeks?) of football season I’m able to successfully avoid contact with anything related to “the game.” …

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1. Get a COVID test within 72 hours of the procedure.

2. Self–isolate between then and the morning of surgery.

3. Call your children and other loved ones.

4. Be certain all of your post mortem paperwork is in order.

5. Print out a copy of all your passwords and leave it on your desk.

6. Tidy up your office.

7. Write an “if you’re reading this I’m either incapacitated or dead” email for your clients.

8. Fully charge your phone to bring to the hospital.

9. Attempt having sex with your partner — just in case.

10. Give the cat a good scritching and some treats.

11. Try not to freak the fuck out.

Now, I’m not saying I didn’t learn plenty during my two years as a music major at DePaul.

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Music historian Dr. Brown taught me I should never again register for a lecture class scheduled for 9 AM. His was a snooze fest, except for the presence of my friend Mona, a knock-down gorgeous and talented flutist. We always sat close together in the back row, which somehow gave Dr. Brown the impression that we were lovers. We weren’t (sadly) but I let him continue to think we were because it seemed to drive him insane with jealousy. He was at…

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I’m leaning against the wall outside Warren Benfield’s studio, after transporting myself and my bass up to the second floor of DePaul University’s music building. There’s a bead of sweat oozing down my right temple. I’ve been chasing after this man for years. I read his book in high school; he was half the reason I went to Northwestern five, no, six years ago.

I hear someone, a fellow student maybe, playing something I don’t recognize through the door. There’s murmuring, then a repeat of the same passage. Laughter. More conversation, which I can’t quite make out.

The door swings…

New Year’s Eve 1978. The venue was a snooty private club in downtown Chicago. I’m guessing it was either the Union League Club or The Standard Club, but I can’t quite recall. John, the bandleader, had sounded desperate when he called me, it paid well, and I was arrogant enough to think I could fake my way through three hours of unfamiliar music with musicians I’d never met, all of whom were thirty-plus years my senior. Not exactly a formula for success.

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But first I had to get there.

Twelve inches of snow had fallen during the last week of…

Amelot bass, built 1820

After I withdrew from Northwestern, I felt it was time to upgrade to a better bass. This desire had been gestating ever since I’d had the chance to mess around with a couple of high quality instruments. Although Kay made good double basses, they were constructed with plywood, a material that doesn’t offer the resonance and complexity of tone available in instruments made with hardwoods like maple and spruce. Fingerboards on better basses are usually made of ebony instead of softer rosewood. These instruments are generically known as “carved,” to distinguish them from plywood. Hardwoods have better acoustic properties, which…

On Wednesday, April 28th, 1976 Wayne drove me downtown to 175 W. Washington St., home of the Chicago Federation of Musicians. I hefted my bass up a steep flight of stone stairs and into a voluminous rehearsal hall.

175 W. Washington Chicago

“Play something slow,” said a grizzled old guy brandishing a clipboard. He looked as if he’d been hunched behind that card table since 1952.

I started on a C Major scale: C, D, E, F —

“Ok, now play something fast.”

Again I began a C Major scale, at a faster clip: C, D, E, F, G —

“Awright, you’re in. That’ll…

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“So Bill,” said my client,* diving right in without any preliminary niceties.

“You are NOT going to believe what happened.”

She started laughing maniacally.

“Uhhh…” I countered, with deep empathic insight.

“C’mon. You know what it is. What have I been bellyaching about for eight months?”

I had an inkling, but the faux hilarity was throwing me off the scent. I thought: What would Columbo do?

This client, who we’ll call Trish, gesticulated wildly, filling up my Zoom window with streaks of hands and arms.

“I GOT THE COVID!” Trish blurted.
I couldn’t yet tell if she was disappointed or self-satisfied…

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Shortly after I arrived at Northwestern University, in the autumn of 1974, things started falling apart back home in New Jersey. My parents separated and my sister suffered what they used to call a nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalized. Suddenly, in my moment of liberation, my family took center stage in my consciousness. I vowed to do whatever I could to reduce their stress. I’d make straight As, find a part-time job, and stay out of mischief. If I could just be perfect, I thought, things would surely be better at home.


College life hit me like…

Bill Harrison

Recovering bassist, psychotherapist, Chicagoan, and devotee of the serial comma. Motto: It’s either a good time or a good story.

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