Five years

I called in sick to work the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I had the remnants of a flu bug that had popped up over the weekend and, rather than drive the 30 miles to America Online and possibly infect my co-workers, I decided to rest up one more day.

I flipped on the ‘Today’ show on television and NBC was broadcasting pictures of a burning World Trade Center. Matt Lauer, I think, said he wasn’t sure yet what had happened, but that it appeared a private plane had crashed into one of the towers. How wrong he was.

The thing I remember most about that morning is watching the first tower fall. My brain couldn’t process what my eyes were seeing. “I couldn’t believe it was happening” is a terribly overworked phrase, but in this case it was quite literally true. This sort of horror was not imaginable, but it turned out to be only one of a series of unimaginable horrors of that day.

Also not imaginable before that day was America’s response. I have never been prouder to be an American than I was in the days after 9/11. All of the petty bullshit that dominates modern American politics was swept away and there was a sense that we were all in this together. And most of the world genuinely grieved with us.

Five years later, that all seems remarkably quaint.

Told you

I’ve got seven gigs in the next month, including four in a week. On my music page, I warn that there are two states of gigging: Completely busy or completely not busy. There is no in-between stage, which is ideally where I’d like to be, and now I’m on the busy side of the equation.

Seven gigs in a month is about one gig every four days. That’s a lot for a guy in his mid-40s with a full-time day job. It’s a whole lot for a guy who has an early-to-rise, don’t-screw-up-or-you’ll-get-sued, mentally taxing day job.

When I get this busy, I take it easy at the gig itself (especially concerning alcohol) and I make sure and get lots of rest between gigs. It’s a nice problem to have, and don’t let me kid you: I’m looking forward to the music I’ll be laying down over the next month.

Look out! He’s carrying a harmonica!

USA TODAY has an article today about the lives of airport security screeners. Among the disclosures: A “suprising number of people” pack harmonicas in their baggage. That made me crack up because I’ve had several experiences on this front.

My weirdest experience in this area involved getting through security at the White House west gate some time in 1994 (I think). I was heading in for a news conference, but I had a gig as soon as the presser got over, so I had to haul my harps along. Through the X-ray machine they went. “What the hell is this?” the uniformed Secret Service screener said, laughing (remember, this was well into the pre-9/11 days and these guys saw me all of the time). I had to open the case for the security crew and they all ribbed me for carrying two dozen harps into the White House. But harmonicas aren’t a security risk (unless you consider being annoyed to death a security risk), so they let me bring ’em in.

I went to the news conference, hammered out a story in the White House press room, hopped in a cab and went to a dive college bar in Northeast (still wearing a suit) for the gig. That may have been the oddest collision of work and hobby I’ve ever had.

The Zen of Q

I smoked a brisket — which isn’t my BBQ specialty — for Labor Day and was rewarded with the most tender, flavorful briskie I’ve ever cooked. And I again was reminded why I enjoy cooking big hunks of meat for ridiculously long times until they are falling-apart tender.

Most people can’t make good BBQ, even if they want to, because it’s just too easy for them. The concept of cooking a piece of meat for 12 (or even 18) hours while hardly ever messing with it at all is anathema to most folks. They just can’t wrap their arms around the concept of cooking something that requires almost no intervention. They want to prod and poke and peek and measure and turn, and what they usually end up doing is ruining and giving up.

Making Q is all about the art of slowing down. I know that once I get the temperature stabilized on my smoker, I might need to visit it once every four or five hours. My Q doesn’t need my help; it needs to be left alone. There’s a lesson in that for a lot of hyperstimulated people these days.

Since I had the smoker fired up, I also made pastrami (which is just smoked corned beef, covered in coriander and black pepper) and smoked a link of Texas sausage I had sitting around. I’ve now got meals for at least the next three days.

Slow down. Cook some Q. Have a beer. Enjoy the day.