B

A FEW WORDS ON CONFESSION 

     . The sacrament of confession as it was known in the world of the Catholic church of the early 1960’s was a bizarre and troubling event. Keeping in mind now that the act of confession has changed considerably in the years since that time. In this modern age of enlightenment the sacrament of confession is observed in the full and healing light of day with all the joy that forgiveness brings.  But in 1962 in Sister Monica’s class it was done the old fashion way, in the dark, with all the fear that visions of eternal damnation can conjure up. 

    Once a week we were marched up to the church to purge our immortal souls of all of those horrible sins against God and man that we had committed since last week. Although I am sure we were most certainly well within the national average for murders, rapes and robberies committed by grade school children, no chances were to be taken that any sin should go un-confessed. Even now the mere thought of confession conjures up those feeling so familiar to Catholic school children, panic, fear, guilt, nausea and hunger, that last one is due I think to the fact that we always seemed to go to confession just before lunch. For those of you unfamiliar with Catholicism I will attempt to explain this quirky little neurosis generating religious oddity. Imagine if you will, you are eight years old and kneeling in a small very dark closet that smells of old people. When directly in front of your nose a one-foot by one-foot space of light suddenly appears with a loud and frightening bang.  In this light is the silhouette of a head of some one you have been taught to believe is a direct conduit to God himself. And the way this silhouette’s head is slumped you’re not real sure if   God’s rep. is having a bit of a snooze or perhaps reading the Times. You are now expected to tell this ear of God almighty any and all sins that you have committed. God then hears these sins through his earthly proxy and, if there is any real justice in the universe, says  “ Why are you bothering me with this, can’t you see I’m busy, the kid is 8 years old fer Christ’s sake.  Now leave me alone, go on, git ”.   Then you are given prayers to say that are supposed to be equivalent to the severity of the sins committed, sort of let the punishment fit the crime. Your soul is now a clean slate, should you, God forbid, get hit by a truck on the way out of church, technically speaking, you should be able to by pass all the red tape and fast track it right through the pearly gates and on into heaven. Unless of course you mutter the words “ah shit “ just before the truck flattens you. Then you have to do the whole damn thing over. For some reason when I think back on confession the church always seems to be in the throes of Lent.   Lent is, depending on how you look at it, a season of soul searching and repentance, or a guilt generating 40 day torture designed to separate a person from: Clark bars, Moon Pies and Bonamo Turkish Taffy. Everything in the church is covered in thick purple velvet, statues of saints disturbing enough throughout the rest of the liturgical year now for Lent shrouded in black sacking looking for all the world like Casper's jazz band. There you are standing in line waiting your turn to have all your sins forgiven.  You would think one would welcome this opportunity, even rejoice in the possibility, to have all ones transgressions washed away, to begin anew. Well the hell with that. It was the same every time, waiting my turn, scripting out exactly what I was going to say and how I would say it. For if you were to do something as insane as to tell Sister Monica “ hey Sister, gonna pass on confession today thanks, I’m good, maybe next week. “ You would immediately become a target for The Flick or if the good sister was feeling particularly peevish her vice grip like hand would lock onto your earlobe and you would be marched to the head of the line, the confessional door knocked on and the priest told that he would next be hearing from the grade school equivalent of Vlade the Impaler. 

     When one looks at a line of Catholic school children as they wait to enter the confessional, looks of concentration, easily mistaken for piety and pray, are in fact a mind feverishly at work. For a successful confession is a question of strategy and planning. The following are a few simple but vital rules in making a good confession.   Always have a minimum of 4 strong sins that you are comfortable with and can convincingly convey to the priest that you did in fact commit these harmless and marginal transgressions, thereby distracting the priest from any real penance generating behavior. For in the game of confession the winner gets two Our Fathers and 3 Hail Marys, these can easily be rattled off in 45 seconds on a good day. I lied to my mother  is a good steady working class sin. Always have the lie ready to go, DO NOT ad lib, that’s trouble.  Keep the lie harmless, such as, she told me to brush my teeth and I told her I did, when I didn't. This is an effective lie and one that will not inspire any extra curricular activity such as the, I told her I did my homework when I didn’t lie. This lie will nine times out of ten illicit a reaction from the priest that will entail 1000 words on why lying about your homework will send you on a path of corruption and evil with little or no chance of redemption. Stick with the brush your teeth lie, as priests generally have very little interest in dental hygiene.  Hit my sister.  Always a good one, hard to disprove, and completely believable under any circumstances particularly if the priest knows your sister. Took a cookie, simple yet effective. Involves stealing, which gives the priest the opportunity to use his powers of forgiveness on a real sin but the item stolen is harmless enough thereby bringing the penance time down to a manageable level. Do not use the I stole some change from my father’s dresser lie, this will always get you big penance time, granted on the outside it seems a small sin on the same level as the stole a cookie sin, there is however a subtle difference as this lie involves money which in the eyes of the church is the root of all evil, which always made me wonder why they have so much of it ...ah well another mystery of faith. Always keep one sin in your pocket in case the priest is not happy with the ones you've used, or if he for some reason recognizes your voice and cops on to the fact that you've confessed to the same three sins every week for the past six months and that you are either a desperate liar or have developed a serious Jones for cookies. And remember, remember, remember!!! It is always one week since my last confession ALWAYS!!!! For if you are to tell the priest that you did not go to confession for your entire summer vacation he will be expecting a litany of villainous and satanic transgressions that will keep you saying Hail Marys and Our Fathers until the cows come home. Now once you actually enter the confessional box do not panic, Do not let the fact that it is really dark, and stinky throw you off your game. Do not try to anticipate the priest opening that little window of his, this will only cause nervousness and will over time lead to facial ticks and a fear of bright lights.  Just focus on your lines and concentrate on creating a flow, getting in the zone. “ Bless me Father for I have sinned it’s been 1 week since my last confession” , from this point sail right into the sins, don’t pause, don’t hesitate, you are in control, create the flow, remember you are just one of a hundred confessions this poor bastard is hearing today, so do not give him any reason to come up out of his private revelries to acknowledge you in any way. Get your 2 O.F’s your 3 H.M’s and get the hell out of there. These are tried and true strategies that have come down through the ages. Although there are limits to the effectiveness of these methods, they do not work on Jesuits for example, should you try it on a Christian Brother you will be wearing your ass for a hat. So be careful out there……    

The Great Escape - 

“ There is nothing more frightening then ignorance in action,” said Goethe. Well with all due respect to Mr. Goethe there is nothing more frightening then the mind of a 12-year-old boy. For not only is it truly ignorance in action but action that takes place at light speed. By the age of twelve I could do more stupid things by noon then the average eight year old commits in weeks. The most frustrating thing for the adults under whose charge I spent this time of my life, either my long suffering parents or the good Sisters, was their complete inability to comprehend why I did the things I did. If one were to ask me today how I ended up on the floor of the upstairs hallway of Holy Spirit Catholic school in a pile of shattered and splintered wood that only minutes before had been a shiny new library cart I would, being an adult, be able to look back and intelligently analyze my feelings and motives and come up with at least a plausible if not believable answer.  But alas at twelve years old my answer to the burning question “ why do you do these things? “ was always a shrug of the shoulders a tilt of the head and a mumbled “ dunno”.

Had I tried to explain the real reason it would have been the cause of much speculation as to the state of my mental capacities. It seemed like a good idea at the time was definitely not what those in authority wanted to hear. Or to try to explain to them that the tragic course the chosen action had taken was not my fault at all as I was only the catalyst that began the event and was merely along for the ride so to speak, and did not see it as my responsibility that what usually started as quite harmless and even laudable for some reason usually ended with unfortunate results. 

Let us first examine the incident with the library cart and the real reason why it happened and why, as you will readily see, I was unable to explain myself to my bewildered keepers.

Looking back that day is as crystal to me now as it was on that very day so many years ago. It was lunchtime and it was raining, in fact it had been raining for days. On a day with clement weather lunch would be finished and we would all be let loose like wild colts stampeding into the Catholic school version of a playground the parking lot . But if it was raining, the entire school had to sit quietly in the cafeteria, the Nuns like prison bulls on the wall eyeballing anyone who even thought about doing anything to upset their routine. We were allowed to go to the rest rooms in groups of 4 , should you go over your five-minute time allotment there would indeed be hell to pay. There were four Nuns rotating around the cafeteria. Three at permanent stations and one rover who at any given time would leave her post to investigate any behavior that seemed to her practiced and suspicious eye to be out of place.  Speaking in my defense at this point my downfall here could lay at the feet of my father who instilled in me at a very early age a love of reading and particularly a love of books pertaining to World War Two. For I had that summer devoured a book by Paul Brickhill entitled ‘ Great Escape ‘. The story of British POWs during WWII and the largest single escape in history. It was not so much the escape itself that thrilled me but the story of the planning of the escape complete with tunnels, small underground railroad system, air purifying ducts, print shops, hidden tunnel entrances. Real heady stuff for any twelve year old. For a twelve year old with a bit of an imagination it had a reality bending result. In this rain enforced imprisonment the cafeteria became Stalag Luft III and the Nuns transformed into Nazis guards patrolling the tripwire, constantly on guard for any suspicious activity and myself into the fearless English Squadron Leader Roger Bushell Royal Air Force, ready to outfox Jerrie at every turn. So for the last several rainy days I had painstakingly mapped out the exact routes and behavior of the guardnuns, all except the wild card. Lets call her Sister Fritz. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to her patrols. I thought however the reward to be worth the risk and vowed to the escape committee in my head, should it rain tomorrow I would head for the wire and freedom. The next day dawned partly cloudy but by lunch the rain poured down. After wolfing my PB&J, two oreos and pint of milk I was ready to make the break. I had surmised through careful and precise observation that the time that all nuns were engaged was when POWs were either leaving for or returning from the head. I had exactly ten seconds to crawl down the wall along the tables into the kitchen ducking under the windows of the cafeteria then home free down the hall and up the stairs to what was un- patrolled ground and freedom. No one could have been more surprised than I when all went exactly as planned and there I was in the upstairs-darkened hallway free as a bird. As I wandered down the darkened hallway it suddenly took on all the aspects of a tunnel, it was dark and cool and quiet. As my imagination shifted into full speed I could smell the sandy soil of the tunnel walls, I could feel that only yards above my head the entire might of the Nazis war machine gearing up to track down and put Big X (that’s me) in front of a Gestapo firing squad. As I looked to the end of the hall there was the car for the underground rail system ready to carry me to the end of the tunnel and freedom. The fact that the vehicle that was about to carry me under the trip wire was actually the school’s new library cart donated by Mr. and Mrs. O'Callahan or so the plaque claimed, did not even enter my mind. I got behind the cart gave it one good shove and mounted it stomach down head low and arms tucked in tight as not to touch the sides of the tunnel and cause a cave in. The cart literally flew down the hall/tunnel; I was on my way, under the wire, out of the tunnel, over the Alps to Switzerland then home to dear old England. It then came to my attention that the cart was rabidly picking up momentum. I was possibly going faster then any library cart had a right to go. But as we, the cart and I, sailed down the hallway I figured in for a penny in for a pound, and that bailing out at this point seemed to me to be cowardice of the highest order. Needless to say the cart and I slammed into the wall at the end of the hallway at a speed sufficient enough to shatter the cart to splinters and to knock me momentarily senseless. As I slowly regained consciousness ,my vision cleared, there looming above the shattered library cart and me stood Sister Fritz. What I said next in answer to Sister Fritz’s question “ What in God’s name are you doing ” was put down to the knock on the head I had taken in the crash. But it was the only answer they would get from me, as I looked Sister Fritz in the eye and said. “ Roger Bushell Squadron Leader, Royal Air Force, Service Number 90120.” 

Bree is a spirited and standout font that takes its inspiration from handwriting. It's sure to grab your reader's attention, especially in short paragraphs.

Sister Monica’s Ceiling Light 

 

    Every one has a conscience, that inner voice that sits on your shoulder and tells you when what your doing will have possible permanent ill effects on your future existence. But at the age of twelve that voice is still finding its way, developing its position on good and bad and sometimes not really helping all that much. Perhaps even giving out what could best be called really freaking bad advice. Such was the case with Sister Monica’s Ceiling Light.

    For what ever reason that day Sister Monica was late for class,  she had left a note on the blackboard telling us to sit quietly in our desks and read the next chapter in our books. A perfectly reasonable request and one that I am sure she fully expected to be obeyed to the fullest. But Johnny Murphy you see had brought a football to school. Yes it’s as simple as that, wars are started, civilizations toppled on less. Johnny sat two rows away and to the front of the class. I, having fully established myself as a disturbing influence , was permanently exiled to the back of the class as not to disturb the  ones who wanted to learn. Johnny turned in his seat and tossed the football in my direction yelling, “ hey catch”. Being fairly athletic this posed no problem, I simply caught the ball and tossed it back to Johnny, a throw of not more than ten feet. However as the ball in a graceful spiral arched towards Johnny ,class pain in the ass Billy Columbo jumped out of his seat and batted the football, which then careened away from it’s intended target and smashed into the ceiling light. Causing the circles of hard plastic around the light to break into several pieces and fall to the floor. A class wide sharp intake of breath then ten full seconds of terrified silence as each child in the class weighed his or her involvement in what could prove to be a life threatening disaster. Each child searched their brains for any possible collusion, then those who decided that they were free of any blame thus free of any possible repercussion began to laugh hysterically or point and proceed to detail the obvious “ Sister Monica is going to kiiiiiill you.” Myself, Johnny Murphy and Billy Colombo stood with faces drained of all color. Then all three of us began yelling and pointing, you did it, no you did it on and on. Billy a child of questionable intelligence at the best of times suddenly began running in small circles and making a noise like a chicken. Johnny succumbing to the terror of the moment and froze in a stance that could best be described as a standing fetal position. Having been raised in a house of nine children where never a day went by without something or someone breaking, I calmly took stock of the situation. Here is where my conscience or inner voice should have stepped in and suggested “ Listen just tell Sister it was an accident, take your punishment like a man and move on” Is that the advice I got…. No, far from it. From somewhere deep inside came the thought “ hey why not glue the pieces back together, no one will be the wiser.” So enlisting the aid of Johnny Murphy as Billy was still making poultry noises, I collected the broken pieces of plastic got the glue from the back closet and proceeded to balance myself on a chair on the desk, and in minutes had glued the broken shards back together without a trace, well maybe if you looked real close you could see a hairline crack. But I felt it a job well done. Now the next order of business was to threaten each and every class member and assure them that if they broke omerta there was nowhere they could hide. All seemed well in hand as we, to a child, became engrossed in our English textbooks. And just in the nick of time, for suddenly the door flew open and Sister Monica catapulted into the room obviously expecting to catch someone doing something. What she saw instead was each and every child reading with a vengeance. Something was up she was sure. With her best Nun sonar sweeping the room she stalked the aisles confident in her abilities to unmask any and all transgressors. With her head tilting first to one side then the other she knew she was picking up the scent of fear from somewhere. She would bide her time, her instincts told her that something was amiss, her prey she was sure would make a mistake and reveal itself eventually. She walked to the front of the class , turned on the lights and sat behind her desk. Yes… she turned on the lights. Hadn’t thought about that, I’m sure it will be fine I thought. Glue must be hard by now. As the light bulb heated up the glue began to slowly take on a light rose color, then deeper and deeper red as the heat from the light bulb intensified. As I looked from the light around the class room I realized that each and every one of my classmates were staring with mouths agape at the light that was now a deep cadmium red, and beginning to smoke. I quickly tore my eyes from the light and back to my English book, for there was no chance at this point that Sister M would not cop on to the fact that the light in the middle of her classroom was transmutating. Perhaps she would think it was a miracle of some kind and that a quick call to Father Donnelly or a direct to the Vatican might be in order. It was then that I heard the rustle of Nun habit as she stalked down the aisle, if I don’t look up she’ll pass me by I thought. It was then that Billy Columbo started up again with the chicken noises and Johnny Murphy giving in to the fear put his head down on his desk and began to cry. I on the other hand continued to be engrossed with the diagramming of sentence structure until all light was blotted out by the looming shadowy presence of Sister Monica. I will not go into detail with what happened next, suffice to say punishment was swift and painful. I was to spend the next few weeks after school working off the cost of a new light. My partners in crime however got off scot-free, Johnny Murphy because he cried enough to make the nuns believe that he truly regretted the incident and would never do it again. Billy Columbo got off because they needed the eggs.

Upon seeing a man eat his lunch at Cafolas Ballina Co. Mayo.    

Well, didn’t he have a epic head on him. Who ever was in charge of the handing out of heads  did this Boyo no favors at all. A massive  fifty dollar pumkin of a head. How his neck held up under the strain is anybody guess , to be sure the pure genius of the mystery of engineering it took to accomplish this task must have been the subject of  much talk throughout the vicinity . Wouldn't ya think,  in all fairness, if the good Lord had seen fit to put that much head in one spot He would have made it easy to look at. But sadly no, for smack dab in the center of that milk bucket of a head was a face that would have seemed more at home with a mouthful of hay then sitting there two tables over pounding down a huge feed of sausages, egg and mushy peas. The colour of the head in question was variables of red, no two ways about it , some of it a pinkish, sort of red up around the apex of the thing , with a  purplish red, and fair play to ya if you  claimed magenta,  as your eyes jouneyed down to that lump that I am sure at one time could have been referred to as a nose. I think to myself ( feeling sorry for the ould fella) would it have  been a problem at all for him to be the bearer of a lovely set of lips , who would it have hurt to at the least give him that, but no , he was absolutely lipless, like a butchers slice in a joint of pork  into which he hurled sausage after sausage, whose steady stream into this lipless maw was only interrupted by noisy slurps of tea. He had a snowman's eyes , little bits of coal stuck hapazardly into his mug with seemingly no effort nor attention paid to proper alignment .  On each side of this monster were lumps of skin that had obviously suffered greatly at having been pinned to the outside of this monumental noodle, these lumps, inspite of  their appearance, seemed to work well as the waitress called across "more tea  Neddy ?" a  grunt from Neddy  never losing the rythm in this solo dance of sausages and tea. I did not at all fathom the meaning of that grunt the waitress however signaled her understanding of Neddys needs, nodded and went about her business. Our Neddy was clad in that one piece overall common to farmers throughout the West , it was at one time, pure conjecture here, blue . The colour of the thing was now beyond description  subtle hints of tractor grease , turf, sheep shite, cow's piss and countless long days of farmer sweat created a colour found nowhere in nature. Following his legs down to their  conclusion there at the end of each was the essential footware of any self respecting farmer  a pair of  Wellies, his coveralls packed into the top of each  so as to keep his coveralls out of the mountains of shite he slogged through for most of his day ,for most of his life truth be told. 

    Ah but did he look happy ?  My thoughts on this was that he was one of those to whom happiness was not a function he needed to waste any thought on. If asked the question he would give you a look from those tiny eyes stuck in that massive skull, what does happy have to do with it he might say  ? With work to do ,  stock to tend , rock walls to mend , and shite to shovel. Happy gets naught done . Now if asked if he were unhappy you would very well get the same response. With a big slurp of the last of his tea, pushing away the plate now devoid of sausages,  yer man  rises up out of his chair and very carefully sets coin down on the table with a look around the room that says if any touch the coin but fer herself I'll feckin' do ya. And in a waft of earthy pungent  aroma Neddy was gone, so I finished my sausage and chips, my large Club O,  no ice please, and went about my day.......

When I do a portrait of someone particularly someone I know it is
l
Caffe Lena Audition.    

When I do a portrait of someone particularly someone I know it is like spending real time with this person , memories and thoughts of times spent, of past conversations become real again. So when doing a portrait of Lena Spencer my trip down memory lane brought this story to mind. Meeting Lena Spencer some 37 years ago was an experience that to this day fills me with wonder  and  certainly is very high up on my list of the very cool  things I have been lucky enough to experience. Back some 37 years ago a gig at Caffé Lena  was certification that you had attained a level, to be able to put that you had performed at the Caffé   on your PR was, if not a boost to your bottom line, certainly did your ego no harm at all. After a year or so of sending recordings, letters ,phone calls I finally got an audition at  the Caffé. I had been in touring bands and was no rookie at high preassure performances or auditions, however this one filled me with a massive bone rattling fear. I had talked to Lena on the phone which in and of itself was a major event “ Jesus H. I just talked to Lena Spencer on the F’n phone !!!” So you can imagine my world shaking just a tad when she said “can you be here tomorrow at 2”  I mumbled something that I am sure was somewhere between  yes and AAAAHHH…..hung up the phone ,a minute or two spent in shocked silence, then the whooping and the jumping and then, wait for it….. “OOOOH F**CKin’  hell !!!!!!!”  It slowly sunk  into my thick  skull that I had to watch my daughter Kate. 2 years old at the time. Do I call Lena and tell her sorry  can’t be at the audition, gotta babysit. I had been working for more than a year on this , can’t do that.  Call my sisters ,nope , call friends ,nope ….No options  , take her with you. OK… that is very easy to say… those of you who have been in the company of a two year old know that it is a very precarious and dicy spot that can , in a heartbeat , go wrong in so many ways. But there it is . So the next day at noonish I got the big bag, the bottles, the diapers ,the baby powder, the toys, the tissue , don’t forget that damn stuffed beaver thing that seems to be her world. The small jars of Gerber vegetable and beef ( which for some reason always sets off my gag reflex ) strained peas and applesauce.The spoon, don’t forget the damn spoon…. Load the bag into the car ,load Kate into the car, get in the car ,out of the driveway, at the stop sign on the corner , turn around ,go back, load the guitar into the car, head for Saratoga. The drive up to Saratoga was spent in  a self deprecating tirade that I have since refined into an art form, I can’t do this ,I suck , I am auditioning for Lena Spencer for Christ sake ,what the hell was I thinking, she is going to figure out in a heartbeat that I don’t have a clue. My songs suck, my God man you  can’t  even play the damn guitar. You get the idea….So arriving at 47 Phila , the big bag, the child, the guitar, out the car, up the stairs. There I was….. Caffé Lena, empty, nobody, just me, Kate and the photos of all the  incredible and historic performers who had graced this hollowed hall, all looking down at me with a look that screamed…  you sir  do not belong here  ? … There they were, Arlo, Bob, Ramblin’Jack, U Utah,Rosalie,Dave Van Ronk, The McGarrigle’s Anna and Kate,Jerry Jeff, the sisters Roche, Christine Lavin with her knitting and baton, Odetta for Christ sake… ODETTA !!! All looking down on me and shaking their heads and suggesting perhaps that I should rethink my choice and go back to swinging a hammer  OK…. nobody home…. off ya go… run for it, head for the door, here is your chance boyo ,no harm done .Then a voice from the depths of the Caffé “ hello be right there”….shit!!!!…. too late. Now I had been to the Caffé and had of course seen Lena intro performers but other than a phone conversation lasting only a minute tops, I had never officially met her . I  said hello I am Kevin McKrell ,Lena never looking at me, simply said “ and who is this”  OK I thought, I just said who I was, what’s up ??? Then I realized she was not looking at me at all as I stood there with big bag, baby and guitar. Oh… this is my daughter Kate says I ,and proceeded to give out  an apologie choked blather about babysitting , big bags and diapers. Lena says “here give her to me while you get set”…the two of them disappear into the back , I get out my guitar trying desperately to center myself, get a grip Sonny Jim. It seemed to me that they, Lena and Kate , were gone for decades leaving me sitting there looking at that stage, that room. Back they come, the two of them with absolutely not even a glance in my direction. Kate in her arms like she belonged ,Lena talking to her in a way that let me know I had no part to play in this conversation, Then Lena looks at me and says “do you give her zwieback?” ….she might as well have been speaking in Greek , Zwiewhat, I thought , Christ this is going well, my answer to this question was uhhhhh. Lena gave me a withering look ,shaking her head   and glanced down at Kate as if to say  your Dad’s a bit of a mook .“Well…. she seems to love it” says Lena. Who then looks at my guitar as if to say  get on with it I don’t have all day. 

    The audition went well, I did get a gig ,the first of many thank God. But to this day I don’t believe Lena listened to a word, for the entire audition Kate and Lena  carried on a conversation  to which I was simply  background music. 


portrait of Lena Spencer my trip down memory lane brought this story
to mind. 

Meeting Lena Spencer some 37 years ago was an experience that to this
day fills me with wonder and certainly is very high up on my list of
the very cool things I have been lucky enough to experience. Back some
37 years ago a gig at Caffé Lena was certification that you had
attained a level, to be able to put that you had performed at the
Caffé on your PR was, if not a boost to your bottom line, certainly
did your ego no harm at all. After a year or so of sending recordings,
letters ,phone calls I finally got an audition at the Caffé. I had
been in touring bands and was no rookie at high preassure performances
or auditions, however this one filled me with a massive bone rattling
fear. I had talked to Lena on the phone which in and of itself was a
major event “ Jesus H. I just talked to Lena Spencer on the F’n
phone !!!” So you can imagine my world shaking just a tad when she
said “can you be here tomorrow at 2” I mumbled something that I am
sure was somewhere between yes and AAAAHHH…..hung up the phone ,a
minute or two spent in shocked silence, then the whooping and the
jumping and then, wait for it….. “OOOOH F**CKin’ hell !!!!!!!”
It slowly sunk into my thick skull that I had to watch my daughter
Kate. 2 years old at the time. Do I call Lena and tell her sorry
can’t be at the audition, gotta babysit. I had been working for more
than a year on this , can’t do that. Call my sisters ,nope , call
friends ,nope ….No options , take her with you. OK… that is very
easy to say… those of you who have been in the company of a two year
old know that it is a very precarious and dicy spot that can , in a
heartbeat , go wrong in so many ways. But there it is . So the next
day at noonish I got the big bag, the bottles, the diapers ,the baby
powder, the toys, the tissue , don’t forget that damn stuffed beaver
thing that seems to be her world. The small jars of Gerber vegetable
and beef ( which for some reason always sets off my gag reflex )
strained peas and applesauce.The spoon, don’t forget the damn
spoon…. Load the bag into the car ,load Kate into the car, get in
the car ,out of the driveway, at the stop sign on the corner , turn
around ,go back, load the guitar into the car, head for Saratoga. The
drive up to Saratoga was spent in a self deprecating tirade that I
have since refined into an art form, I can’t do this ,I suck , I am
auditioning for Lena Spencer for Christ sake ,what the hell was I
thinking, she is going to figure out in a heartbeat that I don’t
have a clue. My songs suck, my God man you can’t even play the damn
guitar. You get the idea….So arriving at 47 Phila , the big bag, the
child, the guitar, out the car, up the stairs. There I was….. Caffé
Lena, empty, nobody, just me, Kate and the photos of all the
incredible and historic performers who had graced this hollowed hall,
all looking down at me with a look that screamed… you sir do not
belong here ? … There they were, Arlo, Bob, Ramblin’Jack, U
Utah,Rosalie,Dave Van Ronk, The McGarrigle’s Anna and Kate,Jerry
Jeff, the sisters Roche, Christine Lavin with her knitting and baton,
Odetta for Christ sake… ODETTA !!! All looking down on me and
shaking their heads and suggesting perhaps that I should rethink my
choice and go back to swinging a hammer OK…. nobody home…. off ya
go… run for it, head for the door, here is your chance boyo ,no harm
done .Then a voice from the depths of the Caffé “ hello be right
there”….shit!!!!…. too late. Now I had been to the Caffé and
had of course seen Lena intro performers but other than a phone
conversation lasting only a minute tops, I had never officially met
her . I said hello I am Kevin McKrell ,Lena never looking at me,
simply said “ and who is this” OK I thought, I just said who I
was, what’s up ??? Then I realized she was not looking at me at all
as I stood there with big bag, baby and guitar. Oh… this is my
daughter Kate says I ,and proceeded to give out an apologie choked
blather about babysitting , big bags and diapers. Lena says “here
give her to me while you get set”…the two of them disappear into
the back , I get out my guitar trying desperately to center myself,
get a grip Sonny Jim. It seemed to me that they, Lena and Kate , were
gone for decades leaving me sitting there looking at that stage, that
room. Back they come, the two of them with absolutely not even a
glance in my direction. Kate in her arms like she belonged ,Lena
talking to her in a way that let me know I had no part to play in this
conversation, Then Lena looks at me and says “do you give her
zwieback?” ….she might as well have been speaking in Greek ,
Zwiewhat, I thought , Christ this is going well, my answer to this
question was uhhhhh. Lena gave me a withering look ,shaking her head
and glanced down at Kate as if to say your Dad’s a bit of a mook
.“Well…. she seems to love it” says Lena. Who then looks at my
guitar as if to say get on with it I don’t have all day.  

The audition went well, I did get a gig ,the first of many thank
God. But to this day I don’t believe Lena listened to a word, for
the entire audition Kate and Lena carried on a conversation to which I
was simply background music.