Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Charlie

Many of you who know me know Charlie Heaton.  He is my hero.  My American idol.  My reluctant surrogate Dad.  My mentor.  My friend.

The picture of Charlie posted here does him great justice.  When you take away his shining example and the proud way that he comports himself, and all of his accomplishments and talent, you get what you see here.  A regular guy.

But I must tell you, "regular" people are getting harder and harder to find.  Many of us seem to be caught up in this out of control vortex that our society creates.  The things we used to hold sacred, we now hold in contempt.  But the very cool things that I hold sacred about Charlie is what he holds sacred too.  The 13 seconds of reverb in the Temple Church in London when Sir George T. Thalben-Ball was the master of music.  Or the sound of a 1946 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith as it quietly revs through first gear.  Or the low CCCC on the 32 foot Bombarde Magna on Opus 883 at East Liberty Presbyterian.

He and I admire many of the same people.  Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, Virgil Fox.  But what is elegant to behold is how he still holds his lovely departed wife Jane so close to his unselfish heart.  But then we're talkin' Charlie here.  The man oozes elegance.

I met Charlie at the Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri in June of 1971.  I was stationed across the Mississippi River at Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Illinois.  And as a geek of only 20 years, I already loved organ music.  And so when I found this guy playing this Sunday afternoon recital listed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I leapt at the opportunity.  There, I met his wife Jane, his daughter Beck and sons "Hud" and Matthew.  Matt was literally about a foot and a half tall when we first met.  But when I met Charlie, I was amazed at his raw talent and his obvious down home humility.  He has not changed one bit.

When he came to Pittsburgh, the same thing happened.  I was looking over the Lively Arts section of the Pittsburgh Press and saw this same name, Charles Huddleston Heaton playing a Sunday afternoon recital at a church just about 10 blocks from where I was working at the time.  This was in 1974.  I found my way to the recital and there he was.  Only now he was playing even better than before, and it was NOT the organ.

Over the years, I hung on to Charlie's friendship like a pit bull hanging on to a piece of a Goodyear tire.  I attended all of his recitals and still do to this very day.  And there are thousands of "Charlie" stories that I can tell you.  Not hundreds.  Thousands.  And they're all true.

But let me tell you just the latest story.  It happened today.  I was helping Charlie move his rather modest but elegant stereo system to a new apartment in the independent living building where he holds court.  We moved up the "tower" of components and vinyl records, many of which would be considered musical collector's items.  After we positioned the very high-end stereo speakers properly, he played a CD that I gave to him a few weeks ago.  On it was The A & A Waltz, a composition by Peter Ostroushko, a dear friend and mandolin magician.  We listened to Peter play along with his great piano buddy Rich Dworsky.  I said "Well, sir, that sounds great...let's turn it off and get going."  Charlie said "...wait....".   As the tune modulated back to the tonic key and the phrase ended, he said "There.  Now we can turn it off."  Let me go on record to say that I have NEVER met another musician who has that degree of RESPECT for music.

This is not a eulogy.  Charlie is very much alive and in great health.  You can look him up in the phone book and go an pay him a visit the next time you're in Pittsburgh.  And if you DID visit with him, you'll take away something that you didn't have before you met him.  It would be a feeling like the one you have after listening to Scott Joplin's piano masterpiece "Solace" or Bach's great "St. Anne's" Prelude and Fugue in E flat major.

And you'll never be the same again.  Trust me.  I know.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Divine intervention

Well, Happy New Year.  The time honored tradition here in the Pegritz family is to celebrate New Year's Day by going to the Taj Mahal.  Not the one in India, the one on McKnight Road.  They have an 8 buck buffet there.  Among some of the "regulars" found under the hot lights, I spied a dish called "Chilly Chicken".  As I reached for the oversized spoon, the proprietor said "Excuse me sir, but that's very, very hort" in his Indian accent.  I said that over the last five decades, I have built up a tolerance to "hort" foods, so I spooned away.  And so did the woman behind me.

The woman who was behind me in the buffet line must have really made God angry at some time in her life.  You see, there she was with her husband, her three children, and someone who I'll bet was her mother.  Like me, it's only fitting to ring in the New Year with a curry and chili infested bang.  And, like me, she spooned a bit of Chilly Chicken on her dish.  Her demonic son, who I'd estimate at about age 4, started to whine.  "I want some of that RED chicken."  Mother quietly said "No, this is too spicy for your little tongue."  And the more Mommy warned against it, the louder Little Lord Fauntleroy screamed.  I WANT IT.  I WANT IT.  CHICKEN, CHICKEN, CHICKEN.....AHHHHHHHHHH....I WANT THAT CHICKEN.  Mother continued to look around and probably thanked the closest diety that me and the owner were the only ones in the dining room.  AHHHHHHH CHICKEN......AHHHHHHHH.   Remember what I said;  the more Mommy said "no", the more Perciville or whatever his evil name is, continued to whine like the siren on the Presidential Cadillac.

But then, it happened.  Mommy reached for her purse which was on the ground and cast her gaze downward and that little angel reached over, speared a nice chunk of the chicken from hell, and put it right into his mouth in a sweeping motion that would have scored a 9.9 in the Olympics.  Then, under my breath, I counted;  "Five..four...three...two...one."  "AAAAIIIIIIIIIYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!"  Suddenly, my heart leaped for joy.  AAAAIIIIIYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEE again!!!!!  The unchewed morsel of Chilly Chicken found it's way to the carpet and the kid cut loose like a Nascar driver under the green flag.  He shot around the restaurant as if his pants were on fire.  They weren't.  It was his tongue.  Then, if that wasn't enough, Mommy caught him and said "Here, drink this!!!!"  (Those of you who are in the know are aware that the only thing that water does is increase the heat of the fry.)   AAAAIIIIIYYEEEEEEEEE.

The entire thing reminded me to always give thanks at the beginning and at the end of a meal.

Now, to those readers who are made of alabaster or have skin as thin as rice paper, I do not in any way tolerate or support the abuse of children.  Nor do I take pleasure in the suffering of the young.  But this kid was asking for it.  No, BEGGING for it.  And since Mommy wasn't going to get out the hickory stick, Fate did.  And in 5 minutes the burning went away from his tongue.  But I'll just bet that the burning is still very fresh in his little brat brain.

"Chilly" chicken has now become my favorite Indian dish.