Monday, April 27, 2015

Next Time Around

Last Sunday, we drove fifty-eight miles to Hayward, California to attend the annual Northern California Ukulele Festival. I wore my Kamaka Hawaii hat, and my colorful Kamaka Hawaii dress shirt, and I had bought both items at the Kamaka store on Oahu.  We try going each year to the festival and scour booths that sell ukuleles and Hawaii-themed items, and listen to ukulele music in the auditorium.  I use the day to inspire me to pick up one of my three ukuleles and start playing, when I get home.

I have two inexpensive ones in flimsy, cloth cases that I bought at festivals, and one very good Kamaka model, which tends to gather dust at times.

I have always felt a sentimental tie to ukuleles after I learned that my father courted my mother in a canoe on Belle Isle in Detroit in the early 1930s, while strumming away on his ukulele.

When I was in Oahu, Hawaii in 1988, I went to the Polynesian Cultural Center run by the Mormon Church, and was standing by a canal when a boat floated by with a man strumming his ukulele. I shouted, “What kind of ukulele is that?” and he answered, “It’s a Kamaka. The only one I’d ever buy.” “Where are they sold?” I asked, and he replied, “Over on South Street.”

When I left the Center, I drove to Kamaka Hawaii, Inc. at 550 South Street, and met Sam, Jr. and Fred, the two sons of the founder Samuel K. Kamaka, Sr. I decided to write an article on the Kamaka family for the San Jose Mercury News travel section. When it was published, I was paid $150 for my time and effort, which didn’t really compensate me for my air travel to and from California, my car rental cost, my hotel and meals. I had gone to Hawaii for a vacation and to visit friends, and not to write a story.

I also bought my Kamaka ukulele for $250, and that price included a solid protective carrying case. Sam, Jr. burned the following onto the front of my ukulele just above the sound hole, “Aloha! Sam Kamaka. 9/9/1988.”

Since then, I have bought ukulele song books, dozens of vinyl albums, cds, and discs by Hawaiian musicians, videos on how to play, taken a group lesson from one professional, two private lessons from another, check instructional videos on You Tube, and have attended ukulele concerts. I have also visited the islands many times.

In the nearly twenty-six years since I acquired my Kamaka, I may have played it fifty times, or about twice a year. I get frustrated each time that I try, for my finger dexterity is lacking, and I am loath to practice. I have taken an inexpensive model when we go on an extended driving vacation, and I play for five or ten minutes at the start of each trip, before the ukulele gets relegated to the back seat.

If I really wanted to, I could have been a ukulele virtuoso by now.

I have owned my Kamaka for 9,496 days, and if I had devoted just five minutes a day to playing the instrument, that would total 47,880 minutes. That converts into 798 hours, playing just a bit at a time.

If I really wanted to be a proficient ukulele musician, I could have been one. At times I really wanted to master the ukulele, but I lacked the devotion, desire, and dedication to do so. I also let life get in the way.

Instead of playing, I devoted time to family, teaching, researching, making presentations on my research around the US, Israel and Australia, traveling around the world and other places, playing table tennis, and living. Writing also consumed much of my time, and that’s what I am doing right now. I have spent hours trying to get this piece to sing, the same way I have done with countless other articles and blogs. I also spent more than 950 hours working on my first book The Oy Way, and am now working on my second book, My Incredible Odyssey. 

Although I have failed to learn how to play the ukulele, buying my Kamaka back in 1988 was a good move. After talking with Chris Kamaka at the recent Ukulele Festival, I learned that my Kamaka is now selling for $895. However, I have no intention of selling it for a profit, since there is still time to learn how to play it, if I really want to do so.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Face the Nation

The NCAA college basketball season is finally over, and the next hoopla comes with the NBA playoffs.

Then the sports scene will be dominated by major league baseball, and I will then no longer rush to the daily sports pages, nor anxiously await my weekly Sports Illustrated.

The NCAA tournament had one of the truly class-less team in the University of Kentucky Wildcats, made up of young men with basketball maturity, but some possessed limited social maturity or grace.

Kill the Messenger
Once the misguided media anointed them as the best basketball team ever, they became invincible royalty in their own minds. Their fairly classy coach John Calipari tried to tell his team, and the rest of the world, that they hadn’t accomplished anything yet with their 38 straight wins without a loss.

Wasted on the Young
However, their leading players were very young and of their sixteen players on their roster, four were freshman and seven were sophomores. Of the sixty-eight teams in the NCAA tournament, Kentucky was 24th on the list of graduation rates.

The Kentucky team’s social immaturity was on display after they lost their first game in the semi-finals against the University of Wisconsin. It has been a custom in these games, that the two teams and their coaches line up, and shake the hand of the opposing team’s players. The only UK person doing so on national television was Coach Calipari, as his dejected, immature players sulked as they dejectedly walked off the court with nary a handshake.

Of course, they are young, and understandably feeling down after they had become the designated champions, before they won the title.

What He Said
The most class-less of them all was one of the African-American Harrison twins, sophomore Andrew. He and the team couldn’t avoid the post game media gathering, where players sit at a table and answer questions. When their outstanding 6’11” African-American freshman center Karl-Anthony Towns was asked about defending against Wisconsin’s 7’0” White senior Frank Kaminsky, Andrew, who was sitting a few feet away, didn’t know that has microphone was open, and muttered into his own mature remarks about Frank.

The straight, Puritanical media couldn’t put Andrews actual words down, so they printed, “F - - - the N - - - - - A media uproar ensued about what Andrew had said, and afterwards, Andrew first tweeted that he wanted to apologize to Frank, and then he called him.

Frank, the mature senior, said, “He apologized to me, we talked about it, we’re over it. Nothing more needs to be made of it.”

What He Meant
Can’t understand what the fuss is all about, and why didn’t Andrew just tell Frank to appear on “Face the Nation?” Isn’t that what Andrew meant before the media inserted all of those dashes, instead of letters, into his quote?