My Life as a Lug Nut

Debi Snider
Copyright 2003
This is a true story and took place in El Paso in 1987

“The Red Rose Lounge”……….hearing the name by itself suggests it might
be a nice place to relax at the end of a long day, with some nice piano bar music, some greenery here and there, polished brass railings along a shiny oak bar, a handsome Tom Cruise-type bartender mixing and serving exotic drinks to the yuppie crowd. But when you add the street name to the location of this lounge, the locals know it is on one of the worst streets in town and is more commonly known as a “dive”. I’m still not sure where the term “dive” originated, but I feel it may have something to do with a person taking a headlong dive into a world of alcoholic misery, for that is what I was about to do.

I was in rehearsals with a surefire up and coming rock band during the week (whatever happened to them?), when the drummer pulled me aside one day to talk. J.R. was playing on weekends with a three-piece band at the Red Rose Lounge, and would I like to bring my equipment out and sit in with them sometime……of course there would be no money involved, but it would be “fun”. Well, being the ham musician I am, I rarely ever turned down a chance to perform, so there I was! I soon became a regular fixture at the Rose, and before too long, I was on the payroll at a whopping $15 a night, every Friday and Saturday night from 9 till 2AM.

The stage, such as it was, was very small, and only about 8 inches above the dance floor, and barely enough room for the three guys, so I set up on the side near the fire exit (good thing there was never a fire!). The band’s unofficial name was “Mixed Nuts”, and since I was off to the side, I became affectionately known as the “Lug Nut”. My trademark song was ‘The Rose”, appropriately enough, and I sang it twice every night. Sometimes people noticed, but most times they didn’t. The clientele at the Red Rose Lounge, was a very serious drinking bunch no white wine spritzers or fancy drinks for these folks. Beer, the cheaper the better, the occasional whiskey and Coke and not even any pretzels on the bar in cute little baskets. No, if you happened to get hungry during the night, there was a vending machine in the back hallway, full of stale cheese and crackers, and candy bars.

One of the regular patrons, was a down on his luck fellow named (for the purpose of this story) Larry. Now, Larry had a very serious drinking problem, which probably explained why he was homeless. He would rather drink than do anything else in the world, including working to make money for a place to live. Rose, the bar owner, was one tough cookie most of the time, but had a soft spot for Larry, and let him sleep in the back office when it was really cold or wet outside, and Larry did a few odd jobs in order to get his beer for free. The rest of the time, Larry, I was told, slept in the desert under a shrub, and wandered the streets looking for handouts.

Larry began sitting at the table nearest my keyboard every night that I was there, and really paying attention to my music, to the point where he was heckling the band because I wasn’t singing enough songs. He would try to talk to me on breaks, but I was trying to keep my distance, not knowing exactly what his motives might be. Because he was usually so drunk and hard to talk with, I was polite, and tried to laugh things off, until one fateful Saturday night. Larry finally drank enough to get the nerve to tell me that not only had he fallen in love with me, but I was the “love of his life”, and he would do anything for a chance to prove his love to me. My pulse quickened, my heart was racing, but not for the declaration of his love, it was time to panic here I was slowly inching my way towards the fire exit door, while this poor guy is earnestly promising he will cut his long hair, give up his earring, get a job and find a place to live, if only I will give him a chance. But he didn’t want to do any of those things for himself, to make his life better, only for me. I tried to explain as gently as I could, that a person couldn’t, and shouldn’t have to change himself just to make another person love him, to make himself worthy of love. I assured him that he could put his life back together, then surely there would be someone in his future that would find him to be the perfect mate, but for now, it wasn’t me. I wasn’t the cause of his current problems, and I couldn’t be the solution for his future. I was not very convincing, and Larry didn’t take this very well, he said he cared only about me, not himself, not his family, and since I wasn’t going to give him a chance, he might as well have a few more drinks and he did. I was very anxious about this turn of events, as I had never had an “admirer” such as Larry, and didn’t realize until then just how dangerous it can be, to be in the “spotlight” so to speak, even in a low class place like the Red Rose Lounge.

One Monday morning not long after my encounter with Larry, I went to the club to pick up my equipment for my other band’s rehearsal, and had to wait a few minutes for them to open. The bar opened at 10 AM every day, and as I sat in my 20-year-old station wagon with 150,000 miles on the odometer, I saw several of the “regulars” walking up, they weren’t fortunate enough to even own a car, to wait by the door. These were the same people who I saw every Friday and Saturday night, and here they were, bright and early on Monday morning……waiting to get in. I wondered what kind of lives these men and women had lived in the past, and what road had led them to spend most of their waking hours in a dim, smoke-filled dive like the Red Rose Lounge. If I kept playing here and drinking like I was, could my future be staring me in the face? How in the world did I get involved in this place? At that moment I realized I had a choice to make.

As I loaded the last of my equipment into my car (by myself), one of the fellows hopped off his bar stool long enough to hold the door open for me while I carried out a single mic stand……he told me how much he enjoyed my music and hoped I’d play there a long time. I looked into his tired, worn face, smiled my best smile, said thank you, got into my car, drove away, and never returned to the Red Rose Lounge. I’m sure it’s still in business today. I wonder if Larry is still there……….

Sureshot, El Paso, 1987

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My Life as a Lug Nut

Debi Snider
Copyright 2003
This is a true story and took place in El Paso in 1987

“The Red Rose Lounge”……….hearing the name by itself suggests it might
be a nice place to relax at the end of a long day, with some nice piano bar music, some greenery here and there, polished brass railings along a shiny oak bar, a handsome Tom Cruise-type bartender mixing and serving exotic drinks to the yuppie crowd. But when you add the street name to the location of this lounge, the locals know it is on one of the worst streets in town and is more commonly known as a “dive”. I’m still not sure where the term “dive” originated, but I feel it may have something to do with a person taking a headlong dive into a world of alcoholic misery, for that is what I was about to do.

I was in rehearsals with a surefire up and coming rock band during the week (whatever happened to them?), when the drummer pulled me aside one day to talk. J.R. was playing on weekends with a three-piece band at the Red Rose Lounge, and would I like to bring my equipment out and sit in with them sometime……of course there would be no money involved, but it would be “fun”. Well, being the ham musician I am, I rarely ever turned down a chance to perform, so there I was! I soon became a regular fixture at the Rose, and before too long, I was on the payroll at a whopping $15 a night, every Friday and Saturday night from 9 till 2AM.

The stage, such as it was, was very small, and only about 8 inches above the dance floor, and barely enough room for the three guys, so I set up on the side near the fire exit (good thing there was never a fire!). The band’s unofficial name was “Mixed Nuts”, and since I was off to the side, I became affectionately known as the “Lug Nut”. My trademark song was ‘The Rose”, appropriately enough, and I sang it twice every night. Sometimes people noticed, but most times they didn’t. The clientele at the Red Rose Lounge, was a very serious drinking bunch no white wine spritzers or fancy drinks for these folks. Beer, the cheaper the better, the occasional whiskey and Coke and not even any pretzels on the bar in cute little baskets. No, if you happened to get hungry during the night, there was a vending machine in the back hallway, full of stale cheese and crackers, and candy bars.

One of the regular patrons, was a down on his luck fellow named (for the purpose of this story) Larry. Now, Larry had a very serious drinking problem, which probably explained why he was homeless. He would rather drink than do anything else in the world, including working to make money for a place to live. Rose, the bar owner, was one tough cookie most of the time, but had a soft spot for Larry, and let him sleep in the back office when it was really cold or wet outside, and Larry did a few odd jobs in order to get his beer for free. The rest of the time, Larry, I was told, slept in the desert under a shrub, and wandered the streets looking for handouts.

Larry began sitting at the table nearest my keyboard every night that I was there, and really paying attention to my music, to the point where he was heckling the band because I wasn’t singing enough songs. He would try to talk to me on breaks, but I was trying to keep my distance, not knowing exactly what his motives might be. Because he was usually so drunk and hard to talk with, I was polite, and tried to laugh things off, until one fateful Saturday night. Larry finally drank enough to get the nerve to tell me that not only had he fallen in love with me, but I was the “love of his life”, and he would do anything for a chance to prove his love to me. My pulse quickened, my heart was racing, but not for the declaration of his love, it was time to panic here I was slowly inching my way towards the fire exit door, while this poor guy is earnestly promising he will cut his long hair, give up his earring, get a job and find a place to live, if only I will give him a chance. But he didn’t want to do any of those things for himself, to make his life better, only for me. I tried to explain as gently as I could, that a person couldn’t, and shouldn’t have to change himself just to make another person love him, to make himself worthy of love. I assured him that he could put his life back together, then surely there would be someone in his future that would find him to be the perfect mate, but for now, it wasn’t me. I wasn’t the cause of his current problems, and I couldn’t be the solution for his future. I was not very convincing, and Larry didn’t take this very well, he said he cared only about me, not himself, not his family, and since I wasn’t going to give him a chance, he might as well have a few more drinks and he did. I was very anxious about this turn of events, as I had never had an “admirer” such as Larry, and didn’t realize until then just how dangerous it can be, to be in the “spotlight” so to speak, even in a low class place like the Red Rose Lounge.

One Monday morning not long after my encounter with Larry, I went to the club to pick up my equipment for my other band’s rehearsal, and had to wait a few minutes for them to open. The bar opened at 10 AM every day, and as I sat in my 20-year-old station wagon with 150,000 miles on the odometer, I saw several of the “regulars” walking up, they weren’t fortunate enough to even own a car, to wait by the door. These were the same people who I saw every Friday and Saturday night, and here they were, bright and early on Monday morning……waiting to get in. I wondered what kind of lives these men and women had lived in the past, and what road had led them to spend most of their waking hours in a dim, smoke-filled dive like the Red Rose Lounge. If I kept playing here and drinking like I was, could my future be staring me in the face? How in the world did I get involved in this place? At that moment I realized I had a choice to make.

As I loaded the last of my equipment into my car (by myself), one of the fellows hopped off his bar stool long enough to hold the door open for me while I carried out a single mic stand……he told me how much he enjoyed my music and hoped I’d play there a long time. I looked into his tired, worn face, smiled my best smile, said thank you, got into my car, drove away, and never returned to the Red Rose Lounge. I’m sure it’s still in business today. I wonder if Larry is still there……..

Sureshot 1987

Sureshot, El Paso, 1987

My Love Affair….with the Piano….

I’ve written a lot about my musical background, including my shady days as a bar-fly, but music still is my heart’s desire, even at my age. I grew up with piano music in my house, and as a small child, I think I just assumed everyone’s mother played the piano like mine did. I must have thought every house had a piano, just like a sofa or dining table. I didn’t know that not everyone heard the music of Chopin, Beethoven or Rachmaninoff being played in their own living room. What wonders these kids missed out on, for sure!

So, of course, I think the piano is the best musical instrument ever invented by mankind. The piano, under the right touch, can produce any style of music, from classical to ragtime to country to pop. Nothing against guitarists, because I do know some really awesome players, but I feel the piano outshines them all. My mother, who is a mere 18 years older than me, has such a lyrical, melodic style that I have tried to emulate for 50+ years, without success. She was classically trained and it shines through in whatever she plays. Someone once described my style as “Broadway”, but I think it’s Broadway meets country meets Southern Baptist……it just depends on where and what I’m playing.

My talent is just a shade past its prime these days, as arthritis has made my hands slow and my fingers clumsy; and my style has become simpler, less adorned….playing safer means fewer mistakes. It breaks my heart at times, because I love to sit down and play; and now I get a little frustrated because of the limitations. Ah, well….such is life, though. I’m still blessed to be able to play and I’m thankful that my mother shared her knowledge with me at an early age and instilled in my heart my love of good music.

Techno-geek-wannabe…that’s ME!

Until 1998, my hubby and I did not own a computer at all. We entered into the technology world very hesitantly. When we bought our first PC, we didn’t even know what to ask for or look for, we just bought one that had a printer and a scanner, and it was almost $2,000.00. Now we are on our third desktop model and third laptop…..in 13 years. Prices have gone down considerably, but they are still not cheap. The current desktop is acting strange lately and I’m afraid it’s going to crash completely; I mean I am truly afraid! This is the computer we use to record music with, burn and print CDs and even though I now have an external hard drive for (hopefully) safekeeping of important documents, I’m clueless about how to retrieve anything from said hard drive. Everything I have learned in 13 years, I have learned by trial and error. Lots of errors!

Our very first computer....and the monstrous desk we thought we needed! Every home office/recording studio should also have a saddle.....
Much smaller desk, much larger monitor, and yes, more recording equipment! Lots of clutter, too.....one of my many faults!

Last week, my faithful laptop crashed and I’ve been lost without it. I dropped it off today at the local techno-repair place, entrusting it to the care of a nice young man who’s probably younger in age than most of my shoes. He assured me that he could even retrieve all my music, photos and documents from my last laptop that crashed 3 years ago, that is sitting forlornly in my closet. My husband, Mike tried to give that one away and I fairly screamed……NO!!!!!……all my stuff is in there! I know it’s still in there. I watch C.S.I.  I know that nothing is ever really “gone” from a hard drive!

Mike has a smaller laptop which he has tried to get me to “borrow” from him while mine is out of service, but I declined. It’s like driving a strange car, you know? I’ll just do without my laptop until the nice young man calls. I know I shouldn’t be so lost without my laptop, I have an iPhone, a Kindle Fire and my desktop; it’s just like a security blanket to me. Even while we are watching TV, I am constantly looking up facts and trivia on sites like IMDB, one of my favorites, so I can impress Mike with all the information.

I confess I have a love/hate relationship with technology, I love how easy it is to make music digitally, but I hate it when things don’t work like they should. I’m forever saying “but that should WORK, I know it should”! Just this morning, I was trying to print a label on a CD, like I have done hundreds of times, and the printer kept spitting the tray out and telling me it was not in place correctly. I beg your pardon, Mr. Epson Stylus, but it WAS in place correctly. You are not doing your job! You’re fired!

So, how did I function before computers came into my life? My phone was wired into the wall, my pictures were printed and kept in an album (or shoebox), my music was on cassettes or CDs, I played a lovely Yamaha acoustic piano and I sang without a microphone.

My gorgeous Yamaha......such a beautiful sounding instrument.
Band-in-a-box.....really cool software!
Cakewalk Music Creator recording software.....

But, now, I can record semi-professional sounding tracks, make videos with the songs and post them on youtube, or my blog; I can email them to my parents, I can burn and print music CDs to mail to my parents (see a theme here?) … or I can just keep them on my computer forever.

Until I die.

Or until my computer crashes.

Whichever comes first……

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here’s a song that my daughter Kelly is singing….she asked me to make the piano track for her so she could sing this Gretchen Wilson tune…..

“I’d Love to Be Your Last”

……..and THIS is why I love technology…….

All Cows Eat Grass?????

All Cows Eat Grass….Every Good Boy Does Fine…..

Anyone who has ever taken a piano lesson will remember these phrases meant to help you learn your lines and spaces. I’ve known them since I was 5 years old, maybe even before that. Possibly even before I was born!

My mother played piano, and taught piano lessons from the time I was a small child, so I heard these on a daily basis in my home. I thought everyone’s mother played the piano, and I thought every child took piano lessons. I think every child should take piano lessons. I think every home should have  music.

Debi

I began my love/hate relationship with the piano at the tender age of 5, my mom patiently tried to teach me. I admit, I was not a good student at the time. I preferred to sit in the corner of the room and listen as she instructed other students, and then when they left, I would proceed to play what they had learned.

Maybe I was a bit of a show off?

Mom gave up and sent me to her teacher, one seemingly ancient lady named Thelma Braun. Thelma lived in a grand 2 story house in town, that she had filled with the most interesting furniture and accessories that I had ever seen, along with a beautiful grand piano. She was a very intimidating teacher to me, and she finally dismissed me because I would not practice. I took more lessons with her when I was about 16, but my boyfriend would drive me there, and I was more concerned about my plans after the lesson was over, so once again, I was dismissed. I absolutely regret not studying and applying myself, and for letting down this teacher. She was a legend in my hometown, and left a legacy when she died, The Thelma Braun Foundation, which supports the arts and music. I hate to admit that I am possibly her only failure!

Thelma Braun

My mom was still studying with Thelma after she married and was also teaching her own students at the same time. In 1958 they gave a joint recital, I think I remember it. Maybe I think I remember it because I have the recital program?

An Evening of Music 1958

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mom’s students gave a recital the next year or so, at our church and I chose not to participate. Stage fright…..lol. Somewhere I have a photo of the students, all the girls in their fluffy best dresses and boys in suits and ties….like a time capsule of the 1950s….

So, my mother has retired, several times, from several jobs, but keeps going back to work! She’s like a steam roller, you just cannot stop her! Her latest job, is teaching piano again. She has a few students each week, at a new studio in my hometown. It’s very easy for her, they provide the piano, the room, book the students, collect the money, she just shows up, teaches the lesson and collects her money from the studio! She really enjoys teaching and sharing her knowledge and love of music with anyone who is willing to learn.

2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over my lifetime, I’ve had so many people ask me to give piano lessons, and I’ve declined every time. Even though I possess the knowledge, it takes a special person to teach successfully, and I’m not that person.

I did get over my stage fright in the 1980s……I’m ready for my piano recital now!

My hat is off to Thelma Braun, and my mother Clover Kimberling….thank you for instilling the love of music in me, I am a better person for having learned from the best.

 

All Cows actually DO Eat Grass!

 

Music is a Fair and Glorious Gift of God

Debi Snider

November 6, 2011

Last night, my sister attended a piano concert featuring a blind (since birth), musical prodigy. She sent me a text saying “I wish you and mom could be here, this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard, it has brought me to tears…he has a true gift from God”…..to which I replied “I can appreciate a God given talent”. I am not comparing myself to a musical prodigy by any stretch of the imagination, but the musical ability that I do have, was certainly given to me freely, by God. I did not work for it, at all. I did not nurture it, either, for many years, and now it’s a little too late.

My mother taught me to read music when I was 5 years old, as my skinny legs dangled from the piano bench, not even close to reaching the pedals for a few years. I learned to read music at the same time I was learning to read words, which is why I can pick up a piece of music and read it like a book and know in my head what it should sound like when played or sung. I had a short attention span as a child and didn’t like to practice the piano, so I never excelled, I was just average. I even stopped playing for many years until I was about 15; I sat down to play one day and have not stopped since then.

Over the past 40 years I have played for dozens of weddings, all joyous events of course; played for many funerals, some heart wrenching, others quite joyous; played for baby dedication services, offertories and special music in church, and then the scandalous years playing bars and nightclubs. I’ve done a little bit of everything, never stellar, but average.

God also gave me a small talent for songwriting and singing, I have nurtured those gifts as much as possible, but once again, the result is average. I’m quite alright with average, however. I have written songs about holidays, the birth of my son, my daughter, my struggles as a wife and mother, and these songs are from my heart, they define who I was and what I was feeling when I wrote them. The Christmas song I wrote, “Holly and Mistletoe” is much beloved by my family, and that means more to me than if it had been a Grammy winning song of the year.

Do I wish I had applied myself as a child, practiced hours on end and been able to play classical music? Of course I do…..but, when I sit down to play these days, I am faced with fingers that are knobby, swollen and bent from the arthritis, my hands don’t move as fast, I make more mistakes and I get frustrated. A lot. But, I keep playing…..I adjust…..because music defines me, it’s inside me, it IS me…..without music, I would not be a whole person.

It is not up to us to question who God gives a talent to, or why…..it’s up to us to enjoy and utilize the talent, however large or small. I made the cross stitched sampler in my music room that says “Music is a Fair and Glorious Gift of God”…..not because I love to do cross stitch (because I hate it) but because I loved what it said, it spoke to me.

Yes, I can fully appreciate a God given talent.

 

The Christmas Letter

It was 1986, I was far from home and family, having moved to El Paso that summer with my “boyfriend” who didn’t always regard me as his “girlfriend”…..we worked together in various bands, duos and trios, making really mediocre country music, although I thought we were awesome.

During the week I was working at the Lowrey Organ store at Cielo Vista Mall, hopelessly trying to sell keyboards and pianos, but soon realized I was a terrible salesperson! The owner told me I was good at entertaining the prospective customers, but could never close the deal. Fortunately for me, he still needed someone there to help run the place, and I looked good standing at the front of the store.

I spent a lot of time people watching while I was working there, as we were right next door to the movie theater entrance, so the lines waiting for the movies were often long and the people were interesting. We had customers from all across the board walking in to look at the instruments, and I enjoyed chatting with them. They usually noticed my “accent” and asked where I was from. So, I told my adventurous story, while omitting a few minor details, because I didn’t want to seem too kooky.

There was one young man, a salesman for a local radio station, who came by once a week trying to sell advertising to the owner, who was not interested at all, so Charles would visit with me and listen to me play the piano. As Christmas was nearing, he liked to sing carols, and I was happy to oblige and we had a lot of fun, as long as the boss wasn’t there! Charles had listened to my story and knew I was not very happy with my situation, but I was too proud to admit defeat and go back home where my family was, so he tried to cheer me up and encourage me. He was a salesman, after all…..

One day he dropped by to tell me goodbye, because he was taking another job, and he brought me a Christmas letter, a beautiful handwritten letter in calligraphy that I have kept and cherished all these years, even though I never saw him again after that day. It has been 25 years now, and I wonder if Charles Clay of El Paso ever knew how touched I was at the sentiments he wrote…..we never exchanged phone numbers, never went on a date, just shared a little music together in the music store at the mall.

I try to remind myself, that even though I may not be brilliantly funny or wise beyond the normal, that somewhere along the way in my life, maybe I, too, have crossed paths with someone and left a memory-print on their life……

And, if I have not, then I hope to do so someday…..

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