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  • Karl Thunemann

Karl's Keyboard #25

Discovering my Pandemic Lament

Over the past few months I have been mesmerized by stories other people tell detailing how they have been affected by the pandemic. I seem to have been spared dramatic impacts. Some relatives caught the virus, but I usually didn’t learn of it until they had recovered. Did I suffer? Not much. Social distancing was hard, but I kept in touch with a few close friends through regular phone calls. In the meantime, I dove further into this blog and embraced—sometimes frighteningly so—my identity as a through-and-through introvert. And my wife and I saved lots of money by driving less, eating out less, and not going to places where we could spend a bundle.

Until last week—until I discovered a consequence: I have completely lost contact with my barber. Please don’t laugh. She had been cutting my hair for six or seven years before the pandemic. It all goes back to 2013, when my wife and I moved to a senior residential co-op located in a diverse neighborhood in Bellevue, WA.

The co-op featured a stylist who might meet my needs. But to me that locale smelled like a ladies’ hair salon. Besides, I imagined, I could get more in tune with the neighborhood if I found a barber off-campus. But it wasn’t easy. We were surrounded by outlets of national haircutting chains. I found some of their barbers indifferent. I was also disconcerted by the stores’ habit of cycling their barbers among numerous branches, so if I tried to form an attachment, it would be at my own peril.

Still, it was at one of these forlorn outlets that I met my barber. She worked only at this store, which was about a mile from my home. She opened the shop six mornings a week. And of course she had a large clientele, although I can recall meeting only one of them at the shop—a counselor I had worked with for a time, without much success.

My new barber was an immigrant from Taiwan. Her two sons were adolescents when I first started seeing her. Over time I learned that neither she nor her husband had retirement plans through their employers. Knowing something about this field, I brought her some literature and application forms for opening individual retirement accounts. Her husband took this over, and last I heard they were making regular deposits, through good markets and bad.

Toward the end of my first year with her, something happened that deepened our relationship. Paying her for a December haircut, I meant to give her about twice my usual generous tip. She accepted it and came around the counter and gave me a big hug. I was surprised—this was out of character. A couple of days later, I discovered I was missing a hundred-dollar bill I had intended to pay another person. So, meaning to give her a twenty, I had given her the c-note. I confess I did think of telling her about my error, but that seemed meagre, not the measure of my esteem for her. I myself became grateful for that tip. It freed me to be more spontaneously generous.

And so our business-based friendship continued for several years, with larger—if not huge—holiday tips. She was always solicitous toward me, out of my respect for my obvious frailty. When the pandemic arrived, I stopped going to the barbershop. I was obviously in the demographic of people who would be highly vulnerable to Covid 19. My wife took over the chore of trimming my hair and beard, which she did surprisingly well and with a minimum of complaint.

But now the governor has allowed barbershops to be open in our county. But masks are required, so they cannot do beards. I went to the shop where my barber plied her trade. Someone who appeared to be the manager said she no longer worked there, and he did not know if or where she is working.

I no not even know her name. In the shop, she went by a given name that I took to be an anglicized version of her Chinese name. And maybe they were happy to see her go. That’s just speculation, but early on she had said the shop wanted her to promote the sale of hair products. She never pushed that with me: I certainly was not a likely purchaser. If she is still working, I hope she has found an agreeable place.

And I am left to ponder. Are there object lessons? Generosity and gratitude are their own rewards. I can be grateful for this relationship. And it’s a reminder as well that I should tend to my bent toward passivity. It’s not simply a trait; it can be a liability. I still have an epistle or two to write about passivity. Had I called my barber at the beginning of the pandemic to exchange contact information, she might again be cutting my hair. And in the meantime, I will have to find someone to cut my hair—and I have just ordered an electric beard and mustache trimmer. (And don’t forget about those eyebrows, my wife would be sure to chime in.)

Another Look at Beethoven’s Piano

In my ode to keyboards in the previous newsletter, somehow the detailed description of Beethoven’s piano was omitted.

The Fritz piano (1811) is a perfect example of the best Viennese instrument of the era, with its six octaves, double-stringed bass and medium registers, triple-stringed treble and four pedals. The soundboard is thin and the bridges are split in the bass.

Small hammerheads for a precise and light touch and a full, large sound with considerable volume are its characteristics. In 2020, Pianist Magazine featured seven pianos actually played by Beethoven.

My Primitive Search Engine

From the beginning last July, I wished this blog could have its own search engine. The designer said it wasn’t a good idea, but I couldn’t tell whether she was REALLY telling me it was not possible. So I am trying to make this so rudimentary even I can use it: Here is a way to use your browser:

1. Copy of the address of this blog, which is:

2. Paste that address into your search engine. Pay attention! One of my browsers tends to delete the https://, and then announces that the page could not be found. So I had to retype the missing code.

3.Type your search term into your browser, say: Miss Otis. (that is the

nom de blog I have given the element of my blog—and my internal process—related to my diagnosis of “mild cognitive impairment.”

4. Hit Enter, and presto! Your browser should display multiple pages, including links to the two epistles I have posted about Miss Otis, plus a couple more of my posts, the Wikipedia entry on Miss Otis, some other Miss Otis questions one might want to ask.

I was feeling under the weather last week and did not write any new epistles. Here are a couple of my favorites, one replete with typing errors.

Is it possible that these deities are contemporaries, even pals?

These iconic giants of Northern California certainly capture the imagination

The blogger’s brother, John Scarborough, usually fires off his ideas via guest contributions. Here is a compendium of his recent comments on posts. The blogger has packaged them together because he fears that as a rule comments are not seen by most readers. And, of course, these nuggets are interspersed with reaction from the blogger.

Frequent Contributors

Mary Scriver tackles a 20th century literary icon

The Big Huzzah

Til next time …

Envision a united States when racial violence at the hands of the police is no longer commonplace.


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