Russ Ringsak

30% More Free!

September 5, 2012

This slogan greets me almost daily in the home shower. It's been there for weeks, a billboard on an empty extra large size squeeze bottle of hair conditioner. It has a wide lid and sits upside down on the ledge of the tub. I've kept it there because I liked the concept. I keep it as a memo.


What would we do if we did find ourselves 30% MORE FREE!? It seemed at first that only the government could do that and that no matter what they might promise there is no smidge of real hope that they'd do the obvious and just knock taxes down that much. They are an implacable monolith. "You think you own your house?" a friend said, "Don't pay the tax and you'll find out who owns your house."

So that stomped the whole little fantasy. Forget it. Thirty Percent More Free! is an impossibility. Wistful dreaming. But the bottle said that day after day, with that exclamation point, and I'd think maybe there is something to it. How about you do it yourself.

How about the guy who sells some stock and buys a Harley, and he hangs out at the blues bars and meets people like himself and is now running knees in the breeze down the river road instead of watching tv golf on Sunday. The woman sells her antiques, takes flying lessons, becomes a pilot in her free time. That's for sure Thirty Percent More Free! than she used to be, especially if she dumps her boring boyfriend in the process.

So 30% More Free! might be pretty much up to each person, except you still need a cloud of government employees to give their tacit approval by not dumping on your unique vision of freedom. Or it might involve the neighbors. Part of your freedom could be your privilege to sleep until the alarm rings but your suburban neighbor's freedom includes keeping two donkeys as pets and at the crack of dawn every day and sometimes earlier those jackasses get going with that cracking mechanical screeching -- that merciless rasp upon your skull -- and nothing you say at the neighborhood meetings can nudge their freedom to keep their sweet ornamental animals who don't hurt anybody and who don't eat birds like the cats do. So it's still possible to be more free but you'll have to move to another neighborhood. Maybe you do that and your life becomes easier. By, say, thirty percent. (And then of course other stuff happens, stuff you may someday come to regard as the price of freedom.)

Thirty Percent More Free! might include having a goodfornothing grown kid finally leave the nest. It could be surviving surgery. It could be getting fired or hired, or getting yourself thrown out of the house. And by now you're starting to think, "Is this goin' somewhere?" and I'm sort of wondering the same thing myself.

But wait. This maddening machine is able to set us more free. We can access music we haven't heard since high school, and it can teach us how to play it or where to find it. It can open a monster library -- because it's a monster itself -- and allow access to something obscure like, say, the guitar riff in Steve Earle's 1986 song "Guitar Town."

It can show how to play the riff and where you can buy a tremolo pedal to get that throbbing sound on your electric guitar, and it can tell you that the much-admired Mr. Earle has been married seven times, putting him into the company of Larry King, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Artie Shaw, Liz Taylor, Lana Turner and Mickey Rooney. A country boy hits the big time. The machine can answer nearly any seedy little question that might pop into one's freedom-loving mind.

It can get you literature, an education, weather forecasts, a bazillion opinions, maps, an aerial view of your house, a restaurant, takeout food, a vast sea of shopping possibilities. It'll sell your stuff, move your stuff, fix your stuff, give away your stuff.

But there is a fundamental flaw in here, at least for those of us still paying taxes, and that is what if we're not getting anything free now? Doing the math, thirty percent more of that would still be nothing. So getting 30% MORE FREE! will always be only to those who already get stuff free or those who can figure how to get it on their own. Like the man says, "Good luck with that."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My oldest granddaughter left her family home this weekend, moved away to college, and none of us feels the least bit more free. We will see her again of course but her daily presence will be missed by all. A lot.

She is sunny and utterly beautiful, an honor student and a terrific athlete, leader of the girl's volleyball team and the golf team. She checked out a number of Big Ten schools, including the one in town, and some smaller ones; ultimately chose DePaul in Chicago. A day's drive away and a diverse institution. The family isn't Catholic but I like the idea of some sort of serious order and implied discipline.

But they have no girl's volleyball team there. It's a women's volleyball team, Pappy, and the time has come for you to grow up and get used to that notion. And I can do this, perhaps... I really have no choice, do I.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The last few weeks of our show's season were so intense I don't think I had time to open the computer. We had Tom Gohman back on board to share the driving duties and he saved our bacon in Wyoming with his mechanic's moxie and a unique ability to smell antifreeze.

It was the most critical part of the tour, with only four days to get from Traverse City in northern Michigan to our large gig at the Hollywood Bowl, because of the short week and a necessary stage gear exchange in Minneapolis. Checking the oil at a refueling stop in Rawlings he got a whiff of that critical and nearly odorless liquid. He ran a finger under a horizontal engine flange and it came out wet: the smallish barely-seen hose that brings coolant from the engine to the air compressor had burst. In the trip from the truck stop to the repair shop it got a lot worse. I'm no mechanic and would never have picked up on that and our show would have been in very large trouble out there in the mountains with a big-time crippled boiled-over diesel engine. The show was saved by the sheer good fortune of having the right man along at precisely the right time.

See those three small bent hoses there? It's way in there behind them.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The good vibe held for the rest of the tour and I was given the chance to sing a Merle Haggard road song with our top notch band at the Big Bowl. Four of us from the staff sat in, including Tony Axtell, the house sound guy, who played bass; our director Dan Rowles played the organ, and Kate Swee, our musical librarian, sang backup with the Steele Sisters, Jevetta and Jearlyn. It makes a person giddy to front a band as good as ours is and then to have out-of-this-world backup singers bringing on that power and instant credibility -- a guy would drive truck thirty years for a chance like that. And later you could meet your embalmer with a smile on your face.


From the cab of Truck #7 to Dressing Room #7 at the Hollywood Bowl -- my mother would be so proud...

© Russ Ringsak 2012

Comments of any nature are always welcome at r dot ringsak at gmail dot com.

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