Archive for September 2010

Tom T. and Dixie Hall

September 30, 2010

        Y’all, I’m over at the Bluegrass Blog this week as a writer assigned to cover the IBMA World of Bluegrass event in Nashville. A post should go up today on my interview with Miss Dixie and Tom T. Hall.

        I’ll be back next week. I’ll re-post some of these articles or link up to them just as soon as I’ve had four consecutive hours of sleep.

       Having fun,

Dr. B


IBMA week and “The Bluegrass Blog”

September 28, 2010

        ‘Y’all my posts are at the Bluegrass Blog this week. I’m one of a team of roving reporters assigned to cover the IBMA World of Bluegrass in Nashville, Tn. Come visit. I’m a pig in mud. It’s music and books and seminars and old friends and a quick meal a day. I might even sleep a couple of hours tomorrow. 

        You’ll have to scroll back a page or two to see mine, but read all the other entries too. The motto at the Bluegrass Blog is “news at the speed of bluegrass,” and they mean it; a lot of good material goes up fast there. Here’s the link:

Dr. B

Bluegrass Fiddle Justice

September 27, 2010

        Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t rehab criminals with bluegrass fiddle justice.

        Think about it. If a man was to commit a bad crime and paroled only after he could demonstrate he’d transformed into a quality fiddler, it’d be a minimum sentence of ten years. The process would work all the meanness out of him, ’cause that fiddle is a beast.

        Once you’d learned how to play it you’d have the highest respect for the degree of difficulty, and it’d be so much fun you’d want to play all the time. For the back sliders parole violation would be a return to the Big House. But on the next go-round they wouldn’t be allowed to play. Instead they’d be incarcerated with a cell mate who had just started the fiddle from scratch. Our repeat offender couldn’t be released until their cellmate could cut the gig.

       Anyone who has lived in a house with a beginner violinist knows what I’m talking ’bout. After a few weeks even a hardened criminal would resort to helping his neighbor out, ’cause it’d be his only chance to get the h@## outta there.

        Play hard guys. I’m at IBMA this week, so it’ll be short posts only. Too much picking going on to write much, but I’ll be in touch.

Dr. B

“The Mandolin Case” at the IBMA

September 24, 2010

        I think it was Tom T. Hall who said every day in Nashville someone is all but ready to pack up and go home, then has a hit. For years they’d tried to find their voice and then all of a sudden folks got it.

        That’s kinda how I feel about “The Mandolin Case.” After ten years it’s an overnight success. Of course John Grisham ain’t laying awake at night worried I’m gonna catch up with him, but the book is an artistic success and has made me many new bluegrass friends. That’s enough; everything else is gravy on the biscuits.

        There were many reasons I wrote “The Mandolin Case.” I wanted there to be a place where the decent prevail over the greedy. I wanted Harvey County to be a “Bluegrass Lake Wobegone” where Docs played music with their patients and were still friends with them instead of treating ’em like some dadgum statistical aberration on a ICDM-9 code number graph. I wanted a place where music was to search for the truth and where lyrics came from the heart instead of some cold-hearted SOB in an office who calculates the demographic market impact of a hook line.

        Call me idealistic if you want; I don’t care. Me and my Marfar are just two old people having fun who hope to lock in a spot in Heaven’s Bluegrass Band, and no one can stop us.

         Y’all look us up at IBMA. We’ve got a table there in the exhibition hall. The last time I had a booth in the exhibit hall was when a 4th grade painting won a white ribbon at the Harvey County Fair, so I’m real proud. Y’all come visit.

Dr. B

My Boy and a Hot Dog Bet

September 22, 2010

        In many ways my boy are I are a lot different. He’s a young strong thing, and I’ve got some age on me and I’m well, let’s say, distinguished. He rebuilds hot rod engines and I take my truck to “the man” for regular service. He flies helicopters and I get motion sickness on the Tilt-A-Whirl.

        But in many ways we are the same. A long time ago I read the best thing you could do to raise a boy was treat his mama with respect. He’s not a bit afraid to greet you with a hug around the neck and tell her (or me) he loves you.

        I used to tell him, “Son, you can run faster than me and jump higher; you’re stronger and can outdrive me fifty yards on the golf course. But, there’s one thing you’ll never catch up with me in- WISDOM!” He’d act like it made him mad, but he went along. It wasn’t true, but he knew you have to give the old man credit for something besides just paying the bills.

        We played a lot of golf together when he was growing up. Neither of us were into the fancy places, but preferred these beat-up little munis where they had the “serve yourself” hot dogs on a rotary contraption in the pro shop right behind the golf glove display. I covered the costs, (I figure the kids are just starting out and it’s a treat for them to get to do some fun stuff) but we had a standard bet; if I out-drove him even once in the round he had to pay for the hot dogs.

        By the time my son was fifteen he could out-drive me forty yards. At first he’d carry on about it, but after a couple of years it was clear the torch had passed and he’d semi-apologize. I guess he began to realize time wasn’t go turn backwards, and it wasn’t ever gonna be the same again. It got to where he didn’t brag anymore, but instead I’d notice he’d ask if my last check up was okay. By the time he was twenty it was rare for me to collect on the hot dog bet.

        About a decade ago we played his home course in the mountains. He pounded it all day. (It’s hard to keep up with a young’un who hits a five iron 200 yards.) The last hole was a short par four; only 300 yards.

        “I drove the green last week,” he said. He rared back and hit a high draw. It was pretty solid, but he caught it in the toe a bit. It landed in the rough and stopped on two bounces about 275 yards out.

        I surveyed the situation. The hole was downhill, and it had been a dry summer. I tapped the ground with my foot. The grass crinkled under my shoe, and the ground was hard. Hm. Might get some roll. I teed it up and waited just a moment. A breeze came up at our back. I took my chance, bowed up, and gave it all I had. It was my best hit all summer. The ball flew about 250 with a low hook, then began to bounce. One, two, three, four; it kept trickling along the dry ground down the hill. We couldn’t tell.

        We walked down there and sure enough I’d gotten by him about two feet. He laughed like a small child. As soon as we holed out he tore off for the pro shop and got out his wallet. “Two hot dogs all the way,” he said. As I walked in he pointed me out. “See that gray-haired rascal? He out-drove me on eighteen. Can you believe that?”

       The pro smiled. You know what I said about wisdom? Dang if the boy ain’t catching up with me in that too. The good news is he’s smart and doesn’t tell anyone. You’ve got to give the old man in the family something to hang onto. One of these fine days I’m gonna catch one just right and out-drive him again; just you wait and see.

Dr. B

New High Tech Old Man

September 19, 2010

        I’m a bit conflicted about new high-tech. I often like last year’s technology; if nothing else it only costs pennies on the dollar, and I figure we’ve been around and done fine for tens of thousands of years without even the old tech gadgets. I drove my first truck a quarter million miles, and only traded when my daughter went to college and I feared it wouldn’t make the trip. My second one is just now broken in at 100K miles.

        I was the first kid on the block to have a cell phone, though. It was in a large bag that sat in the floorboard of my truck. At the time, the only other guy I knew who had a car phone was James Bond. I found the cell phone to be a great convenience. Before it I knew the location of every pay phone on the route to the hospital. I often had to stop in the middle of the night to field calls, and carried a large bag of quarters everywhere I went. I joked the heavy bag served a two-fold purpose; it was great if I needed to make a call or I could use it to bonk a thug on the head in the middle of the night while I was on the phone. I never had much use for people who sought to disrupt the doctor biz.       

        I kept that bag phone almost a decade, and only got into the ones that’d clip on your belt when the kids started to use them. I always took the hand me down phone in the family, and my contact list is a patchwork quilt of all who came before me. Not only does if have everyone from bass players to neurosurgeons, but also all my son’s old girlfriends and my daughter’s entire Girl Scout troop. For a long time I never used the contact feature of my phone; I just dialed up whoever I wanted from memory. It was only a couple of years ago when my wife saw me dial that I learned the thing had all those stored in a data bank.

       I used my old reliable Olympus OM 1, which was a manual camera, until the shutter broke and I couldn’t find anyone who knew how to fix it. Film was hard to find too. The digital cameras are easy to use, but somehow don’t seem to allow as much artist freedom; maybe I’m just old-fashioned.  

       I’ve not seen much need to trade for a smart phone, but I didn’t want a dumb one either, and settled on a hybrid that’ll let me tether to the Net when I need to. It’s easier for me to see my laptop screen than all those little buttons, and the thing didn’t temp me to waste time during the day when I need to see my patients, in the evenings when I’d rather play the mandolin, or the early mornings when I prefer to write.

        I’m conflicted about high-tech in medicine too. I’ve seen enormous personal benefit from modern cataract surgery, but when I had mine I opted for the technique with a twenty year track record rather than the latest one that may replace it over the next decade. It’s like they say in the army. “You don’t want to be first in line, but you don’t want to be last either.”

        There have been some fine tech advances in heart work, but we don’t do much better with solid cancers than we ever have, and I believe music soothes far more than the latest nerve pill. I don’t find high-tech does all that much for woes of the heart, except for the cardiovascular kinds. John Starling is an ENT doc who was the lead singer with the original Seldom Scene, a great bluegrass band. He sang one on his “Southern Train” LP called “Heart Trouble.” It goes, “heart trouble, there’s nothing the doctor can do…heart trouble…all from loving you.” I’m sure Dr. Starling would concur; no pills are effective for those ills. 

        But you gotta hand it me. I’m pretty well tech adapted for an old fellow. Not only is “The Mandolin Case” on Amazon, but we just went on Kindle, and even went to #1 in that format’s Country Book category for a few days. I guess this fall I’ll curl up in a hammock at Indie’s cabin and cozy up with the latest electronic book. I can be a new high-tech old man when it’s called for.

Dr. B

Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues

September 15, 2010

        If you’ve ever worked in a mill, this song is one you’d understand. When I hear the Beltway guys in fancy suits and $400.00 haircuts who have the best medical benefits in the free world argue the proper retirement age, I always think about some guy who works in the mill, on a roof, or in the cardboard box factory. 

        If the retirement age is changed it doesn’t make any difference to the lawmakers, and doesn’t affect a guy like me who works in the AC much either. But I’ve worked some of those jobs before I became a doc, and I never forgot.

        Try a season on the asphalt paving crew. Hot, tired, sunburned; by the end of the summer you pray for rain so you can go home. You cash your paycheck at week’s end and stick it in your pocket, ’cause you know it’ll all be gone by Thursday. It’s not enough pay to do much more than subsist. It’s hard to pursue grace and dignity if you have to pursue survival.

        Come fall back then some of the kids would complain Organic Chemistry was hard, and I’d always smile and say, “No it’s not.” 

        So in the debate about retirement age, I hope they keep the cat in mind who has to crawl around under a house to make a living. By the time he’s my age his back won’t let him do it. If he’s made it that far without turning to crime to survive, or worse yet quit being productive altogether and somehow become a celebrity (famous and rich for doing nothing) then let the guy rest. I think he’s earned his trip to the beach to play with grandchildren far more than the lawmakers have.

Dr. B

Sheep Shearing and Car Deals

September 13, 2010

        Contrary to stereotype, we have honest used car dealers here in Harvey County. The guy I trade with is Mr. Phipps. He’s a bass player and true bluegrass. Phipsy and I are straight up front with each other. I want a good deal. At the same time, he’s gotta make a profit to stay open, so we look for the middle ground and can do business just fine.

        Like with the rest of my life my car philosophy is quite simple. I like to keep my wife safe and in some good wheels. (do they still call it a late-model car?) We travel in her car when we’re on the road. I drive a used truck around home. I figure I know everyone in Harvey County. If it breaks down I can catch a ride in a phone call or two. I kept my last one twenty-one years.

       Back when my daughter left for college it became obvious it was time to trade. Every so often I needed to take some supplies to her in the truck. The old horse labored hard to make the journey and made all kinds of racket. My guitar man was with me one night and commented he feared it was gonna blow up. I called Phipsy on Monday morning.

        “You got any used trucks on the lot?”

        “I’d say you’re about due, Doc.”

        I described what I wanted. It needed to have the prerequisite twenty-five thousand miles of depreciation and come with the service records. I preferred the smaller models, but needed one with a third seat every so often, and I wanted at least decent gas decent mileage. I also requested the 4 wheel drive a doctor needs a couple of times a year. The only complaint I had about my last one was even though it was serviceable it was a bit underpowered, so I want to move up to the 4.3 V6 this go-round, as that engine had a reliable track record.

       “I’ll look around,” he said.

        He called in a few weeks. “I’ve got one on the lot I think you’ll like.”

       I drove out to the car lot at lunch. The vehicle was perfect, except the name of the color was champagne. It looked fine, but somehow to me a truck ought to be red, white, blue, black, etc. “Think of it as tan,” Phipsy said.


        He made me an offer, and I looked up the vehicle on the Internet. We were already close, and the next day we were within 300.00 dollars. “Why don’t we split the difference?” I asked.


        We got ready to shake hands. I recalled the words of one of my patients, a very wise businessman. “Think of me like a sheep. I want you to be able to shear me, just don’t skin me. If you do I can’t stay alive.”

      “Hey Phipsy,” I asked.” You gonna get enough out of this? I mean, I want you to be here next time I need to trade. I want to shear you, but I don’t want to skin you.”

       “Yeah Doc, it’s fair deal. I’m good. I gotta tell you though. It’s not every day in my business the customer wants to be certain I’ve been treated fair.”  

        We shook hands. “Tell ya what brother,” I said. “I’ll be back in twenty-one years to get me another one.”

      Phipsy scratched his head and smiled. “Doc, you just took all the fun out of it.”

       I like Phispy. I might just go back in a decade. As I get older, perhaps I’ll splurge and stay in a late-model.

Dr. B

This post is dedicated to Phipsy and also to Bingo Bob Rupe, my Raleigh mandolin pal. Phipsy is a small town boy, and Bingo is a big city car dealer, but they are of the same mold and will cut you a fair deal. Just make sure you only shear ’em and don’t skin ’em. I always want the true bluegrassers to stay alive and thrive, cause that’s where I want to do business.

The Mandolin Case on Kindle

September 9, 2010

        “The Mandolin Case” just made it to Kindle and I wanted to post the link in time for your Christmas shopping. I haven’t got a Kindle yet, but I plan to get one this year. I’ve always wanted to see my book on a computer screen with the typos cut out, and this is my chance.

        I’m okay with the electronic gizmos, but I don’t recommend them at the beach; not sure how well they will fare mixed with sand and sunscreen. 

          We used to say if you didn’t like our CDs they’d make a nice frisbee or a coaster for your coffee cup. Somehow I can’t picture my favorite Kindle on the coffee table with all those unsightly rings that tarnish the cover, so it doesn’t cut that gig. Still, though nothing wrong with high-tech as long as it preserves the traditional, and I believe “The Mandolin Case” does that regardless of format.

        Here’s the link:
Dr. B

The Banjo Barter System

September 8, 2010

        Long before I played mandolin I knew a little banjo. I was in residency and had little time for formal lessons, so I learned most of it in a hodgepodge fashion I dubbed the banjo barter system.

        I never was one to resent folks asking me medical things when I was out in public. Medicine is all I know, so I might as well make myself useful. At first they were reluctant and didn’t want to bother me. I fixed that right away. Whenever a banjo player came up to me at the lunch counter to ask a question they soon came to learn what was gonna follow. I was happy to answer, but in return they had to teach me one banjo lick.

        I remember one fellow who pulled off his hat and showed me a gash on his head.

        “What in the world happened to you?” I asked.

        “Ah, my girlfriend’s husband hit me in the head with a shovel.”

          It was a great teaching moment. I gave the guy some pointers on safe sex, sewed up a laceration, and learned “The Arab Bounce” all in one patient encounter.

       Most were more general questions, but over the years I added an ace inhibitor kick-off, a kidney stone blues run, endorphin enhancement Irish flavored passages, and a cool gout tag lick.

        I kinda miss some of that, and think I’ll revive the tradition. I’m still husband, father, and Doc first, then mandolin player/writer, so I’m not gonna try to go too deep on the banjo; for the first time in my life I’m gonna accept I’ve got some limitations. But if you know the banjo and want to trade out ideas let me know.

        It’s a fair trade. I can only give general answers (no specifics allowed without an established doctor/patient relationship) and no one can teach me how to play the banjo in one easy lesson. (that would require a more formal commitment of lessons) Even so, both parties could learn something.

       But in fairness and full disclosure, I gotta tell you I’ve got the better end of the deal. You can look all that doc stuff up in a book, but not everyone gets a chance to learn some banjo, and the truth is in the music.

Dr. B