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Chuck Mason

Pickin' and a grinnin'

They (whoever comprises the famous group of experts known as they) have been quoted as saying, “Admission is the first step on the road to recovery.” This thought process recently has had an immeasurable impact on my life, as I've for too many years now drifted anchor-less across the choppy seas of constant denial, to the detriment of my immediate family and most social relationships.

So now, after many sleepless nights and much self reflection, here I stand before my God, my family and you ... the dear, faithful readership ... prepared to bare my soul, admit my fallacies, and bring to light my innermost regrets and inadequacies.

You may want to sit down, take a deep breath, and grab a nearby hanky because the following statement will be shocking in its brutal honesty and truthfulness. I, Chuck Mason, in this moment of weakness, do hereby man up and admit to owning, and at times, attempting to play a BANJO. 

I know it's difficult to comprehend the enormity and graveness of this fact, so please, take a minute or two to gather yourself, wipe your eyes and hug your loved ones before continuing.

Play is most likely the wrong term to use, though, as play connotes to most a pleasurable or stress reducing experience: a pastime which brings enjoyment and untold happiness to those involved. Such is not the case with the BANJO. I secretly imagine that someday my lengthy, self-penned obituary will appear in these very pages, leading with the announcement of an untimely passing after a lifelong battle with the BANJO. Yes, the old chap fought the good fight, was on the doorstep of remission, but ultimately the BANJO had taken its toll. He went somewhat peacefully, still trying to master a forward-reverse finger roll.

Admittedly, the BANJO is not the most ear friendly instrument, falling on the annoyance chart somewhere on the less pleasing side of the cowbell, yet still several notches above the bassoon. It has been shown to be more effective than a scarecrow at eliminating small mammals from the garden, causes young children to cry out for their mother in the middle of the night, and has brought elderly church ladies to their knees in prayer. Even in the hands of an expert, it can be piercing and almost painful to listen to, conjuring up visions of toothless moonshiners, the more disturbing scenes from “Deliverance,” or "Hee Haw."

I’m guessing my unfounded and un-explainable attraction to the BANJO (and really bad jokes) can be traced back to "Hee-Haw," that cornball, hillbilly (or the politically correct term “Appalachian American”) variety show which was a staple of TV viewing during my impressionable growing up era. There was Roy Clark, pickin’ and a grinnin’; Grandpa Jones singing “Mountain Dew” while attacking  his instrument with the fervor of a hyena bringing down a diseased wildebeest; and Stringbean, who made wearing pants far below your waistline fashionable, long before the first gangsta rapper showed us his boxers.

Changes in my musical tastes had nearly erased any thoughts of the BANJO, relegating those memories to the foggy, distant past, until the day I uncovered the case in the far reaches of a backroom closet while helping my parents move. As I, with trembling hands, popped open the latches, those memories came rushing back with a vividness unmatched. Cradling the long neglected instrument, I tuned the rusty strings, and knowing full well the end result of my actions, strummed a single chord. Then I wept silently to myself ...

I would like to continue, but it’s time to change strings on my ukulele. Sorry.

Chuck Mason, a self-described opinionated wiseguy, resides in Princeton. He can be reached at chuckthebluzguy@msn.com.

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