What is improvisation? How do you define improvisation? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then improvisation is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. And that’s when epiphany comes! Not from the front, but from the combination of ideas that you didn’t even know were there. But I digress.

What is improvisation? To start, improvisation is always contextual. It needs a framework of experience in order to exist. To successfully improvise on the guitar, for example, you must first know how to play it. You must study the scales, melodies, and other patterns that have been identified in the past by other players of the guitar. Then, with the vicarious experiences of giants safely tucked under your musical belt, you leave it all behind, and trust your subconscious to know what to play. Improvisation is a paradox because only daily training and attention to rigor and detail can possibly prepare oneself thoroughly enough to throw all that training to the wind. As Thelonious Monk said, “Practice, then practice some more. Then forget all of it and just PLAY.”

What is improvisation? For it can be said that an improvisational mind, an extemporaneous mind, is no mind at all. For just as athletes can use their bodies to fluidly touch epiphany, they are equally limited by language to aid them in explaining it. This is because there is no ego at the moment of improvisation to be aware of itself. There is only first-level thinking. There is no you, there is only the baseball and the bat. There is no you, there is only the piano and the audience. There is no you, there is only the road, the car, the shiftless will of the traveler without destination.

Art being improvised has a will of its own; it has temporarily abducted the will of its artist. Many people report that it is as if their art is not really being created by conscious choice, but rather revealed to them from a third party, a distinct source at once apart from their training and one with it. This is the sacred state of flow, the secret samadhi, the moment of moksha, the illusion of creative power, the acceptance of otherness, the zone, on fire, in the pocket, in the groove, with it, at one, at peace, existence without awareness. The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao. The Tao that *can* be named is experience, training, order, formal structure, the basis upon which our fruitless attempts at imagining must inevitably emerge. As for the eternal Tao…. well, what else can be said? You just have to be there. Or rather, because there is no experience of you to categorize the infinite moment of the present, one just has to be there. And then, because there is no “there” there, as all of the past training and future goal-worship condenses into the next now, and the next now, and the next now, one just has to be. But and now of course one just doesn’t *have* to be anything. Existence is not a “have to”. It’s not even a “must” or a “should”. Existence is. As is improvisation. For all attempts to explain the state of flow do naught but fall away to the infinity of the light looking at itself and the infinity of the sound listening to itself.

Fair enough. How about this: when is improvisation? It can be said that improvisation exists outside of time. Our daily lives are structured by the clock, by horizontal time, by workdays and alarm clocks. One minute follows the next, as one lifetime follows the next. Similarly our logic is based on linearity, a constant of horizontal time. But this is only one type of time, and only one type of logic. There is a second type of time, the time of experience, what Taoists sometimes refer to as the “infinite now”. What we might call Zen Time, the time of truth. We are all fleetingly familiar with this type of time. It’s the infinity of the first kiss. The moment of epiphany when puzzling out a deep philosophical problem. And history is rife with stories of second time: Archimedes’ Eureka, Newton’s apple, Watson and Crick’s double helix. This is the ever-present, vertical sense of time. It extends forever, yet it is only right now that it exists. It is the time of the Imaginal world, the time of symbolism itself.

The past is but a form for the improvisation of the present to dance within. Improvisation exists in the same time that free will does. You can control the future with dreams, and the past with rationalization, but there is no control of this moment. It’s the moment when all decisions made and all words spoken and all notes played speak only of themselves, and are free in the true and complete sense of the word. It is the unfolding of the lotus flower, forsaking plans and systems and structure and training, although simultaneously reliant on them in order to look and sound just the way that things look and sound. Improvisation is formless free will. The will of no one. The freedom of everyone.

What is improvisation? It’s a cat playing with a ball of string. It’s a bird flying in the air. It’s a book that reads itself and a violin that plays its own melody. It is a self-told story; a self-made man. It is nothing, the air of the moment imposing its will on our memories.

A Song By Any Other Name

March 3rd, 2012

Prelude: watch this first! (I can’t embed videos without paying for the video upgrade.)

Secret Chiefs 3: The 3 (live)

Seeing Secret Chiefs 3 was revelatory in a couple different ways. There is of course the surface-level revelation that “wow, they can actually pull off these tunes live!”. Going below that, there’s the realization that in spite of (not because of) their technical virtuosity, the parts and notes they choose somehow “serve” the song, instead of merely stroking their own egos. This is an ultra-common pitfall in technical music, as in basically every guitar-based prog rock band (Dream Theater, Steve Vai, Nile) the “solo section” is clearly labeled in both the performers’ and listeners’ minds. “This is the part where they show off.” Or in the chorus: “This is the part where there is a singable, catchy melody that repeats a multiple of 2 (but not more than 8) times.” What’s apparent is that these musicians’ virtuosity lies in technique only. There’s no realization of what the point of the song should be, apart from highlighting their skill. The telos of a song doesn’t live on the level of abstraction where the song resides, but moves up/down a level to where we are aware that the song is being played by a person, and this is who we focus on/idolize/despise. We could say that the ego of the band gets in the way of the song, somehow. We cease to hear the song, to appreciate it freely. We hear it in the context of the virtuosity of the players, and the song fails, because it doesn’t engage us the way the players do. It’s like the song is the full moon, and the band is pointing to the moon, saying “look at the moon”, but because their voice is so pretty and their hand is so shapely, we look at their finger that points, instead of to what it is pointing.

Traditionally the crux of going to a show (in many peoples’ minds) is to see the band as people, to revel in the personality and skill of the players. You want to get to know them. You get their autograph, fawn over their devil-may-care social attitude, go backstage and have a beer with them. And the other stereotype here is the modest musician who can’t take a compliment. This is because she knows that it’s not about her. The fans, in her mind, are experiencing the show on the wrong level. The show’s telos is the display of personality, to the common fan.

And then SC3 comes out, dressed in robes and masks that obscure the personality. There are no lyrics, and they don’t speak to the crowd between songs, and don’t bow at the end of their set. They are very good musicians, technically speaking, but that’s besides the point. What they are doing is transcending the telos of the “show/musician as idol” gestalt. To play in service to the song, instead of having the song service your playing — this is transcending musical telos. Each song has a goal which is defined by the structure of that song. They might play a surf-rock version of the theme to the movie “Exodus”, in which case a trumpet gets the powerful brass lead, while the drums and guitar hold back and maintain a steady, Californian 4/4. Or they might play in a tuning based on the harmonic ratios of Pythagoras, in which case the song may have a highly mathematical structure, which hands off a melody between different harmonic modes and different instruments, which are all tuned to just intonation, an old non-equal-temperament method of tuning instruments, based on simple whole-number ratios (E.g. the just intonation ratio between a note and its fifth is 2:3). There’s something going on here which can’t be explained in terms of “the goal of the music”. It’s like each song is a hidden dark-matter shape, which lies out of bounds, and its shape is elucidated over time by each instrument probing at this shape — sometimes the shape pushes back, sometimes it yields. Gradually the shape of the song is further realized or further obscured. It would not be an exaggeration to say that for the first time at a live show, I felt like I experienced the songs directly, not through the filter of the band’s personality. In this way, the best compliment I could possibly give to SC3 is that they are transparent. The form of the songs are self-generated, and the generation itself is worn on the band’s faces, obscuring their eyes and heads.

Intermission: Secret Chiefs 3 – Zulfiqar III

This is exactly why I think Trey Spruance, the creative force behind SC3, will not explain his systems that he designs that ultimately lead to songs. He doesn’t want you to know, because you’d be missing the point. The point, the goal, the meaning of the songs is not in how they are written. And my apparent idolization of Spruance is anything but: I’m interested in the moon, not Spruance’s plans for a rocketship. I’m intentionally using the moon as in Zen cosmology it is a metaphor for enlightenment. The lesson from this show is not to look at the finger.

And I’m still circling around the central point I want to make. Perhaps that’s best. I’ve been interested in “serving the song” for a long time now — my electronic moniker, scion eidolon, means “servant/heir to the spirit”. Darshan Pulse, the name of my current project, references this idea as well — Darshan is a Hindi term that roughly translates to “divine seeing”. It’s used to refer to the idea that worship and experience of the divine can only happen when one is physically standing in front of a representation of a Hindi deity. That’s why there are so many temples and bas reliefs throughout India. They are *not* idols. They are pointers towards truth. And Pulse refers to the fact that physical presence is required. You have to be there. You have to see. Tu dois servir.

So I have to move past the Verse Chorus Paradigm. I can’t use it, and I can’t refer to it through its absence. It’s a form that allows egos to be stroked, because everyone understands it. You listen to the singer sing the chorus and you love them. Or, you note that their approach defies the VCP and you love them for their “out-of-the-box” thinking. Either way, you’re not hearing the song.

I don’t pretend to speak for the movement, but here’s my two cents on the “why” of this burgeoning community, after being a part of it in Missoula for the past week:

As evidenced by the growing community and its supporting infrastructure, Occupy Missoula (and all the occupations) is much more than a protest. Some might even argue that it’s not a protest at all. I, for one, refuse to accept the current power structure in this country as a legitimate one — so it follows that any list of “demands” I make would ultimately imply that that the corporate hegemony has the power to listen to the protests and fulfill those demands. But they don’t. Only empowered citizens, both individually and as a larger community, have that power. This is more than a laundry list of complaints. This is more than public negativity towards the powers that be. This is a positive movement, where we show by example what is right. We want to grow our own food and live on the land that is ours by birthright. We want to become part of the ecosystem again; not a system of consumption, but a system of sustainable production. We want to produce our own goods, and give back what we can to the earth and the small communities that have given us our bodies, our minds, our voice, and our inalienable human rights. Someone said once, “be the change you want to see in the world.” He wasn’t talking about reform. He wasn’t talking about fighting, or war, or breaking down the world into categories of “us” and “them”. He was talking about inclusion, respect, peace, understanding, love, transcendence, humility — there are many words for it, this feeling of being a part of something, of finally being able to give instead of take. I think we all know this feeling, deep down in the basement of our minds, past the boundaries of words and arguments and explanations. Viva la Occupy!


September 28th, 2009

Wake up, on the edge of a forgotten town. Weathered houses, fences, green grass overgrown. Silent except for the wind whistling through trees. A rusty hinge creaking softly on the edge of memory.

Step outside the front door, walking down the sidewalk. Avoiding cracks and potholes, stepping over long-lost tricycles. The fluorescent paint of childhood toys faded to pastel. Walk quickly, then jog, then run. Houses turn into a white and grey and brown blur, whizzing past. Looking for something, anything. Jump and don’t hit the ground. Take flight.

Up and out, past the town’s edge, growing even now distant in the green and brown. Water below. Traveling far and fast. Wind pushing up and in. Eyes squint against the whiteness of the wind. Majesty spread out, the vision unfolds. Forested and forbidden peaks, whitened cliffs. Pushing jagged against the broken horizon. Gliding past stormclouds, black heads of purpose tunneling past. Scattered drops of rain dampen hair, clothes, skin.

Moving towards distant land. The ice of wind’s current against the cheeks, the upper arms. One thousand pinpricks of sudden cold. And yet, joy. A smile forms, rising up from terror. From uncertainty. From underwater blue with sopping horror. Flying vibrantly, a whirl of bright color. Life in the honest wind and rain and brown and green. Rushing away, and up, and towards a distant shore. Below, miles below, shadows of clouds whisper past the ocean’s blue carpet. Soft and undulant, past the earth’s curve. Past everything.

Where? Here — a long and verdant coast, lined with maples and pine. Land and rest and recover. The soil warm against the soles of feet.

Climbing inland, uphill, pushing past vines and tall grass.  Over the last hill, a ridge towers above the trees. And the horror of what waits on the ridge!  A meeting of beings. Creatures. Things unknown, things secret and solemn. Hidden by crags and rocky spires. Obscured by inland fog. Bicycles and fences could never imagine. Electricity, no. Gasoline, computers, pianos and hotels, shopping carts and indoor pools, no!

Birdlike. Tall and red and black. Legs like blackened birch trees. They stare forward, resolute. Clutching elephantine fruit, apple-like, brown with dried humus.

Faces coated in black feathers. White eyes. Oh, the secret shore. Oh, these tall and terrible cliffs. This ridge.

But what lies past? What purpose?

Guardians. Keepers of a shelter past recall. A place of peace. Pushing forward quickly, on foot, rising up to meet the blackened things. Scared, yet purposeful, long strides pregnant with primal lust. They rise and stare. One of them upturns a long, black wing, coated in feather and tar. Points. Two others crouch, pick up a large woven basket. The rest pull the brown and red fruit from the basket and stare forward. Throwing the fruit like weapons.

Crashing sounds surround the ridge. Running faster, from branch to branch. Jumping, leaping on tree tops, each tree destroyed by the brown fruit. Sprinting now, dancing atop the highest leaves. A burning bridge left behind on the distant and grassy ground. One piece whizzes so close. The sound of it unearthly, the fruit somehow screaming of its own accord. Alive, insectile, swollen with black desire. The keepers howl from the ridge, closer still. Baying like dark wolves at some unknown satellite. The shrieking fills the world with sound. The void, the light of day, all things shut out with piercing cries. They say:

“You are awash in a vast sunless sky.

A bubble drifting through the air.

Your surface is endless, without flaw.

But you will pop and be gone all the same.”

At last! Gain the ridge and look down at what is there. The keepers turn away, forgotten, yielding to the rain and fog. Look down into the valley before the ridge. A deep bowl of slumbering green, sloping away to the deepest point. A calm pool sleeps there, sky blue with mineral and water wet. Surrounded by the tallest trees and sloping hills. Silent like the first day. Tiny drops of rain echo in the bowl of verdant green. Walk down. Slowly, do not fly or run. Feel the wet and damp between the toes. Connected. Feel the leaves and branches against the skin. Connected. The taste of rain against the nose and mouth. The smell of dirt and salt and rotten bark. The sight of ants making their home, of caterpillars munching on leaves. The sound of deer clomping in the soil. Sit at the pool and wait. Become.

A humming fills the valley’s bowl. Soft and sweet, filling every pore. Sing with it, sing deep and full. The valley’s song swells and soars. The trees and deer and ants all sing in key. The water hums a soft blue tune. The leaves cry and swoon and plead. The sun serenades the crescent moon. Join the song, forget the words. Life is but a dream. Float unseen, untouched, unheard. Gently down the stream.


Wake up, on the edge of a forgotten town.

Distant Roar

September 22nd, 2009

This is a semi-final draft of lyrics for a ballad. This is for my prog-rock project, album due out sometime this fall. I was thinking that I censor myself too often, and don’t share any poetry/lyrics/stories anymore. I’m going to ignore my perfectionist streak and look past tiny errors and fucking post shit.


Distant Roar

sitting on the water’s edge
I watch the tide pushing in, rolling out
thoughts like seaweed floating by
not much to think about
the house behind me heavy
the recollection of a man
things I find and buy and bring
and need and save and love
that’s all I am

oh the siren’s call
the haunting rise and fall
sliding up to greet you
when you haven’t moved at all
lying prone, desiring sleep
daydreaming dark, the silent deep
waters overhead a crystal sky
so blue it makes me cry
oh, what promise past the shore
distant roar

rainclouds curl off the coast
sand whipped on the wind
storm surge pushing up and in
threat’ning what I treasure most
dear to me, this earth, this clay
spare no expense for gilded dust
the earth dissolves, the armor rusts
and it falls away

oh the siren’s call
the haunting rise and fall
sliding up to greet you
when you haven’t moved at all
lying prone, desiring sleep
daydreaming dark, the silent deep
waters overhead a crystal sky
so blue it makes me cry
oh, that promise past the shore
distant roar

am I dreaming now?
am I thinking out loud?
undertow, hear me out
riptide, hear me out
oh the siren’s call
the haunting rise and fall
oh what promises past my door
distant roar

Disclaimer: this post is about music theory. It will be somewhat dry. A reasonable understanding of basic musical scales and notation is presupposed.

Ed: this post includes Part 1, edited for clarity and grammar.

Read the rest of this entry »

Disclaimer: this post is about music theory. It will be somewhat dry. A reasonable understanding of basic musical scales and notation is presupposed.

Most popular music is written in either a major scale or a minor scale. Major scales sound happy and jubilant; minor scales are dark, stratospheric, melancholy. It is instructive to understand, however, that minor is simply a mode of major; for instance, C major and A minor both consist of the white notes on a piano. No flats, no sharps. Even though the keys used are identical, if the all-white-keys song is played with C as “home base”, it will sound happy, whereas if A is used as the “base”, it will sound sad.

In this way I can say that minor, or Aeolian (the original Greek term), is the sixth mode of the major scale. The major mode (Ionian in Greek) is the first mode of the major scale. And by the major scale I mean this specific sequence of seven notes, selected from the Western idiom of twelve possible notes:

C (C#) D (D#) E F (F#) G (G#) A (A#) B

The bolded notes represent the scale of C major. The notes in parentheses are the black notes on a piano; the notes that are not in the C major scale. Note that the major scale follows the pattern of two steps from C to D (skipping C#), two steps from D to E (skipping D#), one step from E to F, two steps from F to G (skipping F#), and so on. [Aside: I don’t mean to be needlessly confusing, but traditionally a single step is referred to in most music notation as a “half step”, and two steps as a “whole step”, so I will use this terminology as I continue. Quick e.g.: C to D is a whole step. E to F is a half step.] Written out in this way, the major scale is simply whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half, or WWHWWWH for shorthand. This pattern is consistent regardless of the note one begins on: G major is simply G A B C D E F# G, for example, and E major is E F# G# A B C# D# E. It is left as an exercise to the reader to verify these scales’ patterns.

Now if I keep the scale the same, but start my step-counting on A, I get the universal pattern of the minor mode (Aeolian): WHWWHWW. It is a mode of the major scale because the beginning point of the scale is simply shifted over, but the underlying pattern is the same. The astute reader will wonder: “what about the other modes? Doesn’t the major scale theoretically have seven beginning-points, and thus seven modes?” This is exactly the case. In order, the seven modes of the major scale are called: Ionian (major), Dorian, Phyrgian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian (minor), and Locrian. They are all distinctly different in mood; some are darker, some are light and airy. They are related laterally, in that their step patterns are all derived from the major scale; for example, in a given melody, I could shift from C Ionian (C D E F G A B C) up to D Dorian (D E F G A B C D), and then to G Mixolydian (G A B C D E F G), and so forth and so on. This requires changing the home base of my song, though. The listener will clearly note the song “moving” from a home base of C, to D, to G. What about shifting around within a given tonal center? What if I want to add color and flavor to a melody, but keep it strictly in C?

There is a second way that the modes are related; it is a melodic relationship, in that the underlying “home base” does not change. For example, I can shift from C Ionian (WWHWWWH) to C Mixolydian (WWHWWHW). The step-patterns make it less clear as to what is going on, so I will write it out:

C Ionian (C D E F G A B C) —-> C Mixolydian (C D E F G A Bb C)

I would recommend mapping the step-patterns to the actual piano notes as a useful exercise. What’s the difference between Phrygian and Locrian, for example? What notes change? What notes stay the same?

Also, note that the shift from C Ionian to C Mixolydian is quite subtle; only a single note changes, and only by a half-step at that. It is the smallest possible melodic change. This is a useful concept; it provides color without the listener consciously pulling away from the song and thinking “well, that was obvious.” For those taught in traditional harmonic counterpoint, it is like shifting from C major to G major; only one tiny thing is changing. Here on out I will refer to this concept as SPMC (Smallest Possible Melodic Change). All of the modes of major are related by SPMC, which is spelled out in exhaustive detail below.

C Lydian (C D E F# G A B C) <—-> C Ionian [major] (C D E F G A B C)

C Ionian [major] (C D E F G A B C) <—-> C Mixolydian (C D E F G A Bb C)

C Mixolydian (C D E F G A Bb C) <—-> C Dorian (C D Eb F G A Bb C)

C Dorian (C D Eb F G A Bb C) <—-> C Aeolian [minor] (C D Eb F G Ab Bb C)

C Aeolian [minor] (C D Eb F G Ab Bb C) <—-> C Phrygian (C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C)

C Phrygian (C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C) <—-> C Locrian (C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C)

There are a few interesting epiphenomena that arise out of SPMC. Lydian is the “lightest” of the seven modes of major; it is very airy and carefree-sounding. Locrian, on the other hand, is the “darkest”, very sinister and primordial. The closer a mode is to Lydian, the lighter in mood; the closer a mode to Locrian, the darker the mood. (Dorian is centralized and is neutral in color.) Also note that when “traveling” from Lydian to Locrian via SPMC, the note that changes always descends, never ascends.

Additionally, every note of the scale descends by one half-step at some point in this system, except for home base, the C. While it is technically possible to “move” from C Locrian to B Lydian, the note that changes in this shift is the tonic itself (C moves down a half step to B). By SPMC rules, this isn’t allowed, as moving the tonic has a jarring effect on the listener, and is not considered to be a melodic shift, but rather a harmonic one. And we have to draw the line somewhere, otherwise bestiality and pedophilia will become commonplace. And we don’t want that, do we?

See if you can follow me a little further. The sharp/flat system has been primarily designed for use in the major/minor system; when speaking modally, it’s a lotta look, to quote a famous fashion designer. All the flats and sharps tend to obscure the simplicity of SPMC. If C is assigned the number 0, C# the number 1, all the way up to B = 11, we can study the system numerically, and also universally, as any home base can be assumed.  0 can just as easily be G#, or E. Also, since the home base can never change by definition, it’s not necessary to include it. Here’s an example to show what I’m talking about.

C Mixolydian is C D E F G A Bb C. If we assume that C = 0, and continue from there, then C Mixolydian can also be described as 0 2 4 5 7 9 10 12. Then simply note that by SPMC rules, the note C will never change, so the numbers 0 and 12 can be omitted, which leaves us with a nice universal way to describe all Mixolydian modes. Mixolydian is (2 4 5 7 9 10). Reread this paragraph, then prove to yourself that Aeolian (minor) is represented by (2 3 5 7 8 10).

Here’s the SPMC major mode order, in this new easier-to-look-at (hopefully) format:

( 2 4 6 7 9 11) Lydian

(2 4 5 7 9 11) Ionian (major)

(2 4 5 7 9 10) Mixolydian

(2 3 5 7 9 10) Dorian

(2 3 5 7 8 10) Aeolian (minor)

(1 3 5 7 8 10) Phrygian

(1 3 5 6 8 10) Locrian

Look at how only one number changes between each set of modes. Think about this for a little while, shifting from mode to mode. The really fun stuff is just around the bend.


April 27th, 2007

There is an interesting story which I will now reiterate. I heard it at a Friday group meeting at my school, which my co-workers also attend, one of which is my friend, who overheard the story while he was traveling to Seattle by train. It turns out that the person my friend overheard was telling a story about a man that he met in Germany when he – the person in Germany, not my friend – was traveling by train there. This man was traveling from Hamburg to Bremen, according to my friend, when a bedraggled man got on the train at one of the many rural stops at the various hamlets that the train makes in northern Germany. It turned out that this bedraggled man – whose name turns out to be Ute – did not have enough Euros to pay the fare to get all the way to Bremen. So the German man decided to help Ute, and pay for his fare. In return Ute told the man his story.  It turns out that two weeks ago, Ute was mugged while he was on a business trip, alone, in Hamburg, and didn’t have enough money to get back to Bremen, which is where his family lives. His ID was taken from him as well. Ute decided to start walking, and thumb for rides on his way. Unfortunately, hitchhiking is illegal in Germany, and he was picked up by a police car after about six hours. Ute was taken to jail in Hamburg and, as in America, allowed some phone time to arrange for someone to post bail. Since he originally had a cellphone, which was also stolen, he didn’t know any of the phone numbers of his immediate family’s houses or personal cellphones by heart. So, partly out of desperation, partly out of morbid amusement, he dialed in a random string of ten numbers. The phone rang three times, and then an answering machine answered the phone with this message: “Hello, you’ve reached the offices of Erika Strassman. I’m sorry I can’t come to the phone right now, but leave your name and number and I will return your call as soon as possible.” So Ute left his name and an short explanation of what had happened, and went back to his cell.

It turns out that Erika Strassman was an accountant working in Hamburg. She got the message the next day, and surprisingly, showed up at the jail with the bail money. Ute was released, and he immediately explained to her what the situation was, that he was estranged from his family, et al., could he please have some money for the train back to Bremen. And Erika Strassman said to him that getting a homeless man out of jail was one thing, but providing him money to get out of town was another thing altogether, and that she expected her money to be returned after the hearing. Ute pleaded with her and followed her until she threatened to call the police and file a harassment complaint. After that, Ute took off to the train station, which was

Unfortunately, the train that Mark was on pulled into the Coeur D’Alene, Idaho stop right at this critical point, and the German man’s friend, who was listening to the story, which Mark was eavesdropping on, got off the train. Mark thought about asking him to continue the story in his friend’s absence, but decided that it would be impolite. Anyway, when Mark and the German man arrived in Seattle, the German man’s business associate, a woman with dark hair, was waiting at the train station for him. His associate was holding one of those signs with a name penned in magic marker, like a chauffeur waiting for his charge. The sign said Strassman. Mark hung back and started messing around with a nearby vending machine, in order to listen in unobtrusively.

“Erika!” the German man said.

“John,” the woman said. “I was worried. The train’s two hours late.”

At this point the train started moving out of the station, quite loudly, so Mark couldn’t overhear anything else the man and his business associate said. However, Mark found a handful of business cards, no more than six or seven, near where the German man and woman were standing, after they had left. The cards were badly damaged by the rain, as it’s almost always raining in Seattle. They must have dropped them. He decided to take the cards, as proof of his outlandish story, and he gave one to me at Friday’s group meeting.

This is what it said:

John Strassman and Ute Erikkson

What do you make of that? Personally I think that Ute coincidentally ran into Erika’s husband on his trip from Hamburg to Bremen, and they decided to go into business together.  But why two names on one card? That’s kind of unusual. Anyway, it’s an interesting story, so I figured I’d share it. One that I’ll never know the truth of, unless I call the numbers on the card, which I didn’t post here for obvious reasons. Weird.