As I crawl into bed, the wind huffs and puffs against the walls and windows. Outside, the trees bend and dip. Patio furniture scatters like Lego toys. Pine needles turn the street orange. When I turned the TV off, the news was all about snow in Portland. Again. Here on the coast, we have had precipitation in the form of snow, hail, and rain. It has come down in puffs, rocks, needles, sheets, drizzles and gully-washers. The extended forecast? More of the same. It’s enough to make a born-again Oregonian scream, “I want to go home!” I want to make like the Canada Geese and fly south in the fall. But of course, no one can afford to buy a house these days, especially in the Bay Area. So we put on our slickers and waffle-stompers and go on.
One of my jobs is assistant director of the contemporary choir at Sacred Heart Church, over the bridge in Newport. It’s a wonderful brick edifice opened the year I was born, very old-fashioned inside with creaky blond-wood pews, lots of statues and a giant dying Jesus on the cross up front, much like the church I grew up in before it got modernized. The choir sits in chairs on a plywood platform to the right of the altar.
Our director’s husband had open heart surgery last month. I was in charge the whole month of December. However, she was coming back yesterday and wanted to pick out the music, as well as play the piano. Fine. I needed a break. However, she didn’t actually pick out the music until late Saturday night and she was going to be very late on Sunday. She e-mailed the list of songs to the choir, but I was the only one who was online at that point. I had hoped to get to church early and organize the music, but somehow when my alarm rang, I shut it off and went back to sleep, waking up an hour later. It was a miracle that I managed to shower, eat breakfast, dress and be in the car at 9:15.
When I arrived, the choir was in a dither. Although she didn’t have the list of songs, another choir member had already started trying to do the music. There were papers everywhere, and nobody knew what was going on. I was singing the psalm and had not practiced it. Meanwhile there were microphones and music stands to set up. We were still figuring things out as we tumbled out of the chapel into the sanctuary. Father Brian stopped us early in verse two of “We Three Kings”. I thought he had paused to welcome our director back. But no, the number on the board was wrong. He asked us to start the song over from the top so the congregation could sing along. Lord, Lord.
When I went up to the lectern for my solo, I was still sucking a throat lozenge, trying to chase off the gunk in my throat. I had to either get rid of it or sing with this chunk of yellow stuff in my mouth. So there I stood on the altar, biting down, feeling as if the crunching sound was so loud the reader could surely hear it. In fact, it might be going out over the microphone across the whole church. Crunch. Crunch. Swallow. I had pieces of lozenge stuck to my teeth. Picture me clutching my choir book, gazing the over the lector’s shoulder at the sacred words, and trying like crazy to push the sticky lozenge remainders off my teeth with my tongue. There’s a period right after sucking a lozenge when your throat is still adapting to it not being there, and that’s when I took my place at the microphone, nodding at Mary Lee to play the introduction. I had no idea what would come out.
It could have been worse. We got through Mass and even received some applause. After Mass, for the first time since I woke up and saw what time it was, I could finally breathe. I thought my voice had sounded a little raspy, plus this was the psalm with all the place names, like Tarshish and Sheba, but a couple I met during coffee and donuts after Mass gushed over my beautiful voice. “What a gift,” the woman said.
Naturally I decided to ditch everything to become a world-famous singer. Again. But at this point in life, I’ll settle for famous in Newport. That and a maple bar washed down with Ruby Mist tea.
Rain? What rain? Ah, the artist’s ego.