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Davis, California

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Column: Play your mandolin

I was in my smoking jacket admiring all of my safari trophies when I got a phone call from my mother Sunday night. My mom plays mandolin in a bluegrass band back in Southern California, and before she has a gig, she gets somewhat nervous about it:

Mom: “William?”

Me: “Hi, Mom.”

Mom: “Hi, I am going to have a heart attack in a few hours so I was just calling to say I love you before I die.”

Me: “What?”

Mom: “I have to play my mandolin and it’s going to actually kill me this time. Just make sure you don’t throw out any of my old tablecloths. They’re valuable.”

What irony. Throughout my youth, whenever I needed to do something I thought was terrifying like go on stage (or sign up for a checking account or pick up a job application), my mom who would tell me to stop being such a pussy and just do it.

Now it’s my turn to try to squash someone else’s aimless fears. I tell her she’s not going to be killed by playing in a band, and that once you get on stage it’s going to be no big deal. She insists, however, that every time she has to play mandolin in front of a crowd she is going to fall over and croak. I just tell her to have a shot or two of tequila before the show. She says goodbye, and a couple hours later, she calls me and tells me the show was a lot of fun.

Moral of the story: Tequila fixes everyone’s problems. Things are never as bad as you make them out to be. (Unless, of course, you’re stuck in some kind of situation that is totally fucked, like a zombie apocalypse or something.)

Anyway, it took me a long time to figure all that out (not the part about zombies). Once I found out that people in banks aren’t going to stab you when you walk through the doors, I could safely open a checking account. It was no problem, and I could probably do it a second time. Isn’t that something.

There’s some inherent fear of things that are out of the ordinary. Humans are creatures of habit. Doing something you’re not used to is always going to be weird at first, especially if it’s something that involves a ton of other people. (I’m not talking about porn). No guts, no glory – as they say. Sure, it’d be easy to sit inside watching “Arrested Development” and drinking vodka for the rest of your life, but there’d be no real gratification from that. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Sometimes you’ve got to get out and do whatever it is that terrifies you. Maybe you’ve always wanted to play guitar in a band but your stage fright is crippling. Maybe you’ve always wanted to kill a bear with your bare hands, but that bear always looks awful big when you get down to it. Maybe it’s something much more frightening and conventional, like asking a girl if she wants to go watch a ’70s kung fu movie. Maybe that’s just me.

I always remember that first scene in True Romance where Christian Slater is trying to get a girl to go with him to a Sonny Chiba marathon, and it’s not going well.

Broad: “You want to take me to a kung fu movie?”

Christian Slater: “No, I want to take you to three kung fu movies.”

Broad: “No, thanks.”

At least he tried. It’s the least any of us can do. I have yet to meet a girl who appreciates a good kung fu flick, but I know I’ll keep trying.

Really, you could call my column “What would Ol’ Dirty Bastard do?” every week. I think it’s safe to say that ODB was a man who would advocate trying to get what you want. He threw odds and fear to the wind. He was the kind of man who would take that shot of tequila and just get on stage. (Or, in his case, many shots of tequila, a blunt, a couple of beers and maybe some cocaine.)

Whatever. I’m not advocating that, but the message is the same. Get out there and do what you want to do, even if it freaks you out.

WILL LONG’s favorite kung fu movie is Master of the Flying Guillotine. If you’ve ever heard of it, or if you think you’ve got a better one, e-mail him at wclong@ucdavis.edu.

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