Friday, February 16, 2018

Piano vs. Organ (part 3)

We get tourists, sometimes. Or visitors. In any case, a young woman walked into our sanctuary one afternoon while I was practicing the organ and decided to ask the question that was pressing on her mind: which is harder to play, the piano or the organ?

She did not, it seems, want a complicated answer.

I've become proficient at both instruments, and I don't like to disparage either of them. And I like to get people to think, which usually requires a longer answer, which is something for which patience is required.

The piano, I explained, has a sustaining pedal, and an organ does not. So you can play a group of low notes and hold the sound of them while your hands are in the air leaping to notes far away. This is impossible on the organ where the sound ends the moment your hands quit the keys (depending on the building's reverb, I guess) and generally tends to sound stupid on an organ. Therefore, leaps are one of several things that abound in the piano literature but do not in pieces written for the organ. Also the piano tends to emphasize hand crossings, and rapid runs more than pieces written for the organ do. So in that way, the piano requires something that the organ usually does not. It is also an instrument that rewards or punishes according to the subtlety of the touch, where an organ has a little more room for error. There the articulation matters, but a heavier attack on one note in a group will not produce a distracting bang like it will on the piano, ruining the phrase.

I said all this to set it in counterpoint to the next part, which is what most people would assume I would say, namely that the organ has all kinds of buttons and knobs that the piano does not have, and notes to be played with the feet on top of that, and is therefore a more complicated machine than the piano, case closed.

Actually, I didn't close the case, but my interlocutor did. She decided the organ was way more complicated and that was that. And therefore, I suppose, better. Or more praiseworthy as a pursuit, anyway. After all, the technical difficulty score counts big, just ask the Olympic judges.

And considering that the organ at Third Church has 175 ranks and about 188 knobs, with 4 manuals, two rows of couplers which I haven't counted, probably around 40 toe studs and 50 thumb pistons, 4 expression pedals, two kinds of crescendo, and a magic drawer with multiple features I would need several paragraphs to begin to describe...well, it's a large organ. I don't know that it is really fair comparing it to a piano since it isn't really an average organ. It is complicated. And difficult. And maybe I should get  a gold star for being able to play it. And maybe, when people simply want to be really impressed by something I should leave well enough alone and let them be impressed.

But I still like to think. And I think that life is not about being impressed by something that is difficult if your appreciation stops there. Admiration is only a start. And though I've noticed people at dinner parties would rather hear about the organ than they would the piano that nobody is playing organ music on the radio. Not even the classical station. People aren't lined up to come to organ concerts either. I hope I can do something about that.

Meanwhile, the piano in our sanctuary is out of tune. The tuner comes next week. I'm looking forward to that. I've been missing the piano. It does only have one manual, and only three pedals for the feet, no knobs, no buttons. But it is a wonderful instrument. Many feel a closer connection to it than they do the mighty organ. I can understand that. I'll be making more pianonoise very soon. Until then, Hector and I are going to make some wonderful music together.

What, I can't give the organ a name?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Watch your step

Last week I got another surprise. I'm in the midst of teaching a class on the organ, which includes miniature concerts, and as next week's class is on 19th century French literature (and includes a fun bit about the organ in popular culture; i.e., as an instrument of terror) I decided it was time to learn the Boellmann Toccata. This is probably the easiest of the many flashy toccatas I've already learned to play. I was expecting to have it licked in a day or two.

That didn't quite happen. One of the reasons for it was that it was trickier to memorize than I thought it would be. Although quite repetitive, the phrase endings are all different, so that it is like being on the same section of road and having to take a different exit each time.

Of course, I could have just gotten a page turner for the performance, but that would have meant that every day during practice I still would have to stop every 30 seconds to turn the page. Mr. Boellmann keeps the hands busy the entire length of the piece so there is no way to turn the page without stopping the music altogether. And the music from our church library looks to be from about 1920 and is quite brittle, so every time I did turn a page part of the page would come apart in my hand.

I did eventually get the piece memorized but it took about five days. Most of you are realizing how wonderfully impatient I am. If it had been a more difficult piece like the Vierne Final (from Symphony no. 1) I would have expected it to take a couple of weeks (it did, and that didn't bother me very much). I'm realistic enough to expect some things to take time; it was the mis-diagnosis that threw me.

But there was another issue at hand, an issue of execution.  Once the piece was beginning to function as a piece of music (that is, mostly memorized: the actual playing of the notes while looking at them took very little time at all as the piece is practically sightreadable) I was still having a bit of difficultly getting the thing to work without any hesitations. And that came down to those pedals you see at the top of the page. Not the organ pedals, the several gas pedals. Those are the expression pedals. They make each of the manuals that are under expression (which does not include the loudest of the four) louder or softer according to whether you've got them pedal to the floor, or in the up position, or somewhere in between. The fact that there are four of them is rather new to me, and is a sign that I've got a pretty large organ console to deal with. Simply put, those pedals give the feet something else to do besides play notes and kick toe studs to change registration. Bach's organ didn't have them at all. They are an innovation dating from the 19th century.

Being able to find the correct expression pedal and depress it quickly enough that the musical flow isn't interrupted and I can also get in all the pedal notes and registration changes is a skill in which I am not surprisingly deficient. It is one of the fun things about being an organist. The organ isn't really one instrument. Depending on the size and makeup of the organ it can demand very different things from you. One of the things I learned this week was the ability to arhythmically deploy the expression pedal and to scan the console to make sure that all of the indicator lights were where I wanted them to be, all while the fingers were on autopilot and the memory was feeding them uninterrupted information. If they weren't I would have to make another try as soon as one of my feet was free for a moment. Organists practice the same gestures over and over to make sure that they can play consistently and smoothly, but it is a fine skill to be able to make adjustments to a performance that includes gestures that you have drilled into yourself just in case something goes a bit wrong. And that seems to require dividing one's brain up into more and more pieces, each acting independently.

That may not sound like a lot of fun (it is if you get it right, I suppose) but I did actually have some. Because of a leaky roof, the lights were out in the sanctuary last week. That made for a rather spooky atmosphere as I took on this rather spooky piece. And yes, that is an actual shot of the view from the organ console, not some stock Hollywood horror footage.

I also made this recording you so can enjoy it yourself, in the dark. I'll know if you don't turn off the lights as you listen.

Boellmann: Toccata from Suite Gothic

Friday, February 2, 2018

Februaries I have known

You may have picked up on this, but I am not a fan of February.

The novelty of winter has worn off, and all we have left is the grinding cold, the ice, the snow--I can do snow when it's fluffy and not too deep, it's even charming, but let's not have to spend an hour in the bitter cold trying to dig out one's car, shall we? And have I mentioned the wind? People fight most bitterly when they know they've lost, and the elements take after them. As the cold season draws to a close the wind can sometimes take your face off. Politely, of course.

You would think I would spend the month hibernating, but, it turns out, quite a few Februaries have featured major events. And, even if those events were laden with stress, they gave me something to focus on beside my dreary, Siberian thoughts.

Some of these were concerts. I recall a February when I appeared with orchestra, playing Brahms's Second piano concerto in Bb. This is quite a large piece, and a challenge to the technique and the stamina. I'd won a concerto competition a couple of years earlier and they put me on a subscription concert. I don't know why they picked February, but there it is. I think this was on the 20th of the month, the year I was a senior in college. Six days and several years later, I was on stage at Carnegie Hall (the one in New York, not Pittsburgh!). I remember several pep talks I've given myself and this one was focused on one thing: the music was not so hard, I could play it well, it is only because I am nervous that I am nervous. Just go out and do your thing and it will be fine. It was.

Of course, February is audition month. Curiously, I've forgotten the date of my audition for the Cleveland Institute of Music--it was sometime in late February, I think. I remember the weather at Oberlin pretty well, though--bitterly cold and windy. I chose Cleveland. (No tropical paradise there, either)

My audition for graduate school was actually on the 1st of March. But that still made February the operative month. When I auditioned for my doctorate it was sometime in late February, but I can't remember the date for that, either.

I think that my cousin's wedding, all those many years ago, was in a  February, in Florida. I was 13. It was probably my first wedding reception (that I played for). And to think that I lost my amateur status so young. Actually, I don't remember getting paid. Who knows? Doesn't matter.

In the church calendar, February is often the start of Lent. Having served as a church organist lo these many years I can remember several challenging Februaries which featured some ambitious programming. One year I played two of the three Choral Preludes by Cesar Frank on back-to-back weeks (while I was sick!). I also remember a 15 minute memorized delivery of a sketch by Mark Twain for the Ash Wednesday service (it fit the theme, honest). Lent was often a time for some hefty music, which is odd, because it is an old Catholic practice not to allow the organ to sound during Lent at all.

This year, February will be marked by a class I am teaching for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). This program, run locally by the University of Pittsburgh, allows the 50+ crowd to sign up for classes as if they were in college. There are no degrees granted. My course is off campus at the church which features my new organ friend (see the last two weeks). It is about the history of the instrument, and includes musical performances of pieces representing the different schools and composers that make up the best of the organ literature. It also features an extended organ demonstration. In five weeks, we'll have time to talk about all the buttons, knobs, tabs, and toe studs. Which reminds me, I was going to count all of them to see just how many there were. I imagine my class would like to know.

I am writing this on Wednesday--tomorrow is the first class, and the weather is planning a nice respite from the snow and cold for just one day so I don't have to contemplate cancellation or a drop in attendance. Nice of it. We'll see how things progress--given a choice between two sessions, this nutcase chose February in order to be less busy at Easter.Thus it joins the parade of active Februaries, adding a bit of stress to the cold.  At least it keeps the mind occupied, and the fingers limber. And when it is over, I'll have survived another one.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The new instrument (part two)

As an organist, I've seen a lot of brides come down the aisle. I haven't seen a lot of organ consoles do the same.

One week last March, however, I got to see just that. I was scheduled to substitute at a church in Shadyside (that's a neighborhood in Pittsburgh). Normally you get some notion of the organ you'll be playing on a little ahead of time if you show up to practice, but they were in an unusual situation. The new console was being installed that week. When or if it would be ready in time was a little bit up in the air. So I was either going to play the temporary solution-- a small two manual Allen or a much larger, 4-manual, 100-rank...also Allen.

The church had a 6,800 pipe Moeller in the balcony, but it was out of service. As the church debated what to do about that, someone had decided that maybe it was time to go digital.

I can understand if the pipe organists out there are wincing.

 I've had a few run-ins with electronic organs of various kinds. Sometimes I'll start to play one and wonder why it sounds a little odd. Then I see the speakers where the pipes should be and say...ah. That's why.

Digital organs have come a long way in recent years, however. That's why I use the word digital instead of electronic. For a start, they are now using sampled sound from actual pipe organs. Due to the unvarying nature of organ sound (unlike, say a piano) a recorded sound can sound pretty close to the real thing if it is amplified properly. Digital organs are supposed to be cheaper than pipe organs, but going too cheap makes it pretty obvious. It also helps enormously if there are several speakers and they are spaced throughout a large area as if in several large pipe chambers. The organ at Third Church is laid out this way, taking up the empty chamber left when the Skinner was sold in the 1960s (see the last installment). They've even divided some of the ranks of pipes between channels to mimic the way the pipes would be spaced, which is something I found out when I first tried to play the console. One of the speakers wasn't hooked up properly and every other note wasn't sounding from one of the flute stops.  This reflected a typical arrangement of pipes--that the C and C# would actually be on opposite sides, with alternating pipes on each side until the highest and therefore smallest pipes met in the middle. I found that attention to detail impressive.

Allen is quite proud of this organ, by the way. They use it in advertising (it was in the American Organist magazine in July) and have featured it on the website as their Organ of the Week. They should be proud of it. They've done a good job. People say it sounds good. I have pretty picky ears, and not all of the stop combinations are equally convincing to me, but there is plenty to choose from and I doubt most folks can tell any difference. And being digital means the organ never goes out of tune or ciphers, which isn't a bad deal in itself.

That doesn't stop me from wanting pipes, though. There are still lots of them in the rear balcony, and they are in need of some work. Fortunately, we are in the middle of a restoration project. It will likely take a couple of years, but when it is finished, the organ will once again be equipped with thousands of pipes, AND lots of digital ranks. It will be interesting to see how well they all get along. I've never had that sort of organ. Will it be the best of both worlds?

The Allen already has many features. Not only are there around a hundred stops at a go, the digital organ allows you to switch sound libraries, from a German Baroque organ, to a French Cathedral. There are six in all. You can also experiment with alternate tunings, and raise or lower the pitch. It also has a playback system which is useful for recording yourself.

For me it is a useful continuation in my education as an organist. I haven't had such a large organ in a regular church position before, and, having learned the literature, I now find I have an instrument to play it on. This is particularly fortunate in that Pittsburgh is (truly) the oldest city in the US, demographically, and most people have been in their church jobs for decades and aren't leaving anytime soon, so that in the entire first year after our move here, there were only a couple of jobs open that weren't an hour away in a tiny rural church. This was one of them. It is only five minutes from home, and the organ will let me play anything, from German Baroque to French Romantic, from Contemporary to Medieval.

It is strange to see your new organ coming down the aisle. I almost played it a fanfare (on the temporary one). The day I came to practice for the first time the sanctuary was a little crowded with workers so I went into the chapel to practice on the organ there (also a nice feature, to have a backup!). After an hour or so I decided to go see what was going on in the sanctuary and that was exactly when they were bringing in the console on a dolly. I didn't know it was going to be the organ that I would get to play every week since I hadn't yet been hired. At the time I didn't even know if the large console would be ready for Sunday. All week I wondered, as the workers made the connections. The project wasn't complete until Friday afternoon. And it wasn't until Saturday that I got a chance to try it out for the next day. That was a bit stressful. An organ that size gives you plenty of chances to make mistakes. But I got through the service, and here it is several months later and I know the console pretty well.

That is, the half of it that is hooked up to the front of the church. There are a hundred knobs I won't get to play with for a while. I wonder what those will sound like!

Friday, January 19, 2018

The new instrument (part one)

After what can best be described as a colossal disruption (and if you read the blog regularly you know what I mean) I've gotten settled in a new position as church organist. This is me, and this is the place I am fortunate to get to sit every day.

This is the console of the new instrument at Third Presbyterian Church, Shadyside, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, the earth, Milky Way, the universe. For some reason I look tall enough to see over the music rack in that picture. Must be the perspective.

Speaking of which, there is an enormous Tiffany stained-glass window that is visible from the organ bench and which I gaze upon whenever I'm not looking at the console or the music.

It's the console, though, not the organ. The console is like the cockpit, not the airplane. So where is the organ itself? Well, that's where it starts to get complicated.

This is part of it. You can see the display pipes above the balcony. The French even named their foundation pipes "Montre" which literally means "on display." That is, the ones you can see, which is usually only a fraction of what is actually there, most of which is hidden away in rooms filled with pipes.

Actually, though, these pipes are probably from a couple of organs ago. The sanctuary dates back to 1903, at which point there was an Austin organ. Then in 1935 that was removed to put in a Skinner organ. This one had 4400 pipes, playable from three manuals. I know this because I found it online. There are people who keep track of such things. I happened to be in Scotland doing research on something completely unrelated when I stumbled across it.

 The reason I had to find it online is because the organ isn't there anymore, either. This is Pittsburgh, where, despite the vicissitudes of church attendance, there were fortunes made in steel and industry. And every few decades you could get a shiny new organ. Which they did again, in 1966. This time it was a Moeller, and it had 6800 pipes and occupied the back balcony. Like thus:

The console used to be back there, too. For a while, the church had two organs, one in the front and one in the back. You know, just like a cathedral. Only, however cavernous the church may look in the above photograph, it really isn't a cathedral. It does have certain characteristics of a grand stone church, but it is also smaller, and the wood helps give it a more intimate feel. I call it the intimate cathedral.

So there they were, with over 10,000 organ pipes, playable from two consoles in two parts of the church, and....something happened.

They sold one of them.

The story is that one of my predecessors, two organists ago, didn't really care for the Skinner, nor did he like being asked to play it. So he arranged for it to be sold to a college in Illinois (I also found this out online). And that left the Moeller. Still bigger than some cathedral organs, and only about 700 pipes short of St. Paul's in London. More than enough for most organist's egos, and a bit more weight than the balcony was supposed to hold. But there you go.

Then lightning struck.

Thrice, in fact.

Three times in a decade, and apparently the last time fried the console. There was also plenty of water damage in the pipe room which had been accumulating over time. Enter one completely unplayable organ.

 Many churches wouldn't have had the funds to fix it. In fact, when I first arrived on the scene last winter, it was not clear to me what exactly was going on. There appeared to be three consoles with a total of nine manuals, one of which was surrounded by cones and police tape and warning signs (that was the old Moeller console) and two of which were digital and not nearly as exciting.

One of the them was on lone for a concert, the other was a stop-gap measure, and the old Moeller is still a piece of furniture looking for a good home.

When I found out about the position being open, I signed up to substitute. Since my predecessor had left in October, there had been a steady stream of substitute/applicants. By the time I found out about the position in February it's lucky the position hadn't already been filled.  I was on the docket for a couple of Sundays in April.

Then somebody backed out and I was asked to do a Sunday in March. I wonder who wasn't available. They missed a show.

Specifically what they missed was the installation of the new organ console, which is where I'll pick up next time.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Taking Down Christmas

Each year, my wife and I dutifully assemble in the living room, get out the boxes, put  "Messiah" on backwards, and take down the Christmas tree. Then, for merry measure (follow me here) we stamp out every last vestige of the holiday and all three (or four) nativity sets, tiny wooden Christmas trees and the like, with the possible exception of the stray bits of pine tree that will continue to make periodically unannounced visits through next October.

Most years, despite any shortcomings of the actual event, I am sorry to see it go. But through patient application, I've managed to extend the holiday's end from the middle of Christmas morning until the weekend of or following Epiphany. That is just in case my wife decides we really ought to see whether our credit is good for 10 Lords a Leaping or whatever nonsense those lords have been up to since they got drummed out of parliament.

This year's edition was certainly an improvement on its predecessor. In 2016, so close to the Great Disruption that I was still numb from some of  the side effects, it was hard not to feel in exile. This year there is a new community, and some friends we've known for over a year. It is hard to put down roots in new soil and have it feel deep and satisfying. But this Christmas did what it could. It is hard to imagine it sometimes, but the season can heal.

Viewing it as we can't help doing -- Dickens knew it to be true -- as a node connecting us with seasons past and, more uncertainly, future, we often feel Christmas time more intensely than other times of year, and loss more acutely. I've been trying to process the loss of an entire community, despite most of its citizens still being alive, and reachable on Facebook.

Many of us act as though we simply want the whole thing to be over as soon as possible. I suspect a significant fraction of this to be fashionable complaining (where, if you aren't complaining, you must not be carrying your load), but I have a certain horror of the numbers of people who seem to go through life just doing what they think they are supposed to do because they are supposed to do it and never considering why or getting anything extravagant from it. There  seems to be an emotional deadness there to which I don't want to succumb. Maybe it is because I am an artist, and artists work with meaning and significance. We spend plenty of time just trying to survive, too, but pushing beyond that, we want to feel there is something good about being alive and a reason to share that.

I had a time -- maybe you did too -- when I felt the season hurrying by, and I felt like despite my best efforts, I wasn't going to be able to catch hold of it long enough for it to whisper something meaningful as it rushed past. That it would simply be a series of things done in the proper order but without imparting anything greater than a feeling that it had been done more or less correctly for another year, that 2017 might not have its own face, unique in the crowd of Christmases

It is gone, now. I think the season may have whispered something to me as it flew by, but I'm not sure what it is, yet. Adult Christmases are, of course, always more complicated, and perhaps that complexity increases as you get older, in which case I am finding this out. Old griefs can cause emotional retreat rather than a desire for confrontation, Blue Christmas services or no. But it occurs to me now that maybe this Christmas isn't finished. And maybe it shouldn't be. Old Ebenezer Scrooge may not be the only one who needs to live Christmas 365 days a year.

Given my sense these days of being at the beginning of a new time in life rather than the end of an old one, it is really not strange that I should feel this Christmas communicating with the future, that the gesture really won't be completed until next year, in which case my inner being may be in for a long holiday season after all. As Dickens would have preached, "may that be truly said of all of us.". The lights, the cheer, the music -- all good things, but the impulse, that inner enthusiasm that really makes it a time to rejoice, that is still with us if we search, and cultivate. And with patient striving, and depth of feeling, and a little luck, maybe it will even outlast the pine needles.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Tort for Christmas

A couple of years ago, our cast of denizens atop the entertainment center in our living room helped us re-imagine the Christmas story. They've been doing it faithfully for several years now. I chronicled some of those events in a previous blog.

Unfortunately, during a season like this you would like peace and goodwill to prevail, but, as reality will often do, even the Christmas season is not immune from its reach. I have refrained from writing about these events before now, but my lawyer assures me the the case has finally been settled and there will be no repercussions to my telling my side.

One December morning I was cleaning my desk and discovered a tiny envelope which was addressed to myself and had a forbiddingly legal atmosphere. I dared to open it; I needed a magnifying glass to read it. I reprint it here blown up to 100s of times the original size but preserving all the grossly exaggerated language of  its author:

Dear Sir:

I represent the League of Crechepersons International. It has come to our attention that you have placed, within the last year, an enormous glowing box for your internet within close proximity to our stable. This is not only in violation of our agreement, it is dangerous to all concerned. The effects of the rays and other dangerous waves released from these boxes has been known to cause tumors in both sheep and shepherds, to disrupt the peace and well-being of persons of the town, to cause kings to lose their sense of direction, and even to cause birth defects in baby Jesi. We therefore demand that you move your box from this location IMMEDIATELY in order to avoid legal action.

Sincerely yours,
Gabriel, Michael and Raphael, attorneys at law

What would you do with a letter like that? I consider myself a reasonable human being (just like everyone else), but the tone of the letter really peeved me. There was no attempt to understand my position; besides, did he really have to capitalize IMMEDIATELY? And what was this mysterious agreement he claimed I was in violation of? Probably he had pulled this from his legal posterior. And while I am certainly aware of the possibility of things in the environment causing ill effects, could one small tower possibly log such a litany of terrors? Surely not. I wrote him back and told him that the presence of the creche people was voluntary and that due to our internet provider drilling a rather intrusive hole in the wall some months ago our box could not be relocated, whereas our creche most certainly could be, even to the other end of the entertainment center, several feet away. Anywhere else and the figures would most likely meet a much quicker end than any router-derived radiation at the paws of our cat.

 Joseph explaining the situation to Mary

He did not appreciate the part about our cat: evidently lawyers are paid vast sums of money to interpret anything they can to the advantage of their clients, and by simply pointing out to him that there were dangers in the world beyond the one he was concerned about he decided I was threatening the safety of his clients. He also made me aware that my use of the term "creche people" was not at all welcome, being derogatory. I told him I had no intention of being offensive and that I would use any term that was acceptable to all parties concerned and apologized, and he simply told me I should have known better and reiterated his disdain; despite my repeated attempts he never let me in on what was the proper term so I think he was mainly concerned about making me look bad rather than trying to promote justice.

A few days later I received a notice that I was being sued for all I was worth, and that the internet box must be turned off immediately pending further action by the court. I was nonplussed, since it meant no more communication with the outside world. (Some smart guy told me I had a box at the end of my driveway that would answer just as well but I gave him a withering look and went on my way.)

Since interruption of the internet was a serious matter I went about looking for a lawyer. Would you believe one of the wise men had a JD? This was certainly going to make it easier to communicate; I tried to overlook the possible conflict of interest and hoped that the other wiseguys didn't beat him up when they found out. My lawyer immediately suggested we try to settle out of court.

One night we had a meeting of the minds. Things did not go well at first; my own counsel had to suggest I not use the term "straw man" in sizing up opposing counsel's argument. It did seem to me a bit exaggerated until I was shown a safety video in which several individuals-a-creche were seen to be suffering some pretty horrible effects from cable and internet boxes thoughtlessly placed in their vicinity, and all in the name of unpaid and uncared-for creche figures bringing graphic representation of a story at the very heart of the holiday. It amounted to the most rude exploitation, opposing counsel said. It turned my stomach. I said I was sorry; I hadn't known, and he gave me a frustrated look that must be common to many among the frustrated when they have to deal with the clueless.

After that things proceeded quickly. I was told that the box needed to be a few hundred feet away; however, when converting their distances to mine it turned out only to be a couple of feet, which was even less than my original offer. I was also ordered to pay a heavy fine. Seeing the look of worry on my face the arbiter quickly added that, as the persons involved were more used to a Medieval economy, they could be paid in foodstuffs. This turned out to be a year's supply for the entire cast, or one cookie. I timidly offered them a thimble of milk as well, as a good will gesture, and they were quite happy. I think they believed I was a rather broken individual by this time. However, after Santa takes his cut, I will only have to go without one more cookie at Christmas. I think I can live with that.