The lyrics seem to have more than normal meaning right now. Just think about these lines: “So if you don’t mind my sayin’, I can see you’re out of aces. For a taste of your whiskey, I’ll give you some advice.”

The Gambler

Kenny Rogers

On a warm summer’s evening
On a train bound for nowhere
I met up with the gambler
We were both too tired to sleep
So we took turns a-starin’
Out the window at the darkness
The boredom overtook us
And he began to speak
He said, “Son, I’ve made a life
Out of readin’ people’s faces
Knowin’ what the cards were
By the way they held their eyes
So if you don’t mind my sayin’
I can see you’re out of aces
For a taste of your whiskey
I’ll give you some advice”
So I handed him my bottle
And he drank down my last swallow
Then he bummed a cigarette
And asked me for a light
And the night got deathly quiet
And his face lost all expression
Said, “If you’re gonna play the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done
Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for
Is to die in your sleep”
And when he’d finished speakin’
He turned back toward the window
Crushed out his cigarette
Faded off to sleep
And somewhere in the darkness
The gambler he broke even
But in his final words
I found an ace that I could keep
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em (when to hold ’em)
Know when to fold ’em (when to fold ’em)
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Don Schlitz
The Gambler lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

So in case you have some kind of guitar, ukulele, or banjo — or something else (like a piano or mandolin or some such) you can play or strum, here are the chords. Transpose your heart out.

The Gambler

Key: D major, artist: Kenny Rogers, writer: Don Schlitz

On a [D] warm summer’s evenin’ on a [G] train bound for [D] nowhere, I met up with the gambler; we were both too tired to [A] sleep. So [D] we took turns a starin’ out the [G] window at the [D] darkness ’til [G] boredom over [D] took us, and [A] he began to [D] speak.

He said, [D] “Son, I’ve made a life out of [G] readin’ people’s [D] faces, and knowin’ what their cards were by the way they held their [A] eyes. And if [D] you don’t mind my sayin’, I can [G] see you’re out of [D] aces. For a [G] taste of your [D] whiskey I’ll [A] give you some [D] advice.”

So I [D] handed him my bottle and he [G] drank down my last [D] swallow. Then he bummed a cigarette and asked me for a [A] light. And the [D] night got deathly quiet, and his [G] face lost all ex[D]pression. Said, “If you’re [G] gonna play the [D] game, boy, ya gotta [A] learn to play it [D] right.

You got to [D] know when to hold ’em, [G] know when to [D] fold ’em, [G] know when to [D] walk away and know when to [A] run. You never [D] count [Em] your [D] money when you’re [G] sittin’ at the [D] table. There’ll be [G] time enough for [D] countin’ [A] when the dealin’s [D] done.

[D] Ev’ry gambler knows that the [G] secret to surv[D]ivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to [A] keep. ‘Cause [D] ev’ry hand’s a winner and [G] ev’ry hand’s a [D] loser, and the [G] best that you can [D] hope for is to [A] die in your [D] sleep.”

And [D] when he’d finished speakin’, he [G] turned back towards the [D] window, crushed out his cigarette and faded off to [A] sleep. And [D] somewhere in the darkness the [G] gambler, he broke [D] even. But [G] in his final [D] words I found an [A] ace that I could [D] keep.

You got to [D] know when to hold ’em, [G] know when to [D] fold ’em, [G] know when to [D] walk away and know when to [A] run. You never [D] count [Em] your [D] money when you’re [G] sittin’ at the [D] table. There’ll be [G] time enough for [D] countin’ [A] when the dealin’s [D] done.



It’s kind of musical around here. I have my guitar, ukulele, two penny whistles, a small xylophone and a tiny electric piano. I had a very different idea of what to do with today’s pictures, but the lights were out for hours.

A square musical treat!

If the wind had calmed down, we’d have had a little more time to write. Sadly, we also got a very small amount of rain … just another dribble.


Fandango’s Dog Days of August #17

I wrote this just the other day, so here it is again.

There was a time in my life when I was “all music all the time.” I completed a music major in college (piano) with a minor in “what am I really going to be when I grow up?” I knew I wasn’t a good enough pianist to perform professionally, added to which I have such bad stage fright I was petrified playing for my piano teacher. Mind you I can talk on a stage — even with a camera running — but not perform. Especially not playing the piano. My teacher had to pretend to make tea so I would perform for her.

If my minimal talent was barely sufficient, my stage fright was paralytic, but my teacher was warmly encouraging. She felt I had talent. I don’t think she entirely understood my hands are really small. I am really small, though I often forget that I’m super extra short. I remember when I realize I can’t get things from the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets. And those tiny hands — I can barely reach an octave.

I had a terrible time with ‘big handed’ music — which is most piano music written by men with big hands. I think she kept expecting me to grow. I started taking lessons when I was 4, so I suppose she never got used to my having already grown up.

If she didn’t turn me into a professional musician, she did teach me to understand and love music. And I can always tell if someone is off-key. Including me. Oddly enough, I don’t want music playing all the time. If music is playing, I want to hear it fully — not as background noise. My favorite is classical music, but I can only listen to that at home. If I listen to it in the car, I find myself driving off the road. So in the car, it’s any other type of music from bluegrass, country, or 1960s rock. Eclectic, but old fashioned.

When I hear piano music that I once played, I see the notes in my head. I do miss music and I think when we finally get financed and life starts to move forward and I’m not worrying all the time, at least somewhere in the back of my head, I might learn to play something. A three-string cigar box guitar sounds about right to me.


Fandango’s Provocative Question #80

From Fandango, a deep, philosophical question. We need some of those because everything else is about disease or the news.

“I saw this question on a site that offers up a bunch of “deep, philosophical” questions and this one intrigued me. It’s about evolution, but not in the context of Darwin’s evolution of the species. It’s more about evolution of the individual and about who you are and how you change over time.

Here’s this week’s question, which is essentially about you. I hope you’ll have fun with it.”

That’s a pretty good question, actually. I am not at the “forgetting” stage of life. It doesn’t mean I don’t remember events, especially those which were significant, but I’m losing a lot of the details. Many formative life events go back more than 60 years. A lot of life has been lived since then.

If you think of your brain like a computer’s RAM, there comes that moment when you either have to offload material onto an external drive, or get a bigger, badder computer. The opportunity to get a bigger brain has not presented itself. Yet. You never know. Massive brain extensions might just come along any day now. If so, sign me up.

Otherwise, the me that I am is an amalgam of everything I was, wherever I’ve been plus all the people I’ve known, loved, hated, lost, or somehow just faded out of my life.

I often think my life is like a long flight of stairs. I remember a few things from when i was very young … before I could even speak. The next time I have a clear memory is moving to our house in Queens and meeting the girls who would be my friends for the next 16 years. The woods. Building “forts” and drinking lemonade while playing killer Monopoly on Mary’s front porch. The accumulated sunburns of childhood and wondering how I managed to avoid skin cancer, all things considered.

Piano lessons. Starting to play when I was just four years old and my legs weren’t long enough to reach the pedals. They had to put blocks on the pedals for me. I was really tiny. I complained a lot about having to practice, so one day my mother stopped giving me lessons until I begged her to bring them back. I never complained again. Music got “stuck” in my soul and never left. I would have been a musician except, it turns out, that loving music doesn’t necessarily give you the talent to perform it. I still love it and I play a little bit. I’ll be playing more as soon as I get my new strings.

Piano lessons?

I remember seeing Dumbo maybe half a dozen times one year because that was when my sister was born and the aunts who were taking care of me kept taking me to the movies. The same movie, as it turned out. My one and only trip to Rockefeller Center was to see Dumbo. Again. I was a permanent animation addict and still am. In between wanting to be a ballerina — my mother took me to see the NY City Ballet and I fell in love with the dancers — I also decided I could be a cartoonist. I actually had a little talent for cartooning, but by then, a love of words had intruded into my brain and wormed it’s way right into my soul.

No matter what I studied in college, I knew I was going to be a writer. I remember the first stories I wrote, my brief foray into poetry, getting my first professional writing job, then getting the next one … and many of the ones that followed. I never stopped writing. I also never stopped taking pictures or playing piano … until the arthritis in my hand made it impossible.

Here I am. Seventy-three. I can’t play piano anymore, but I can strum on a ukulele and am working on two different pennywhistles and a three-string cigar box guitar. It’s part of my life and there are people who still think of me as a musician because I got to know them while I was studying music in college. I don’t worry about the “long-term” future. I don’t know how long I’ll live, but I’ve survived so much, I figure I deserve some moderately healthy, if old, time to be me — whatever that is.

I remember Israel very well. Not so much the people as the place. The Old City. The open spice markets. Climbing to the top of the Old City wall, imagining the Romans attacking the city and “holding the fort.”. Lachish where the Egyption had an outpost down near Rehovot. A lot of work-related activity because it was in Israel where I learned to deal with software and write about it. The little English-language newspaper I ran — the most fun I have had on any job.

Leaving Israel and coming home — and realizing I felt like a foreigner. I feel like a foreigner now, too. Times have changed so much and so fast.

My home in Baka, Jerusalem. I lived on the second floor.

I still write. Probably more than ever, but this time, I write what I want, not what I’m paid to say. I still take pictures, even though the technology has changed enormously. I don’t know if I’m a better photographer than I was. I think a lot of the work I did very early on may have been more artistic and because I worked in a dark room, more “mine” that the work I do now. So f I’m maybe better or maybe worse than I was more than 40 years ago, but I’m less into portraits and much more into birds and critters and wild spaces  I became a climate believer in Israel, spending almost 6 years working for the Environmental Health Laboratory at the University of Jerusalem. That has carried me through the years. I’ve been beating people up over clean water for decades — for all the good it has done. In the 1980s it seemed urgent. In 2020, it’s a dire necessity that we change our ways of doing just about everything if we want to continue to live on this planet.

I can’t remember all the cats and dogs I’ve had in my life. I remember the first ones and those from the past 35 years. In between, I mostly remember work. It used to amuse me that all my girlfriends got pretty clothing and make-up and perfume for their birthdays and Christmas. I got briefcases and computer accessories … and when I was lucky, cameras and lenses.

I still read history and science fiction and fantasy with occasional forays into criminals and cops and courtrooms. I actually love courtroom dramas and sometimes I’m sure I could do a better job than the fictional ones. There were a couple of years when I couldn’t go a single day without watching “Law and Order,” but I’m in recovery. I’ve given up collecting dolls and ancient Chinese pottery, but there’s still an awful lot of collectibles in this house.

So. After all the sturm und drang of my early years, I’m comfortably married to Garry. Thirty-years this September. This one is until death do us part.


Owen wanted to give me a present. it isn’t my birthday. it’s not my anniversary. It isn’t any special day. He just wanted to get me a really great gift, better than any other he had ever give me. So months ago, he asked me to buy a wooden cigar box. Puzzled by the request, I did it anyway. It turned out that all real cigar boxes are cardboard, at least any that I could find. So I bought a box of the same size that was made of spruce and Owen said: “Good box!” He took it away.

My tattoo is a Phoenix

Four months (more?) later. he brought me a Cigar Box Guitar. On the front, it has a gorgeous Phoenix and on the back, an oak leaf varnished into the wood. It has designs all up the neck. Machines to tune its three strings and it’s set for the key of E because that is the key the I can generally sing in, assuming my voice feels like singing which it does whenever I’m not having an allergy attack. In other words, in the winter.

You can still see the hinges on the box and there is an actual yardstick is part of the neck which reprises the old version of these guitars.

It’s gorgeous. Completely and uniquely handmade for me. And yes, the designer and builder does take orders. Mine is the first non-electric one he has made. Usually, they are electric and have a pick-up, but I’m such a folky, Owen assumed I would want an acoustic instrument.

Until this gorgeous piece of musical art arrived, I had never seen or even heard of a Cigar Box Guitar which players refer to as a CBG. They come with anywhere from three to five strings. They are bigger or smaller, have various length necks and many don’t have frets or tuning machines. Some are almost guitars and have six strings, but most have three or four string. The majority seem to have three.

This is a genuine American folk instrument, made by poor people who couldn’t afford to buy a guitar, but found a way to make one from spare parts. I ordered a case that’s a little bit big, but is as close as I could get. It doesn’t need a case, but I don’t want the Duke to decide it’s a chew toy. That would be heartbreaking.

Mike Brown — the designer — takes orders and if you get in touch with me, I will give you his contact information. He suffers from serious diabetes and has infections in both feet, so he wasn’t able to come over to present it himself. But he would love to get business since he is too disabled to work.

I took some  pictures. It is truly a work of art. When I get the book I ordered I hope I can play it though i can sort of already play it. It isn’t difficult. I want to see what tunings are used for what kind of songs. Also, I ordered a brass slide. You can actually tune Cigar Box Guitars any way you want. There’s no set style, so be prepared to retune to match whatever song you want to play.

Owen, you’ve done it. This really IS the best present you could possibly have given me!


Everyone is curious, so I went and found music. The first one is a Muddy Waters blues number (not Muddy singing, unfortunately) and if you let it run, there’s another one right behind it that’s really great too. All the rest are various players on various cigar box guitars, all handmade. There are no “factories” to make them. All are made by hand. Some are, like mine, are really fancy.

Vintage Cigar Box Guitars

Most are simpler and most of them have an electric pickup. I could add a pickup, but it would ruin my Phoenix. Maybe I could put one on the back. I might need some help with that.

And here’s a lot of the “how to” in case you want to know how it’s done.

Learning to Play – Muddy Waters by Justin Johnson

In The Pines (Leadbelly, Kurt Cobain Nirvana) on cigar box guitar

A Three-String Shovel Guitar – Justin Johnson

The Versatility of the “3 String Cigar Box Guitar”

Puckett Cigar Box Guitar

Steve Harvey – Intense Blues


ALMOST A ONE-WOMAN BAND – Marilyn Armstrong

I bought another tin whistle. I bought one in the key of C yesterday and bought one in the key of D today, probably because all the “learner’s” books are written for key of D whistles. I also bought a very small electric piano designed for a child because I can’t tune anything electronically.

I need to hear the sound.

Electronic tuners are silent. They find the right pitch, but they don’t make the entire instrument come together as a whole. That requires an ear. Preferably two. The chords have to sound right.

I often forget how many years I spent studying music because it was a long time ago and my hands can’t do what they used to do which was play the piano. Yes I still want music. Not just to listen to it but to make music. I can’t help it.

I thought I might “conquer” the ukulele, but there’s really nothing to conquer and honestly, if you don’t sing, there’s not a lot of fun in a uke. It’s all strumming. It wants people sitting around and singing — in or out of key — about wild mountains in Scotland or Ireland. Or West Virginia.

I’ve never seriously played a woodwind of any kind, except for a couple of years of flute in college. I wasn’t very good at it, but I wasn’t trying very hard either. I didn’t know how to play without a keyboard or maybe I didn’t want to play without a keyboard. Maybe both. It’s why I now spend so much time staring lovingly at Xylophones and Marimbas. Searching for the lost Vibraphone that should have been there. The only instruments I could afford I didn’t want. I wanted the $4000 Marimba. What a magnificent instrument that was.

If you can play a piano, you can ultimately also play a glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba, or vibraphone. The keyboard is the same. You have to do a little adapting, but you don’t have to strain your arthritic hands the same way.

The little tiny ones had YouTube footage and the treble clanging gave me an instant migraine. I do not think there is a real, wooden (the one I loved was made of rosewood) xylophone in my future and certainly not a marimba. Aside from being around the price of a small grand piano, where would I put it? Nonetheless, I can yearn.

This is all because I studied music as a child and as a young adult and even as Owen was growing up. He can still hum most of Chopin’s Mazurkas and a lot of Scott Joplin which was what I was playing when he was a little one. I thought he was sleeping, but it turned out, he was also listening.

Right now, he is having an instrument made for me by a friend of his who makes instruments. He is making me a cigar-box three-string non-electric guitar. I have no idea how one plays a three-string cigar-box guitar, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

There are books to study cigar-box guitars

I had to buy the cigar box and since I knew it was going to become the body of a guitar, I carefully picked one that was made of spruce — one of the woods that has a good ring to it. Just so you know, real cigar boxes are all made of cardboard these days.

So I bought a cigar-sized box and when it arrived, I pinged it and it sounded good. Soon, it will be an instrument. With frets and strings and tuning machines (not pegs — never got good at tuning with pegs). I have no idea what mine will look like. It’s a secret, but I’m ready.

If nothing else, isolation is making me creative in some very strange ways.

By the time I get my guitar, I may already be an expert playing a tin whistle. I could be the whole band if only I had a few more hands.


Fandango’s Provocative Question #76

And so on we go to Fandango’s provocative question of the week which, I must admit, isn’t as provocative as usual.

To answer this properly, I need to describe yesterday. It was the day after taking Bonnie to the vet and i wasn’t feeling like feeling. I had to get up very early because a valve was leaking in the bathroom and the plumber was coming. So it was 7 in the morning, I didn’t want to be awake at all, but I was. I didn’t feel like feeling anything because I was pretty sure whatever I felt wouldn’t feel good.

So after the plumber left and the bill was small enough to pay without going into debt — we have a really GREAT plumber — I turned on the television and started watching year two of Boston Legal. James Spader before he found his inner darkness.

Garry eventually got up and joined me and together, we watched an entire year of Boston Legal, front to back. Somewhere in there, I managed to cook dinner.

I had been smart enough to set up most of the posts for today because I kind of knew I was not going to want to do anything. I was right. Today, though, I had to get my act together. The Duke is sitting in corners staring at walls and Garry was watching a movie about the Klan killing black people in southern prisons which I finally insisted he turn off or go somewhere else to watch it.

He turned it off.

Today i spent all day on line trying to find one of four items that I don’t need:

  1. A real wooden Xylophone
  2. Tuning forks
  3. Something that would make a noise so I can tune my ukulele by ear rather than electronically. Yes, i know the electronic thingies works, but I need to hear the sound. I can’t tune something without hearing the sound against the sound. Tuning isn’t just getting the right vibration. It has to mellow properly with the other strings.
  4. I wanted a marimba. Couldn’t even afford to look at them and where would I put one anyway and besides, that’s a LOT of money, so I looked at Xylophones. The good ones I couldn’t afford either and I realized that no one seemed to know the difference between a glockenspiel and a xylophone … and does anyone even sell a vibraphone?

Finally, I bought a Scottish tin whistle. I know of at least one guy who used to banish ghosts with a tin whistle. I also discovered, in the course of events, that the price of a few tuning forks is more than the price of several instruments. Oh, and I also spent $12 on a very small piano so I have something that makes a noise to which I can tune something.

I am looking forward to the tin whistle. If I can’t banish the ghosts of the dead, maybe I can banish hulks of some of the living. Is anyone really happy about life right now? This isn’t the year to feel satisfied with life. I’m hoping next year will be better. Actually, I’m hoping next year will be great.