Happy 2024, everyone – and welcome to madrygaguitar.ca, Version 2.0! For the last year, I was having major updating problems with the old website – the hosting company hung up its hosting hat and sold their business (and the hosting duties for my site) to another company. A tidy sum of money later, and my site has undergone a totally modern facelift – it now is (or should be) completely compatible with smartphones and tablets, and looks pretty damn slick, if I do say so myself…
OK, so: we got some catching up to do, now that 2023 is in the rearview mirror – and it was quite the year in the life of a certain guitar teacher named Madryga. Pull up a chair and get comfortable; this will take a while…
One way or another, everything in this update relates to where I live – both City and street address. Some of you may already be up on the trials and tribulations of the house that I call the Guitar Shack (my modest little home for the last 17 years) – for those who aren’t, here’s the Coles-Notes version of the back story: one evening in late June of 2020, southwest Manitoba received a torrential downpour of quasi-biblical proportions. During the storm, I glanced down my basement stairs to see the east end of my south basement wall getting washed away. “Oh, dearie me,” said I (Not my exact words, but this is a family show…), “That will require the submission of an insurance claim…” I needn’t have bothered – the insurance company told me to go pound sand.
Next came the Manitoba government – specifically, Disaster Financial Services, who had a fund set up to help people affected by the storm. They were a little more helpful, covering the expenses associated with getting an engineer’s drawing for the repairs. however, when the time came to get quotes for the repairs proper, I soon realized that the higher bureaucrats with this governmental body were skilled in the art of Moving Goalposts, and trying to get any clear directives from them by the beginning of the 2022 construction season was like pulling teeth. Eventually (like, in early summer, well into the construction season), I finally figured out what they wanted from me and then approached contractors for quotes. Next step: get building permits from the City.
On the Wednesday of the first week of September 2022, I awoke to a small conference on my front lawn: the engineer, the contractor chosen for the job, and three gentlemen from the City. Again, the Coles-Notes version: permits denied. The City guys looked at the nature and the pitfalls of the proposed job, and they also told me to go pound sand.
When the snow started to fly, I reassessed my options, and realized I had just one: get the house off the property, either on a flat bed or in a dump truck, and get a new house built. Conversations ensued with home builders, and as you might expect, the financial enormity of the project proved to be daunting. It was about this time last year (early February of 2023) that, in my exasperation, I put a post up on Facebook: “Anyone want a house? Come take it away. Cover all the moving costs and permits, and it’s yours.”
I got a few sympathetic responses to that post, but one in particular stood out – it was from my friend and colleague in Buffalo, NY, Mir Ali: “Paul: call me.” So I did. Once again, the Coles-notes version: “Paul, I’m scaling back on my teaching, and need someone to take over my studio. Come on down here; you can even live in my house for free!”
It was a generous and tempting an offer, to be sure (I definitely did not tell Mir to go pound sand), but with all respect to my USAmerican friends, I knew that a move to the States was not in the cards. However, my conversation with Mir got me thinking: since my parents passed, I have no family close by, and I might want to consider doing something about that soon, now that I’m in my fifties. Maybe the whole house situation was Karma talking to me… After a couple of weeks of contemplation, I sent out some e-mails to Suzuki programs in cities where I had family in the vicinity: “I’m thinking of moving to your area – might you be hiring for the fall of 2024?” And then I waited.
About a week later, I received a response from a school out east, in a city where I had many friends, both from Brandon and from my Charlottetown days. “Of all the luck: we just said goodbye to our longtime guitar teacher and we really, really need someone…! Please apply and send us some videos of your teaching!” So I did.
Shortly thereafter, I happened to have the right conversation with the right realtor at the right time. He showed me a house in the neighbourhood that intrigued me, but I said I’d have to sell mine first, and the chances of that were slim to none, given that every realtor I’d spoken to had told me it wasn’t sellable. “Can I see it?”, he asked. I showed him the basement, and he said, “Let me talk to someone.” That someone turned out to be a contractor with a reputation for taking jobs that others don’t. “Meh…”, he said; “I’ve seen worse. I’ll give you a quote to fix it or make you an offer to buy it. Which would you prefer?”
A huge sense of relief passed over me. I’m not a religious man, but I thought at that moment that if there were some form of higher power, it would have a soft spot for fools, drunks, and guitar teachers….
Fast-forward to the first Monday of April. Right before I start teaching, I check my e-mail to find the contractor gentleman’s formal offer to buy the house – I accepted the offer, of course. Three hours later, I checked my e-mail again, to find a job offer from the Suzuki school out east. I was gobsmacked – two major life events, THREE HOURS APART. The Cosmos had spoken!
And that, my dear friends, is how I came to sell my house and start making plans for what was then a likely move back to the Maritimes. However, I failed to heed the Morgan Freeman voiceover narration: “The Cosmos had not yet spoken…”
* * * * *
Summer 2023: I’ve finalized the sale of my house, and the new owners generously offered to rent it back to me at a very reasonable rate until my move east in June of 2024. To prepare for said move, I took a week-long trip to the Maritimes, intending to do a number of things: meet the new boss, see the new workplace, view a short-term place to live that the School had provisionally set up for me, and sign a contract with them. I also set up a meeting with a realtor and an information-gathering session with a homebuilder. Last but not least, I wished to spend some time with family, Brandon friends, and former Charlottetown bandmates.
The visit to the School was useful and informative, and the meeting with the Director pleasant and cordial (She picked up the tab for lunch – what can I say…?). She gave me a video walk-through of the house next door – the house that she planned to rent for extra teaching space, and that had living quarters that I could sublet from them for the first little while after moving to town. “Decide on a fair rent,” I said, “and I’ll pay it.” Crucial Step #1 accomplished: secure a place to send the moving truck next summer. (Alas, it didn’t work out in the end. Cue the Morgan Freeman voice: “It was not Step #1 accomplished.”)
Crucial Step #2 – sign a contract with the School – didn’t happen on that trip. I was told that they usually took care of contracts for the fall in the spring of the previous year, and didn’t have one ready for me at that time. No worries, I thought, it can wait for a month or so – I won’t submit my formal resignations at BU and the EGCM until I receive it, anyway (Morgan Freeman: “It would take longer than a month…”).
Spending time with my Brandon friends Glen and Carly and their kids was terrific. Seeing my brother and sister-in-law’s place on the Atlantic coast was awesome. Having coffee with my cousin Kim from Toronto was special, also. The true highlight of the trip was meeting up with my Charlottetown friends, and it was long overdue: it had been close to three decades since we played our last gig together as Gasoline Alley – thirty years of family tales to weave and professional adventures to brag about. I’d forgotten how much I missed those guys, and I was really, truly looking forward to the possibility of once more hanging out with them, even if a Gasoline Alley reunion wasn’t to be.
And so back to Brandon I went, where I went from being homeowner to renter. The summer, as it always does far too quickly, turned to autumn. In between running my teaching studio, practising, and taking on the Co-Directorship of the Conservatory’s Suzuki program, I sent periodic e-mail reminders to the Suzuki School about getting a contract: “My bosses would like some certainty about what my plans are, so I’m going to need a contract soon…” and words to that effect.
The snow flew; the teaching term ended. In the second week of December, an email arrived. Attached was the document that I was expecting – a contract for my services as a private instructor for the 2024-25 teaching year. I opened it eagerly – and then wished that I hadn’t. In the words of Narrator Freeman: “It was not the document that he was expecting. He realized then that the Gasoline Alley reunion was not to be.”
Some things became apparent: 1) the Suzuki School in question had a very different idea of what being a private instructor entailed than I did; 2) We therefore had very different ways of running our respective programs; 3) It was not the job for me, nor I the person for the job; 4) The setup I have at the Conservatory here in Brandon is really very satisfying. After much consultation with friends, family, colleagues, and other folks that matter, I graciously declined the offer – without telling anyone to go pound sand.
On Christmas Eve, I dipped my feet into the Brandon housing market – back to the world of home ownership I ventured. Our time together hasn’t yet ended, Wheat City!