Just Who Do You Think You Are?

Day #2 of “the match game”, or, Let’s Wreck It.

*  *  *  *

Tearing south on upper Peach Street, Slumtown’s answer to Telegraph Road and any generic mall complex beat from Charlotte to Fairfax – to Lowe’s, again, because one more gallon paint. Yep; a single bag of plaster powder had held out for the ceiling cracks, a huge relief from the prospect of sheet rock. Nope; didn’t want to live under the threat of a sky like that falling on my precious new piano.

But – should I even show my face at that counter, after my rude behavior 24 hours earlier?  In luck ! Spying a trademark red vest, I scurried after his grey-haired shuffle down Aisle 4, waiting with uncharacteristic grace while the gentrified senior heading toward him offered a pandering greeting, and then pounced. I needed ceiling paint; here was my Benjamin Moore chip; could we make a white tint, using this hue?

He was sure he understood what I wanted. He was also sure he couldn’t be certain that we could make it happen. I tried. Really I did. The vow to be nice was ever-present in my consciousness. Causing this man to hyperventilate was not my plan.

But, in minutes, the gallon was mounted. We reminisced about the old paint mixers, churning like cement trucks you could hear clear back to the wall aisle of the old stores, because we were both of that certain age…

His hunch was dead on; the tint was just right. After tapping the lid with his tightening hammer, he brought the big can to the counter. I looked at him. He’d been so sweet. David. What’s your last name, David?


“Hume? As in famous 18th century Scottish philosopher, David Hume??”

*  *  *  *

The year…maybe 1990. Smith-Corona had made a type-writer hybrid that took floppy disks, with a little horizontal word processing window so you could see what you were typing. I’d fallen behind on my quest for the elusive Master’s in Music Ed, but Jeffery Smith, the newest Ivy league pedigree on staff at Fredonia, was teaching a class in Baroque opera and I had just that one, rehearsal-free evening.

We covered the opera house wars, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and then, the piece d’resistance: castrati. Professor Smith assigned us the mandatory viewing of “Farinelli”, with English subtitles – the story of the most infamous Italian hyper-tenor with truncated testiculatta ever to strut the operatic stage.

The movie was raw, sensual, and riveting. But, the research paper assignment which would count as a mid-term; now, there was a task. After mulling for days on a potential topic, my  mind drifted across the Mediterranean….what else was happening in Europe during the 1700s, perhaps even in, say, Scotland?

Seek, and ye shall find.

Even the ancient, 90’s search engine did not fail me.

Now – who in the world was this David Hume?

Writing the paper was invigorating. Comparing an as yet unheard-of-by-me philosopher’s view of proper comportment, which molded an entire nation’s culture, with the bawdy, degenerate lifestyle of Farinelli….was a literary field day. And, Jeffery Smith must have enjoyed my indulgence: he gave me an A.

Castrati were a curious anomaly of a time in history that would live out an evolution unprecedented even by the Biblical eunuchs. But, David Hume? Now, here was a different animal altogether. Teaching his people to revere “keeping up appearances”, in order that they might Represent a whole nation’s idea of civilised elegance. William Wallace would forever pale in my firmament to such a notion of power over human behavior. To an Anglo-Saxon/generic Mediterranean hybrid raised by a barber and a seamstress, this was a concept.

I never forgot about the 18th century philosopher. And, now, almost two decades hence, here I was standing at the paint counter in Lowe’s, speaking with a man who bore his name. But, nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

“Yes.” he said, with conviction.

“He was my great-great [ great, great…. ] grandfather. I was born and raised in Thornlie Bank, between Paisley and Glasgow.”

See……this is why, even when we know full well that the government is only telling us ten per cent of what’s really happening, and the IRS wants more and more of what we work so hard to bring home, and our educational system needs a total overhaul, and the cameras are everywhere…..this is why we stay. We stay, because there is no other place on our earth where, when we least expect to, we can still find a gem living quietly under a rock.

The living, breathing descendant of Scottish philosopher, David Hume....I give you: David Hume!
The living, breathing descendant of the most important Scottish philosopher and economist of the 18th century……mixing paint at Lowe’s. Ladies, and ever-gentle men, I give you: David Hume.

4 thoughts on “Just Who Do You Think You Are?

  1. Wow! What a coincidence!

    I can’t comment on David Humes’ philosophy. But If you’re interested in castrati, google Alessandro Moreschi. He was one of the last castrati. He died in 1922 and made some recordings around the turn of the century when he was in his 40’s (which you can find on youtube) which are rather interesting. You’ll hear an interesting technique that is not completely pleasing. It’s hard to tell if it was the style of the times, poor recording equipment, or if he was just not a very good singer. An interesting voice and historic record though.


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