Sitnews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska - News, Features, Opinions...


A Rambling Review of a Grinding Event
By Sharon Lint


February 25, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - There is a tradition on this little island that occurs every month between September and May.  It's held at the Saxman Tribal House and it's called "The Monthly Grind."  Many of Ketchikan's residents try to get to every single show they possibly can.  I am no exception.  Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend.  As always, I had a fantastic time.  The next day, I happened to tell a friend how much I had enjoyed all the performances.  She was new to town and had never heard of it. 

"So, what exactly is The Monthly Grind?" she asked.  "What's it like?"

I was lost for words as I tried to translate the experience into even one coherent sentence.  After a minute or two, I opened my mouth and sounds started to bubble out in an attempt to finally answer her question in some way. 

"It's a show - mostly local talent - anyone can do their thing - in Saxman - wooden building - timbered ceiling - plank floor - stage in front with native designs and totems and stuff - a dessert contest at intermission -  coffee -  friends & conversation - kids sit up front with crayons and play - folded chairs and benches - the music is great ­ it's so cool," I explained enthusiastically, before taking a deep breath and then plunging on.  "People sing or play the guitar or juggle or recite a poem or a story, or do part of a play or dance or perform a skit or do magic.  Sometimes a comedian does an act.  Sometimes teenagers write songs and perform them.  Sometimes professionals from out-of-town do something. Other times a chorus will sing or a band plays."  I took another deep breath and finished in a gush of air.  "It's always different.  It's always great!" 

There was a long pause after I had stopped speaking.  Then my friend frowned.

"I get the monthly part, but, if it's so cool and great," she asked skeptically, "then why is it called The Monthly Grind?"

There was another long pause.  This time it was my turn to frown.  Why is it called The Monthly Grind? I asked myself.  For a second time I was lost for words, searching my brain for an applicable explanation.   

"I have no idea," I finally admitted, shrugging my shoulders.  "But, I'll find out," I promised.   

Early that afternoon, I called up several sourdoughs I knew to ask if they could answer my friend's question.  They all said the same thing.

"It's the coffee," they told me.  "You know, at intermission.  The coffee and dessert." 

"But that can't be why it's called The Monthly Grind," I argued.  "What about the music?  What about the sense of community?  What about the show itself?  It can't just be named for coffee grinds."   

They were all unshakable in their opinions.  "Dunno about all that," they all replied in answer to my argument.  "All I know is that for sixteen years, it's been called The Monthly Grind and they've always had coffee and dessert."

 Unconvinced, I looked up the word grind online later that night.  The definitions I found at were: 1) verb: reduce to small pieces or particles by crushing, pounding or abrading; 2) noun: a student who studies excessively; 3) noun: hard monotonous routine work; 4) verb: press or grind with a crunching sound; 5) noun: the act of grinding; 6) verb: make a grating or grinding sound by rubbing together; 7) verb: work hard; and 8) verb: dance by rotating the pelvis in an erotically suggestive way. 

I reread the first definition; reduce to small pieces or particles by crushing, pounding or abrading.  Then, I tried to recall the acts I had enjoyed the night before.

 Well, Act 1 was Chris Wilhelm, a local musician playing acoustical guitar music.  I told myself.

 His latest album, Cedars of Ketchikan, was great. I knew he had studied under James Hensperger for several years and now lives in Ketchikan with his wife and kids.  I also knew he could be pretty funny.  For example, on Saturday, he had bounced up and down on a loose floor plank that had made the microphone jiggle back and forth.  He had then made a joke that perhaps it would help him keep time.  Everyone had laughed.  I had too.

Everyone else had also seemed to enjoy his act as much as I had.  Of all the songs he had played, my favorite was Starry, Starry Night.  I thought it had been done very well too, and definitely not pounding or abrading in any way.

My mind started to wander a bit it wrapped itself around the word, crushing, as it rambled past it.  What is crushed at The Monthly Grind? I pondered. 

I thought of a couple of concerts I had attended in the lower 48.  I had felt crushed at them.  They had been sold-out events with gobs of lighter-waving fans, most of who were spaced-out, ranting, passed-out, squealing, mellowed-out, shrieking, or drunk and all of which were strangers. 

Similarly, The Monthly Grind was most always a sold-out event, but I really couldn't say I had ever been crushed.  Yeah, sometimes I felt squished when people came in late and climbed over me to get to their seats, but they were neighbors.  Faces I knew.  Friends, acquaintances, co-workers, people I loved, people I loved not so muchbut neighbors, all.  Even when the event was sold-out and the place was packed, I felt more like I was involved in a group hug rather than being crushed.

Discarding that definition, my little gray cells skipped to the next one listed; a student who studies excessively

 Well, Katherine and Jeanette Sweetman are students, I told myself.

They had been the Hosts and I thought they had done a good job.  They were obviously intelligent and I'm sure they studied well, but given how smart they were, they most likely never had to study excessively.  Of course, part of their act had included strange laws and facts.  Stuff like the bible being the most shoplifted book in America.  All their material had been very funny.  It might have taken a lot of effort to look up all that information, but it probably had also been an enjoyable task.  As such, I doubted their preparation for the show would qualify as excessive study

Dumping that possibility for an explanation, I returned to the monitor, my wits spinning again.  The next definition on the list was; hard monotonous routine work.   

That brought me to the performance by the Ketchikan Community Chorus and Orchestra.  I remembered JoAnn Flora, Alan Bailey, Lalette Kisler, and A. Fred Miller as they sang songs from their upcoming performance in Die Fledermaus.  Well, actually, they were doing the English version.  It's really called The Revenge of the Bat  or The Bat's Revenge.  It's a comedy and it tells the story of Dr. Falke, a.k.a. "The Bat," who good-naturedly schemes to avenge an embarrassing slight by his friend Eisenstein by playing a joke on him.  It's a lighthearted, romantic, funny opera for everyone and is filled with wickedly funny sight gags. The music is by Johann Strauss and is very intricate.  It has arias, duets and ensembles. It might have been hard work to learn to sing, but JoAnn, Alan, Lalette and A. Fred had made it seem easy and I doubted it was anything like monotonous to learn.

 Challenging, yes, but not routine, I argued out loud to no one.

Along the same lines, the Pretty Good Gospel Bluegrass Band's show was really good and it must have been hard work to learn to sing together so well.  Their performance had definitely been a favorite of mine.  The songs they had played were familiar tunes that I had known all the words to and could sing along with. 

Familiar, but again, not routine and not monotonous, I said aloud again. 

My thoughts web-jumped to the next line on the screen; press or grind with a crunching sound. 

Okay.  So who played on stage next?  I asked myself.  I checked the program still folded up in my jacket pocket.  It listed Cherry and Friends as Act 3.

Of course!  I thought, remembering the specifics. 

Cherry Rice has a very distinctive sound she calls "living-room music." She has a beautiful voice with a smile and soul to match.  She had performed some wonderful pieces such as Long ago and Far Away, Deep River Blues and Hard Times Come Again No More.   In particular, I'll Fly Away, which she sang with Peggy Hovik, had been hauntingly beautiful.  When Terry O'Hara and Brian Curtis joined her, I had loved the way their voices melded together in an undeniably beautiful way - sort of a silky, scratchy, sleepy sound ­ very comforting and not at all crunching, grinding, nor pressing.

So, onward hohi ho, hi ho.  I checked the glaring screen and read: verb: make a grating or grinding sound by rubbing together. 

Mmmmmmy brain slipped a gear as it thought grating, grinding, rubbing I associated words rasping, pounding, thumping, tapping....TAPPING! 

The Tapping Chandlers are dancers.  The sound they make when dancing is a tapping sound, I rationalized.

Pamela, Kyrie and Ryanna's show was a tap dance to toe-jiggling, knee-slapping, head-nodding, beat-keeping music.  The two little girls had done an excellent job dancing, as had Pamela, their mom. From the way they smiled while dancing, you could tell they loved the art.  From the way they worked together, you could also tell they loved each other.  It was heart-warming.   I smiled to myself, discarding that try and sought another explanation again.

The next definition was: verb: work hard

I repeated it under my breath several times.  Work hard, work hard, work hardmmm, I thought, who had worked hard last Saturday night? 

Well, everyone really, I answered myself. 

The performers, of course, and the crew and backstage people; such as the people that worked the lights and sound, took the tickets, counted the money, served the coffee and desserts, promoted the event, parked the cars, made the posters and programs, organized the events, helped with setup, took care of administrative stupid thingseven the audience had helped to stack the chairs and clean up afterward.  Yet, although everyone had worked hard, it was fun too.  Everyone had been smiling, joking, laughing.  No, that definition wouldn't do either. 

I yawned.  I was getting tired.  I tried to focus on my task, but my stupidity seemed to be increasing.  I giggled as I read this time.  It was a verb; dance by rotating the pelvis in an erotically suggestive way

My thoughts settled on Act 4, the Savages.  Mardy Kidwell, Olivia Round, Jolene Pflaum, Samantha Barns, Mira Wilhelm and Tera Wilhelm.  They had done a skit of being these sort of cave-girls in different spring-colored cave-girl outfits and had done a maypole dance to the song, Circle Game.  It was a strange blend of a touching song mixed in with the girls' hilarious antics.  From the laughter and clapping afterward, you could tell everyone had enjoyed it.  Admittedly, a pelvis or two had rotated during the dancing, but it hadn't been done in an erotically suggestive manner, more like a comical one.

I checked the program for anything I might have missed.  No acts left for clues.  I checked the screen again for any more definitions.  Last one.  A noun: the act of grinding

I tried to focus and thought hard and longwhat does someone grind?  I asked myself. 

You grind flour.  You grind sugar. You grind nuts.  You grind spices.  Common ingredients.  Were the sourdoughs right?  I mused.  There is always a dessert competition at The Monthly Grind during intermission.  Desserts have flour and sugar and nuts and spices.  And like the old-timers had told me earlier, there's always coffee too. What else do they do at intermission?

Well, they give away prices for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd best desserts, I answered in my own mind, adding, they'll even reimburse you for the price of the ticket if you bring a dessert.  Five bucks back and a great free show isn't a bad deal for a plate of cookies.  Maybe that is why they call it The Monthly Grind - the desserts and coffee. 

Perhaps.  Possibly, I argued to myself again. But, would coffee and sweets be the only reason?  Like I had asked the sourdoughs earlier, what about the music?  The entertainment?  I was driving myself crazy with questions, but there seemed to be another reason niggling at the back of my skull that I couldn't pinpoint.

I yawned again.  I was tired.  It was Sunday and the next day was a workday.  My mind raced ahead to the next performance of The Monthly Grind.   

The Monthly Grind is always held on the 3rd Saturday between September and May, I reminded myself.  That's because in May the tourists get here and the place is packed and everyone is out hiking on Deer Mountain or fishing somewhere or at least doing something outside even if it's raining and usually until about eleven at night because it never seems to get really dark in the summer and everyone is tired of being inside after the long dark winter andmy tired, soft cranium backtracked and tried to exercise again.  Let's see.  That would make the next Monthly Grind on March 19th. 

I started counting. Four weeks before I can buy a ticket.  Twenty-eight days before the pounding I take at my job stops for a bit.  Approximately six hundred and seventy-two hours before all the monotonous daily hard work and late night studies of paperwork ends for a while.  Maybe forty thousand three hundred and twenty minutes before my brain stops grating itself to tiny particles from all the little details I have to remember.  Perhaps two million, four hundred and nineteen thousand, two hundred seconds of the same-old-same-old daily grind before I can relax at another great show next month and clap until my hands are sore and abradedmy battered brain stuttered and then ground to a halt, refusing to count anymore without a cup of coffee and I started to laugh... 

Then I promptly reached for the phone to call my friend. 


Sharon Lint is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Sharon at sharon(AT)
Sharon Lint ©2005

Publish A Letter on SitNews
        Read Letters/Opinions
Submit A Letter to the Editor

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska