Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Lodo Grdzak Status Report:

"Maybe you could establish an idea with us first before you start going off like John Coltrane?"

" brought an electric guitar to open mic?"

"I haven't found my new open mic yet."

So if you still visit this blog from time to time (all three of you), I gotta thank you. In the four months since the closure of my last open mic venue I've been scouting around for a new place to play. That's the reason for my ghosting-out. I'm looking for the right fit. 

But I still haven't found it.

After my last open mic closed down I really didn't care if there was a "right place;" by which I mean I wasn't concerned if I ever played live again. Prior to my man Murphy's prodding and Prince's death,  I hadn't expected to ever be a public performer; so the slightly-longer-than-a-year open mic experience was all gravy as the famous saying goes. I got a lot out of it. 

That said, now that its been four months I'm discovering things--or perhaps I should say re-discovering lessons that open mic taught me. 

For example one of the best lessons open mic taught me was knowing a song. I mean really knowing a song. You may think you have a song down, but when you get up in front of a group of indifferent people to play it, you'll learn very quickly (and publicly) if you actually know it or not. I can say with a touch of minor pride that I never stopped mid-way thru a song during open mic. I've seen a lot of people do that; but I'd just blow through "mistakes" and try to incorporate them. I'm not saying that worked--you'd have to ask someone who's heard me. But I was never after perfection anyway. Still, I've taken the lesson(s) with me--and now, when I say I know a tune; I know it.

When I play my guit now--at home, I play along with my stereo and my music library. All the time. For hours. Just like I did before I went to open mic. Once I get good and warmed-up I can play and jam my covers at a certain level of competency. Lodo Grdzak competent. But then on those very rare occasions where I actually get to play with a friend (usually someone I met at open mic), its a whole extended acclimation process. Its not like playing along with my stereo 'cause I'm not buoyed by the supporting foundation of the actual track. I have to provide that: the chords; the melody; the transitions. In right-proper time. Hopefully with some emotion and feel. I used to have to do that at open mic, but I don't get that experience anymore. And you can't fake that. So I think when I play with others now I come across as less competent than I would have if open mic had continued and I kept that weekly routine. 

Course I have a hard time learning new songs, so that doesn't help me win friends. At home its a one-way street. I play my tunes--the one's I've practiced. Lodo Grdzak tunes, the self-absorbed blogger. But on these occasions when I play with other musicians there's a bit of give-and-take expected. That's the idea isn't it? Communication. Connection. Collective self-expression. "Or we could just do my tunes guys."

"It's not that many chords Lodo, just put the pipe down for 5 minutes and I'll show you again." 

I'm very high and have been for a long time; to the point where its messed up my short-term memory. It's hard for me to hold new ideas in my head without lots of repetition and I can tell the people I play with get tired of my poor accompaniment. Especially after they've done a nice job of supporting me when I play. If I just had more experience playing in a collective setting I think could improve my pick-up rate. I mean, its a skill like any other skill; so the open mic helped in that regard. Its not the playing of any one particular chord that's hard for me; but keeping the arrangements together--or as I like to phrase it: narrative consistency isn't my strong suit. For the life of me I don't know how the singers can remember all those lyrics.

I was already pretty old by the time I got my first smart-phone; but I can see the damage has been done. The smart-phone coupled with the long-term weed smoking has really messed with my attention span. I get bored easily and even when I get to pick the song I don't often stay on it for long. Or long enough. I remember this guy telling me at open mic "Maybe you should establish an idea with us first before you start going off like John Coltrane?" And during a recent break at a rare jam session the drummer remarked, "I think you played about 30 tunes in ten minutes. Maybe there could be..some kind of connection between them?" At open mic it wouldn't have mattered if I stayed on-point. Each night was just a "jam;" not really meant to be a practiced performance. But when I erratically mash everything up at one of these jam sessions it hurts the unity of the group. And makes it hard to develop chemistry.  

But I love mash-up. Always have. I just think its cool. It implies a party and a shared culture. "Remember this one?" "Yeah!!" "And how 'bout this?" "Oh--shit yeah!!" When I saw James Brown the whole show was mash-up. Stevie always does some kind of mash-up. Prince used to do it too. You have to have a lot of songs and the crowd has to have a collective consciousness. A basic understanding of how blues and music works is also helpful. As a musician. If you can play a real blues, you can play 10 billion tunes. I can't play a real blues, but back when I played open mic, I'd still always do a mash-up.

And back when I was playing open mic it didn't seem odd for me to practice my guit for hours every night. I had a true hobby and projects to work on. An actual event I was going to play. Plus I'd re-torn my Achilles tendon and my injury took almost all of last year to heal. So staying home for hours and practicing was a response to genuine physical circumstances. 

But now, with no open mic to prepare for, I can't help but feel that maybe there's something unhealthy about all this time I spend on guitar. More self-absorption. Just like when I was first blogging; and then working on my book. Then again, maybe I've just been avoiding the book. Perhaps this post will get my writing jump-started again. That's the way its always worked in the past. That said, I'm not losing much sleep over it; and I think I'd rather find a right-fit open mic and keep improving then get back to the book.

Anyway, to bring this round full-circle; I haven't found my new open mic yet. And I have doubts I will. All my local open mics are acoustic, which...whatever. I brought my Strat to one. I didn't actually play but I brought my guit, the sight of which made one of the people look down their nose and say "you brought an electric guitar to open mic?" 

Yeah asshole. Fuck you and everybody all the freaking fucking time forever. 

But lets not end like that. If you still drop by here on occasion--thanks! My guess is that I'm gonna start a new blog soon. Least I always have, but I don't force things. So until inspiration strikes I'm just gonna keep posting my favorite music vids and playing my guit. See ya soon.



Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Excerpt From Long Intermission:

So as I mentioned last post, this blog's likely gonna shut down after New Years, though I'll still post music clips. I'm going to be out-of-town for a few weeks; and then I'll either start a new blog (look for the link here); or perhaps go back to work on my book. Every two years or so I get re-motivated to write it--for about a month; but then I get sick of it. For those unaware, the working title of the book is Lodo Grdzak's Long Intermission. Here's a somewhat timely excerpt (below):


From Lodo Grdzak's Long Intermission:

...sometime after that incident the old man himself called me into his office. A rare event, coupled with the added oddity of our being alone. Normally Margie would escort me to Steinway’s office, but this time the old man had called my extension directly. He gestured for me to take one of the seats in front of his desk, and after a dramatic pause in which his sagging grey eyes held my gaze, he slowly began to speak.

“Lodo, as you can see the office has been undergoing some…changes.”

“I guess I’ve noticed that,” I answered. 

“I’m sure you have.”

“Yes sir. Except for Margie, I’m glad she’s still here. She’s great.”

“Oh really? You know what she says about you?”


“She says you’re terrible.”


“Really. Does that come as a surprise to you? Everyone says you’re terrible.”

“Everyone?” I responded with disappointment.

“Yes. It’s unanimous. I spoke with…”

“Wow--even Laura?”

“Laura _____? She said you couldn’t produce one simple subpoena for her.”

“…That’s only ‘cause I didn’t know where Reggie stored them in the computer. That was a tech problem. …What about Arnie?”

“He said it took you two weeks to draft a Motion for Summary Judgment, and then it got rejected.”

“That was a complicated case Mr. Steinway. Even he said so.”

“Be that as it may…”

“What about Ron _____?”

“Ron? He said he observed you watching internet porn in Reggie’s office.”

“What? I can explain that.”

“No one’s asking you to Lodo!  Listen, everyone here likes you. You wouldn’t have made it this long if we didn’t like you. They say you’re a nice kid..”

“Thanks, I…”

“Please Lodo” he said as he raised his liver-spotted hand off the oak desk. “They say you’re a nice kid, but that doesn’t help me. Your billing nowhere near justifies what we pay you. I’ve been taking a bath on you all year, you know that?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Not nearly as sorry as me. But we’re going to change that right now,” he said emphatically as he dug into his suit jacket and produced a piece of paper from his inner-pocket.

“You recognize this?” he asked as he allowed me to inspect it.

“That’s my resume,” I answered.

“Well it says here you worked as an investigator for four years. Is that right?”

“Yes sir. I worked in an S.I.U. unit in Denver. And I worked for Alex _____ in south Jersey. You know him?”

“I do. Very well. Listen, I want to show you something…”

Steinway pulled his chair back, reached under his desk, and retrieved a huge stack of paperwork which he laboriously dropped on his oak desktop with a thud.

“You see these? These bills were submitted to us by our court reporting service. Everytime we schedule a deposition we need a court reporter. Its jus…”

“I know that,” I interjected, but the old man just rolled his eyes.

“Please Lodo, don’t interrupt me. Ever again. …Anyway, these are their bills for the last two years. But you know what? I think I lot of these depositions didn’t go through. I think they busted or got re-scheduled, but they still sent us a bill. In fact, I think they sometimes sent us two bills. I need you to go through these invoices—all of them, and then make sure these depositions took place. Particularly for this year, and if any of these bills are wrong or duplicates I need you to note it and the amount.”

“Yes sir.”

“These cocksucks think they’re going to pull something over on me, but I’m not stupid!  No one takes me for a ride and that includes you Grdzak. I’ve done nothing but lose money on you, but now we’re gonna find out if you’re really the screw-up everyone says you are or if you and your old man are worth something to me. It’s gonna take some time so you’d better get on this. I want an answer by the end of the year—in time for me to do something about it. With documentation I can stick in their faces!” 

Christ. Prior to that meeting I’d had maybe three conversations with the old man in my ten months of New York; but now he acknowledged me daily. Sometimes it'd just be a head-nod; but more often there’d be direct engagement. In the hallway or elevator. Or outside the restroom. “How’s that project coming along? Let me know what you need. This is highest priority. Anyone drags their feet you tell ‘em it’s for me.”

The guy was fixated on the issue. Convinced that thousands--if not tens of thousands of dollars were at stake. Sometimes he’d summon me to his office where I’d find him yelling into the telephone, a singular invoice in his hand.

“This one right here Grdzak,” he’d say as he handed me the invoice and shooed me away in the same motion. “Check this one out right now while I have her on the phone. I wanna know if that depo went right now!”

Off I’d race; to the old-school, handwritten court calendars Reggie used to keep for each attorney. Or was supposed to be keeping. That said, half the entries were illegible. Or ambiguous. All Friday entries obviously written under the influence of Wray and Nephews Overproof Rum. The first few times I confirmed the correctness of an invoice Steinway went ballistic. “You’re sure about this Grdzak?! I’ll be God-damned if that depo went through; but you’re telling me to pay this? Is that what you’re saying?!”   

Soon I began to tailor my answers to give the old man what he wanted to hear. I just wanted to ride out the year, and I could see he’d become emotionally invested. So next time it came up I planted a little hope into my findings. 

“Uh, I wouldn’t pay that one yet sir. I want to cross-reference one of the other attorney’s calendars for that week; but I can’t find the book.”

“Cross-reference it?” he’d ask.

“Yes sir.”

“…So you don’t think I should pay this?” he’d say loudly to me as he also spoke into the phone’s receiver.

“No sir. Least not yet. I want to check that other book.”

“You hear that?” he’d say into the receiver defiantly as he flashed me a big thumbs-up, “my investigator says I shouldn’t pay this. He wants to cross-reference it.  You do that Lodo—you cross-reference it.”

Cross-reference it. Oh man, I don’t know where that came from. But that’s what I did. I’d drop in on the attorney’s and junior partners and grab their calendar books at all times of the day. I had carte blanche in this regard, though the attorney’s still stalled me or--on at least one occasion, told me to fuck-off to my face. Half of them had their own disputes with Steinway over money or clients and it was widely agreed that I was just his tool sent to shakedown attorney’s over time. Just like we were doing with the court reporters. Still I had my job and no one else was paying my bills.  And Steinway had appealed to my familial pride the way he’d tasked me the assignment.

But it was an assignment ill-suited for me. Sure I’d been an investigator—but just as there’s all kinds of writers (novelists, playwrights, poets, reporters), there’s all kinds of investigators. I was a “field guy.” Locating witnesses; performing interviews; securing scene pics and whatnot--that’s what I know how to do. Crunching long lists of numbers with detailed accuracy is an accounts investigator. It’s different.  I never passed high school geometry and to this day I can’t add two simple numbers without a pencil and paper. So I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my math and figures.

Stressful days. Winter had set-in, but each morning found us Jersey commuters lined-up for the ferry into the city. The wind ripping off the Hudson; the Trade Center still burning beneath the ground as we’d approach the bottom horn of Battery Park. Mysterious nose-bleeds and sinus infections were common; and I began to exhibit emphysema-like symptoms. New York was permeated with the stench of never ending welding; coupled with a sense of stagnant decay as Thanksgiving and then Christmas approached and went.

And then, intermission. That week between Christmas and New Years where nothing gets done.  Or everything’s done half-heartedly; with the passivity of one forced to succumb to time. A week where moments are lingered-upon introspectively as people contemplate the past year with one eye and the year-to-come with the other.

Assuming you have two.  

In the days leading to Christmas, Steinway had left me well enough alone; pre-occupied with more important matters such as bonuses, parties and staff-cutting. He’d told me he wanted my report before year’s end, so I had it prepared. That said, I wasn’t going to just give it to him since I knew I’d be fired once he read it. By my calculations we’d overpaid that court reporting service $540.00, which would have been fine if my publicly-schooled dumbass hadn’t needed 80 hours to calculate and document the amount. Exactly what figure Steinway had in mind was unknown, but no way I was letting him catch me alone. I ran every errand for the other lawyers I could. Need a subpoena So Ordered up in the Bronx? No problem. Lunch to pick-up at Sophies? Why go out in the cold? I’ll make the run for you. From here to there and back again, in that capricious void between unknown chapters. 

* NOTE: The photo of the old lawyers at the top of this post is NOT in any way related to any of the people or events discussed herein. The photo was stolen off Google and is simply being used to enhance the narrative. Hope you keep in touch--Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

End of an Era/End of the Line?:

"...while I enjoy playing my acoustic guitar alone, at home..."

Last month my man John Mclaughlin played his last NYC performance. Of all time. And of course he crushed it. And last night my favorite boxer for well over a decade--Puerto Rican legend Miguel Cotto, retired. He's inspired a lot of blog posts from me over the years, and I've never missed one of his big bouts at The Garden; so the fact that flu kept me from going last night really bummed me out. And he lost, so that's mildly disappointing, even if he is well past his prime. There's maybe a couple intriguing match-ups left out there, but nothing I'm emotionally invested in; so its starting to look like my 40 year relationship to the sport as a fan is coming to an end. 

It also looks like my year long (plus a few months) experiment as an open mic'er is shutting down. Its been dis-continued at my normal venue, and while there are dozens of other open mic's in my general area, my old place had some very unique qualities that made it viable for me. 

For example the skill level of most of the other performers at my open mic was in-line with mine. Some of these open mics I've visited have very serious players, and I don't like to take stage time from people who I know are way better than me. Conversely, some of these open mics feature way too many God-awful singer/songwriter/acoustic-types. At 50+ years old, I can't sit thru 3 hours of that. My sagging middle-aged ass has heard a lot of songs. And being from Detroit, I have very high expectations for singers. That's part of the reason why I don't sing. I absolutely love good singing; but bad or even mediocre singing gets to me. And while I enjoy playing my acoustic guitar alone, at home; I have no desire to play one on stage. In fact, two or more acoustic guitars playing at the same time oftentimes irritates me. 

In a similar vein to that last point, my usual open mic had a real stage, banging P.A. system; and drum-kit. That was can't find that out here in New York. I didn't need to really be a performer or present anything. I could just go there and play with a drummer. No plan required. Just go at it and have fun. But for me to go to one of these coffee-houses or hole-in-the-wall venues and stand up there on my own to play my instrumental covers. Actually, I've been doing that as of late--its fun. But its been by choice. As an experiment. To go and know that's what I'd have to do...probably not interested. Especially if I had to travel.

And that's really the kicker right there. My old open mic was 6 blocks from my house. There was no commute to strain my back or Achilles tendon. No pretension in carrying my guit on the subway or thru Bushwick or any of that. As much as I've grown as a musician via open mic, I've never felt obligated enough or legit enough to go out of my way to play. In fact a lot of time I'd go to my open mic and not even go on. Just hang. It was that casual and took so little effort. 

Well, that all seems to be over, and the real question for me now is whether I shut this blog down too. (Christ, how many of these blogs have I had?) I suppose I could convert its focus into more music commentary. Or social commentary. Turn the meaning of Open Mic into a kind-of Lodo Grdzak's Soapbox. But that looks really bad in writing. Least to me. And I think the world's got more than enough of that these days. Way more than enough. 

Well y'all, hopefully you'll keep in touch and we'll see where this thing goes. But I sense that--just like John McLaughlin; my man Miguel Cotto, or my decades as a boxing fan, I may have reached the end of an era. 




Thursday, November 23, 2017

Make America Great Agai.. (Just Shut the Fuck Up!) - Part 4* (*Scroll Down for Parts 1-3):

"America values craftsmanship.."

"...our government doesn't kill our own people.."

"We protect our children..."

"...and value human life."

 "We're good allies.."

"...with a strong moral character."

America, we're the best. Sure, I could have bought a Mexican knock-off Strat. Probably would have if my mom hadn't stepped-up to the plate for my birthday; but once I got my American Standard I got real patriotic. For that first week anyway. Murphy came over for our Friday jam; walked into the living room, saw that Strat round my neck.

"What the?--oh shit!!"

We jammed all the Hendrix stuff for a half-hour straight. Then we switched-up and Murphy played the Strat and I played bass. Then it was Murphy on my Tele and me on the Strat; then...

"Jesus, what the hell time is it, man?"

My Strat was so freaking sweet. Although I couldn't help but notice that the signal got real weak when I had the pick-up switch in the middle position. That hadn't happened at the store. I played around with it for a week. Didnt really want to let that thing go I was having so much fun. Plus I found it hard to believe that a brand-new, thousand dollar Strat (American made Strat!) could be defective right out the box. 

But it was. I was so anxious to show it off at open mic that I overlooked reality. Everytime someone walked by I'd open up the case. 

"Hey check it out."

"...Yeah, that's nice." 

"That's a true Strat, " I'd be sure to emphasize, "American Standard." 


Fucking Millenials. But my drummer guy appreciated it. My favorite guy who I've mentioned a bunch of times in previous posts. He gave it the good look it deserved and was like, "Cool, we'll have to play together tonight." 

Not only did I get to play with him, but he got this hot Russian chick to sing with us. And a keyboard player. There were a bunch of us up there on stage. It was fun. 

But then there was one point where the drummer guy wanted to do me a solid. Gave me a solo with my brand new, Jimi Hendrix in London--Jeff Beck at the ARMS Benefit--50th Birthday Present from my Mom--American Standard--Sunburst Strat. So I cranked up my volume, dove in with as much reckless abandonment as I could and...

Nothing. Well, not nothing, but my sound was so thin and limp. Sounded like I had whiskey dick. God damn it. 

"Hey man, enjoy that Strat. It's awesome," the drummer told me as he walked out with his arm draped round that girl later that night. I wanted to smack him when he said that. I knew he was being totally insincere. But what else was he gonna say? 

So now I had to take that Strat back to Guitar Center. My brand new American made Strat. The commute back there wasnt just a time killer, it was a literal pain. They'd given me a hard-shell case at the time of purchase. It's durable; definitely a quality case--but heavy as all fuck. And I had to carry that thing up stairs and down stairs and over the subway turnstiles and weave it between the crowd of passengers. It jacked-up my neck and back. Plus I've been dealing with a torn Achilles all this year. It was hard after working all day.

At Guitar Center the guy behind the repair counter was like Danny Devito from Taxi. Dark, greasy hair. Stained T-shirt. Short. Out of shape. His cluttered work area was no larger than a small, dispatch cage and stacked behind him were at least two-dozen guitars with repair tags affixed to their cases.   

"What's your problem?" the guy asked me as he stayed focused on his work.

"I just bought this guitar, but the volume dies when I put the lever in the middle position." 

"You mean the pick-up switch?"  the guy interjected as though I'd somehow offended him. 

"...Yeah, the pick-up switch. Sorry bout that."

"What'd you do to it?" 

"I didnt do anything to it."

"Well obviously you used it." 

"Yeah I used it. That's doing something to it?" 

The guy let out a sigh as though I were testing his patience. 

"Let me see that," he said with a snap of his fingers. 

I passed him the guitar. The guy inspected the pick-up switch, then suddenly started to rapidly toggle it back and forth, super-fast, like 20 times. 

"Hey! what're you doing?!" I demanded. 

"Sometimes you gotta work these switches in a bit," he said as he reached for an air-gun. He shot a few hard bursts of air into the gap between the switch and the guitar body, plugged the guitar into a small amp he had at the ready...

"There you go," he said as he strummed with the switch in all the various positions. "Sounds better now, right?" 

In fact it did reader. We played with it a few more times, in all the positions, and yeah...seems like that's all it took. I nodded my head in acknowledgement. But before I took it back I told him.

"Hey, look at that bottom piece too, the square silver thing near the whammy."

"What?--the bridge?" 

"Not the bridge, inside the bridge. The thing the string rests on." 

"You mean the saddle?" he said as he pointed to what I now know is a saddle.

"Yeah that thing. It keeps..."

"That's called the saddle."

"Yeah, okay. Listen, that thing keeps dropping. I think maybe the screw's stripped. I keep having to raise it."

"Its not stripped, it just needs to get worked in," he responded as he handed the guit back to me. 

"Just needs to get worked in?" 

"Yeah, it needs to get worked in," he repeated as though I were dense, and this time he turned away from me to signal our time was done. 

Alright, so I took the guit home. Proceeded to work it in whatever the fuck that meant. It didnt matter--it's not like I have gigs or anything. Once I'd put the shop on notice of that issue I just wanted to enjoy my Strat for awhile. My genuine Strat. I didn't buy some shit Mexican knock-off. I got true American Standard.  American craftsmanship. 

Yep, American craftsmanship. Man are we great. About 2 to 3 weeks after that first visit to Guitar Center (first return visit!) I got to perform with someone at open mic. They actually videotaped their performance--a lot of people do that, and when I watched the clip I could hear my volume drop-out as soon I switched my lever to that middle position. Just like before; as though nothing had changed. I suppose--as I look back, that's when I began to get mad. About a lot of things. I don't know if it was solely the guitar, or if the guitar just served as something convenient to hang my overall 2016 anger on. But, it seemed to work. 

And in fact it was truly hard for me to carry the weight of the guit all the way back to Guitar Center. So much so that I decided to stop into my local guitar shop before taking the long walk and train ride to Manhattan. Just to get another opinion on it.

For the most part I only use my local guitar shop for strings and for more complex adjustments. They don't have more than a dozen guitars for sale in the whole place. All used stuff. The owner is also one of the technicians--and he's really good. He tours as a guitarist with an international act, and he set-up my Telecaster when I first got it. So I showed him my Strat

"Oh, that's pretty." 

"Thanks man, its true Strat. American."

"Umm hmm," he said seemingly unimpressed as he lifted it out the case. "What's wrong with it?"

"The volume keeps dropping out in the middle position."

The guy tested it. Confirmed the problem, which in itself felt good. Just to get someone else to hear it too and know I'm not crazy. 

"Where'd you get this?"

"Guitar Center." 

"Well, you should take it back 'cause I don't want to mess up your warranty. But can I tell you something?"

"What's that?" 

"They're likely going to try and convince you to just swap it out for a new guitar. If you really want to keep this specific guitar you'll probably have to insist on it. 'Cause I know those guys there and they'd just assume ship it back for a new one than have to replace a single pick-up."

"So what should I say?" 

"Well, if you want to keep this thing tell them to gut it out. You know, pull out all the insides. Its all just one mass of electronics, so they can pull 'em out, replace 'em , and then just solder 'em back in."

So I had to go back to Guitar Center. Again. Which just,...made me angry. I'm not saying I went into a petulant frenzy; but I was mad.

American Standard. Fuck American Standard. Why would you think American is good? America is shit. We're always shit. What do we do that's good? Please, tell me. That Mexican Strat was fine. For $600 dollars. Instead you went for buttfuck American. Stupid, dumbass, buttfucking Americ...

Oh man, I said so many bad things about America. In my mind. Things I can't commit to writing. Or won't. But I needed the self-righteous indignation to fuel and power my Achilles thru my walk. And when I got there, I limped right back to that repair counter where Danny Devito was sitting.

"Hey man, I dont know if you remember me."

"No, not really."

"Yeah, well you're going to because I just bought this a couple months ago and it's never been right. I was here a few weeks back 'cause my pick-up switch was..."

"Yeah--I remember. It had some dust in there. We fixed that."

No, we didnt fix that. Its still dropping out. We need to replace that pick-up."


The guy grabbed my guitar. Tested the switch in various positions. Confirmed the problem. Grabbed his air-gun and did what he did last time. Still no change. Went to toggle the switch back and forth like he'd done last time.

"Hey!--don't do that." 

"Well what do you want me to do? You want me to order you a new one?"

"I'm not paying a thousand dollars for a guitar I've never played."

"So are you returning this?" 

No sooner did he finish suggesting that I could return it than my South African salesman popped up to protect his commission. He remembered me.

"What's going on?" he asked the tech.

"Looks like this thing's got a bad pick-up. I told him we could swap it but he doesn't want to do that."
"You're the guy who tried two dozen guitars," the salesman said to me with a laugh. (heavy sigh). "So what do you wanna do?" 

"Well can't the guy just take the guts out of it and replace 'em with guts from a different Strat? You know,...and then just...solder 'em back in?" 

Now keep in mind reader, a few weeks ago I was calling the pick-up switch "the lever," and the saddle the "square silvery thing;" but now I'm suggesting that the guy "just take the guts out my Strat and solder in a new set." So that tech guy's  jaw just dropped open. 

"And where am I supposed to just get this new set of guts? Who the fuck are you to..."

Oh man, this guy just went off! But I was pissed too and eventually my salesman intervened. Led me out towards the front of the store with assurances that they'd replace the pick-up for me.

"We'll call you buddy," he said with a mollifying pat on my back. "Don't worry, he'll replace it."  

So I went home, and no sooner did I get home than my salesman called me.

"Hey man, we've got your guitar ready. Any chance you can come in and pick it up right away? We don't want the manager to start sniffing around about where we harvested those pick-ups. Fender can be a real bunch of sticklers on their warranty stuff." 

So it was back yet again. And I wish I could say that was the end of it, but I've had a bunch more issues since then. Still, our relationship's slowly improved, by which I mean between my Strat and me. In regards to my country and me? That relationship's still a little rocky at the moment. More than a little rocky.