Thursday, April 23, 2015

Can We Just Get Along?

There was a time or at least a perception of a more pleasant time when people acknowledged one another with courtesy and respect. As a man and woman walked pass each other she would smile and he would tip his hat.
Now before you start on how the world is so much more hectic and everyone is ultra-multi-tasking, that is not an excuse for not being civil. Sure there are more people everywhere now and we are constantly distracted by all sorts of digital items and everyone is in a hurry, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play nice with each other.
We somehow can get alone at work, even when hiding under headphones and behind computer screens, we have to cooperate in some semblance of teamwork or lose our paycheck. We get along at sporting events as long as we are on the same side and wearing the same colors. We get along in schools and in church until the bell rings. We maintain some sort of order in the family even with extensions.
My point again concerns the grocery store. It is the one place we all get together. It is like a watering hole where animals that normally kill or flee each other gather in peace. The guy with the three piece pinstripe suit talking to his banker or stock broker chooses the same beans as the frantic mother with three screaming kids. The elderly woman choosing a laundry detergent shuffles down the same aisle as the purple haired girl in cargo jeans.
And yet we pass one another without a sign of recognition. Have we become that afraid of humanity?
Fully understand the reluctance to comment to a common stranger. Too busy hopping into our sheltered vehicles and rushing home to watch disastrous interactions between cults and extremist and folks who just cannot be together without killing one another. Even the video games are all about destroying each other.
Customer service personnel are constantly trained on keeping a level head and positive personality while being bombarded with all sorts of rude behavior from customers. Public officials and emergency responders also have to deal with the public face-to-face and sometimes in the most stressful situations.
A simple “Hello” or stopping to open a door for another or even a ‘Thank you’ can go a long way. When we do a good deed the brain releases endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine and we feel better. 
My challenge to myself (and you) is to smile. While wandering the aisles of cornflakes and diapers and toilet cleaners, smile at the people you pass. There are those who will not respond and there are those so insecure they will not even make eye contact, but now and then you will get a smile back. I’m not saying go up and hug strangers but if you really want to? To me it is just common courtesy. I can tell when folks are having bad days or out of sorts, but that doesn’t have to bring you down. Besides a little act of kindness may turn around their day and a little happy expression was worth it. Either way, it doesn’t cost you anything and you might just help us all get along.
Give it a try and have a great day.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Autopilot on a spring day

Should a string trimmer sound like a motorcycle? Well one of my neighbors thinks so. Other than that it has been a pretty quiet day. That is a good thing, because I’m running on autopilot.
Maybe this springtime has me getting frisky like all the critters in the yard or maybe I stayed up too late listening to folk, world, jazz, blues and every other kind of music last night. Whatever the reason, I’m in a fog today.
My usual pattern of ‘forcing’ myself to leave the house got me into the air and sunshine but the temperature was cooler and you can feel the change in the air. It is going to rain.
I knew I was on autopilot because when I got to get ready to cross a busy street, I didn’t remember how I got there. Repetitive patterns and constant routine gets me to places I know but don’t remember.
Another sign of autopilot is forgetting coupons. I’ve been favoring pancakes recently but got some coupons for veggie burgers and V-8, so after almost forgetting to put them in my pocket, I got to the grocery and seek out the items I don’t normally purchase. I am so proud I remembered to put them in the cart with the usual hydration and critter food. Of course I got through the check out with my normal pleasant chitchat and ride home only to find the coupons in my pocket. Maybe tomorrow?
I don’t think it is early signs of Alzheimer’s but just forgetfulness. Without someone around to tell you not to go get the mail in your underwear, who will know?
Is it a mental disability to talk to animals that only come to you for food? Is it a problem that when you look out the window at the owls in the yard you forget about the water heating for coffee? So far I stay dressed when I get the mail.
So today is just an autopilot day. Everything is in it’s proper place so I can find my way and as long as I don’t dart out in front of a delivery truck, I’ll make it through.
Maybe that is what life is all about? We just muddle through and hope we make it to the end? How many times do we follow routines and patterns and ‘veg out’ only to find the day has ended and we are back where we started?
It is not so bad. I did fill up a trashcan full of sticks and wash the dishes and do a load of laundry and even changed the sheets. And didn’t harm anyone or myself in the process.
Tomorrow never knows.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

I bought a tube of toothpaste today

While that doesn’t seem like a really interesting subject for a blog, bear with me. You’ll see as you read along.
My daily routine starting a bit earlier with the spring sun arising is the same as it has been for years. As I use the excuse of going to the grocery store to force myself to get dressed and out of the house, the routine is the same. Same sweatshirt and same jeans and same gloves and same helmet and same path are the routine. The view changes by the seasons, but the route there and return are always the same. A few faces pass when the weather is good and all alone when the winter wind blows.
Now you are saying, “What does this have to do with toothpaste?” Well, I’m my mother’s son. I do go to the grocery store every single day to try and find something to have for my daily meal, for I do not keep a refrigerator full of food that will go bad and be thrown out. Buy only what you need to eat and don’t eat anything bigger than your head.
The toothpaste reference is that I really didn’t need to buy toothpaste. There is still toothpaste in the tube I’ve been using for months, but I just decided to splurge.
Now my mother grew up in the depression with 12 brothers and sisters so she grew up financially frugal. She squeezed every penny as I was growing up but I just saw the 50’s adoration to consumption. Credit cards, cheap loans, refinancing were all my monetary sirens and I feel for all of them.
Then as the years start to wane, the ghost of the forgotten savings brings the worries of the remaining days. All the lust of spending and the joys of vacant pleasure like a consumption orgy have come to bear. The financial institutions are all to ready to use your last pents for promises that will never be made.
Having come under the penitence of the vigilant tax collector, I count my pennies and pay on time, just as my mom would do. I have wasted more than I can ever explain but at the time it was worth it. The bankers have fed on me with fees and interest and whatever they throw my way, but I’ve come back and bet them all.
Among our gods, the almighty dollar seduces all, believers or not. Even with our past history of inflation and depression, our love for things we cannot afford is our greatest sin. Education, housing, transportation, etc. all hold temptations to spend more than necessary to survive. The stress of survival creates all sorts of other demons.
“So why is buying a tube of toothpaste so important to the economy?” you ask. It is because I went out and frivolously purchased another tube of toothpaste when I didn’t need one. I’ve got a good couple of weeks worth of goo coming out of a tube if I squeeze it right, but I decided to be proactive and purchase another tube.
I think how wasteful I was but it wasn’t my first purchase of want and not need. My house if full of dusty items from excursions into the shopping adventures. The ultimate satisfaction of owning a desired object is fleeting.
So the windows are open and the birds are singing and the trees are filling in as the old winter disappears and the sun shines again. A new fresh spirit overtakes the world, at least what I see everyday on my way to the grocery store, and there is a full tube of toothpaste sitting on the shelf ready to go.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Would you trust me to take your daughter away?

Again I will preface this article with my own experiences. I am not a father. I do not have a daughter. So I am just telling one side of the story, a story from one point of view, a story about trust.
So would you trust me to take your daughter away? Do you trust me enough on a brief meeting and the persuasion of your beloved precious daughter to allow a stranger remove your daughter from your protection for unknown adventures?
It may have seemed like a safe chaperoned party or an organized teen activity but she is going out with a young man of dubious credentials. Sure he has polished his image just like first hire, but dad, you remember being a guy.
I imagine the first diaper change or soccer game or even the period talk has not prepared you for the possibility of what can happen when she leaves your sight. You understand even her mother was that little girl leaving her father’s protection. You can rationalize the situation as she is growing up and has been raised in a loving home, but do you trust this guy?
It is all about trust.
Eventually whatever will happen will happen. Mom and pop will have to attend to whatever their daughter and this unknown guy get into. It may be the pride of the family continuing the family heritage or it may turn dark and dirty.
Either way she has to find her path. If this awkward guy who stands before you in a wrinkled suit and a devious smile has dreams of indecent liberties with your little girl, so be it.
Again, I remind the reader, I have not had a daughter and only speak from speculation but if times had been different and I had been the man opening the door, I would have been your worst nightmare.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

How I learned the guitar

Before I begin, let me preface this. I am a self-taught guitarist so the following instructions may not be for everyone, particularly if you heard me play.
Like any kid there was the comedy music about trains and beanstalks and silly creatures presented to us, but nothing impressive. Even the routine trips to the symphony or the Gaelic tattoos embedded into my preparation for learning music, but I was not aware of the influence. 

In school us kids were given (although someone paid for them) little black plastic recorders and a brown book of music. This was the first attempt to actually show our young minds how to play music. We learned how to place our fingers to make a chord and follow the instructions of the teacher with a ruler keeping the time. A bunch of kids blowing notes in a ceramic classroom makes quite a noise.
Some of my friends went on to proper classes with real orchestra instruments with teachers learning how to follow dots on paper, but I couldn’t find an instrument I liked. I think I wanted to be a drummer because those were the guys in the symphony who had the neat parts. My parents got me toy drums and bongos. That didn’t do it.
At the time, big band music was fading into folk music. This ‘new’ music started to be played on the radio and television. My brother bought records by the Kingston Trio, so I thought that music was cool because he was my older brother. There were still bongos left over from the beat poetry period, but the guitar and banjo were the instrument to desire.
Not knowing how to sight read sheet music, I reverted to chords. We had an Autoharp that showed the chords in the little brown music book; so I started strumming it with the few Appalachian songs and religious hymns that were now being played as popular folk music. 

At the same time during our yearly vacations to my grandmother’s house, I would bang on her upright piano outside the kitchen. I’m sure one of the musical family members showed me some finger positions and I just picked up the rest. I would play the chords over and over and over again figuring out melodies and progressions and major and minor, but not very well. Still this gave me background for learning the guitar.
The first music from the radio that caught my ear was “16 Tons” performed by Tennessee Ernie Ford. My mother liked his bass voice so she stopped and sang along whenever it played. Another hit was “Big Bad John” done by Jimmy Dean. This would be my bass influence.
So I picked up the Autoharp and found a chord that could match what I heard on the radio. Most of what I learned was by ear.
I would walk to the neighborhood music store that sold pianos and had a few guitars in a backroom. Pianos were big in the 50s as a sign of status while guitars were relegated to pawn shops for country western music. I finally found something I could afford and brought it home.
I had purchased a 4-string ukulele in the form of a banjo.
Now I had to learn how to play it. I got a Hal Leonard guitar lesson book and sat in the bedroom and tried to mimic the finger positions. As I got the chords right, I would change them faster and faster until I could keep up with the record.
While the little banjo made a noise, it wasn’t a guitar.
Limited funds required me settling on a purchase of a baritone ukulele. It looked like a guitar, but smaller and still with 4-nylon strings. I could play along with my cousins who had real guitars, but couldn’t get the sound to match.
My father stepped in and from a friend got me a 6-string arch top ‘real’ guitar. Thought it had terrible action and wasn’t matching the cool guitars on television, it was a ‘real’ guitar and I carried it around for over a year banging away on whatever I could pick up from more chord lesson books and techniques copied from friends. I was finally changing chords with the time of the records, even though the sound was not as good as I imagined.
Then all of a sudden rock and roll happened and the acoustic guitar was replaced by electric. I started joining bands and learning more than I ever could from books. I still wasn’t very good at playing 6-strings so I was designated to play bass. That was easy. Back to 4-strings was familiar and comfortable.
I learned how to tune a guitar without using a pitch pipe or a piano. I learned how to finger pick. I learned how to make a barre cord. I learned how to play open string tuning. I learned how to play slide. I learned a lot of techniques by watching and practice.
I tried to keep up with all the musical changes from folk to folk-rock to rock to R&B to psychedelic to heavy metal and back again. At the same time wasting my money on different guitars trying to keep up with the ever-changing sound.
So my advice is listen and learn. If you have the passion, you will connect with an instrument. If your dream is to become famous, remember there is always someone much better than you just around the corner.
I’ve enjoyed the instrument of the guitar and all of its varieties. Even with limited ability, it has always been there as a true friend. Thanks for the company.