Archive for March, 2008

my musical talents

I have a love/hate relationship with musical instruments – I would love to play them well but hate the effort it takes to do so. As you might have guessed, I play a few musical instruments, but none of them well.

This bit of reverie was sparked by hitting “play” on an unknown selection in my MP3 player and hearing the mellow sound of “Stranger on the Shore.” When I started junior high school, I had the option of joining the band. In grade school I had attempted to learn the violin but I never got past the point of audio assault. In band, I could try again, and try something different, and “Stranger on the Shore” was what I wanted to play, so the saxophone it was (yes, I know it was a clarinet piece, but I didn’t know it then – sounded the same to me).

Because I was a newbie there was no way I was going to be able to play with the band, at least not right away, so I started lessons. I don’t think that I got past the first semester before everyone, including me, decided that band may not have been my best decision. One more instrument down, and the stranger stayed forever on that shore.

You would think that my parents would have read the handwriting on the wall by this time, but no – just a little later in my junior high years a guitar made an appearance in my life. At least the school system didn’t have to participate in this one, as my parents found a private teacher for me. Of course, he wasn’t some hip, cool folk-singer like I wanted to be, or some rock ‘n roller – he was an old man whose idea of music was classical guitar. I had to suffer through Mel Bay books of scales and simple classical pieces – Largo from the New World Symphony sticks in my mind as one of my options, although (a simple version of) Malagueña was something that I enjoyed playing when I got better.

To add insult to injury, I had to help pay for my own lessons by mowing his lawn, so every weekly lesson meant sweating through more than just the lessons. I’m not sure how long this went on, but I do know that it was my longest effort up to then. Eventually, we had to part ways. I seem to recall that I may have taken a few other guitar lessons from someone else at the time, but that memory is too foggy at this point in my life to tell fact from fiction, and my mom – who would remember such things – isn’t around to ask.

Sometime in my teen years I bought a harmonica – never got good at it – just played around with it – but it was one more instrument on my list. My best failed effort was yet to come.

When I was seventeen, I saw the movie “Song of Norway,” which was about the life of the Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg. Being half-Norwegian, it hit me in a big way and I was blown away by his Piano Concerto in A Minor. I wanted to play that so badly that I swore right then and there that I was going to learn to play the piano. Not only was I going to learn to play the piano, I was going to buy a piano, and indeed, I did.

Well, kind of – I bought one on credit (the first of my many financial follies). Amazingly enough, they let me sign a contract and my piano was on its way. I was living with my folks at the time and my bedroom was the smallest bedroom, upstairs in a typical American four-square type house. My parents said they didn’t have a place for a piano, and it wasn’t good enough to me to have it downstairs anyways – I had to have it in my bedroom. You can imagine the look I got when I told the delivery guys that the full-sized, upright piano had to go upstairs. They wrestled that piano up the stairway and into my little bedroom and I am sure they left cursing me under their breath, but I was oblivious because I was so happy that I had my piano.

You know what’s coming next, don’t you? Yep, I started taking piano lessons (some day I’ll remember who my teacher was) and I progressed, but never to the point where I could play that concerto. I could almost make part of it sound okay, but I was only fooling myself that I would ever progress to the point where I would play it well.

About this time, my financial situation changed (I can’t remember how) and I could no longer make payments on the piano. Of course, the piano dealer was not really thrilled with this fact. I pointed out to him that I was only seventeen when I signed the finance contract but he argued that it was a valid contract nonetheless. However, regardless of legal status, if you don’t get payments, then you want the goods back, and I agreed that was the best way to handle it. If you think the piano delivery guys were unhappy when they delivered the piano, you can imagine how thrilled they were to have get the piano out of my bedroom again only a few months later. I seem to recall that I arranged to be absent when they picked it up (thanks, mom). Well, that was one more down.

I would still pull my guitar out and plink around on it every once in a while, but my musical interests moved more towards listening than playing. Sometime in the late eighties or early nineties, I got the bug one more time, and this time I thought I would stay a little closer to what I already knew, so I took up the banjo. I finally had a teacher who was a folk singer and I actually enjoyed playing. I didn’t have to spend a ton of money on an instrument, though it probably was more than I could afford at the time, and I was able to stop for my lessons on the way home from work. It was a good experience, but once again, my desire waned and my banjo sits lonely in its case.

A couple of years ago, I got the urge to pick up the guitar again. As I didn’t have a decent guitar any more, I of course had to go out and get one, and I rarely do anything cheaply. I didn’t really want to go through the hassle, and perhaps embarrassment, of taking lessons, so I bought some lessons on DVD. They really are very good for learning, or relearning, the guitar.

However, between the time when I quit playing the banjo and when I wanted to start playing the guitar again, I had smacked the tip of my middle left finger with a hammer, breaking the bone. Nothing could really be done with it but let it heal, and heal it did. But it came back to haunt me.

After several attempts to play my new guitar, the tips of my fingers used in fingering would be sore. Anyone who has ever played a guitar will tell you that this is normal and that you need to build up the calluses on your fingertips. No problem – I know this. Eventually your fingers do get used to it. However, the finger that I had smacked just would not settle down and it became too painful to touch almost anything with that finger after playing the guitar for just a little bit.

So, that’s where I am now – wondering what to do with this guitar which has become a doorstop. Suffer through the pain and hope that it will stop, or just give in to the pain. Right now, giving in has been the path of least resistance, or at least of least pain.

I can pretty well sum up my musical experiences this way – I was never able to play as well as I wanted as quickly as I wanted, so my interest rapidly fell away. That’s pretty much the story of my life – impatience quickly becoming boredom. At least I know a little about a lot of instruments. I guess that’s something.

a moment

I just had one of those odd little moments. I was standing by the copier waiting for it to finish and looking out the window. It’s quite breezy out there today and last fall’s leaves were dancing around in front of the window. It suddenly made me quite sad to think that someday I won’t be around to appreciate something as simple as that. It makes you wonder what else goes by you every day that you don’t appreciate, and which you may never see again.

dreaming

I had a strange dream last night. While I can’t remember all of it, in part of it I was going from one place to another in a hurry, walking down a sidewalk. I was able to take really long strides that covered ten to twenty feet at a time. At one point, I almost got to where I started to glide, but not quite. It was as close as I have come in a long time to the flying dreams I used to have when I was much younger.

When I was a kid somewhere under the age of thirteen (I know, because this was how old I was when we moved from the house in which I started to have these dreams), I would have nightmares about falling down the basement stairs. One night, at the top of the stairs in my dream, I started to fall once again, but rather than continuing to fall, I suddenly started to fly. This was the beginning of my flying dreams.

Looking around on the Internet, I see that I am far from alone. One theory about flying dreams is that they can be resolutions to nightmares, which it certainly was in my case. In any event, I really loved those flying dreams and would be more than happy to have them back again. They were a most exhilarating experience and one of the best ways to spend a night, and it was sad when they left me.

easter

Not being a religious person, Easter means more to me as a social event than as a religious holiday. We would always get together with my wife’s family on Easter, just as we did on almost all the major holidays. Once again this year, being persona non grata in her family, I knew I would not be invited to the gathering.

I didn’t know where they were going to be getting together, but I assumed it would be at either her mother’s house or her sister’s house. Earlier today I called my wife to find out where they were going in the hope that I would be able to stop by the house and pick up my mail while she was gone. Unfortunately, I caught her in the middle of making brownies because they were going to have it at her house, which told me that I wouldn’t be stopping by today. Thinking about having everyone gathering at her house made me a bit sad, knowing that I wasn’t welcome. That’s the life I have chosen for myself right now, so there was nothing to do but suck it up and let it go.

However, I still wanted to get out of my house, so I decided to take a little ride. I had a letter to mail, so I stopped by the local post office to drop it off and then headed out west. I must have driven amongst the farm fields for maybe an hour before I decided it was time to head over to my local Borders book store. When I finally made it over to the main road on which all the stores are located, I was amazed to find that almost ninety-five percent of the stores were closed. I didn’t think that so many would be closed on Easter, but I guess I’m just out of touch with reality.

Fortunately, Borders was open. After all that riding, I was in serious need of their restroom facilities. After taking care of that bit of business I browsed around a little, but couldn’t get excited over anything so I left. Having noticed that the restaurants were open and that they weren’t crowded, I decided to stop in and have some lunch. However, after being seated in an area in which no other people were seated, I once again felt so damn lonely that I left before I even ordered. McDonalds was good enough for lunch.

So this has been one wacky and slightly sad Easter weekend. I hope yours was better.

bookmark: the sinister pig

The Sinister Pig – by Tony Hillerman

Another mystery set in the Four Corners (and further south in this book) area of the west, with Jim Chee and company. I’ve read all but one of Hillerman’s books that use these characters and this locale, and that last book is sitting on my book shelf waiting for me. I enjoy them a lot, and it was something that my mother and I shared.

(Finished 3/22/08)

a break-in

My house was broken into yesterday. I came home from work and noticed that the storm door was not closed all the way. This isn’t unusual, except that I seemed to recall that I had made sure to push it closed that morning. Putting my key in the deadbolt, it turned with no resistance, and I thought to myself, “This is not good.” Trying the doorknob, it too was unlocked. Now I started to panic.

I didn’t find anything missing in the kitchen when I walked in, but that’s not unusual. What are they going to take, the refrigerator? A lot of my stuff is still packed in boxes from my move here, so if I had something worth stealing, it would be hard to find anyways. If I were smarter, I would have left the house right then since someone could have still been in the house, but that thought didn’t even cross my mind. After all, the house is small enough that either I would have heard them or they would have heard me, and one of us would have been out of there in a hurry.

Going into the living room, my television was still there, along with the cable box and VCR . . .  along with everything else in the room. Strange. Granted, the television is a heavy son-of-a-gun, but the other stuff is easy to carry. Moving on to the office and the bedroom, I could find nothing missing there either. I checked every nook and cranny and not only could not find anything missing; I couldn’t even find anything disturbed!

I called the cops and they were there in short order. I also called my rental company as the door was going to need to be repaired. I told my story to the cops (I had four of them there at one point – must have been a slow time) but they couldn’t make any sense out of it either, except that one of them kept asking if I was sure I didn’t have any enemies. Hell, I don’t even have any friends, let alone enemies!

While the police were checking out the door where they broke in, I was wandering around the house still trying to find anything that might have been disturbed. I finally noticed that my dresser drawer was open about a half inch and that my jewelry box had been disturbed. This was the only thing that I could find – and nothing was missing! Of course, I have no jewelry, other than a few old broken watches, so if anything had been missing, I would have been surprised, but one never knows what someone else may think is valuable.

The repair guys from the rental agency showed up while the cops were there but they couldn’t do much except look at the damage. After checking it out, they figured that they would have to replace the whole door and door jamb. We arranged for them to come back today to replace it. I figured I would take a vacation day and stay home to be there when they came and to make sure I didn’t have a return visit from my intruders.

People say that having your house broken into is one of the most traumatic experiences that you can have. They say that they felt like they had been violated, that they no longer felt comfortable in their own home. I suppose the fact that nothing was taken made my experience different, but I was only pissed that someone had put me through the inconvenience of having to deal with it all.

Just a short while ago the repair guys from my rental company finally finished putting in the new door. It took about five hours or so to do it – longer than I thought it would take. However, this house is not well-built and there were a few quirks that required modifications to the installation. Also, that time includes measuring for the door and going to the local home center for the new one.

I was able to help them a bit, which I rather enjoyed. Since I rent, I don’t really have anything I can work on here (though there are plenty of things I would like to do), so it was nice to be able to get physical with a home repair for a change. The door needed changing anyways, so the guys that broke in almost did me a favor – almost. I wouldn’t mind doing more work like that, but hopefully not because of these circumstances. It would sure help keep me in better shape.

Anyways, all’s well again in this house. I have done a few other things to improve the security here and it’s about as good as it’s going to get. The truth is, there isn’t a house in the world that someone can’t break into if they really want to. Let’s just hope that they don’t try it again here.

gotta change

I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to make some serious changes in my life. I’m at a breaking point where I have to choose to fight back against this aging body or just let it go to pieces. While the one road may lead to a longer, happier and healthier life, the other will surely find me in my grave in short order with nothing but regrets.

It’s time to start losing some of this weight and rebuilding some of the muscles I’ve been neglecting over the years. It is also time, as I mentioned yesterday, to do something creative that can provide a little spark in my life.

I think that nothing ages you more quickly than letting your life get stale, and I have been doing exactly that. It’s an easy thing to do as you get older and the “been there, done that” attitude starts to take over. It won’t be easy to fight “taking the easy way,” but at least it will be more interesting.

a creative itch

I haven’t been doing much in the way of hobbies for a while. Part of the reason is that woodworking is the thing that I want to be doing the most, but my whole shop resides at my wife’s house, thereby limiting my freedom to mess around in my shop any time I would like. Since I am renting a house and am unsure how long I will be living here, I am hesitant to move any equipment here. Moving it is such a hassle that I really don’t want to do it any more than necessary, not to mention that it is a little tough moving machines and materials with a car.

So that leaves smaller, more portable hobbies. I surely have no shortage of those – photography, leather working, beading, cross stitching, just to name a few. I just haven’t been able to get myself motivated to get anything going, but I’m getting the itch to do something other than the 9-to-5 job, watching TV, playing video games and sleeping.

I think part of that itch comes from the realization that I am at an age where I could be dead and gone at any time. I only have a limited amount of time to do the things that I would like to do, and what better thing to do than to make something that I can leave behind? Sure, my family may go through my things after I’m gone and throw it all out, but at least I can die with the idea that someone will keep something that I made to remember me by.

I have paintings that were done by both my grandmother and mother which, while pleasant scenes done moderately well, are mostly hanging on my walls because of the memories they evoke. It makes me feel in touch with them, thinking that I am seeing through their eyes the scene that they were looking at when they painted the picture.

Unfortunately, I don’t have anything that my father made. My brother has a nightstand that my father made long ago, but other than that, I can’t think of anything else he left behind. I managed to snag some of my father’s old tools, but that’s not the same as something that he made with them. That’s a bit sad, but I suppose that if we keep everything that has been made by some member of our family over the generations, we won’t have room for anything else, or for anything that we make.

Still, I’ve got to scratch the itch to do something creative. Let’s see what I can scare up.

a bad night’s sleep

I don’t usually have a problem sleeping. My head hits the pillow and I’m off and away in no time. Last night, though, I had the damndest time getting to sleep, and staying asleep. Lately, I’ve been very cold at night and have had the occasional need to throw an extra blanket or two on top of the pile under which I was already sleeping. I don’t know why this started, as I had never had this problem before, but in direct contrast to that, last night I was just too dang warm.

I threw the covers off, I threw them back on, I threw some covers off, I put this arm outside of the covers, then this leg, and then that leg, and then got the arm back under the covers. I tossed and turned and fell in and out of sleep all night long. The amazing thing is that even with that all-night sleep torture, I got up this morning not feeling too badly. Still, I don’t want to go through a night like that again.

Now, I’ll have to admit that the situation might have been a bit self-induced. Yesterday I had a very light breakfast and then ate a late lunch out at Red Lobster (yeah, I know – I was the pathetic old man eating at a restaurant all by himself – but I wanted some shrimp, damn it!) and then had nothing to eat the rest of the day. I’m sure my body didn’t know what to do with that, but I surely did not think that it would keep me tossing and turning all night.

I truly hope that this is not going to become a problem. I love my sleep time and love being able to sleep through the night. I don’t need another problem in my life right now.

a way to die

One of the guys I work with has gone down south to visit his mother. He is doing so mostly to ease his own conscience, fulfilling his duty as a son to see his mother one more time before she dies. It appears that her health is such that she may not last must longer. Unfortunately, his trip down there will more than likely mean nothing to her as she no longer recognizes even family members, living in a mental state of minute-to-minute.

I’m not sure how close he was to his mother, but he seems relatively unbothered by this situation, but I could be way off base on that observation. It’s not often that our co-workers, in particular our male co-workers, completely open their emotional selves to us. Actually, it is more likely is just that he has accepted the reality of the situation.

In any event, I don’t envy him. When I stop and think about all the things that our parents (and we) can go through as they get older, the worst is a slide down into dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. There seems to be little worse than seeing the once active, mentally sharp person who was your mother of father being reduced to the state of a babbling baby.

I consider myself fortunate in a sense. My mother died suddenly of a heart attack and my father, after being diagnosed with essentially untreatable cancer, was gone within three months of the diagnosis. Both of them had their full mental facilities to the end. I am grateful that I did not have to watch either of them become people who did not recognize me, or people whom I could not recognize.

My mother always said that when it got to the point where she was no longer able to take care of herself she would just go off on an ice floe and drift away. While it was way too soon for that, she pretty much got her wish. The thought of not being able to take care of himself was something that my father could never accept either, and the short period from diagnosis to death was a blessing for him. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we should all be so lucky.