Monday, May 25, 2009

Totally Made My Day

Last Thursday, the weather finally warmed up to the point where I wore a short skirt to work. Well, not too short, mid-thigh or so. I hadn’t worn a skirt all winter, and stuck with jeans every day instead. I put on a pair of strappy heels to go with the skirt. I walked through the office from my desk to the water cooler to fill up my mug for my morning tea. I walked by N, an unmistakably gorgeous woman, who sits closest to the water cooler. She was talking to a few of the other girls and stopped mid-sentence as I walked by.

“Wow! Beej has great legs! Look at them! They are so muscular!” N exclaimed, while giving my gams the elevator look: up and down. I blushed, did a dorky little dance, and thanked her.

I went into the back room to heat my tea, and I couldn’t help but smile. I don’t handle compliments well. At all. In fact, I usually tip my head down and say something dorky. Which I did after N complimented me.

I watched the microwave count down, and my mug rotate round and round inside. I thought to myself, “Not this time.” I took my tea out of the microwave, and headed back for my desk. I passed N’s desk, and she was still talking to a few others.

“You know, you just totally made my day,” I said to her. She laughed. I laughed. Then I explained. “See, it was my New Year’s resolution this year to compliment at least one woman every day. I compliment people here, my friends, strangers every single day. I do it because I hope that other women will do it too. And it worked. I got a compliment too! Yay!”

And you know what? N was right. My legs are muscular, and they do look great in that short(ish) skirt.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

...And Then Homeland Security Interrogated Us...

Yesterday Todd and I went on another covert op, um, canoe trip. This time we put in at Hope Dam in the Pawtuxet River. We paddled north to what we hoped would be the Scituate Reservoir. Due to our lack of map, we paddled through some creepy stretches of river that looked like alligators should have popped out of the water and swallowed us whole.

Here's Todd in the back of the canoe, paddling us upstream while I leisurely take a picture.

Scraggly tree in river.

Beej ready to fend off an alligator. Or a zombie. Or a zombie alligator.

Then we stumbled upon something entirely unexpected. The state of Rhode Island is relatively flat. It's been said that the highest point in RI is the landfill in Johnston. But if we're strictly sticking to non-man made points of elevation then the highest point in the state is Jerimoth Hill at 812 feet. As a result of living so close to sea level, we don't have waterfalls. But yesterday we stumbled upon one just south of the Scituate Reservoir. We tied the canoe to the side of the river, and went to check it out.

It's relatively flat, but still a water fall.

Just to the right of this waterfall we noticed a clearing in the woods, and went to check that out. We walked through the woods and ended up at the dam that holds Scituate Reservoir, the source of water for the City of Providence.

Todd is climbing up the stairs to the dam, as we blatantly ignored the no trespassing signs. There was a missing rail in the fence. If they really didn't want us to check it out, they should have repaired the fence. Today our calf muscles are sore from this climb, so I guess that's karma for ya.

Well, we could get prosecuted. At least we won't get shot. That would suck. For all the talk about no trespassing, there's a road that runs along the top of the dam. A road that any old shlub can drive on. We can't walk up the side of the dam, but we can drive our cars on top of it.

There are surveillance cameras on this building. Todd had joked that we'll get busted by Homeland because we climbed up the illegal staircase in the dam, took a bunch of pictures, then walked back down again within a few minutes.

Scituate Reservoir.

This is the view from the top of the stairs. If you look really close in the woods, you can see where I may have left my car. Somewhere near the horizon.

On the hike back to the canoe Todd found a Lady Slipper, an endangered flower.
Well, maybe we won't get interrogated by homeland. But just in case this blog is confiscated by the feds, you'll know why.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Revisiting The Pass

I’ve been waxing nostalgic in my head lately about playing music. I think it comes from my recent re-acquaintance with the music I listened to when I was a teenager. For example, last night on the way home from work I listened to “The Pass” by Rush. I always loved this song, and sang along flawlessly as I drove south on I-95 to words I memorized nearly 20 years ago. When I was a teenager I wanted to be able to play that song in the worst way, but was never really good at playing by ear. I listened to it over and over and dissected the song. I spent hours in my high school boyfriend’s bedroom trying to play the bass guitar part on his guitar. I was not a bass guitar player. Not even close. But I was hell-bent on figuring it out the way that Rush plays it. Eventually he got bored, left me in there and went downstairs to watch TV.

A few times this week I picked up my acoustic guitar, and have been tinkering around with it. I no longer have calluses on the fingertips of my left hand, so each stint with the guitar has been short lived. But I’ll strum out a few songs I’ve written, or a few songs I’ve learned, and scoured the Internet for tablature for songs I want to learn. Last week, for example, I learned to play Matt Nathanson’s “Suspended” and now I just need to tighten it up a bit and memorize it. At that point I will consider it learned.

Over the years I lost that must-play-it-the-way-they-play-it determination. I can play some passable selections by Ani DiFranco, REM, Indigo Girls, Suzanne Vega and Dar Williams. I can sing along to what I am playing, and I can make it sound like the original song. But I know that I am not playing them the way they were composed. And that’s OK. It’s my interpretation of the song, not a regurgitation.

ThursdayI got home from work and picked up the guitar. I have no idea what it’s tuned to. It’s tuned to itself, but not to the correct tuning. My guitar tuner’s battery is dead. I keep forgetting to buy a new one. Thursday I eyed the smoke detector in the hallway and toyed with the idea of removing its 9 volt battery and plugging it into my electronic guitar tuner. I debated the importance of a tuned guitar versus a burning house, knowing that I would never be bothered to go back up there to replace the battery in the smoke detector if I ever took it out.

I thought better of removing the battery and strummed an E minor chord. Then I played a G. I did the progression again, staccato and in time. Then I hopped around to find the root of the next part of that bass guitar riff that had plagued me in my high school boyfriend’s bedroom so many years ago. I played the entire riff over and over again, training my hands to work together.

Then I began to sing, “Proud swagger out of the school yard/Waiting for the world’s applause.”

I placed a capo on the second fret, and played it again a bit higher; to suit my singing voice. I fumbled through the whole song, and had just barely come up with a working version. I strummed, I sang, I held out notes and hopped around on the fret board trying to come up with a chord to match it.

And with that I have a working version of “The Pass.” It’s probably no where even remotely correct. But it’s good enough for me.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In a Word, Pathetic

It's spring at Beej and Todd's house. It was not made evident to us by the blooming daffodils. It was not brought to our attention by the leaves sprouting on the trees. Griffen actually pointed it out to us.

He has seasonal allergies. My dog is allergic to pollen, grass, weeds, cats, tobacco etc. He scratches until he bleeds. He's dopey on Benadryl. Todd's been giving him his antigen shots.

He doesn't feel like himself and as a result he's all up in my grill. He tries to get closer to be, but the satellite dish gets in the way. Instead he rams it into my calves and my shins in his effort to get some love.

Just another few weeks and the worst will be over.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

The Best Gift Ever

We had an essay contest at work. The prize was Boston Red Sox tickets. While I personally don’t care about the Sox, my nephew is a huge fan. I entered the contest to try to win the tickets for him. The essay had to be about the best gift I received before finishing high school and wanted elaboration about who the gift was from, and what I would do with it if I received this gift today. The winning entrant talked about how she’d been in an accident and lost a great deal of blood. The best gift she had gotten was blood donated her by the community. And now, one of the entries that didn't win.

The best gift I’d ever gotten in that time of my life was music. I am not talking about CDs or concert tickets. I am talking about the ability to release a melody that only exists inside my head into something that other people can hear.

When ever I, or one of my siblings, expressed an interest in learning to play a musical instrument my parents did whatever they could to make it happen. Mom scoured the want ads for used saxophones, then went and haggled the price until it was something we could afford. Then she and Dad tolerated my incessant honks and squeaks as I learned how to play it.

Over the years my brother, Kaz and I amassed a veritable arsenal of musical instruments. From age 5 to 18 I collected a menagerie of guitars, saxophones and keyboards from under Christmas trees. However, I claim no ownership of the accordion--a standard fixture in the average Polish-American household. Our house was filled with constant musical creation, with never a “Would you stop that racket?” from my parents. We were loud. Kaz’s electric guitar blared in the room above where we watched TV. Somehow neither of us expressed interest in learning to play the drums. I wish I had asked for a set back then, just to see what my parents would say.

While I dabbled in every music-making device I could get my hands on, Kaz became an amazing guitarist. His flying fingers nearly melted the neck on my Gibson SG electric guitar. We didn’t get along so well when we were kids, but it was our love of Pink Floyd, Ozzy Ozbourne, and Queensryche that kept us in the same room together playing for hours on end. Kaz could hear a scorching guitar solo once and replicate it perfectly note for note. I played chords to accompany him, however to this day I could never convince him that I am the better singer. It was all those hours spent playing that made him my friend now that we’re grown ups.

Eventually life got in the way. I haven’t performed for at least 10 years. I still can pick up my guitar and strum a few clumsy chords, and I can still play saxophone parts I learned in high school from sheer muscle memory. I have fragments of lyrics scrawled on random slips of paper. Now I just need to give myself the gift of time to play more, and to get those random lyrics to fit into a full song. Overall, I am an angry songwriter, and haven’t had much to be angry about in the last decade or so. I fumbled my way through writing our wedding song as a surprise for Todd, and I wrote some gut wrenching songs after Mom died. But other than that, the songwriting well has run dry and I have changed to blog writing and fiction writing to get my creative outlet.

My parents’ gift of music is not about receiving anymore. My niece Rachael played my alto sax at school for a little while. Kaz’s daughter, Maggie, plays my tenor sax in the school band. Kaz’s son, Krystian, will get my Gibson SG for his13th birthday this summer. At Christmas every year I buy Kaz a CD he’s never heard of and say, “You really need to hear this, it’ll blow your mind.”

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

By Land and By Sea

I always experience mixed emotions on Sunday nights. I am usually winding down from a weekend filled with activity. I spend the evening being mellow so I can get to sleep at a reasonable hour and get some sleep so I can get up the next morning and go to work. I reflect on the fun from the weekend and dread going to work on Monday. I like my job, but I like weekends better than having to be in a cubicle at 8 AM on a Monday morning.

The weather is getting warmer, and Todd and I have been unsticking our butts from the couch. On Saturday morning we explored our town by canoe. There are loads of little ponds, rivers and lakes in Podunk just waiting for us to paddle through them.

We put the canoe in the water at Zeke’s Bridge, a boat launch where we often take to dogs for a swim. We ducked under the bridge and headed south. Eventually we paddled under I-95 and the lake thinned to a snake of a river. It’s times like these that I wish I had a crappy little digital camera I could just slip into my pocket. I have a very nice digital camera that I care a great deal about and would be extremely upset if I capsized in a canoe with it. So I will have to describe the scene for you.

The tunnel under the highway is a long creepy tunnel. It was about 8 or so feet wide and at least 30 feet high from the water and runs under the entire width of the highway--2 lanes and a breakdown lane on each side, and a large grassy median in the middle. As we canoed through it, the surface of the water was perfectly still, and the ceiling of the tunnel was perfectly reflected on the water’s surface. The reflection was so perfect that it appeared that the water was clear, and the ceiling of the tunnel was the bottom of the river beneath my canoe. I blinked several times at the optical illusion, trying to consciously convince myself of what I was seeing. The next time we go back there, I will bring my camera to show you. It was one of the cooler things I’ve seen in recent weeks.

Sunday found us playing with fiberglass resin in the workshop. We have some boat parts that we need to fix for the Big Restoration of 2009. I donned my safety glasses and mask, and sanded hardened fiberglass. Then I mixed batch after batch of fiberglass resin for another part we are fixing. While the fiberglass cured, we donned our bike shorts and put the bikes in the back of the truck.

Another great feature of Podunk is the bike paths. We discovered a map of a complex system of bike paths that extend all over the state, and all over New England. We’ve been exploring the parts in our town bit by bit; just 6 miles at a time until we get into better shape and can go for longer.

Today we parked the truck at the ice cream shop near the trail, and headed west. After a mile or two the paved bike path gave way to a dirt one. The trail follows the former railroad line, and crosses over old train bridges. I need to consult the book I just bought about the history of Podunk to see what the area looked like with a rail line going through it, because my imagination just isn’t cutting it. We stopped the ride at a defunct bridge with no surface on it then turned back. A friend has told me that the trail extends into Connecticut, and I would love to ride the whole thing one day soon.

But until then, I am watching the clock approach 9:00 PM, and am letting my eyes grow heavy. I wish I had one more Sunday, because Monday is a lousy way to spend one seventh of my life.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Wring Out My Brain

It’s been raining for approximately 4,397 days in a row now. Rain makes me cranky, indecisive, unmotivated and unproductive. I moped around at work. (And now I am trying to decide if I just told you that I rode a moped at work, but I am too lazy to look it up.)

I got home and bummed around the house until Todd got home. The phrase “cannot be bothered” took on a whole new meaning. There’s plenty to do, just no motivation to do it.

Todd came home and asked, “What’s for dinner?” and I thought I would burst into tears. I stood in the kitchen and racked my brain trying to come up with something I would want to bother to eat for dinner. No ideas came. We stood in the kitchen tossing out ideas. Nothing appealed. The rain fell. My brain atrophied.

He grabbed his keys, “Come on, let’s go to the general store and see what we can come up with.” I drove his car, eyes glazed. We walked into the general, and I cluelessly roamed the aisles. He made suggestions, and I grunted in response, unable to form a complete sentence. I stared into the freezer case and said “Screw it, just get what you want. I am not hungry. I give up.” He plucked ingredients from the aisles, paid for them, carried them into the house, whipped up French toast and eggs and set them on a plate right in front of me.

I love this man.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Deep in Thought. Obsessed. It's All Good.

In continuing with my recent mini-obsession with Neil Peart from Rush, I grabbed another one of his books from the library, “Travelling Music.” He wrote this one about driving from California to Big Bend National Park in Texas. He listened to a variety of CDs, from Sinatra to Limp Bizkit and talked about how music was, obviously, such a huge part of his entire life.

I am about 100 some-odd pages in, and am thoroughly enjoying this book—even more than I did “Ghost Rider,” which was his story about riding all over North America on his motorcycle after losing both his daughter and wife. This one’s more autobiographical, and I find myself chuckling at his anecdotes as I read. He really is a fascinating individual, but his books are like Chinese food. After I eat Chinese food, I find myself pawing through an open fridge an hour or two later. That’s how I feel about Neil Peart’s book. I devour one, and then a short time later I am pawing through the Internet trying to find something else he’d written that I can nibble on.

The book’s got me thinkin’ about the life of fortune and fame. Overall I’ve had a relatively low opinion of celebrities that complained about paparazzi and prying fans. My thought always was, “If you don’t like it, go buy a ranch in Montana and get the hell out of the limelight.” I imagine that people in that line of work have a love/hate relationship with fans and photographers. The photographers keep you in the news and maintain your worth. But at the same time, when you can’t go down to the corner to buy a newspaper without being photographed and wardrobe critiqued, then I am sure it’s a royal pain in the ass. I imagine there’s a great deal of fear that goes with that kind of lifestyle. A crazed fan shot John Lennon, after all. My big fear in life is running into a former boss or boyfriend with whom the relationship may have ended badly. I can’t imagine living with the fear of some rabid fan coming up to me and demanding my attention while I am out and about doing my thing.

Back when I was a huge Rush fan, when I was in high school, I couldn’t Google stalk Neil Peart. Now I can, and I stumbled upon his myspace page. I read the comments that people had left, “You’re my idol, man!” and the like. I sat there with my mouth hanging open as I read them and wondered what he thought of them as he read them. Here were thousands of people who wrote things like that to a man who, really, is a stranger to all those people. They don’t know him personally. They only know him through his music and his writing. In “Travelling Music” he mentioned fans coming to his front door of his home to ask for an autograph, and another story of a man who left beer for him outside his motel room, then called on the phone him to invite him to hang out. I could sense the unease those interactions caused him as I read. I wonder if he looks at his myspace page and wonders which one of commenters will be the next one to try to walk up to his front door? Which one will be the one that he has to avoid when he’s having a drink in a bar? John Lennon didn’t have myspace. He knew he had fans, but he couldn’t read their little online tributes to him as Neil Peart can. Is the phenomenon of the Internet helping famous people to be more wary of strangers? Would John Lennon still be alive today if...

I can see that it would be lovely to have touched so many people with your work. But how is it that fans cross these very definite lines? Every so often you hear about some crazed fan trying to sneak into a house of a celebrity. (Even David Letterman had one of those.) And ya gotta wonder what brings people to that point. What makes them think it’s OK to try to get into the home of a famous person? And what are they going to do when they get in there? Are they just going to plop down and join their object of obsession at the dinner table and say “Hi, and how was your day? Please pass the peas,” and be handed the peas like it’s just a normal day? There’s a big reason why these people are scaling a wall and not walking in the front door. They don’t belong there!

I listen to Neil Peart’s lyrics and I read his books, and they move me. They might make me think of something I hadn’t thought of before. Or they might make me sing along as I drum my fingers on the steering wheel in the car. Do I think I have a connection with him? Hell no. But his work sometimes inspires me, sometimes makes me feel happy and other times makes me feel sad. If I saw him in public would I stop in my tracks and say quietly and urgently to whomever I am with, “Holy crap! That’s Neil Peart!” Hell yes. Would I walk over and say hello to him, like he’s supposed to know me? Hell no.

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