Sunday, August 29, 2010

Economy of words

As I've mentioned in a past blog, I host a weekly Salon.

Every Tuesday night, my sister, her son, my clan and occasional  guests have dinner at my house. And after dinner, we cleanse our palates with our Salon.

Typically, we choose a word, and we each write something that connects in some way to the word we've chosen.

There are no rules. So, once armed with the word, the outcome could be a piece of poetry, a short story, an observation. There's no requirement when it comes to length. To minimize self-editing, anything goes.

The words we've chosen over the course of our Tuesday night Salons have been diverse. Superpowers. Fear. Heat. Faith.

We've been doing this for years, and the words we've written about have generated a dessert that's become very sweet.

Our Tuesday night Salons are a great source of connection. Making dinner at home and writing about a word has brought each of us a bit closer together. Dinner at home combined with the brain food that Salon provides invariably results in a cheap, interesting evening.

My sister's offerings are highly anticipated. She creates vivid, forehead-smacking, raw, compelling material simply with a word as her leaping-off place.

But everything each of us writes is interesting, and occasionally we mix it up.

This past week, having not chosen a word the previous week, we used a random word finder app to choose our word for us. The app provided the word Shelter. We had a few guests, and everyone participated. We set the timer for 10 minutes, and everyone wrote whatever came to mind.

Then, each of us read what we'd written.

The exercise far exceeded everyone's expectations, and I loved how willing the group was to engage in this odd exercise.

The week before, the magic 8-ball word finder had chosen the word Powder.

My sister enjoys the tactile nature of writing long-hand, so I don't have her Powder Salon yet.

But I do have mine, and I have Logan's.

My son Logan, 14, wrote this on the Powder topic:

He was half-standing half-floating in the powder blue Mexican water. It had become somewhat dull for him. Just wading there with only small waves passing by him, almost entirely undisturbed. He was slowly pushing back and forth through the water. A bit closer to the grit of the sand, a bit closer to the ease of the waves.

This continued for nearly 20 minutes. Then, when his hands were growing weary, he turned around. The sun was now at his back, but he forgot about the sun, and water for that matter. All he cared about was the beautiful purple in front of him. It faded from light to dark within what seemed to be an inch of space. This depth seemed to rival that of the water he was drifting through.

He thought, as he wiped a briny tear from his eye, “this must be why the water is salty. This color makes people cry, giving back their minerals to the water they live in.”

Suddenly a wave flipped him over into a spiral. He was turning in the deep water. The siren call of the color pulled him 30 feet from the sandy shore.

He didn’t care. But he kept staring, his head full of adjectives and wordy poems.

And so he drifted, into oblivion.

And here's mine:

The Powder

The powder was neatly stored in the vial, like a dried tincture of possibility and curiosity.

When he found it, he thought the powder was nothing more than a remnant; a wisp of dust from the past that needed to be purged.

Then, because he had nothing better to do, he opened the lid.

The smell struck his nose like a blow from a prize fighter.

After that, he didn’t remember much.

When he woke up, he was in a different shirt, in an unknown city.

It may have been another time. His head was too muddled. He didn’t drink it all in at first.

It must have been the powder. That’s all he could think. It was his mantra.

He was a simple man, but the powder complicated everything.

He admonished himself, in his head first, and then out loud, for being too headstrong, too interested in things that were really none of his concern.

Like the powder.

Opening the lid was his first mistake.

But it wasn’t the last.

My sister's Powder Salon will be added to this community of Salon entries eventually.

As usual, I think hers was the best.

In any case, our Tuesday night Salons, each beginning with dinner and ending with an offering we've each created, have become such a bonding, interesting, creative experience.

Salon has drawn me closer to my sister. It's let me in on who my kids are, just a little bit. The exercise has made a few mental muscles a bit more elastic.

And it all begins with an economy of words.

It starts with one.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My garage sale crap recap.

So I mentioned a few blogs ago that I was preparing for a garage sale.

As you may recall, I revealed that I'd accumulated an almost hoarder-like quantity of crap. And, having resolved that I no longer needed or wanted any of this stuff, I decided I would attempt to convert my collectibles into cash vis a vis a garage sale.

Let's review. This is what my garage looked like the day before the sale.

It's no exaggeration to say that the garage was virtually filled to bursting with incidentals and nick-nacks I no longer wanted.

Am I apologetic for having generated this quantity of castoff crap?


Do I feel privileged to live in a land that allows such flagrant consumerism?

Of course.

Glad to see it go?


But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

I'd decided to divest myself of my tangible ebay learning curve, which took shape in the form of tons of potential collectibles I'd acquired during the course of a decade, give or take.

These items were all stored in one place, known by all who live here as The Ebay Room. The Room was filled with all manner of evidence that pointed to the fact that I know more now than I did when I started this odd hobby.

Slowly and methodically, I, and whoever I could coax into helping me, cashed in some sweat equity by cleaning out that room. Completely.

Ah. So refreshing. The light at the end of the crap tunnel was just a 3-day garage sale away.

The whole process was so interesting, so enlightening, so painstaking.

Making compelling signage, then staking claim to prime real estate at pivotal intersections.

Creating a Craigslist ad that enticed the curious while hopefully discouraging folks who would potentially case the joint in order to ransack my house while I was away.

Enlisting (read: mandating) the help of those who insist that they love me.

Dragging this compilation of items into my driveway by 7 a.m.

I had a fabulous companion during the sale. My friend Anne has a beautiful, interesting, polite, sales-directed daughter who was as invested as I was in a good garage sale outcome.

Melissa had accumulated a very nice inventory, and she was at the sale every day, at dawn's crack.

She was the quintessential salesperson. She wasn't much of a chatterbox. She's a watcher, I'm thinking. An observer. And I'm thinking that her observations of our time, our customers, her experience, went into her personal vault.

I don't know if many folks have the combination to her vault, but I enjoyed her quiet company during those spates of time when we had no customers.

And having a garage sale does have its idle moments. It's like going fishing. Good preparation means that there's a point when you get to sit back and wait for your line to register a tug.

The tug on our line were the customers. And the customers were so interesting.

There's a reverence most people project when they're combing through garage sale stuff. A sheepishness, almost.

Some people are talkers. Other folks are quiet and tentative. Some seem like professionals.

Of course the majority of people who were lured into my crap web breezed in and out, and there were others who were comfortable with a high level of personal disclosure. There were players. There were several who left an imprint.

One woman dropped by on Thursday, enjoyed the zucchini bread we were passing around to our customers, and she returned on Friday with a copy of one of her favorite recipes.

She was a discloser, who told me more about herself than some of my friends have shared. It's the safety of anonymity, I'm thinking.

It's interesting, inviting people to browse through the items you no longer value. There's no guest list. It's all about creating value in what you've determined no longer holds value in your world.

But when push comes to shove, it comes down to the bottom line.

I wanted to get rid of what had become superfluous. And I wanted to make a bit of ching.

My ching bottom line from the garage sale was somewhere in the $500 range.

It was nice to have the money. Frankly, a big chunk of the money I generated by selling my unwanted things went to buy my kids the new items they need for school. Freshman + Senior = Expensive.

And I have fresh, clutter-free space post-garage sale.

I had the opportunity to get to know my friend's daughter just a little bit.

I met a whole bunch of cool people, who took my merch away.

And now I  have this.

I still have some items that are designated for donation.

But my car has once again found purchase in its comfortable resting place.

The new room in my house is very valued. The elimination of the unnecessary is paramount. And the space in my garage is fantastic.

Now, my transportation is impervious to the elements. My cat (shown) doesn't have to navigate a path to his/her food.

It's a no-lose.

Garage sales are a good thing, on so many levels.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A film of filth

I have to write an uncharacteristically short piece today. It's 5:05 am as I'm writing this, and I have to be nicely tucked into my cubby at my Real Job in less than two hours.

I wish I had time to clean my house.

It feels kind of like seeing someone crash on a bike while you're driving, and seeing it's too late to do anything about it.

Of course my outcome is a bit less tragic.

I see these blobs of dog hair collecting on the floor, chalk dust accumulating from my scribblings on the bedroom chalkboard, a thin, conspicuous film on virtually every flat surface.

Lately all I've had time to do is notice.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The epidemic of thrift

Our planet has experienced a number of very troublesome epidemics over the course of our collective recorded history.

Cholera. Influenza. The Plague. Typhus. The Black Death. West Nile. Swine Flu.

Get diagnosed with one of these, and it's bad news.

Thankfully, the medical community has effectively minimized the potential of epidemics by developing medicines that almost ensure that anything called The Plague is nothing more than an English punk rock band.

But there's a new epidemic on the loose in America, and there's no pill you can swallow or shot you can take to keep it from spreading, especially during these tenuous economic times.

It's the Epidemic of Thrift.

I heard about this relatively new epidemic recently on NPR, and I've been stricken by this disease for quite a while. 

In a story by Jim Zarroli, it was reported that, "Economists have been saying for nearly a year that the recession is over. These days, however, they're sounding a little less confident about what will happen over the next few months.

"Two surveys released this week by Bloomberg and MarketWatch indicate that economists are lowering their grown projections for the second half of 2010.

"Bloomberg said the median forecast has fallen from 2.8 percent to a little more than 2.5 percent. It was 3.7 percent during the first three months of the year.

"Nariman Behravesh of IHS Global Insight says weak demand will hurt the economy between now and the end of the year.

"'We have what might be called an epidemic of thrift," Behravesh explains. "Consumers are saving a lot, businesses are saving a lot and they're being very careful about their spending."

"He says the weak job market is hurting demand, and a lot of businesses are reluctant to invest and hire. Behravesh says the surge in imports reported by the government Wednesday has lowered growth."

I'm no economist, but it sounds to me as though everyone - businesses and consumers - are looking at their bottom lines a bit more realistically, and that realism has is being considered an Epidemic of Thrift.

It's an epidemic that was a long time coming. All the dominoes were stacking so beautifully, so impeccably. And all we seemed to be able to see was how lovely and vertical they stood, with no connection to the fact that they could all fall so predictably and so very methodically.

So the Epidemic of Thrift has had its own domino effect. Generally speaking, corporations, businesses and ultimately consumers have seemed to have learned that there's a value to the idea of being fiscal thrift-smiths. 

And depending on the audience, the word "thrift" takes on many meanings. Some may think it's cutting back on catered lunches at work. Others have decided Target has become the Nordstrom of retail, and opt for thrifting, literally.

The bottom line is that there's nothing negative about the Epidemic of Thrift. This epidemic is the same for everyone, whether you're a corporate executive or a financially challenged underemployed single parent. The numbers may be a bit different, but the idea's the same.

The Epidemic of Thrift ultimately translates into being thrifty. And "thrifty" might sound declasse to the well-heeled, but being thrifty is actually a good thing.

Being thrifty means thinking before spending. It means seeing the possibility in what you already possess as opposed to acquisition simply because you're entitled. It's feeding the need as opposed to catering to the want.

We did a lot of catering to the want a few years ago.

And now we have to be thrifty.

Maybe this epidemic should have caught on a long time ago.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thanks for the zucchini bread recipe, mom.

The garden started innocently enough, with just a few packages of seeds and high hopes.

I planted a few seeds. I bought a couple of plants. I've become OCD about the watering.

And the pumpkins have found their way into the yard.

To the right of this shot is a profusion of zucchini.

They propagate like bunnies, the zucchini.

So when a few zukes the length of my finger become large and unwieldy almost overnight, it's time to spring into Action Mode.

We've learned about blanching, and now there are bags and bags of zucchini in a state of suspension in the freezer, waiting until we're ready to make a tasty sauce. We've done our share of grilling.

And then there's the bread.

My mom passed along what is arguably the best zucchini bread recipe ever. Thankfully for me, the recipe is easy. At this stage of the game, I've memorized it.

So I make a couple of loaves almost every morning, and the loaves have fed the folks at my job, my friends, my kids, the neighbors who choose not to ignore me, and many loaves have wound up in the freezer, next to their blanched cousins.

It feels good, this odd garden-oriented veggie sustainability.

At this point in the season, it takes a bit of creativity to keep making interesting things out of oddly shaped squash. And I do wish that zucchini and acorn squash were a valuable currency of some sort. I'd be so very rich.

I know my mom's zucchini bread recipe won't make me a millionaire, but there's a richness in creating these loaves.

This morning, when I was wrist-deep in suds, washing the two loaf pans I use to make my zuke bread, I wondered how many hundreds of loaves of my mom's zucchini bread I've made in these two pans. 

I thought about my mom, from whom so many fruitful, subtle riches continue to generate.

This morning, while I was readying myself to make two more loaves, I wondered how my mom, whose departure from this crazy planet happened 10 years ago tomorrow, would have taken the news that her zucchini bread recipe had found such a solid place to land in my world.

I think she would have been proud, in a quiet, unassuming kind of way.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The grace period on making fun of war: 20 years.

Back when I was a kid, we had a big piece of furniture that featured a black and white television in its center. We'd gather around our television when our favorite shows were broadcast on one of four stations, and we were eagerly fed our weekly entertainment.

Our favorite tasty television treats look so innocent and dated by today's standards. Not unlike looking at how we dressed in the 1970s and cringing a little bit inside, admitting we watched The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch on Friday nights followed by a Saturday morning of H.R. Pufnstuf seems ridiculous now.

But back then, our shows were magical and somehow ours. There was no deconstruction of theme to explore a broader social subtext. It was what it was, and we didn't do much thinking about more than what we were shown.

In addition to peeking in on the lives of Shirley Partridge and her musical clan or Carol and Mike's crack at familial blending, we watched other shows that were standard fare each week.

Take for example Hogan's Heroes. Twenty years after the conclusion of World War II, CBS thought it would be funny to create a weekly comedy based in a German POW camp. We'd tune in with regularity to watch our lovable Special Ops prisoners pull the wool over the eyes of the buffoonish Colonel Klink and his endearing but inept sidekick, Sergeant Schultz. It brought the war to a new level of tomfoolery we'd only imagined, and made us almost envious of the camaraderie that could be created only in a German prison camp.

What fun war seemed!

This madcap slice of humor wasn't the first taste of life during wartime we witnessed on our mammoth television box. Before we were introduced to Hogan and his Heroes, we were treated to the idyllic island life that was McHale's Navy.

The Lord of the Flies lifestyle McHale and his crazy crew created on their island paradise was peppered with the seasonings of life during wartime, and we were sated. Add a splash of comedy and put it over ice on the deck of the PT-73, and you have the recipe for pure comic genius.

Even our enlisted men were entitled to have a sense of humor about the war, and thanks to network television in the 1960s, so were we.

Even more resonant was M*A*S*H, which reached into the depths of the Korean War.

M*A*S*H had a dark side, and a laugh track. Moments of tender imagery were woven among passive aggressive realities of war in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital set smack dab in the middle of South Korea during the Korean War.

M*A*S*H also was rife with comedy, which became more cartoon-like and less war-like over time. The cross-dresser who was looking for a way to get home, the erstwhile dysfunctional lovers, the psychic underling; the show was character-driven, and it did provide a niblet of a message about war among the stew of characters and comedy.

McHale's Navy, Hogan's Heroes and M*A*S*H each aired approximately 20 years after their respective wars were over.

Which begs the question: can we anticipate a lighthearted comedy about Life During Wartime in Iraq to be a hot show to watch on the fall television show lineup in 2023?

Can we expect a laugh track and a smile that centers around being a soldier in Afghanistan some time in 2021?

Ah - I've missed a pivotal piece of information that made McHale's Navy, Hogan's Heroes and M*A*S*H so successful. Their wars had been resolved for 20 years before we decided we could laugh about them.

We don't have an end date for the wars we're in the midst of, so we'll have to wait at least 20 more years until we can laugh about either one.

I think we may be waiting a lot longer than that.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Will you take this garage sale item to love and honor until death do you part?

I visited my dad last weekend. He lives walking distance from this lovely place to the left; a breathtaking wonder, known not only for its natural beauty but for its top-drawer golf course.

We went to the golf course's clubhouse restaurant for dinner last weekend, and it became clear that we were severely under-dressed.

Two very opulent wedding parties were in progress, and the place was abuzz with very handsome men in tuxes and many sparkling young women delicately perched in very high heels.

We were waiting at our table in the clubhouse restaurant, watching many colorful satellites revolve around their respective bridal stars.

Then it started to rain.

Then the power went out.

Mild, well-heeled bridal chaos ensued.

After about 20 minutes with no menu or water, we chose to go to another restaurant. It was clear that there were bigger fish to fry than efficiently servicing Table 12.

And frankly, been there, done that.

I had an opulent wedding, but nothing as jaw-dropping as a Roxborough wedding. If I were ever to get married again, I'd love to tie my ball and chain to a stake at the Roxborough wedding site.

But that's not going to happen, because I'm jaded.

Case in point: as we left the clubhouse on our way to another restaurant, I mentioned to my dad that there were probably two brides nicely tucked away in the clubhouse, away from the rain. Both were most likely weeping and rocking ever-so gently, lamenting to anyone who would listen that their Perfect Day had been rained out.

My weekend plan is a bit less bucolic, a bit less formal.

I'm having a Garage Sale.

I've displaced my car from its relatively tidy nest in order to fill the garage with all the crap I don't want any more.

In my case, I want to simplify. I want to divest myself of the mounds of stuff that keep me one intervention away from a casting call for The Hoarders.

The idea of nicely merchandising this much stuff by tomorrow morning at 8 am is daunting.

But I prefer to look on the Bright Side. I'm simplifying. And whatever doesn't sell at the garage sale is going to be donated, so someone else can have a crack at my crap.

Just like the fathers of the brides who attempted to tie the knot last weekend at Roxborough, I'd be very willing to give all of this away.

I just hope it doesn't rain.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Let me entertain you.

Just look at this face.

This face, this very poster, was in my locker in high school. And every time I looked at the poster, I imagined Donny had written the "you're someone special! love you! Donny" to me and me alone.

The first concert I ever attended was a Donny and Marie show when I was a dozen or so years old. Donny didn't disappoint. I distinctly remember him strutting about the stage in his trademark purple cape. He was, after all, the Great Osmondo. And any Donny lover knows purple is his favorite color. Hello.

Times changed.

By the time I was a junior in high school, I was deeply enmeshed in the concert scene.

I can say without hesitation that I've seen almost every band you hear on your favorite Classic Rock station live, at least once. Heart, Jackson Brown, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Palmer, U2, Pat Benetar, Kansas, Boston, Devo, David Bowie, The Stranglers, Joe Jackson, Billy Joel, pre-Hagar Van Halen, so many more.

And then there was Rush.

The thinking person's band.

I saw them multiple times in concert, and each time was highly memorable.

As the photo indicates, the members of Rush, like I, have aged. Although it's indisputable that their music is timeless. There's no substitute when it comes to the vocal stylings of Geddy Lee.

I didn't come from a wealthy family, and as I recall, concert tickets were somewhere around $10 or $15. Sometimes, like the SunDays in Boulder each summer in the late '70s, multiple bands were featured. All for one very affordable price.

Fast-forward to Sunday afternoon.

Mr. Fabulous, Logan and I wanted to see a movie. And I was in dire need of a comedy.

So we decided on Dinner for Schmucks.

I have a Paul Rudd thing.

And I needed some laughter.

So here's the bottom line. Three tickets to the movie cost $30. We snagged some "deal" at the concession stand, and got a large popcorn and two large beverages for 21.50.

I hate to be a spoiler, but last time I checked, popcorn is among the cheapest crap foods ever to manifest itself on the planet, as is the carbonated beverage which, if I were to order at almost any restaurant, would be bottomless and very affordable.

The movie was good. But did it live up to what I've experienced?

I hate to live in the past, but it seems to me that those concerts, rife with raw, limitless possibility and untapped talent, were a total bargain.

Let's review.

One concert, possibly many bands, 30 years ago. Ten to twenty bucks tops.

Three people go to a movie that will be Netflixable a few months from now, we get popcorn and two beverages, and we spent well over $50. No dinner, no Paul Rudd In The Round performing just for me.

Is this crazy to no one but me?

Trust me. I actively avoid living in the past.

But there are moments when those Halcyon days that I experienced in the '70s and early '80s are such a pretty dream.

Especially when it comes to my long-term memory. And my disposable income.