A Walmart oil change, an elderly woman and an episode of Dragnet

I drove through a poor part of town today. The kind with boarded up windows every other house. I thought that while this area was clearly economically depressed, kids still got up and went to middle school, single mothers juggling multiple jobs caught early morning buses to work and auto mechanics covered in oil and grease twisted wrenches. What I mean to say is that while this town looked like it was slowly dying; people went right on living.

Sometimes I fail to think about the people in these ramshackle towns. That they are working long hours and still might not have enough to feed their kids.

Anyway, I was getting my oil changed in this not-so-nice section of town at a Wal-Mart, and I met an elderly woman in the waiting room. I am not sure how old she was because she looked old enough to be my grandmother, but talked as fast as a teenager (with a certain amount of urban swagger) and seemed in very good health. She was very thin and like my 9th grade gym teacher could probably beat a few 20 year olds in a mile long foot race.

We sat and watched old episodes of Dragnet on a rear projection television. We watched as EMTs rushed a young boy to the hospital after a baseball injury and my new friend said of the episode, “If that little boy dies, I’m outta here. Don’t even care none about my car.” I laughed, “Yeah me too.”

She talked about all kinds of stuff. About how she could probably fix her car for cheaper than what Wal-Mart was going to charge. About how she should have gotten a Toyota Camry because they “last forever” unlike her Ford SUV. She talked about how she works 7 days a week and has for 4 years.

She swore a lot. I mean more than I’m used to and I played on public high school hockey teams. But she was kind. She laughed real big and smoky when she told stories or when we went back and forth.

 I think when someone extends you kindness; your job is to extend it right back.

The mechanic tossed me the keys to my car and I said goodbye to my new friend. I then drove through that same ramshackle town glad for my decision to take the trip. Then a realization came over me, “They never did say what happened to the little boy with the baseball injury … Bastards.”

The Human Shuffle

“If ChatRoulette catches on, it might even swing our collective online pendulum back toward chaos.” 

Below is a link to a brilliantly written article about Chatroulette (the crazy site that pairs random strangers’ webcams) circa 2010. I thought it unpacked the problems, and potential transformative properties of the site, and ones like it, really well. I think the site is a very interesting social experiment that has really just become grotesque slathering of naked people. Author’s note: the end of that last sentence made me laugh so I kept it even though it probably conjures potentially harmful images. Please, forgive me.


Are you bound by your stuff?

First off, I’m listening to jazz as I write this. Maybe it will mean that my cadence will slow way down. Maybe it will mean that I will pick up smoking cigarettes, although I hope it doesn’t. Maybe it will mean that my desk will be soaked in circular red wine stains – I’d be alright with that actually. Coffee table Jazz is what spotify calls it. I think music playing in the background can have a large impact on your writing and Joshua Redman is calming me, so that you Joshua.

I am typing atop my writer’s desk I got for $12 at the restore, along with an office chair. Check out the habitat for humanity restore in your area if you need furniture, there is a lot of second hand stuff you have to sift through, but you may just find a gem.  Although, the gems I found are not polished or shiny.

I am sitting in my new room, in a new city and I am loving it. My room is the coolest it has ever been; aesthetically. I have a rack with electric guitars, an acoustic guitar and a banjo hanging on the wall. I have a mix of cheap art that looks expensive, moderately expensive art that cost what I believe to be a fortune to frame, and a friend’s graphic design piece that reminds me of him (it is a desert scene with many wells in lines and a quote from the bible that read’s “You’ll never thirst again”).

There is a signed picture of Mario Lemieux (my childhood hero), a small Native American sculpture that was my grandfather’s (a man that I try to emulate in every way) and a silhouette of a stag that my sister made out of aluminum. There are two small pictures on a shelf above my bed. One is a photo just before prom of my best friends from high school suited up and the other is of my college brus on the steps of a new building at BGSU. I’ve been told the later looks like an urban outfitters advertisement.

Your belongings will wither away eventually, if given enough time, so I have learned not to hold too tightly to my “stuff.”  But I think it’s ok to look at something and remember your grandfather’s laugh when you see it, or at a photo and remember a time when a friend visited you in the hospital.  I gave my sister a little ceramic sculpture after she had brain surgery.  It is a big frog with his arms around a little frog. I know it’s pretty stupid, but that damn 3 inch painted sculpture makes me weepy every time I see it, or if I even think about it. Like right now for instance.

I do like that almost all of my stuff fit into two cars when moving. I know that probably won’t be the case as I move forward in life and get married and have kids, but it is a nice feeling to live minimally. I also know there are people who would look at my life and say it is the opposite of minimal; people who live in tents and huts, some by choice and others not.

So what’s the point?

 I have seen both ends of the spectrum. I have seen hoarders who cannot let go of even the smallest knick knacks and trinkets. Whose houses get filled and cluttered to the point they can no longer get to their bathroom or kitchen. And I have seen people who “purge” their houses every few months, only to buy the same things a year later.

The point is this: you cannot let your stuff have power over you. If you lose or break something that reminded you of your dad who passed away, it does not mean you lost a piece of your father.

It means you must be creative in crafting something else that reminds you of him; like a collage or a painting. Or maybe something that takes up no room; like a poem.

The design of a room is very important to me. My parents, for a long time, designed the most beautiful kitchens and bathrooms and living rooms that I have ever seen. That is why I wanted my space to inspire me when I walked in. It is alright to have nice, quality things.

And while I want to take care of my things, I am not bound by them. I want you to think about what you would do if someone stole your stuff. Think about what would be the hardest to lose. And then think about what that says about you. Think about who you could help if you bought a guitar that was $500 cheaper (I am pointing that last one directly at myself). 

Also, listen to Jazz. It’s good for you.

Interesting Encounter

Let me first set the scene. At my house, on the first floor, there is a small porch that one can only get to from the inside. Well, one can get to the porch from the outside, but it would require you to scale a small stone wall. On the porch, there is a wooden swing, which takes some effort to climb into. I went with my full-bodied Yamaha acoustic guitar and set up shop on the swing. I played mostly songs I had written and people passed by nodding their heads at me or dancing a little down my road. My neighbor across the street came outside and smoked a cigarette and listened. It was very relaxing. This all took place about 11 pm last night.

Then a man, not much younger than me, walked in front of my house. He was bobbing his head more vivaciously than any of his predecessors. I stopped playing as he was leaving my field of view. He also stopped walking and dancing and said to me, “I like your trumpet playing.”

“It’s a guitar,” I said half laughing, “but thank you.”

“Do you slice the viola?” He asked.

“No, I do not slice the viola,” I said, bewildered.

“Do you ever mixilate the phalanges?” Is what I think I heard next, but to be honest, I’m not entirely sure.

I didn’t say anything at this point, but it is important to point out that this man was very nice and seemed interested in my musical abilities.

“Sometimes when I trumpet slide, I really get to slicing,” he said.

“Oh do you play an instrument? I asked.

He changed the subject and began walking away. “But your good,” he said. “Even with your little guitar trumpet.”

I am not sure what to make of this little encounter late last night, but I am going to take everything he said as a compliment. He seemed genuine in his almost incoherent babbling, very confused, but genuine.  I hope I meet him again and we can talk music. Who knows, maybe he was playing an elaborate prank on me and was very committed. Either way I liked the babbling man and I mean that truly.


Dear Not Gonna Pray – Andrew W.K. responds

“It’s the feeling of power in our powerlessness. A feeling of knowing that we don’t know. A feeling of gaining strength by admitting weakness.” – Andrew W.K. 


Andrew W.K. responds to a letter written to him about prayer. The sender has just learned that his brother has been diagnosed with cancer. The sender’s grandmother feels the family should pray for his brother, and he feels prayer is pointless and solves nothing. It actually makes the sender angry to even think about prayer.

Andrew W.K.’s retort is amazing:

“I want you to pray for your brother right now. As a gesture to your grandmother — who, if she didn’t exist, neither would you. I want you to pray right now, just for the sake of challenging yourself. I want you to find a place alone, and kneel down — against all your stubborn tendencies telling you not to — and close your eyes and think of one concentrated thought: your brother.” 

love that response. Asking some one to pray out of respect for their grandmother. Asking someone to pray as a challenge. We should constantly put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Because if what we believe is in fact true, then it will stand up to any challenge. As Shad says, “The truth is bulletproof.”

W.K. goes on to say that prayer is more than meditation because of humility (which means the condition of being humble or having a modest estimate of one’s own importance). Humbling ourselves before something greater than us.

I enjoyed this article, and subsequently, every article I have read that Andrew W.K. has written. I think he has a unique perspective.  I don’t always agree with everything he says, but I think his voice is very important and has a meaningful place in the cultural landscape. Also, his music is rad.

WK Photo by Ashley Eberbach

Misheard Lyrics

So I was listening to a Blackalicious song “Blazing Arrow,” and I heard a line that intrigued me. What I heard was “the kind of homeless only God can know.” The line, in fact, is “the kind of onus only God can know.” Either one really gets me thinking. Onus means a difficult task, burden or obligation, and for me I immediately think about sacrifice. But homeless, somehow affected me more.

There have been stories in the newspaper recently about a sculptor who installed small statues of a homeless Jesus on a park bench or street corner with a hand extended begging for change. The only way one knows it is Jesus depicted is by the holes in his hands. One such sculpture showed up in my home town in Connecticut in front of an Episcopal Church. People passing on the street were startled and so was I when I went for a walk late one night on main street. Who is this homeless man begging at one in the morning? I walk pretty late at night and had never seen someone begging for money that late before. Nor had I ever seen someone begging for money in my home town, which should inform you of the kind of place I grew up.

Some people even called the cops on the homeless statue. 

I was glad for the culture shock. It made me stop what I was doing and think. What am I doing to help those with outstretched arms? I have heard people say some version of this next sentence a lot lately. “Oh, I’m not giving them any money. They are just going to buy drugs or beer or cigarettes with it.” Congratulations, you have become the morality police. Walking around, being stingy with your money and “cleaning” up the streets with every dollar you stuff back into you wallet, only to spend it on some pumpkin spice latte that will kill you in 30 years.

But I’ve had these thoughts too. What I decided is that instead of not giving the money away, I am going to ask the homeless man or woman I encounter, if I can go to the nearest (crowded) deli or coffee shop with them and buy them something to eat or drink. I have not done it frequently. Sometimes I’m still too scared or maybe too stingy and think I don’t have much myself.

I heard this in a sermon recently. Those who make $40,000/year or below give slightly over 10% of their income. For every $10,000/year more that people make, they tend to give away 1 to 2% less. Let me sum that up: the more you make the less (percentage) you give. I’m not saying this occurs across the board but it does leave me pondering.

I want to start good habits of giving while I have very little, and plan to give away consistently, even if it’s not much. I think it’s good for your heart to get used to that posture.

Sometimes mishearing lyrics can open a whole new door in your mind. Sometimes it can change your perceptions.