Costco-vidisms, and Other Musings

I ventured out this week to get the tires on my car rotated and balanced at our local Costco. Now, I have been working at home most of the time since mid-March, with some time doing telepsychiatry and one clinical day on Fridays at the main mental health center office in Aiken. Other than that that, I have rarely ventured out at all, even to the grocery store, as my wife is the self-proclaimed “Food Lady” and does not require much of me in that department except for the occasional breakfast omelet making or steak grilling. I parked my Mazda 3 at the tire center side of the store, walked toward the entrance, donned my mask and got out my Executive Membership card, flashing it at the store employee as I made me way inside. So far, so good. What I saw shocked me, and at first I did not know why.

I could tell almost immediately that the store was different from the last time I had visited it, months ago. To my left, the wall made of fence-like material that usually held numerous, ads, signs and bolstered the stacking of merchandise, was free of any encumbrances at all. Clear. See-through, Airy, one might say. The height of the stacked merchandise on that side of the entryway was much lower than usual. To my right, the large screen televisions were socially distanced from each other. Granted as wide as these TVs are, they could be side by side and still be six feet apart from each other. Everything looked far apart, like one of those nightmares I used to have as a kid when everything looked over-sized and huge and menacing. I walked around to the auto service area, noticing on the way over that the rows of tables and chairs usually placed between the checkout line and the food court were all gone. Completely gone. I walked up to the auto checkin-checkout station and saw the high Plexiglas barriers that surrounded the desk and cash register area, little cutouts for exchange of paperwork and cards. After dropping off my keys, I made my way further into the store, back towards the seafood and wine and rotisserie chickens.

I was struck by the amount of merchandise that was NOT in the store. Granted, there was enough of just about everything you would come to Costco to buy, but there was not the excessive, pallet-driven environment of twenty four packs of everything, large bottles and over-sized boxes that made one frantic to overbuy while at the same time calculating available storage space back home. Huge fans whirred overhead. The entire upper third to half of the store itself was empty, clear, productive of good, proper airflow and circulation. I found the few items I needed, checked out, and walked towards the food area. My beloved vanilla-acai swirl, a treat reserved for tire rotation time, was no more! I was saddened by this loss in a silly, heartfelt way. Not having a seat to sit on or table to sit at, I stupidly walked towards the cardboard box corral, looked at my watch and figured that I could stand there for the remainder of my thirty minute wait time to get my car back. Which I did.

Why did this visit to Costco unnerve me? I got what I came for. I was not disappointed in the customer service at all. It dawned on me that this was the first time that I had decided to do out and experience the “normal” retail world in some time. At home, things are now routine. I work, eat, sleep, play, rest, relax and do almost everything else there. It is safe. I am healthy there. I do not feel threatened there. My world has not significantly changed there. Out in this new world, this world of distance and less stuff and six foot markers and Plexiglas everywhere, it is decidedly not normal any longer. I came to the realization, more vividly, that it may never be again. I went back to my home, calmer, more relaxed, feeling safe, but knowing that I will have to keep venturing out into this hostile landscape that some folks tell us will potentially get much worse before it gets better.

 

We have been attending church virtually for many weeks now. The Church of the Good Shepherd has learned, as we all have, to pivot with this virus, to use time and technology and virtual everything to stay connected with its parishioners and to try to keep us connected with each other. We have enjoyed “Good Morning Good Shepherd”, followed by a worship service that was at first quite traditional in its presentation, but that is now full of video and music and readings by parishioners and lovely tours around the summertime Summerville campus. We have even started having outside baptisms again, complete with baptismal font in front of the entrance to the church, masks and appropriate distancing and hand sanitizing.

Today’s service was especially poignant. The opening hymn admonished us to fight the good fight, run the straight race, cast care aside, and know that “Christ is all in all to thee”. Wise words of counsel in these very uncertain times, but oh so hard to do without much effort these days. Robert Lowry’s “How Can I Keep From Singing?”, sung in melodious tones by alto Rebecca Brune, was lovely beyond measure. Watch and listen to another wonderful version of this song here

Thro’ all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing; it finds an echo in my soul-how can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that refuge clinging; Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?

 

Sometimes we need a little perspective. Watch this video if you feel that you are being put upon, that you are too stressed, or that we are facing more than any people have ever been forced to deal with and bear. It may change your mind, or at least put you into the river of time in the appropriate way and to appropriate degree. 

We rode our bikes on the Greeneway this afternoon in an attempt to get outside and do something physically good for us, as we love to do when we can. We ride this trail at least once a week now as times permits and always enjoy it. There are walkers, dogs, bike riders, in line skaters, singles and families using this wonderful community resource. It was very hot and humid today and we struggled on the uphill/out portion of the path, pedaling hard and getting a good workout. As the turnaround was in full sun, we rode a few dozen yards back up the hill and stopped to the side of the path, thought still on it and as out of the way as we could get, to drink some water and get ready for the trip back down to the start of the ride and the car.

Two other riders, one a middle-aged man and one a young man, rode towards us soon after we had stopped. With plenty of room to pass us on the opposite side, the older man called out in what I thought was a jovial tone, “Don’t stop in the dance floor, now!” They went on their way, down the short hill to the turnaround, then he came back past us, not really acknowledging us at all. The younger man, after turning around further into the neighborhood just beyond the end of the Greeneway, came back up the hill towards us as well. On the opposite side coming towards us, a family of five was walking along the path. As they arrived beside us at almost the same time that the young man was getting ready to pass us, he had to slow and stop to allow them to walk a few more steps past us so that he could safely whizz past us himself. This might have taken ten to fifteen seconds. We turned towards him and quipped that we needed to cool down a bit more before starting back and were sorry that he had to wait a few seconds to let the family pass. In an exasperated and exaggerated gesture, he lifted his head and rolled his eyes several times, sprinting past us on his bike, not saying a word. 

Now, as far as I know, the Greeneway is a community resource that is available to all, kids, families, novices riders, older riders like us and more. There are expected rules of trail etiquette, including allowing users of all skill levels to utilize the trail, and not blocking access or ability to pass for other users. When we stopped for water, we certainly did not mean to cause any impediment in access to anyone using the trail around us this afternoon, and the family that walked past us and engaged in friendly conversation certainly understood that. The young man who so rudely rolled his eyes at us and then sped past without a work of any kind, did not. 

If you are that young man in an Andy Jordan bike shirt who was so inconvenienced this afternoon that we shaved fifteen seconds off your out and back time, I apologize. I would only ask that you remember these things:

  1. We are in a global pandemic. Everyone is stressed. Everyone needs an outlet. Ours today was riding our bikes on the Greeneway with a heat index of 105. We meant no harm to anyone as we enjoyed that activity today. 
  2. My wife and I are in our sixties. We are happy to be able to get out and physically challenge ourselves in this way for exercise. You are not in your sixties. I would ask that even when you are displeased, that you respect your elders when showing that displeasure. 
  3. Lastly, I would hope that in this time of great stress for us all that you would develop a little more patience and show grace to those who are navigating this time with you. 

 

Tomorrow is a new week. I wish for all the peace and good fortune and grace that we are all going to need continuously as we move forward through this global crisis. 

 

 

 

 

Here’s Looking at You, Kids

My oldest daughter sent me the cutest short videos the other day. My oldest granddaughter and only grandson played beautifully in their recent piano recital. They were poised, confident, and had learned their music well. At the end of their performances, they bowed and accepted the well deserved applause from the audience. I watched and then watched again. As a few tears formed in my eyes (I told you that this was going to be a blog about really growing older, not pretending to be cool), I immediately felt the upswell of four strong feelings.

Pride.

Something that no parent or grandparent is a stranger to. Watching your grandchildren ride a bike, draw a picture, play the piano, or even read a story out loud causes an instant, unconditional feeling of pride in them, their accomplishments and their potential to change the world. This is the best kind of emotion, raw, positive, deeply felt, and real.

Regret.

Why regret, you ask? When I was a child, younger than my grandaughter, my mother and father spent time and money that they could probably not spare easily at the time to get me to and from piano lessons. This included what I remember as a large white bound book of music, thick and impressive looking, that I was supposed to practice out of and learn from most likely for months if not years. I diligently pursued the art of music making for a little while, but soon grew bored with it and felt the tug of playing outside and participating in sports outpull my resolve to practice the piano. My mother let me quit. Not a day goes by that I don’t regret that decision to stop learning to play the piano. Could I have picked it back up later? Could I take adult lessons now? Of course. Did I? Will I? No, of course not. One thing getting older teaches is that time is precious, decisions cannot be made lightly and frivilously now, and choices need to be rock solid and backed by the conviction that once made, they will be carried through and followed through to the end.

Realization.

I made that decision long ago as a child.

I cannot go back and remake it.

I can still, as an adult, enjoy some of these experiences vicariously, through the adventures and talents of my three children and (so far) six grandchildren.

This realization is at the same time a huge relief and a lot of fun.

Gratitude.

On watching my rapidly growing and maturing granchildren play the piano through the magic of a small video clip sent to me on a handheld computer phone by my daughter who recorded the event on the same kind of device, I was flooded with gratitude that we live in a magical age. If we can’t always be away from work, no matter. If we cannot always drive four hours to a site, no matter. With just a very little effort, we can share time and experiences with each other by the magic of the age we live in. That is truly amazing, and I am very grateful for it.

Play it, Sam. (or Laine, or Lawton)

Singing on the Brain

I love to hear people sing.

Somtimes, when I’m at many desk at work, I hear a co-worker coming down the hall, and she is singing a song, or a thought, or a response to a question she’s just asked herself, or her frustration at something that just happened. She sings when she gets to work in the morning. She sings during the work day. She sings a little song when she closes her door and leaves for home at five. 

My oldest daughter, who still sings, and dances, and acts, started singing as soon as she could talk-maybe sooner. She would sing a pretty little song, complete with gestures or costumes or acting as the case might be, then stop, look up and sweetly ask her audience, “Again?”

People sing as they walk. They sing in the shower. They sing in the car, with the sunroof wide open or the ragtop down, every window open and the music blaring from car speakers or into earphones. They sing from mountaintops. They sing in valleys. They sing alone, in choruses, in ensembles, in opera choruses and in glee clubs. They sing responses to online questions. They sing into their phones, along with their televisions, to their loved ones or in front of millions of live and beamed-in viewers at the Met. 

What do they sing?

Scales. Arias. Rap. Blues. Rock and roll. Torch songs. Ballads. Gospel. Pop. Oldies. Love songs. They scream. They croon. They whisper. They speak. They parrot. They parody. They emote. They let go. They hold back.

Why do they sing? 

To tell us that the times they are A-changin’, like Dylan.

To remind us to love the one we’re with,  like Stills. 

To give us some of that old rock and roll music, like the Beach Boys.

To love us tender, love us sweet, like Elvis. 

To take us to Carolina in our mind, like J Taylor. 

To say goodbye to love, like Karen Carpenter. 

To take another little piece of our hearts, like Janis. 

To remember that the first cut is the deepest, like Sheryl.

Just to say Hello, like Adele. 

To  know that all we have to do is dream, like Glenn.

And….

…because its just something they must, must, must do.

They thrill us, like Michael. 

Why do we listen?

To be distracted. 

To remember how to love.

To forget the pain.

To learn from our mistakes.

To feel happy. 

To relive those magic moments.

To say goodbye.

Singing,  like nothing else in this world, ushers us in, picks us up when we’re down, and gives us hope.

Singing makes us think, keeps us from thinking too much, focuses us, and distracts us. 

Singing accompanies us while we fall in love, helps us make babies, then helps us raise to those babies and, when it is time, helps us to tell them goodbye.

Singing celebrates milestones with us. It soothes us when we cry. It makes us laugh. It makes us proud. It makes us strong, as a nation, and as individuals. 

Singing takes words, notes, melodies, phrasing, and breathing, and turns all of our darkest fears, our finest ambitions, and our strongest commitments into something fearsome, something lovely, something that arches upward and spirals on the air and floats and frees and makes manifest that which we could never in a million years say on our own.

Singing makes us think about yesterday, keeps us fully in today, and never lets us stop thinking about tomorrow. 

Sing. 

Sing a lullaby to your sweet baby.

Sing a love song to your beloved.

Sing your patriotic allegiance to your country. 

Sing praises to your God.

Sing. 

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I have recently been listening to, and relistening to, two wonderful works.

One is Hamilton,  An American Musicala smash hit playing on Broadway and already the recipient of sixteen, sixteen, Tony Award nominations including Best Musical. Thanks to my daughter Greer, a musical theater major in college who still loves to perform to this day, for turning me on to this absolutely wonderful musical tour de force through the early days of the Republic from the very gritty perspective of those who were in “The Room Where it Happens”. I love history and I love music and musicals, and Greer very rightly steered me towards a show that she knew I would listen to more than once.

The other is Average Anthems, a wonderful collection of parodies and comical songs created and performed by Dustin and Genevieve Ahkuoi of Athens, Georgia. Dustin performed in Athens with Greer (yes, it’s a very small world, isn’t it?) in several local theater efforts, and now he and his bride have come up with something that makes you smile, smirk, grin, chuckle, snort, and then just laugh out loud. Who doesn’t need this in our current age? I ask you, who?

If you have not listened to both of these already, go do it. Right now. I’ll wait. I’ll be right here when you get back.

Now that you’ve listened to both of these, you know how excellent they are and how much fun it is to hear good, really good, music that is created and performed by those who have a passion for it and treat it with tender loving care. 

My first thought, after WOW, and probably yours too, is man there is SO much content here. So many words. So many riffs. So many ideas and thoughts and connections and things to ponder. So many little nuances that you miss the first or second or even third time you listen. 

One thing that I have noted in the modern age of iPod and iPhone and tablets and MP3 players and Spotify and Pandora and all the rest is this: we tend to listen to things that we like over and over again, putting them in playlists and compilations and groups according to activity or mood. You have your running playlist and your reading playlist and your work playlist your relaxing in the hammock playlist, right? I am listening to Chopin Etudes Opp 10 and 25 played by Freddie Kempf as I write this. These are some of my favorite classical works that I sometimes listen to as a single activity, headphones on and taking in every note. Other times, like now, I am writing or reading or washing the dishes, and I want something in the background that is familiar, comforting, uplifting, that I don’t have to strain to hear. It is an accompaniment to my life. 

That is all well and good. However, the two works above should not be listened to in that manner, as background for anything else you are doing.

You must sit down, or lie down, and really listen to them. Hear them. Hear the music. Listen to the words and hear what they say. Follow the story. Take in the ideas and let them rattle around in your head for a while, even after you turn the music off. 

Hamilton and Average Anthems are both making comments about the life we live, be it in the eighteenth century colonies or twenty first century America. They are telling us about ourselves, how we think, how we relate to others, how we now relate to things and ideas. They are giving us powerful feedback, sometimes very seriously, sometimes deliciously comically, about being human. 

What do the creators of this music, the artists who perform them, want us to hear? What do they want us to take away? Well, of course, you would have to ask them directly to be sure about that. I can tell you just a few things that I learned or felt or experienced as I listened. Your experience will most assuredly be different in some way, your very own, as it should be. The important thing is, they spent hours and hours and hours crafting these gifts to us, and most certainly wanted to convey something to us that is inspiring, real, funny, satirical, ironic, sad, enlightening, and poignant. 

In Hamilton, as in many artistic offerings, there is the message of hope. When Hamilton declares, “Just you wait. There’s a million things I haven’t done”, I felt an upsurge, a sense of excitement about what was to come for this young immigrant who was a founding father, yes, but who was also brash, smart, and impulsive. We already knew from the outset how this story was going to end, but somehow, in the beginning, we think that maybe, just maybe, something will happen to steer the narrative in a different direction. 

We learn a wonderful modern day lesson about how to strengthen and deepen relationships when Hamilton is told to “talk less, listen more” several times in the musical. 

We learn that if we will only “look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now” that we will truly appreciate our life and times. “History is happening…” No less true for our own age, when Jefferson and Adams and Hamilton are replaced by Trump and Clinton and Sanders. We are coming off the first eight years with the first African-American president. Before the year is out, we may see the election of the first woman president. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to like it. But “look around…history is happening”. 

Music gives us reason to smile and sometimes laugh out loud. I get such a kick out of the brutal comic stylings of King George as he inserts his commentary here and there about the American Revolution and the major players in it. “You’ll Be Back”  and “What Comes Next” are delicious. “I’ll send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.” 

Helpless is a toe-tapping feast of feeling as Philippa Soo and the cast lead you spinning around the dance floor of your mind as you are lifted up and twirled around and soar higher and higher on love at first sight. “Where are you taking me?” he asks. “I’m about to change your life,” she replies. Indeed. Who among us has not felt this very feeling, this soaring sense that anything is possible?

Fast forward to Burn, a gut-wrenching , heart-wringing palace of paragraphs that lets us know from the first note that this woman has been betayed and that her world is falling apart. How can a song that references Greek mythology, “Erasing myself from the narrative” and wrings so much emotion from a life not grab us and throw us to the ground, sobbing? “You forfeit all rights to my heart.” The cello in the background and the last lingering minor chord of this powerful song leave you stunned. You, along with Hamilton, are burned. 

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story wraps it all up with a bow. “When you’re gone, who remembers your name?” There is redemption, hope, and giving back. We all get the sense that whether we are felled by a bullet in a duel, sickened by cancer, or die fifty years later after establishing the first private orphanage in New York City, that we all keep “writing like we’re running out of time”. 

Now, Hamilton may tend to make you think very serious thoughts about life, liberty, and your own pursuit of happiness, but then the Ahkuois ride in on a wave of hip hopping gaiety that picks you up, dusts you off, hands you a doughnut and then has you grinning from ear to ear two songs later. Yes, I would recommend listening to them after Hamilton!

The very first song on Average Anthems had me at the very first note. I meant, “Time to check my social media-ya-ya”? Fantastic! They have us by the narcissism from the first phrase. I mean, really. Virtual life. It has us all fooled. 

As I told Genevieve in a text after the album was released yesterday, “You had me at hello…” with Hella Cravings. Oh, my God, this song is so funny I can’t even tell you. “Hella cravings for some fries…”  “It’s no secret that Zumba class is the last thing on my mind.” 

My Coffee. “I’m just an addict, looking for some java.” Well, yeah. Duh. (It’s scary how well these two know us!)

“I’ve got a problem.” Don’t we all, but Dustin tells us that watching House of Cards or Orange is the New Black may be a Netflixion

These two musical offerings, while very different, entertain, teach, make us think and give us a reason to take ourselves a little less seriously. 

Buy them (hey, support these creative geniuses!), stream them, but get them . 

A Pony Tail

I gunned the throttle, paddle-shifting my way off the two lane and onto the four lane that would take me to I-20 and then home. 

Not a hundred yards down the road, as I settled into sixth gear and the sweet hum of a new engine eager to cruise, I looked off to my left and saw a swirling cloud of brown dust, rising upwards in that haphazard way that is usually driven by man and machine rather than wind or storm. I hit sixty, set the cruise control, and waited to come over the little rise that obscured the architect of the dust devil. Then I saw her.

She was in her twenties if that, tanned and wearing jean shorts and a t-shirt, sunglasses against the early afternoon glare and a set of white earbuds trailing their thin cord down into her pocket. Her long blond hair was pulled back in a pony tail that could only be described as dancing. She sat astride a green John Deere lawn tractor that was jumping and bumping its way over a patch of what we in the Southland call a “yard”, but which is actually a wide patch of dry, red Georgia clay with little areas of green that pass for grass but are really ornamental weeds. Nothing unusual about cutting the grass on a tractor that could make a half-dozen passes on that size tract and call it done. Nothing at all. That was not what struck me.

She was singing at the top of her lungs. I mean singing, belting out some tune that made me wish I had a hundred-yard white cord running from a splitter that would let me in on what she was listening to. She yanked the wheel of the tractor this way and that, her head snapping at the end of her neck like white sheets on a clothesline on a windy spring day. I smiled, an involuntary reaction to such unbridled joy, seen visually for only a few seconds as I raced past her, but conjuring up pure emotion in my brain and in my heart. 

Maybe I was just primed for that little glimpse of happiness. Maybe I needed it, was looking for it, seeking it out on the side of the road. Maybe it just happened to be there, and nothing less.

I don’t know.

I do know this.

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

If you know you only have a certain amount of time left here, make that the best time you’ve ever spent on earth.

When you get the chance to have an experience, have that experience as fully and wonderfully and intensely as you possibly can.

If you have to crank up the tractor and cut the yard in a cloud of swirling red Georgia clay on a fine spring Sunday afternoon, then put the earbuds in, fire up the music you love the best, and sing out loud with it as lustily as you can, swinging ponytail and all.

You never know, my friends, who might be driving down the highway and how much you will make them smile.

 

Have a good week.