Saturday, June 26, 2010

11 years

It all started at the Avalon Theater. The same place where, as a kid, I saw Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Years later, at a Blue Miracle concert, I met my wife.

There were different times before we started "going steady" that we were out with friends and Robin and I would get talking and the noise of the bar and everything around us would just fade into the background for me. I have a crystal memory of Robin and another friend, Nan, sitting in front of a computer with 3D glasses on, laughing hysterically, and thinking that I could happily hear Robin's laugh for the rest of my life.

Of course, when we met I didn't have much in the way of prospects going for myself. I had freshly failed out of NC State and had dedicated myself to running and lifting weights to get ready for the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. Kick my ass, get my life straight, get some money toward finishing college.

Meeting Robin didn't happen at a time when I was looking for the other half of my soul or at a time where it made any sense to find her. But when it happened it was blatant. Obvious. This changes everything.

Our life has been co-designed and co-built ever since. It's like putting a "c" and an "h" together, you no longer have a c sound or an h sound, but a "ch," whi"ch" has been mu"ch" better in my book. The life and family we have built together far surpasses anything I could do on my own.

On my end, from the decision not to go to the Army, to getting back to work in restaurants, to our first apartment in Oxford, to graduating from Chesapeake and Washington Colleges, from deciding against philosophy graduate school at Duquesne, first public relations job at the Academy Art Museum, to getting married 11 years ago today.

From buying our first house, finding our Golden Retriever Ivan, to the birth of our first daughter, Anna, job at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, moving into our second and current house, birth of second daughter, Ava, Robin transferring from Tilghman Elementary to Easton Elementary, these are just some of the very few bare bones chronological milestones over our 15 years together.

I guess growing up you have some vague notion as to what marriage and family is or means. But it isn't until you find someone who you can't wait to go to bed with at night and can't wait to get up with in the morning and can't wait to spend the day with in between, that you truly know what marriage brings to the table.

And once you share the moments of bringing kids into the world and watching and helping them grow and getting completely amped to see what they learn and accomplish and have fun doing and can look at each other and smile and know that you can't wait for today and the next day together, still, that I realize the blessings that I've got, for having found Robin.

I look back over our 15 and 11 years together and married and see both the chronology of our lives together, but also really powerful and/or random snippets. Driving to Colorado and Maine together, time in Cooperstown, NY, sunsets on boats on the Choptank and Tred Avon Rivers, trying to speak nothing but French for an evening drinking at Schooners Llanding, a random Jeb Loy Nichols concert at Rams Head On Stage, our honeymoon on Ocracoke Island. Both fragments of so far and maybe a road map of the next 15 and 11 years and beyond, of going to bed together and waking up together and seeing what to do with the days, together.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Who's afraid of... Thelonious Monk??

I blame Schroeder. Sitting hunched over his cartoon piano, he rocked the tune "Linus and Lucy," which began in me a lifelong fascination with playing and listening to the piano. If I recall correctly, he was the first in an odd lineage of keyboard ticklers who have pulled me in an aesthetic tractor beam.

The list looks something like this: Schroeder. Rick Wakeman. Bill Thomas. Herbie Hancock. Thelonious Monk. Chris Merritt. Marco Benevento.

Some people dig guitar solos and I am no exception, letting Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan wash over. Cliff Burton style bass solos? Absolutely. Neil Pert with a drum set spinning around him? Supercool. But it's always been the piano that has most captivated me and made me wish I could play it.

Wakeman owned the keys for the band Yes in their era of psychodelic album covers, Roundabout, and beyond and was the cat that opened the door to solos and jamming in the rock context. Bill Thomas caught my attention when I returned to Easton High from Hagerstown, first in a music history class, then AP Music theory, then helping out as a teacher's aide my senior year. When he sat down at the piano to give us examples, he took no small amount of breaks hearing, "Hey Mr. Thomas, can you play 'Linus and Lucy' again?" He generally rolled his eyes, hunched his shoulders and appeased us (me), breaking out the notes that make you want to do the Snoopy dance.

Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" put him on the popular teenage conscious map when we were in middle school, but it wasn't until I heard his stuff prior to getting synthesized that he pulled me in. I like Miles and Mingus as much as any jazz cats, but Hancock and Monk and hearing the keyboards roll through improvisation and form somehow sends me in ways that horns, sax or bass doesn't always achieve.

In the last couple years, we've stumbled across (or been encouraged to check out) a number of bands. But it's been the live performances of Chris Merritt and, this past Tuesday, Marco Benevento, that have elevated themselves and me above the fray.

Which brings me somehow here. I often challenge myself with physical/mental goals. Can I run a marathon? Can I finish the JFK 50-miler? Can we paddle from Easton to Oxford or around Wye Island? Can I swim from Oxford to Bellevue? Can I skateboard for 50 or 100 miles? Our pal Landy Cook, en route to completing the 4+ mile Chesapeake Bay swim heard a lady say that she tried to do something that got her both excited and scared every year. I like that idea. But I don't think it always has to be a physical challenge.

I am not musically inclined. I'm also not internationally known or known to rock the microphone, but I digress. For me, I think that one of those exciting and scary challenges, one that I've wanted to get my hands on and into for some time is to learn to play the piano.

I don't hold delusions of grandeur or set high hopes for myself. I don't want to sit in with a band or play Carnegie Hall (or NightCat for that matter). I will start with a goal. Learn to do something I've wanted to be able to do since watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special as a kid. Learn to play "Linus and Lucy."

But just the same, I think I'll go with the Bill Murray as Bob Wiley philosophy: baby steps ;)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Roadside Salvation

I'm a big fan of the roadside stand (a la Walker Evans's "Roadside Stand near Birmingham, Alabama, 1936"). On the way to Ocean City there was a rundown roadside stand that read, "The Thinking Man's Market." It sat on the west-bound side of Route 50, for those returning home from the beach.

I never stopped there, though I would have liked to. I do consider myself a thinking man, after all.

When we would drive past it, either primed for the beach or hungover, sandy footed, sandy pocketed and sunburnt, I always wondered what they sold. Was it full of MacGyver-style props--gum wrappers and paper clips, duct tape and compasses? Or was it an emperor's-new-clothes type scheme with rocks and blocks of wood, daring yo to expose yourself as a non-thinking man if you failed to see their utility?

I may never know as the building has been updated and renamed. You no longer need to think to shop there.

I don't claim to be a thinking man all the time, as history, present and future (will) certainly show. But as an occasionally thinking man, I have long been a fan of allegory and parable. I love to try to figure shit out. Not Rubick's Cubes or car engine figure shit out, mind you, but books, stories, movies, morality, the natural world, metaphysics, how many licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop figure shit out.

I remember being smitten with Plato's Allegory of the Cave on first reading it. No doubt the parable-happy open-endedness of Buddhism has always kept my mind sitting next to, or in, the stream. And I've been spending more and more time with the contemplative prayer of Thomas Merton, who was tight with Thich Nhat Hahn, who is quite a chap to sit with.

I tend to lay the lens of personal allegory over all kinds of stuff, looking for what message or deeper meaning I can take away from an experience or a story. As such, you might expect to find mustard seeds and fig trees, lost sheep and coins in The Thinking Man's Market. Or if you are a fan of Tom Robbins you never know what you'll run into on the roadside.

Probably best just to grab some sweet corn, tomatoes and a plastic pink lawn flamingo, cruise home and sit on the porch to enjoy. No deeper meaning needed.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Skimming, The Truman Show moments

"Have you ever wondered if everyone else were robots and you were the only real person in the world?"

We were skimboarding on Boone Creek on boards that we had largely made and shaped ourselves. It was one of those days where weather, the tide creating endless rides, our sense of time on a Sunday afternoon during our high school years, and the company of folks who could be and really were/are your brothers.

There was really nothing that led up to the question. Like most questions of its kind, it was plucked maybe from the bleachers, out in left field. There wasn't really a discussion that ensued, maybe a little, but I remember being floored, and saying so, that someone else had those kind of kooky thoughts. A kind that I had, and have, frequently. Existential paranoia of sorts.

Something like The Truman Show, where Jim Carey is the center of a ruse where everyone around him are actors, and his reality is completely fabricated, unbeknownst to him, but known to everyone else. He is the only one not in on it.

It's moments like the skimboarding robot scenario that give us a hint, I think, that maybe we aren't completely alone. That maybe someone else is like us in our various peculiarities and insecurities.

When evening was coming on strong, we all packed up and went to Pier Street and had soft-shelled clams (mannows) and nothing more came of that conversation, but I have since mentioned it a couple times to its poser about the bond that was deepened that day in the shallow skimmable waters of Boone Creek.

I am guessing a fair amount of us have those dark night/deep wooded angsty moments when the question of whether or not we are truly alone looms large. Thankfully, those moments are often balanced with others that seem to experientially give us an answer. These are huge affirmations that walk through a simple wooden door in plain clothes.

I remember conversations with my now wife, in our earliest "courting" days, when things just clicked and everything else going on around us seemed to fade to a low hum, with just the two of us in focus.

If you've ever fallen asleep holding your child where you can feel their heart thumping against you and the sleepy drool off their lip pools on your chest or elbow, you've got a pretty good glimpse that there is something more than you in the world.

Watershed of the soul moments. They can be monumental and large. Or they can be from a simple conversation, or an unexpected smell or sound. Or drinking Bud 10 ounce cans on the Choptank River with peeps watching the sunset.

The instances and experiences and people who, perhaps unexpectedly, poke through the paranoid facade we can create around ourselves and connect a few existential dots. Unless they are all robots or actors...;)