Monday, November 28, 2011

On work, literature, libraries and life

It feels good to work, to have my feet aching when I get home at night. My cash drawer has balanced three days straight, and I'm told that's exceptional for a greenhorn teller. Actually, we're not called tellers anymore. We're customer service representatives. The money's nice, but the real value of work goes beyond the paycheck. It comes from knowing you've done something well, something that others value, and that people are counting on you to do. Whether you show up every day matters. There are jobs I'd rather have, those for which I may be better suited, and maybe I'll land one of those someday, but I'm not terrible at this one, and I don't hate it either. People expect their money to be handled with care, and that's what I do. From a writer's perspective, there is plenty of good story material to be had in a bank, I can feel it.

My pal, Mike Ritchey, now a student of writing at Portland State with his own fine blog entitled, Retirement for Dummies, reminded me that I should read more David Foster Wallace, whose brilliance scares me. Another pal, David Stevenson, recently recommended Denis Johnson's new novella, Train Dreams. Johnson scares me for a different reason. Wallace is out there, too smart, over my head. Johnson creates characters bad to the core, who make whack decisions at every turn, lowlife scoundrels doing deplorable things, and I'm sucked in with them, a partner in crime every time. I wondered if the local library might have the Wallace essays, so I logged onto their website to find out. No luck. I decided to check out the Hawaii Public Library system. They had it-- in Kindle format! I've just checked out my first virtual library book. What will become of brick-n-mortar libraries in the future? I really enjoy libraries, being in them, to read or to study. It's comforting to be surrounded, buffered, protected by all those books. Libraries are a refuge, an escape. They smell good. I love wandering aisles of authors, title after title, overwhelmed and consoled by too many books and not enough time to read them all. I hope there's a place for both the electronic and tactile, the virtual and real, forever into the future.

Some prospective buyers took a look and then a second at our cabin this week. That's good news, yet it dredged up all kinds of flotsam and jetsam in my turbulent, ever-conflicted brain. I'm just beginning to make some progress on the place. My awesome desk (it was Ron's, but now it's mine, all mine!) has been moved back into the office where it belongs. The kitchen table has been, in turn, retired from its desk duties and returned to the kitchen. A futon mattress is on order, so I will soon have a couch to sit on in front of a crackling fire. I've winterized all the windows. It's cozy. With the desk out of the back bedroom, I'm ready to rip the nasty, smelly carpeting out of there to reveal the pretty hardwood beneath. I've fixed the garage door opener and gotten a new remote, so I'm able to cruise in and out without having to get out of the car on cold mornings or frigid evenings. Civilized. The more I do around here, the less I swear at the place and the more I love it and wish I could keep it forever.

Last night, I was pulled over by a Gunnison city police officer, who wrote me a warning for a missing headlight and asked that I get it fixed in the next few days. He was a nice boy, very polite and respectful, and I thanked him for letting me know. I continued on to the gym. Little more than an hour later, less than a quarter mile from home, I was pulled over again, this time by a county sheriff's deputy. Same reason. I showed him the warning. Today, I spent part of my lunch hour at Napa, where I ran into an old friend who now works there. We exchanged hugs, caught up some and vowed to do more over a beer soon. It's a small world, a small town. This evening, I replaced the bulb and am shining brightly once again. What will the cops find to do tonight?

A hui hou. Aloha!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Finger filet, old friends and bluegrass

Pay attention when you're chopping vegetables, and never grow too confident of your knife skills. I didn't even feel it at first. The tip of my left index finger, a little chunk, was inadvertently included in the pile of diced peppers and onions on the cutting board this morning, scraped into the saute pan in preparation of a killer breakfast burrito. A few minutes later, it started to bleed. And hurt. Wounded, I called my rainforest-bound husband to whine a little. He told me the belt on the drier drum had slipped off again. In the process of taking the contraption apart to get into the guts of the machine and fix it, he lifted the top panel. Somehow, he thought there was a notch or catch or latch or something that holds it up. There isn't. The heavy, sharp-edged slab o' metal slammed down onto the back of his knuckles. Ouch! My culinary mishap seemed suddenly miniscule. My finger was, and is fine. Life is so often a matter of perspective.

Day one at the bank went well. There was an orientation conference call, training videos to view, a stack of forms to complete and sign, plenty of corporate rah rah with a little sis-boom-bah, and several nice co-workers to meet. Odd as this sounds, I was comfortable right away. I've never worked for a bank, but I have worked with bankers, so maybe that's why. There's also a reserved western easiness here, and whether you're in a bank for your first day on the job, at the market or the gym, you feel it. 

The other day, washing my favorite Kona Joe coffee mug, da slippery buggah squirted from my soapy hands and broke into a dozen pieces in the sink. It's the only mug I brought, thinking I'd only need one-- one person, one cabin, one fork, one spoon... and of course I counted on finding a few in storage. Damn! So I went to the best place I can think of to find a replacement coffee mug. Not the nicest place, for that is probably The Corner Cupboard, with beautiful, hand-painted, made-in-Colorado offerings, the kinds of mugs you buy for other people, or you hope other people will buy for you. The best place is Six Points, a local thrift store, where proceeds go to support developmentally challenged adults in the community.  Many of the beneficiaries also work there. My old pal Donny was manning the cash register that day.
"What's your name again?" he asked.
"I'm Toni. Do you remember me, Donny?"
"I moved away for awhile, but I'm back now."
"I remember you. Where'd you go again?"
"Hawaii. It's good to see you. Glad to see you're still working here."
"Yes.... You should get a purple mohawk. Only kidding."
Same ol' Donny. It's a new quip, however. His original was always, "Where's your bikini? Only kidding." As signature lines go, they're both excellent.

He sold me three, matching Dansk mugs for $1.50. 

We went to lunch together once, years ago, to Donny's favorite, the old Cattlemen's. It burned down not long after that. Yesterday, sitting at The Ol' Miner Steakhouse downtown (they have a nice soup and salad bar combo), I spotted him across the restaurant, finishing his lunch as I began mine. Ol' Miner is kind of a fancy version of Cattlemen's, so it makes sense that Donny would like it there. He wandered over to my table.

"What's your name again?"
" It's Toni. Hi Donny."
"Where's your purple mohawk?"
"Very funny. I like your hat." It was a homemade ski cap, bright green with a dark, patterned band.
"Thank you. Can I take your picture?" He lifted the camera hanging from his neck to his eye.
"Sure, OK." I smiled. 
"See you later," he said.
"See you later." It's as if I never left.

I'm sitting in my tight, cozy cabin, A Prairie Home Companion playing on KBUT.  Outside, a blustery, gray day threatens snow. Garrison Keillor has dedicated his show to Bill Monroe, featuring musicians who knew the man, toured and played with him. Bill Monroe is known as the father of bluegrass. Or as my pal Rich likes to call it, "Insipid barn music." Bluegrass is not for everyone. But here in rural Colorado, it fits. Mountain music. Not a summer weekend goes by without a Bluegrass festival happening somewhere in the Rockies. Bluegrass has been, as my friend Ernestine Hayes would say,  "appropriated" from the mud poor, southern and Appalachian folk of Celtic ancestry whose lives and culture were its genesis, to the Subaru-driving, ex-hippy vegan crowd, people who have no concept of life in a Kentucky holler. Still, there's no denying the new fans' passion for the music. Like all forms of art, music transcends culture, class and ethnicity to touch people far removed from it's origins and impetus, often on a deep level. That must be what's happening with bluegrass today. Either that, or these legions of modern bluegrass aficionados are all just fakers pretending to be hillbillies, without a clue what that really means.  

Deep, right? I think it's waling fiddles and the steady thump of a washtub base inspiring me to wax so introspectively.

A hui hou. Aloha!