Sunday, March 26, 2017

Changing times

Some things I think I think:

After this week's health care fiasco, maybe Washington DC should focus less on the art of the deal and more on the art of the compromise.

I know, I know. I may be picking nits here in my definitions of "deal" and "compromise."

To  me, deals are consummated in smoke-filled chambers, in back rooms littered with boxes of pizza and empty bottles of beer. Deals occasionally rely on deceit, bullying and chicanery and sometimes end in a handshake where somebody still feels taken advantage of. Kind of like buying a car.

In my definition, compromises are consummated in smoke-filled chambers, in back rooms littered with boxes of pizza and empty bottles of beer. Compromises generally involve adult give-and-take discussion to reach a common ground that end in a handshake and where both sides feel reasonably comfortable with the outcome. Kind of like a marriage.

My definitions of a deal and a compromise are separated by nuance. But what nuance...

Didn't government once work that way? Or was that just in a Jimmy Stewart movie I once saw?

•  •  •

President Trump suggested that with the demise of the Republican health care bill on Friday, the Democrats now completely and totally own health care.

But I don't think that's necessarily true.

The Affordable Care Act, with all of its flaws (which I believe could be cured with government by compromise), is still the law of the land. It rests under the purview of Dr. Tom Price, the newly-installed head of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Which puts both Trump and Price in politically delicate moral dilemmas. Do they actively try to undermine the ACA along party lines and hope for its eventual collapse, or do they work to make the ACA succeed for the benefit of the people by whom they were elected? Both have taken oaths to faithfully uphold the Constitution (and, thus, the laws of the land).

Stay tuned.

•  •  •

We were in Salisbury Saturday to run a few errands.

While we were there, we made a visit to West End Plaza because that's where K&W is, and we really like the food there — and, for me, especially the chicken pie.

But afterwards, we made a quick stop at the nearby Dollar Tree for a couple of items. That's when it hit me — the once thriving West End Plaza (which one time offered a Belks, bookstores, candy stores, specialty shops, etc) has been reduced to just a couple of stores, of which the Dollar Tree apparently is now the anchor business (if you don't count the stand-alone K&W). Not even the empty Big Lots, sitting next door, could survive the shifting (socio-economic) times.

It kind of reminded me of the suggestion that in the event of a nuclear holocaust, only the arthropods will survive. Or something like that.

•  •  •

I heard the powerful hum of a four-engine prop airplane above me the other day and glanced up to see what it was. I was hoping for a B-17 or a B-24, but what I ended up with was a DC-6 instead.

I didn't know it at the time, of course. While I was straining to look at the plane lumbering through the sky, I noticed that it was heading in the direction of the Davidson County airport, so I hopped in my car and raced out to the field.

The plane wasn't there, but I asked the person behind the desk if he saw what I saw about 15 minutes ago.

"That was a DC-6," he said. "I flew in one of those about 50 years ago."

Cool.

This resembles the plane I saw flying above me on Friday.









Sunday, March 19, 2017

The arts

Last weekend we were sitting in the audience in the Muddy Creek Music Hall in Bethania, patiently waiting for what we knew would be a wonderful Americana performance by Lexington's Snyder Family Band.

Before the show began, and as a sidebar to the introduction of the group to the audience, a member of the Muddy Creek staff took the stage to welcome us.

He then, somewhat surprisingly, encouraged us to support the smaller music venues (like Muddy Creek, which might seat 100 people if they can find a few more folding chairs) because, in his estimation, the small venues are where you can find the roots arts, as opposed, to say, the glitzy coliseum experiences that can cost upwards of $400 a ticket (or more).

Well, this gets complicated in a hurry. But I see his point. I love the intimacy of a small venue, where I can sit 10 feet away from a relatively unknown artist who is every bit as talented as (let's say) Paul McCartney or Stevie Nicks, and pay $15 for the show.

But I also figure the McCartneys' and the Nicks' have paid their dues and who fortuitously (for them) hit the lottery. Even in the big time, their craft is still their art. And vice versa.

I was thinking of all this when the Trump administration revealed its proposed "hard-power" budget on Wednesday, which would strip all funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and public media (like NPR's popular "A Prairie Home Companion" or Public Broadcasting's "Downton Abbey").

I'm not sure I understand why even go in this direction. The arts and humanities represent such a minuscule portion of the budget that cutting them is not going to impact the national debt. Public broadcasting gets $445 million in annual funding, while the NEA and NEH receive $145 million from the $4 trillion federal budget.

Conversely, continued funding of these agencies, I believe, enriches us all.

But cutting their funding, to me, represents more of an administration philosophy. And in this case, it's hurtful. And souless. It's why I believe — hope — Congress will take its own carving knife to the proposed budget.

I suspect that stripping funding from the arts and humanities would reduce things like program grants, artist workshops, cultural preservation programs and the like — the very things that fuel our individual expression, voice and identity.

While the arts and humanities may not generate (at least, on the surface) the same importance in the budget as national defense or infrastructure, it's my belief they are important nonetheless. If we ourselves don't happen to be artists, it's still likely that we are consumers of the arts and humanities.

And the arts and humanities are still us.






Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Snyder Family Band, again

Turns out, when I wrote a blog about the Snyder Family Band last October after their performance in the Barbecue Festival, I had no clue what I was talking about (See here).

Well, I sort of did. I know what my ear likes when it listens to music. It's just that my education about the Lexington-based (or, more precisely, Tyro-based) Snyders wasn't complete.

That's because, during the Festival, we saw them perform on an outdoor stage on a chilly, blustery, wind-blown morning. Then, later that day, they performed again in the cavernous Smith Civic Center. Both times, I was impressed by their talent, but I somehow wanted more.

Last night, all that changed. Kim and I saw them again, this time in the intimate (maybe 100 seats) and acoustically perfect Muddy Creek Music Hall in Bethania. The place is an old Moravian grist mill with wooden beams, floors and walls, and it's as unique a listening room as you'll ever find.

And it was perfect for The Snyder Family Band ("Snyder with a 'Y'", as they like to say), which really requires up close and personal attention for full effect.

Their genre is Americana, which is probably not for everybody, so their audience is mostly target specific. Samantha, 18, plays fiddle and rhythm guitar (not at the same time), while her brother, Zeb, 21, plays lead guitar like his fingers are going to spontaneously combust. Bud, their father (no age given) plays the upright bass. And then there's show-stealing little brother, Owen, 11, who wears out the banjo for a couple of crowd-pleasing tunes. Owen brings the adorable factor to the stage.

So here was the continuation of my education. Samantha, when you listen closely, has a timbre to her voice that makes her sound very similar to virtuoso Alison Krauss — an artist from whom Samantha says she draws inspiration. She told me she's heard that comparison with Krauss from others, so it's not just me swimming in awe here.

Samantha picked up the fiddle when she was three years old and hasn't put it down since. She's also a gifted song writer and lyricist, so take that. Oh, yeah. And stage presence. Her wit is quick and her personality shines every time she smiles. Which is often.

Zeb also started playing young, picking up the guitar when he was around seven or eight. Then he picked up a banjo. And then a mandolin. If it has strings, he'll play it.

I don't know who taught him finger work (or finger craft, in his case), but watching him bring a guitar to its senses is simply mouth dropping. In all my years of concert going, I think he's one of the best guitar artists I've ever seen. Period. Several times during the show his solos evoked ovations, so again, it's not just me.

Then there's Bud. The story told last night is that Bud and his wife, Laine, home-school their children. In order to round out the kids' education they were encouraged by their parents to explore music, and when it turned out that Zeb and Samantha sounded pretty good together, they started doing local gigs.

"But I thought our sound needed depth," Zeb told the audience, "so we asked Dad if he'd play the upright. He said 'No.'"

Then, as a Christmas gift, Bud was given an upright. Zeb, naturally enough, taught Bud bass basics, and now the family band is where it is, making great music, and still evolving.

Bud told the audience that forming a band was never really a set goal, that it just happened on its own. Shared DNA can do that sometimes. "We love to play music, we have fun with it, and to do it with my children is unbelievable."

It could be that I still don't know what I'm talking about when I write about the Snyders. But that's OK. I'll just keep going back for more education.










Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Course correction

Kim said I was presented with a rare gift.

I got to hear somebody say something nice about me, and it wasn't at my funeral, a time when most people don't get to hear the nice things said about them. You know, because they're dead.

But this moment that happened to me seemed a little deeper, and it was certainly more affecting than I ever would have imagined. It's stayed with me for several days now.

It went something like this:

I was in the sauna after my daily two-hour workout at the YMCA. Usually, the sauna is a solitary place, but on this morning, there was another fellow in there, a young, mid-30-ish man I'd never seen at the Y before. I think there's a membership drive going on because new faces are cropping up everywhere in the fitness center. I figure that'll last about a month or so, after all those introductory memberships expire, and the place returns to normal.

Anyway, we struck up a brief conversation. It somehow came out in the moist heat that I'd worked at The Dispatch for 30 years, and blah, blah, blah. After a few more minutes, I got up to leave. I went to shake his hand and told him, by the way, that my name is Bruce.

His eyes lit up. I could see his wheels spinning hard trying to connect dots.

"Bruce?" he said. "At The Dispatch?"

"Yeah. I was the sports writer there for 30 years."

"Awww, man. I know you. You were good," he said, and if the conversation ended there, I would have left on Cloud 9. But he went on.

"The things you wrote about me, well, I think they helped me get a scholarship, because I messed up some things. But your stories really helped me.

"And not just me, but there's other guys, too," he offered.

My throat tightened. I was dumbfounded. I couldn't speak, and I was hoping the sweat on my face from the sauna camouflaged the tears welling in my eyes. I never saw this coming.

"I have to go," I croaked, and walked out of the sauna.

I never thought much about how my job at the paper affected people. I mostly thought of myself as a documentarian, writing those first drafts of history that showed up in newsprint every day. I mean, I was just writing about the games people play. This was so completely out of the ether. And yet, in a single moment, a total stranger seemingly justified my entire career.

I have two brothers who at certain points in their lives were first responders. They were the ones who helped people. My dad was a teacher, and then a minister. He helped people. I just wrote stories. I wrote to inform, and if I did it well enough, to entertain.

But now this person gave me something else to think about. What he said didn't alter my life, didn't turn me 180 degrees. But he did shift my axis of perspective a degree or two; perhaps it was a course correction.

I told my wife about this meeting, and I felt like Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life," where he got a chance to see how his life affected the people around him.

Kim was right. I was given a gift. It stays with me.

We all should have that experience...




Sunday, February 26, 2017

What's this about?

I don't want to suggest that the CIA is spying on me through the camera in my MacBook Pro or anything like that, but how does the Internet know how old I am?

I mean, shortly after I turned 66 a few weeks ago, I started getting unsolicited junk emails from something called Navajo Medicine to reduce my hearing loss IN JUST TWO WEEKS (yes, it was shouting at me in capital letters, because, you know, I can't hear. Apparently, I've been sitting too close to the fiddle player in the Blue Eyed Bettys the past few years and it's ruined my eardrums).

I've actually gotten several emails from this thoughtful Native American outfit. That's really nice of them to be so concerned about my hearing loss, but, hey. Don't call me. I'll call you.

Speaking of calling, I got another junk email lately from the CellPhoneForSeniorsSite. It was all one word, just like that, and it arrived in my computer's email box the day after my birthday.

On the one hand, it sounds like something I'd be interested in: Large buttons for those of us who can't see; no contract options for those of us on fixed incomes; clear photos for those of us who can't focus an automatic camera, and best of all, it's easy to use for those of us who are technologically challenged.

Sounds perfect.

On the other hand, I didn't ask for it. Stay away from me.

On Valentine's Day, I got an email from the LASIK Vision Institute. I visit my optometrist every two years, so I figure she'd tell me if I needed any eye care assistance. Besides, I wear glasses. I'm content with my glasses. I like my glasses. They turn shaded in the sun. Leave me alone.

I don't know if it's coincidence or not, but I haven't been getting any male enhancement ads lately. Maybe my 66th birthday is the cutoff for ads like that because I'm too far gone for help. I'm not quite sure how I feel about that one.

Many of these ads have "Unsubscribe here" actions, and occasionally, if I get frustrated enough, I'll unsubscribe from something I never subscribed to. But I can't help but feel as if I've opened my email address to other solicitations whenever I do that. You know, because they can see me in my computer's camera.

There is one thing I can't figure out. How come all these ads are targeted straight to me, even including my name in the teaser line? But the DMV sends all my bills and license tag notifications to an address where I haven't lived in 15 years.

What's that all about?


Sunday, February 19, 2017

I broke the law. Again

There were those pesky blue lights again, filling up my rearview mirror.

"What now?" I said to Kim as we were approaching the city limits of Asheville, our destination, Friday morning.

We soon found out what.

"Is this your vehicle?" asked the State Highway Patrolman.

"Yessir,"

"The reason I stopped you is because your license (at this moment I thought he was going to say our license plate had fallen off) tag has expired."

Whaaa????

He was talking about the little sticker in the upper righthand corner of my license plate, which had not fallen off. The sticker was a year old. It was still a black sticker, not the current white one, which is no doubt how he spotted our illegal car in a pack of traffic moving at 60 miles per hour on I-240.

From his perspective, he was the exact right officer at the exact right location at the exact right moment in time to make the collar. A minute or two earlier or later and maybe I'm scot free.

I was dumbfounded, of course. I quickly sorted through the confusion in my confused mind.

"We never got a license renewal bill in the mail," I told the officer, pleading something resembling ignorance of the law.

That never works.

"It's still your responsibility to stay current," he said, essentially telling us it's not the DMV's fault for not sending us the bill as he walked back to his cruiser.

We've been billed annually — just like everybody else — for years, and have never missed updating our license tag.

Then the officer returned, with our citation. Our $190 citation. Kim calmly looked it over because I was a hot-wired mess.

"Sir," she said. "This isn't our address."

Good catch, Kim. I thought she might have found our way out. For some reason, despite years of sending our annual renewal to our correct address, the DMV apparently and suddenly reverted to sending our bill to our former address, where we haven't lived in 15 years. And our bill, of course, wasn't forwarded to our current address.

I asked the officer if he couldn't just issue a warning, pretty much feeling like none of this was our fault.

"It still doesn't matter, and not after a year," said the officer, who said he updated our current address with the DMV on his in-car computer (so there goes our proof of a wrong address). "You're still responsible for renewing your license."

The news did get slightly better. My court date is in June. If I show up in court — in Asheville — on that date with proof of renewing my license tag, the citation will be dismissed. So now I need to make a six-hour round trip to the mountains for a 15-minute court appearance ... never mind.

Back in November, we were pulled for a rolling stop at an isolated intersection near Sunset Beach. I think I'm developing a severe case of blue light syndrome. And I just thought I had a cold...




Sunday, February 12, 2017

Traveling down Rt. 66

Okay, I'm going to bring it right out front.

Today's my birthday. I'm 66 years old. Please hold your applause.

I look at that number and kind of wonder how I got here. When I was (by age) a single-digit child, back during those elementary Pennsylvania days on the playground, climbing jungle gyms and waxing down metal sliding boards without the hint of adult supervision, anybody older than my parents was just plain old.

(Spoiler alert: I suspect my parents knew what I was doing at every moment. The city playground was just across the street from our house, and Dad even spent one summer as the playground supervisor. But I was given — gifted, actually — an incredible sense of independence for a 6-year-old. Thank you for that.)

My parents were my frame of reference. Therefore, my grandparents were old. Grey haired. Blue haired. Wrinkled. Kindly, that's true enough. But that's because they were old.

Never figured I'd cross that threshold one day. And just which day did that happen? Was I asleep? Or daydreaming? Watching TV one night, eating pizza and drinking beer, and I got old?

Now that I'm here, 66 doesn't sound that old anymore. And I don't feel what I once imagined being 66 might feel like. I still work out at the Y (I'll have to remember to key in "66" as my age when I set the parameters on my machine Monday). I take a minimum of medications, primarily for my heart, so I reckon I'm probably lucid on most days.

I started Medicare last year and next month I receive my first Social Security deposit, which are sure signs that in the eyes of the government, I'm old.

Yet, I still have two parttime jobs, so I'm not wiling away wasted hours waiting for my wife to come home from work. If I wasn't working, I'd probably be doing one of two things: playing golf, or puttering around the yard. The yard, of course, is in constant demand. So is my golf game.

And I still like to write, which is the reason for my blog. To me, writing is like magic, where words and ideas take form on a blank sheet and — poof — suddenly appear as artistry, or a memory, or a smile. And if readers can relate to that, that's cool. I've done my job.

So today I start another trip around the sun. I'm looking forward to an unpredictable ride.

But first, cake. I gotta have cake...