Downdrafting and Uplifting

I’m depressed again. Not in a bad way, not in a watch-Cops-and-relate-to-the-victims way—but in a rather mild, uneasy way. It’s the eyes, again. My eyes going south on me seems an indicator of sorts and it bothers me. Of course, it may just be that the optometrist’s office hosed me for $210.00. Here’s how it happened:

I brought in some old frames to them today that I own and like so that my new glasses can be ground on them. To refresh your memory, however, let me remind that these will strictly be reading/computer/up-close glasses. The frames I own are full eye frames and it dawned on me that I may want something like a half lens so I can wear them and still look up at folks when someone is talking to me. And lo and behold—they had a “sale” on some rather good looking half frames. I figure if I am going to start looking old, then at least I can be hip and old, no?

So….here goes:

“Those frames are on sale right now. $60.00”

“Oh! That is a good price. And (looking in mirror) they don’t look half bad. Especially with the gray coming in around my goatee…..hmmmm.”

“Oh, no Mr. Storer. You look distinguished.”

“Aw….G’wan.”

“Would you like to purchase?”

“Yeah. What the heck. You only grow old and blind once.”

Time lapse here to allow for punching of computer keyes, measuring of eyes, calculations….

“O.K., the frames are $60.00, but we cannot use the regular glass lenses with them. Since they’re rimless, the screws will crack the glass. So, we have to use the poly-carbonate blend.”

“Of course you do. How much will that dent me?”

“$12.50 a lens.”

“Pshaw. Let’s do it then.”

“Alright, let me just put this in…..O.K. So, $60.00 for the frame, $12.50 for each lens, $8.00 per lens for the special prism that we’re putting in, $10.00 insurance co-pay, $25.00 for the eye photos during your exam, $3.00 per lens for buffing and polishing, $49.00 for the 3 piece mount fee……” and a whole gaggle of other “fees.” “That comes to $210.00.”

“Wha?”

“$210.00 please.”

“Um. OK. Let’s use this card…”

So, I look older, I have to wear two different pairs of glasses now for different situations, and I’m out over 200 bucks. Meanwhile, the rats are still running about my backyard, and I’m tired.

Well…..there are bright spots. I had a great time with Peanut at her Christmas pageant practice at church. Sue and I are getting to spend a lot more time together now that she has fewer jobs–which is great. And work is pretty good. So, I shall end on that note–and, of course, a Fonseca Tawny Port. Nutty tasting with a kind of Amaretto edge to it that was really great and added to the fruit that really came through on the evolution. I tasted this first in Vegas at the Big Smoke and loved it there with the Padron Maduro I smoked. No smoke here, just the Port, and a fine choice.

The Eyes and the rats….

Well, not really. 40 does, however, slide over a couple of new ones on you. Last summer, on my birthday in fact, it was the kidney stones and a ruptured back muscle. Now it’s my eyes. actually, it’s not really age’s fault at all.

I teach English and I write-which means I am in front of books, papers and computer terminals all day long–a lot of close-in work. It has taken its toll, apparently, and the eye doc says I have some muscle problems in there that cause me to not quite focus my eyes on up close objects. Result: Headaches, eyestrain, etc. So, I am having a new pair of glasses ground that have in them what the doc calls a prism. This will help me see these medium and up close distances better and I’ll wear them when I’m doing this–sitting in front of the computer, or reading for a long time, etc. Otherwise, I’ll still wear the old frames and glasses. That’s the good news, the eyes haven’t really changed the scrip any—just a little muscle fatigue.

Frustration built when I got home today after the eye appt. because of the rats. Yes, the rats. We hired a pest control firm at about 60 bucks a month to come and handle our rat problem. They are not in the house…..yet. But they are in the garage and backyard. We do live in a heavily rat-trafficked area, as it were, with lots of fruit trees, etc. But here’s the catch: They aren’t catching rats.

The traps are empty, the food still sits on the little guillotine ones–and the bait stations are useless. Meanwhile, more rat turds in various places. So, we have the buffoons come out to tell us why we are spending money for no results. They tell us it’s because the bait stations are on our fence and the rats won’t go there. Well—THEY PUT THEM THERE! We asked them to keep the stations out of reach of our dog and that was their idea! Now, they’re saying that won’t work and they told Sue to go get some kind of mesh covering to put over the opening to keep Scoop out but let the rats in. EXCUSE ME? Precisely what is it I am paying for? This is absurd stuff. The business makes money off of telling us what to do—not actually doing it, you see.

Well, that won’t stand. The company, by the way, is Spectra in Ventura, CA and I won’t say yet that I cannot recommend them. Much will depend on their response to my query of tomorrow when I inform them that it isn’t my job to do their job. I can hear it now…

“Oh, but you’ve signed a contract you cannot break.”

“Watch me….here I go breaking it…”

“We may sue for breach of contract, then”

“And I will counter-sue for faulty advertising and incompetence….I may even add on that you’re nincompoops as well. I think there is a penalty for that, though it’s hard to enforce in California.”

“Sir, there is no need for namecalling.”

“On the contrary. In fact, if there is ever a right time for name calling, now is it.”

“You’ll have to speak to the owner….”

“Put the little weasel on, then…”

And so it will go. I promise not to jump to namecalling first. However, if the call lasts for more than 2 and a half minutes, names will be a-flyin’. I won’t be crass or cruel, after all-it is the Christmas (sans holiday) season. So, when I do select names to call, I’ll do so with aplomb and elan. However, 2 and a half minutes is the only grace period away from name calling.

Perhaps it will go smoothly, I don’t know. Perhaps they will respond to my query about doing their job with a delightful customer service attitude….”You’re right sir, we should not be asking you to do anything. That is what you pay us for. We’ll take care of the problem. Is there anything else I can do for you today?” I swear, do you realize how many customer service fiascos could be averted if companies practiced that kind of stuff? Not to mention the namecalling. Why, there’d be no one to yell at. Tempers around the country would mildly melt away into simple smiles of glee and contentment. Businesses would attract more customers and the economy would grow. On the positive business model, even large corporations would begin to see profits rise and they would then say, “you know? I think we’ll pass on dividends to our stockholders. It’s been a great year!”

Well…….

One would like to think so. But, I fear–cynically, that it won’t be so. Tomorrow has all the mark of nincompoops.

Passing it on…

When I was a young lad, starting as early, really, as 5 years old or earlier, my father and mother watched disapprovingly as my brothers and I, captivated by the music of our time, broke out tennis racket guitars and vacuum cleaner handle microphones and turned on the hi-fi to our favorite hits. The Beatles, the Osmond Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night album was a big favorite–all of these were the soundtrack to our young lives. In my hometown of Palatine, Illinois, my friend Tim Bergen and I even worked out dance routine moves to S and G’s Cecilia and practiced them rather seriously–stopping long enough to munch cookies, slurp milk and pretend we were backstage at our latest show.

I have fond memories of that time as a formative experience, actually. I grew into a love for music that is with me to this day and while still young, I learned to play bass guitar. At 25, a college graduate and soon-to-be teacher, I joined with my close friends Edd and Chris to form Pacific Fear, a mostly three piece band of bass, drums and guitar with Edd’s guitar playing being the anchor of true musicianship in the band. I still play when I can and as recently as September, I played with Edd at a fundraiser he held at his church.

This is a preface, really, to what I saw today. I came home to my family and my wife had to immediately leave to help my sister-in-law who is dealing with the slow demise of her beloved dog. In any event, I am used to days like this being filled with requests from my daughter of park visits or getting into the spa, or taking a walk with our own dog—something, anything–it seems–so that she can get out of the house and scamper along. Today was different.

She asked me to leave her alone as she was in her room. Not an unusual request for a daugther, until one considers that she is not quite 5 yet. However, a dutiful father I remain and I obliged, though I drew the line at her shutting her door. She’s not 16 yet….

I heard music coming from her room and unwittingly, I was transported back to a simpler time, in a living room on the outskirts of Chicago. Now, Peanut was moving about flapping her arms and gyrating her hips (How and where did she learn that?), dancing about the room and singing along with the one and only piece of technology we will let her have in her room until she’s much, much older–a cd player. It was a compilation of teeny bopper hits from the Disney channel whose lyrics I still disdain, but I couldn’t help but be fascinated. She was singing along to “That’s what girls do….try to keep you guessing the whole day through…” Yeah, we can have the morality discussion later….

I stood watching and the flood of memories returned and it occured to me that music is such a part of her landscape, as it was mine–and it’s evident that she has a love for it. Later, as the two of us played together in the spa, she had me sit on the opposite side from her as she serenaded me with made up lyrics in a tuneless cacophony that was nevertheless beautiful.

I can remember as far back as 5 or 6 years old. I remember Meet the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge, Neil Diamond, The Osmond Brothers live, The Carpenters, Jimmy Osmond, Herman’s Hermits. I remember so many pieces of music that have since filled the spaces of my life. Right now, I’m listening to Rush’s R30 (Red Barchetta) and remembering when I first brought home their Moving Pictures album. That record changed my life. It was the beginning of a passion that still grows in me, keeps me focusing on music–and playing it when I can with Edd. I don’t need a reason to listen or to play, music is a reason for me. It is its own explanation and its own generator. I listen because I can, because I want to–and because the generator drives me as well as itself.

Now, Peanut is learning that passion. At the tender young age of 4 and change, she sits in the car with us and asks to listen to “girl songs,” that is–songs with female vocals. Usually, it’s the Cranberries. Occasionally, though, she allows me to play the Young Dubliners, U2 and even Metallica. Regardless of the group, she is building a soundtrack. And its power will drive her in directions that, right now, I cannot even begin to see….

Christmas is coming…

And I say, God bless it…Well, I am not the first to say that. Dickens’ expression of the holiday remains my favorite all around Christmas tale. It has the perfect blend of reason-for-the-season-ness and crass commercialism.

Make no mistake, crass commercialism, to me, is a welcome part of Christmas. It means that people are out there thinking of others on a rather consistent and daily basis. It means that people are reaching into their pockets to buy things their loved ones want–or need. And that is a beautiful thing.

It makes you wonder if stories like this one are true. If that is a miracle, even a minor one, it goes back to the whole thread about how God breaks into our world occasionally. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any idea if what these people in Sacramento are seeing is real. I don’t much care. I think there can be a seachange of faith when people are given over to think about it. Christmas does that, so do things like crying Virgin Mary’s. I feel bad for the one gentleman who sees it as a bad omen. I, of course, hope he is wrong. But then, there would be so many reasons for Mary or her Son to cry right now, one would little know where to begin.

I’m just saying that Dickens got it right. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge, we all need a change of heart at Christmas time–and God has been doing that for a long time and there’s even a book about it that documents the numerous changes of hearts caused by that “still small voice.” I love that aspect of Chrisitanity. Many prefer big signs, like blood-crying statuary in state capitals, and that is certainly fine with me. But it’s the small things: the nagging voice telling you to call your family, the feeling that you should intervene and help that person who seems confused, the desire to see someone smile–these seem expressions of love in a way that seem more….well, more Biblical, I guess. For all the trotting out of legalism, strict reading and “non-interpretive” reading of the scriptures, I think there are a lot of very simple, very basic stories about ordinary, some even beneath ordinary, people who are blessed that God speaks to them. I think He still speaks–but we don’t listen too much.

Dickens listened–and I think A Christmas Carol may be one method God uses of that Still Small Voice. Time to dust off your versions of it–and read it again. If you prefer the film (and I am not against that–I love the filmed versions of the story!), there are many interpretations of the story. The two very best are 1951’s A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sim and 1984’s version with George C. Scott playing Scrooge. For my money, those two are most faithful.

So, I waited until this day to write this….Merry Christmas!

Thank you Michael

Home again, home again, jiggety jig…..The southern route home from AZ knocked 100 miles off of the trip. The trade off is…..San Bernardino and L.A. traffic–which actually was not bad, though it was heavy. The lower dessert is not as pretty in my estimation as the high dessert and it is most assuredly warmer. However, in this case, speed was welcomed.

Peanut didn’t miss her first opportunity for carsickness and it happened as we came out of the rather arduous twists and turns of highway 89 out of the mountains around Prescott, AZ. You descend from an altitude of around 7,000 feet down to the dessert floor in fairly short order. Top speed? 35 mph. It was pretty gutwrenching and the poor thing lost her breakfast all over herself and the backseat. She was so upset, as is any child who throws up a big breakfast–and I mean big. She’s not generally that big an eater, but she packed it away this morning. Well, it paid off–shall we say. Going to have the carpets steamcleaned, I think.

Thank you, Michael! I worked with the program he recommended in the comment below and, well—allow me to bore you with Sedona, Jerome and Prescott photos. But before you go feast your eyes–be sure to tune in tomorrow at 1:00 PM PST. Len Napolitano, wine columnist for a couple of different papers, will join me for discussion on hot wine topics. Should be fun.

This is of an archway in a little artist’s mall in Sedona.

This is my attempt at being artistic to help bring out the art in the artwork…..ah hem.

Above Jerome, AZ near the copper mines–elevation about 6500 ft.

Sue and I at the above Vista.

Same place, only this is on the opposite side of the above Vista. That’s scaffolding from a copper mine up a sheer cliff. Still there after many years. Incredible to consider what must have gone on up in these beautiful mountains.

This is Sedona–and the Red Rocks.

This was one of my favorite sculptures in the little plaza (Tlaquepaque) in Sedona. For all of its desire to be Indian and sort of Transcendentally spiritual, it gave itself over to a great deal of Catholic–and some Celtic—icons.

Photoblogging….almost

The problem is that while I got some really great shots, all of them are too big for me to upload directly and such is the lack of prowess I possess that I do not know how to resize the photos so that they sustain fewer kb’s. In any event, I have uploaded them to my flickr account and you can see those pictures down to the lower right.

It’s been a fun–albeit whirlwind trip. Today, Shannon stayed home with grandpa and grandma Joanne while Sue, Laurie and I went to Sedona and did a quick look at the beautiful topography. We drove home on 89A, the mountain route hitting the summit at 7,023 feet. It was sunny and warm and lovely. I got a good photo of what look to be mine works up a steep hillside. I zoomed in on the digital camera so it looks closer than it is. At this point, if you look at the photo–we were stopped at a mountain pass at around 6500 feet. The mine scaffold is on a 90 degree hillside (a copper mine-as that is what they got out of the ground here, and it explains the color of the oxidized rocks–the Red Rocks as they are famously known) at probably another 500-700 feet up. The copper must have been worth going after to do something like that.

If anyone has a way for me to shrink the size of these photos (they have to be under 300 kb’s in order to post them here), please let me know. I really would like to put them on.

Full stomach–turkey and all the trimmings, long day, good travels and a long trip home tomorrow. We’ll take the southern route down over the mountain pass on route 89 and then cut across west of Phoenix meeting up with I-10 about 60 miles west of Blythe, CA. It should be a shorter drive home than the drive up.

Peace–and Happy Thanksgiving!

Arizona

Well…..The drive was interesting. It should be noted that Peanut was fantastic and did a great job on her first major road trip–which turned out to be more of a Bataan death march than a road trip. I made this drive in August of 04 with my pal Shawn, but I guess I’d forgotten it. Out 118 to the 210 through Pasadena and the dessert and then onto San Bernadino to the 15—through the Cajon Pass to Barstow to I-40. Check engine light came on in Barstow—we stopped, paid $45.00 for the guy to get the codes from the computer. It said the air intake was stuck shut. Well, no—there was a piece of styrofoam wedged into the grill–and it blocked air. Removed it. Check engine light went off. Yeah, I know…..

From Barstow east on I-40 to the Arizona border and then up to highway 89 into Prescott. 542 miles! Did I mention that? Ouch! Nearly 9 hours of driving.

Tired, sore–and in need of sleep….so that’s next.

The night before…

Leaving for our second major road trip with Peanut in the AM. Off to grandpa’s house in Northern AZ. The first major road trip was to Monterey and that is a 300 mile drive. This is 400 miles and her first trip out of her home state. Should be fun, if a bit tiring. Aunt Laurie is coming along for the ride and we’ll spend Thanksgiving in Prescott Valley, AZ. Not that reporting any of this is of major importance, except that it marks the first out of state experience for her and I wanted to document that is all.

My thanks to Darrel Jones who commented on the post below to give exacting instructions on his grilled turkey recipe. This week’s show will feature Len Napolitano, wine columnist and all around good dude who packed in his work-a-day life in Agoura and headed for the hills of Paso Robles wine country. He still works, of course–but now mostly from his home there where he also produces Wineology, a syndicated wine column. Tune in if you can.

I will post from AZ tomorrow evening and give the travel update. Wish us luck…better still, say a prayer. We’re going to need it!