Before you can play the guitar… (part 5)

June 30, 2008

Need to catch up on parts 1 to 4? (click here)

I suppose I have to apologize for the title of this piece, “before you can play the guitar”, because I did “play the guitar” (technically speaking) at this point in our odyssey. I dimmed my bedroom lights to set the mood for my long awaited acoustic debut. It was to be a very intimate set, since the audience (consisting of one husband) had been banished to the living room.

After propping myself into position with pillows and finding the perfect balance of the guitar on my lap, I let loose. This abandon lasted all of 10 seconds, more than enough time to discover the importance of the tiny battery powered box that Mr. Pawn Shop had thrown in to sweeten the deal. Only, my second hand tuner didn’t seem to be able to make up its mind. My E string was flat on the first pluck, then sharp, then flat, then the little needle on the tuner started swaying, casually and unhurried, from one extreme to the other. I turned it off and on, and even replaced the batteries, but nothing helped. It eventually gave up on decision making altogether, and wouldn’t even commit on which note I was playing.

So the tuner was a dud. No problem. My musical background includes sitting through countless 7:30am high school band practices with flute in hand. Tuning up in a room full of groggy teenagers can’t help but give you an ear, if not for perfect pitch, then at least for knowing when you’re way off. So I cleared my mind, Jedi style, and got in tune with vibrations of the universe. Pluck. Flat? Sure. Why not. I turned the key a full turn. Still flat? I kept turning. The note was slowly tightening into something familiar and–


The string snapped with the adrenalin loaded pop of a balloon! It caught me totally by surprise. Like the time my husband drove a golf ball through our kitchen window (from the inside!), you never believe these things will happen to you until you’re sitting there shaking from the shock of it. All I wanted to do was play the guitar, so much for that. Who cares about tune when you don’t even have all the strings!

I burst out crying. What with the birthday crisis, the pawn shop wheeling and dealing, and the simple, brutal disappointment of a disappointment, I couldn’t help it. It was definitely time to make use of that audience in the living room. I dragged myself off the bed and trudged, in pure glorious misery, down the hall, sobbing all the way.

“What’s wrong?” asked my husband when he saw my red face come round the corner.

“I think I got ripped off,” I wailed.

He sighed and held out his arms. I ran headfirst into his hug and clung tight, sniffling.

“It’s too soon to know that,” he said.

Stay tuned for part 6!


DIY Summer Fashion Series: imagine/sketch/create (part one)

June 27, 2008

My first sketches for this idea

An idea takes form

out of a swirl of fabric

and a page of gemstones

Imagine a dress of

the lightest fabric

weighted by secret

flashes of bright stone


Click here for part 2!

Before you can play the guitar… (part 4)

June 27, 2008

Need to catch up on parts 1 to 3? (click here)

I walked out of the pawn shop twenty minutes later carrying the guitar, a busker’s dream case with lush velvety green lining, a digital tuner, and an ipod with a case (don’t ask), all bought for a total $220 cdn. Halfway through our haggling, I’d started to feel a little guilty. I wasn’t used to the merciless back and forth and sneak plays. But after listening to my quarry whine to another customer about the cost of the oak banisters he was installing as part of his total home renovation, any trepidation I’d felt dissolved.

My proudest moment? I had the man down to $230. I knew he wasn’t moving, per say, but maybe I could get him to bend. “My personal budget was $200,” I said. “The highest I could possibly justify is $220, because I could keep telling myself it’s only one twenty dollar bill more.” Sure he dropped the extra ten bucks, but something tells me I’ve got a long way to go before I should take on the New Delhi Market. sigh.

Only one thing separates guitar players from the non-playing public (hint: it’s not the guitar!). Only guitar players know how fantastically “cool” one feels walking down the street carrying a beat up guitar case. There’s really nothing like it. I put on my best tortured musician pout and headed for home. But I had no idea how quickly my sidewalk act would became the real deal. I should really have checked under that Band-Aid.

Stay tuned for part 5!

Before you can play the guitar… (part 3)

June 26, 2008

Need to catch up on parts 1 & 2? (click here)

Everything I knew about pawn shops, I’d learned from the movies. And sure enough, when I walked in, the first thing I saw was a sleazy looking scruffed up man behind the counter. He leered at me and I smiled back cheerfully. My plan was to play the naïve university student looking for my first guitar. You know, laid back, chill, financially wishy washy. I figured it would give me the edge if things got ugly on the bargaining table. I wanted my ruthlessness to catch him off guard. Just as long as he didn’t suspect the truth, that my backpack was disguising a woman in crisis, one who was leaving his shop with a guitar whether he (or she!) liked it or not.

Wouldn’t you know it, a pawn shop with a dozen acoustic guitar cases on display only had one of the actual instruments in stock! The man brought me fate’s “pick” from the back of the store and I was sold by the first strum. Ok, honestly, I was sold by the name Fender on the neck and the magical fit and balance of the guitar in my arms. The sound was miserable, completely out of tune and made worse by my hack strumming. But the guitar just felt, somehow, right. There was no doubt that before whatever tragic circumstances had brought it to the pawn shop, the guitar had been loved. Its worn blond wood body bore the scars of a thousand campfire sing-alongs, and I laughed when I found a Band-Aid stuck to its side to prove it!

Stay tuned for part 4

Top 10 rules for the checkout line (+bonus!)

June 25, 2008

Dear customer,

This is a letter straight from the trenches, from a poor cashier who spent years chained to a register. Despite the fundamental flaw in our relationship – I want your money and you don’t want to give it to me – I propose a truce. You and I have an amazing opportunity to improve each other’s day! To guarantee smiles on both sides of the counter, just remember to take these ten rules with you the next time you go shopping.

1-Please be PATIENT. The scanner will only read one barcode at a time and the computer will only take one keystroke at a time. Remember this: the cashier hates that you have to wait even more than you do. We know what waiting does to people, and those are the nightmares that wake us up in the middle of the night!

If you do find yourself in a line:
-get your money ready
-group your items and expose their bar-codes
-do not under any circumstances make any kind of repetitive noise (tapping, clicking, gnashing of teeth, etc.)

Note: The speed of the line should in no way be taken a function of the cashier’s competence or intelligence. Even geniuses have to pay rent! Grab a magazine, grab a breath, grab a pack of gum, and deal with it.

2-When you bring me a product with no barcode and no identifying marks whatsoever, there will be an inevitable delay. No, I do not know the code for 26″ by 45″ alabaster mini blinds off the top of my head. If I did, both you and I should be very worried.

Note:Telling me the price is not a substitute for the inventory sku code, and throwing a drawer pull in my general direction while grunting something about two dollars just isn’t going to cut it. And then when you accuse me, indignantly, of not trusting you, well, now you’ve gone and made it personal!

3-If the item has no barcode it is not free. If it has a barcode, but doesn’t scan on my first try… it is not free. Second try… nope, still not free. Third… not free. Fourth….let me check…NOT FREE!

Note: I know you thought you were being clever and funny with your “must be free then”, but so did the other 10 000 people who tried to get it for free before you. And no, despite what you may have heard, I didn’t let them get away with it either.

4-I know this news will come as a shock to many of you, but in this great country we have something called tax (pronounced taks). Deep breath, let this new information sink in. Now, when you get to my cash, and before you open your mouth to ask what you’re going to ask, stop, and remember the new word you’ve just learned.

5- Yes, that is the terrifying total. I know it’s an awful shock to get up to the cash with 3 items that are $2 each and hear a total of $6 (plus that crazy tax thing). Accusing me of any number of devious ways I must have manipulated my scanning to rob you will not change the total. It will only make me want to use my apparent criminal genius to plot your untimely demise.

6- “I exist.” For the 30 seconds we are part of each other’s lives, you are my whole world. Every move I make, I do it for you. When you ignore me or, worse, spend the whole time on your cell phone, you (sniffle) break my heart.

7- Only you can decide if you want the green one or the blue one. Go on, revel in your freedom and independence. Just please make up your mind before you get to my cash.

8- When it comes to change, two heads are never better than one. When I’m half way through counting out $13.86 in change, the quarter you just found in your back pocket does not help in the slightest.

9- There is no __________ (insert random word from dictionary) special discount. No, not even on Wednesdays.

10- Being in a hurry does not make you any more important than the person you’re trying to butt ahead of. Being late does not make you special. It only makes you late. This is not communism, just plain good ol’ customer service!

Most of all, please recognize the awesome power you have as a customer to change my day for the better. It certainly doesn’t take much, a smile, a joke, a “someday you’ll get out of here” bit of encouragement. I guarantee not only I, but my next customer will thank you!

Bonus- If you insist on telling me step by step how to do my job, that’s wonderful. Come on back behind the counter and I’ll give you my apron, while I get the heck out of here!

(condensed from my “Ten (+4) Rules” article in New Writing)

If only this were true about writing!

June 24, 2008

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”Aristotle

Sure, easy for a philosopher to say! If gardening was one of Aristotle’s pleasures, I doubt you’d have found his fellow Greeks lining up to argue the perfection of his produce. I mean really, would you argue with Aristotle (even if it was about a tomato)? As for us writers, we’re stuck with the old adage:

“Practice makes perfect.”Everyone Else

Subway teaches how to make quick healthy lunches with your own “Sandwich Center”

June 23, 2008

Read the resume of any writer and you’re bound to find a bunch of apron jobs muddying up his/her early career path. But there’s a silver lining to the suffering. Every once and a while this kind of glamorous job history can yield brilliant insights. Spending eleven months as a certified Subway “Sandwich Artist” left me with more than an unbridled revulsion to the smell of salami. It gave me the secret to fast delicious lunches: prepare and localize the ingredients!

The Sandwich Center
Fill one of your fridge’s crisper drawers or, if you prefer, a plastic bin with:

  • Tupperware containers (or baggies) of washed shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and any other of your favourite prepped veggies
  • Ziplocked lunch-meats 
  • Pre-sliced cheese 
  • Easy squeeze condiments
  • Fruit (apples/oranges/grapes etc.)
  • Juice boxes
  • Mini yogurts
My fridge\'s sandwich center

All you do is take The Sandwich Center drawer out of the fridge and plop it down on the counter, then you’re ready to Bread-Bag-and-Go! Even my hubby started making his own healthy lunches with the oh-so-scientific implementation of The Sandwich Center. Until, of course, the novelty (and the ham) ran out. men. sigh. 

Note: I’m sure you’ve noticed the catch. Just like on those cooking shows with those handy glass bowls prefilled with chopped/minced/julienned/etc. ingredients, the veggie prep is the challenge here. I’m sure Rachael Ray and Bobby Flay have lackeys who chop up all their green peppers, but you and I are on our own. So turn on some tunes, slice up some tomatoes, and get ready for a week of easy breezy “sandwich artistry”.