Post-It Note

I’m in my 7th month working at a job I really enjoy: selling jewelry and stringing pearls for Olufson Designs, a jewelry store in downtown Corvallis. This gig began as a part time job working at their silver shop on Madison Avenue in the front retail shop of the TOBY POMEROY company (where the BEST jewelry is created by Brandon, Brandon, Hank, Toby and Les). Just before I started work, I was told that Les’ dog Tawny had recently died. “Oh,” said, “I’ll paint her portrait for you.”

In my efforts to tidy up at the shop, I found an old wooden platform that would make a perfect canvas for an Australian Shepherd named Tawny! For Les’ birthday I finished the painting. Overall I was happy with the results: I included a bird (Les, his wife and his 3 year old are avid bird watchers) and Les’ favorite strand of pearls from the Olufson’s Jewelry store). Most importantly, I was able to include the “snaggle tooth” that Les’ sister Elisa insisted be in there! It sounded like Tawny’s most recognizable feature. Les kept the painting in his work office where he at first said it made him feel sad, but now makes him smile.

Just yesterday, Les passed on one of the best stories I’ve heard in a long time; one that makes my heart melt to a warm liquid consistency.

As I was putting my son to bed, he had some Post-It notes and he asked, “Papa, what are these yellow papers for?” I told him they were made for people to write things on that they wanted to remember. His son replied, “I want to remember Tawny Pup.” So he drew a picture of a dog with a big tooth and we posted it to his bedroom wall.

Then Les told me the best news! He and his son were in the work office together when his son noticed the painting of Tawny.

“I miss my Tawny Pup,” he said as he reached over to touch the snaggle tooth.

He recognized his dog in my painting! It makes me ridiculously happy to know that what I painted can convince a three year old that it is his former dog, and maybe bring back some sweet memories of his beloved canine family member. Knowing that Tawny (as a visual image) won’t fade away in the early memory of this boy is what really matters to me. It’s what my work as an artist is about.

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Baritone Ukulele

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It’s time for me to tell this story–about the broken baritone ukelele, Buddy the Australian Shepherd and the artisan acoustic instrument shop on 2nd Street in Corvallis.

Just about one year ago, when I was wandering the streets of Corvallis looking for dogs to befriend, short of funds and a job, I found myself on 2nd Street. Since I had never before entered Troubador Music I decided to go in that day. The small container garden out front, mixed with the mysterious and thrilling wood and rosin smells coming from inside as I opened the door, immediately welcomed me.

Imagine a working violin shop: beautiful, well-loved instruments hung above the front counter at about head-height, a large open space which doubled as a showroom and intimate venue for evening concerts, musical sounds in the form of ‘plucks’ and ‘thumps’ coming from a back work room. That is Troubadour Music.

Since I was considering selling my hard-earned Blue Lion Mountain Dulcimer (I’d been playing Mountain Dulcimer for more than 20 years) I decided to ask about their consignment policy. Selling it would pay my living expenses for one month.

I had a lovely talk with Kent (the owner) and the kind sales associate; both gracious and helpful.

Then I had a sweet interaction with Buddy, the elderly Australian Shepherd lying on the floor at our feet. When I stood though, a catastrophe occurred. The baritone ukulele hanging above the counter met my up-coming head and bounced to the cement floor. Many emotions bounced across Kent’s face. He told me it was beyond repair due to the broken inner body. I couldn’t stop from calculating how long it was going to take me to pay for this instrument, especially since I was already having trouble paying for just my rent. Of course I was crying.

“Wait,” Kent said thoughtfully, “you were giving love to my dog when this happened. I don’t want you worry about this. In the bigger scheme of things, love is more important than money or this instrument.”We went on to talk for nearly an hour about potential jobs, including teaching English at the nearest Community College (where Kent sometimes teaches poetry).

I left that day exhausted by the event. I spent much of the following year thinking about this baritone ukulele but my energy was spent looking and trying work that suited me. I didn’t come any closer to paying for that instrument and it weighed heavily on me. My dulcimer hadn’t ended up selling, so I kept it at home with me and played it occasionally but found little joy in it since my chronic pain interfered with the playing.

My walks still took me past Troubadour Music and I frequently saw Kent and Buddy enjoying breaks outside together. Each time I’d cringe inside and remember the feeling of that ukelele hitting the concrete floor. Two weeks ago I formulated a plan: I’d leave my dulcimer as a gift for Kent. He’d be able to sell it eventually or use it himself. I set aside the perfect time and dropped it off. Tears came a little as I reminded the sales associate about that earlier baritone ukelele falling day. She told me that Kent wasn’t there, but that maybe I should reconsider. I didn’t need to pay for the broken instrument. But I was insistent and I left my name and phone number and a note explaining the gift.

Later the same day, Kent called to thank me. He invited my dog Pearl and I to visit he and Buddy at the shop any time. We have since met on the sidewalk near Toubadour Music and Pearl and Buddy instantly appreciated each other. Kent reached in his pocket, found two small treats, one for Buddy and one for Pearl. Before giving them to each dog, he kissed the treats (a trick known to increase the value of the food).

Now my walks down 2nd Street are more pleasant again. When I think of that baritone ukulele hitting the cement, I don’t feel like crying anymore.

Home

 img_9269 “Corvallis is too perfect. I’m here to make sure it’s not perfect,” the man says, with a direct stare. He’s eating fried chicken, sucking on the bones and licking his fingers. My dog scratches the ground and whines as we watch the man. I can smell the savory smell and my own mouth waters. My dog and I are inside the downtown dog park; the man enjoying the chicken is just outside the fence looking in. I just asked if he could please move away from the fence because it’s so challenging for my dog and the others in the park. “No,” he says, “that has nothing to do with me and it’s a good time for you to train your dog.” His main goal seems to be to make life hard for others.

This was yesterday. An Oregon native, I have made a purposeful choice to live and work downtown Corvallis. Over the past year, I have witnessed an increasing wave of people creating the kind of challenges this man presented me with.

This letter is a call to action: Please, Corvallis! Of all the times and eras, this is the time to make life easier for those around us (our neighbors). This mounting wave sweeping through town can weaken us or strengthen us, depending on how we respond. Corvallis is not perfect, but I’m trying to make it better by helping my neighbors, even when it requires hard work. How will you respond?

Continuing The Walk, 4

The view from my apartment window is mostly dusted in large, dry snowflakes today, though this rain that is nearly ice might change that. I am deciding when to venture outside with Pearl, my terrier mix. She would choose to go out now, but there are things to consider that she doesn’t consider: it’s cold out there on little feet and a little low rider like her is going to get wet, no matter how many jackets we put on her, especially a low rider that explores like she does. One look at her, pointing at her soccer ball, convinces me that I need to take her out for the air, even if it’s only a short gallivanting walk. We suit up in our cold weather gear together; I have learned to put mine on first, otherwise Pearl’s patience wears thin as she stands, stiff in her two jackets and harness, watching me go through my own process.

We step out the door, looking both ways as we’ve learned to do in order to avoid foot traffic and threats, such as skateboards and wanderers with hard-edged dogs without leashes. Today, the sidewalk is empty and calm, though evidence of the Saturday evening crowd at the Peacock (the infamous bar across the street) is littered in stark contrast with the white snow. Small patches of yellow mark the places where the last customers relieved themselves after 2:30 am, when the bar closed. Corvallis, according to on poll, ranks the 20th/22 most drunk town. Pearl is checking everything out by sniffing every new scent in her path.

This morning, we walk to the left. There is a fire hydrant Pearl enjoys sitting next to in warmer weather. I think she might like to check in with it today. We walk past the parking lot, a place I rarely use because the parking patrol pays particular attention to it. I get my hair cut at Salon 101. Garrett, my hair guy, does a great job and he happens to have a terrier named Oliver that looks a lot like Pearl. Oliver is one of the Downtown Dogs I painted last year; one of my favorite paintings. We walk on to the end of the block to the hydrant, covered in at least an inch of snow, right outside Squirrel’s Tavern (another fixture of downtown Corvallis). Today there are no customers sitting in the outdoor area, but usually there are humans and dogs dining together. Pearl has learned to walk on by, even if growled at by either.

Pearl hasn’t an interest in the hydrant today, and requests that we turn right, toward the Julian Apartment building and the river. Just last week, Pearl learned that Gettu, her best dog friend, lives in the Julian Apartments with her human, Michael. Gettu and Michael are sometimes enjoying a romp in the grass swath at the river park at the same time we are, which always means at least 15 minutes of playtime/entertainment for passing pedestrians. Even though Gettu is much bigger than Pearl, she doesn’t spare Pearl from her best wrestling moves, often taking Pearl to the ground and waving her open mouth playfully. We don’t see Gettu or Michael today though, so Pearl busies herself by checking in on “the morning news”–all the scent messages left by animals along the river. She leaves her own message for the next dog.

After playing in the grass together for awhile, we begin the amble back to the right again, toward home. It’s cold out. Kicking the soccer ball ahead helps keep Pearl going in the right direction. We pass Flat Tail Brewery, Bellhop (THE place to get chocolate pie), and Tried and True coffee shop. Usually Pearl and I stop in at the door to say hello to the Barrista, but we don’t know this one and she is busy. We walk on, across the street after sniffing the corner garden in front of Irenes’, where I work some days. Pearl lets me know she would like to walk left, toward the dog park, but I enforce a right turn. She takes it all in stride.

We’re back at the front door of the apartment building. Pearl has done her job–getting me outside. Now she’ll continue doing her job as we go in, by just being her companionable, lovely self. I’m happy to share an apartment with this little dog. She makes me very happy and I think I’m not the only one she makes happy.img_0790

 

Continuing The Walk, 3

The world continues to weigh heavily on me. AlthIMG_0260ough I don’t find it easy to do, my goal is to focus on those I meet face-to-face in my neighborhood more than I focus on our national political scene and what I can’t change. The thing is, since I’ve been locally focused, I have been impressed by the beauty around me; in the people I know (and those I don’t know) that pass through my days here in Corvallis, Oregon.

Last I wrote, Pearl and I had just passed Bob’s Mirror and Glass and Robnett’s Hardware. Now, she’s ready for the city dog park and it’s the perfect time of day–2:30 in the afternoon. There are fewer dogs at this time and most often a higher rate of low-to-the-ground dogs like Pearl. So that’s where we’re headed.

We pass the coffee shop on the right, then the last block of apartments and businesses and Pearl is at a restrained gallop. Lately, I’ve had to take her in through the small dog entrance because she gets anxious while I remove her harness and the bigger dogs crowd the gate, waiting for her to enter so they can sniff her. She puffs herself up and growls ferociously, making everyone think she’s awful and mean (which she’s not) and say, “Oh, she’s a terrier” (which she is) . She runs around wildly in the small area until she seems ready to run with the bigger dogs. Timber is here! A Husky that Pearl recently played with and now loves to follow around (mostly to see whether she can get him to chase her).

Pearl didn’t love Timber at first; she was scared. Timber didn’t act rattled by Pearl’s bark or bared teeth initially, which seems to be important to Pearl. Now they run off across the park to see who can make it around the big Fir tree first. It’s Pearl, after a speedy barrel roll through the wood chips. Timber’s human is a quiet woman who always chuckles at Pearl’s antics and who always tries to get Pearl to allow a quick scratch behind her ears. So far, no luck but Pearl is getting closer and closer to allowing it. Right now, as Timber takes a water bucket break, Pearl makes a quick drive-by sniff of her shoes, which makes us both chuckle.

Dog park behavior, both the dogs and the humans, always leaves me with a lot of thinking to do. I’m always relieved when people can see past Pearl’s scruffy feisty greetings because I want them to know how wonderful she is. She puts on a big show with people who seem threatening to her because she doesn’t want to get stepped on or called, “So cute” (so demeaning) one more time.

I can relate in some ways because I feel threatened by certain human behavior and am still learning how to stand my ground in order to avoid being stepped on. I’m not very good at it sometimes. I end up giving people the unintentional mixed message that I don’t care for them when really, I’m just scared of getting hurt. So I teach Pearl to be less grumbly when she meets new people and she teaches me to stand my ground when I have strong feelings about something.

The walk back up Second Street to our apartment is usually not a direct route. We stop back by River Jewelry so that Pearl can collect some more love from her good friends there. Once home again, Pearl  breathes a sigh of contentment and flops over for one of her many naps.

Home: Continuing the Walk, 2

Once we pass the US Post Office, Pearl’s feet usually pick up the pace because, 1.) she thinks we must be going to the city dog park and/or 2.) we are getting close to Robnett’s Hardware store, and everyone knows that’s where you go to get home made dog treats! Robnett’s img_0790is another city landmark and the building shows its long history. Inside, the best feature is the ceiling height rolling ladder, to reach all the important items stored on the top shelf. The well-worn wood shines with smoothness and the metal casters roll easily across the vintage wood floor.

But before Robnett’s and before the city dog park is Bob’s Mirror and Glass, where Bob recently installed my car’s new windshield. It’s also where Cami the blue heeler used to live and work with her family. I was lucky enough to meet her and become her friend during my “lots of time/not enough work” ramblings around 2nd Street. She was tough customer (her owner told me right away that she didn’t always make friends easily), but we became fast friends and eventually, my dog Pearl even got along well with her. Cami is one of the working dogs I painted last year and her portrait now hangs on the wall of the business. A couple of months ago, Cami’s young owner learned she hIMG_7288ad late stage cancer and only had a little bit of time left with him, so he’s extra grateful for the portrait. Just yesterday I stopped in to see how Cami was doing. I took Pearl with me in case there was bad news and the owner needed some dog-comfort. Immediately Bob motioned to me to look behind the counter: a very small blue heeler puppy greeted me! “Her name is Mya,” he told me. There is something very special about a blue heeler pup. Pearl recognized it right away and was tender and kind. Mya kept her distance, but was clearly interested in making friends. “Pearl is the first dog Mya has met outside of her immediate family,” the owner told me. I left feeling hopeful about Mya, Pearl, and the world in general. Life has a way of keeping on.