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.

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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.

 

Home: Continuing the Walk

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When Pearl decides to  wake up, we usually walk down Second Street for our morning walk. When we continue down past Grassroots, the independent bookstore (at which you can purchase blank journals graced with an original acrylic print of a Pearl painting I created for the cover), we see Blackledge Furniture, a 3 story furniture shop and local landmark. When I first adopted Pearl, we’d walk by and window shop; she made me laugh every time by leaping and bouncing for joy at all the ‘bedrooms’ on display. Pearl was fond of jumping on beds for a time.

Across from Blackledge is a motor bank drive through. On Saturdays I take advantage of the free parking–a secret Colin the jeweler let me in on after we’d known each other for a few months. Down the street from Blackledge is the quaint U.S. Postoffice. This is where I go to mail my letters and bills. Since I live and work within two blocks, I am lucky enough to be on the same mail carrier’s route for both jobs and my home. Joe. He remembers our names and expresses concerns about neighbors. It’s easy to see the sparkle in Joe’s eyes and he still has time for stories and jokes. When I first moved in to my Second Street apartment, I was shown where mail would be delivered, but when it came around to mailing my first bill, I wasn’t sure where to post it, so I asked Joe. “Well,” he said, some people use a clip to attach it to the mailboxes, but you could also walk it down to the post office.” I didn’t see the humor in this at the time, but I do now. I enjoy walking two blocks and seeing the historic Post Office in person.

Lately there have been large groups of folks sitting outside with various signs requesting money; some with dogs, some with skateboards. These people have various degrees of friendliness. Pearl has learned not to bark at dogs as she walks her in-town walks, but sometimes these people and their dogs challenge her (and me) and it makes it very hard to get past them on the sidewalk. This changes my feelings of going to the Post Office every time. Most times, I leave feeling anxious and frustrated at a world in which so many people don’t have what they need. I also leave feeling like saying to one of this sign-holding people: “Hey–I wish I could help, but I don’t even have enough money to pay my rent right now. And I’m working two jobs.” But then I remember that I have a place to sleep, a sweet-faced dog at my side, and two jobs.

When we continue down Second Street, we pass the construction of a new hotel and what is going to be a County museum eventually. This will change the South end of Second Street, which has been somewhat forgotten for a time. Most shopping is up two blocks, where my apartment is. I’m eager to see how it affects parking and the general personality of down town.

 

Borrowed View

When my husband and I were buying less cared for homes and fixing them up for resale with lots of curb appeal and a few cosmetic details, we often heard the realtor say this phrase: “borrowed view”. This described the next door property’s magnificent trees or sloping landscape or pond. We learned to use it as a selling point when we were ready to move on to the next place.

This phrase has been jumping out at me lately, though I no longer own a home and my landlord extraordinaire does all the necessary repairs. I am lucky to have a borrowed view of the Willamette River, if I step out and walk around a building or two. I walk along this river any time I like, thanks to the City of Corvallis, Oregon.

I’ve been mostly thinking of the phrase in terms of not needing to be in possession of something in order to enjoy it thoroughly. For instance, I have no children of my own but for 18 years I taught and enjoyed the company of the young people I was lucky to be with eight hours a day. While that in no way compares with being a mother, it was my “borrowed view”; I have so many anecdotes that still bring me joy and from which I learned life lessons. That is the biggest and best benefit of being a teacher.

My current joy is to visit the dogs of down town Corvallis. More than ten business owners bring their 4-legged friends to work each day on Second Street alone! This is particularly meaningful to me since I live in an apartment without pets and I miss their company profoundly. These working dogs are my new “borrowed view”. Through this experience I have come to know that while I no longer own some of the things I did ten years ago (due to major life changes), I do know where I can go to find what I need. In this case, it’s the comfort of canines. I borrow their kindness for a little bit each day.

I am learning what I really do want to (or am able to) invest in and what I am happy to just borrow or share for short bits of time.