Friday, August 26, 2011

Three Dinners: Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

I am currently attending a training in DC. It is interesting and I am learning a lot - not all of it in the classroom (ask me about my working theories on socialization patterns during out of town conferences someday...) - but a week is a long time to be away from my family - my rock.

The first night I was here was a travel day and I hadn't met any of my fellow trainees yet, so I ate alone in the bar.  Mostly olives.

The second night - after the first day of training - I ate alone as well, but this time I treated myself to a lovely dinner.  I had it coming to me, because I had felt like a kid attending a new school at lunchtime - looking for a group with whom to sit and feeling like I was on the outside looking in.  It's no big deal, right?  I'm a grown-ass woman, after all.  Who cares if I called my mom and lamented, "Why can't I make any friends?  No one wants to sit by me at lunch....."  She dusted off the same speech most parents end up using at one point or another in their parental careers.  She probably thought she'd packed that one up for good, but I like to keep her on her toes.  Just another service I provide.

I comforted myself by reminding myself that while everyone else was probably indeed having more fun than me, I wasn't HERE to have fun, I was here to LEARN.  I was even able to convince myself that this made me just a LITTLE BIT superior. 

I was just warming up my orthopedic shoes for a nice little superior dance on the third night - when Kate said, "Do you want to get a bite to eat?"  "YES!!!" was out of my mouth before she had a chance to put a punctuation mark on the end of her sentence.

Kate and I must have looked like quite a pair as we set off for points unknown with a restaurant guide in our hands.  She was tall and thin - wiry, even - to my short and - hmmmmmm - let's just go with zaftig, shall we?  We are at different places in our lives - her kids are grown and spread out over the country.  She is contemplating retirement.  Mine are at home getting ready to go back to jr. high and high school.  We found that we had much more in the way of common ground, though, than we did in the way of differences.  Our conversation was easy and a high point for me was when she told me that within five minutes of meeting me she had me pegged as - and then she went on to describe me exactly as I am. I was so pleased to think that I actually exude a vibe that is accurate. I worry about that sometimes.  (When I run out of legitimate things to worry about)

We went to a Thai restaurant where we delighted the waiter by asking him to bring us his favorite dishes and he delighted us by doing so.  It was delicious and nothing we would have ordered without his suggestion.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to sit on a stone bench on a bridge.  She wanted a cigarette - "I only smoke at trainings and conferences" and I wanted to rest for a moment.  The sun set and I wanted to hug the world.

The next night, two beautiful women, Cindy and Linda, who I've known since jr. high, met me at the hotel to join me for dinner.  I originally typed, "two high school friends", but that makes it sound like all we have in common is the indiscretions of our youth.  Of course we DO have that in common, but through the glory of Facebook we have been reconnected for years now - so we came together not as women who shared a distant past, but as women who know each others day to day lives.  Conversation did not revolve around nostalgia, but took place right  in the good old here and now.

Our visit was far too fun, and far too short.  I left them for my evening session with a spring in my step.  (This is an excellent phrase, no?  My fifteen year old used it a couple weeks ago and it struck me - because it was so NOT a fifteen year old thing to say.  I was going to say, "...with a spring in my step and a song in my heart", but I didn't want to push it.)


I had dinner with a new friend.

I had dinner with two old friends. (It goes without saying, I hope, that I mean old in the sense of - I have known them a long time, not in a sense of them being actually old.  They are my age, after all, so them being old is virtually um-possible.)

And I had dinner with a new old friend.  

Shall I elaborate?

The third dinner referenced in the title was with Mary.  Mary and I have known each other a long time, but this dinner was the first time we'd actually met.

As is so common in this digital age, we know each other solely through the blogosphere and Facebook.  We have common ground like crazy.  We have shared stories for years.  Now we have shared Greek food, a little wine, and some pretty darn awesome hugs.  We were both, as the conversation unfolded, a little nervous about meeting the other, but that melted away instantly.  She was as down to earth, funny, and sincere as I knew she would be.  Like there was any chance that anyone as obsessed with Springsteen as she is was gonna be high falutin', right?

When we parted ways in the hotel lobby - she to go home to her family (I miss my famileeeeeeeeeeeee) and I to go to my evening session - I knew that I'd be ok if I had to sit alone at lunch tomorrow.

Sitting alone every now and then doesn't mean you don't have friends.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sleeping in Hotels

I didn't sleep in a hotel until I was 15.  It's not that I wasn't well-traveled, I had just done all of my previous traveling in a camper.  When I was 15, though, my high school marching band took a trip to Disney World and I knocked "fly in a plane" and "sleep in a hotel" off the bucket list.  I shared my room with three other girls.  The first morning - I made my bed.  My roommates teased me, but I thought the joke was on them.  They said a maid would take care of it.  Right.  A maid.  For a bunch of high school kids.  Oh, that was rich.

To my great surprise and delight, they were correct.

Well I'll be.

Since then I have traveled less than most and more than some, I'd say.  I've stayed in the nastiest of nasty rooms as well as the poshest of posh.  Because I do travel less than most, though, I have maintained some (thankfully not ALL) of the innocence I displayed in that first room when I was 15.  I jumped on the beds until I was well into my 20's.  I will spare you the story of the first time I stayed in a room with a bidet. I open every closet, cabinet and drawer - and I always fully unpack.  A phone in the bathroom can still make me giggle and - if there's a room service menu - I can be counted upon to read aloud in my best fafafa voice - "I would like the club sandwich for $17.95, please.  Oh, what the heck, through in a bowl of chicken noodle soup for $9.95.  A liter of Evian for $8.95 and - that ought to do it - oh - wait - may as well send up some ice cream too.  $8.95 for that?  That will be fine.  Thank you, my good man."  I take the notepads and pens and - when I am staying multiple nights REALLY fight the urge to take those little shampoos and soaps every day (I DO take them on the last day.  They are so darn CUTE!)

Nope, not a seasoned traveler.

A traveler capable of delight, though - a traveler who is not jaded.  I'm glad.

I'm glad that I still feel a little silly when a uniformed man insists on pulling my luggage to the desk for me. (Sorry it took me so many tries before I realized that was a tippable service.  My bad.  We didn't have to tip anyone on the campground circuit - it was ignorance, not rudeness.  I know better now, I promise.)  I'm glad a well appointed lobby can still make me say, "whoa".

I'm typing this while reclining between high thread-count sheets.  I was a little intimidated when I first checked in - I felt very outclassed.  But a friend reminded me that it was all a show and I should relax and enjoy it.  It didn't take me long to take that advice.  

I still feel a little giddy when people dote on me, but I've learned to be gracious and accept it with a thank you (and a tip). 

I still have a little trouble leaving the towels on the floor and the bed unmade, though.

But I bet I could get used to it.

It's amazing how quickly the sublime can become mundane.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Son of a Mother, That Was Some Big Bottom

Oh, but there has been a dearth of squealy fangirl posts this summer, hasn't there?  The planets just didn't align properly for me, I guess.  Some summers are like that.  But last night I finally got to a show - and I'm seeing another tonight.  Feast or famine around here, kids. Feast or famine.

Yesterday was Tom's birthday, and months ago he had heard that Return to Forever would be playing our town that night.  Stanley Clarke is one of Tom's earliest jazz influences, so his presence, in our town, on Tom's birthday felt sort of like kismet.

A band like that does not really require a warm-up act.  Tell a certain fanbase that Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White, along with Jean-Luc Ponty and Frank Gambale are going to be on the same stage and - believe me - they're warm enough.  Tom is firmly in that fanbase.  I generally sit on the fence, but I have to tell you - they blew my mind.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  There was indeed a warm-up band, and that band was Zappa Plays Zappa.

Now ZPZ, we reminded ourselves, is a tribute band.  Tribute bands are just dedicated cover bands, right?  Not generally my cup of tea.  This one gains a little credibility because it was put together by Frank's son, Dweezil.  You may remember him from MTV.  I know I did.  It's hard to forget a boy named Dweezil.  Now Dweezil is an accomplished musician in his own right, but this show isn't about that.  This show is about Frank Zappa and his music.  It is a legacy.

And it was cool as shit.

One thing the junior and senior Zappa have in common is the ability to attract and surround themselves with really really high caliber musicians.  The show was tight, the music was fun, and - oh - did I mention that we were third row, center?  'Cause we totally were. Yes, I think you could say that we were reasonably warmed up.

As the roadies took the stage to tear down the ZPZ equipment and set up the Return to Forever equipment, Dweezil remained at the front of the stage, greeting fans, signing autographs, posing for pictures, and generally presenting himself as a helluva nice guy.

The crowd shifted between shows.  A lot of folks had come just to see ZPZ and left before RtF took the stage.  There was an influx of new folks who arrived late - the purely jazz/fusion crowd.  They intimidated me a little bit, as hardcore jazz folks tend to do.  There is definitely an attitude and it makes me feel dumb and simple and superficial.  They know music - or pretend to - whereas I just feel it.

Maybe you'd rather hear an overview of the concert from them.  It would assuredly be more informative.  (Maybe we can coerce Tom into leaving some commentary.....)  Right here, though, you're stuck with me and my feeeeeeeeelings.

They took the stage and the excitement in the venue was palpable.  We were in the presence of jazz gods.  I don't know jazz, but I know that.  And if I hadn't known it before, I would've known it then - the air was thick with the feeling of worship.

They hadn't taken the stage for very long before I got it.  This was the real deal.

About midway through their first song I found myself thinking about my high school band directors, my college musician-friends, my husband and of course, my dad.  All of those people had, in one way or another, led me to the place where I was able to appreciate this and I was grateful.  I felt their ghosts - or - perhaps it would be more palatable to those of them who are alive and well and perhaps even reading this - their spirits - surrounding me - whispering, "See?  This is what I was talking about."

And then Mr. Clarke sat down with his upright.  Tom held his breath.  He knew what was coming.  I didn't.  Now let me remind you that my husband and daughter are both bass players and that it is not unusual at all for one of them to call to the other to watch some virtuoso bass performance on YouTube.  I have seen and heard some seriously righteous bass playing.  I have never - and I can't emphasize this enough - NEVER - seen or heard anything even remotely similar to what Stanley Clarke was doing with that instrument.  "Holy SHIT!" I said, leaning back into my seat.  Tom registered my shift in position and smiled at me - the way a seasoned veteran smiles at a new recruit.  "I don't even know what that IS!"

THAT, my friends, is jazz.

I promise I won't get all pompous and superior on all of ya'll who haven't reached this stage of enlightenment.  But I DO have a feeling that I'll be spending some time chasing that high. 

And those who have gone before me are folding their arms over their chests and smiling smugly.  "Told you so."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Trojan Horses

I had a boyfriend in college.  With the advantage of lots and lots of years of hindsight, I can tell you that he was a nice guy, but not a terribly good boyfriend.  He had a routine for handling his many indiscretions.  He would bring me a red rose, look at me with sincere regret, and announce, "the bottom line is, I love you and I don't want to lose you."  He was a bottom line kind of guy.  Then he would tell me what he'd done and we would both cry and I would forgive him and life would go on until the next chippy turned his head.  It got to the point where my stomach would clench in a Pavlovian response every time I saw him approaching my house with a rose.

We broke up shortly before graduation - the last chippy to turn his head turned it real good.  When I went back to my house after the ceremony, I found a red rose on my desk and a note that said, "I'll always love you."  I didn't stop crying for days.  I knew what red roses meant.

I find myself experiencing that same sense of dread now when I come home from the grocery store and my eldest helps me unload and put away the groceries without being asked.  It almost never ends well.  I can almost see the red rose in her hand in place of the canvas shopping bag.  I keep expecting her to say, "the bottom line is, Mom....." She doesn't - how creepy would that be? - but something is usually still said.  Oh yes, something is said.

Trojan horses, right?  It looks like I'm getting something good, and when I let my defenses down, I get annihilated.

That boy grew up.  He married the final chippy.  I like to think he takes her flowers from time to time, and that they mean nothing more than - "I love you".  My girl will grow up, too.  The grocery bag confessions will turn into funny stories we tell around the table when her kids are teens.

Till then, I guess I'll just need to remind myself to slow down every now and then and regain perspective.  I won't stop to smell the roses, though.  And that?  Is the bottom line.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What I Meant to Say

I had the title for my vacation post all picked out:  Upgrades and Downslides.  It's good, right?  I was going to emphasize the upgrades - of which there were only two, but they were really, really good upgrades - and downplay the downslides - of which there were many, but they were much smaller and didn't really add up to the equivalent of the upgrades.  I was really only going to mention them to keep things real as well as to keep you from dying of jealousy over the upgrades.  I'm generous that way.

Then I thought about a two part post:  Tom and Tammy's Excellent Adventure followed by the obvious sequel, Tom and Tammy's Bogus Journey.  That would've been fun, too - and it would've given me the opportunity to trot out my near frightening proficiency with Bill and Ted quotes/Bill and Ted speak.  It would've been totally triumphant.  Totally non-heinous.

I decided, instead, to talk about one woman I encountered on my trip.  We didn't meet - we didn't even speak - but - as we made our way home - I found that I couldn't stop thinking about her.

Tom and I had just finished eating at White House Sub Shop.  I had, of course, spilled crushed wet red peppers on the front of my shirt and they left an oily stain.  I was a little distraught.  I had planned to wear that shirt later that evening when we would be meeting Tom's friends for drinks.  I only knew a couple of them and I was nervous.  Maximum arm coverage coupled with summer coolness was essential to my brittle self-esteem.  I had almost cried with joy when I'd found this shirt.  Now I wouldn't be able to wear it.  It didn't only have excellent sleeves, it was the perfect color for me.  And I'd ruined it before we even had a chance to check in to our room.  I was NOT off to a good start.  Fat girls have no business eating subs.  This was retribution.

Tom thought my concerns were silly, but he's a smart boy, so he didn't dismiss them.  Instead he said, "Let's go buy you something new."  I have to tell you - I like Tom in vacation mode.

As we walked towards the shops, I resentfully took notice of all of the girls in their tank tops, camisoles, sundresses and even bikini tops.  Some were skinny, some were not.  Some were toned, some were not.  Some were tan, some were not.  None of them seemed to be concerned about their arms - and why should they be?  Their arms were fine.

And then I saw her.

She was walking towards me with her handsome husband and her adorable little boy.  She was a little younger than I was, but just as big.  Even her arms.  She smiled confidently as she gave her husband a half hug and reached for the hand of her little boy, as the crowd was thickening.  She looked beautiful and happy.  Her sundress crossed her shoulders with the thinnest of spaghetti straps.  A young man walked by and gave her a double take.  It was not a flattering glance.  He did not see the same beautiful woman that I saw.  As she drew closer to us, I wanted to compliment her on her beautiful dress.  I wanted to mention how much I loved her aggressively cute pixie haircut.  I imagined her smoothing that dress out in a full length mirror, running a hand through her super-short locks, and smiling at what she saw before heading out the door.  I wanted to tell her that I appreciated it - that it was working - that she looked great.  I wanted to tell her that that boy - who had not gone unnoticed by her or her husband - was an idiot who wouldn't recognize beauty if it smacked him in his stupid little face.

I did none of those things.  I walked past.  It's what people do.  The sidewalk was crowded.  To slow down the flow to deliver a compliment to a stranger would've been weird.  And I didn't want to draw any undue attention to myself with my stained shirt and my own huge arms.  I walked past.  I hoped she had a nice day.  I hoped she knew she was lovely.  I'd meant to tell her...