Monday, March 14, 2011

The Musician

"What do you do?" I asked the bald man in glasses standing next to me.

"I'm working on a Masters degree in Music History."

"I hope you don't mind me saying this," I said. "But that has absolutely zero appeal to me. Why does it interest you?" I tried not to say this in a mocking tone, but in a way that made him realize I really wanted to understand the allure of music history.

"Well, my goal was to be a concert performer on the bassoon, but I got a recurring tendon problem, so I had to quit. I've always loved music, but I loved it so much more after I studied the lives of different composers and was able to take that knowledge into my listening. Music is constantly changing, and I like to study those changes."

"Like what kind of changes?"

"For example, there was a significant shift in music during WWII. Before the war, composers were very daring and innovative--new trailblazers. But the horrors and catastrophic shock of the war made composers nostalgic for the peace and good-feelings of the past. Their music harked back to older, more classic pieces. In essence, they became more conservative."

That night I turned on some classical piano music while I set the dinner table. I thought about how beautiful the notes are, then made a promise to myself to learn more about the composers' lives. Because every piece of music has hidden notes that make the piece what it is: the flats and sharps of experience, and the minor and major keys of life.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Before The Haircut

I met a little girl (about ten years old) as her mother was paying for her haircut. The little girl studied the prices on the sign, then asked her mother a profound question.

"Mom, why do boys' haircuts cost more than girls' haircuts?"

The mom didn't know the answer, so I chimed in.

"It's because girls have prettier hair than boys, " I answered. "For boys it's easy, they just use a pair of electric clippers."

The girl responded in a way unique to the innocence of childhood. Her eyes got wide as she declared with exasperation, "It's because boys think they can just get a razor and shave off all their hair and they think they look good but they really don't!"

It sounds like someone was a little upset about how long her haircut took.

The Stylist/Marriage Counselor

I really enjoy getting my hair cut. Stylists spend the majority of their time killing time with their customers while they cut hair. They are expert conversationalists.

"Have you ever had a man show up to get his hair cut, and his wife sits next to him and directs you?" I asked.

"Oh yeah, I've had that happen. And quite frankly, I can't stand it. I think men should be strong enough to take care of themselves." This made me feel a little sheepish because I quoted my wife's council verbatim when I told the stylist how I wanted my hair cut.

It turns out she has been married for sixteen years. I always ask for marriage advice from anyone who's been married awhile. It lets them act as a teacher, which makes them feel good. Her advice?

"I don't believe I should give advice about marriage because every couple should learn those important messages on their own. Plus, my advice might not apply to your marriage because every marriage is different."

Kind of like every haircut.

Friday, March 11, 2011

On My Walk

I like it when I need to wait at a stoplight in order to cross the street. There is always another person that has to wait for the same light to change, and he/she stops next to you. The weather is warming up, and the girl that stopped next to me was my first spring "sandal sighting."

"Isn't it nice to finally have weather that permits us to wear sandals?" I asked.

"Yes, it's the best. My roommates think I'm crazy, but it's warm enough to wear them."

"Well, it wasn't the sandals that made me think you're crazy, " I said jokingly "it's the crazy tie-dye shirt you're wearing!"

We started to cross the street.

She laughed as she said "Yeah, I get that a lot too. I like this shirt because it's not as colorful as other tie-dye shirts. It is made of more relaxed tones. Plus I made it with a companion on my church mission, so it reminds me of my service."

We talked for a while about missions, and she told me the most important thing she took away from her service was the importance of getting your priorities straight.

"That is the most important thing," she said. "I've felt that I am calmer and feel more peace now that I have the road map for my life prioritized. It's something I never understood before."

It sounds like she is a lot like her tie-dye shirt: before she left she was full of wild and disorganized color, throwing caution to the wind without a plan. Now, she still retains that spontaneous color and happiness she had before, but it is organized and softer in its tone.

Nice walk.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Man With Concrete Trophies

You would think people who are reading don't want to talk. But I've come to find those people focused on books are the most talkative. It's as if their brains enjoy a respite from the mental focus of reading. But you must always start the conversation at their book. If you talk about anything else, the transition will be too jarring for them, and they won't want to talk.

"Hey man, what are you reading?"

"Oh, it's a fantasy novel . . . the last one in the series. It's by a Utahn author, and I have absolutely loved it. There are so many deep metaphors and symbolism. I've got to finish it so I can get back to studying for school."

"What are you studying? English?"

"No. I'm studying Construction Management. It's cool because I get to do lots of outdoor stuff. I spent last summer digging ditches."

That didn't sound too much fun to me, so I asked him what the funnest thing he ever did was.

"Oh man, one time I was helping on the construction of a house and we had to drill two monster holes into a concrete wall. I got to take the drill and shove it into the concrete. When you pull the drill head, out pops a long, thick cylinder of concrete that used to cover the hole. I thought they were so cool, I took them home to put in my house as trophies. Unfortunately, my wife didn't want to put them on the mantle, so we compromised and now they are sitting on our front porch."

I've received some trophies in my life. Most have little plastic figurines on the top and say "Participation Award" on the plaque. But in life, we should create happiness in day-to-day living and find joy in small details. It is then, and only then, when life will award us more than a participation award.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Cleaner

It doesn't matter where you are. It matters where you're going.

I was one of the few remaining in the office trying to finish up some work as the sun set today. Usually everyone leaves around 5...right about the time when the cleaning people come in. A woman who wore headphones walked into my part of the office and began dusting the desks around me.

"Your workday is almost over!" I exclaimed. I could tell she wasn't used to people in the office talking to her as she cleaned.

"Do you like working on the cleaning crew?" I asked.

"It pays the bills. Every semester I start school by quitting this job. I always think, 'You know what? I'm done with this!' But I can never find another job, so I always end up begging my manager to let me back on the crew...and he always does."

"Well the hours are probably good for school. What do you plan to do?" I asked.

"I'm working on my Masters of Public Administration right now, so hopefully I'll be in the political realm making policy decisions in a couple of years."

Life is full of transitions. This woman will go from cleaning computers to cleaning up the country. The nation is in good hands. How do I know?

My desk is always dust-free.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wearing The Hat With Pride

As I was leaving a college basketball game, I noticed this tiny old man walking out the same door as me. He was wearing an orange coat and a hat that seemed bigger than his head with the words"WWII Veteran. Served With Pride" in gold letters across the brim. I stuck my hand in front of him.

"It's always an honor to shake the hand of a World War II veteran."

His hand was seemed shriveled, yet was surprisingly strong. I asked him where he served.

"I served under General Patton," the man said proudly. I've read about Patton, but I've never heard what he was like from a first hand account.

"He was a terrible cusser, and all the glory went to him for everything," the man replied. "But he was an incredible general. He knew where to put every man to get the most out of him."

"I worked in military intelligence, and it was my job to spy on the Germans. But to do that, I had to cross Russia. The Russians detained me for five days in a dark room because they thought I was spying on the "Motherland." They said they were going to put a bullet in my head when the five days was up if I didn't confess. They fed me black biscuits and water, and I thought they were going to kill me. But they let me go."

I asked him where he served.

"I was one of the first into Austria and Rome. In fact, I was able to get a hold of a Nazi flag before they were all taken down. I keep it at home as a souvenir."

My wife collects snow globes. This man collects flags from dictators he helped overthrow. I collect conversations with people. Each one teaches me something new about the human spirit and uplifts me in some way. Some put a smile on my face, while others bring tears of admiration to my eyes.

This conversation was one of the latter.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bambi The Sand-Crab Hunter

I'm standing on the Seal Beach Pier, looking down at the waves as they wash up. Suddenly I see a man bolt out into the receding surf in his running shoes. He scoops up a huge pile of sand with his hands, and runs back up the beach before another swell comes. Then he throws the sand on the ground while him, his daughter, and his little pink-collared pug sift through it. Naturally I'm curious, so I ask why.

"Our dog loves to hunt sand crabs," says the older man in the soaked shoes.

"Her name is Bambi," says the young girl.

"But I call her Bammers," retorts her father. He runs back into the surf when he spots the crabs as they burrow into the sand. Then he tosses the pile in front of his dog and him and his daughter watch as Bambi jams his nose into the beach and digs ravenously, stalking the little crabs. When she finds one, she gulps it down and waits for another one.

"Bammers loves seafood," the dad tells me as him and his daughter laugh hysterically at the dog's antics.

I love watching people find joy in little things like Bambi on the prowl.