An Observation: Musical Keys

I believe that everyone needs to have at least a basic knowledge of musical language and terminology…just as a matter of being informed individuals.

If you work someplace that sells instruments–even just as a side item–it becomes pretty important to your job.

Do I expect everyone to know complex music theory concepts? No. You don’t have to be an expert like this guy…

This story is a small example of a time when the universal language of music didn’t seem quite so universal.

When my brother was in high school, he had begun to show a tremendous aptitude for playing whatever musical instrument you put in his hands. During my senior year and his junior year, we were performing a marching band show in which he would be playing a trumpet solo. However, in the original tune that we were covering, the solo was performed on a harmonica.

After speaking with our band director, he decided to give the harmonica solo a try. They weren’t sure whether or not it would achieve the intended effect (ultimately, it was too quiet to project well enough in a football stadium), but it was worth giving a new instrument a shot.

Not all harmonicas are created equal. While my knowledge of the instrument is limited to a mild mid-90s obsession with all things Blues Traveler, I do know that harmonicas are built in different keys, much like other instruments. My brother needed to find a harmonica in a very specific key for this solo. So, one Saturday, the whole family headed out of town to visit a music store in search of a D-flat harmonica.

(D-flat is important to my point here, so pay attention.)

We ended up in a relatively small store in a relatively small town that sold relatively unrelated items. The glass counter near the cash register just happened to contain several harmonicas.

“Can I help you?”

The salesman had long gray hair pulled back into a pony tail. He was wearing a blue t-shirt and jeans full of holes. He certainly looked like a rock musician–someone you could talk to about things like chord changes and key signatures–so we didn’t think this was going to be a difficult transaction.

“Yes,” my mom said. “He’s looking for a D-flat harmonica.”

My brother was already engrossed in scanning through the glass case, trying to find it himself.

“Umm…wow. I don’t usually hear that much. Umm…let me look through what we’ve got.”

The salesman opened the case from his side and started looking at labels on the side of the cases. He picked up several, looking confused.

“Ma’am, I don’t have anything like what you’re talking about. The letters on the side don’t match what you’re saying.”

“Oh, so you don’t have a D-flat?”

“Well…I have a D-B.”

Pause.

My brother started to get that look on his face…a mixture of disbelief, shock, and “well, at least they do have what I’m looking for even if they don’t know it.”

Mom spoke before he could.

“Can we see that one?”

He handed it to her.

The label said it all–Db.

“Yes, that’s a D-flat. That’s what we’re looking for,” she said.

“You said D-flat. This is a D-B. Are you sure?”

My brother sighed, then spoke up.

“Yes, sure, we’ll take the D-B.”

There’s a lesson to be learned from everything.

Here’s a short lesson from this interaction (in case you ever find yourself in such a situation):

1. A flat sign looks a lot like a lowercase “b.”
2. Should a sharp sign also become part of the conversation, it looks like what those of us who once used a rotary or touch-tone phone referred to as a pound sign, and what today’s youngsters only know as a hashtag. (See also: #SharpSign)
3. That D-B harmonica ended up sounding remarkably like a D-flat harmonica.

This sounds remarkably like a mess. Don't try it at home.
This? This is a C piccolo with a trumpet mouthpiece. It sounds remarkably like a mess. Don’t try it at home.

I relay this story not to insult anyone, but merely to educate the uninitiated. So, before you start looking for videos online to learn how to play that F-hashtag chord on your new guitar, take a moment to brush up on the basics.

An Observation: Alternative Winter

This February in Arkansas has been quite sweaty. The trees have been confused enough to go ahead and bring out their spring wardrobes.

Umm...wait. Please...don't wear that yet. It's February. (Hot Springs, Arkansas on February 17, 2017. Yes, FEBRUARY 17.)
Umm…wait. Please…don’t wear that yet. It’s February. (Hot Springs, Arkansas on February 17, 2017. Yes, FEBRUARY 17.)

Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate mosquitoes. I’ve been concerned, because if the daffodils and whatnot were already making their appearances in MID-FEBRUARY, exactly how big are the vicious, blood-sucking monster mosquitoes going to be this summer?

Or…is it a non-issue? Let’s say the upward trend in daytime highs continues and the temperature decides to average out at a toasty 350 degrees this August. Mosquitoes (and human beings) probably can’t survive at oven-room-temperature. (It’s good for that cake I’ve been meaning to make, though.) We could ask our friends on Venus for advice since they stay a tad warmer than that, but–wait, we have no friends on Venus. It’s uninhabitable thanks to a few factors…temperature being but one of them.

So…would someone please turn on the air conditioning?

I woke up today to typical February temperatures, but it was a bit odd feeling that chilly and looking out the window at the blooms. I get the impression that I’m going to be knitting blankets for the tulip trees soon. Because, as we all know, some of the worst winter storms can still occur in Arkansas in March. I don’t want that to be the case, but the past several years have taught us a few lessons.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this alternative winter. I just hope the mosquitoes aren’t the size of pickup trucks by June.

An Observation: Inventovations

When you pause to think about technological advances and inventions, I’d venture to guess that you’re likely to picture the most complex, intricate, electronically-based products on the market, right?

Doesn’t anyone feel a little bit sorry for simple inventions and innovations that don’t receive the credit they are due these days? I’m talking about the little things that you use and take for granted that someone had to think of and develop before you were allowed the convenience of their use.

Let’s start with…

  1. Lint Rollers. You mean, it’s okay to put the tape on the outside of the roll? And it’ll pick up unwanted lint off of your clothing? Sign me up for one of those!
How could I possibly have made it through this situation without a lint roller?
How could I possibly have made it through this situation without a lint roller?

2. The Gel Mask. These are great for headaches…and interplanetary travel fashion, should we get around to that technological leap anytime soon. It’s also a great conversation starter for…anyone fluent in creating awkward situations.

Soothing, with the added bonus of tunnel vision.
Soothing, with the added bonus of tunnel vision.

3. Fire. (Okay, so this one wasn’t so much an invention as it was a discovery. Still, we can trace lots of stuff that we didn’t have at one time back to fire. You’ve all seen fire, so I shouldn’t have to provide a picture. Moving forward…)

4. Coffee. Again, another discovery. Probably the most important discovery in my life today. I owe many productive mornings to coffee. Of course, I also owe many sleepless nights to coffee consumed too late in the evening, but its overall contributions cannot be ignored. (Perhaps I should have written more about the coffee maker than coffee itself, since coffee actually was a discovery and the process by which we are able to brew and consume coffee is more likely to be considered an invention although I did say I was only going to discuss simple inventions even though I ventured into discoveries and this is quite possibly the longest run-on sentence I’ve written since the third grade. And I owe it all to coffee. Oh, wait. The label says it’s decaf. I guess I just need to edit my sentences better in the future.)

Coffee makes the world go ground.
Coffee makes the world go ground.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s a start, right?

An Observational Thought: To Regret Or Not To Regret

How often do you stop to think about regret?

I’ve heard of plenty of people who claim to live with no regrets, but I’m not sure I completely believe them. Not only that, but I’ve been thinking (a.k.a. confusing myself) about a bigger question when it comes to regret:

Which do you regret more? The things you didn’t do…or the things you did?

Decorative wall art pieces are full of inspirational quotes about taking chances because living with the regret of not doing something can eat away at your soul (or something like that).

However, how often do you see bathroom wall art telling you about the other side of that sentiment? (One would think the bathroom is a logical place to regret something you did do…like ordering tainted meat for dinner. Too much information? Sorry. I regret sharing that thought with you now. See? I regret something I just did. But I digress…)

It really is an interesting question (particularly for someone as meticulously observant as myself).

Now, I’m not talking about the really big decisions like moving to another continent or dropping everything to become a professional boxer (or something like that). I’m talking about the everyday decisions we make that usually aren’t the decisions the wall artists are writing about.

I say that we need to examine the basic stuff you regret actually doing almost immediately…even when your gut says, “Take a chance!”

Say, how about a list?

Simple Things That People Usually Regret Once They Have Already Done Them:

  1. New Haircuts/Hairstyles. EVERYONE has at least one regrettable decision they’ve made about a haircut or style. Mine was a perm. I was sixteen. My hairdresser tried to stop me, but I was being stubborn. It wouldn’t be the first or last time I made a questionable hair decision.
Luckily, this was a wig. But I regret allowing this photograph to be taken.
Luckily, this was a wig. But I regret allowing this photograph to be taken.

2. Fashion Choices. You only thought whatever was “in style” looked good at the time because, by golly, a magazine told you it was “in style.”

This use of a giant bow just happened to be broadcast all over the television viewing area when I was 13.
This use of a giant bow (I’m glad it was cut off in this picture…there’s a lot more above the top of the shot) just happened to be broadcast all over the television viewing area when I was 13.

3. Playing With A Small Animal With Sharp Teeth. Just go ahead and add this to your list of stuff you will regret immediately if you do it. I have no photographic evidence of this one, but I was five, the hamster bit my finger, I wasn’t supposed to be playing with him in the first place, and I tried to doctor the wound without telling anyone. (Mercurochrome was bright red. I didn’t do a very good job of hiding that little problem.)

Without getting too sentimental, I will say that I have taken a chance on at least one thing I do not regret and I’m glad I’m working on it…photography. I also don’t regret this shameless plug for my Etsy photography shop.

http://www.etsy.com/shop/MeticulousObserver

(Ah, advertising.)

I get it–everyone has something major in their life that they feel they need to do in order to avoid regret for not taking the chance later. But, you have to admit, you’ve probably made plenty of small decisions that leave you with small pieces of regret.

As long as they’re funny enough to laugh at later, maybe it isn’t such a bad idea to take the chance.

(By the way, I don’t regret writing this. Not yet, anyway. I don’t think. Maybe. Possibly. Potentially.)

An Observation: ‘Tis The Season

I recently heard a statistic that approximately one-third of gifts given during the holidays are eventually returned.

Now, I know times are changing. And I know that people often give receipts with their gifts in the event that something is the wrong size or if you needed something different.

However, the idea of returning a gift goes against everything I was taught about Christmas etiquette as a child.

Oh, a rock! I...guess I was good this year.
Oh, you got me a rock! I guess I was good this year. Rock beats scissors…and coal. Thank you!

I remember one lesson in particular. (And I’m going to keep things generic here.) I had received a gift just before Christmas (we’ll call it Gift A) that could only be used by another gift (henceforth known as Gift B) that I did not have and did not know–at the time–that I would be receiving for Christmas. So, I did what any eight-year-old would do…I blurted it out.

“But…I don’t have a Gift B! I can’t play Gift A without a Gift B!”

I found myself being picked up very quickly and taken from the room very quickly for a not-so-quick lecture about accepting the gift you are given–graciously–and remembering that it’s the thought that counts. It’s not all about “me, me, ME!”

When you're eight years old, it's all about...ME. (I was 30 in this picture, so...yeah.)
When you’re eight years old, it’s all about…ME. (I was about 30 in this picture, so…yeah.)

You wouldn’t return a hand-crafted, construction-paper-and-macaroni card from a five-year-old, would you? (If you said “yes,” I urge you to put the sarcasm on hold for five minutes and think about how you felt when you made a paper clip necklace for a treasured adult in your life when you were a kid and they never wore it because it didn’t match their sweater…but I digress…)

Yes, it might be a cliche, but the thought really does count. The best gifts I receive each year are usually the simplest ones. Handwritten letters and cards are awesome! Even a rock can be a great gift if the person who gave it was being thoughtful (and they weren’t throwing it directly at your face).

Furthermore, the gift you receive from giving is probably the greatest of all. I love to watch other people open the gifts I give them because of the thought I’ve put into each one for each person.

So, before you go asking for a receipt to return that gift you just received that you didn’t need before you got it anyway, think about the person and the thoughts behind it.

Besides…a rock makes a great paperweight.

A Memory: Inner Strength, Outer Wimp

When I graduated college, I had to be difficult and graduate about a week before Christmas. (I actually managed to make that happen twice. My apologies to my family for the inconvenience. For the purposes of this story, however, I’ll be referring to my first holiday season graduation. It’s the one where I thought I knew everything, for future reference.)

My last experience with playing in the college pep band was a very memorable one. I remember lots of stuff, so I have to distinguish from different levels or memorability. This one qualifies as “Very Memorable” on a scale from “Memorable” to “I-Desperately-Wish-I-Could-Forget.”

As I took my place in the stands one final time and looked out across the basketball arena, I decided to live for that moment and enjoy the rest of the crazy ride. I didn’t know that by the end of the night I would have conducted the band in which I was playing…and made an utter fool of myself on the basketball court in the presence of a few thousand witnesses.

Let’s start with the high point of the afternoon, shall we?

The student conductor knew it was my last game–indeed, I believe I was the only December graduate in the group that semester–and she called me down to the front to conduct a simple tune. I grinned from ear to ear the entire time.

But…you didn’t come here to read a story about the stuff that went well. No, no. Everyone wants to read about the stuff that went wrong.

I’m not, nor have I ever been, anything other than petite. In college, I was extra petite. The so-called “Freshman Fifteen” had been more like five for me, and my arms have never exactly looked like anything other than sticks.

Self-Portrait, The College Years.
Self-Portrait, The College Years. Note the lack of muscle tone. It’s important to the story.

But, being as stubborn as I am to prove that I can do anything anyone else can do, I jumped at the chance when someone from the event staff at the ballgame found out it was my last game and asked me to volunteer to throw out free t-shirts to the crowd from the basketball court.

So, I followed the bubbly young lady down to the sidelines as she handed me a gray t-shirt tied into a knot.

“Okay, your job is to pump up the crowd and when they start waving their arms like crazy, throw this t-shirt. Oh, and throw it as far as you can.”

“No problem!” I said, looking at the shirt in my hands and thinking that I was going to send the thing sailing. After all, it had a big knot in it, so I was going to have no trouble launching it to the cheap seats.

When the buzzer sounded, I followed the other volunteers down to the court, grinning like crazy and yelling like a fool while waving the knotted t-shirt over my head. I spotted a gentleman about ten rows up who seemed really interested in winning a t-shirt for the child who was with him. I looked around. All of the other volunteers had thrown theirs already while I was still trying to make a decision.

“Hey! Over here!” yelled the man in the crowd.

With all the strength I could muster, I pulled my arm back into my best major-league windup.

And I threw the shirt.

As hard as I could.

And then the knot broke free.

The t-shirt unfurled, waving through the climate-controlled breeze in a manner that would have made an American flag jealous.

(I could swear I watched this part in slow-motion.)

I saw it sailing majestically through the air, doing its awe-inspiring dance as it fluttered towards the stands…

…falling gracefully to the floor a whole three feet in front of me.

The man in the crowd started laughing hysterically.

I shook my head, pouting as I reached for the shirt and half-heartedly tossed it towards the first row.

I received my degree for Christmas that year, but, evidently, there were still a few things I needed to work on. Inner strength counts for a lot, but upper body strength had suddenly moved much higher on the list.

A Pair of Boogie Shoes: Two Left Feet and a Receipt

I love to dance. Whether I’m any good at it or not–and I’m probably not–I’m going to get down with my bad self on the dance floor when the opportunity arises. (Honestly, the whole world is a dance floor as far as I’m concerned. The music might even exist only in my head. If that’s wrong, I don’t wanna be right.)

You go, Carlton.

Shoes are part of the equation. If the shoes aren’t comfortable, I usually end up kicking them off and dealing with the hazards of being barefoot rather than enduring ill-fitting footwear.

I learned a lesson once about taking the time to make careful decisions about footwear. I’ll preface the story by saying I was in college, I was in a hurry, and I made a snap decision in the process.

(Much quicker than that snap decision.)

To make a long story shorter, I wanted a pair of shoes to go with a new skirt. I was out of town for the weekend and trying to get back home by a certain time. I started running out of time, but, by golly, I really wanted a new pair of shoes. So, I went into a shoe store and noticed a really cute pair of open-toe-something-or-others (I don’t know fashion too well…I just know what I like).

I picked up one of the shoes in the box–a left shoe. No problem, I thought, and I slipped off my left shoe to try on the new left shoe. Instead of taking out the other shoe to try it on, I figured that if the left foot fit, the other one would be fine. I made a quick hobble up and down the aisle wearing the new shoe on my left foot and my old shoe on the right one.

Fits just fine, I thought. I put my other shoe back on, threw the new one back in its box, and rushed to check out. Two shoes in the box, an exchange of money, and I was back in my car headed home.

A few hours later, I wanted to try on the entire ensemble I had purchased. I reached in the box to put on my new shoes. The left shoe was the one I picked up first.

Then, I picked up another left shoe.

That’s when I finally started thinking.

Hold on a second. I’m holding two left shoes and I don’t have any more shoes in the box. I’m not a math major, but something doesn’t add up here…

My next thought was pure vanity.

How stupid am I going to look going back to the store to exchange two left shoes? What are they gonna do? Give me two rights to make up for the wrongs while they’re laughing?

I’d bought the shoes in a chain store, so I took my two left feet and my receipt to the customer service desk at my hometown location.

Yes, they looked at me like I was crazy.

The bigger problem was that those shoes were out of stock locally, which left me with the option of getting my money back…or being stubborn and trying to make both left shoes fit.

I opted for the money.

After all, who wants to dance with two left feet?

An Observation: Bacon and Hair Care

I’m an American. So, according to popular culture, I also consume mass quantities of bacon.

Do I like bacon? Yes, I do like bacon. I have my preference on how it’s cooked, though.

I like my bacon crispy. Crunchy, even. Something I can eat from the palm of my hand without worrying about cleanup.

I don’t, however, like my hair cooked in the same manner.

I found out this morning that a few little quirks my hair dryer had been showing off lately weren’t just little cutesy personality issues.

And it almost came at the expense of my safety.

First, it stopped midway through my daily drying. It had done the same thing a few times in the past, but it always revved back up to do its job. And since I’m a cheapskate, I wasn’t about to go buying a new hair dryer just because this one decided to stop working approximately 33.3333333% of the time.

As it started back up again, I turned my head upside down to add a little volume. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw what I thought was a bug.

Gee, I thought. This is the wrong time of year for lightning bugs.

I kept going, but then I saw a few more “lightning bugs” and realized that the stinkin’ hair dryer was throwing sparks. A couple of flashes of light and one teeny, tiny, toasty little spot on the back of my scalp later, it whimpered and gave off its last breath.

The smell was really interesting. (By the way, my scalp is fine. I just had one little spot that felt like, well, I had been popped with hot bacon grease.)

Classic case of burnout. Poor thing.
Classic case of burnout. Poor thing.

So, it was time to add an unplanned item to my “List O’ Things To Buy Today.”

You’re probably thinking, “It’s just a hair dryer. No big deal.”

Well, I have a few considerations to…consider.

First of all, I have really, really thick hair. Every hair dresser I’ve even been to has said the same thing.

“You have really thick hair.”

(That’s a lie. One of them said, “Your hair holds water really well.” I didn’t quite know if it was a statement, a compliment, or a sly plan by a doomsday prepper eyeing a plot on my scalp for water storage in the event of a disaster.)

So, whatever hair drying device I purchase has to have some serious power.

After a little bit of searching this morning after my regular grocery run, I think I found it.

Before...(It's a little breezy in here, isn't it?)
Before. (It’s a little reminiscent of that Maxell Cassette commercial from the 80s. Just add “Ride of the Valkyries.”)
After.
After.

My hair (and scalp) are in good shape now, thank you. Maybe I’ll see if I can revive the old hair dryer for the sole purpose cooking crispy, flame-kissed bacon.

A Frightful Decision: Halloween Costumes

Fall is (slightly) in the air, and with it comes shorter days, cooler nights, pumpkin spice oxygen, and Halloween.

I was thinking about some of my old Halloween costumes a few days ago, and I realized that out of all the areas in my life in which I strive for perfection, I’ve been sadly lacking in creativity in this department.

Last year, all I did. Breathe, I could not.
Last Halloween, all I did. Breathe, I could not.

Nearly every Halloween costume I wore between the ages of 8 and 12 looked remarkably like witch costumes. They were common, repetitive, and definitely within the format of “frightening” in the spirit of the holiday. (If you factor in this year’s creepy clown craze, my peppy little clown costume at the age of 7 might fit the “frightening” category; alas, it was still a rather common choice at the time, thus reinforcing my lack of creativity.)

I dressed up a couple of times in high school and college, but I can’t think of anything I did that I would classify as overtly “creative.”

In fact, I have only two costumes that I believe would qualify as being creative enough worth mentioning.

The first was on my return trip through college. I had been invited to a party, so I did what any self-respecting, late-twenty-something on a major budget would do…dug through the closet and got resourceful. When I discovered that I own as much plaid as a kilt factory, a 1970s anchorwoman was born.

One dowel, a milk carton, a Nerf ball, and some seriously mismatched plaid later, I was dressed to provide nightly updates on the Watergate scandal.
One dowel, a milk carton, a Nerf ball, and some seriously mismatched plaid later, I was dressed to provide nightly updates on the Watergate scandal.

The other was just a few years ago. I had decided to put together a costume based around my love of puns. Since everyone loves a superhero, The Pun-isher was the result.

Iowa big apology for the Arkan-saw.
Iowa big apology for the Arkan-saw.

I really would like to try harder this year. I have a few ideas, but the only spare “time” I have around the house is…this.

hammer-timePerhaps I should carve out some time…just not from the wood furniture.

Best of luck to all of you out there who are putting together your Halloween costumes.

*By the way, in case you’re still trying to find all of the puns in the Pun-isher costume–a shoe fly, the bee’s knees, an Arkan-saw (from a set of toy tools), green with envy (green tape labeled with the letters NV), a belly button, cold shoulder, chip on the shoulder, an ear of corn, and, although you can’t see it, the cape says “Cape Canaveral.” The tool belt also contained a toy hammer labeled “TIME.”

An Observation: Inspiration

My friends will often stop me mid-conversation and ask, “Gee, Meticulously Observant Observer. Where do you get your inspiration?”

Then I wake up and realize that I’m dreaming. (Possibly daydreaming…although I don’t know when I would have the time for that. The fact that most people call me by my real name is a dead giveaway that I’m making up this entire conversation.)

If anyone did ask me that question, though, I’d have to say that most of my inspiration can be gathered from my favorite set of right-handed ink pens.

I love this brand. It works particularly well in my right hand.
I love this brand. It works particularly well in my right hand.

Although they aren’t marketed as such, they still serve a right-handed function when I pick them up. Hence, they are my favorite right-handed ink pens.

“But, how can a pen possibly provide you with inspiration?”

Well, since you (most likely didn’t) ask, I’ll just say that it’s a whole lot easier for me to pick up my favorite right-handed ink pen and write something when I have an idea than it is to wait for my computer to get going.

“But…the pen really didn’t provide any inspiration then, did it? It was just…there.”

True. I suppose I’m much more likely to turn an idea into an inspired idea when I have my favorite set of right-handed ink pens with me, though. Otherwise, the idea might just float away, gone forever.

“You’re confusing me. Can we talk about something else?

O…kay. Did I mention that I won more ribbons at the fair this year for photography?

If you don't like the beach, we might not be able to be friends.
This one won first place! It’s for sale in my Etsy shop. www.etsy.com/shop/MeticulousObserver
Second place in black and white still life.
Second place in black and white still life. The sandals were just waiting there.

“Oh, that’s nice. So…where do you get your inspiration for the photos?”

I have this great right-handed camera…