Camping, Storms, Guitars, Cars and Rest

We finally had a weekend with no travel and no commitments, and hung around the house and relaxed and got a bunch of things done. So now’s a good time to bring all y’all up to speed.

Last weekend we went camping. It was our second camping trip of the summer and it was a big group of people. Us, Erik and Jen and Ellla, Max and Miguel, Shannon and Shawn and their three kids, Bob and Lisa and Jimmy and Lisa and Emily and Lauren. Wow. We left Friday afternoon, although some of the other families waited until Saturday morning because of the threat of rain. And sho’nuff it started raining just as we were packing the car, and by the time were on the road it began raining really hard. We actually pulled over and discussed whether to turn back, but we were able to get a weather report on Jeannie’s blackberry that said it was clear up in the Catskills. So we went head and passed thru a wave or two of heavy storms. Later we found out that there was some serious flooding and even tornado warnings in Westchester, and they closed the Hutch, Saw Mill and Bronx River Parkway shortly after we got out of town. But after an hour the sun came out, and we got to the camp site and set up our tents and got the fire going, before a scattered shower that went away after half an hour or so. The rain came again after dark and the kids were asleep in the tent and Jeannie and I were watching the fire. Another scattered t-storm rolled thru and after that we still had to put water on the fire before we went to bed. Saturday and Sunday were clear and all in all it was a beautiful trip, although they always feel too short. Got some nice canoeing in, and the girls got to play on the beach and catch salamanders. We got home there was a good amount of leaves and branches on the ground, but no real damage.

I spent some time jamming on guitar on the trip. Guitar is maybe my fourth best instrument, which is to say I know the basics and never practice. Most of what I know I picked up from watching guitar players in my various bands over the years. I can play a good number of Neil Yong songs (Powder Finger, Heart of Gold, Mr. Soul, etc.) and some other tunes, just accompany myself singing, no prog or jazz chops. I’m not very good at bar chords so there are a lot of songs I can’t play. So I decided to start practicing guitar for a little while and see if I get any better. And its so far so good. I know the chords so came up with a few little exercises to cover them in all keys. And then I picked a handful of songs to work up, with some of the new chords. I have a good number of music books. I’m practicing Burned, Down to the Wire, Broken Arrow by Neil Yong, and I Will and Mother Nature’s Son by the Beatles. When I get those down I’ll pick some others. Right now I can only practice about a half hour every other day because it’s hard on the fingertips.

I actually own two guitars. One is acoustic that I traded for a boom box many years ago. It has almost no wood in it (plastic body and metal neck, an ovation knock off), and is kinda hard to play cuz the action is high and the intonation isn’t great, but it has a good resounding tone and is a great guitar for camping. The other is an eclectic, a Guild solid body with two humbuckers, which has great action and good tone, and is a nice versatile electric guitar. However the tuning seems to drift and I have to tune up after every song. Ah well maybe it’s just that the strings are old and I haven’t played it in a while. Anyhow, I’m thinking I want to get a new guitar, a better quality acoustic, and with a pick up so I can use it for recording. I’ll give myself a month or so to see if I’m gonna want to keep on practicing (this also means I’m going to have to cut back on piano), and if the answer is yes, I’ll start looking for one sometime this fall. Luckily the big music store district is only a couple blocks from my office, but I have a feeling they’ll be pretty expensive there.

I also fixed my car over the weekend. There had been a leak in the exhaust manifold, where a clip to attach a heat shield, which had been welded onto the pipe with a different metal, had rusted thru. My local mechanic gave me an estimate of $1600 or something outrageous like that to replace the manifold. So I just kinda let it be for a while, but the noise has been getting worse. So I got one of those muffler fixit kits. Basically it’s a bit of aluminum foil and special wrap that bonds to the pipe from the heat of the engine. I put it on and seems to have done the trick. Only problem was that the directions say to use a piece to tape to temporarily attach the wrap to the pipe, and then run the engine for a while to heat it up. Well Sunday all the kids in my neighborhood were hanging out in my driveway which made finishing the job difficult. So I left a bit of tape on, and this morning drove to the train station. The tape has some plastic in which started to melt and burn. I checked it out when I got home this evening and it looks ok, there’s just a little black stripe left on the pipe.

Heat In The Jungle Street

We saw King Crimson last Thursday night at the Nokia Theater in NY. My second rock show in 2 month, how about that! The Nokia is a weird little theatre in the basement of my building. KC of course is once of my all-time favorite rock bands, giants in the prog pantheon, with their layers upon layers of guitars and percussion, copious use of dynamic contrast, dissonant chords and out meters, all resulting in an oeuvre of epic, angular anthems.

I’ve seen these guys a few times, as a quartet and a double trio, but this is first time I’ve seen them in a five-piece lineup, and I’d say it was the best version of the group I’d seen. It was Fripp and Adrian Belew on guitars and the inimitable Tony Levin on stick. He really is fantastic! In addition they had two drummers. Neither of them was Bill Bruford, but between them they made just about as much racket, and did some really nice back-n-forth polyrhythmic phase jams.

It was their 40th anniversary tour, but as usual they didn’t play anything from the Greg Lake era, or even any non-instrumentals from John Wetton era (understandably so, even though that is some of my favorite stuff and it would’ve been a treat for the fans.) They did some instrumentals off of Lark’s Tongues, Starless and Red, leaned heavily on material from Discipline and Three of a Perfect Pair, and Vrooom/Thrak. Thela Hun Ginjeet, Indiscipline, Frame By Frame Elephant Talk were some favorites. Lots of dual drum solos, and did mention that Tony Levin is fantastic?

A few downsides: One was the venue, which was a bit weird to get into, down a super long escalator. It felt claustrophobic and did not have well marked fire exits. Next was that Fripp basically hid behind his rack the whole show. I know he likes to be weird, but come on Bob you’re there to put on a show! Stand up once in a while and move. This is rock’n’roll after all. Third was that there was no opening act, but the band only played for an hour and forty-five minutes. I mean, they should’ve gone on another hour. They have enough songs after 40 years already!

The Tree

“Now the trees are all kept equal by hatchet axe and saw”

About a month ago we had a tree cut down in the side yard between our house and our neighbor. It was a pretty big tree, an old maple, probably at least 100 years old and about 100 feet high. The problem with it was its location, between our two houses. It kept on dropping leaves and helicopters onto my roof, necessitating getting up on a ladder to clean out the gutters an annual chore. Also, as I discovered last fall, its roots were getting up into my foundation making cracks, and causing drainage issues. For my neighbor John, the tree was also dropping things on his roof, as well as heaving and shifting his driveway, which he wants to repair and widen. But the motivator that finally led to action was that it was throwing shade on his brand-new deck. So the tree had to go. John lined up a tree guy to come over and cut it down. It was amazing to watch him and his crew work: a virtuoso with the chainsaw and cherry picker. Cut it down branch by branch, using ropes to lower the limbs to the ground. I only saw the first half of the work, and then a rainstorm came up and they had to finish another day. That day was the day I was leaving for vacation, so I only saw them lop off the crown before we took off. While we were away they came back and took out the stump, so now all that remains is a nice flat spot.

Road Trip 2

We were unexpectedly back in Canada last week. My grandmother, Lenka, died at age 88. I talked to her just a couple weeks ago and she was in good health and great spirits. The end came suddenly which I suppose was for the best. She was a remarkable woman in many ways and lived a long and full life. She had a strong personality and a big heart and liked people and was good at listening and giving advice. She loved having company and was a fabulous cook and her home was centered around her dining room table. There were over a hundred people at her funeral, a testament to the impact she had on people’s lives which is all the more remarkable in that she outlasted almost everyone of her generation. We will miss her.

So for me and Jeannie it meant another big road trip, even though it feels like we just got home. I’m actually surprised about how well the kids were about the whole thing. We left Wednesday after work and arrived around midnight. Thursday was the wake and Friday the funeral. In between time we hung around my uncle Ron’s house because he lived only a few minutes away. My cousin Tom and his wife were there with their kids, who are about the same age as mine. So they all hung out together and got along great, and that made things easier on everyone. Also Barb and Al and their kids Ryan and Curtis.  It was in fact a great chance to see lots of relatives and catch up with everyone. The Singer cousins were there, and they have some new kids I haven’t met yet. And Peter from Florida, and Bert from Chicago, and the list goes on.

We were supposed to go camping that weekend from Friday thru Sunday, and so we left early Saturday morning to try and make the best of it. The camp site was in the Catskills, on the way back to New York City. Of course, being in Canada the day before, Jeannie thought it best that we bring some Canadian beer with us. We were camping with a few other families. Every year we get a bunch of sites together right on the lake. This time it was Nick and Lisa on one side and Seth and Cathy on the other. It’s a very nice scene. We weren’t able to pack a lot of things we normally would like coffee or our camp stove, but we were able to get our little canopy shelter in the car. And it’s a good thing too, because it rained hard for about and hour Saturday afternoon. Apart from that, though, the weather was great, and we did plenty of canoeing and barbecuing and just relaxing and having fun.

Monday morning back to work, the train was late, the web site full of problems. Cosmic Monday in the city.