Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Cydnie, Movies & Dancing in the Square

Last week was one in which music and dancing seemed to dominate my time. Starting this past Thursday, now a week ago, Julie and her brood and I went over to the park in Watertown for a free live concert. We listened to a band play country rock and blues. We were able to dance to one tune and, while walking home later on, were given compliments on our dancing. It was a nice evening. The band stage was set up down by the water fountain behind the ball diamond and the crowd sat up on the side of a small hill just far enough from Watertown St. that you couldn’t hear the traffic. It was kind of like a natural amphitheater. We had a picnic supper; Dixie had a plate of her own food, and everyone ate their fill. None of the boys, however, would eat the cranberry mustard. We all opted for the Gulden’s extra strength.

On Friday night we went to the VFW hall which, on dance nights, is known as Swing City. About a hundred people or so, including us, danced to a live band – their name escapes me. I should mention here that on the Tuesday before, as we have been doing for 7 consecutive Tuesdays, we’re continuing to take West Coast Swing lessons. So I guess I could say that over the past week, we were dancing and/or listening to live music 4 out of the 7 days.

I tell you, it’s a good way to relieve oneself of the frustrations of the work a day world. Not to digress here for long but I did 7 training sessions last week. I traveled to Lawrence, which is up in the northeast corner of the state, to train a CIL on the Virtual Gateway. One of the trainees was the liaison to the state’s ADRC grant (Aging & Disability Resource Center). During my last year at MCIL I represented the disability community on Maryland’s ADRC grant. She was aware of the project in Howard Co. and even knew Kim whatshername who’s heading up the project. I told her to tell Kim I said hi. Being with these folks for a half day was like being at home. I felt more comfortable with them than I have with any other group so far. It was like being back with my own people.

I also traveled out to Sturbridge, down to Wrentham, over to Taunton, into Waltham and even at the central office to do VG training sessions. I’ve done 12 training sessions so far and have trained close to 100 people. I haven’t added the mileage up yet but I’m pretty sure I put over 200 miles on the car last week. MCIL folks will be interested to know that I only get reimbursed 28 cents a mile and get no reimbursement at all for either parking or tolls. Talk about getting gypped. I’ve been thinking about writing a book about working for the state, not a tell all kind of book but the kind that describes the idiocy of the system. I see how the system can beat you down by virtue of giving you more and more responsibility but no authority and, as I’m finding out, “they” have no forethought or real thinking through of projects. Enough, enough. I want to talk about positive things.

On Saturday evening Julie and I ventured over to the Watch City Brewery and had a beer while we waited for the 9:15 p.m. showing of Mad Hot Ballroom. This is a very good movie. It’s a documentary done in 2004 about 5th graders in New York City’s public schools who have taken up ballroom dancing as a part of their school curriculum. During the school year they studied swing, rhumba, foxtrot, merengue, and tango. At the end of the school year there was a city wide competition. The kids had to act appropriately, wear appropriate clothes – shirts tucked in, hair combed, long pants, and had to conduct themselves as would any dancer in competition. The winning team got a trophy taller than any of the 5th graders.

What the schools learned aside from 5th graders being willing to learn to dance was that learning dancing taught the kids deportment, respect for each other, gave them a positive outlook, made them feel better about themselves, and brought out a hunger to succeed. One kid was said to have been on the road to becoming a New York City thug but turned his life around by being involved in the program. A girl who had been sent to the principal’s office almost every day by the end of the program was never sent there. It’s amazing to think that by taking ballroom dancing, and competing, that it can turn a person’s life around, but, as the documentary showed, it can happen.

Naturally, I heartily recommend seeing it – if you can find it. Waltham’s cinema is the kind that shows art films, documentaries, foreign films and other movies that places like Loew’s, etc., the mainstream movie houses, wouldn’t show. Good movie. If it’s in the video store, it’s worth getting and watching.

On Sunday, we went to watch Cydnie play at the Skipjack. Cydnie is TC’s daughter and both are friends of Julie. Cydnie gradually lost her vision during childhood and went to the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown. She showed promise in music and so was pushed in that direction and studied piano. Studying at the Berklee School of Music, she eventually graduated with a degree in performance, composition and some other related stuff. She has a couple CD’s out, one of which, Inspiration, TC gave me. When I first put it on I thought I’d use it as background music while I did other stuff but, almost right from the first tune, I ended up sitting and listening.

Anyway, Cydnie was going to sit in on a gig at the Skipjack, an upscale restaurant in downtown Boston, in which her boyfriend, Tony DuBois, was the featured pianist. He plays with the Bo Winiker group, who, it turns out, has also played at Swing City. This day, the Winiker group was performing during brunch at the Skipjack. Tony, by the way, is also blind, plays 20 different instruments and has about 5 CD’s out.

So, we get there, 5 of us along with 2 other friends of Julie’s, TC and Cydnie and sit with Tony’s mother and a friend of hers. The Bo Winiker group is playing some smooth jazz: Tony on piano, Bo on trumpet, and rounding out the group, a guy on stand up bass and another on tenor saxophone. It’s good stuff. Then they take a break and, after the break TC leads Cydnie over to the piano. Tony normally switches to another instrument when she sits in with him but he forgot to bring whichever instrument(s) he was supposed to bring to accompany Cydnie this day.

Cydnie sits down, starts playing and the whole place turns to watch her and listen. I remarked to Julie that Cydnie has such a nice, soft touch on the piano. Laurie, one of Julie’s friends leaned over to me and said – she’s really good. And I replied, yeah, especially since she’s also deaf. Laurie’s whole expression changed.

I explained to her that along with going blind, Cydnie also started, apparently later on while in college, losing her hearing. At one point she was completely deaf. She eventually had a cochlear implant, which allows her to hear the human range of sound and, if you stand right up next to her and talk into her ear, she can carry on a conversation with you.

She plays the piano by touch and feels the vibrations in the air to clue her in on the music and the other musicians. Pretty incredible. Cydnie Breazeale-Davis. I understand she likes to play Christmas music the most but it drives her mother, TC, nuts and so she doesn’t get to play too many noel tunes too often. Julie suggested that the next time we’re over to visit with them I should ask Cydnie to play some Christmas music but I think I’ll ask her mother first. I’d like to be able to visit more often rather than not at all.

After Cydnie played, Tony came back on and Bo had a young, wisp of a woman, a teenager really, I think, come up and play saxophone for a while. She was just about as skinny as the saxophone was. She could almost stand behind it and disappear into it. But, my my my, the girl sure could play.

We listened to her play for a few minutes and then left the place. Oh. I almost forgot. We were there for brunch. I had the salmon and (some kind of fancy fromage) cheese omelet. (Yes, Claude, I know that fromage is the French word for cheese. I’m trying to sound upscale here. The omelet cost $16.50. The coffee was $2.25 a cup. We’re in downtown Boston across the street from the Trinity church and the John Hancock Center.) Julie had French toast, Jim, a friend of Julie’s, had the Dim Sum Sampler, and I don’t remember what the other 5 people we were with had. The food was good, though. The only problem I had throughout the meal was that I kept looking at my omelet and, since the color of the salmon was similar to the color of ham, I kept thinking I was eating a ham and cheese omelet. When I took a bite it tasted altogether different. It was disconcerting, even though I wasn’t and hadn’t been drinking anything other than coffee.

After Skipjack’s we went across the street and over to the other side of Trinity Church to Copley Square. A few folks had set up a stereo system and were playing swing music. We were told they do this twice a month on Sundays throughout the summer months. Dancing in the Square. We ran into people from the Friday night dance and also from other dances we’d been to. So, on a hot, muggy Sunday afternoon around 3 p.m. we danced in the Square along with about 30 – 40 other dancers.

Most folks were dancing either Lindy or swing. Some were doing Balboa; a couple people were doing something that vaguely resembled dancing but almost everyone who was dancing was at least fairly good. No one embarrassed themselves except for maybe the one or two that were air dancing. Nevertheless, even they were interesting to watch.

Tourists stopped by to gawk and to take pictures. The duck boats, filled with tourists, would drive by and their tour guides would point us all out. At one point a whole group of boy scouts from Salt Lake City got off a bus and wandered past us to take pictures of the Square and to tour Trinity Church.

Trinity Church is very famous. I’m not sure why or how but it is. I guess I need to read up on it. You can take a tour of it for $5.00. If you like, you can attend a mass for free. I just used it to go to the bathroom and so only got a cursory look at the inside. Its exterior, the architecture, however, is worth taking pictures of.

At the end of the afternoon we headed home. I went and got Dixie and took her out. We went over to Beaver Brook Reservation, which is where I’ve been taking her for about a month now. The reservation is a park in Waltham that covers 65 acres. It has a spray park for the kidlings, ball fields, woods, hiking trails and macadam roads for walkers, rollerbladers, bicycles, strollers, etc. Dixie walked right over to the stream and laid down in it. I couldn’t blame her. If it’d been more than the 3 or so inches deep that it was, I might have laid down in it, too. The temperature was close to 90, as was the humidity. And to think that I thought that if I moved 400 miles north I would escape the hazy, hot and humid days of Baltimore’s summers. I guess not.

I turned on the air conditioner last Sunday and haven’t turned it off yet. I don’t care about the electric bill. If the air conditioner breaks from over usage I’ll go out and buy another one.

So anyway, that was last week. More things have happened but I’m tired. I finished reading Joe Trippi’s book – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. He was Howard Dean’s campaign manager. It is not a book to be missed. We do need to take America back. He believes that the way to re-define communities, to get people to re-connect is through the internet. I think he’s right. The democracy of America has been bought and sold by the Bush Administration. We the people have to get it back. Get on-line, get involved and get rid of Bush and his greedy, warmongering group of thieves.


Monday, July 11, 2005

A Little Chocolate for the Soul

I’ve always liked chocolate. I eat Cadbury bars, Hershey Kisses, M & M’s, Chunky’s and, most recently, chocolate covered raisins and also a chunk of a big old piece of milk chocolate from Trader Joe’s. The other evening I had a mug of hot chocolate – white chocolate whipped to a froth. Chocolate fondue’s are good, too, though I haven’t had them in a while.

This evening I was waiting for the guys in my old men’s group to call. They were meeting for the first time, I think, since I moved up. The plan was to call me when they were all together so remotely I could raise a glass and toast us all, once again. Unfortunately, no one called. Out of sight out of mind, I guess.

In the latter part of June I journeyed out to Sturbridge, MA. to attend a birthday party. The occasion was the birthday of my ex-brother in law’s brother, John. Also present was Susan, my sister Judy’s daughter, and Susan’s husband, Michael, and their little boy, Noah. I got to meet a bunch of my ex-in laws, most of whom I haven’t seen in, oh, 30 years or more. It was a pleasant day, good food, nice company and comfortable surroundings. I’m glad they invited me to come for the party.

Over the 4th of July weekend I went over to Newton for the fireworks. It was a really nice display. Dixie was spread out on the grass in front of us, lying peacefully. Just after the first firework shot off and made a large boom, she was suddenly in my lap, shaking like a leaf in the wind. She ended up, throughout the whole display, quivering and quaking in my lap, her head burrowed under my arm. Then, as soon as it was all over, she got down, shook herself off and looked around as if to say – “What, me worry? I’m cool. Everything’s fine here. No problem.”

This past weekend Julie and I went to the Esplanade to almost watch Johnny Rivers perform. It was a free concert, part of a series put on by a local radio station. The opening act was Beatlejuice. They were late starting due to a rain storm that came rolling through. The sky then cleared and everyone settled back down on the grass to wait for Johnny Rivers to start. We looked up at the sky and saw a big, black front moving down the Charles River toward us and so we decided to forego Johnny. Others apparently felt the same and we joined a smattering of people who started moving toward their cars, or at least toward better protective cover. On our way out of Boston the sky opened up; we were glad we didn’t stay and listen to Johnny sing Summer Rain in the summer rain.

I just got finished reading a book that I want to pass along to everyone. It’s entitled “Life of Pi,” by Yann Martel. A wonderful book, it has you saying, “huh,” as in “I didn’t know that,” a whole bunch of times throughout. At its most literal, it’s a work of fiction about a 16 year old kid who survives a ship sinking and spends months at sea in a life boat. It’s hard to put down. And, at the end, you find you don’t want it to end. I may have to read it again just to read it again. It is a book not to miss.

Over the past few weeks up here it’s gotten up into the 90’s, temperature – wise. And to think that one of the reasons I moved up here was to get away from Baltimore’s heat and humidity. Well, it’s no different up here. Hazy, hot and humid would describe some of the days. Two weeks ago it was in the low 90’s for a week. Then, it rained and went down into the 50’s for a week and now, this week, it’s back up to the low 90’s. If I’d’ve known it was going to be this hot…well, I still would’ve moved. Most people up here, especially the locals, can’t take the heat since it’s cold, really cold, most of the year. They can’t take the heat when it comes because they’re not used to it being hot for any length of time. When I moved up in February, between snow storms, people bitched about the snow, but not about the cold. I just realized that. Nevertheless, when it gets to be summer up here it gets hot. The difference is the heat doesn’t last long. I don’t know yet if there’re Indian summers up here. I guess I’ll find out in a couple months.

One thing I noticed is that there are a lot of spray pools up here for the little kids. I’ve seen two so far, one in the park across the street from where I live and another in the park where I let Dixie run. Both are set up with permanent sprayers that spray water in different directions that kids run through, in and under. No wading or swimming. And, it’s not for teens, it’s for the little kids. Can’t drown in a spray park. Falling will cause you to scrape yourself up on the concrete, but you can’t drown.

My work with the Virtual Gateway continues. Actually it just started. I’ve completed 2 training sessions and have 13 more to do before July’s over. Actually 14 if you count the overview I may do for the DMR area liaison people. At first they didn’t want to have anything to do with learning anything about Virtual Gateway. Now that it’s here and happening they want to jump on the bandwagon. And the beat goes on.

So what does all this have to do with chocolate? Chocolate’s the aphrodisiac of the soul. Sometimes I need a lift. I felt a little maudlin tonight. A little calm in the eye of the storm you might say. I do 2 training sessions tomorrow, 2 the next day, one on Thursday and then 2 on Friday. Then, the following week, the pattern pretty much repeats. The only break I’ll have this whole month will be on Monday, the 25th. Work, work, work. So, a little chocolate for the soul. It does wonders.