August 31, 2013

Random Act of Customer Service

Random Act of Customer Service
By John R. Greenwood

It happened right out of the blue. I didn’t see it coming. The day was a little rainy and hadn’t decided what direction it was going to go. It didn’t want to rain, yet the sun was missing. It was a Saturday morning and my wife had to work a half-day. I would be left all alone. That usually results in something getting broken or misplaced. My plan was to drop Mrs G off then go shopping for a few things out at what I call our town’s ‘Vegas Strip.’ It’s a  Mall+Plaza+Medical+Grocery Store+Bank+Fast Food+Big Box Bonanza where you can’t find anything from what you want, to what you need. I was as free as a grown man with a wallet should be allowed to be and I didn’t need something and I was going to go look for it. 

I will get to that Random Act of Customer Service in a moment. First I want to explain what’s wrong with the world today--it will only take a minute. 

I was standing in line at Big Blue and Yellow when I looked over at the little hunk of real estate where they house Big Box Disney. You know, that glass encased hand-crank crane where for a handful of quarters you can try your luck at grabbing a stuffed animal by the neck. Sometimes they have a fine-jewelry machine where you can buy an engraved bracelet with your girlfriends name on for the same price as a sleeve of 24 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. There’s always a mini-carousel with a fiberglass horse whispering to your child’s sense of adventure as you attempt to get by without shelling out your hard earned cash. That’s where I spotted mom in the middle of mini-Disney. She was wielding a basket of kids, and they were jumping around like a gymnastics' team of 5 year-olds.. One was being asked to get in the basket with her brother. “No!” she snapped. “I want to walk.” Mom never flinched, she said, “No, we can’t go fast when you walk.” I closed my eyes, lowered my head, and burst through the war zone. I’d been there before--I have a decent memory. And that folks is what’s wrong with the world today. We ran off the tracks. We’re going 90 mph and we don’t know why. Our children can’t talk fast enough, drive fast enough or eat fast enough. The world is whizzing by their little faces so fast they think they’re on a thrill ride. It’s not mom’s fault she’s doing what we’re all doing; trying to keep up with the train. We need more stuff, fast stuff, so we can get there before the competition. We don’t want arrogant babies but you know you hate seeing them come in second. We push and pull them until they can’t go anymore and then when they say they want to walk, we say, “Too Slow.” Things will slow down at some point. At some point it will again be cool to walk, talk, and breathe slow. The train will come back this way and we’ll jump on board. Hopefully it’s going back up the hill where the view is better. 

Now back to that Random Act of Customer Service. 

When I left Big Blue and Yellow I stopped at one of those stores that sell crafting items like foam balls and plastic flowers. Earlier in the week I purchased some clear epoxy resin for a project I was doing and I needed some of those small plastic measuring cups to ensure I used the right ratio of resin to hardener. I thought a craft store would sell them by the gross. Of course every time I think I get in trouble. Today was no different. The only package they had included brushes, stirrers and six cups all for a mere $10.50. After scouring the aisle for assistance I finally found an employee who was nice enough to ensured me they were the only ones they sold. I counted to ten, and summoned that little voice on my shoulder. The voice of reason who always tells me to stop being such a grump and just relax, open your wallet, pay the cashier and go home--life’s too short. It worked. I gathered my senses and stepped up to the register, placed my $10.50 worth of plastic cups on the counter and smiled. Sharon the pleasant cashier must have sensed my pouty aura and asked, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” Smiling and now as calm as a coma, I replied, “Yes, I just hate paying $10.50 for that little package of cups.” Sharon should be the next inductee to the Cashier Hall of Fame because she read me perfectly. She grabbed a coupon next to the register and scanned it. It provided a generous discount and sealed me as a lifetime customer. She never batted an eye. You don’t find employees like that everyday. Reading the customer has become a lost art. Scanners and self-checkout have removed all the personality from our shopping experience. There are a handful of Sharon’s out there and when you run into one you want to tell everyone you know. It was a very small thing in the realm of life but it made me want to leave the store shouting at the top of my lungs. Let’s just say it made my day. When I left the store I walked especially slow. I wanted to enjoy the moment. So you see, there’s is hope. Customer Service is clinging on for dear life. I was lucky enough to experience Sharon doing her best to save it. 

August 24, 2013

Friday Night

Friday Night
By John R. Greenwood

Friday night arrives more slowly than Monday night. It inches down through the week and teases you from the moment the sun comes up. Friday's taste good even when the short straw says it's your weekend to work. Friday will always maintain it's dominance when it comes to days to look forward to. That TGIF feeling has been there since I can remember. It started in grade school when the last bell rang. It increased in importance when paychecks became a part of my life. Groceries and filling the car with gas have always coincided with the end of the work week. Cold beers after work on Friday always tasted better than any other day or night of the week. Friday's in highschool were happier and shorter. Even mean teachers smiled on Friday's. 
Fridays in the present day mean I can stay up late pecking away on the laptop. 

Friday's and Saturday's have been competing for top pizza night bragging rights for years. 
The photo above seemed to ooze a Friday night vibe. With a camera never more than arm's length away, I snapped this shot; pepperoni, or sausage?  

August 23, 2013

Like A Paul Simon Song

Like a Paul Simon Song
By John R. Greenwood

"Morning Ride"
It fills me like a Paul Simon song. 
It's not a midlife crisis; I wrestled that to the ground years ago. 
It's not an, "I want one too." statement. It's simply been a few years since my last bike and the fever got to be more than I could handle. Last year I barely squeaked by; this summer I folded. All it took was a walk through a showroom full of motorcycles to push me over the edge and on to the credit union. 
The stomach stir that gets my heart tapping to the beat of my feet is the same one that possessed my 10 year old spirit when I rode that first minibike out of our yard and into a world beyond.
There is a freedom that attaches itself to a seat with two wheels and motor below.
My pulse-maker is neither new nor a Harley. 
It's just another cruiser that's fast enough to put a snap in my neck and fresh air in my face.
It's greenery streaming by on a country road.
It's a refreshing ride to work on damp August morning.
The world looks different from a motorcycle.
You feel more in sync with the Earth's rotation.
The stars seem closer. 
Bright eyes in the hedges are a quiet reminder to be cautious.
I am excited, like a kid one more time. 
We will share a smile, a pat on the tank, then off we'll go.
A man and a bike on a visit to the past hoping to sip some youth on the way to the future.

For me a bike is a wake up, wind down experience. It's a magic pill with a 3 gallon gas tank. You can spend thousands or a few hundred and still get that jolt of adrenaline. 

A twist of the throttle and a torque surge forward can make the difference between a bad start and a good finish.  

August 19, 2013

Artist with a brush -- and scraper?

Artist with a brush -- and scraper?
By John R. Greenwood

I've always strived to be one of those self sufficient people who possess the ability to make any and all repairs  around their home and property. Whether it's putting a new roof on the garage or laying a tile floor, I have always viewed those individuals as skilled craftsmen. The cost of professional tradespeople is high and understandably so. When your hot water is not hot and your drains are not draining, the value of experience skyrockets. If you make a monthly mortgage payment these skills are indispensable. I place my skill level at home repairs at an intermediate level. I get by with basic homeowner skills like painting or replacing a screen in the backdoor. I learned many of those skills from my father and grandfather. My best teacher these days is a thing called the internet. There is always a video or website where you can find the information you need to complete even the most detailed repair. 

Today's post is not about an intricate electrical, plumbing or remodeling job it's about painting. My skills as a watercolor artist or illustrator are nonexistent, but I do love wielding a good old 3" wooden paint brush. The downside to painting a big old garage is the preparation. Scraping peeling paint is painful for me; not physically but mentally. I find it difficult to quell my impatient nature. I want to see the finished product. It was no different when I was a young boy building model cars. I hated waiting for the glue to dry. This usually resulted in a missing or broken part. I couldn't wait to get to the painting. On this particular weekend I dug deep into the ambition locker and decided to paint the front of our garage. It was looking rather unkept. It's a good old garage and it deserved some attention. I filled a white pail with scrapers and wire brushes and began my weekend adventure. 

The weather cooperated and by Sunday night 75% of the job was complete. The front of the garage had a coat of primer and one coat of paint. During the week I added another coat. One more Saturday gave me a chance to add new trim boards and a new set of lights. She cleaned up nice. It's not an original painting or a commissioned piece of art but I did take pride in the end result. It gave me blog material by providing a photogenic participant and a simple theme. Life is more than one street. It's about good days, bad days, blue ribbons, and ripped pants. There are many ways to enjoy life. 

I extract the most out of life when I am able to inject artistry into it. Lately I seem to crave it like an addict. I am driven to exercise my creative muscles anyway possible. That is the essence of Raining Iguanas. If you don't have an identifiable talent but you are filled with a creative engine you must find a way to fuel it. Your life depends on it. 

As I assembled my before and after shots I snapped this profile of my reflection in the window of the garage. 

It seemed as though it was urging me to continue down this path. It was telling me not to sit still and settle. It was prodding me to keep painting, writing, and taking pictures. After all, what good are blooming flowers and bright lights if they don't have a nice place to stay. 

August 18, 2013

Shadow Fishing

Shadow Fishing
By John Greenwood 

August evening shadows 
ripple softly 
father and sons casting lines 
in anticipation of that last big bite 
to quell the tale of the one that got away
these are moments engrained 
as boys into men they grow 
so too those shadows follow
drifting alongside 
lapping quiet water sounds 
upon the bow
leaving fond reflections 
of time spent together
casting shadows

Submitted to 'Open Link Monday' at :

August 17, 2013

Crayola Sunset

Crayola Sunset 
By John R. Greenwood

Kayak Shack and Fish Creek Marina 
 When my mind reaches for something that's not there and I need an answer I grab my camera and a set of keys. Today after spending the day working around the house I was tired, sore, and hungry for a photograph fix. My skills as a photographer are limited. I don't worry about my ISO's or my shudder speed. I don't have time to. I have a baby camera with good manners and autofocus skills of the highest regard. What I do have when it comes to taking photographs is desire. I have this insatiable desire to find that photo that talks to you. It something that spends the day with me and never leaves. I want to learn more about my camera. I want to know it inside and out, but I am an impatient man. All that takes time and with my age peeking under the door of six decades I don't want to waste a minute. I love to write but I need a vision in my head to do it. I write my best pieces when I have a photo to guide me. If I don't have a physical photo I have to stop and create one in my mind. I suppose that's what writing is. 

The photos in this post were taken on late Saturday afternoon motorcycle ride. I grabbed my camera and headed to nearby Fish Creek. Fish Creek is the outlet of Saratoga Lake. The sun was tired too. It was slowly dripping beneath the hills to the west. The light was August rich and the air smelled of summer's wane. My heart lifted as a boat drifted past, a man and his two sons flipping colorful bass lures in the glistening shadows of the bridge where I stood watching. 

Moments later a canoe paddled by leaving a gentle wake rippling off into the cattails. It was a short simple visit to a bridge. The marina nestle at the creeks edge was the real gem. The colorful boats and building decorated the bank and lifted my spirit. Tired children could be heard in the distance, hanging on to that last bit of energy with a race along the waters edge. Standing there at the rail of the bridge provided a calming hug at the end of a busy work week. 

This is what art and artistry is meant to do for us. Whether it's painting a watercolor of an idyllic farm scene, or singing a baby to soft slumber, artistry soothes our soul. Your skill level with a paint brush or guitar pic is only significant if you are paying bills with them. When you need to introduce joy and love into your heart via art and artistry the only requirement is to begin...

All the photos above were taken from Stafford's Bridge on Rt. #67 Stillwater. Here is a link to the Fish Creek Marina

August 15, 2013

Barking Mad

Barking Mad
By John R. Greenwood

I photographed this dog at the Saratoga Racecourse. He was barking through the slats of the backstretch fence. His obvious look of displeasure made me think he might be yelling at the thoroughbred who just came in fourth in the 8th Race. I pictured 'Barking Mad' betting away a weeks worth of kibble on a horse named, "Lucky Dog." I imagined the conversation going something like this.

Barking Mad: "What the hell happened? You looked like a bowl of cold molasses by the 3/4 pole!"

Horse named 'Lucky Dog': "I told you this morning that my arthritis has been driving me bonkers and that you should box me with #5 'Forever Young'!"

Barking Mad: "Yeah, well I have a doghouse payment to make or I'm back in the shelter at the end of the meet. You were 30/1. Just one win and my problems would be over. Last night you said the rest of the field would feel more at home in my dog dish!"

Horse named 'Lucky Dog': "I don't know what you want me to say. That new jockey they threw on me felt like he'd made a few too many trips through the buffet line." 

Barking Mad: "All I'm saying is you better make up for it next week in the Jim Dandy. I had to sell my Westminster Dog Show tickets on Ebay to get enough money to stay afloat this week."

Horse named 'Lucky Dog': "Alright, alright I get it. I will do my best. Meanwhile can you get me that filly's number from the barn over on Nelson Ave. You promised me last week. Maybe a lap or two around the Oklahoma with her will loosen up my knee. Hey, didn't you tell me she had a bit part in the movie Seabiscuit?" 

Barking Mad: "Yeah, she milked the press on that gig until the DVD went platinum. 
Stop trying to change the subject, just be sure you win by three lengths. I want to be counting my money until the cow comes home."

The Cow- Thinking about coming home...

August 13, 2013

Rail Hanging

Rail Hanging
By John R. Greenwood

Saratoga Racecourse 2013

Rail Hanging is child's play. A wide smooth railing is preferable. Curious children are best suited for the sport where joy and wonder are expressed by a pair of swinging feet alternating between right and left. Bright little sneakers with clean white laces showcase the sport at it's finest. Professional Rail Hangers will machine gun random questions to anyone within five feet to either side. "What's the horses name?" or "Can we ride him?" A veteran rail hanger can hang for eternity, causing an overprotective grandparent undue stress and anxiety. Mostly though, rail hanging brings back memories of the farm where you played as a child. The sights and sounds swarm your mind with every swing of the rail hangers feet. A transformation takes place and suddenly you are leaning on the rail, feet planted on the outside, swinging and singing on the inside. 

August 09, 2013

Adirondack Smorgasbord

Adirondack Smorgasbord
By John R. Greenwood

I love the Hudson River for many reasons. Most of them are within eyesight and earshot of my photograph of The Irving H. Densmore Memorial Bridge. The bridge spans the Hudson in the Village of Corinth and connects Saratoga and Warren Counties. I grew up a few miles south in Greenfield Center but my father loved north and hated south on the compass, so I became intimately familiar with the Hudson at an early age. I learned to swim, waterski, and fish in the waters on the north side of this span. I named this piece Adirondack Smorgasbord because of bounty that lies beyond this photo. Whether you love to hunt, fish, hike, or you just want raise a family you can find the best of the best of anything outdoors here. Living in this area all my life it's easy to take its offerings for granted. The main artery of the state and the Adirondack Park for me is the Hudson. It is the connector of all the small villages and tributaries that bind nature and people together. To me the Hudson denotes strength and resiliency. I only hope that all the money and effort that is being put in to the river over the last several decades will someday be appreciated by the generations following behind us.

I find a river more exciting than a lake. A river takes you somewhere and brings new things to you. It has more movement and change in its makeup. I've always wanted a home or a camp on the Hudson; a place to observe and absorb. Maybe one day that opportunity will arise. 

Watercolor of Corinth, NY by Jack Lewis
I discovered a book a few years ago in the recesses of the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore in Saratoga. It's titled The Hudson River by Jack Lewis. Jack was a watercolor artist from Delaware. He died in 2012 at the age of 99. In the 1960's he spent a couple of summers traveling from the source of the Hudson in the High Peaks to New York's Battery Park where it empties in to the Atlantic. He would document a scene by painting a watercolor and then write a simple description of the day, the scenery, and the people he met. 

The book has become one of the favorites of my collection. I loved it so much I recently purchased a second copy--just because. It came in the mail the other day and I wrote about the stamp covered package that it was wrapped in.

Now you see why I was so thrilled at the two-fer I received. 

August 08, 2013

Book By Mail

Book By Mail
By John R. Greenwood

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. In this case I hope that proves false. I ordered a vintage 1960’s book recently.  Today it came via the United States Postal Service. It was propped gently against the back door. I was mesmerized by how beautiful the book was packaged. It was covered in wonderful stamps of all kinds. I was as thrilled by the package as I was by the contents. I was like the child who spends Christmas Day playing in the cardboard box his overpriced, oversized, already forgotten gift came in. Yes, I am a simple man. 

I can’t explain why this envelope was such a treat. I think one reason is the excitement that comes with receiving something so personal by mail. This great package made up for a years worth of junkmail. The future of the mail is in jeopardy. I can live without Saturday deliveries. I'm fairly certain my Saturday mail gets held back anyway. Monday's volume is always tenfold Saturday's sales catalog. 

I really enjoyed receiving this envelope. I may even frame it as a eclectic reminder of a changing piece of history. I remember sending mom and dad postcards from camp. They were short and misspelled but they were heartfelt and real. I hope before sending letters and cards becomes completely obsolete that they make a nostalgic comeback. I am pulling for a rebirth of postcards and handwritten love letters. Love letters than speak of moonlit nights and long autumn walks. 

For now I plan to enjoy my stamp smothered package. The one encasing a yet unseen book I plan to show you in a future post.  

August 06, 2013

Show Me The Way

Inspiration for me usually comes from a photograph. Sometimes it's an old family photo. Most of the time it comes from something I find in my everyday travels. That is why my camera is never far away. This summer has blasted past me. My work world has been especially demanding and it has drained my writing and my energy. I'm not complaining. I am fortunate to have the job I have. It is simply a fact. It's like the plans for that home improvement project that sits idle on the corner of the kitchen table. When you have the money, you don't have the time and if you wait for that week of free time, you may not have the resources. It all comes down to balance. Right now I'm off balance and in search mode. I miss my Hubbard Hall Writing Group. We haven't met in a while. Everyone has been busy.

Our mentor Jon Katz and his Bedlam Farm Journal is flourishing in the sun's glow. His energy and creativity leave me in stunned silence as I try to fathom how he pulls it all together day after day. His desire to encourage and touch the people he meets is infectious. I envy his limitless capacity to find new ways to entertain us. Lately Jon and his dog Red have been visiting local veterans. Red is fine tuning his skills as a therapy dog. Red is a magical dog. One look in the eyes of this beautiful creature and you will realize how special this animal is.

I know something is waiting just around the corner. It may be a new idea, or an old friend. I might read a story that ignites something. I never know where the next spark will come from but I know it will come. Sometimes I simply head out the door and look until I find it. Right now I'm a just too tired. That's not an excuse it's a fact. When my eyes are so heavy they hurt I know it's time to retreat, repack, and regroup. I will give it a go tomorrow. In the mean time head over to Bedlam Farm Journal and see what Jon has up his sleeve today. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

August 01, 2013

Super Market

Super Market 
By John R. Greenwood

"A supermarket tale"

It was a good run. I remember the 1960’s when I flourished across America. I provided neighborhoods with strong paper bags full of nourishment for a fraction what you pay today. You could walk in the door and know everyone who worked here by name. They would know yours too. They would greet you with a smile and ask you how your mother was feeling. I had names like the A&P and Central Market. My aisles were wide and welcoming. I smelled fresh because there was real food inside-not boxes of imitation, pretend food. I was a gathering place for mothers carrying newborn babies and father’s stopping by after work to pick up real bread and fresh milk in real milk bottles. Children loved me too. They tugged on mom and dads legs begging for a ride on the fiberglass horse or helicopter out front. My cashiers wore uniforms and spent lifetimes working for me. They had names like Betty, Viola, and Minnie. My managers took pride in my appearance. You could find them in aisle #9 mopping up broken jars of dill pickles. They wore ties and white shirts and asked you if they could help you. My open face vegetable coolers were packed with fresh produce from the farms in the nearby county. My coffee aisle smelled like heaven and my doors were closed on Sundays. Yes, todays supermarkets are super. They will change your oil while you shop. You can buy eyeglasses in the front, and get an 8x10 of little Timmy in the back. They sell televisions and phone contracts, gallons of shampoo and diamond earrings. I am all for change and I’m even wearing a pair of Big Blue eye glasses but I have to be honest--this sight made me sad. It evoked desolation and helplessness. As with most things they complete a cycle. Maybe some of the things we once took for granted will comeback around. For now I will work on my optimism, there is always room for improvement. 

NOTE: I came across this Red & White Super Market in the western part of New York State. I am always in search of that "thing" that grabs my attention. This small town market seemed to reach out to me as I passed and say,"Hey mister, throw me a bone, take a photo for memory's sake. Keep my history alive, even if it's just a picture. In a year or two you won't recognize me at all. I'm tired of waiting to be brought back to life. I enjoyed it while I was here. Take care and thank you." I acknowledged his request and took a couple photos.