June 25, 2019

A Little Magic

A Little Magic
By John R. Greenwood

Magic Dick and Shun Ng
June 21,2019 @ Caffe` Lena
In 1972 I was a High School Junior—a Saratoga Springs Blue Streak. My wife and I were dating, and we’ve now been married for 45 years. Three weeks ago, we retired hand-in-hand on the very same day. We are looking forward to a work-free summer filled with dates, day-trips, and mini adventures. Last night I enjoyed one of those mini-adventures when I witnessed a little Magic at Caffè Lena. 

"My 1972 Album Cover" 
The music was going to be a trip back and step forward all in the same night. That music was provided by Magic Dick and Shun Ng. Richard Salwitz known as Magic Dick, born May 13, 1945 was a member of the J. Geils band in 1972. That was the year I purchased the J. Geils Live album Full House (Yes, I still have the original pictured here). Full House was recorded at the Cinderella Ballroom in Detroit, Michigan. "Whammer Jammer" the #4 song on that album was always one of those songs that made me feel good. It got your “heart pumpin’” and looking forward to whatever was coming next. So, when I saw Magic Dick pop up on Caffè Lena’s upcoming event page, my curiosity and nostalgia kicked in. Three minutes later I had an Eventbrite Ticket Confirmation. 

"Magic Dick in 1972"
Photo from the back of the Full House Album
Magic was now partnered with Shun Ng. The promo said Shun was an acoustic guitar sensation. Although the name was not familiar, I trusted Caffè Lena and Magic Dick. That’s the adventure part of this retirement gig. A short Shun Ng trip on Google and Youtube indicated this was going to be more interesting than I first thought. I was not disappointed. 

Even the search for a Saratoga parking spot on a Friday night in June turned into an enjoyable adventure. Finally, after circling nearby lots and streets, I settled on a quiet spot on Regent Street a few blocks away. The walk to 47 Phila began the walk back in time. This was the other end of the street, where I went to Jr. High. A few buildings south of that is where we'd drop my son off at Marilyn Rollison's "MarLyn Nursery School". It was the street where I would steal a kiss from my girlfriend, now wife, on our walks from the Eastside to SPAC for a James Taylor concert. It was a block away from the Spring St. Market and Eartha’s Kitchen where I delivered milk back in the 80s. An endless loop of fond memories and sights was playing in my head. 

My wife and I have differing likes when it comes to music, so tonight was a solo flight. It was okay, the camaraderie of a Caffè Lena crowd was sure to provide some interesting conversation. The show was spectacular. Magic, now seventy and still sporting black leather was energetic and engaging as was his sub-thirty partner Shun Ng. 

This story is more than a music review. I wanted to focus on the living beyond work part, and the re-wiring of our goals and aspirations for life on a monthly check and weeks with no weekends. Caffè Lena presented me with a priceless gift Friday night. Never in my wildest dreams back in 1972 did I think that in forty-seven years I’d be sitting in a quaint music venue enjoying one of my teenage music heroes just a few feet away. This isn’t about going back and trying to recapture youth, it’s about savoring the entire dish. Life for me has all taken place within a 30-mile radius, but when I start pulling out the strands of experiences, friendships, characters, and memories, it’s a mountainous collection of joy. Finding joy and not regret is what we should strive for in life after work. How many times have we heard, “life is what  you make of it.” Sitting at that little table on that beautiful Friday night in June, I had the immense pleasure of listening to 1972 again. It’s not about re-creating it, it’s about letting those sounds and voices inspire you to want more—even after the workdays end. May 31st, 2019 was my last day of employment but the first day of school for me. Excitement and curiosity are alive and well. Thanks to some old friends and places, it’s tasting delicious. 

Thank you Magic, it was an honor to shake your hand and have an opportunity to tell you face to face how much your music meant to me when I was 17. Thank you for introducing Shun Ng and his music to me. Thank you, Sarah Craig, for pouring your heart and soul into Lena’s place and helping it thrive. Thank you, Joe Deuel, for your gentle demeanor and undying commitment to capturing the essence of Lena’s in sound and photographs.

Thank you, Saratoga, Wilton, and Greenfield for the buffet of life you’ve laid out for me, Chapter # 1’s been a great ride. Chapter # 2’s off to a great start!  

* Fun side note and testament to my lack of music nerd-ness. As I was Googling around J. Geils and all the Wikipedia side trips I stumbled upon the simplest of facts. The poker hand on the cover of Full House is not a full house. I've owned that album for almost a half-century and listened to it hundreds of times, and I never realized it! See what I mean. You're never too old to be curious. You may be surprised at what you find. No wonder when I looked at the Queen of Hearts closely she was winking at me. ;)

And just in case you're wondering: 

"Whammer Jammer" - Let me hear you Dickie!

June 06, 2019

Owl Pen Books

Owl Pen Books
By John R. Greenwood

What is beautiful, yet covered in dirt?
"Riddle Road"
Day three of
retirement found me rumbling down an old dirt road in my pickup. The sign said Riddle Road—it’s across the river in Washington County, and it brought me to used-book-nirvana.
Owl Pen Books is a therapeutic blanket of knowledge and history, wrapped in old books and musty air, all encased in barn-red buildings, draped in a canopy of century-old maples, and surrounded by moss-covered stonewalls— a virtual, “Book Heaven.” I knew it was out there somewhere, and my heart knew it had to be a special place. I was not disappointed. I regret that it took me so long to get there. My search for yet another copy of Jack Lewis’ 1960s book “The Hudson River,” was what finally brought me there. An internet search in December revealed Owl Pen Books possessed a copy among its 100,000 plus book inventory. 

Edie's Checkout Counter
The problem with my discovery was, it was the dead of winter, and the Owl Pen Book Barns are closed until mud season. As much as I wanted another copy of my all time favorite book, I wanted to buy it in person, not via UPS. An email request to hold the book was as easy as pie, and the kind voice of owner Edie Brown assured me the book would still be here whenever I was able to make my pilgrimage. Talk about worth the wait. 

The mother of all book stores...
When you head to Riddle Road this summer, be sure to use your GPS or a map from the early 1900s because this treasure is buried deep. I’ve read some other online reviews of columnists who have written about their visit to Owl Pen. They all, including this piece, focus a large part of their observation on how much joy they derived just getting there. Even a well-traveled adventurer should plan to stop at the Greenwich or Argyle Stewart’s for a handful of Slim Jim’s and a few cold bottles of Saratoga Water as back up, on the off chance you end up in Hartford. Either way, you will pass through some of the most calming farm vistas known to man. 

Real. Live. Classics.
When the friendly voice on my Garmin signaled my destination was just yards away, I saw a sign that said, “Owl Pen Parking” and it was pointing to a small field surrounded by fresh-leaved trees full of chirping birds. There was one lone Prius parked randomly between the invisible lines of a make-believe parking lot. There was no paved walk just a worn dirt path leading to the main chicken-coop/book-barn. This place has history. Born in 1960 by Barbara Probst, and now run by Edie Brown and Hank Howard. Owl Pen oozes a sense of nostalgia and what-will-I-find-next-mystery. I was on a bit of a time crunch, so today’s visit was more exploratory than full day campout so when it came to cruising the shelves I barely scratched the surface. What I can relay is how this place made me feel. It wasn’t just shelves of books; it was a like a Thoreau retreat. There is peaceful calm that permeates the entire property. The never-ending rain of this spring had everything growing a deep green and to its full potential. If I hadn’t retired just a few days earlier, I would have asked for a job application. 

No Need To Knock
I can’t wait to return to Owl Pen on my motorcycle. This time I will pack a lunch, a fresh camera battery, and a pad and pen. I won’t need my Garmin or a watch, and I will be smiling when I get there. I will be book happy when I leave. 

When you go, be sure to tell Edie that Raining Iguanas sent you, My hope is; she smiles in return. 

If you aren't grabbing your keys yet, wait until you see the rest of these scenes from Owl Pen Books 

This is my Disney. 

"Can I wrap this to go?"

"View with a room" 

"Help Fight TV--Buy a Book" - Owl Pen Books

Where it all started

"Wood you miss this shot?"

"The End"

June 02, 2019

Day One

Day One 
By John R. Greenwood 

Day one of “rewirement” has begun for my wife and me. I compare it to summer vacation as a child. Hopefully, it exceeds expectations. This will be the first summer in our forty-five-year marriage that we will be able to enjoy more than a long weekend free from work. The thought of it has left us feeling like a house-cat loose in the backyard—skittish of the songbirds we’ve long been salivating over from the windowsill. 

It was an emotional roller coaster of a week. We both had the good fortune and pleasure of working for long time employers who treated us with respect and generosity from beginning to end. In today’s work environment, that is rare. There are few words to express how grateful we both are for that employer/employee relationship.

The perpetual weekend is now upon us, and it will be a challenge to savor every drop of joy we can. For me it will begin with the keyboard I’m using to write this post. For my wife, it started with a bouquet of flowers from yesterday’s send-off. She has an artist’s touch and can transform a simple bouquet into a dramatic centerpiece. Seldom does a day go by that there isn’t a prize winning arrangement gracing our dining room table. 

We both have our own lists of want-to and have-to. My hope is having enough time on the laptop to be able to write without having to look at the keys. For me, it’s important to set the bar low and slow. That book of mine may take a while. 

The hardest part for us both was leaving our coworkers. These are the faces that have blessed our workday for decades. We’ve watched each other’s children grow and have been there when parents passed, or tragedy reared its ugly head. In both cases, our jobs were an integral part of who we are. Spending a lifetime solving the problems of others takes a toll on you, but it also comes full circle when you realize people were paying attention and pay you back ten-fold with their friendship. That list is long and dear to us both. It doesn’t mean staying in touch comes to an end, but realistically the opportunities shrink like the list of friends who would line up to help you move.

Sunday afternoons may seem longer now without the dreaded Monday peering in the window. Hell, I may even stay up to see the third quarter of a Monday Night Football game. Tuesday’s can become the new Friday, especially if that’s the day our now monthly paychecks arrive. We can get groceries on Wednesday mornings instead of Saturday afternoons. Those crowded aisles of stressed moms, impatient fathers, and rambunctious three-year-olds, now replaced with shuffling feet and grey perms—Booyah! I can mow the lawn on Thursday’s starting at 8am—and take all day if necessary. Friday has now lost its rank among the favorites, but knowing the joy it brings to others still shoveling the pile will take up the slack. Saturday’s will be errand-free, taste delicious, and will feel like they last all week. 

In closing, I know I also speak for Mrs. G., when I say thank you to all those people who crossed our paths in our long and blessed careers—you made it all worthwhile.