The problem with volcanoes is ash. The problem with ash is, you can't fly a plane through it without sustaining severe mechanical damage. You can imagine, then, the havoc wreaked at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage when countless Alaskans tried to make it home from their Spring Break vacations after eighteen (scratch that, nineteen) back-to-back eruptions from our friendly neighborhood volcano. With cancellations backing up air traffic like a stack of bricks, our 9:00pm flight from Honolulu was inevitably rescheduled to 2:00 am the next morning.
Unfortunately, the rental car was due back by 8:00 pm, so I called Avis car rental to inquire about the price of adding a day onto our car rental. Instead of service, I got a fast-talking, impatient man with a thick accent who wanted an RA number, or RV number, or XYZ-something-or-other number. I couldn't understand him, so I hung up and dug out the contract, which explained that an additional day was $32.19, but after two days, they would send the cops after me. Which raised the question: what if we were delayed for more than two days? I should speak with an Alaska Airlines agent, just to make sure George and I weren't about to become incriminated via circumstantial volcanic activity. This time, however, I checked out the web site, where Customer Service was just a click away.
Instead of an agent, I got a virtual conversation with a virtual assistant who answered virtually none of my questions, save a brief response to inform me that she did not respond to "that type of language." By this time, our flight status listed a further postponement of 5:00 am, so I abandoned the cyclical computer animated conversation in pursuit of securing a place to stay for the night. Of course, then began the long process of rescheduling all of my Monday lessons. Just imagine opening ten successive phone conversations with the following line, and you will begin to understand what it is like to be a violin teacher in Alaska:
"Hello? Yes, this is Emily, and I'm currently stranded on a tropical island because the volcano blew up. I'm sorry, I'm afraid I'm going to have to cancel tomorrow's lesson. Any chance we could reschedule for Thursday?"
Being stranded on a tropical island is actually much more romantic on paper, isn't it? In reality, it plays out a little more like a dark comedy. Redoubt is erupting again as I type these lines. I still don't know if we'll be getting off the ground in the morning; it's possible we will be rerouted even if we do.
In that case, does anyone happen to know a good tiki bar in Portland?
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For the third time in three months, George took on a mounting headache that wouldn't go away, even after two days of ibuprofen and Excedrin. When he gets these, I just assume he is really going to die this time, so I spend the rest of the day asking how he feels. "My head hurts." Where does it hurt? "I don't know." Do you feel hot? Is anything swollen? What about when I push right here? How do you feel now? "My head hurts." Did you get enough water? Too much water? Not enough salt? Here, put some ice on it. How do you feel now? "My head hurts." After some more probing, we had it narrowed down to a tooth problem.
I watched his pulse while he watched the tv. I checked his breathing as he dozed off at night. I googled horror stories about botched wisdom teeth extractions. I watched the Zapruder film on Youtube, over and over again. Where does it hurt, George? Back, and to the left.
In the morning, since George was still alive, we scheduled an appointment with the safest sounding dentist in town: Dr K.B. Chun and Sons. They immediately squeezed him into the schedule and took him back to the chair. And then, the results were in. No, George would not die after all. But across the estimate, these two words were written--two words so severe, they are forever hallowed in the halls of pain and dread and worst case scenarios: Root Canal.
Forced into a dead end, we reluctantly agreed to the procedure. "Have a nice vacation," I called with scantily clad sarcasm as they whisked him back to the chair. Then, in one of the red waiting room chairs, next to the coffee table covered with vacation magazines and leaflets of perfect pearly whites, I shed a silent tear as I thought about our empty vacation fund. 900 dollars. More than a ticket to Hawaii. More than a two week car rental, or two weeks of housing. For $900 you could dine on kobe beef and fois gras at Tokyo-Tokyo not once, but maybe four times. 180 toe rings. 100 bottles of sunscreen. 450 americanos. 75 hawaiian shirts. 120 glasses of wine. Instead, I got "In sickness and in health" cycling through my head as I walked to the car, drove past the restaurants and shopping centers, and returned home to sulk at the computer.
But then I started thinking some more. Back in Alaska, where it's currently 30 degrees and snow packed, a root canal would run upwards of $1500. Add on a crown, and the bill would run easily over $2000. So, in reality, the timing could not have been better for a bargain on root canals. If it had to be done sooner or later, why not have some ukulele music to listen to while they're drilling and a warm place to bask when you're done? After all, sunshine is still free.
After making a few jokes at George's expense on facebook, I returned to the dental clinic with a better attitude. George came out and showed me his tooth, which now had a shiny white crown. "They crowned it?" I asked in alarm, as dollar signs spun circles in my eyes. "No wait, look at this:" He held out the bill, which had been reduced from $1110 to $860. "He gave us the crown for free and knocked off the tax. Said it was our 'vacation discount'." So, basically, we'd saved $1140. Hmm, that's five kobe dinners. 570 americanos. 126 bottles of sunscreen, or all the sunburns you can pack home.
"Well, look at that, George, it's definitely the pearliest tooth in the bunch. You should have had them paint a red hibiscus on it, seeing as how it's our souvenir and all."
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Everywhere we go, especially at parks and trail heads, we see the following sign:
PLEASE DO NOT LEAVE BELONGINGS INSIDE VEHICLE
Evidently, there are a lot of break-ins around here. I thought about this as I stepped out of the car to go for a sunset walk on the beach with George. Since my purse was too small to contain a GPS, makeup, gum, camera, and wallet, I took the wallet out and placed it on the ground beside the car. We had a lovely walk, but when I returned, the wallet was gone.
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In March, I am notoriously absent. After two months of "You can do it!" regarding community musicals, documentary recording sessions, symphony rehearsals, and a myriad of teaching hurdles, my unfiled tax forms lay before me like Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon. I've an art show to put up in just two weeks, but my inspiration hangs at an all time low. And every morning I awake to February 2nd all over again, with one more inch of fresh snow to erase one more set of bootprints from the day before.
"Hey, did you get that song I emailed you? I'd like you to record a violin part to go with it." ...Eh, I forgot to check again.
"Would you join me at 9:00 am on Friday to play at an elementary school?" ...Uh, I don't do free gigs before noon.
"We wanna reschedule our lessons." Oh, sorry, no, can't do that this time.
Compose a spontaneous and clever blog entry? --Not today. Write a helpful response to a lesson inquiry? Maybe later. Walk the dog? Been there, done that. How about them taxes, Emily? Oh-shoot-would-you-look-at-the-time, gotta go catch that plane.
The phone is ringing again, but it's too late; I've already checked my bags.
...First, I'll try a sunburn out in search of brighter hues, and ask the songbirds in the palm trees to find me better tunes. And then I'll comb the distant beach in search of my lost muse, and see what else has washed up from this maelstrom called the blues. And when the waves smooth out the sand and wipe my footprints off, I'll think, what a good idea--I'll just write the whole thing off.
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Speaking of speed, today Jonathan showed up for his lesson with a present for me that he made himself. "Oh, that's so cool!" I responded. "He looks like... No, wait... That's Sammy XLR8, isn't it?" Sammy is a character from the Adventures in Violinland books. He's a space violinist, and he teaches my students about time travel and other curious fast-fingered adventures. What totally impresses me is, Jonathan saw the guy on the cover of a book sitting on my desk, and then went home and recreated him from memory.
I paused from our lesson and looked him in the eye.
"Jonathan, do you love the violin?"
"Yes, yes, I do!" He nodded.
"Promise me you'll always practice and never give it up."
"Yes, yes, I will!"
I continued, "See, you posses an asset. Do you know what 'asset' means?"
"It's kinda like drawing a hand of cards and getting an ace. Your ace is imagination. It's just something you were given, and it's worth more than anything I could teach you, and I want to make sure you'll keep using it, okay?"
He promised, but I suppose I didn't need to mention all that. Kids like Jonathan do what they do because they can't help it. With a supportive family and an open door, he will take flight with the same instinct that the birds use. It's just what he was born to do.
Next week he'll be returning with a bow for Sammy.
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More entries: February 2009
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