Categories
Life

This is my wallet

Part of the This Is My series.

Usually I’m a bifold wallet guy. I don’t like how trifolds make two bends in paper money. But once I realized I could just fold whatever bills I have in half and stick them in the middle section of the bill area, my wallet options opened up.

Which brings me to Bogota, Colombia, circa November 2010. I was roaming a street market with some friends from the church I was working at during my post-college Colombian adventure. We came upon a spread of handcrafted goods on a tattered blanket along the sidewalk, presided over by a dirty, dreaded hippie around my age. One of his wallets for sale caught my eye:

It was a trifold with black leather on the outside, yellow on the inside, red string trim, and two metal corner fasteners. I liked that it was slender, homemade, cheap, unique, and would double as a useful souvenir of my time in Colombia.

His price was reasonable, so I agreed to it. He asked if I understood Spanish, which, like now, I did enough without being fluent. He then gave a sort of New Age benediction, exhorting me to be a worthy steward of this wallet and honor the spirit of the universe and so on.

In the nine years since, it has unraveled in parts and gotten slack from use, but I love it. I love how the leather has formed to the shape of the cards inside, and how it takes up just enough space when in my pocket.

One of these days the trim will unravel completely or the leather will break down and I’ll be forced to upgrade. My wife, who’s not a fan of this gloriously decrepit wallet, would rather that day come soon. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from the This Is My series, it’s that I don’t carelessly discard things that do their job well.

And she ought to be careful what she wishes for, because I have another wallet waiting in the wings for when the Colombian dies. And it’s the subject of a future This Is My post.

Categories
Life Music

Now available: ‘The Wonder Of It All’, a new album of old demos

Surprise! I just released a new album of old demos called The Wonder Of It All, now available on SoundCloud.

Since 2010, when I first got my MacBook Pro, I’ve used GarageBand to record song ideas. Some of them remain fragments and half-songs, but many have become full songs. This album is a collection of the songs that became something.

Most of the songs were written and recorded in 2010 when I was in Colombia, or in 2011 after I returned home and had a good amount of spare time. None of them are professionally or even decently recorded; I did them all myself, usually just with the MacBook’s built-in microphone in a bedroom or other non-soundproofed space. (Piano and drums were recorded at Reba Place Church.) Except where noted I did all the singing and played all the instruments. I am not a good singer, but I am proud of how I composed and arranged many of the songs. Some turned out well, some make me cringe, some I’m just happy I finished.

I’m releasing them now for two reasons:

  • Now in my thirties with a kid on the way, I’d very much like to just get these out into the world and achieve some sense of closure rather than let them languish on a hard drive. They represent a formative time of my life for which I’m very grateful, but it’s time to say goodbye and thanks for the memories.
  • Without a band or reason to record them professionally, I’d rather release them as demos, lo-tech warts and all, because something is better than nothing.

Keep reading for some short liner notes on each track. Thanks for listening and sharing. And thanks to Richard Polt for the authentic Royal Executive typewriter font for the cover.

1. “The Wonder Of It All”

The most recently written and recorded song on the album, from 2015. Initially had some drums towards the end, but between that, the guitar, and piano, the rhythm got too choppy. Just realized how much the beginning sounds like “Hero” by Family of the Year (a.k.a. the Boyhood song).

2. “It All Comes Back To You”

Originally called “Shouldn’t Have Done,” written by my friend and former bandmate Taylor, I changed the chorus and wrote two more verses for this new version. (Original version is track 14.) The random children shouting in the background were playing in the Colombian church where I was recording.

3. “Minor Lovers (feat. Taylor Martin)”

With a little banjo and stand-up bass help from Taylor.

4. “Be Still Your Fears (Christmastime Is Here)”

Once I started coming back around on Christmas music in general, I figured I should try to write my own. A bit strange putting this together in a warm Colombian winter. Should have added some sleigh bells in the interludes.

5. “Rejoice Evermore”

Proud of the backing vocals on this one. Can you tell I was listening to Mumford & Sons a lot around that time? This and track 13 are the most explicitly worship-songy I think—not a surprise given I was living with a Colombian pastor’s family and heavily involved at church.

6. “I Can Do Anything Good”

Remember that viral video of a cute little girl saying affirmations in her bathroom mirror? I turned everything she said into lyrics.

7. “Heaven Knows”

My “sad bastard” emo song. Added the harmonica interludes after I got one for my birthday one year.

8. “I Will Find A Way”

Went through several different tempos and feels before landing on this more upbeat version. Regret not adding some foot-stomps to give it some meat and drive.

9. “Long Gone Days”

Also went through several different tempos and feels before landing on this slow rock rendition. Needs some bass or low-end.

10. “Today Starts”

Wrote this all the way back in high school, and even recorded it with Taylor on a 4-track mixer. But couldn’t locate the recording, so I tried it again. The original was better, and not just because Taylor sang it.

11. “I Carry Your Heart”

Chorus lyrics are quoting an e.e. cummings poem, which I first heard in the good movie In Her Shoes. Had fun stacking harmonies throughout.

12. “What Love Looks Like To Me”

Kinda funny that I wrote this before ever actually being in love and having botched two different shotgun relationships. Call it a creative writing experiment.

13. “Awake And Alive”

Another fun vocal one. Not sure what I was thinking with the claps but why not.

14. “It All Comes Back To You (feat. Taylor Martin)”

The original “Shouldn’t Have Done” with me on guitar and Taylor singing.

Categories
Music Story

Winter Has Come For The Young

When I was in Colombia during the fall of 2010, I listened to the album All Those I Know by the Milwaukee indie-pop band Eric & Magill a lot. I was particularly fond of the song “Old Man Winter,” which to me embodied the album’s ethereal, melancholic style. I was so inspired, in fact, that I wrote a very short story/script based on that song about an unnamed couple that reconnects for the first time after a falling-out.

I wanted eventually to turn it into a short film, with “Old Man Winter” serving as the short’s bookends (I copped the story’s title from the song lyrics). The short film never happened, but the story remained buried in my personal files – until now. Maybe the short film will happen one day. But until then, here is the story in its script form.

Winter Has Come For The Young

Midday. Overcast. Snow. The woman sits inside, holding her book on the stairs near the door, aloof. The man comes out of the stairwell and walks toward the door. He sees her and pauses for a moment, then continues out the door.

She sees him as he walks outside. As he walks down the front steps she packs up quickly and follows him out. He’s gearing up outside when she approaches. He’s cold to her.

WOMAN: I hate the cold.

MAN: I know. Once you’re outside, there’s no escape. Some people don’t like that feeling. … But I’ve learned to live with it.

WOMAN: I’ve seen you around.

MAN: Just trying to crowd the hours.

She wants to say what she wants to say but holds back.

WOMAN: Would you want to get a coffee with me?

He thinks about it. What does she want? Is this a good idea? Better than the status quo.

MAN: OK.

They start walking. Cut to walking out of a coffeehouse with their drinks.

MAN: Where to?

WOMAN: I know a place.

They walk around the corner. He keeps his distance. They arrive at the river. They stand in silence, looking at the snow and the river.

MAN: Why did we come here?

WOMAN: It’s beautiful.

MAN: Why did we really come here?

WOMAN: I want to talk to you.

MAN: So talk.

A pause.

WOMAN: How are you?

MAN: As good as can be expected.

WOMAN: I love you.

MAN: (coldly) As much as can be expected.

WOMAN: I said I love you.

MAN: I heard you.

WOMAN: I mean it.

MAN: Actions speak louder than words.

Pause.

WOMAN: I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It makes me sick and ashamed and cold. I can’t work. I can’t sleep. … God, I hate the cold.

MAN: I know. There’s no escape, is there?

WOMAN: What can I do? I’ll do it. What can I do?

She looks at him. He looks at the river. Is it worth it? Is she worth it? She gently takes hold of his face. They’re eye to eye. He makes his decision.

He breaks her grasp and turns around and walks away, leaving a trail of his fogged breath. She’s surprised and her face drops. As he walks away, she blurts it out.

WOMAN: You left your jacket at my place. I sleep with it every night just so I can feel close to you. It smells like summer at the cabin.

MAN: We were in love then.

He turns around to look at her. She approaches.

WOMAN: I’m no saint. And neither are you. I made a mistake that I’ll regret as long as I live. But it taught me that real love is about crawling through all the shit together, no matter how dirty it gets.

They’re standing face to face.

WOMAN: Your move.

They look at each other. Finally:

MAN: I’m freezing. Let’s get out of this cold.

Categories
Travel

Chacho En Bogota: El Fin

I’m sitting in the El Dorado airport in Bogota, waiting to board my flight. I’ve been here for 100 days, and I must say it will be bittersweet leaving Colombia. I met some great people here and got to live in another country and culture for a prolonged period, which has always been a personal goal.

I will miss the food. I bought freshly made bread at a nearby bakery what seemed like every day. The croissants were especially tasty. It’s something about the altitude that makes baked goods especially succulent. I’ll also miss empanadas, ajiaco (a soup), and lots of other foods.

I will miss the family I stayed with, the Encisos. Jorge works as the pastor at Iglesia Comunidad Viva, which is a great community of believers I came to really enjoy and respect. It was great living and working with them every day. The two girls, Maia and Matilde, were also a ball when they weren’t screaming their guts out. I’ll definitely miss the hugs they gave me randomly throughout the day. If you can, please support Jorge & Ginny in their ministry. There is information about how to do so on their blog.

I actually won’t miss the climate. Crazy, right? But as a native midwesterner, I need me some cold and snow once in a while. If 60s and 70s every day with a little rain is your thing, than Bogota is the place to be.

And so ends another chapter in my life. I don’t know what my future holds yet, but I’m glad I got to live for a little while with the good people in Colombia. Gracias a todos y que estén muy bien.

Chacho

Categories
Travel

Chacho En Bogota: The Napkins Are Free, Right?

So in the time of my last posting, two milestones were passed: the one-month-left-in-Colombia date, and the 55th anniversary of lightning striking the Hill Valley Courthouse clock tower on November 12, 1955 at 10:04pm. I’m here, I’m a nerd – get used to it.

In other news, on Friday Jorge brought out the ping-ping table into the street in front of the house so we could play with a few of the neighborhood hooligans who have caused Jorge and the family some consternation in the past. It turns out these kids were all right and just needed something constructive to do rather than drink beer and be disruptive. We played ping pong for at least four hours, during which I won (I kid you not) about 25 straight games. Granted, the kids weren’t the best ping pongers, but still. Afterward we watched Into the Wild and they stayed until about 11. It was great progress for starting a relationship with these kids.

Tonight, I just got back from an outing with Jorge and some of his friends. Two of them, a married couple, are starting a restaurant and they toured us around the place which is still under construction. It sits on top of a valley, so the view is incredible. Very spacious and chic. I hope I can eat there someday.

After the tour, we went to dinner at Andres Carne De Res, which is apparently a very famous – if not the famous – restaurant in Colombia. This means it was very expensive, but the food was incredible. Seriously, it was probably the best steak I’ve ever had. The restauranteur-friends were telling me that the owner of the place is filthily rich and a huge jerk. (He was actually eating a few tables away from us.) There are currently three of his restaurants in the world – two in Colombia and one in New York – and the Bogota establishment alone made him $20 million in personal wealth last year. In spite of this, the man takes 3% of the 10 percent tip the waitstaff gets from each bill.

To make up for this douche-move, I stole a cloth napkin. Apparently they check bags at the door for theft, so I just stuffed it down my pants. With my beer glass I got from the Bogota Beer Company, that makes two souvenirs I didn’t have to pay for. Hat trick, anyone?

Chacho

Categories
Travel

Chacho En Bogota: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Extend My Visa

I was technically an illegal alien for a few hours yesterday. I forgot to renew my tourist visa until a day after it expired, so I was nervous going downtown to the DAS office (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad). After a two-hour wait, I got fingerprinted and a woman looked over my papers, stamped my passport, and I was good to go.

No fine, no hassle. Praise the Lord.

– Chacho

Categories
Travel

Chacho En Bogota: SpongeBob

Matilde, almost 4, came to my room to show me her new SpongeBob Squarepants band-aid and this conversation followed:

MATILDE: That’s Patrick and this is SpongeBob and they live underwater.
CHAD: Yeah, they do.
MATILDE: Do you think they have special beds?
CHAD: Yeah, they probably have special underwater beds because they live in the ocean.
MATILDE: Yeah. But Patrick is a star and Spongebob is cheese so he’s not supposed to be in the water.
CHAD: I thought Spongebob was a sponge. Do you know what a sponge is?
MATILDE: No…
CHAD: A sponge is something you use to clean dishes and it gets wet, so that’s why Spongebob is a sponge because he’s underwater.
MATILDE: But Spongebob is cheese.
CHAD: OK.

Categories
Travel

Chacho En Bogota: Fortuitous Times

I took a cab by myself (in a foreign country) for the first time yesterday. I was going to an English tutoring session for two 13 year-olds and was going to bike there, but then it started pouring so a cab suddenly looked a lot better. I ended up walking back after the session, which was fortunate because I got to see a double rainbow above Bogota. Good times.

Categories
Travel

Chacho En Bogota: The Cows Are Off To Pasture

SuperVacas has ended. Ninety kids showed up on Friday. Monday there were about 50. It’s incredible how good news travels around the neighborhood. A lot of the kids were first-timers. It was an exhausting week because there were only 10 adult workers for the 90 kids that showed up, but everything got done and the kids had fun.

Also fun: Jorge’s birthday on Thursday. We had a block party – ping pong table, music, five different cakes, and lots of people hanging around. I didn’t mingle for too long because I had a pretty bad headache, but it was cool to see how block parties like that can happen, because they don’t happen often in the States – at least not as easily.

Should be going to El Centro tonight and Monday for some sightseeing and gift-buying. Report on that to come. Until then, estén bien.

— Chacho

Categories
Travel

Chacho En Bogota: Blessed Indeed

Some 70 kids came to SuperVacas today, which means the good word is spreading ’round the barrio. The kids played ping-pong and soccer today – I pinged a little pong before they did and remembered how much I loved playing. My backhand, though, is much stronger than my forehand.

The Encisos invited a boy from SuperVacas to have lunch with us today. It was a pretty modest lunch by usual standards: noodles with chicken and soup. But the boy said it’s as much food he’s had in a long time. It was humbling and a little heartbreaking. It made me realize just how blessed I am to have; three squares a day, a roof over my head and a pillow under it, the ability to come and live in Colombia for three months, family and friends who love me, money (however little of it) at my disposal, and, among many other things, an iPod and personal computer.

I’m blessed indeed.

– Chacho