Franklin Chen's grain of sand

Infinity in the palm of my hand

Thoughts on the Construction of the New Frick Environmental Center


Almost exactly twelve years ago, in 2002, tragedy struck in Frick Park in Pittsburgh. I was on a long evening run in Frick Park when I unwittingly came across what had happened earlier in the day.

From my journal, August 4, 2002

“91 degrees, heat index 93. The Frick Park entrance was closed off for some reason with tape, so that I could not access the water fountain I had counted on using, so I ran up to Forbes instead and to Braddock to get a fountain at that end of the park.”

Later in the evening, I found out what had happened:

“Whoa!!! The Frick Environmental Center was burned down in the morning. No wonder it was all closed off when I tried to run to the water fountain.”

This was reported the next day in the Post-Gazette.


Yesterday, construction of the new Frick Environmental Center began, finally, after twelve years of uncertainty and controversy.

On my evening run tonight (very cool, in the 60s, this summer, unlike the summer of twelve years ago!), I checked out the construction site.

Road sign on Beechwood Blvd:

Road sign for Frick Environmental Center

Old burned building still there:

Old Frick Environmental Center

Some trail detour signs:

Trails detoured for Frick Environmental Center construction

The Growth of Loyalty After Seventeen Years


Tonight I finally got a haircut.

For two weeks I’d been looking for my barber Joe, of Harry’s Barber Shoppe in Squirrel Hill; I was due for my haircut. I’d called Joe’s phone number from work in the afternoon. I’d driven by on the way home (the shop is just a block away from home). I’d taken a walk on Saturday to see if he was open. No sign of him. I was worried. I began imagining the worst.

I’m not kidding when I tell people that I don’t know what I’d do without Joe to cut my hair. He’s been the only one to cut my hair in the past seventeen years, apart from that one time he broke his hand and was out of commission for a while.

My first thought when I wondered whether Joe was OK was, if he was gone, I would miss not only a great cut (after the first couple of times in 1997, he figured out how to do things just the way I like), but also some kind of relationship. Since Joe is a lot older than me, I know that one day I will have to find a new barber; I was just thinking that when that day comes, I don’t want just a haircut, but I want some kind of relationship. Joe doesn’t just cut my hair. He asks me how my life is going; he was there before I was married, and now he inquires about Abby, whom he’s met, that time when I was waiting so long for my turn that she walked over and brought me dinner. He knows the structure of my head and the properties of my hair more than I do. We take turns guessing who’s singing the songs on his favorite radio station; I’ve absorbed some of his oldies into my consciousness.


The whole haircut experience is about much more than my walking out with less hair. That’s why I was relieved to find him accidentally after an evening run in Frick Park that ended with my spotting in the distance the light in Joe’s shop and stopping by and seeing him there. It was already late in the evening, nearly 8:00 PM already, but he said he would take me (he was finishing up one guy in the chair), so I ran back home to change out of my running gear and get my wallet and return to the shop.

Joe said he was OK. He’s continued to have back trouble and reduced his work, but he’s still around. It does not even occur to me to get angry with him for causing me to look for him for two weeks. I’m simply grateful he’s OK and able to work and cheerful. He thanks me for being patient and returning to him again and again. That is all. The rest is philosophical banter about what is important in life, and chuckling to myself as I easily identify “drunky” Dean Martin on the radio singing “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?” Such a dated song, I think, but it has a certain charm and who else could sing it in perfect character besides Dean Martin?


Are you loyal to someone who cuts your hair? What would you do (or have done) if that person is no longer present in your life?

Third Year at July 3 Music Party and Finally Participated in Jamming


The past two years, Abby and I have gone to an annual July 3 music potluck/party, and we went again this year. Both in 2012 as well as in 2013, I was too intimidated to participate in music jamming, and only watched. This year I was determined to contribute, and I brought my ukulele (which I only started learning a month after last year’s party, actually) and my Irish flute.


After my first round of food at the potluck, I went to Susan’s piano and played David Raksin’s theme from “Laura”, which I had so botched up last month at the annual Pittsburgh Recorder Society potluck/recital. I play it much better now, although I somehow messed up the final chords today. There were a few people sitting around listening, and they wanted to hear more, but I didn’t have any more, so I scurried away to eat more food.

Old time

As dinner started winding down, the old time musicians started gathering outside to play. I saw fiddles, banjos, and other instruments make an appearance.


Inside, the main guy who plays guitar and ukulele unpacked his soprano ukulele, and so I took out my concert ukulele, and two other guys with guitars appeared. Eventually a woman who sang also appeared, as well as a guy on fiddle.

I felt very intimidated, because although I’ve gotten some experience jamming while on recorder or flute or tin whistle, my ukulele experience without written music is still very minimal. Nevertheless, I joined in. I fumbled around, and had to ask what key each song was being played in, and even then, I’m still quite shaky in anticipating and knowing chord changes beyond the simplest I, IV, V, and some dominant and major 7th chords. I strummed very softly.

Music jamming

They’re a great bunch, improvising melodic lines at will and even making up lyrics right on the spot, just as they had at the last two years when I only watched. And the singing in harmony was fantastic.

Abby got a little bit of video footage of us at one point:


For two years, I was afraid to join in the music jams at this annual July 3 party. This year I joined in a little bit. If we attend the party again next year, I hope to be in a position to contribute even more! Many thanks to Susan for hosting this annual party!