Friday, July 31, 2009 with Voice Messaging

I added another cool piece of technology to the blog. In the right hand column, you'll now see a big "Call Me" button. That button does what it says. Pushing it allows anyone from the US to leave me a voice message from the comfort of your home or cell phone.

Here's how it works:

1) Click the "Call Me" button. It should bring up blank windows for the input of your name and the number where you want Google Voice (the program) to reach you. Let's assume your name is Barry and you want to be reached at 555-555-1234.

2) After inputting the numbers and clicking connect, the automated Google Voice client should call the number within seconds. Barry's phone will ring. When he picks up, the Google lady says "Google Voice is connecting your call."

3) Waiting patiently, Barry is rewarded with my voice mail. He then proceeds to leave a message saying that he hates what's happened in Antarctica, that I'm totally wrong on flag burning, and that my hands smell like bubble gum. Good feedback, Barry!

4) Note that because Google Voice calls him, Barry incurs no long distance charges, other than possibly spending some minutes had he been on a cell phone.

5) It's possible fill the "name" blank with nothing and even instruct Google Voice to hide your home number from me. So this, too, can be totally anonymous should you desire.

6) I, Doctor Andy, am the only person who has access to the voicemail. The messages will never be heard by my cleaning lady, or the neighbor from across the way, or my friends. Everything's password-encoded on my end.

I don't expect to get a stampede of people using this, but it was just too cool to pass up. The fact that computers connect phones together on-demand based on a blog button made my tech senses go crazy. If I wanted to, I could even set up this service so that it would ring my cell phone and we'd be able to talk just like a standard phone call, but I don't want to be disturbed at 3:00 AM just because a random visitor from Poland searching for sex dolls, Florence Henderson, and peanut butter happens to find a fun button on my blog!

If I had a nickel for every time...

Soles on board

Women own more shoes than men.

Phew! I know it's impossible to have a conversation about shoes without including some short acknowledgment to the difference between the sexes, so I've gotten it out of the way at the beginning.

Helping the friend move this week (the same one who passed on the Twilight book), I ended up carrying a box containing shoes from the trailer. My friend, self-conscious about being thought "girly" for having an entire box of shoes, called from over my shoulder. "You should have seen my roommate! She had three or four HUGE boxes."

Uncharacteristically (some might say), I made no comment. Our genders have different ways of thinking about shoes. I give only the most superficial nod to matching shoe with outfit. I wear my gray pinstripe suit with my black shoes and consider that fine. Better those than my brown shoes.

Thinking back, I decided to do a shoe inventory! How many pairs of footwear do I have? I'm counting everything that goes on feet, from flipflops to snow boots.

1) Sandals. These are my only open-toed foot clothes. They're angular, leather, and manage to give me blisters every spring. They might have been a purchase from an outlet store in Colorado, which would make them ten years old or so?

2) Boots. My all purpose fall/winter shoe. Good ankle support in icy-twisting weather. Thick treads for crunching along in the snow. As they still look nice, I occasionally use them in place of brown dress shoes when weather is inclement.

3) Slippers. A cheap purchase of some slippers from Target or Famous-Barr, received as a Christmas gift a few years ago. They don't quite fit, which makes them less than comfortable in the long term. That's what happens when the biggest "normal" size is 12.

4) Snow boots. A "why not?" throw-in when I first left home. Rubberized velcro boots for proper snow moving. They REALLY don't fit. Only used when I must trudge through ice and snow above the ankle to fetch the mail.

5) Black shoe. Not expensive enough to be a true "dress" shoe, I use them that way anyway. Also worn with tuxedo in icy weather for better traction.

6) Vinyl tuxedo shoe. Purchased on clearance from a mall tux shop, because they happened to be near my size. Material is flaking where the shoe creases, so new shoes may be in order. Absolutely bald tread, guaranteeing a fall on anything remotely slick.

7) Brown work shoes. Once looked pretty, but after a year of working with food, they're ingrained dirty. Plus side: these shoes can be worn through standing 12-hour shifts without causing foot discomfort.

8) Brown fancy shoes. Brown leather dress shoe. Owing to being fancy and plain, they appear to be the largest shoes I own, with great swaths of leather. Slightly embarrassing, but can't expect different from size 14's.

9) Athletic shoes. Regular walking around shoe. Only used for anything remotely concerning "sport" when watching friends play "Tiger Woods 2009" on Nintento Wii.

And that's it. More than I thought, but I included things I don't normally wear. I debated whether to leave them out, but I've often heard female friends say "I never wear those," meaning they hardly ever wear them. So I, too, included "shoes" that rarely meet feet.

They'd probably fill a small moving box on their own, owing to the pronounced mass involved in making size 13-14. If I had to consider various heights, styles, and more colors, I'm sure I'd end up with lots of shoes, too.

It's just as well I don't have to consider those things. I'd be a terrible slouch were I six-foot-seven in heels.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Twilight's dawn

So apparently "Twilight" is big business.

I figured this out in dribs and drabs over the years. It helps that I have one or two acquaintances who are (for lack of a better term) obsessed and continually swooning over how much they love parts of the books. In many ways, I started to think of this book as the de facto BOOK, meaning that thing that's really popular and flies off the shelves. For many years, "Harry Potter and the Sundry Adventures" was the BOOK. Before that, it was "The Da Vinci Code". And before that, it was "PhilosophiƦ Naturalis Principia Mathematic".

Not really.

I'm not terribly "in" when referring to popular things. The first time I'd heard of Harry Potter was when the grad student sharing my office was arguing about whether things in the soon-to-be-released first movie were or were not like the book. I read for the tart fashion commentary, but I have to use Wikipedia to figure out who most of the people are, which probably dulls the experience. When a friend referred to someone as looking like Heidi Montag from the MTV show "The Hills", I was pleased that I'd heard of MTV. And I knew I was out when my shy 11-year old male student asked one day if I ever watched "The O.C." and I was unable to water-cooler with him.

As a result, I'm behind on the "Twilight" wave. I think the first I'd ever heard of it was watching the trailer for the first movie. The most I got out of that experience was it starred the guy who had the distinction of being the first "good" person to die in a Harry Potter movie. The leading lady was an actress I didn't know, but I was (and still am) struck by her ability to look slightly angry and disappointed in whatever pictures I see of her. This isn't granularly true, of course; no doubt she's got lots of pictures where she's smiling and laughing. It's my perception, though: for example, I always think of Cameron Diaz as smiling, even though I'm sure she doesn't pose like that for every picture. It's not as though I've seen a lot of pictures of this Kristen Stewart (certainly not as many as Cameron Diaz), so it's just a snap judgment on my part. Maybe she'll smile more later.

Of course, perhaps I'm out of the "Twilight" loop because I'm not the target audience. I have debated whether or not this book is for me. Just going by the synopsis and library classification, it's geared towards teens and young adults. Despite the presence of vampires, there's probably enough romance and feelings in here to skew towards female readers. Applying the Princess Bride test, this may be a Kissing Book, even though there are fights and monsters. Still, Fred Savage learned a Very Valuable Lesson© by waiting around to see what happened after the final sword fight. So a few months ago, I decided to put it on my list.

Curious if I'd be able to find out what all the fuss was about, I put my name into the local library queue for the first book. This would have been last fall. As of today, there were still 68 people ahead of me, which is amazing considering the numerous copies the library must have. There are 50 copies circulating in the libraries of the local system, and books with holds are non-renewable. That means every two weeks, the line should advance 50 people, barring people who accumulate fines while trying to dash through the last chapters. I think I was number 420 when I first made the hold.

I circumvented the last of the library line, thanks to a loan from a friend. It's a hefty book, even in paperback. Running just shy of 500 pages, it has a further promotional chapter from what I assume to be the second book appended after the acknowledgments (which is unnumbered, leading to confusion when trying to leaf from the back to find the page count).

I'm curious to read this book not because I've heard so much about it, but because I've heard ABOUT what people are saying about it. It seems to be alternately described in extremis as either a handbook for defeating feminism and normalizing male obsessive/abusive behavior or as a depiction of the dreamiest man since a certain fellow named Fitzwilliam smoldered in his affection for a strong-willed woman. Anything that causes even a single person to use "Oh my Edward" as a substitute for "Oh my god" (let alone buying a T-shirt or tote bag) is bound to be instructional on the motivations for excess of opinion.

But therein lies a problem. I have a feeling that some people zealously like or dislike these books ironically. It's the marker of these "post-modern" times, I suppose, where serious opinions get eclipsed by concocted ones. Even the most ardent of fans at the peak can become, if not purposefully ironic, then at least hyper-enthusiastically saccharine. At the same time, detractors will willingly march into Wagnerian excess of vitriol.

I won't quibble: it's fun to get into an all-powerful snit about some movie or book and how it's the end of civilization. That may even be what the entire blog scene is really about! Things which become very popular are great targets-- there's already legions of fans saying positive things, so no one thinks amiss to add a few contrary voices. The critics think the fans are sheep, the fans think the negative critics are jealous, and everyone gets to huff, puff, and say "Would you look at this idiot?!"

So what's the deal with "Twilight"? Is it about a swooning pre-feminist and her ultra-man controller? Is it about a man who must fight his own nature to be with the woman he loves? Is it about a series of books that fits into a PG-13 Anne Rice niche? Or is it about an author who thinks vampires should be quite different than Bram Stoker described?

I'll let you know when I have the definitive answer. Surely it's contained somewhere in the first book and we can proceed straight to pigeonholing the rest.

A pleasant evening. And yet...

It was a good night. I made a tasty dinner with almost enough garlic to suit myself. I happened to notice that the temperature was falling, so I opened the windows and shut down the A/C. Now I'm listening to the seemingly endless drone of the cicadas and other night insects.

I was put into the remembrance of camping. That wonderful time of night after the meal has been cleared away and other evening business has been resolved. The fire gets extinguished and everyone heads back to their tents. The smell of the tent as you take one look around the undifferentiated darkness and then zip yourself in for the night. Eventually, all the people in tents stop making noise and the sounds of the evening are all that's left. No whipperwhils tonight, but they're more of a southeastern Missouri thing.

It's been a hard few weeks for me. Many things have happened that can be termed unfortunate. Nothing severe, I'm pleased to say. Just a steady stream of things that each took a sliver off the supports, like an endless parade of clumsy movers who always scratch the wall at that same place.

Part of it is the weather. I often talk about the effect of the whether on me during the fall and winter. How it lifts my spirits when the first shuddering breeze blows through town. How it makes me alive with happiness when the snow falls. But there's the opposite swing of that pendulum during the summer.

I don't mean just being displeased at the heat and humidity, either. Having been born in a particularly hot July, I've always detested the heat. I am continually uncomfortable if I can't be cool. I've been described as radiating warmth, so it's uncomfortable to be me on the hot days.

But there's a psychological toll from the summer, too; one that I don't always refer to seriously. If I do indeed have reverse SAD (seasonal affective disorder), my mood falls in the months that most people long for.

The heat makes me tired. It slows my thoughts and my actions. It makes me quicker to anger than normal. It pushes me into rash decisions, with the goal of trying to make some particular thing go away. It increases my irritability to levels beyond what I consider to be "me". It brings out a judgmental side that I would ordinarily blend out to avoid being unhelpful.

Perhaps worst of all, it increases my feelings of self-pity to wallowing levels, which is the damaging part. It makes it seductively easy to sulkily thrust out my lower jaw at anyone who has anything wonderful or constructive about their own lives. So I throw myself at whatever labor I can find, as a penance for conspiring against the happiness of my friends.

They're very real, these mood shifts. As always, I dislike them because I feel (even slightly) like I'm not in control of myself, a state that's very important to me. Or perhaps the shifts aren't real. Which would mean it's been a rotten summer, I suppose; a season that's piled lots of unfortunate things on top of each other.

Let's hope a change to being un-rotten is as simple as moving along in the path of seasons.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Awkward first date conversation ... with another man.

A few weeks ago, I was placed in the situation of making chatty introductory conversation one-on-one with men I had never met before. While it certainly wasn't for a "date", it had all the awkward feel of one. On our own in the kitchen, both of our female companions had vanished and left us staring at the floor in awkward silence.

I was the first to arrive at the party, resulting from my continued inability to calculate how long it should take me to drive from one end of the city to another. The hostess and I had a few brief minutes to sit and talk, which was pleasant: she and I seldom cross paths now and we enjoy the speed of each others' thinking. We talked about her boyfriend's job search and the upcoming trip she was taking.

Being conversational, I asked about one of her friends upcoming business ventures -- something like a beauty salon, but younger and hipper than the image of Fifties-era housewives in conical hairdryers. The hostess demurely explains that the plans are on hold, owing to the suicide attempt of the would-be proprietress. "Oh!" say I, genuinely shocked at both the attempted deed and at the strange place the conversation had found itself.

First to arrive at the party was a friend of mine, who had brought her current "friend" with her. I say that in quotation marks because they hadn't dated long enough to actually become "boyfriend and girlfriend". In conversation with me earlier in the day, she had referred to him as "that guy I'm dating", which implies a continuing motion (running, jogging, etc.). That makes it the middle ground, just above "we've been on some dates", implying a series of isolated events. Later, I was corrected by her from calling it a "relationship", but I think I'll continue using that term for similar connections in the future, as it encompasses all matter of sincerity and acquaintance.

After my friend arrived, we made introductions. "Tom" and I shook hands. Within moments, my friend and the hostess had vanished from the kitchen. I don't even remember seeing them leave, yet here I am alone with Tom. It would seem that they've gone to share immediate news, such as "ok, you've met him-- what do you think?" Or perhaps they've just gone to tour the house.

"Sooooooooooo...," I helpfully break the ice with.

We're standing at loosely perpendicular angles, because face-to-face is too confrontational for a party. He's shorter than me by about a foot, so I lean against the kitchen counter to collapse my presence a bit (and for my own comfort). He has the body-shape of someone who exercises with some purpose. Ordinarily, I wouldn't notice such a thing, but my mind is now working overtime trying to piece together small-talk.

Tom works as a graphics design artist for a food production company here in town. I call to mind all the experiences I've ever had with them, but our conversation is extremely forced. He mentions some sport he's rabid about, but I have nothing concrete to offer on that subject. It's far too soon in the converation to fall back on talking about our mutual acquaintance, so we spend a lot of the time in silence, sucking beer.

Is it obvious what religion he is? No. Hmmm... His freshly cut hair, combined with a seemingly-careful choice of shirt and pants may mean he's conscious of appearance, or simply that he's conscious of going to a party to meet "her friends". He seldom makes eye contact with me, even while listening.

I'm speaking to him about something, when suddenly he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone. I notice this, but don't even think about it; I often pull my phone out of my pocket simply to check the time or to see if it actually WAS my phone ringing a few minutes ago, instead of just a trick of the ear.

But while I'm speaking to him, he smiles and begins to tap continuously on his phone keypad, the universal sign that he's now composing a text message. Noticing this and noticing that Tom makes no effort to explain or apologize, I am taken aback. It's been a long time since I've encountered a behavior so openly rude.

Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I wouldn't dream of multi-tasking conversations right in front of someone else. Perhaps that's just the style nowadays, though it certainly isn't among my friends. People usually explain or wait for a lull in the conversation to begin texting, and even then it's usually a quick message. After all, there are live people in the room.

Having been so affronted, I'm not really in the mood to think positively of him. During the rest of the evening, I avoid having any further contact with him. That's easy enough to do at a party when other people are present. My friend brought Tom along because she liked him and she's known him longer than I have, so I just let it be.

Luckily, just after the texting, the second "couple" arrived. "David" came with an acquaintance, who promptly also disappeared. I take a beer outside, talking to David as I go. We sit and have conversation. He's a poet, which is interesting. We can chat about hobbies that don't make any money. What styles of poetry do you write in? "Well, right now my poems are embracing the dark side, after my time in the psych ward." Ah. I see. My senses get overwhelmed so I move back inside for more chips and salsa.

Eventually, the party takes on a "how do I lose this person I brought?" vibe, which isn't usually what smaller parties of mostly friends feel like. By the end, David's arrival partner has driven him home, bemoaning the drive with an intoxicated and amorous guy while she's on her celibacy fad. And not many days later, Tom is spending all day texting my friend, trying to "work things out" after a supposedly mutual breakup.

Ahh, young love!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Andy and the DMV: The Sequalizing

I'm used to waiting in lines at the DMV. The lines are infamous: perhaps no stand-up comedian goes his career without making a DMV/line waiting joke. I headed to the DMV today to renew my license plates. Since Missouri has changed plate designs, I will also be issued fancy new plates with a new license number. Adios to "192 LGM".

In the parking lot, I use the socket to remove my old plates for recycling. Though the weather is nice, it's not quite as clement as previous days: the sun beats a little hotter, the wind is calm, and it's hot out there on the pavement. Still, I make quick work of removing the old plates and head inside. Posted to the door is a hand-lettered sign, "Computers down until 11:00AM". Chuckling at the thought of anything actually going smoothly at the DMV, I check my watch (10:53am) and decide that I can wait in a non-moving line for seven minutes. Getting inside, the line isn't too bad so I pick my spot at start waiting.

But then they revise the computer fix time. Now it "could be hours". Entire Missouri system is down, so no point going to another location. Line dissolves. I spend five more minutes putting my license plates back on in the sunny parking lot.

Now I'm at home, waiting for the DMV. I can't decide if this is good (because I have lots of other things to occupy me at home) or bad-- I mean, I am still technically waiting for them, but now they've got me thinking about it miles from where I should be taking care of this business.

Either way, I feel like the DMV won again.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Birthday Thursday

Today, July 23, is my birthday. It happens to fall on a Thursday this year, which I find somehow fitting. Just one of those little thoughts that arrives in our brains from an unknown source: my birthday feels like a Thursday type of day.

I realize that my birthday is as likely to fall on a Thursday just as much as it is on a Friday or a Tuesday, but it always feels like a Thursday, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it's connected to me thinking of Thursday as the "weekend" before Friday; a statement which makes perfect sense in my head, but I've just found sounds confused when put on the page.

I turned 31 today, which I hadn't actually thought about until I just typed it. Sounds like a big number! If I tried to pretend that ten years ago, this is where I expected I'd be, it would be a ridiculous lie. Ten years ago, I hadn't even finished my undergrad schooling, had never kissed a girl in anger, still lived in Chicago, and gave few thoughts as to where I'd be in the future.

Now it's the year 20-nine. Still no flying cars.

In the wake of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing and the death of Walter Cronkite this week, I had thoughts about the perspective of time. It works out that man first landed on the moon nine years before I was born (born in '78, landed in '69). While I was growing up, I always felt like the moon landings had been a lifetime ago, sometime just after the Civil War. The past always felt really far away.

And yet, this coming September will be the eighth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center, an event that feels much more immediate. I'm sure this has everything to do with me being completely aware of every year in the last eight, compared to not even having a grasp of world events until 1990. In that way, it's not so strange.

Still, it gives me a bit of pause to think that so little time had actually passed between man-on-moon and my birth. Turns out that it wasn't really near the Civil War at all!

I had a similar stark awareness of time when Michael Jackson died. It made me think about being very young indeed and dancing at a friend's house to Thriller over and over. Keep in mind that, being so young, this was in no way the "Thriller dance". It was simply ecstatic jumping and gyrating that six-year-olds did in 1984.

But all that is just rambling. The vaguely important point here is that I'm starting my thirty-second year.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The "Fifty Isn't Old" Folks Home

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit with some old friends. I'd been trying for months to coordinate a time, but with me and the married couple all being musicians, it makes it difficult to align a proper "grown-up" visit, meaning not at a party at 11:00 at night. (In fact, I found a mention in a blog entry from April 28th, indicating that I had already been trying.) The only reason it worked this time was because I had a man on the inside: a friend is moving into one of the couple's spare bedrooms and tipped me off that it was just a work Saturday at home.

It was a nice alignment of situations, too. The weather yesterday was gorgeous; the humidity was low, the temperature was in the middle seventies, and there was an invigorating breeze. It was the kind of day that I always associate with "spring", which is a mythical season that never quite occurs in the midwest.

With the weather being fine, I didn't mind the bit of a drive to my friends' house. Once there, it was like all the best ways of "visiting family": I was offered plates of food at least twice, despite my protestations I had just eaten. And as I got ready to leave more than seven hours later, I was loaded down with a large box of miscellaneous coffee mugs, a listing of their business cards, contact numbers, and email addresses, and a copy of the new album by Wilco, with instructions to "tell me what you think".

I orbited between the three people comfortably, helping or conversing with whoever wasn't busy. When two went off to the hardware store, I spoke to the third. When they returned, I went to the upcoming bedroom to help a different person strip wallpaper and clean electrical sockets. And somewhere along the way, I ate a green olive stuffed with blue cheese, something I'd never tried before.

The husband has cancer, so I was able to talk to him about how the treatments went (currently looking good) as well as his being sequestered in his bedroom during chemotherapy to limit contact with other people during his "radioactive" period. I agreed that his first impulse to dribble luminescent paint on himself and complain to his wife that he's leaking would not have been well received.

The wife just switched companies after 15 years, so there's a large sense of transition in the household. New forms, new rules, new benefits, and a new drive to work all make everything feel flustered. She had plenty to say about that.

And everyone wanted to know about my latest news. Did I get that job? How could I have NOT gotten that job? Are those people insane? Do you ever talk to that ex-girlfriend we all know? Be sure to come visit whenever!

And my favorite: "We're proud to know you!"

Now that makes you feel good.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Curiosity Killed the Relationship

Whenever I go for too long without producing an entry on love or relationships, I receive feedback that establishes how much my awkward prose on these subjects is appreciated.

The fact that anyone takes what I say about relationships with anything less than an entire hill of salt is amazing to me. Insufficient luck has followed my course through these waters and whatever I have to say should be taken merely as a lighthouse placed upon precarious rocks: a lighthouse shows what to avoid as much as it shows what to follow. But, I suppose people must make do with what they can get, as none of my friends who are happy in relationships tend to write about them. Terribly selfish of them.

With that out of the way, I wish to tell you a story...

--- --- ---

Once upon a time (defined here as between now and five years ago), there lived a man. The man had already been in (and back out) of love, so that many of his expectations of hand-kissing romance had been modulated to accommodate a more mature outlook. He had made a list of things he learned:

1) Getting into a relationship because a person NEEDS you isn't fun in the long run.
Your body NEEDS oxygen. Without air, you will not function. Consequently, when we are deprived of things we NEED, our bodies revert to a bestial state to obtain it. If someone is holding you down and preventing natural breathing, you flail your arms and kick your legs wildly in order to restart the flow. On the other hand, if the store runs out of the type of cookies you WANT, then you simply make do by grumbling. Unless you're an Oreo-powered robot. Perhaps it's connected to the Florence Nightingale effect, but people tend to think that because needs are stronger and truer, that love should of necessity be a need.

2) People can tell emotional untruths as easily as verbal ones. There's a long-standing romantic ideal that the heart is always truthful. Unfortunately, the people connected to those hearts can be willfully devious, even over their own emotional presentation.

3) The belief that people may genuinely wish to change their bad habits can be a false one. There are some who know of no way other than their tried-and-true bad habits. A change from those damages their sense of self and independence (or dependence).

4) It's best to avoid people who find their own security in disturbing others' wobbling plates. Isn't it fun how many places we can apply the Golden Rule?

5) Seeing parts of yourself in your partner can pull you into love. Or pull you out.

6) Exuding (or faking) a sense of self-certainty is very attractive.

7) Be wary of "post-ironic" statements, defined as voicing an opinion that sounds ironic but is actually sincere. "Oh yeah: I'd really love to go feed the penguins. Pshh." Also watch out for the kissing cousin: false irony.

8) Find the things you can't compromise on to build stronger foundations.

The man found that the list ran on and on. "I must have been very much in the dark," he thought while committing it to paper. Still, he felt good putting it down. Most of the entries were not things that came from the beginners manual of self-help, so he felt like less of a dolt for falling prey to them. For example, he was relatively sure that one should go into relationships expecting truth, but was now better armed for the ways "truth" can be distractingly clothed.

The man eventually realized that the pain he was feeling wasn't the loss of a previous relationship, but the loss of any relationship. It was the loss of not having a partner. Someone to discuss the news with, someone with a second car to make maintenance appointments easier, someone to install a shelf while he was making dinner.

His friends were pleased. "Good for you," they said. "You wouldn't want those previous times you tried, failed, and caught fire to scar you!"

The man blinked. "Umm...thanks!" He laughed genially, knowing that (in spite of the words), his friends wished him to be happy.

And after a while, there was a woman who was closer than others. The man had started to pay more attention than was otherwise normal. It was not near the amount he would pay to someone he was actively interested in, but it was enough above the median that it caught his attention. The realization of that confused the man.

He was confused because he wasn't sure what he thought. There were external forces pressing in. Never oppressively, but occasionally he would feel the slight motion. Friends were encircling the two. It was never malicious and perhaps not even conscious. It simply attracted viewers and attention the way a single speck of dust does in a planetary birth, gradually pulling in the outsiders.

The friends gave off a whisper of hopefulness that the man and the woman would fall in love. "The right amount in common," the whisper said. "They'll always be on sympathetic ground." Other whispers said, "The right amount of differences. Wouldn't want to be too similar." Additional threads commented on the compatibility of the personalities, or the ease of the repartee, and the wouldn't-it-be-cute angle. All zephyrs coalesced to agree that it would be very nice if the two did fall in love, but simultaneously resolved that even if the two didn't, that was also ok.

The man furrowed his brow. "Am I in love with her?" he thought, attempting to reason his way through the unreasonable. "If I think to ask that question, does that mean 'no', or does it mean 'yes'?" He went to his problem-chair and sat in it, fixing to think his way in.

"It's her smile, I suppose," he thought. "That's the physical part I like. Makes her beautiful, though she doesn't do it as often as I'd like," and he frowned, wondering if that last bit should be thrown on the "dislike" pile. In the end, he decided against making piles, because that leads to numerical reckoning. After all, something like "convicted child molester" is just one thing, pile-wise, but it carries a LOT of weight. He frowned again. "I need a gestalt-love metric," but then frowned for being nerdy even in his own head. "Oh, and I like her hair," he helpfully thought.

"Boy", he reflected, "thinking about physical attributes does make you sound shallow. Though, those parts sure are easy to bring to mind." With a what-can-you-do snort, he thought, "How like an Animalia, to be thinking about plumage."

Striving for a declaration, he posited thusly: she is not unattractive to me, and she is not plain to me, so that must leave attractive to me. Given {X, Y, B}, if new element A is not = to X or Y, then A must be B. The man was pleased at being able to use (or mis-use) high school set logic.

The man started running through traits she exhibited:

Intolerant? Maybe of failure.

All the positive traits had negative aspects. All the negative ones had positive flip-sides. It was a list the man could love.

Another good descriptor came to him, and he tried to fit it into the list:


But he failed. No matter how he twisted it, pushed the letters together, spun it like a Rubic's Cube, or chopped it into pieces. It always bounced off the list and came to rest at his feet. It was the one thing unlike all the others.

"Surely not!" he thought with rising excitement. "I've got to remember some instance of her being curious. She's bound to have shown some inclination for learning and understanding at some point in the time I've known her!"

But he couldn't think of one. He was pacing now, angry at the nonsense of the situation. "Everyone gets curious. Surely she's shown some desire..." But nothing came to him.

She was cozy and not curious.
She was unpretentious and not curious.
She was kind and not curious.
She was private... and not curious.

The man's brain raced to follow his train of thought. Suddenly, everything on his list offered a commentary on her. There was a gleaming negative side to every attribute he had placed on her. She wasn't curious. Everything now passed through that lens. Sure, she was driven - but she wasn't curious about what drove her or why. Sure, she was opinionated, but she wasn't interested in why other people thought differently. Sure, he was accessible, but she wasn't wondering what other people were thinking and dreaming about.

He couldn't stop thinking about it. Every conversation he remembered offered him another example. Every greeting that had him saying "how are you?" and her never returning the question. Every time he talked about what he was feeling and why he was angry, sad, hopeful, desirous, amused... and she had responded with "I don't know."

"I don't know," said with an inflection that flowed straight on into "and I don't care."

He had to sit down. It was like watching the puzzle pieces come together at the end of The Usual Suspects, only instead of thinking "What a clever bastard!", all the man could think was: how could I have never thought about this before?

It only made him feel slightly better when he realized in the next moment that he had thought about this before. Every time it happened, every time she said something that made him wonder, he had put a little mark next to it in his mind. A little "flag for follow-up" that indicated that something had... caught his interest. Sometimes he had even frowned, feeling at the time like he was trying to remember something he'd forgotten.

He consoled himself with the thought that maybe he was making too big of a deal out of it. Maybe it wasn't that important. After all, she was all of those other things! Besides, all those romantic poets didn't go on and on about how curious their immortal beloveds were. Shakespeare doesn't have sonnets about curiosity and love. Was curiosity so important that its absence tainted a great thing?

And he didn't know. That was a question to which he had no answer. More than that, he had no way to even begin to formulate an answer. All that he could do was think about it, hoping that new information and experience would eventually help him. He had found something he didn't think he could compromise on, number eight from his list - something to use as a common point of reference for a serious relationship.

And it had only made him feel more alone than he could remember.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A short ride with a celebrity

I need to say up front that regardless of the entry title, this wasn't a celebrity in the conventional definition. In fact, the man probably isn't a celebrity by any definition. But when I was searching for how to describe the feeling I got, I think a celebrity comes closest. It's not hero worship, it's not idolatry, it's not mentor appreciation: it's just that feeling that bubbles up when somebody you admire is interested in what you have to say. So, sorry if you thought this applied to Sir Anthony Hopkins or Lady Gaga.

It was simply the opportunity to have a nice one-to-one conversation with a man I'm pleased to call my friend. It occurred over the course of a ten minute walk and a ten minute car ride. Who it was isn't as important as the things he said to me.

We talked about the power of providing positive reinforcement, in the moment. It's something I'm trying to do more of, because I feel that (at least among my circle of friends) we don't provide enough praise for the simple actions of other people. We do receive feedback in this day and age, but most of it seems to come when we're failing or struggling. "Come on, you can do it!" sort of things. I'm not implying that those are worthless: it can and should continue! But I think we let many opportunities slip by to "reward" people's regular behaviors.

In some ways, common courtesy has fallen in disrepair. Would you believe it's the simplest form of conversational reward? Saying "thank you" creates a feeling of satisfaction, even if it's so small as to be imperceptible. But the tiny feeling is in proportion to the almost effortless nature of saying the worlds.

The problem in today's society is that we're hard-wired for insincerity. Maybe not to the extent that we internally transform each "thank you" into a snide remark, but at our worst we let it become perfunctory. A set of ritual words that are said, as opposed to connecting with the actual feeling of thanks for being provided a good or service.

All of this is why I need to write him a nice thank-you letter. Because he finally helped me over the last little hump of self-doubt from "failing to achieve" at my latest musical interview. Not that family and friends (and even myself) haven't done a good job of picking me back up. But being told that I did all the right things by someone who does this kind of thing for a living makes me nod my head definitively, closing that case.

It's fun to have a person I admire sit down and be interested in things that are important to me. That lends to the "celebrity" angle, in an "I'm taking Lawrence Fishburn to pick up his dry cleaning" kind of way. It's that feeling that suddenly what I have to say feels very important, because someone else is actually listening closely.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I'll get my suit cleaned

WARNING: This entry is about upcoming death of a family member and may not be suited to reading if you're expecting jokes.

I should get my suit cleaned because I'm planning on attending a funeral. Usually you can't plan on funerals because they have this nasty tendency to just occur without warning. In this case, though, there'll be one soon enough.

My uncle John, eldest child on my mother's side, has end-stage lung cancer. Now in hospice care, he is expected to die within six months. Tomorrow even, should the fates decree. His final round of chemotherapy did nothing to shrink the tumors; they spitefully grew, instead. So now his doctor has sounded the end-of-life buzzer and relatives like me methodically make sure their best clothes stay clean.

Uncle John has always been a little mystery to me. He's what people used to call "mentally troubled". I recall that he has schizophrenia, but that was usually reported to me to be kept in check with his medications. When visiting grandma and grandpa in Fort Wayne, there would often be one day when John would come over from his apartment to spend some time with the visiting Schwartz family. Even now, I'm worried that I'll get some fact wrong in this entry, simply because I don't know him all that well.

John has a good spirit. My dominant memories of family occasions are him looking through his television-style eyeglasses with interest at something, him smiling, and his noisy laugh. Strangely, each Christmas would go by with him opening a present that invariably contained socks. Worse than coal to us kids, he was always delighted with socks because he always needed socks.

He lives in subsidized housing run by the government and collected social security to take care of his needs. Should he outlive his parents, their will explicitly states that he should receive no monetary or property assets, as that would tamper with his need-based social security. This ensures that his life would basically remain continually similar. Which is fantastic, because he always seemed to like his life -- or at least had few complaints.

It does feel like a gruesome exercise to plan the funerals of people who still live. I mean, they're still here! The ritual of death in society suggests that usually people are dead before one worries about their headstones or funeral arrangements. The difference is that Uncle John has had a death sentence pronounced. It may not be as punctual as the people at the state prison, but it has just as much certainty.

So the family waits. Not by the phone each minute, but it's always at the back of my head. Should I plan a dinner party for my friends in August? No, better not. I'll bump it up, invite less people, and there'll be no fuss should I need to cancel. Do I need to worry about canceling lessons? No, the store's policy is forgiving and the students are understanding.

So my one responsibility is keeping my fancy clothes from being a shambles. Looking into my closet, I can see my suit hanging there, all set. Check: my list is finished.

It's not death as it usually unfolds. Perhaps that's the weirdness. I've had friends die in accidents... and there's no time to prepare. I think that's the way it should be. When death is a certainty that has all but arrived, there are feelings of grief that get folded back on themselves: you can't GRIEVE for someone who's still alive! What are you, some kind of unfeeling monster? Even this entry, I had to go back and correct past tense, which also stirred guilt. Incidentally, that's why I disabled comments for this entry. I'm not in the mood to deal with expressions of sympathy just yet. More weirdness.

In some ways, I'm a little insulated from Uncle John. In a very busy year of visits, I would see him twice. Maximum. If he was busy in the summer and we didn't go at Christmas, then perhaps next year. He doesn't email. I've never known his phone number. He has not, in my memory, ever talked to me on the phone. We're close, in the sense that we're relatives, but I've never had a view of his day-to-day life.

So that makes it even stranger. Shouldn't I be more concerned? Should I feel more? I don't think I should, but that makes me feel guilty again; you can see how confusing this all is! Of all my uncles and aunts, the relation with him is the most distant.

My grandmother (John's mother) still lives, but she's no longer aware of her place in her own life. Dementia has stolen away her life in the past, which may be a kindness in this case: all parents I know would be devastated to outlive one of their children. Because that's not the way it's supposed to work.

Most people are probably aware of the Kuebler-Ross model (informally known as "The Five Stages of Grief"). A "pending" death like Uncle John's makes sport with the first stage: denial. It's easy to deny death when the person hasn't yet died. Perhaps there's a separate set of five for use while he's still alive. Good thing I sped through them to acceptance: I've got to be ready to do it all again.

Suit clean? Check.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Don't mind him: he's only a little crazy

In conversation with a friend of mine, I brought up that it always occurred to me that before introductions were made, there was a curious way of explaining people I'd heard. In an effort to describe the person, but without using absolutes (and removing all the wiggle room), people would flesh out their descriptions like this: "Jane? She's a great person. Loves kids, really sweet. She's a little into the NRA, mind." Subsequently, it would come to light that Jane's actually got a rather serious persecution complex, convinced that Obama's coming to take her guns away. That should explain why she's turned two separate U-STOR-IT sheds into armories, but somehow it just doesn't.

It's come to the point now where I'm drawn to that phrase "he IS a little ______" in conversation. What? Is he just a LITTLE effeminate? Is she just a little "Hulk-like"? Are they a little racist?

And it's always a vice. Or something that the speaker perceives as being a possible negative. Nobody says, "she's a little nice" or "he's just a little compassionate", unless they think compassion is something one steps in and rubs off on the curb.

An English friend of mine once sent me into a conversation with the advisory that she "is a little short". Knowing how this sort of phraseology leads to disguised extremes, I was prepared for a midget. Instead, she was five-foot-six. It turned out she was incredibly brusque. Ah, the joys of our "unified" language.

Famously, my friend also blushed when I mentioned I had left my good pants at home; to a Brit, "pants" is more likely to refer to "underpants", rather than "slacks". Also, a "vest" is a shirt, or something? Crazy English.

Back on topic, I brought this up because at a social function a few weeks ago, there was a new woman there who was unknown to most people. She was also quite physically attractive and seemed to be friendly (as much as one can tell at a party). Being new and different, she'd attracted the attention of several of the single (and not-so-single) guys in the room.

In the corner, one guy was holding court on what she was like. That might have meant that he actually knew her a little, but maybe not. Many points were debated: when a girl wears a tank top with a skull on it, is she dangerous? Does she want to be THOUGHT dangerous? Is she a fan of Ozzy Osbourne? Does she shop at Hot Topic at the mall when they have sales? Is it ironic? Is it post-ironic?

Mr. Authority assured the listeners that it was just an act, and that she was really not "metal" at all. "She's a preacher's daughter," he said in tones reserved for explaining trigonometry to tree stumps. A young guy tried again, "But they're wild, right?" he said, hoping that what he'd heard about the rumored contents of Penhouse letters was true. The expert widened his eyes a little and let his head loll slightly to one side, conceeding the point. "Sure, some of them are."

"But she's.... she's a little religious." Like in a comedy series, everyone nods sagely and mumbles sounds of agreement, and just as the hubbub dies, one guy says (half to himself), "I still think she's hot." Who says life isn't like a sitcom?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Operational statistics

As of July 7, 2009:

-this blog has been in operation for 1,234 days. What a fun number!

-having had its first post on February 19 of 2006, it's been going for 3 years, 4 months, and 16 days.

-there have been 525 published entries (not counting this one).

-there have been 52 unpublished entries.

-the longest of the unpublished is close to 1,000 words.

-the shortest unpublished entry consists of the title "Untitled Entry" and contains no words. It's a automatic save of a blank entry, no doubt the result of staring at the empty composition box long enough for Blogger felt obligated to save it.

-the shortest unpublished entry with actual content from me consists of only a title "Taking the Rainbow Ball and Going Home"

-according to, my blog is rated "NC-17". No explanation is given as to the reasoning.

-there are more than 30 labels in use for describing entries. "About Me" has been used the most, with 82 entries. "Women" is used five times more often (25) than "Men" (5).

-the fewest number of entries in a completed month is five: January '07, and May, June, November, and December of '08.

-the month with the most numerous entries was July of '06 (29).

-as I type this sentence at 11:47 AM, there have been 14,956 visitors. Subsequent page views within 30 minutes of the first are attributed to the same visitor. There have been 18,627 individual page visits.

-13.3% of total traffic (over the last 100 vistors) has been generated by users of iPhones. This is up from 0% twelve months ago.

-the two most popular pages visited by random internet searchers are August 11, 2007 (most likely because of the image and quotation of the character Cletus from "The Simpsons", and April 30, 2007. The April page is always arrived at with some variation of the phrase "she stares into my eyes". A search for those words without quotation marks in Google generates 290,000,000 results... and my entry is the top one (as of 11:59 AM). This page gets so many individual visits, I must have accidentally used lyrics from a song or something.

My childhood says "Spirograph" for some reason

The New York Times has an interesting set of graphs that show economic motion over time. It's a Cartesian space that illustrates the industrial production as it moves through four areas: expansion, slowdown, downturn, and recovery. As our production moves through these phases over time, the graph tracks the cyclical motion.

I felt it had real value in allowing me to get a little bit more grasp on what was happening. Make sure to visit all 9 pages for the full story (and some cool animation).

LINK to The New York Times

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A Haiku for Early July

A girl in summer
Eyes of earth, closed in slumber
Absconds with sunset

This somewhat encompasses the dream I had the night before last. At least, it does inasmuch as a stylized poem can encompass a light-on-the-visuals dream. There was a girl, it was summer, and it seemed to exist in an endless late afternoon, never quite reaching the peak of sky-beauty in a sunset.

I have no idea what the dream meant and the lack of meaning in the poem compliments it artfully.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

"Facts are stubborn things;"

"... and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

-- John Adams, taken from his defense of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, 1770.

[Just as a heads-up: this entry is LONG. And opinionated. And might be controversial. And it's wordy. And it's LONG. But it was something I felt needed to be published by me, even if it's not needed to be read by you. Heh. :D ]

*** *** ***

I begin today's entry with a quotation from John Adams, because he tends to be remembered in association with the Fourth of July more than any other day. This is the fate of many of the Founding Fathers, who form a mythic cabal associated with the supernatural alchemy involved in the creation of what would eventually become the United States of America. It is a fashion observed in politics to proclaim oneself to be in line with the "intent" of the architects of our nation.

So important is this projected "approval" from figures of our collective American pantheon that people go to great lengths in the pursuit of establishing their "framer" bona fide. In recent history, we've all heard a lot about our (the citizens of the U.S.) collective Christian heritage, going so far as to refer to the U.S.A. as being founded as a "Christian nation", bemoaning the descent away from same. It often takes the form of ecstatic pointing of livid fingers to portions of the framing documents that refer to "God" or "religion".

While there may not have been any atheists at the Continental Congress, many of them held beliefs that don't even fit into the wide diversity of those who rally under today's "Christian" descriptor. A religious philosophy known as "deism" was popular around that time, and many of the Constitutional architects considered themselves to be deist. Deism was a product of the Enlightenment, steeped in the belief and support of the rational. They believed in a single god, but objected to the Trinity, the inerrant nature of the Bible and other holy books, and even the supernatural trappings of miracles. To a true deist, Jesus is possessed of many good ideas and we would all do well to follow his teachings and example, but he was not divine.

Indeed, the most outspoken of the deist Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, wrote "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," which amounts to basically an extraction of the words of Jesus in chronological order. In this volume, Jefferson wanted to create a book emphasizing the morality of Jesus, free from all of the clutter of the supernatural. Pay attention to his title: the life and morals... Jefferson believed it was possible to extract morals without admitting the divinity of Jesus.

Needless to say, deists wouldn't be considered "Christian" by even the most liberal of today's denominations. Denying the divinity of Jesus is the antithesis of modern Christianity, which takes as a core principal that Jesus was the son of God. Perhaps the deists would be considered by the modern unlearned as more closely related to Judaism, though they certainly didn't think so in their own day.

I remain convinced that this country was not founded, in any sense, as a Christian nation. If anything, it was a Deist nation, embodying a belief in one blind watchmaker god, but a reverence for reason and knowledge, and a fervent desire to avoid the tradition of nations being devoted to a particular religion. Hence the First Amendment (adopted in 1791 and possibly the greatest of all American inventions) in part states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..." This certifies that the federal government is religion-neutral; each enjoys the same rights and restrictions as the others. It is also belief-neutral: neither the theists nor the atheists can use the government to proscribe each others' freedoms.


I bring this up today because of the "Oklahoma Citizens Proclamation for Morality". It was signed at the Oklahoma capitol building on July 2, 2009. You may have heard about this paper. It's a non-binding proclamation which had the total signature support of 5 of Oklahoma's 149 state legislators. It is in no way a law or other compulsory document and it seemingly lacks hearty support of the populace at large. But they had a fancy signing ceremony anyway, which was alternately interrupted by crowds of protesters and supporters of the document.

[The complete text is available HERE in PDF form or OVER HERE as plain text on a "web petition" site. As of this entry's publishing, there are 440 signatures; comments can be attached along with any signature, and this makes plain that not all the signatories are in support.]

What does the proclamation state, I hear you ask? In essence, it wants the citizens of Oklahoma and the United States to return to the Bible. Specifically, it decries the recent state of affairs, identifying the current "economic woes" as a symptom of "our greater national moral crisis".

The proclamation begins with an exhortation for "fellow Patriots" to "acknowledge the need for a national awakening of righteousness in our land." It then continues with a surprising number of quotations from some of the Founding Fathers speaking in defense of America's long affiliation with God.

Interestingly, the first quotation is from John Adams. This same Adams was a confirmed deist, did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, and explicitly did not believe that God involved Himself with the lives of individuals. Further, one of his biographers concluded Adams believed that religion itself should alter over time as it accumulates knowledge in the pursuit of the perfect.

I can't think of any idea LESS moral to someone like Rep. Sandy Kern, author of the proclamation and wife of a Southern Baptist preacher. In fact, the website of her husband's church lists the inerrant nature of the Bible as its first belief on the "Doctrines We Love" page. Incidentally, I'm a big fan of the "What We Believe" page that every Christian church seems required to have; each slightly different. It's like the USDA Nutritional Label of Christians!

Further on down in the Oklahoma Proclamation, there's a quote from Patrick Henry. It's here I should confess that any research I do for this article comes completely from internet sources. As I'm not accessing primary materials or doing due diligence, nobody should take as ironclad anything I attributed to others.

But I'm not writing a scholarly paper. No, not even a government proclamation. Which is why I'm mystified why the "OK-proc" authors included a quotation from Patrick Henry that even my basic internet scholarship found cited as being usually mis-attributed, with the initial appearance coming in the 1950's. Oops? Shouldn't people have to work harder on their public governmental proclamations than a silly blogger typing in his underwear and eating Wheat Thins? [mmmm, Wheat Thins....]

Then we proceed to the heart of the matter. Sure, there's economic trouble, but people always complain about the econo-

WHEREAS, this nation has become a world leader in promoting abortion, pornography, same sex marriage, sex trafficking, divorce, illegitimate births, child abuse, and many other forms of debauchery;

...oh, I see! Hmmm.

World leader in promoting debauchery, eh? So where should I leave this research that shows that:

* the United States is below the global weighted average for abortions per capita?

* the divorce rate among Christians is significantly higher than other religious groups, and much higher than atheist and agnostic groups?

* homosexual legal frameworks (marriage, civil unions) are much more widespread and accepted on the European continent.

* pornographic consumption skews more towards "god-minded" red states (like Oklahoma!) than blue states.

* a 2007 survey in India found evidence that close to 50% of children faced abuse there. Data from the USA in 2006 found the rate of abused children was 12.6 per 1000 (approximately 1.3% of children).

* in Denmark (the first country in the world to legalize it), pornography is legal for anyone over age 15, available in most convenience stores and video stores (like Blockbuster), and hardcore porn is broadcast free every night on TV. In addition, bestiality is legal as long as no animals are harmed.

* in a 2006 report regarding treatment of victims of human trafficking ranked the United States' level as B+, while the United Kingdom was a D, and Canada received an F.

A single WHEREAS from the "OK-proc" is devoted to all manners of assorted licentiousness and sinful behavior, as listed above. Single WHEREAS points are also devoted to the government "forsaking the rich Christian heritage upon which this nation was built" and President Obama "[refusing] to uphold the long held tradition of past presidents in giving recognition to our National Day of Prayer". The National Day of Prayer floated around the calendar in the time between its presidential establishment in 1952 and its placement on the first Thursday in May, declared by President Reagan in 1988.

In what way did Obama refuse to give recognition? It might be because he had no specific event to mark the day. President George W. Bush held special events each year to mark the Day of Prayer. However, President Clinton held no such events, and President George H.W. Bush and even President Reagen held one such event in each of their respective terms. S0, if this is the "long held" tradition, it doesn't REALLY go back that far.

Did Obama even MENTION that it was the Day of Prayer? Perhaps he just gave it the outright snub! That would certainly be refusing to acknowledge it. That dirty bas-- oh, wait. HERE is his statement and declaration for 2009, direct from Err... ahem. But he didn't have a clockwork "formal event" like ONLY the guy right before him did, so that insults God, which causes economic collapse. Simple. Or something. Maybe he should burn a fatted calf next year; God likes that kind of stuff too, right?

But to return once more to the OK-proc: it's time for some wink wink euphemisms!

WHEREAS, deeply disturbed that the Office of the president of these United States disregards the biblical admonitions to live clean and pure lives by proclaiming an entire month to an immoral behavior;

In case you don't speak euphemism, the "entire month to an immoral behavior" refers to President Obama's declaration of June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride month. Strangely, there is no WHEREAS devoted to the scandalous ability of many politicians to "disregard biblical directives to live clean and pure lives" while soliciting sex in restrooms, jetting to their Argentinian mistresses, or hiring prostitutes.

The REAL problem is all of the president's "deeply disturbing" ideas, like when his LGBT declaration says "I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists." Whoa there, Big Brother. States' Rights, goddammit! And freedom of religion!

Commu-Nazi directives like this are why our economy is in trouble.

Here endeth the lesson.

What's on tap next week, young miss?

This was part of a Yahoo news page this morning:

I dislike it when news sites put together combination headlines in their "summary" posts. If there's one positive statement that can be said in relation to the situation of the girl being the only survivor in a plane crash, it's that she did not also have to survive a coup in Honduras.

Friday, July 03, 2009

A Night at the Blue Room

In this case, the Blue Room refers to the jazz club that's attached to the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City. It's part of the historic "18th and Vine" area, host to many of the great names in American Jazz in the 30's and 4o's.

I wandered up there last night for an evening's worth of free entertainment. The parking was free (and easy, with the public lot having a few spots when I arrived), admission was free, and the conversation was free. I did end up buying a glass of the house Cabernet, which was not free (though it was tasty).

Walking across the street from where I parked, I listened for the currently playing band. Often, the sounds of the group are piped outside as an enticement to passersby. But tonight, all I heard was Michael Jackson. One of the other buildings seemed to be broadcasting an MJ album to the street, obscuring any live jazz. Only as I approached the door to the club did I hear the faintest hints of the jazz rhythms from the drums.

As one enters the blue room, a wall to the right actually obscures the stage from the door. So the first thing one sees are people sitting at tables with eyes fixed at a spot 20 feet to my right. Nearest to the door was a face I recognize, belonging to a trumpet professor from one of the local universities and former brass band member. We nod in recognition.

I creep my way along the left wall until I can see most of the room and a bit of the stage. Coming from a formal concert etiquette background (where it is the height of rudeness to arrive with music in progress and expect to be seated), I stand to the wall. The man I came to see is currently playing the melody on fluegelhorn. Called the "head" of the tune, it immediately tells me where we are in the form of the current song.

The aforementioned man of the evening is Joe Parisi. In addition to being an ensemble director at UM-KC, he's also chair of the Music Education department. He also happens to be director of the brass band. In addition, he's one of the most passionate and careful musicians (in the "full of care" sense) I know. Well, it turns out he's something of a trumpet player.

It's not really a surprise. He's been involved with the faculty brass quintet whenever they meet, I've performed with him for years at the graduation ceremonies, and he plays here and there with the brass band. But tonight, he was playing as the "guest" artist with a local jazz quartet. And in the course of my narrative, he's currently playing that melody I mentioned earlier.

After Joe finishes his bit and the rhythm carries the ensemble into the first solo section, he turns to me (still against the darkened wall), smiles in recognition, and deliberately nods. I return the gesture and feel many of the eyes in the room slide over to me. "Who's that fellow who got recognized from the stage?" It makes me feel like someone important, even though I am precisely a nobody in the KC jazz scene. My last formal jazz concert was four years ago, and even then I was a last-minute sub on a non-soloing instrument.

I make my way over to a round-top table and high stools one finds at such clubs. With me, I brought a dark notebook. My idea was that while I may know people who might join me later, in the beginning I was just going to be a guy by himself. And as a minor protection against the opinions of the outside world, I brought along a notebook, which I could be seen writing in and assumed to be thinking great thoughts.

Turns out that when a single individual of a certain "scholarly" look enters a jazz club alone, confidently sits at a table by himself, and begins to write in a notebook while watching the stage, people assume he's a music critic. That's certainly a credible assumption, though not the image I was intentionally trying to create. As other friends arrived, they were known to people in the area around me, and several mentioned later that people had been curious who I was and what publication I wrote for. Another fun bonus for me. When friends asked what I was writing, I merely pointed out that Professor Joe was on stage, so there would no doubt be a quiz tomorrow.

One of the great things I appreciate about live jazz is the spontaneity. I love the way live performers are able to react to the world around them. I've seen jazz artists incorporate the sounds of cell phone rings, falling glass, chairs breaking, and other environmental occurrences into the solos. It's one area where jazz excels over other "studied" musical forms.

For example: last night, Joe inserted the opening bassoon solo from Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" into one of his solos. The saxophone soloist picked it up and turned it into a long-form background figure later. It reappeared in a solo in the second set, a full forty minutes after the initial presentation. I love that about jazz; one little ripple can be felt all the way through the evening.

On the conversation side, it was a wide-ranging night. I talked about trombone, auditions, Kansas City band politics, the quality of Missouri bands, mortgages in Michigan, suicide, speed-eating, who's still dating who, and money. At some point, I think I uttered the phrase "chewing is not a luxury," which wasn't the greatest pickup line, I'll admit.

I saw people who are still early in the dating phase, where it's still "weird" to be in public... together. Other friends were very into their significant others. Still others were of the "separate and conquer" theory, finally escaping the house and each other's company and getting some new society. Shouting to each other across the knot of friends: "Need another drink, honey?" "No, I'm fine!" "Okay! -- Now, what were you saying about humidity?"