Ill_CatchMe

Catch Me If You Can

Have you ever seen the movie Catch Me If You Can? It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, a real-life con man who successfully posed as a pilot, a doctor, and an attorney in the 1960s before being captured by the FBI. It’s a great film, and an amazing story. I’d always wondered how somebody could be slick enough to get away with so many elaborate ruses.

Over the weekend, I found out when I stepped into Frank Abagnale’s shoes.

Tara is a social butterfly, and wanted to go to a local meet-up for an opportunity to connect with new people and maybe make a few friends. I’m all about supporting my spouse even if it’s not something I’m personally interested in, so I went along with her.

From the moment we stepped into the room, I felt uncomfortable. For starters, we were all seated at a long table in the private room of a nearby German restaurant. Not a big deal, but everybody in the group around us was at least 70 years old. We were easily the youngest couple there, until another younger couple sat down next to us. And there was no organized topic of conversation; we were simply asked to slap on name tags and talk with the people around us. I found the idea excruciating, but decided if I was going to be stuck there for another hour and a half, I might as well have a little fun.

“Whatever happens,” I whispered to Tara, “Just play along with me.”

When the woman across from me asked what I did for a living, without missing a beat I replied, “I’m an audiologist.”

And with that, I spent the next 90 minutes playing doctor.

Now, I’m not generally the lying type. If anything, I am honest to a fault. Because every time I fib a little, it seems to backfire on me. I just figured I was never going to see these people again, and was in the mood for a little storytelling. I honestly did not plan on pretending to be a doctor until I opened my mouth, and those words came spilling out. Fortunately, I work with audiologists on a daily basis, and develop content for ENT clinics every single day. If there’s one thing I know, it’s hearing. My friends have even come to me for medical advice, so it made perfect sense.

If Leo (Frank Abagnale) can get away with it, why can't I?

If Leo (Frank Abagnale) can get away with it, I bet I can, too!

When the lady across from me said, “Perfect! I’m a high school music director and could use your advice,” my stomach sank for a brief moment. I could have come clean right then and there; after all, my little white lie was still hanging in the air, only thirty seconds old. But I decided to soldier on, curious to see whether I could actually bullshit my way through this.

I have to say, I pulled it off pretty admirably. She asked for advice on preserving her hearing, and I suggested custom high-fidelity musician’s earplugs that provide balanced sound reduction without affecting mid and high frequencies. This reduces loud noises while allowing speech to come through clearly. She then wondered if her two-month old baby would benefit from hearing protection if she were to bring her to a high school football game. I told her earplugs were a must for an infant’s sensitive hearing, and suggested she prevent them from falling out of her baby’s ears by wrapping a scarf around her head to ensure they stayed in place. This is a real solution I picked up during research for articles I have written. Suddenly I felt giddy. Here I was, helping somebody by dispensing medical advice! No wonder many doctors infamously have a God complex.

“How did you decide to become an audiologist?” somebody asked.

I got a real pensive look on my face, cocked my head to the side, and replied, “Well, even from a young age I knew I always wanted to help people…”

I got so wrapped up in my fake story, I was even starting to fool myself. When I got a text from Audrey, I wondered out loud if it was my message service paging me with an after-hours emergency.

Tara has a hard time keeping a straight face in situations like these, but did a pretty good job playing along. She has difficulty fibbing herself, so when the woman next to her, whom she was engaged in deep conversation with, asked what I did for a living, she tapped me on the shoulder and said, “What do you do, dear?”

“I’m an audiologist,” I replied, the words flowing smoothly now.

“A what?”she asked, and then laughed.

“Ha-ha,” I said, recognizing immediately the little hard-of-hearing joke. “I’ve never heard that before!”

Cue laughter from the rest of the table.

I have to admit, I had a surprisingly good time once I got wrapped up in my fake life. So much so that I was almost disappointed when the meet-up came to an end. No harm, no foul…right?

Of course, with my luck, we’re liable to be shopping for groceries one of these days and have somebody recognize me. “Excuse me, Dr. Petruska,” they’ll say. “I need to schedule a hearing exam.”

At which point I’ll say, “I’m sorry, but I’m no longer an audiologist. I decided to become a pilot instead.”

Frank Abagnale, you’re a bad influence…

 

dewey-defeats-truman

Maybe Dewey DID Defeat Truman

I found out recently that people in Africa are walking around wearing shirts emblazoned with Denver Broncos Super Bowl XLVIII Champions on ‘em. Which I thought was a bit odd, seeing how the Broncos got their asses kicked by the Seahawks in this year’s Super Bowl.

Sniff.

(It’s okay. I can admit it: losing 43-8 is pretty bad. But we diehard fans stick by our teams through thick and thin).

I wish...

I wish…

Anyway, it turns out the NFL orders up championship gear for both teams before they ever take a snap. This way, fans can purchase mementos immediately following the game. It’s called capitalizing on the momentum. Or greed. Whatever. The losing team’s stuff is boxed up and sent to a warehouse after the game, and eventually shipped to Africa, where it is donated to people who could otherwise never afford such high-quality clothing. And, presumably, such high-quality bobble head dolls. Apparently, this practice has been going on for years, and is not just confined to football. Which means somewhere in Tanzania or Uganda, there is an alternate universe where the Broncos are Super Bowl champions this year. It occurs to me that, should aliens happen to land in the middle of Ghana, they are going to have a skewed perception of our society. They’ll board the Mother Ship thinking the Miami Heat won their 3rd straight NBA Finals, O.J. Simpson was convicted of murder, California Chrome became the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years, Dallas Buyer’s Club won the Academy Award for Best Picture, the Winklevoss brothers run Facebook, Dewey really did defeat Truman, dodos are popular zoo attractions, Beta tapes still rule, we won the Vietnam War, women can’t vote, Goonies sometimes do say die, Bernie Madoff was a shrewd investor, Pete Best was the “popular” Beatle, the Soviet Union won the Space Race and the 1980 Olympic gold medal in hockey, Justin Guarini was the first American Idol, Atlantis is a popular vacation destination, and ATMs dispense a lot of two-dollar bills. Actually, ray guns or not, they’d probably flee in terror believing dinosaurs still roam the earth. dewey-defeats-truman

Hey, it’s not so far-fetched. My ex-wife is fond of rewriting history all the time.

Do you suppose it’s possible that parallel universes really exist? I know the idea is farfetched, but I think about it sometimes. Perhaps every single decision we ever make in life is reflected in a separate, alternative reality full of entirely different outcomes. Take Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken. You know the one:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -

I took the one less traveled by.

What if Frost’s protagonist had taken the road more traveled by? How different would his life have been then?

Everybody can relate to that. Who hasn’t thought about how different their life would be if only they’d done this instead of that? I ponder those things all the time. I’m not just talking about wishing I’d invested in Apple stock in 1980 (though, yeah – that would’ve been pretty cool). I mean those big, life-changing events that might have seemed insignificant at the time. Like, what if I never had given my ex that second chance? Neither Rusty nor Audrey would have been born. Or suppose I’d been hired by the utility company for a crappy call center job when my unemployment checks were about to run out and I was desperate? I probably never would have ended up with this dream job. There are so many variables in life, it boggles the mind to think of the many different consequences to our actions.

People talk about Heaven and Hell, Olympus and Valhalla, and they’re all different examples of alternate universes. Much like Dorothy’s trip to Oz. Clarence the angel showed George Bailey a world where he had never been born in It’s A Wonderful Life. Even Plato pondered this, and he was a pretty smart dude. I think it’s an idea not entirely without merit.

Deep, man. Deep…

Barney Miller cast

Welcome Back, Barney Miller

I’ve got a new routine in the morning. Since I’m usually up really early, thanks to my dear wife (who thinks setting the alarm clock before 5 AM is a good idea), I’ll grab a cup of coffee and settle down on the couch to watch an old sitcom. By “old sitcom” I mean one of my favorites from the 1970s. Lately I’ve been on a Barney Miller and Welcome Back, Kotter kick.

I love those shows!

Growing up, both were childhood favorites. I liked the gritty realism of Barney Miller and the way the show mixed quick, often subtle wit with genuine issues of the day. And the fact that most episodes took place solely in the squad room is testament to the likability of the actors. The show never relied on different sets; it was all about the actors’ timing, and the ability to draw you into the story. Wojo, Harris, Yemana, Dietrich – they were all so personable and funny it was hard to pick a favorite. And of course, let’s not forget Fish. Long live Abe Vigoda! Who, as of this morning, is still alive. Plus, that show had the funkiest theme song ever.

Screenshot 2014-05-29 08.53.08

Speaking of great theme songs, Welcome Back, Kotter had one of the catchiest. There’s a reason John Sebastian’s tune reached #1 on the Billboard charts in May, 1976: it’s irresistible. So is the show. How could you not love the Sweathogs? Vinnie Barbarino proved John Travolta was a star in the making, adding several popular phrases to the American lexicon (“up your nose with a rubber hose,” “in your ear with a can of beer”). But Epstein, Horshack, and Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington all had their charms, as well. And of course, Gabe Kaplan was an expert at delivering one-liners. His jokes may have been corny, but then again, the whole premise was corny. But that didn’t detract from the fun of the show. It was pretty forward-thinking at the time, featuring an Italian, a Jew, a Puerto Rican, and an African American all coexisting peacefully. And it didn’t shy away from hot button issues of the day such as alcoholism and drug addiction.

Both shows are obviously dated, but the retroholic in me finds that appealing. They both take place in New York City during the 70s, when the Big Apple was a lot grittier than it is today. Times Square was a place you could catch a peep show or get mugged, rather than duck into the Disney Store or catch a Cup O’ Noodles ad on the Jumbotron. I was there in 1976, with my parents and aunt/uncle/cousin. We rode the subway, which was graffiti-strewn and full of shady characters. I kind of loved it. A recent episode of Barney Miller featured a gay couple and they couldn’t have been more stereotypically effeminate, but that just represented a more innocent (if less enlightened) era. It actually magnifies the humor today, because you’re not laughing at the joke so much as you are the backwards attitudes. The show made up for this later on in its run when one of the precinct officers “came out;” this was the first gay story arc in American television history.

The best thing is, I have gotten Audrey hooked on these shows. She marvels over the “white guy with an afro” (welcome to the 70s, my daughter) and the live studio audience and the opening/closing credits where the cars looked like boats and the Twin Towers still stood proudly. In a sense, it’s like opening up a time capsule. I’m glad she’s getting to experience some of the classics I grew up with.

Hmm. I wonder what she’d think of the hash slingers over at Mel’s Diner…?

Barney Miller cast

 

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The World Needs More Michael Keaton

Saturday night we were looking for a movie to watch from our DVD collection, and decided on Beetlejuice. It had been years since we’d seen it, and who doesn’t appreciate a little Harry Belafonte music now and then? But of course, the main draw was Michael Keaton. In my opinion, he is one of the most underrated actors of his generation.

I first became aware of Michael Keaton when Mr. Mom came out in 1983. He’s the perfect Jack Butler: charming but awkward, a little goofy with a bit of a competitive streak, a good father, and a loyal friend. Actually, he kind of reminds me a little bit of myself, a comparison I made when I was suddenly out of work and a stay-at-home father. I often call myself Clark Griswold, but I’m probably equal parts Jack Butler, as well. I mean, didn’t I just write about spilling the produce in the grocery store? I’ve also been similarly embarrassed while buying maxi pads. Here’s my favorite scene in the movie, one of the funniest two minutes and 48 seconds in comedy ever.

How can you not love Michael Keaton after watching that? He’s kind of dropped off the radar in recent years, and that’s a damn shame. The world needs more Keaton! The good news? A long-awaited sequel to Beetlejuice is in development. Here are 5 of his most compelling performances other than Mr. Mom:

  1. Beetlejuice. One of the most original, chaotic, hyper, and funny movies of the 1980s. Most of the cast, Keaton included, initially turned down their roles before reconsidering. Keaton absolutely kills it (pun intended) as the title character, a perverted and devious freelance “bio-exorcist” with his own agenda. We don’t know whether to love him or loathe him, and we certainly can’t trust him, but we want him onscreen for every possible minute. The film catapulted Keaton onto the A list of actors, and paved the way for his controversial casting in the next film on my list. Fun fact: director Tim Burton originally wanted Sammy Davis, Jr. (yes, that Sammy Davis Jr., of Rat Pack fame) to play Beetlejuice. Try as I might, I just can’t see that.
  2. Batman/Batman Returns. When Michael Keaton was cast as Batman, thousands of fans wrote letters to Warner Bros. to complain. They thought Keaton was wrong for the role, because he didn’t look like Batman (suave, handsome, muscular) and he was a comedic actor. Honestly, I thought the same thing when I first heard the news. But Tim Burton was convinced Keaton could conjure up the dark obsessiveness of the character, and he was right. Keaton was perfect as Bruce Wayne/Batman, turning in a dramatic performance in two films that perfectly captured the essence of the Dark Knight. When Burton was dropped for the third film, Keaton turned down $15 million to reprise the role, and let’s face it, Val Kilmer’s portrayal left much to be desired. The series was never the same (until Christopher Nolan rescued the franchise in 2005). No offense to Christian Bale, but I still think Keaton was the best Batman ever.
  3. Night Shift. Few people I know have seen this early comedy, one of Ron Howard’s first directing gigs, starring Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler. But it’s worth seeking out if you have not. Released in 1982, it features Keaton as Bill “Blaze” Blazejowski, a fast-talking entrepreneur working the night shift in a morgue alongside Winkler’s character, the nerdy and mild-mannered Chuck. The two end up turning the morgue into a front for a successful prostitution ring. This is the type of film that could easily cross the line, but does not. It proves that death can be both funny and sexy. Bonus points for the killer early 80s soundtrack, featuring Quarterflash, Rod Stewart, The Pointer Sisters, and Talk Talk, among others.
  4. Pacific Heights. The truth is, this is not a great film. It’s a formulaic thriller with an over-the-top premise, similar in tone to The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and other films in the “yuppie horror” genre. But it proved that Keaton had the acting chops to take on the role of a true villain in a film that at least aspires to be serious in tone. As Carter Hayes he is truly despicable, an obsessive stalker and schemer who will stop at nothing to reclaim the San Francisco apartment he believes is rightfully his. Cheesy? A little. But it’s fun to see Keaton in a different type of role.
  5. The Other Guys. This film may star Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, but it’s Keaton who steals the movie as Captain Gene Mauch, the pair’s boss, who works a second job at Bed, Bath & Beyond to pay for his son’s tuition at NYU (“so he can explore his bisexuality and become a DJ”). His deadpan delivery coupled with an unwitting penchant for quoting TLC songs make every scene of his, well, arresting (pun intended). This was also Keaton’s first major film role in years, and his appearance was like a breath of fresh air. When he’s addressing the staff at BB&B: “First things first: the new bath mats are here. Second thing: there’s a serial rapist in Crown Heights… sorry, that’s from my other job, ignore that. No, wait, don’t ignore it, especially if you live in Crown Heights. Walk in pairs.” Vintage Keaton.

There you go. 5 reasons why Michael Keaton (who was actually born Michael Douglas, but changed his name to Keaton (a tribute to actor Buster Keaton) to avoid confusion with the other Michael Douglas) is da man.

Say his name out loud three times. I dare you.

Say his name out loud three times. I dare you.

Who’s your favorite actor/actress? Is he/she underrated, too?

 

 

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Yesterday’s News Today

Last week, I took my car to {INSERT NAME OF NATIONAL CHAIN SPECIALIZING IN OIL CHANGES} for an oil change. After checking me in, the attendant led me to the waiting area, where he instructed me to have a seat and feel free to read a magazine until my name was called. So naturally, I whipped out my phone and started playing games. There were three of us in there, and I couldn’t help but notice we were all doing the same thing.

That’s when it dawned on me: nobody reads magazines anymore.

At least not in waiting rooms. And probably not much at home, either. After subscribing to Entertainment Weekly literally since day one, I let my subscription lapse last year. I had been reading it faithfully for 23 years (!) but issues kept piling up and I could never find the time to get around to them. I knew things were bad when I picked up an unread issue and learned they were making a movie about the Titanic starring that kid from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and some two-bit actress named Kate something. Was it really worth $60 a year when I was struggling to keep up with the latest pop culture news? I just didn’t think so. I still receive Portland Monthly and Reader’s Digest and Food & Wine, but those are a little easier to keep up with since there are only twelve issues a year versus 52. (And yet, I did just read about some great tips for a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. In 2012. Maybe I need to rethink those subscriptions, too).

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. I cancelled my newspaper subscription a couple of years ago for the same reason. I was like, What? Nixon resigned?? Really, the only thing I miss are the comics. And really, the only comic I miss is Pickles. The golden age of comic strips ended when Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County, and The Far Side all came to an end. There are only so many Garfield-loves-lasagna jokes one can stomach. My dad, on the other hand, has a strict daily ritual. He devotes at least 90 minutes, every single day, to reading the paper, going over every column inch. Q: What’s black and white and read all over? A: My dad’s newspaper! He can probably recite the name of every person who died in Clark County last Tuesday, the sport score to every high school baseball game, and how much a head of broccoli costs at Safeway this week. Me? I just heard about some airplane that disappeared. I hope they find it soon.

What?!?!

What?!?!

I love my phone, but it’s a sad state of affairs that a tiny 4″ screen has replaced magazines and newspapers. That a two-minute round of Quiz Up or a quick scan of my Instagram feed fills those otherwise mundane moments. And I’d wager to bet that waiting rooms everywhere are the same: full of dusty magazines being ignored by people engrossed in their smartphones. The traditionalist in me wants to decry the practice and pick up that latest issue of Newsweek. But my 21st-century short-attention-span mentality demands I play another word on Words With Friends instead, because Jill is nipping at my heels and I just can’t have that now, can I?

Thankfully, I still read before bed. But that’s on my Kindle, and after scrolling through my phone, a practice that drives me crazy…and yet, I’m helpless to stop.

Maybe I won’t have as much time once this new TV show I heard about starts. It’s a sitcom about this guy who is telling his kids how he met their mother. Can’t wait to find out who the mom – clearly the love of his life, since he’s recounting this long tale to his children – is!

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malaysia-airlines-mh370

Mightier Than Julius Caesar

If you’re like me, you’ve probably followed the travails of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 for weeks now. It’s kind of hard not to get sucked in: this story has it all. Mystery, drama, and intrigue. Stolen passports. Deleted flight simulator data. Cell phones that keep on ringing. It has become the biggest mystery of modern times, a 21st-century version of Amelia Earhart, on a much larger scale.

But…why? malaysia-airlines-mh370

Why has this story so gripped the American psyche, when it has faded from the headlines in other countries? Why do we latch on to every new discovery so fervently, knowing in our hearts that today’s “promising lead” will turn into tomorrow’s {moss-covered piece of floating trash/school of porpoises/smudge on the satellite lens}? In this era of instant information, our society is obsessed with finding answers. There are no unknowns anymore. Want to know the origins of chop suey, who invented the first flashbulb, what the third largest city in Iceland is? The answer, my friend, is no longer blowin’ in the wind. It’s just a few quick keystrokes away. (Chinese immigrants in the U.S. based the dish on tsap seui, which translates to “miscellaneous leftovers,” during the 19th century; Joshua Lionel Cowen in 1899; Hafnarjordur). If knowledge is power, then today’s average citizen is mightier than Julius Caesar.

But there are plenty of unknowns still.

People keep asking how we can lose an airplane with 239 people aboard when Google Earth can zoom in on a blade of grass poking through the asphalt in a deserted parking lot in North Dakota. The truth is, people lose things all the time. I don’t just mean “hope” and “confidence,” I’m referring to solid objects like car keys and wallets. We moved over a month ago, and still can’t find a big clock we had hanging in our living room. And a wine rack. But I’m not obsessing over those missing objects, and haven’t once hijacked my Facebook newsfeed with a BREAKING NEWS: MYSTERIOUS OBJECT IN BOTTOM OF BOX MAY BE MISSING CLOCK status update. I just figure, those items will show up eventually. Or maybe they never will. I can accept that and move on. Granted, if your loved one was on that plane, it would be harder to “let it go.” I don’t expect the families to do so. But for the average guy on the street half a world away, this story has run its course. Really, it’s okay if we just shrug our shoulders and say “I don’t know” when asked about the fate of the doomed flight. Doing so is not admitting defeat, it’s simply accepting the fact that, despite remarkable breakthroughs in technology, science, medicine, etc., there are still mysteries in the world.

I, for one, am okay with never knowing what happened. That just makes my whole “abducted by aliens” theory less refutable.

Speaking of mysteries, have you seen the movie All Is Lost? If not, READ NO FURTHER. I’M GOING TO TALK ABOUT THE ENDING.

spoiler-alert

The movie is about an older man (played by Robert Redford) who is sailing solo across the Indian Ocean when his boat strikes a shipping container, which gashes the hull. He spends the rest of the movie – which is almost completely dialogue-free – trying to keep his boat from sinking.

HERE COME THE SPOILERS! AVERT YOUR EYES NOW! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!

Ultimately, his efforts are futile. Fast-forward to the very end of the movie. In the final scene, after setting off a distress flare, he gives up and is drifting to the bottom of the sea when a hand reaches in and plucks him from the watery depths.

Yay! He’s saved! Right?

Well, Tara and I had two completely different reactions to this scene. She took it literally and was glad for a happy ending, while I sat there shaking my head, lamenting the fact that he had just died.

Huh?

It turns out that is exactly what the director, J.C. Chandor, wanted to accomplish with an ambiguous ending: to divide people, and get them talking about what they thought happened. It’s similar to The Sopranos’ notorious fade-to-black final scene, one that drove fans crazy because – much like the mystery of the Malaysia Airlines flight – it never definitively answered what happened. We were asked instead to fill in the blanks ourselves. In an interview with The New York Times, Chandor says, “The goal of the film is a little bit of an emotional litmus test. In that last scene you hopefully had that visceral reaction, and whatever you’re thinking at that moment teaches you about your own view toward all these big issues that I’m talking about.” Reportedly, audiences are split roughly 50-50 over the ending. Half believe he lives, half believe he dies. And Chandor says there is no right or wrong answer. 

To me, the hand reaching down from the heavens accompanied by a flash of bright white light convinced me he was dead. But maybe the hand from his purported rescuer really was just that: a hand from his rescuer. Nobody knows for certain, just like nobody knows the fate of MH370.

And yet, life goes on. Right?

 

 

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Irregardless Ain’t a Word*

I heard a coworker this morning use “irregardless” in a sentence. As in, “it’ll happen irregardless of the situation.” This made me cringe inside. Irregardless ain’t a word…and this was the third time in two days I’d heard it used.

Come on, people!

After all, like Bush and Cheney, it’s a double negative. The prefix (“ir-“) and suffix “-less” cancel each other out. REGARDLESS of what anybody else tells you.

Full of righteous indignation – grammar nazi that I am – I turned to the internet to bolster my claim. And was quite surprised to learn that irregardless actually is a word. Well, kind of. Hence the asterisk in my title.

Say wha…?

‘Tis true. Irregardless is listed in several otherwise respectable dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster’s. The caveat? They call it a “nonstandard” or “incorrect” word. Yet a word nonetheless.

This revelation is messin’ with my mind, man. It’s got me rethinking my entire vocabulary. Now I’m wondering if the people I always accuse of screwing up “your” and “you’re” have been right all along. Same with the “there,” “their” and “they’re” folks. Could it be that I’m the one confusing “to” and “too”? Should I really be using “literally” figuratively? I should of known alot of this. It’s everyday knowledge. And don’t get me started on apostrophe’s. Serial commas? Not on my watch, buddy.

My coworkers are going to have to stop coming to me with grammar questions. Clearly, I’ve been wrong about everything for years.

Staying Up Late on a School Night

Yesterday I visited with some family members I hadn’t seen in 30 years.

My mom’s cousin was in town. They used to live in New Jersey, but moved to Utah several years ago to be closer to their daughter Shannon, who is – if you’re keeping track – my second cousin. Anyway (or should I start using “anyways”?), they drove out to visit my grandmother, who is my mom’s cousin’s aunt.

Confused yet? I am.

Irregardless, they were here, and that’s what’s important. We got together for what those in the South would call supper. It wasn’t dinner because it was too early, wasn’t lunch because it was too late, and wasn’t brunch because there were no eggs involved. Whatever you call a meal you eat at 2:30 PM. It was a nice visit. Seriously, I hadn’t seen them since the summer of 1980 or ’81. That year, my parents shipped me and my brother off to Trenton, where we stayed with my mom’s cousin’s aunt…err, my grandmother…for a few weeks. One day we went up to Montclair (northern Jersey) to hang out with Shannon, who was our age, and her family. My fondest memory involves a trip to New York City and a visit to the World Trade Center. We went up to the very top – the observation deck – and I was blown away by both the height and the view. Talk about a dizzying, endless horizon. I’m glad we got the opportunity to go. But that was also the last time I’d seen these people. It’s always strange when you meet the adult version of a person you only ever knew as a kid. Shannon was now a recently divorced single mom of two, with decades worth of experiences I knew nothing about.

We got to talking about music, and mentioned an indie rock band getting a lot of buzz lately, The War on Drugs. I just picked up their new album on vinyl last week, and it’s phenomenal. They were playing at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland last night, and Tara and I had been kicking around the idea of going. When Shannon heard that, she asked if we minded if she tagged along. Well, we hadn’t even decided if we were really going, because we’re old now and shows on work nights keep us out past our bedtime. But you only live once, and we used to do this all the time. So Tara bought tickets, and we swung by Shannon’s hotel room a couple of hours later to pick her up. (Incidentally, Audrey ended up babysitting her kids, which was awesome as she’s never done anything like that before. But she was paid handsomely for her efforts…which was exactly why she did it. I love how much she’s changed and improved since coming to live with us). Also, she was in room 314. Of course. (The number 14 pops up in our lives all the time).

Initial reservations aside, I ended up having a great time. The Wonder Ballroom (built in 1914) was a terrific venue, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We had a couple of drinks, found comfortable seats in the mezzanine, and settled down for some awesome rock ‘n roll. The War on Drugs put on a fantastic show, and the opening act – White Laces – was pretty good, too. All my worries over staying out late on a school night disappeared in the melodic guitar, bass, drum and piano flourishes of “Under The Pressure.” I love music too much to let a little thing like a Sunday night stop me from enjoying it.

And then Shannon asked if we could leave.

Granted, it was after 11 PM, and The War on Drugs had been playing for more than an hour. Their set had to be nearly over. But “nearly” isn’t “over,” so I’ll admit I was a little irritated that our guest wanted to bug out early. Irregardless, it was a fun evening, and I’m glad we did it. We may be a little tired today, but like I said, you only live once.

Or do you…?

But that’s another far more existential post…

The War on Drugs.

The War on Drugs.

 

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Even Bandleaders Get The Blues

Tara and I had a debate over bandleaders the other day.

We had just gotten back home after watching American Hustle. There’s a song in the movie by Duke Ellington called “Jeep’s Blues,” and a scene in which Christian Bales’ and Amy Adams’ characters commiserate over the great musician’s still recent (at that time) death. The song is exciting and powerful, with a blast of saxophone knocking down the door to kick things off. I’ve only ever had a passing interest in jazz, but man, hearing that tune might’ve just made me a convert. “Who starts a song like that?” Bales wonders aloud.

But the thing is, Duke Ellington didn’t start the song like that. The sax is being played by Johnny Hodges, one of the premier alto saxophonists of the Big Band era. (I really sound like I know what I’m talking about, huh? Thank you, internet!). The song was written to specifically showcase Johnny’s sax skills, and man, does he deliver. Check it out for yourself.

Pretty damn fantastic, huh? Makes me want to slide into a dark booth on a rainy night, sipping classic cocktails while listening to some cool jazz. Tara’s game. Portland has a club called Jimmy Mak’s. We’re totally doing that one of these nights.

Anyway. As good as that song is, the featured musician is Johnny Hodges, not Duke Ellington. So I wondered aloud why bandleaders get all the acclaim. What do they do, really? Stand in front of an orchestra and wave a stick in the air? Do those up-and-down movements even mean anything? It looks to me like they’re swatting at flies. I remember the first time I saw an orchestra play. It was during a field trip in junior high (note to Audrey: this is what we called middle school when we were your age). I watched the guy in the fancy suit gesturing wildly as the music swelled and ebbed, and thought, what a cushy job that bastard has. Like the guy on the tarmac who directs airplanes to their gates, only instead of having a 737 crash through the terminal glass if he makes a mistake, the worst that can happen is the trombone player hits a wrong note. It’s an attitude that has persisted to this day.

"Oops..."

“Oops…”

Bandleader

“Where’d my other chopstick go?!”

And yet, people like Duke Ellington are musical legends, revered to this day. And there are plenty of others. Glenn Miller. Tommy Dorsey. Benny Goodman. Count Basie. Surely, there must be more to their skills than meets the eye.

“There’s more to their skills than meets the eye,” Tara said. “They compose the music, sometimes play instruments themselves, and make sure everybody follows along correctly.”

Hmm. Could it be that I had underestimated the importance of bandleaders all these years? Deciding a bit of research was in order, I turned to Dan Fogelberg. Because when the answers to life’s most important questions are frustratingly out of reach, who else are you going to turn to? And also because one of his biggest hit songs was called “Leader Of The Band.” Would I find meaning in the lyrics to an early 80s pop song?

Kind of.

A quiet man of music
Denied a simpler fate
He tried to be a soldier once
But his music wouldn’t wait
He earned his love through discipline
A thundering, velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls
Took me years to understand

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
And his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band

Hmm. There’s some powerful imagery here. The thundering velvet hand, the sculpting of souls and such. But the leader of the band, in this case, is the singer’s father. I wasn’t quite convinced this wasn’t merely a vocalized litany of daddy issues set to verse. So I turned to the one source that towers above all others. Even Dan Fogelberg.

Wikipedia.

"Hold the camera steady, would you? I'm going to end up sideways."

“Hold the camera steady, would you? I’m going to end up sideways.”

And Wikipedia describes bandleaders as The leader of a band of musicians…most bandleaders are also performers with their own band. The bandleader role is dependent on a variety of skills, not just musicianship. A bandleader needs to be a music director and performer.

There it was then, in black and white. The mystery was solved. Bandleaders, it turns out, have a lot of balls to juggle at once. They are the ultimate multi-taskers. Talented professionals and natural-born leaders.

Who knew?

I can admit when I am wrong, and will officially go on record and declare this: Duke Ellington was great.

There. I said it.

Now, if I could only figure out why basketball coaches are so respected when all they do is stand on the sidelines in fancy suits while their players are the ones dribbling the ball up and down the court…

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The Art of Rediscovery

Have you ever rediscovered something you’d previously loved but hadn’t appreciated for awhile?

You, too? Me, too! u2.

I had decided to watch Jimmy Fallon’s debut episode of The Tonight Show because, first of all, the man is a comic genius. Second of all, he isn’t Jay Leno. I’ve never cared for Leno. Johnny Carson was da bomb. I love Letterman. Conan O’Brien is the funniest redhead I know (sorry, Carrot Top). But Leno? I always found him off putting, and worse, not very humorous. Fallon is a breath of fresh air. I can’t say I’ll stay up past midnight every night to catch the show, but episodes are available On Demand, so if there are a good crop of guests, then I’ll try to catch it.

Anyway. One of the highlights of the show was U2’s rooftop performance 70 stories above Rockefeller Center. Didn’t catch it? Here you go…

That performance blew me away! And then they did an acoustic version of their Oscar-nominated song “Ordinary Love” on the couch inside the studio, which was like a soft bookend to their enthusiastic rendition of “Invisible” high in the sky. Suddenly I was like, “Say, these lads from Ireland aren’t too shabby,” a ridiculous statement given the fact that one of the oldest records in my collection is “Under A Blood Red Sky” and I’ve got more than 30 of their songs on my iPod. It’s not like I’d never heard U2 before. When Tara and I were driving past a landscape littered with joshua trees in the Nevada desert on our way to Vegas in 2012, our soundtrack was “The Joshua Tree” – about as literal as you can get (save for Springsteen’s “Badlands” which I played while driving through the Badlands. I’m funny that way. Guess which song I’m playing if I ever spend one night in Bangkok. Go ahead, guess).

Anyway. It’s funny how you can suddenly rediscover old favorites and see them in a new light. This Bono guy rocks. He might have a few social or political messages up his sleeve, too. Who knows?

A similar thing happened once with “The King Of Queens.” When it was a regular show on CBS’s schedule, I never paid it much attention. I’d tune in on occasion, but wasn’t a huge fan. And then a couple of years later I started watching reruns in syndication and realized just how damn funny the show was. So I started stockpiling episodes. At one point I had more than 30 episodes of “The King Of Queens” on my DVR. You might think that’s way too much Kevin James for any sane individual to digest, but I beg to differ. Kevin James is a superstar.

Rediscovery is different than discovery. It implies you once had at least a passing knowledge of something, and it was a part of your routine once in awhile, if not on a regular basis, before falling off your radar for some reason. Recent rediscoveries of mine include Tom Petty, Whiskey Sours, “The Godfather” and beef jerky. Meanwhile, discoveries are fun, too. Lately I’ve learned that “The Wire” was a brilliant drama, pistachios are a delicious nut, and Vern Fonk is the Saul Goodman of Puget Sound.

By the way, I’ve always had a thing for obscure references.

On The Next Episode of CSI…

Had a bit of excitement last night. Tara was in bed and I was watching TV when I heard loud voices coming from outside. Very loud. Like, through a bullhorn.

WhatTheHell…?

So I opened my door at the same time as my neighbor. We walked to the front of our garages, only to find a police car blocking the road and a couple of cops in a protective stance, guns drawn. They were aimed at the neighbor’s condo across the way, who they were urging to “come out with your hands up” just like you’d hear on TV. “We have you surrounded. There is nowhere you can go. Come out peacefully.”

Let me tell you, that’s a pretty scary thing. We were told in no uncertain terms to get back inside our houses, so we complied. Winding up with bullet holes in the torso would have been a real shitty way to end the day.

This went on for some time before he eventually surrendered. Tara did wake up to witness the melee, and afterwards, I told her, “I hope he killed somebody.” This prompted a look, so I went on to explain that I didn’t wish harm on anybody, of course not, but that if he had committed a crime I hoped it was a big one simply because I’d have a helluva story to tell later. You see, I don’t like this guy they arrested. He’s been bad news from the start. I left a nasty note on his car once because he was parked where he didn’t belong, and another time I yelled at him in the middle of the night to “shut the f$%k up” because he was making all kinds of racket. How cool would it be if you could tell people at a party “I once harassed a serial killer…and lived to tell about it?”

Yes, my mind works in weird ways. I know.

Oh, and by the way? Glad we’re moving out of this complex in a little over two weeks!

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Anybody Seen Alex Deibold?

The Winter Olympics have been on for a while now, and I’ve been kinda into them. I marveled over the dirty water and deplorable housing conditions in Sochi, admired Shaun White’s new haircut, cheered the American bobsled team on to Gold while wondering exactly how much skill “driving” a bobsled really involves (doesn’t it pretty much glide down the icy track on its own?), and skipped on over to The Food Network when ice dancing came on. Hit and miss, in other words. After 8:30 and before bed, if I happened to think about it, I’d turn on NBC and maybe catch an hour’s worth of coverage. It was nothing I consciously sought out, though.

That all changed Tuesday night, when I stumbled upon Snowboard Cross.

Best Olympic event ever.

Best Olympic event ever.

What a thrilling event! You’ve got a group of six or more snowboarders racing down a tricked-out hill similar to a motocross track, with fast turns and jumps. Almost every race features a jaw-dropping collision and wipeout. First can easily finish worst, while worst can catapult to first in seconds. It’s exciting, fast-paced and unpredictable. I quickly declared it my new Favorite Olympic Sport. Wednesday night I put the Olympics on again, hoping for a repeat, only to find Women’s Slalom. Not to take anything away from that event, but it’s not nearly as thrilling as Snowboard Cross. I tried to get into it, but the women were simply skiing down a hill trying to stay inside a bunch of flags, and I quickly lost interest. We switched over to an episode of Judge Judy instead.

Now I’m left wondering how to fuel my Snowboard Cross craving. It’s not like you can turn on the TV on some random night in April and watch the latest event unfolding live in the Swiss Alps. I did a little research and, other than the Winter X Games, it doesn’t appear that Snowboard Cross ever shows up on TV anywhere. And that does me no good, since the X Games already happened this year. Suddenly, I’m like a junkie without his fix. I’m liable to find myself stumbling through some dark alley muttering, “Anybody seen Alex Deibold?”

This almost makes me want to take up snowboarding. After all, I live in a great part of the country for it. The skiing and snowboarding around Mount Hood are top-notch. Unfortunately, I can’t even walk across the living room without stubbing my toe on the coffee table (it’s still sore a month later!), so the idea that I could even conquer the Bunny Slope, let alone my own version of Snowboard Cross, is laughable.

But that’s why they invented video games, right? Plus, there’s always PyeongChang in 2018…

Celebrate Good Times? No, thanks! 

Tara put on some music this morning while we were getting ready for work, as she often does. I was in the shower when Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” came on.

“I hate this song,” I declared.
“Really?” she asked.
“Yes, and I know that makes me some kind of weirdo. Everybody loves ‘Celebration.’ It’s such a happy and cheerful song, how could you not?”
“You’re right. How can you not?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because I’ve heard it approximately 3000 times since it first came out in the early 80s.”

But there are other songs I’ve heard 3000 times that don’t make me grate my teeth in displeasure whenever they come on the radio. Like “American Pie” and “Another Brick In The Wall.” There’s just something about that jangly music and party-atmosphere vibe that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s the constant way-too-happy shouts of “yahoo!” that bug me. Maybe it’s the subtle and erroneous message the group is sending, that it’s cool to be in a gang. I dunno, but whatever, if I never hear it again, I won’t complain.

In the meantime, we’re headed up to Seattle for a visit this weekend. Bringing Audrey for the first time. It’ll be a nice little getaway for us as we gear up for the big move in a few weeks.

Yahoo!

What’s your favorite Olympic sport?

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