Thursday, July 28, 2011

Countdown to Liftoff

Friday morning I set sail for the wilds of Whitehouse, Ohio, for a week’s vacation with my buddies.  That means tonight is Packing and Prep Night, which is always an ordeal.  Good thing Pinky is at her place tonight, because on Pack and Prep Night, I’m not very much fun to be with as I run around doing the Gotta Go Dance.

I seek to leave very little to chance.  Earlier this week I began preparing my packing and To-Do list.  I live in a panic that I’m going to go somewhere and forget something.  This is because if I don’t take steps like this, I ALWAYS forget something I mean to take.

I could probably just set up one master list and use it each time, because the items are almost always the same:

Camera: because why go anywhere if you can’t take pictures to use on the blog?

Cell phone and charger: The cell is easy to remember; the charger… not so much.

CD case: especially for this trip when I’ll be standing around my buddy’s garage… gotta have some tunes for the boom box.

Hats: we bald guys have to have our hats, and I need to have options.  I’m bringing 4 on this trip, 1 Pens, 1 Pirates, 1 Steelers, and 1 Toledo Mudhens.

Checkbook: to divvy up the cost of providing the food and beer for our Communal 50th Birthday Bash.

Crossword puzzles: I have the ones from the last 2 Sundays.  That should keep me occupied during some of the down-time when someone else is on the computer and it’s too early to start drinking.

Bicycle gloves: in case we need to do anything resembling manual labor, like moving boxes or furniture.  I need to protect my hands because of that Delayed Pressure Urticaria stuff I have.  (Hives.)

Steelers beer cozy: A) Bolsters my Steelers cred, B) marks my territory, C) hey, it’s freakin’ hot out!

Orioles bucket hat: I usually use it for fishing or hitting the pool.  Keeps the sun off my skull and it doesn’t matter if it gets wet.

Pill assortment: God forbid I leave without my day-by-day assortment of vitamins and hive meds.

The usual assortment of shorts and tee shirts.  I don’t know why I even write that shit down.  I mean, what else am I going to put in my suitcase for a summer trip?

Then I have the To-Do list of things I have to make sure I take care of before I leave, like check in on-line, leave a trail of my common website links on my email to access later, stop newspaper and mail delivery, and water the plants.

And now to add to the list, I have to make sure I take care of you, my blog-reading friend.  Last year, I blogged my vacation, practically in real time.  I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to do that this year, so I’ve already set up several posts to run in my absence.  (I hadn’t figured out how to do that when I took my last vacation.)  And of course, I’m leaving this post here for you before I go.

Now tonight, I plan to lay in bed tossing and turning because I won’t be able to turn my brain off, worrying about over sleeping or traffic delays or car problems on the way to the airport.  Not to mention our so highly effective Congress has allowed funding for the FAA to lapse.  I don't know who's looking at all the little blips up in the tower, but I hope they got better sleep than I will.

I think I come by all this honestly, from watching my parents do their pre-trip dance over and over again.  They had their rituals as well, although it was primarily limited to the morning of the trip.  Dad’s job was to load the car at the crack of dawn and then pace around telling us all to hurry up, until we finally got herded into the car. 

Meanwhile, Mom could be counted on to discover all kinds of things that absolutely HAD to be done before we left, like straightening up the greeting cards on the kitchen table or rearranging the knick-knacks.  I was never sure why… I used to say, “Who are you straightening up for, the burglars?  I knew the cat was going to knock everything around, anyway. 

(By the way, Happy Birthday, Mom!)

So I do my Gotta Go Dance, to uphold our grand family tradition.  I make my lists, pack my bags and hit the road early… usually leaving a suitcase behind.

Wish me luck!  Like I said, I have some posts scheduled to run and I may put up some updates.  I’ll definitely be checking email and comments.

Until then…

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Some Ideas are Good. Others... Not So Much

Earlier this week, an independent medical panel recommended that insurers be required to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods.            Finally, there’s something to put a smile on my face, after months of partisan hyperbole over the debt ceiling.  But of course no good idea ever goes unpunished.

If the issue is birth control, you can count on the Catholics to harsh our mellow.  The US Conference of Catholic Bishops immediately released a statement denouncing the proposal.  I’m not sure on whose behalf they’re lobbying, given that 99% of all American women have used contraceptives in their lifetime, including Catholics.  It’s an issue that cuts across all religious boundaries.

I think the Bishops are just trying to prevent a disruption to the current supply of altar boys for them to prey on. 

Everyone wants to reduce the number of abortions that happen in this country.  You would think that birth control would be something that liberals and conservatives could agree on.  But no.

At least the Catholics come right out and say it… that it’s against the tenets of their religion.  The rest of the religious and social conservatives are sneakier.  They just try to cut off funding for anything sex-related.  Funds for Planned Parenthood?  Under attack and cut off in several states.  Funds for sex education?  Slashed everywhere.  Viagra?  Slash… wait a minute.  Nope, you can get your insurance to cover Viagra.  Or Cialis, Levitra and Bonerol.  (OK, I made up the last one, but wouldn’t that be a great name?)

So it’s just the sexual issues for women that are under the gun…  The New Hampshire Executive Council just voted to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.  One of the council members, Raymond Wieczorek said, “If they want to have a good time, why not let them pay for it?

Right.  And the reason that you can get insurance to cover E.D. drugs is…?  The double standard is staggering.  And not to mention the other oft-lost fact that Planned Parenthood offers reproductive heath care of all types, to women with no where else to turn.  Single mothers, college students, low-income married women… all turn to Planned Parenthood for help. 

How much more expensive is the alternative?  How much do you think it would cost New Hampshire if all the women that seek birth control had babies instead?  How much in food stamps, WIC, Welfare or Medicare?  It’s the very definition of “penny wise and pound foolish,” with a twist of Puritanism thrown in.  Birth control is chicken feed.  Raising a child for 18 years is some serious cash.

So if all of this wasn’t enough to get my blood pressure rising, there’s this.  Rep. Steve King of Iowa said on Twitter today that President Obama could be impeached if the US defaults on its debts.  Rep Tim Scott of South Carolina suggests that Obama could be impeached if he raises the debt ceiling without Congressional approval.  (Like Sen. Mitch McConnell wants him to do.)

I swear, these guys will do absolutely anything to reclaim the White House, including, apparently, holding their breath and throwing a tantrum if they don’t get their way.  Are we really going to use impeachment to settle purely political debates?  Oh wait, we already did.  See “Clinton Years: 1998-99.”  Until now, I thought we learned our lesson.

If I’d have known we could impeach for policy arguments, I’d have been railing for impeachment when Bush neutered the Justice Department, tied the Department of Energy to the coat-tails of the Oil and Coal Industries and gutted financial regulations that opened the door for our entire fucking banking industry to collapse.

Now, the Republicans seriously want to impeach if they are successful in blocking the President’s every move?  Surely the American People will see through that right?




Sunday, July 24, 2011

Letter to a 16-Year Old Girl

This Friday I’m going on vacation back to the farmland where I grew up, outside Toledo OH.  I go back there every year to hang out with my buddies and their families, drink beer, play cornhole and grill lots and lots of meat.  I (heavily) documented last year’s trip, starting here, and spanning the next 3 posts.

My one buddy, Rik, has 2 daughters, about whom I’ve written before.  I don’t get to see them very often; only the one time a year I come to visit.  I often have advice I’d like to give them, but so often when I’m there, I’m caught up in a whirlwind of music, drinking and carrying on.  And who wants to listen to a lot of drunken philosophical bullshit from their goofy “uncle” when they could be running around with their own friends? 

Anyway, I’ve had this idea in my head for the last year or so, about a conversation I’d like to have with the youngest of the two, who turned 16 last December.  She was an adorable child…

…who’s grown into a drop-dead gorgeous young lady and has never lost the ability to pose. 

But given the circus-like atmosphere when I come out, it’s highly doubtful I’d be able to get the message across in a concise and eloquent manner.

That brings me to this post, in which I deliver that conversation in the form of a letter.  This is a far superior method of delivery, if only because you can’t revise heartfelt drunkenese.

Dear Kyrie,
You’ve known me pretty much your whole life.  We met when you were a toddler at your Uncle Mark’s wedding.  I know you don’t remember that, but you do remember when I first came out to visit your house when you were about two and a half, and again every summer thereafter.  You were such a beautiful child, I knew that one day you would grow up to be a knockout.  And here you are.

If the high school me ever knew the high school you, he’d have been too nervous to even talk to you.  You’d have been so far out of his league, he’d have needed a forklift just to raise his game to your level.

I can remember clearly what life was like back then.  Yes, I know there were no computers or cell phones or Facebook, but the social issues are still the same.  There are still the cool and uncool, haves and have-nots, mean and sweet.  With the perspective of one who has been through it all, I’d like to give you these ideas and guidelines to help you stay as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside.  I hope you’ll take them to heart as advice from an older, wiser friend and not as just one more person trying to tell you what to do.  You know I only want the best for you.  With that…

* So many beautiful girls become snippy, snotty little princesses that think everyone else is there to serve them.  Please don’t become one of those.  These are the people that others enjoy watching fall from grace.  While it may not seem like it at the time, all the people that get overlooked, belittled or bossed around will build up resentment.  Then when you encounter tough times of your own, they will enjoy watching you fail.  You want to be the kind of person that others want to help, not hurt.

With that in mind, be nice to the nerds.  It costs you nothing to be nice.  Yes, I do believe that being nice is your nature; heck, you even have the shirt.

Keep it up.  A kind word from you can make some geek’s entire month.  And someday, you may need your taxes done and that geek could be a CPA.  Or you could need legal help and some other high school dweeb could be a high-powered attorney or a judge.  There’s an old saying that one should be careful because the butts you kick on the way up are often the butts you’ll need to kiss on the way back down.  It pays to be nice to everyone, not just the other cool kids.

* What seems so important to you right now, in high school, will fade away the second you’re done with it.  Cliques and gossip lose their importance once you step out of the hallways and begin your actual life.  (At least, they will if you don’t actively surround yourself with them.)  I can tell you right now that it matters to me not a lick what some girl said to another girl, or who talked to whose boyfriend, back in high school.  It stopped mattering the second I got that diploma and began preparing to go to college, let alone 30-years down the road. 

I once heard a great philosopher, David Lee Roth, say that he had 2 main principles in life:

1) Don’t sweat the small stuff.

2) It’s all small stuff.

Especially all the he said/she said bullshit from high school.  It’s best to stay out of it.

* Have the strength to say, “I’m not going to do that,” when other people are about to do something dumb, destructive or hurtful.  Think of the person that might get hurt and put yourself in their shoes.  How would you feel if it was happening to you?  Never let peer pressure overcome your better judgment.  If people don’t like you for that, then they were never very good friends in the first place.

* Friends come and go… mostly go.  If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with a small handful of quality friends.  Never let quantity substitute for quality.  There’s a reason me and your dad and your Uncle John are still friends.  We all knew lots of people in high school, but we’re the three (four, counting Uncle Mark) that stuck together.  A few good friends are far better than dozens of friendly acquaintances.  Acquaintances will buy you a drink once in a while.  Good friends will bail you out of jail.  (Or bury the body of someone that messes with you.)

* Never let anyone tell you what you’re not capable of.  You can do anything you want if you work hard enough.  The world does not owe you a living, but it will not prevent you from being all you can be, either.  There is nothing that can’t be overcome; but it’s not easy.  If it was, everyone would have whatever they wanted.  What you will obtain in your life is directly in relation with how hard you’re willing to work for it.  Those aren’t my rules, that’s life.

And the thing is, you know that.  Look at how well you’re doing in school (last time I heard).  People may tease you about being a ditzy blonde, but we both know that there’s more going on with you inside, than others expect.  Delight in proving people wrong when they underestimate you!

* Learn to rely on yourself.  Learning how to be independent is the best gift you can give yourself.  Learn how to cook, shop, pay bills, manage your money and balance a checkbook.  Be smart with your first credit card. 

I can’t stress that enough.  So many young people set themselves up for a lifetime of money problems because they couldn’t keep from buying shit they don’t NEED, on credit, whether it’s pizza every night, or a big screen TV for their dorm.  Credit cards are not magic money… you WILL have to pay the bill.  This is something we can talk about sometime… I don’t want to waste your time and attention on the details right now because there’s still more to cover.

But the major issue with this point is that there is value in not having to depend on others.  It’s great to have a safety net, but at some point, one needs to be responsible for one’s own life.  No, at 16, you’re not going to be independent.  But likewise, there’s no big switch that flips on once you turn 18.  You need to acquire the knowledge as you go, so that by 18 (or whenever…) you’re ready.  You can move into that dorm or first apartment and know how to function without getting yourself into trouble, financial or otherwise.

* Similarly, never expect to maintain the same standard of living that your parents have, when you’re just starting out.  We grownups all started out with pretty much nothing, living in small apartments with 2nd hand furniture, eating Ramen noodles.  It took us years to accumulate all the nice TVs, games and furniture that we have now.  It will for you too.  But also know that there’s nothing like looking around that first apartment and knowing that it is ALL YOURS. 

* Lastly, let’s talk about that one subject that makes your Daddy twitch… boys.

I can see by your Facebook postings that you’re not new to having boyfriends.  And that’s fine.  But please, never let your self worth be dependent on having a boyfriend.  (Or who your boyfriend is.)  This is one area where I may seem hypocritical, given my earlier paragraphs about not appearing ‘better’ than other kids.

What I’m saying is that any boy out there is lucky to have YOU.  You should have very high standards in this area.  Speaking as an actual guy, I know about other guys.  (This is why fathers freak out about their little girl’s boyfriends… they know what they used to be like at that age.)

Your guy should treat you kindly and with respect at all times.  He shouldn’t make fun of you in front of others.  He should pick up the tab.  He should not phone-stalk you or make you check in with him whenever you’re not together.  He should not be controlling or try to cut you off from your friends.  He should never EVER call you derogatory names or heaven forbid, hit you.  To me, that’s the One Strike Rule… He strikes you one time and he’s out.  It doesn’t matter if he apologizes profusely afterwards and begs for forgiveness… they all do.  If it is in a person to hit his girlfriend once, it’s in him to do it again.  So if it happens once, GO.  Or be prepared for a very painful future.

A guy should earn the right to be with you.  He should be exactly what you want in a guy.  You should be choosy… never “settle.”  And be prepared at all times to be able to go it alone.  You don’t NEED to even have a boyfriend.  Sure they’re convenient for lifting things and killing spiders and stuff, but you still have your Daddy for that.  (Sorry Rik.)

Now, I’m not saying that it’s all a one-way street.  You need to treat your guy well too.  No going schitzo-jealous if he talks to another girl.  (Kissing her… that’s another story, and worth a clonk in the head with a frying pan.)  Please try not to talk his ears off about chick stuff… that’s what your girlfriends are for.  Guys like quiet, if not exactly at 16, then soon after.  Try not to use him for all your heavy chores, without doing something in return.  If he helps you paint your room, wash his car for him, or make him some cookies.  (I’m not trying to be sexist… fill in whatever job you want… maybe you wash his car and HE makes the cookies.)

OK, that’s it for now… I’ve gone on long enough.  Please take these words to heart.  They’re as applicable now as they will be in the years to come.  Know that this is all coming straight from my heart.  You know your Uncle Bluz loves you and wants nothing for you but the best.  You make me very, very proud.

Now, to the panel: Please tell me in Comments if you concur, or even better, if you have some other pieces of advice.  It takes a village, after all…

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dancing on the Ceiling

I’ve been staying away from the debt ceiling debate, pretty much.  All spring and summer it’s been the same old tug of war, each side wanting compromise, without actually giving up anything.

Then in the last month or so, the President has been making noises about getting serious about reducing the deficit, by combining massive spending cuts, including adjustments to Social Security and Medicare, with other revenue-generating actions like closing loopholes in the tax code that allows business to funnel their profits off-shore, and increasing taxes on the richest of the rich.  See, that’s a compromise… each side gives up something it believes in.

You can imagine how that went over with the Republicans.

The Republican stance highlights just how indebted they are to big business and the wealthiest 2% of Americans.  To the Congressional Republican, it’s more important to keep their rich benefactors happy than it is to help the other 98% of the country.  Only they can’t exactly SAY that, so they just bellow about not raising taxes and keep quiet about who the actual target is.

I’m convinced these Republicans actually want the economy in ruins because it helps their chances in 2012.  They’re not even being subtle about it any more.  Look at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bright idea… When the “negotiations” were stalemated last week, (meaning the Dems didn’t roll over and give them everything they wanted for nothing in return), he pitched the idea of ceding complete control of the debt ceiling to the President.  That way, they could spend the next year and a half using it as a campaign issue.

And it would be perfect for their tea-bagging constituency because it’s something you can yell over and over again and it almost sounds reasonable.  Before you know it, Fox “News” would be calling it “The Obama Debt Ceiling,” like it was only invented in 2011 as a nefarious Kenyan device to rob red-blooded Amurcans of their hard-earned dough.  I can just see the specialized graphics package now.

A lot of liberals have been going ballistic over the fact that Social Security was even put on the table.  But I’m not one of them.  I’m no financial genius but even I can see that if something isn’t done to tweak the system, it’s going to run out of cash before I ever see a penny of it.  So whether Cost of Living increases are lessened or eliminated, the retirement age is pushed back, or wealthy seniors receive fewer benefits, something has to be done to mitigate the effect that retiring baby boomers are going to have on Social Security funding.  So I’m all for some short-term hardship if it will push edge of insolvency down the road by a few more decades.

And liberals aside, that idea is not going over very well with the AARP either, who are fighting tooth and nail to keep things as they are right up until, I presume, they run out of money.  Politicians will let that happen, too, because heaven forbid that they tick off the AARP.  Retirees may forget a lot of things but they do not forget to vote.  And no matter how well off they are, they will vote to make sure that no one messes with their Social Security checks.  You can take that to the bank.

Now contrast that dynamic with a story I read a couple weeks ago, about retirees living in Japan.  You know how they’ve had that little problem with a nuclear reactor over there that’s gone all kerflooey?  Well, it’s still kerflooey and riddled with radiation inside and out.  You think they have many volunteers to go in there and clean it up?

Actually, they do.  While our AARP members are mobilizing to keep their checks coming, Japan’s retired engineers and technicians are volunteering to put on the radiation suits and go into the damaged power plant to work on the cleanup and repairs.

Why risk the health of the younger generation, they ask, to perform such work in a perilous radioactive environment?

It’s not like they have a death wish; they’re just being pragmatic.  At their age, their cell functions have slowed down and the radiation would take longer to have an effect on them.  In all likelihood, they’d be dead from other causes before the radiation could kill them. 

So far, the Japanese government has not taken them up on their offer.

One 72-year old engineer said, “This nuclear reactor was the brainchild of our generation, and we feel it’s our job to clean up the mess.”

Do you seriously think something like that could happen here?  I doubt it.  Their culture is to take responsibility and come together to fix a problem.  Our culture is to assign blame and fight over who has to fix it (and then over-pay some black-hat defense contractor to take the problem off our hands).

Then again, the Japanese seniors usually live with their kids.

Maybe we should just keep the checks coming.

On an unrelated note, I saw this Doonesbury cartoon a couple Sundays ago.  I was going to run it the week after, but that was when my PC went down.  I’m posting it now, in honor of my bloggy friends from Great State of Louisiana, Jessica and Mrs. Bachelor Girl, both of whom are definitely descended from unicorns.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Well Done, Harry

I went to see the new and final Harry Potter movie this weekend and I was very excited about doing it.  It’s been a long wait since the last movie (that made up the first half of the last book.)

I remember when I first heard about the Harry Potter stories and how big a deal they were becoming, but I never had any interest at all.  Never gave the books or movies a second thought.  Just one more children’s franchise, I thought.

Then I was hanging out with my nephew when he was just a little’un, and he was watching the first Harry Potter movie.  In very short time, I was captivated by the story.  The kids were just so adorable and the story was so detailed and imaginative, I couldn’t help but get sucked in. 

Soon after, I got to see the second movie when I was visiting my buddies in Ohio.  Their kids were watching it and I joined them at the outset.  The third movie had already been in the theaters and gone, so when the DVD came out, I bought it.  That one, Prisoner of Azkaban, has been my favorite, at least up until now.

So when the fourth movie came out, I went to see it in the theaters and have been back to see every one since.  Then last year, from December through February, I read all 7 of the books.  If I loved the movies, I adored the books.  Finally I could see what all the book readers had been complaining about, regarding details and subplots from the books that never made it into the movies.

When it came time for me to read the last one, I had to seriously consider waiting.  Neither of the 2 movies from Deathly Hallows had come out yet, so this would be the first one in which I’d read the book before seeing the movie. 

I considered for about 37 seconds, before diving in.

Whaddya kidding me?  Like after I’d just torn through the first 6 books I was going to postpone the ending?  Fat chance.  I was all over it.  There weren’t enough hours in the night, or else I’d have knocked it out in one sitting.

I always feel kind of dopey going to see the Potter movies… I mean, a grown-ass man, almost 50-years old, going to see these movies.  But I get over it pretty quickly, especially when I look around and see all the grownups there without kids.

That’s how it was on Saturday.  Ten minutes before show time, the theater was almost exclusively filled with adults.  It wasn’t until right before the previews started that the families started coming in.  The theater wasn’t crammed, but it was probably about ¾ full.  Even so, I discovered the sure-fire way to make sure you get a ticket and a good seat for a hot movie… I buy the tickets online.

It’s not because it gets me right in, past the whole crowd of ticket-seekers; it’s because every time I buy online, when I get to the theater, there’s no one in line.  I’m two for two so far.  I suppose it works the same way as my bringing an umbrella or raincoat virtually guarantees that it won’t rain where I am.

Anyway, I loved the movie.  Yes, there were book exclusions, but nothing terribly surprising or crippling.  A lot of the omissions were inevitable, given that the back-stories that supported them were omitted from previous movies, so they couldn’t just pop up at the end.

For example, I’d have liked to see more development in the romance between Harry and Ginny Weasley.  But in the earlier movies, the romance was sort of underplayed, so it would have been weird if it was a huge deal here.

Even though you may already know how the Potter series ends up, I don’t want to include any spoilers here.  Suffice to say, there is huge action and quite a number of powerful emotional moments.  People may quibble about the details online (and by God, they certainly are), the entire second half delivers quite a wallop.

Even me, with my cynical, crusty, almost 50-year old ass, had to swallow hard a couple of times.  Neville’s moment, alone, was a catharsis 18 movie-hours in the making.  The vast journey all these kids have taken, when you think about the entire story arc, is astonishing.

There’s a moment where they flash back to scenes from the first movie and it was so jarring seeing how small they once were.  They’ve aged so gradually and gracefully that it was almost imperceptible.  Daniel Radcliffe’s “Harry” goes from a slight but bright-eyed little boy to a young man with depth of feeling but balls of iron.  Rupert Grint’s “Ron” goes from a little red-headed imp to a strapping, slab-shouldered bloke with an especially effective teenager’s glower.  And Emma Watson’s “Hermione,” well, holy crap, she just grew from an “insufferable know-it-all” into a stunning young woman, didn’t she? 

But in my opinion, none changed as much as “Neville Longbottom,” who went from being such a completely inert little clutz, to the rock-ribbed survivor that makes such a dramatic stand before claiming his moment of fame.

I left the theater feeling thrilled, yet sadly wistful.  It was like taking those last few bites of your favorite sandwich and knowing that with each bite, you’re getting to that point when there is absolutely no more.  (This dawned on me as I was at Wendy’s after the show.)

The story wrapped up in an emotionally satisfying manner, but what upset me was knowing that I wouldn’t be seeing these fine young actors playing these amazing characters, ever again. 

But I guess that’s really the trick, isn’t it?  Leaving the audience wanting more…

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cold Turkey

Unlike Generalissimo Francisco Franco, my PC is no longer dead!

I’ll tell you about it but first let me apologize for being a general butthead and leaving you high and dry, with no fresh bluz to entertain you.  Admit it… you missed me a little, didn’t you?  What? You didn’t even know I was gone?  You barely even noticed?  Well, it damn near killed me

It started on a dark and stormy night.  Yes, really.  Monday night we got a hellacious thunderstorm.  Lightning was cracking and it seemed like the thunder was shaking the place.  And like a dipshit, I still sat there on the PC, reading Red Town Blues.  I knew I shouldn’t be, but it’s so hard to tear myself away from all your interesting blogs.

So naturally, there was a giant boom and everything in the place went dark… but only for a second.  Then everything came right back on, including my PC.  I took that as a sign, so I logged off and the computer did its usually shutdown cycles and turned off.  Then I unplugged it.

Then Tuesday night when I came home from work, all primed to bang out a fresh post, the PC wouldn’t respond at all.  Repeated mashings of the “On” button did nothing.  (Yes, I plugged it back in first.)  Around back, I noticed a flashing green light.  I thought that might be a good sign, but wasn’t sure, because I COULDN’T LOOK IT UP ON MY LIFELESS COMPUTER!

All night long, I had a sick feeling in my stomach, because I know how much stuff I have on this unit.  I’ve had this PC since 2004, so I have 7 years worth of digital pictures, all my writing material for this blog, personal records, and emails going back to 1999 from my 1st computer.

I was afraid all of that was gone for good.  There was some stuff that I could replace, like all my music files.  Probably 95% of the music files on my computer are also on my MP3 player, so I could reload those onto a new computer.  And I have a lot of pictures saved to Flickr, but only about 25% of everything I have.  Most of my spreadsheets, (sports events, DVDs, CDs, Movie ratings, medical history, annual gift log, Steelers mojo, etc) are also on my work PC.  They may not be completely up to date there, but I wouldn’t have to fill in much.

What really made me sick was all the pictures.  I’ve spent so much time over the years scanning old photos, plus taking a ton of them myself.  And what makes me so mad it that I almost lost them because of my own negligence.  First of all, about a year ago, I filled up a 2 GB thumb drive with all my picture files, just for safe-keeping.  Then earlier this year when I bought my new car stereo, I deleted them all so I could fill the thumb drive with music to play in the car.  And I felt OK doing THAT because I also just bought an external back-up drive, on which I would back up my pictures.

But I never got around to it.  I loaded up a lot of my heavy files… videos and raw pictures straight from the camera… but I never got around to figuring out how to run automatic backup of selected folders.  And then WHAM… the PC turns into a doorstop in an instant, trapping all my stuff inside.

I didn’t sleep well at all Tuesday night.  All I could do was toss and turn and stress about all the things I would lose if I couldn’t fix the PC.

The next morning when I got to work, I Googled the problem and quickly found a message board that addressed the this particular issue.  I copied and pasted a bunch of it and printed it off, so I could attack it at home.  It called for going inside the box, which is something that I’ve never done.  I don’t know jack about the inner workings of a computer, outside of the “On” button.  But just knowing that there might be a solution made me feel loads better.  And even if it didn’t work, I had reason to believe that the data could be retrieved.  If my fix didn’t work, I’d take it straight to the Geek Squad at Best Buy.

I probably should have come home Wednesday and got right on it, but Wednesday is a good TV night.  Both “Big Brother” and a 2-Hour “So You Think You Can Dance” were on, and if you think I’m going to skip my Cat Deeley fix, you’re crazy.

Then Thursday night, I had plans to go to an Orioles game with Sitcom Kelly, who again is making noises about starting her own blog.  We’ll see.  So mentally I planned to dive in after work on Friday.

But it was weird this week, being home without the computer on.  No email checks, no checking blog-hit stats, no commenting on your blogs, no answering comments on my OWN blog, no reading Twitter… I was killing me!  But on the bright side, when my shows were over at 11, I could just go to bed.  I didn’t have to come over to shut down the computer, but first check stats again, check for new blog posts, check emails, catch up on the late tweets, play just one game of Angry Birds and goddamn it’s 11:45 already. 

So I’m well rested.

D-Day was tonight.  After dinner, I took out my instructions, got out my tools, put fresh batteries in the flashlight and had at it.  It was touch and go there for a while.  I had to unplug the motherboard, then plug in the PC again and reconnect the motherboard.  The “jolt” was supposed to shock it back into functionality, much like the cardioversion I had on my heart.  But I had a heck of a time getting the plug out of the motherboard. 

I read that there was some kind of lever that I had to pull, in order to release the plug.  Took me forever to find the right way to pull it, meanwhile I was turning my fingers to hamburger.  Gonna have some sore fingertips tomorrow, I tell ya.

Anyway, it worked just like they said it would on the message board.  So thank you to all the geeks that made it possible for me not to have to pay big bucks on a repair bill.

And first thing tomorrow, I’ll figure out how to back up my important files onto my external hard drive. 

Well, maybe not “first” thing.  The new Harry Potter just came out.  Plus I have to go shopping… And stop at Wendy’s.  So maybe “fourth or fifth” thing…

Thank you for coming back.  I’ve missed you. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

First Time Favorites

We all have favorite songs.  Some start out OK but then grow on you.  Others you may not even like at all, but you eventually come around.  And then there are the kind that the very first time you hear it, you know it’s a killer, an instant favorite.  Sometimes it’s one more song from an artist you already like.  Other times, it comes right out of nowhere and makes you find out more about the artist and maybe even a whole new genre of music.  There is a certain something about these songs that connect with you instantly, right down to your DNA.  It’s like you were programmed to like these songs and you just didn’t know it yet.

I’ve talked about a couple of these songs in the past.  In March of 2010, I wrote about the first time I heard a Joan Jett song, when my college radio music director handed me Joan’s first solo album and I dropped the needle on “Do Ya Wanna Touch Me,” which promptly melted my face off.  That one moment led me to a lifetime of JJ fandom and the opportunity to meet her a number of times.  And in that same post, I talked about going to an album release party at which I heard “I Hate Myself for Lovin’ You” for the first time and got to tell Joan herself how awesome it was. 

I also wrote about the first time I heard “Pride and Joy” on the radio, which brought me to discover Stevie Ray Vaughan and changed me into a full-fledged blues fan.  Last month, I wrote about the how hearing “Hell’s Bells” for the first time turned me into an AC/DC fan, where previously I couldn’t stand them.  So with those in the can already, let’s carry on…

This one also happened while I was on college radio.  I was already a big ZZ Top fan when “Eliminator” came out.  That was the album that put them into the stratosphere, fueled by their snappy MTV videos.  Right off the bat, radio put the first single, “Gimme All Your Lovin’” into heavy rotation and the local rock radio station was playing “Got Me Under Pressure” with regularity.  So when I finally got my hands on “Eliminator” for the first time during one of my air shifts, I started looking for something else to play.  Those 2 songs were tracks 1 and 2 on the first side, so I dropped the needle on the 3rd track, which happened to be “Sharp Dressed Man.”

In the first 5 seconds, I knew it was a hit.  Pow… power chords right upside the head, with a rollicking boogie beat and just a hint of synthesizer fizz.  I played the shit out of it long before it became the next single.  In reality, my playing it on our puny 15-watt college station didn’t do squat for the band, but in my mind, I broke that song, brilliant music video be damned.
Director’s DVD Commentary: I’m only using YouTube videos that play the studio versions of the songs, (where available) because that’s the way I first heard them.

In 1986 I was managing a mall record store when we got in this package of promo records to support an Electra Records promotion our company was running.  We were supposed to play these in-store and I was worried these would be ‘gloomy-music’ records… you know, that stuff that was popular in the mid-80s like Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Joy Division, etc.

But trying to be a good ‘company man,’ I picked an album out of the pack to try it out.  I’d never heard of the group before but their name was “The Georgia Satellites.”  The second the first song came on, I knew that this was no ‘gloomy’ album. 

“I got a little change in my pocket going jing-a-ling-a-LANG
Wants to call you on the telephone baby, give you a ring.
But each time we talk, I hear the same old thing.
Always ‘no hug-GEE no kissEE until I get a weddin’ ring.’
My honey my baby, don’t put my love up on no shelf.
She said ‘don’t hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourself…’”

The song was “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” and by the time the first verse was done, I knew it would be a hit, with me, if not the rest of the country.  Its charming vocals, huge guitar riffs and primitive music video (that looked like it was made for about $150) made the Georgia Satellites a household name, at least for a short time.  I think they’re unfairly characterized as 1-Hit Wonders because they put out 2 more incredible albums full of fat hooks, barroom harmonies and sly wit.

In fact, there is a song on their second album, “Open All Night,” that also makes this list.  I was fairly certain I’d like their sophomore effort, but you never really know.  It’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice.  The album didn’t do very well, but not for lack of quality.  They had a couple of covers on this album, of songs they used to play in their early days.  One was a rockin’ version of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” which featured some rocking piano as required by anyone attempting to cover Jerry Lee Lewis.

But the piano was all over this album, including the next cover track.  The funny thing is that the first time I heard it, I had no idea it was a cover.  I’d never really listened to the Beatles’ “White Album,” so I had never heard “Don’t Pass Me By.”  That was a sing-songy tune sung by Ringo Starr, that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a carnival calliope.  But in the hands of the Satellites, it became a full-speed romp of jamming guitars, big drums, and tight garage-band harmonies.  I loved it immediately and I tell you, the first time I heard the Beatles’ version, I laughed out loud.  It was like they weren’t even in the same species.

Discovering Stevie Ray Vaughan had opened me up to seeking out other blues guitarist and some of the most helpful devices were the cheap blues compilations put out by Alligator Records, the premier blues label in the country.  Two songs I first heard on these compilations made me instant fans of the artist.

For anyone that likes guitar, hearing a Roy Buchanan track can change your life.  Nestled on that first compilation was a track called “Short Fuse,” and it certainly lived up to the name.  The thing just blew up within the first 20 seconds.  It was like the old Batman TV Theme if it had been done by Jimi Hendrix.  Surf music meets screaming guitar strings.  There’s a point after the sax solo that Roy’s guitar comes tearing in and just howls in a combination of string-bends and volume.  In later years when I’d play it in the store, I’d grab one of my new people and say, “You want to know about Roy Buchanan, listen to this lick right here and that says it all.”

If you like guitar and only have time to play one video here, play this one.
It also cracks me up that these amazing sounds were produced by someone that looks like somebody's granddaddy.

The Alligator compilations also introduced me to the legend that is Albert Collins (who I wrote about here).  Most people don’t know the name, but if you ever saw the movie “Adventures in Babysitting” with Elizabeth Shue, Albert is the bluesman on stage that tells her, “Nobody leaves this place without sangin’ the blues…”
Albert’s on the far right.

I’d heard Albert on the first Alligator compilation, but the track that really grabbed me came on the second, a tune called “I Ain’t Drunk”.

“Every day baby/when the sun go down
I get with my friends/and I begin to clown.
I don’t care/what the people are thinking.
I ain’t drunk/I’m just drinkin’…

The lyrics would have been perfect for our Barn Parties… Lord knows we loved a good drinking song… and the rockin blues shuffle beat was infectious, topped off with Alberts trademark stinging guitar solos.  This song should have been on barroom jukeboxes all over America.  (And it will be, once I’m King.)

I’ve been saving the best song for last.  It’s a crime that so many people don’t know the name Johnnie Johnson.  Johnson was the piano player on Chuck Berry’s big hits back in the 50s.  The “Johnny” in “Johnny B. Goode” is actually Johnnie Johnson, only he rocks the keys instead of the strings.

In 1991, Elektra (again) put out a compilation of “new” artists. The first track up grabbed me immediately, with its easy-rolling piano boogie.  It sounded like the soundtrack to a party to which I would very much like to attend.

Listen to me baby, and hear what I got to say.
I said listen to me baby, and hear what I got to say.
I’m going’ round the corner,
And have a drink of Tanqueray.”

My first thought was, “Oh, my parents have GOT to hear this one.”

Tanqueray” rolled on to sound even more like a party.  I found out later that Keith Richards produced the track and his solo band played on it as well.  By the time they get to the choruses, it sounded exactly like a bunch of well-lubricated raconteurs sitting around a piano bar.  And of course, any bar that Keith Richards is in immediately becomes the coolest place on the planet.

Keith and Johnnie go way back to when Keith produced a film about Chuck Berry called, “Hail Hail Rock and Roll.”  It not only spent time going into Chuck Berry’s past and present world but culminated in a big concert featuring Johnnie, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Linda Ronstadt and many others, all backed by Keith and his band.

Oh, and the parents loved it.  You will too.