Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

A lot of people seem to be doing their Halloween stories but unfortunately for me, I told every good Halloween story I have back in 2009.  

On the bright side, I bet you weren't following me then, were you?  If not, then this post, Hallowed Weiners will be as new to you as it would if I'd written it today.

Happy Halloween to you, and don't let the little bastards egg your house!
Photo courtesy of

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Unexpected Walkabout

Remember, in my last post, how I was complaining about having to bust ass over to the local park because Tuesday was the only day it was going to be sunny, and I wanted to take some fall photos?

All for nothing.  When I woke up today to dazzling sunshine, my first thought was, “Fuckin’ weathermen…” So after I got my newspaper and blog fix, I headed back to the park to get my fall pictures with sunshine, glorious sunshine.

See, doesn’t this look better when the whole side is lit?  Also, do you see that cave right by the shore?  Remember that because I got a better shot of it later.

Pinky and I have been going to this park since shortly after we met, in 2006.  But a couple years ago, they closed it down because the access bridge was deemed unsafe.  They only reopened the place a couple weeks ago.  It always used to be a haven for dog owners and in this incarnation, they’ve fenced in a place for dogs to play off-leash.  I like this idea because it allows dogs to run around without bothering or scaring the non-dog people who might just want a peaceful walkabout.

Last week when I went, I didn’t have time to cross the new bridge and go into the park, so I had my chance today.  The bridge crosses right in front of a dam and I took advantage of the many angles provided as I walked around the dam.

Caption: I took this from under the bridge at the bottom of the dam.

From near the top of the dam.  Rushing water fascinates me.

From just behind the precipice of the dam.

The foliage still isn’t in full swing… there were a lot of yellows but still lots of green.  Where is the red?

From along the path.

The main portion of the park is like a peninsula that juts into Roland Lake.  There was a path that we used to walk, that went around the perimeter.  As I was walking it, I saw that the dog park was placed on the end of the peninsula, which blocked off some of my favorite places to shoot.

Not being one to take that kind of disappointment lying down, I went “off-path.”  I scrambled down to the bank of the lake and went around the fences.  Hey, it’s a park, not an African safari.  Where’s the fun in staying on the path?  So I got down to my favorite picture spot, where I could shoot the lake, the trees and a railroad crossing.  For a change, I actually had a chance to shoot a train running over the bridge.
OK, it’s not technically a “train.”  It’s the light rail.  So sue me.

I’ve got a number of pictures from that vantage point, from winter, summer and spring.  This is the first time I’ve gotten decent fall shots here.

While I was “off-path” I made my way around the water’s edge. 

I love using fallen trees in the foreground.  This one looked like a sea serpent.

Also while I was on the perimeter, I was able to grab a better shot of what I call “The Bat Cave.”   Last time I was out here, my camera didn’t have a sufficient zoom to get an angle like this.
The Bat Cave.

I know I call it The Bat Cave, but it really remind me of that asteroid monster from the first Star Wars movie.
Put some teeth in that thing in my picture and change the angle, and you have the famous Space Slug. 

Along the way, I met up with a guy that was walking his golden retriever, Luna.  I’m completely captivated by goldens, so we talked for a bit as we walked the path.  I really wish I had taken a picture.  She’d just been in the water, as retrievers are prone to do.  That was probably a good thing for the owner, because it kept me from picking her up and running away with her.

I took about 125 shots in the space of an hour.  Of those, I deleted about 20 because I intentionally over-shot, not wanting to lose a good shot because of a random jiggle or loss of focus.  So while my main mission was to get fall foliage, this one ended up as my favorite.
Maybe it just captures my reflective mood.

The Mojo Boogie
Big game today against the Patriots, who have had the Steelers’ number in recent years.  I believe Tom Brady is 6-1 against the Steelers.  That’s called ‘ownership.’

I won last week wearing my Hines Ward jersey, with the Steelers at home and me watching the game at home.  Those circumstances remain, but I opted against wearing the Hines jersey again.  First off, Hines isn’t playing, due to an ankle injury.  Also, this is the jersey I wore when I went to the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh against the Pats in 2005.  The Patriots mopped up the field with my boys that night, so I’m hesitant to wear it today.  I’m going with the defense, who has to step up tonight.
Lamarr Woodley jersey with throwback long-sleeved T, flannel Steelers jammie pants and the Hot Arizona Auntie-approved Steelers Socks.
Late Update:
The Steelers won 25-17 in a thrilling, hard-fought game.  The mojo worked, however Lamarr Woodley, whose jersey I wore, got hurt during the game.  That means that the Steelers may face the hated Ratbirds next week, missing 3 of their 4 starting linebackers.  As big a win as this was, I only hope that it's not a pyrrhic victory.  But it's still pretty sweet to get this hoodie-wearing monkey off our back.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Odd Bits - The Hurry Sundown Edition

I’m not up to tackling anything in depth today, so let me whip out some short and partially formed bits I’ve had running around in my head this week.  But first, let me apologize for not posting on Tuesday.  My department at work had a happy hour on Tuesday and I didn’t get home until right before the Penguins game was to start.  Not feeling capable of getting anything coherent down in such a limited timeframe (with my beer-induced limited brain power), I gave it a pass.

We had the happy hour at a Turkish place downtown and while the seating proved inconvenient for a tall person such as me, (low, overly soft ottomans around low tables) they had a neat decoration scheme.
Multi-colored lanterns hung from the skylight.

I wish I had gotten a shot of the giant hookah.  It looked like you had to kick start it. 

Subway Tales
You may “Eat Fresh” in a Subway, but that doesn’t mean people smell fresh in there.  I recently had two almost vomitous incidents while riding the subway to work.

I always look for the empty seat when I get on the train.  One rainy day last week when I got on to go in to work, I spotted an empty seat near the back of the car.  Behind the empty seat sat an obviously homeless woman, with her head down on her chest and her parka flopped over the seatback in front of her.

I figured I’d just leave her coat alone and sit on the end.  She wasn’t hurting anyone and people sleep on the subway a lot.  It’s a warm, dry place when one doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

As soon as I sat down, I realize my mistake.  The woman reeked to high heaven.  I’m not sure if it was the filthy coat beside me, the B.O. behind me, or the funky bare feet under my seat, but the cumulative effect was nausea.

Normally when somebody smells bad, I wait it out, because one’s nose only registers the funk for a short time before becoming immune to it.  But I swear, every time I moved my head the slightest bit, I’d get a fresh whiff.  It was so bad; it almost made me feel sick.  It was like I could feel the fungus growing on my lungs. 

I’ve never gotten up out of a seat and moved before because of someone nearby, becaue I don’t want to embarrass anyone, but it was either move or hurl.  About halfway through the trip, I got up to stand by the doorway.  Thankfully there was enough fresh air coming in when the door would open, to dilute the funkiness.  But I swear, the rest of the day, I could still catch a faint glimmer of funk still on my clothes.

So now flip to a couple days later… I get on the train again and sit next to an Asian guy who was reading something with Asian characters on his Kindle.  I thought I’d be safe enough buuuuuuut… no.  I don’t know what the dude ate that morning but he had an overpowering odor of strong pepperoni and sour milk.

I didn’t move this time, but I basically turned out read my paper facing the aisle.

I was like, “Why me?  What the hell did I do to draw Grim Reeker to me AGAIN?

I guess I’ll have to change my ways.

Nein Nein Nein
You may have noticed a marked lack of political material posted here lately.  I just had to check and I found that I’ve only done two political pieces since the beginning of August.  One was a letter to the editor about gay marriage and one was a quick video post with a comment on the reaction to the President’s jobs speech, in September.

The reason for this is that nothing has changed.  I have absolutely nothing to say that I haven’t said already.  I will not keep grinding the same gears over and over; not until there are some new gears to grind.

The gridlock in Congress is practically set in stone and the art of compromise is ridiculed as weakness.  Whatever is in the middle is being pulled apart by the lunatics on both edges of the fringe.

The Republicans are still voting down anything that might help the economy unless it’s a stand-alone tax cut.  They ensure that nothing gets done and then blame the President because he hadn’t fixed the economy yet.  This has been going on since the day he took office and went into overdrive since the 2010 elections.

Common people are trying to make their points by gathering in cities across the country (and world) but they continue to be marginalized and misrepresented by the media, who if they can’t boil the issue down to ten-second sound bytes, tend to create their own.

To me, there’s only one way to get any changes done for the middle class and that’s to vote for Democratic candidates.  If any of the people that are participating in the Occupy movements either didn’t vote or voted Republican, all I can say is that you got what you voted for.  Happy?

I know there is fault to go around on both sides, but you cannot deny that there is one party that is 100% bought and paid for by big business and big banks and that is the Republicans.  Look how feverishly they fight to eliminate the regulations that were enacted specifically to prevent more financial collapse due to financial risk-taking and malfeasance.  Look how they cling to keeping the lowest tax rates in history for the highest earners in history.  Big business has the leashes and the Republican Congressmen and Senators are the dogs. 

I’ve made these points before and I’m mad at myself for even bringing them up again.  I’ll be back on the topic should anything new transpire.

The Frustrated Photographer
As you may know, I love to take nature pictures.  Bright fall foliage is my favorite, but it’s tricky here in the Mid-Atlantic.  There is a very small window to get good colorful leaf pictures because A) The trees don’t seem to turn at the same times and B) once they do, the leaves fall soon after.

In going through past files of fall pictures, I’ve narrowed down the optimum time for shooting to the last week in October.  The trick is to have a sunny day coincide with my opportunity to go out and get the pictures.  It was perfect on Tuesday, but in looking at the forecast for the rest of the week and weekend, I saw that it was expected to be cloudy and rainy throughout.  So even though I’d have Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday off, the weather was not going to cooperate.

So I made an executive decision to try to get out to the park on Tuesday evening after work.  I left a work a couple minutes early, knowing that I’d be in a race against the setting sun.  Actual sunset may be after 7:00, but I needed to get there before the sun went below the tree line.

I hauled ass home, quickly changed out of my work clothes and headed back out to our closes park.  There were two ways I could go.  One was a more heavily traveled route with 4 to 6-lane roads and stoplights.  I figured that way would be choked with rush hour traffic so I opted to take a back way, via twisting, turning 2-lane roads.  I got about halfway there before I came to a dead stop.  And stayed there.  The traffic was bumper to bumper and all I could do was idle forward and stop.  Idle forward and stop.  This continued as I watched the sun slowly sink lower and lower.  I felt like Jack Bauer trying to get someplace to stop a bomb from going off.

After about 15 minutes, I managed to creep up to the intersection where the problem was.  This problem was called a “stoplight.”  It seemed that whenever someone needed to make a left, they’d wait at the beginning of the intersection so that no one else could get past.

Fucking Baltimore drivers.  No one matters but themselves.

Anyway, I got to the park by 6:00, just in time to see the sun lighting only the upper edge of the colored trees.  A helpful park ranger said that the park was closing in 15 minutes and they’d be locking the gates in 30.  I took about 25 shots in 10 minutes and I managed to get a couple decent ones before the light faded into duskiness.
Roland Lake in Robert E. Lee Park, Baltimore MD.

Same target, different vantage point.

180 degrees around from the last shot; the sun sets over the top of the dam.

Ironically, this is probably my favorite of the lot.

Maybe I’ll catch a break and find some moments of sunlight on Monday.  But I can live with these if I have to.

Fletch Lives
One final word…  I ask you to send your best thoughts and wishes to Bluz Sister Annie, who on Tuesday had to have her beloved white-socked tabby Fletcher put down.  He was 11 and was suffering from kidney problems.  He’s lost a good bit of weight and was having trouble with balance and continence.  That it was the right thing to do under the circumstances does not make it any easier, as I’m sure many of you know.

Fletcher was a good puss, friendly to all and fiercely loyal to my sister and her husband.  He’s been with them for about as long as they’ve been together.  He was my sister’s constant companion; always there to listen, lay nearby, and amuse.

He is survived by auxiliary, backup cat, Gracie.

Fletch, I hope you finally can get those squirrels.
 Bluz and Fletch, from 2010.

DVD Director’s Commentary: Today’s title is based on a song by the southern rock group, The Outlaws.  Kudos to any good redneck that caught the reference before reading this far.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Worm's Eye View of the Big Apple

Back in 2007, the summer after I transferred to a new department within my company, I was sent on a business trip to New York City.  Our headquarters are there and I had to go to a 2-day “Train the Trainer” seminar for a new application tool they wanted to roll out.

When I lived in Albany, Future-Ex and I had taken several weekend trips to the city and we always stayed around Midtown… Times Square, Central Park, Radio City Music Hall, etc.

Because I didn’t yet know the Belle of the City, Katie Ett of Unapologetically Mundane, I had to make do with my own planning.

For this trip, I would be going to a different part of town, Chelsea, which is on the southwestern section of Manhattan.  I knew I was going to take the train up from Baltimore, so being me, I dove right into finding an appropriate hotel and planning my routes.  ( proved to be very useful in finding the best methods of public transportation to get around town.)  I decided to head up the day before the seminar.  While I thought it was the best thing to do, I wasn’t the one footing the bill so I was happy that my company was OK with the extra night in a hotel, because goddamn, they’re expensive.  The location I found that was the closest to the seminar cost over $300 a night.  Surprisingly, it was one of our “approved” hotels, so I was OK’d to stay in the Hotel Gansevoort.  Sounded all hoity-toity to me, so I figured I’d have me a nice little adventure.  I decided to take notes on my trip, to better tell the story later.  Gee, it only took me 4 years… 

I enjoyed the train trip up there.  I hadn't been on a real “train” train since I was a kid.  I was thankful for all the legroom.  The ride was much smoother that I remembered, but there wasn’t much to look at… mostly other train tracks.  So much for the “romance” of that rural train track crossing small-town Main Street.

I enjoyed a comfortable solitude until we got to Philly and some smelly guy slid into the seat beside me.  Probably a Flyers fan.

I was also a bit surprised by how short of a time the train spent in each station.  It would stay there for about 5 minutes.  You’re S.O.L. if you don’t have your ass on the platform when the train comes.

Upon rolling into Penn Station in NYC, I immediately jumped on a subway that would take me south a couple stops, to Chelsea.  To tell the truth, I was pretty proud of myself for working it out and pulling it off and saving the company some money. 

Subway fare: $3-something.
Cab fare: No idea, but I know it’s a lot more than $3-something.

Using my map, (subtly, so to not look like a tourist), I found the Hotel Gansevoort.
The Hotel Gansevoort.

The place was pretty ritzy, at least compared to the Marriotts and Hyatts I’m used to.  There was an orchid in my room.  And the bathroom was intriguing. I’d never pooped amidst such luxury.
“What the hell am I doing in a place like this?”

I especially liked the shower, which was like it wasn’t even separate from the room.  It was like they just tacked a shower nozzle on the end of the wall and put a curtain in front of it.  There was no barrier or wall on the floor; it was the same surface as the rest of the bathroom.
 Yes, I admit that I’m easily amused.

After inspecting the room, I decided to inspect the grounds.  They had a bar/pool setup on the roof, so I thought I’d check it out.  I probably shouldn’t have.

OK, the view was interesting, I’ll give them that.
View from the pool side of the rooftop bar, 13 floors up.

This was the view from the other side, of what I think may be New Jersey.

It wasn’t the accommodations that made me uncomfortable, it was the atmosphere.  What is it about NYC that all the trendy, expensive places make a regular dude feel like a rube?    I felt like an infiltrator there, like they’re going to run my credit card and get a message back that I don’t belong there.  “Poser!  Poser!

The rooftop bar was a meeting place of the beautiful.  I was an intruder in my polo shirt and jeans surrounded by young models and business people wearing haute couture.  It didn’t feel like the kind of place to sit quietly by myself.  It made me feel very, very conspicuous.

Luckily, I’d planned for exactly that kind of contingency.  I had a map with me of all the bars and restaurants within a comfortable walking distance, so I decided to go take a walk and see what I could see.

To me, Chelsea seemed like a kind of blue collar area, which was probably due to all the construction that was going on.  I believe it used to be a big garment district, but there was also a high degree of artsy-fartsy that made for some interesting sights.  Like this place:
A hotel, as if it was designed by Tim Burton.  I presume that the interlacing effect is a nod to the area's garment industry roots.

Eventually, I found a place where I could feel comfortable, a bar called Hogs and Heifers.  It reminded me of the small bars I go to when I go back to Ohio, only with a little more edge.

As someone that revels in kitsch, I loved all the special touches that made the place unique.  Like the bumper sticker behind the bar that said, “I ‘heart icon’ ‘hand icon’ jobs!”  Beside that was a sign that said, “FBL,” which stood for Fuck bin Laden.  And there was this sign on the jukebox:
Welcome to New York.

The jukebox worked, they just didn't want anyone playing something lame.

Most eye-catching were the thousand of bras tacked up above the bar.  I swear, they were up there thicker than grass, about 3 feet deep.  Some were meant to cover teeny-tinies.  Others you could parachute with.  It was unbelievable.  Here, look for yourself…
OK, the bartender was all “NO PICTURES” as I was snapping… like the whole thing is a big secret that no one in authority has noticed yet. There were bras up there from the Eisenhower Administration.

There were also about a dozen hard hats stuck up there too.  No idea if they any of the bras and hardhats came from the same people.

So I sat at the bar and had a couple beers.  I noticed someone else ordering $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons.  We used to call that “Riot Beer” when I was a teenager.  But for $2, what the hell?  I filed that away for later, because I was already drinking my Miller Lites.  (Don’t judge.)

Within minutes, I was talking to another dude at the bar, who was from right outside Baltimore.  He had his little dog with him, who was sitting on the bar.  Most of the people in the bar were kind of a countrified blue collar.  I felt at home.

I realize that the jukebox actually did work when one of the (hot) bartenders turned it on to play some music so that they could dance up on the bar in their middie shirts and short shorts.  They played some Skynyrd, some Charlie Daniels, some Johnny Cash, and Foggy Mountain Breakdown.  It was like all of a sudden, the place turned into a scene from Coyote Ugly.  It was great.  If they’d served food, I’d have stayed all night.  But since they didn’t I had to set off in search of a meal.

I really wasn’t digging any fancy-schmancy restaurant so I found a nice diner that fit my needs perfectly.

After dinner, I went back to the room to clean up a bit, then went back to Hogs and Heifers for round two.  There were no dogs there this time, but there was a huge bro at the door, checking IDs with a scanner.  I made a mental note not to start any bar fights. 

Remembering the deal from earlier, I sat down at the bar and ordered a PBR.  The (hot) bartender said, “What are ya shootin?

I said “Just the beer for now.”

She said, “PBRs are $2.00… what are ya shootin?

I said, “Crown Royal, please.”

There went half of the money I was going to use to drink all night.  I should have said Evan Williams or something.  But no matter.  The place was filling up with a real cross section of humanity and I had a ringside seat.  There were construction workers, bikers, jocks in track suits and executives in power suits.  Everyone was carrying on like they knew each other.

There was one older guy in there with a long blond beard and wire-rim specs.  I was like, “Shouldn’t you be on tour somewhere, singing ‘Tush?’”  (To myself, I said this.)

I overheard a conversation between my bartender and another dude back there.

Bartender, who is trying to make her booty bounce:Can I wiggle it like Beyonce?

Dude:Nah, she’s black from Detroit, you're Jewish from New Jersey.  Give it up.”

I guess that explained the up-sell on the shot…

Anyway, the music was rolling by then and so was the crowd.  The (hot) bartenders were singing into a bullhorn and leading the dancing on the bar.  A (hot) bartender from Missouri was totally kicking the shit up there, dancing like the dude from Deliverance, only much more hotly.  They drew 5 other women from the crowd up there to join them… one in jogging shorts, one in a power suit, with others in between.

I felt like I was in a duck blind, observing native cultures in their home environment.  I stopped just short of going all Jane Goodall and naming everyone.  Anyway, I had a tremendous time and stayed as long as I dared, knowing that I had to get up and actually function the next morning.

The seminar was fine… we all went out to dinner the first night and I didn’t really have sufficient time to hit the Hogs and Heifers again.  The next day was a half session, so I caught an afternoon train home.

But I tell you, a bar like that was the last thing I thought I’d find in the cultural capitol of the country.  It was like a down-home barbeque in the midst of a snooty French restaurant.  The only thing missing was a bacon cheeseburger. 

The Mojo Boogie
Steelers play at Arizona today at 4:15.  I haven’t found a consistent look yet for away games so I’m trying something new.  I’m pulling out another old jersey, my white Troy Polamalu #43.  I’ve had it for quite some time… it used to be a #99 Levon Kirkland, then after he left, a #97 Kendrell Bell.  When HE left, I had it made into the current incarnation, which it will remain hereafter.  Good vibes with this jersey… it’s the one I wore to Super Bowl XL in Detroit.  We’ll see if it still has any magic left.
White Troy Polamalu jersey, throwback long-sleeved Tee, plaid flannel Steelers jammy pants and the Hot Arizona Auntie-approved Steeler socks.
Late Update
The tried and true jersey worked again as my Steelers won 32-20 in a game that didn't seem that close.  Now I'm going to have to come up with some serious mojo next week, when the Steelers host the hated New England Patriots.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Rolling Down the Highway

The other day, an old favorite some came on my MP-3 player as I was going to work, Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Roll On Down the Highway.”  I was 13 when that song came out in 1974 and I liked it immediately.  There was so much weenie-ish music on the radio back then and this stuff just cut right through the crap.

I think I’ve been predisposed since birth to seek out big fat guitar riffs and BTO was good that way.  I’d always liked “Takin’ Care of Business” well enough, and the big single off the 1974 album “Not Fragile” was “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.”  I thought that one was OK; the riff was good but I didn’t care for all the stuttering.  But when “Roll On Down the Highway” came on, it just commanded your attention.
The music video, which features the band in their 1970’s prime.

The rhythm guitar dominates from the start with a big fat hook and I love how the drummer plays with such power and energy, like he’s swatting at bees in a moving car. 

BTO used two singers.  First there was Randy Bachman, who sang on “Takin’ Care of Business.”  He was OK, but I really loved the other guy’s voice, Fred Turner.  That dude could really belt.  He had that deep, gruff sound like he had a cold mixed with ground glass deep in his chest.  He’s the guy you see in the video above, singing “Roll On Down the Highway.”  He looks like he should be in Lord of the Rings, doesn’t he?  Looks like he has a dead llama wrapped around his shoulders.  Put horns on him and he cold be the mascot for the Minnesota Vikings.

Anyway, hearing the song again reminded me of when I got to see BTO play live, back in February of 1985.  My buddy Brill and I saw them play at Masonic Auditorium, with Rare Earth opening.  (For only $10!  Yay, 80s!) This was well after their heyday; in fact only Randy Bachman and Fred Turner remained from their 70s lineup.

They billed themselves as a “half a ton of trouble,” as each of the four members were going well over 250 lbs.  Their harmonies were always so tight; I wondered how they would sound playing live.

When the lights came up on their set, I immediately recognized the opening riff to “Let it Ride,” which was one of my favorites.  They sounded great so far.

Good bye,
I lied,
Don’t cry,
Would you let it ride?

Harmonies were spot.  Fucking. On.  They sounded brilliant so far.  Now I had to see how old Fred would do.  Did he still have it?  I didn’t have to wait long, as his foghorn voice cut through the darkened auditorium.

You can see the mornin’
While I can see the light.

(Drive, drive, drive, let it ride.)

While you’ve been out runnin’
I’ve been waitin’ half the night.”

No video, just the audio.  If you don’t know the song, just check out the first minute; you’ll hear exactly what I’m talking about.

Oh, man, they sounded terrific.  Fred almost blew the crowd out of their seats with his powerhouse vocals, while the drummer played like a man possessed.  It was rock and roll, just the way daddy likes it.

The whole show was fantastic.  My only beef was with the sound mix on “Roll On Down the Highway.”  They had the main rhythm guitar riff way too low and had Randy Bachman’s jangling counterpoint riff too loud.  Threw the whole song out of balance, like you were listening to a song in stereo but with one speaker out.

It was also weird hearing “Takin’ Care of Business” without the piano.  It just goes to show you how carefully a good song is constructed.  You lose any one piece and the whole thing is changed.

But those were minor quibbles.  The whole show was great.  They could still rock the house the way they did in the 70s. 

Best ten bucks I ever spent.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Foster's Blogger

My Jilly’s mojo attire is now 2 for 2, so I dare not change it, as my Steelers held on for a 17-10 win over the Jaguars.

Sitcom Kelly came out to see the game with me and she brought a special guest of honor.

Now, you all know I tease Sitcom Kelly about all kinds of things, least of all for keeping various professional athletes captive in her basement “Silence of the Lambs” pit.  But she’s also been pursuing a fulfilling and beneficial sidelight.  For the last 6 months or so, she’s been in the process of becoming a provider of foster care.

A couple of weeks ago, she was called upon to provide a place for a homeless 20-year old woman to stay.  While that wasn’t exactly what Sitcom Kelly had in mind, it occurred to me that I should have thought of that angle many years ago.  It would have made dating so much easier.  Anyway, the 20-year old was only a short-term thing and she was off to a long-term home within a week.

But last week, Sitcom Kelly was called upon to take in a 3-year old girl.  She will have her until at least next month, when the next court hearing is scheduled.  Wanting to get the child out of the house, AND not wanting to miss the Steelers game, Kelly brought the child along to watch the game with me at Jilly’s.

Now before you wear out your tongues clucking at me, keep in mind that I only refer to Jilly’s as a “sports bar” for brevity’s sake.  It’s actually a nice restaurant that has a bar, just like any Outback or Macaroni Grill.  It just also happens to have a slew of HDTVs, tuned in to football games on Sunday.  There’s no reason not to take a child out to a restaurant, so I don’t want to hear any fuss about it.  And naturally, Sitcom Kelly wasn’t drinking anything stronger than Diet Coke. 

The only risk would be that the child would not be happy there and make a ruckus.  I know that was my concern, because it carried the possibility of eating into my concentration as I watched the game.  Plus, I’ve never plotted out the mojo involved in watching a game with a little one.

As it turned out, I needn’t have been worried on any account.  The girl was just delightful and she had me wrapped around her tiny little finger within minutes.

When the agency first contacted Sitcom Kelly about the girl, they said she was Caucasian.  This is a picture of the little peanut:

The girl was just about the cutest thing I ever did see.  But she’s clearly biracial.  Right off the bat, Sitcom Kelly took the beads out and washed her hair.  After that, she wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.  She told me she had no idea what to do with this hair.  Hell, she barely knew how to take care of her own.  (Her words, not mine.)  On the way to Jilly’s, they’d stopped at Target for some hair bands, which the girl wore with style and class.  (Curse me for not bringing my camera.)  She also appeared to me to be younger than 3.  I could be wrong, but I don’t exactly trust the word of any agency that thought that this kid was white.

Sensing an opportunity to help, I sought the help of my ex-work wife, Pamela (aka “Sunshine”), who has many years experience in being a biracial beauty.  I knew she’d have some hair care tips to share.  She was only too happy to help.  I believe her exact words were “I can’t have one of my kind looking like a hot mess.”

Anyway, the girl seemed perfectly content to sit at the table and draw in a spiral notebook, or play with her big sparkly purse.  She spoke hardly at all, yet she seemed to understand everything that we said to her.  I told Sitcom Kelly not to worry about it… my nephew Sammy was the same way.  While his brother Daniel spoke early and often, (one day when he was 9-months old he took a deep breath and began speaking… he didn’t stop until… well, I’ll let you know when it happens,) Sammy could follow along with any conversation and do whatever he was told.  But he just didn’t care to speak.  He eventually snapped out of it and is fine.  So I didn’t think there was any cause for alarm with the girl.

Kelly and I were concerned that she might have a problem with men, but while she was a bit wary of me at first, she didn’t seem particularly frightened.  She’d just stare at me with her big almond eyes and give me a sly smile.  Later, she went on to make friends with the big dude sitting behind her, and his 6-year old son.  So I think she’s OK on that front too.  The boy was very good with her, letting her borrow all of his crayons individually, for 5 seconds at a time.  (She was more about the ‘borrowing’ than the ‘drawing.’) 

But the kid was a real trouper.  She hung in for almost the entire game.  She played, ate a few fries and some applesauce, and was generally charming.  It was like, in that moment, I’d do anything to make her laugh or smile.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a complete sucker, but I begun to understand why parents often act so goofy around their kids and seemingly cater to their every whim.  I get that they just want to see their kid happy.

I also realize that I’m only using a 3-hour sample and a lot of that “cute” rubs off during day-in, day-out child rearing.  I’m only used to uncle-sized doses (which is what makes me such a sucker for the cute).

I don’t know what kind of stuff this girl has gone through but I know that for the next month, my friend will make this kid’s life much easier than she’s used to.  While I tried to convince Sitcom Kelly that this would make for great material for her to use to start a blog, I’m pretty sure that the odds of her doing one are now infinitesimal.  But on the bright side, she will have some help tending to her guys in their Pits.  The girl might even get to tend one of her own.

Hey, I wonder what happened to that 6-year old boy…

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Things That Go SPLAT in the Night

I went out to see the new “The Thing” movie yesterday.  As you may know, I love monster movies.  The 1982 version of “The Thing” is one of my all time favorite scary movies.  It’s creepy, paranoid, claustrophobic and the effects are great.  1982 was pre-CGI, so all the effects were practical, not computer-animated.

So when I first started seeing commercials for the new movie, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to see it.  I hate when they remake good movies that were made during my movie-going lifetime.  Plus, they put a girl in it.

It’s not that I have something against girls in action movies.  It just seemed like a crass “movie exec” kind of decision.  There were no girls in the 1982 version; it was just a bunch of dudes chilling and killing around a research station in Antarctica.  So I could just see some gold necklaced putz in a big office in Hollywood going, “Jesus Christ, we gotta get a broad in there, or else it’s just a big frozen sausage partyNow go get me some more cocaine!

But then I read that this wasn’t actually a remake, but a prequel.  It was meant to show what happened immediately before the 1982 version begun.  OK, now I was interested.

How did it stack up?  Pretty good.  Not great, but pretty good.  You could see a lot of derivatives though and not just from the 1982 movie.  Most notably were the nods to the Alien franchise, which practically wrote the book on Creepy Monsters Stalking Humans in Remote Places.  And the girl, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, owed much to the awesomeness of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley.  I kept waiting for her to yell, “Get away from her, you THING!

There were many similar elements from the 1982 movie, but they didn’t play out as one would expect.  They would go in a direction that you would expect, like separating a Thing Suspect into an out-building, or formulating a test for “Thing-ness,” but then they would pivot away from the past and set a new course.

The effects were generally very good, and judging from the number of puppeteers in the end credits, they used a good deal of practical effects.  The only times I could really tell that CGI was used were whenever they would light a “Thing” on fire.  The burning Things looked very animatey against the white snow.

It was hard to tell about the acting, because a lot of it was in Norwegian, with subtitles.  (I’m sure Cassie would approve.)  In fact, most of the cast was made up of Scandinavians.  I haven’t seen that many Ø symbols in the credits since Monty Python the Holy Grail.  But they all looked either suave and blond-stubbly like Bjorn Borg or stout and fully bearded like Gimli, dwarf from Lord of the Rings.

The one thing I found missing was that moment in the film that just summed up the experience.  Like in the 1982 version, when the head of one of the dudes pulls up and off the body, uses a whip-like tongue to pull itself under a table, and then sprouts giant crab-legs to skitter out the door.  Anyone that’s ever seen the movie will never forget that scene and it’s always the first thing mentioned in any discussion.  In this movie, you could say there’s a freaky “body crab” mutation but it just didn’t pack the same “WTF” wallop.  Perhaps we’ve become jaded as moviegoers, in the last 30 years.

The other thing is there was not big line of dialogue that imprints on you.  (Possibly because it may have been in Norwegian.)  In the 1982 version, I always think of old Wilford Brimley, as he was destroying the lab, bellowing, “You think it wanted to stay a dog???  That thing wanted to be UUUUUUUUSSSSSSSSSSS!!!

This was right before they locked him in a storage shed, to try to keep him from making commercials telling us all about how to treat our diabet-us.

While the movie kind of ended with a thud, it did make good on its promise to take us up to the beginning of the 1982 movie.  All in all, it was a decent horror flick and worthy of carrying on the franchise.  But all “Things” being equal, they really weren’t.  1982 still comes out on top.

The Mojo Boogie
The Steelers play at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars today and it won’t be on local TV here, so I’ll be off to Jilly’s to see the game.  The last time I went to Jilly’s, the Steelers beat the Seahawks in convincing fashion, so that makes my mojo apparel choices pretty simple.  I’ll be wearing the same stuff:
Black Steelers polo with white piping, gold-front hat and Steelers socks.

Sitcom Kelly may or may not be joining me; I don’t know for sure yet, as I go to press.

OK, I know I’m not really “going to press;” I just always wanted to say that, ever since taking journalism classes.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Marching on Whitehouse

After the “heavy” previous post, this one will be much more fun.  It all started with a video.

Well, it really all started where I attended high school, in rustic Whitehouse, Ohio.  My school, Anthony Wayne, was known around the state for their marching band.  Soon after I began attending, I learned that Friday nights were earmarked no only for football, but the pre-game and halftime showcase for the Anthony Wayne Marching Generals.

If I were seeing them now, for the first time, I’d describe them as having “swagga,” however that term did not yet exist.  These cats could strut.

A couple of weeks ago, my brother sent me a video he found on Facebook, of the 1982 Marching Generals pre-game routine.  I was knocked out; I hadn’t seen our band in action since shortly after I left high school.  The whole thing went exactly like I remember it.

The first things you notice are the uniforms.  They don’t look like traditional marching band uniforms… they look like colonial generals.  Snappy and colorful in the royal blue, with red and yellow highlights, white spats and tri-corner hats, they’d fit right in at a Tea Party rally.  (Unfortunately.)
If the uniforms have changed at all in the last 30 years, I can’t tell.  This is from 2009.  Photo by Eric F.

The 2008 Marching Generals in a parade somewhere that is obviously NOT Whitehouse Ohio.  Photo from

You should start the video now and let it load for a bit.  I know it’s over 11 minutes long, so I’ll help you skip around.

The video must have been shot on videotape and later converted into electronic media, so you’ll see some occasional lapses into snow or hiccups in the flow.  I’m guessing it was shot by someone that had a kid in the band. 

To me, it’s like comfort food because they did this same pre-game routine for every home game.  It was tradition.  The band director, Robert Schumaker, had been there for years, thus lending continuity.  Senior trained the newcomers in the fine points of strutting, turning and timing.

The video opens with the band marching up to the stadium field, alongside the stands.  There’s only a minute of that, so once you get the gist, you can skip ahead.

The Marching Generals entrance onto the field is an exercise in tension and delayed gratification as they one by one, strut onto the sidelines and ring the perimeter of the playing field.  Watch how each one spins through that corner.  I like watching the variance in how each one does it, depending on the size of their instrument.  (Musical instrument… these are high school kids here!)

You’re also struck by how large this band is.  I don’t know the exact number but it’s enough to ring three sides of a football field, I’ll tell you that.  I think they start out a little raggedy but when the camera pulls back, you can see the impeccable timing of their steps and arm movements.

OK, you can skip ahead to the 4:30 mark, where the band aligns along the sidelines, with the percussion in the end zone, where they begin the slow-motion lineup along the goal line.  Again, it’s like bottled energy, just waiting to be set free.

At the 6.00 mark, all hell breaks loose in what I call the Assholes and Elbows drill.  In fast motion the band goes flying down the sidelines with knees high, elbows pumping and instruments waving until they form a block at the right end of the field.  I love that shit.  It’s like highly controlled chaos.

I remember being down by that end of the field for one performance and couldn’t get over how hard they were stepping.  You could hear every thump of their feet.  Those kids were working hard!

At 7:20, they begin the march down the field playing our school fight song.  Our school was an exception because we had our own unique song.  The other schools in our conference all used the more famous fight songs from USC, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, etc.  So don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize ours.  You won’t.  But we loved it.  Again, it was tradition.

From this point, you can watch or don’t, as they go on to do the National Anthem.  Sorry, there were no fly-overs, save for the occasional bat.  By the way, did you get a load of the surroundings?  There was nothing but farmer’s fields back behind the football field.  We were totally out in the sticks.

One last thing… the announcer you hear was my 11th grade English teacher, Mr. Williamson, aka: the Best Teacher I’ve Ever Had.  In English Lit class, he gave me more useful ideas about how to conduct my life than all other teachers combined.  I only regret that I never had the chance to tell him so.

After the band, there was the football game, but while I was there, it was usually an anti-climax.  We had a good team my sophomore year (my first year attending) but we sucked in the years to follow.

But still, our musical version of Friday Night Lights fostered the fondest of memories.  I am so grateful for the magic of videotape

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wabbit Season

I read today that deer hunting season is coming up next month.  In my dad’s family, this used to be a pretty big deal.  Grandpa used to have a hunting cabin somewhere in Pennsylvania and they would go out every year and go a’huntin’.  A successful hunt always meant venison steaks and sausage.  As you know, I’m down with the meat.

My dad was never really into it, so the hunting bug was never passed on to me.  And it’s a pretty good thing he never tried because it wouldn’t have gone well.  I went hunting on my own one time and there’s a reason I only went one time.

I was about 8 years old and we were living in Glen Ellyn IL, which is a western suburb of Chicago.  (Yo Carpetbagger… Glenbard West represent!)

I had a friend down the street named Mike and he was 11.  To me, that meant he knew everything.  There was nothing that Mike couldn’t handle and I trusted him implicitly.  So one Saturday after a winter snowfall, Mike asked me if I wanted to go rabbit hunting with him. 

He had a pair of bows and a bunch of arrows we would use.  These were not toys, these were actual hunting bows and dart-tipped arrows.  We had played with them before, just shooting targets (trees) in his back yard. 
OK, they weren’t THAT badass, but they could do the job.

Remember, this was 1969… it wasn’t unusual for kids to have weapons to play with.  Lawn darts were still legal, after all.  And I could play a mean game of lawn darts; why wouldn’t I be able to shoot an arrow?  The trick was going to be getting permission to go.

Because I was all dressed for snow and didn’t want to take off all my stuff to go inside and ask, I just stuck my head in the back door and hollered for Mom.



I conferred briefly with Mike.


Mom: OK, be home for supper.


We grabbed the bows and arrows and went rabbit hunting in the woods.  How the hell did that work?  My dear mother was so trusting.  And of course I never lied.  Well, almost never.  (Sorry Mom.)

So we went off to the woods and began stalking our prey.  There were tracks everywhere, so we actually had a chance of catching some action.  At one point I saw a rabbit run across my path way up ahead and shot an arrow, missing badly.  If only I’d had a lawn dart…  Still, it was exciting.  We continued the hunt.

Then Mike said, “Freeze… look right there.”

I froze.  There was a brown rabbit sitting still, facing us, about 20 feet in front of us.  Mike calmly pulled an arrow back and aimed. 

He took a breath, then released the arrow.  It whistled out, flying straight as an… well, you know.

The arrow went right over the rabbit’s head and hit it dead square in the back.  It was an unbelievable shot.


I never knew that rabbits could make noise.  But holy shit, this one sure did.  I’m sure I’d make some noise too if I had an arrow rammed through my back.  Jesus, it was deafening.  My little head was spinning and I started panicking.  My frame of reference for hunting began and ended with Elmer and Bugs.

Mike stood right over top of the rabbit and started shooting more arrows into it, but still it kept up that awful keening.  I yelled at Mike to stop.  He said he had to finish it off and that we couldn’t save it.  He used all of his arrows and still the noise continued.  Then he started pulling arrows out of the rabbit to shoot again.  That made me start to cry.  I suppose I understood what he had to do and I really needed the noise to stop, but it was tearing me up inside.  I guess I was a bit fuzzy on the reality of the whole hunting experience.  Eventually the poor little thing died and all was quiet again in the woods.  There were tears on my coat and blood on the snow.  It was the most gruesome thing I’d ever seen.

Mike put the rabbit in a bag he had brought and we walked silently home.  We took the body back behind our patio in the back yard, where Mike skinned it.  I don’t know where he learned how to do all that stuff.  But like I said, he was 11; he knew everything.

We left the skinned carcass under a big loose rock that ringed our neighbor’s flower garden.  I think Mike kept the pelt and gave me one of the feet.  I threw it out as soon as he left.  I didn’t want to be reminded of that day ever again.
Needless to say, I never went hunting again.  I don’t criticize those that do; I understand that sometimes there is a need, be it herd management or safeguarding against dangerous animals encroaching on a neighborhood.  But it’s not something I can do. 

If I’m going to shoot any wildlife, it’s going to be with a camera.

To take us out on a lighter note, check out this take on hunting by 1950’s raconteur and scamp, Tom Lehrer.

(Go ahead and click it.  It’s only a minute and a half long.)

“I always will remember
Twas a year ago November
I went out to hunt some deer
On a mornin’ bright and clear.
I went and shot the maximum the game laws would allow:
Two game wardens, seven hunters, and a cow.”