Monday, January 31, 2005
Hats..... Big Cowboy Hats.....
Not so good for musicians, though. I'll admit that the duo known as "Slappy is Jebus" didn't exactly light the room on fire at Cheers last night, but we did OK. I even added a little extra twang into my voice in hopes of making the many visitors feel more at home. See, Cheers is a hotel bar. Normally that's not an issue, in fact it can be a real bonus to our little open mic. Getting to host the open mic during the Sturgis Rally was an absolute treat, people from all over the country got to join in the fun with us. The LNI tournament brings a lot of folks into town, looking to party and have a good time. I'm sure the Stock Show participants want to have a good time, too. Apparently they don't want to have our kind of good time.
It's kind of interesting when you play a song and nobody responds. OK, we probably didn't make the right choice to start off. Still, people are usually polite, at least acknowledging your effort with a smattering of applause. After last night's first song nothing. We did BOTH Jesus songs in an attempt to get some response and other than an older gentleman blessing me with his crucifix, nothing. "Two Condoms," usually get people going. Nada. Is this thing on? I guess it was because local musician Willy Grigg came over to our table to say he loved it. I try not to let it bother me too much. If Shawn couldn't reach the Stock Show crowd with "Electric Cocaine," what chance did we have with a Weird Al tune? Stock Show crowd, how do you reach 'em?
I went up and played a Tom Waits tune with Josh later in the evening. I'm not sure whether I'm more impressed that he asked me to join him on stage or that he actually knows who Tom Waits is. I'd be more impressed with myself if I were sure that's how Tom spells his name. Josh also knows who The Dead Milkmen where, so he's a pretty interesting guy.
I made it a relatively early night because I thought I'd get called into sub for special ed at the high school. When my phone didn't ring at 6:11 I figured I wouldn't be working today. I did get called at 6:27 (funny how the time always sticks in my mind when I get a call while sleeping), I'd be teaching band at the middle school. Actually, it was a fun day. I wouldn't mind doing that again.
Saturday, January 29, 2005
Our church group opened for a band called "Lost and Found" in Presho. I don't mean to sound offensive to anyone, but I normally find Christian music that tries to be hip just a little bit creepy. The hearts of people who create this music, I'm certain, is in the right place but that can't change the way I feel about it. So I was skeptical about these guys and didn't really expect to enjoy myself. Boy, was I wrong! Let me start by pointing out that "Lost and Found," as well as myself, are Lutheran, and Lutherans tend to be a little conservative. I actually find this ironic since Martin Luther's battles with the Catholic Church in the reformation make him one of the greatest liberal thinkers of all time. Lutherans are a bit staid. For example, you won't see a Lutheran healing people on TV on a Sunday morning. Before "Lost and Found" I never new that Lutheran rockers existed. And in truth, it weren't really what you'd call rock and roll. Their music was along the lines of Barenaked Ladies or (gasp!) Mojo Nixon. In fact, I think if Mojo Nixon were Lutheran, he would have founded "Lost and Found." OK, he would have had to clean up his language a little bit, but it could've happened.
And like BNL or Mojo, they're hilarious! Their stage banter was among the funniest I've ever heard, a joyful silliness that you couldn't help but giggle at. "The Lutheran Song," sounding much like Adam Sandler's "Hannukah Song" has worked it's way into heavy rotation on my mp3 player (yes, I use radio programming terminology for my mp3 player, doesn't everyone?).
So now we come to the potentially creepy part, the message. Well I'm pleased to report that "Lost and Found" played a nice mix of secular and Christian tunes. When there was a message, it was pretty light handed. It's pretty clear that they think Jesus is great, but they didn't feel the need to tell us that over and over. Refreshing. "Baby" had a wonderful, light handed message, "Slide Girl" could be a BNL tune the way it involved the audience and depended on quick improv by the musicians.
In short, "Lost and Found" embodied my personal philosophy of Christianity: Don't tell me you're a Christian, show me. They showed it all night without beating us over the heads with it. As St. Francis said, "At all times preach the Gospel, when necessary use words."
I'll be back next week with Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times......
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Zero to Eighth Grade in 49 Minutes
I made it by 7:55, but the teacher didn't have a lesson plan so I had to call him at home and get some stuff. It really wasn't anything too complicated, but I had to have it. I walked into class at 8:00 and started in on my day. The kids were great, they had taken attendence and the lunch count so I didn't have to worry about that when I came in. I'm sure they were directed to do so by the teacher across the hall, but still it was awfully nice of them.
The first hour class was supposed to go to the gym that morning, but the gym was set up for something else. I asked them what they do when they can't go to the gym and they said one of the things they did was play US history trivia. Now we're talkin'! They wanted to go get another class to play against but I told them I'd play against the entire class. OK, I realize I was playing against a group of 8th graders, but I still trounced them 6 to 3. I also had one answer that I'd have been proud of no matter who I was playing with. The question was "Who did Nicholas Costalano play on the TV series 'Cheers'?" Of course the correct answer is coach. But the kids decided I had to come up with the character's name. I thought for a minute, I hadn't seen an episode of 'Cheers' in a while, let alone one from the first couple of seasons when Coach was on. Then it just came to me: Ernie Pantusso. Yeah, I left them in awe. Since the first class is sort of a homeroom thing, I would see a lot of these students later in the day. So at the beginning of each social studies class I made a student from the homeroom period tell everyone in the class that I beat them all in trivia 6-3. It's great when the teacher gets to be a complete ass.
In all actuality, today was a good day. Having taught a little middle school recently, I'm amazed at the maturity difference from sixth grade to eighth grade. Today was eighth graders, so they were generally well behaved and they did the work assigned without too much trouble.
I also had my niece in class for the first time today. And her seat was right in front of my desk. So before class started I said quietly to her, "We knew this was going to happen some day, didn't we?" She just smiled and we went about class. It wasn't nearly as weird as I thought it would be.
Then again, after lunch, the kids came in and asked how I liked being on Jeopardy! This was completely unprovoked by me, so someone brought it up. The only eighth grader who would have know that was my niece, so I'll blame her. Maybe it could have been some of the seventh graders from the day before, but do you think eighth graders would really hang with seventh graders at lunch? It was fun anyway.
My only complaint about the day, and mind you it's a small one, is that I bust my butt to get into school by the start of class after being woken from a sound sleep. I made it and taught a whole day. But, since the teacher's day starts at 7:30, I got paid a half hour less than I would have if they'd have called me when they should have. If anything, they should have paid me more, but they didn't. Thanks!
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Slappy is Jebus
TSA's little brother showed tonight along with a friend and about half of the sophomore class at Stevens High. SSA (six string Arich) and his friend did a couple of tunes. It was so much fun for me to watch, as I remember the first time I played in front of people, how different it is from playing in your living room. It's always little things. I could see SSA's friend struggling with the microphone. You see, nobody ever sings into a microphone at home. You can be the greatest singer in the world, but it won't matter if you haven't learned how to sing into a mic effectively. Sitting on a stool can be different. I won't even mention the nerves. I hope they, and other younger folks, keep showing up at the open mic.
TSA and I put on a really nice set with Mike Reardon offering some great lead guitar work. We did a bluesy set. We hadn't played "Got My Mojo Workin'" in a long time, and I think we were both surprised at how good it sounded. Mike added a couple of songs, and I love when he sings on Dylan's "I Will Be Released" because a) I like Mike's singing and b) I get to just play harp and not have to worry about taking it out of my mouth for anything.
We were supposed to do 3 songs, but we ended up doing 5, the crowd (such as it was) wanting to hear more. That's always a rush, even if it is only about 8 people requesting more.
So, I haven't referenced this yet on the blog, but TSA and I are going by "Slappy is Jebus." The "is" should be italicized, but I don't know how to do that on this blog. The story of where the name came from is long and boring, and like most things Andy and I do, started out as a joke. We decided we wanted Shawn to call us "Slappy is Jebus" at the Cheers open mic, with the "is" really accentuated and stretched out. Unfortunately I can't really type how the "is" sounds, TSA referred to it as "pig vomit," so I guess we'll go with that. So we thought it would be funny to make Shawn say it like that, then the next week change our name. Shawn tried to avoid saying it, but then did it exactly right. The next week he did it again, without being asked. It sounded so good, we started to actually like it. My favorite story about "Slappy is Jebus" was from Josh who referred to us as "Laughing at Jesus" when he followed us on the stage. Our name has been bastardized! How cool is that!?! That's what we'd be called if we were ever parodied in Mad Magazine!
I'm not really sure why I posted the photo with this blog, but how many times does a guy get to put up a photo of the crotch on the internet? OK, how many times do I get to do it? Maybe the next blog will be about the origins of the name "Blind Orange" Julius........
"I love South America! Y'know, Jimmy, that's the land of the great Delta Blues men. You know, Muddy Rivers, Crew Cut Johnson, Blind Orange Julius. All the great blues men are from South America."
Four Point Oh
And I don't put a lot of stock in grades as an indicator of intelligence. I probably hold that feeling because I wasn't a particularly good student. Plus, I've known a lot of 4.0's who weren't really that smart, but knew how to play the game. If you got a B on a quiz, you'd go to the professor's office and complain until it was changed to an A. If you had to take a tough class you took it Pass/Fail. If you weren't going to get an A in a class, you dropped it (no matter the cost) and took it again next semester. Most 4.0's I knew were weasels to some degree. Even one legitimatley super-intelligent 4.0 who I knew in college played those kinds of games. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship as a Senior and studied at Cambridge for a year. I would never pretend to put down his intelligence, I realize that he did everything within his power to acheive that 4.0. If he didn't, well he could have kissed that Rhodes Scholarship goodbye, you're not going to get that with a single B on your transcript for any reason. He ended up getting into a good grad school and law school, and was later a chief advisor to Sen. John McCain. That's the type of thing he dreampt of doing his whole life. He had it all mapped out when he walked onto campus as a freshman. Some of us didn't.
I do put more stock in intelligence tests. A high IQ indicates high intelligence. These tests aren't without their flaws. They tend to be socially, racially and economically biased. Being a white, middle class, white male, I always did extremely well on intelligence tests. It'd be really tacky to throw out an IQ number right here like I saw a guy do in Letters section of the newspaper a couple of weeks ago (mine was higher than his....), but let's just say I've got nothing to be ashamed of.
I was on a national game show. To even be considered, you had to pass a test that about 90% of the people who thought they were smart enough to be on this show didn't pass. After that you still had to be selected to be on, though that had more to do with personality and appearance. I saw the numbers once, aproximately 20,000 people take the test to be on Jeopardy! every year, less than 2000 pass the test, only about 450 are chosen to play in any given season. I did that, though I admit actually getting chosen to be on the show was as much luck as anything. I didn't win, but if the final had gone a bit differently I could have - I also could have ended up in third, it was that close.
So when some little punk 7th grader tells me he's smarter than me, it's sort of hard not to get upset. You can't get angry as a substitute teacher, if you start to lose it, you start to lose the class - your hold on these kids is tenuous anyway. I assured him I was smarter than him and tried to leave it at that. The little shit had just missed 12 of 16 problems that involved using a ruler, USING A RULER FOR CHRIST'S SAKE!!!!! After that he had the gaul to suggest, not that he was on the same intellectual level as me, but was smarter than me?
I know I'm intelligent. I do try to speak in an educated manner, I've always been good with language, but I don't normally quote my IQ at the beginning of a conversation. I seldom mention my education or the fact that I was on Jeopardy! If those things come out, it's because the conversation lead there. When someone tells you how smart they are, they usually are reflecting the exact opposite. They're insecure about their lack of intelligence. When someone quotes their IQ in a letter to the editor or tells you they're smarter than you, it's pretty obvious that they don't have a lot on the ball, high IQ or not.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
An Old Bach Trombone
I spent the day as a special education aide at the high school. Interestingly, it's the job my sister used to do full time. I think I have a little more respect for what she used to deal with on a daily basis. Though it's hard work, it's really rewarding. I would have to think long and hard before doing something like that full time. Still, I really enjoyed it, and will gladly accept that assignment if it comes around again.
I spent most of the day one on one with a young man whose measured IQ is around 50. I've had a little abnormal psychology though, and I don't think he's been diagnosed properly as he's just new to the school in the last month. He's probably autistic, and that makes it really difficult to acurately measure his IQ. On top of that he can do long division in his head, even the stuff with remainders. I'm absolutely amazed by the human brain on a daily basis, both ones like this guy's and those that are normally functioning. His verbal skills were really pretty high though he was difficult to understand. His motor skills were lower than average, but he still somehow managed to shoot a basketball better than me.
Another reason I think he may be autistic is that he seems really bound by patterns and routine. The classroom teacher was gone for about half of the day and I was subbing for his favorite aide. That made things difficult for him and I just sort of jumped in when he seemed to be having trouble. I became just a little piece of his routine if only for one day.
After that I got to see an old friend in action. As a high school senior I got a trombone of my own. I continued to play into college, playing in marching band and jazz band as a freshman before other commitments made it impossible for me to keep up with music at that level. I always felt bad about that because some of my best memories of high school are from music. College music was fun too, though it's the first time I realized the amazing amount of talent some people have, an amount of talent that I just can't compete with.
The trombone sat around for years. At one point I considered selling it. I packed it up in the car and drove it over to Yankton to a music shop. The guy behind the counter quoted a rediculously low amount but was honest enough to tell me I could probably get a lot more for it in Sioux Falls. I drove it back home to Vermillion and told a friend, a college music major, what I was planning to do. He urged me not to sell it. He wasn't a fan of selling musical instruments. I really didn't get his point until a friend later had the same attitude about tools. His philosophy was that you buy what ever tool you need for a job, because you never knew when you would use it again. I wasn't actively playing the trombone when I considered selling it, but I began to realize that you never know what the future might hold.
A couple of years later, my nephew joined band in junior high. He wanted to play trumpet, but my sister convinced him that trombone was better because he had an uncle who owned one. You gotta know my family to understand how that's the ultimate trump card. He played for a couple years, the trombone passed to his younger sister who played it for an extremely short period of time. The trombone ended up at my folks' house again until my sister and her family moved in across the street from them. There was one more kid in the family, she was in sixth grade and it was her turn to play the trombone.
Now I didn't start the trombone until halfway through my seventh grade year, joining concert band for my eighth grade year. As I attended my niece's band concert tonight, it's clear that she's much better on the instrument than I was at that age. If she pursues this seriously she can be extremely good. That's her choice, though. I'm not going to be that relative who pushes her too hard.
Nobody ever ruined music for me by pushing too hard. I'm sure I could have been a better musician in high school than I was, but there was a cap on how good I was ever going to be. I wasn't good enough to be a professional, but I was good enough to have a really good time with it. Since no one ever ruined it for me, it continued to stay fun. I may have stopped playing the trombone, but I never stopped playing music. About the time I stopped playing trombone is when I bought my first harmonica.
There is a custody battle brewing over that trombone, though. My niece swears it's hers. I know who it rightfully belongs to. I, at least, am trying to treat this all with good humor. Part of me wants to see what I can do with the old horn, though.
"...do you find it funny when I say the word 'tromboner'?"
Monday, January 24, 2005
Three in Four Years?
As easy as it is to put the blame on a rookie QB, Pittsburgh simply got beat by the best head coach and best big game quarterback in football. Even with the Steelers defense playing like so many great Pittsburgh defenses of the past, Brady was able to make the plays when he needed to, the Pats' D stymied the run all day and caused Rothlisberger to look like the rookie he is. I said it before, if there's a way for one team to beat another, Bill Belichick will find it. He found it on Sunday. He'll find it again in two weeks.
Philadelphia looked phenomenal yesterday. I'm even a bit surprised by how good they looked. Brian Westbrook ran with authority against a tough Falcons defense and Donovan McNabb was simply in control of the whole game. Truth be known, if given the choice between having McNabb or Brady on my team, I 'd look on it as a toss-up, you can't lose in a situation like that. Philly's D was even better than expected, holding Vick in check for the entire second half, containing the run and just not allowing big plays by anyone. This has been the strenght of he Eagles for years now, even if McNabb and Owens got all the press this year. A healthy Terrell Owens makes this team formidable, but the heart of Philadelphia is a staunch defense.
So how is Belichick going to beat Philly? The Eagles are a more flawed team than the Steelers. They may play great defense and throw the ball as anyone, but all year long, yesterday not withstanding, they've had trouble running the ball. When they could, like yesterday, they blew people out. With that glaring weakness, Belichick will develope a gameplan to beat them. Remember, the Patriots have two weeks to look at game film and develope their tactics. In Super Bowl history, that two week layoff has caused good teams with flaws to be exposed in the film room. As a Broncos fan, I've seen it enough times in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots only flaw is a lack of depth in their secondary. A healthy Terrell Owens could mean Pats WR/DB Troy Brown would be matching up with Freddie Mitchell or Todd Pinkston in the slot. And while that is a frightening proposition, we saw Brown matched up against Brandon Stokely last week and Brown performed admirably. And if you don't think this out of position player is protected in the Pats defensive scheme, you haven't been watching closely enough.
Andy Reid is a great coach. I thought he got a bad rap because he lost 3 NFC title games in a row. Some of that was coaching, the rest seemed to be circumstance. Remember, he got to 3 NFC championship games in a row, not many coaches have done that. It's a rarity for Reid to get out-coached in a game, but in two weeks that's what we'll see.
I'm predicting a New England win. I've got two weeks to come up with points, though the points haven't been my strong suit while doing this. How close it ends up is going to come down to a couple of injuries. If Owens is back and healthy for the Eagles, that will tighten the gap. If DT Richard Seymore is back for the Pats, Philly will have not chance of running the ball inside and it will just make Belichick's job that much easier.
Sunday, January 23, 2005
Norfolk's Native Son
And his show was by far the most fun. The late night talk shows of today don't hold a candle to the show Carson did nightly (except for two weeks in the summer during Johnny's vacation - he always went to Wimbledon). A good part of that is due to changes in Hollywood. Carson used to just have people on his show, they weren't necessarily plugging something, they were on the show because Johnny wanted them there. He either liked them as a person or he'd heard good things about them. It was rare for a guest to leave the set before the end of the show. Guests stuck around and chimed in when appropriate. Johnny Carson's Tonight Show played out more like a party than a simple talk show. Growing up, some of my favorite guests were Jack Lemon, Walter Matheau and Tony Curtis, not because of what they said when Johnny was interviewing them, but what they might say or do at the end of the couch while Johnny was trying to interview someone else. It was a glimpse of Hollywood that a kid growing up in the midwest could only dream about.
Today's talk shows are just another part of the promotional machine. No one goes on a talk show anymore without an agenda. They're plugging a new movie or TV show, a new book, a concert tour or album. Watch Letterman and Conan in any given week. Note how many of the guests are the same. It's because both shows are taped in New York City, and stars are just doing the circuit. The next week you'll see them on Leno and Jimmy Kimmel, both of which are taped in LA. Most amazing to me was after finding out that BIll Maar's old "Politically Incorrect" and Craig Kilborn's old talk show were not only both taped in LA, but were both taped in the same building. I can't tell you how many times I saw a guest on each of those shows the same night. Most of the time, the guest didn't even bother to change clothes. The talk show circuit was just another part of the machine.
Carson's show was on in a different time. He had the only late night talk show. Attempts to compete with him were crushed, not by the dirty tactics that Leno's manager bitch used to destroy competition like Dennis Miller, but by providing a high quality fun television show that no one could compete with. Because he was the only game in town, Carson could have turned out a show that was nothing but promotional, only having on guests with something to plug. Instead, he used to show to discover new talent, particularly in the comedy field. Name a comic who is old enough to have been on Carson, and they will likely cite Carson as the man who gave them their first big break.
While living in Vermillion, my sister lived in Wichita, Kansas. To drive there, I would drive west to Yankton, cross the bridge and then drive south on US 81 until I got to the last exit before the Kansas Turnpike. A little over an hour into the trip, I would pass through Norfolk, Nebraska, birthplace and boyhood home of Johnny Carson. This little town was understandably proud of their most famous native son. Norfolk isn't any differnt than any other little town in the area. Norfolk isn't a whole lot different than some of the places I lived while growing up. Maybe that's part of what made him special, the fact that he wasn't all that special, he wasn't all that different than his audience.
The television wasteland has missed Carson since he left television 12 years ago. Now the world is short one more decent human being.
Saturday, January 22, 2005
Dennis Miller & Two Condoms
"Beer is the Answer" was similar. Glen Purdie (I do hope you're reading this Derek.....) said something as I walked across the bridge on my way to my control room at USSB. Strangely, I don't even remember exactly what he said, something along the lines of "What was the question?". It wasn't so much what he said, but how he said it. That soon turned into "Beer is the answer, what was the question?". An odd sort of philosophical thought on life followed, how life is a test that doesn't grade on a curve. I recognized that thought as the end of a song, a final verse, but what to write before that? The idea sat around for a couple of months. Then one day, back at work, I started thinking about how, even though I'd truely like to know everything, the only thing I really know is what I like - and I like beer. Two verses came out in a couple of minutes, to go along with the final verse that was pretty much written in my brain.
Those two songs were before I really understood how to play guitar. "Wyle E. Coyote Blues" had a harmonica riff that went with it, but "Beer is the Answer" was something that I could only sing. I knew how it went, but I couldn't play a harmonica part for it, or impart to anyone how to play it on guitar. After learning to play guitar a little bit, I started fiddling with some lyrics I had written over the years. I found that if I played G, C and D chords that I could make my lyrics fit. Since these are both basically blues songs, it made sense from a music theory point of view. Those are the I, IV, and V chords in the key of G. Good lord, I had written a song! I mean a real song, not just something a sang around a harp riff.
Now I admit that I'm not the most imaginative songwriter, particularly musically. I stick to the I, IV, V chord pattern, maybe adding the minor chords for that key or adding a seventh here and there. But at least I had a basis, an idea of how to arrange chords and put words to them. A couple of songs came quick after figuring that out. Generally stuff came pretty easy.
I used to work overnights at public TV, getting to watch all of those fine educational shows that get shown in classrooms around the state the next day. One program that struck me as very funny was called "A World of Polymers." In the introduction, the narrator proclaimed "We live in an age of Polymers!" For some reason I just couldn't stop laughing. I imagined future archaeologists, talking about the developement of man, listing stone age man, bronge age man and polymer age man. Then I started thinking about how all of these advancements that glorious polymers are helping to bring about aren't nescesarily for the good. Life was simpler when we killed our food with stone tools. I'm sure it was stressful, kill that mastedon or don't eat, but stone age man didn't have to sit behind a dozen container trucks, stuck on the 710 on the way to work.
So I started working on "Stone Age Man in a Polymer World." It was probably my favorite song idea ever. I wrote a verse and half of the chorus almost immediately. Then it just roadblocked. The next verse and the remainder of the chorus were like pulling teeth. I couldn't squeeze the lyrics out of my head to save my life. One Sunday afternoon, I sat down to my legal pad in the living room, convinced I was going to finish this song.
But sometimes you don't write what you set out to. For no particular reason, something Dennis Miller had said on Weekend Update during SNL years before came to me. Talking about safe sex, Dennis remarked that he wore two condoms during his every day life, then he whipped one of and felt like I wild man before he had sex. I had sat down to finish "Stone Age Man," but in less than ten minutes I wrote the following:
All day long, I wear two
All day long, I wear two
All day long I wear two condoms
'Cuz your virtue is untrue
Then I whip one off and feel like a wild man when I'm with you
Don't know where you been
Or what diseases you got
I just see your body, baby
And it makes me hot
All day long I wear two condoms
'Cus your virute is untrue
Then I whip one off and feel like a wild man when I'm with you
Where the hell did that come from? I grabbed my guitar and used my trusty G, C, D chord pattern. It worked! So I had two verses for a song, but it needed something. I wanted some sort of bridge to a third verse, but something just a little melencholy. For inspiration, I went to Mojo Nixon. I though about his "Vibrator Dependent" and how there's a vamping/rapping sort of bridge built on a single minor chord. I tried the E minor chord and it was what I was looking for. Mind you, I had no idea what words I would be writing here, I was looking more for a sound. I thought another minor chord would help me achieve that sound, so I played an A minor chord after the E minor. That was exactly what I was looking for. Now I wanted to build back to the third verse, climb out of the minor chords and back to the G, C, D pattern. A minor into a C chord is pretty easy to do and sounds kind of cool. Follow that up with something really bright going back into the verse. The D chord would work, but the D7 chord sounds brighter. I played it all together, it sounded exactly like I wanted it to. I had no idea what words I wanted in the little bridge I'd constructed.
The two verses come directly from a Dennis Miller joke. I think it's pretty cool that I can pinpoint exactly what my inspiration was. I have no idea where the lyrics for the bridge came from. All I can figure is that I can see the grocery store I shop at from my apartment:
You always tell me
It's just a silly habit
We ain't at the grocery store
And I don't have to double bag it
But darlin', your express lane
Is in an awful mess
And I don't think you know the meaning
Of fourteen items or less
I don't know how many items you can take through the express lane. Since I shop at odd times, it's really never been an issue with me. TSA joked that I called all the area grocery stores and asked, averaging the results. In actuallity I probably picked fourteen because twelve didn't fit the meter.
So I played my first two verses, added the bridge and then repeated the first verse. I had written a song in under 15 minutes. If it didn't have any effect on people, no amount of time it was written in would have mattered. But it got giggles from the first time I played it. It got me free beers and the admiration of the management at a small open mic. A musician with more talent than I will ever have has asked if he can cover it. I guess it was sort of successful.
Every song is a story, but every song also has a story.
Friday, January 21, 2005
At different times, particularly while living in Minnesota, I'd have more than one batch going at a time. For a pretty standard beer, you're talking about one week in the primary fermenter, one week in the secondary fermenter and two weeks in the bottle - four weeks from brewday to drinking day. So, if you brewed every two or three weeks, you constantly had new beers coming to maturity, ready to drink while you're bottling the most recent batch. Sometimes you'll do something that requires more time, meades take six to nine months, russian imperial stouts and barleywines six months to a year. No homebrewer could be asked to drink nothing but commercial beer for six months while waiting for that barleywine to come on line, so you might brew a batch or two while that beer is still in the secondary fermenter. Having two fermenters bubbling happily away in your house at the same time is a really fantastic feeling, a real feeling of accomplishment, and perhaps, just perhaps a little bit of dread knowing you're going to have to put that 10 gallons of brew into about 100 twelve ounce bottles before too long........
I wrote a blog recently about TSA's leap into the brewing world. I wrote about how brewing can consume a person, converting them into a pseudo-religious beer-vanglist. I helped Andy with his first batch of brew just after he moved into his new place a couple of weeks ago. It's a barleywine that he plans to drink on new year's eve this coming year. Enjoying Belgian brewing traditions more than I, he started a Chamay style about a week later. This week he asked if he could borrow some of my brewing equipment. You see, he wanted to start the nut brown ale. After a night of brewing, drinking and music, I'm proud to report that Andy, less than a month into homebrewing as a hobby, has accomplished something I never have. He has three batches of beer brewing in his house at the same time. I've only seen this done once before, and that was with 5 people all pitching in.
If I were truely spitefully jealous, I wouldn't allow him to use any of my bottles at the appropriate time, but he's a brewer and we all have to stick together. Plus I'm going to want his help when I build that wort chiller that he so ingeniously put together after a trip to Lowe's.
Give a man a beer and he'll waste an hour
Teach a man to brew and he'll waste a lifetime
With the ex-wife I didn't really have any choice but to leave town. I had to leave the apartment, and since I had no place to go, no family or anyone I could stay with I had to leave town. I ended up in Omaha to crash with a friend, who ironically was in Sioux Falls that week. Oh well, made me get better acquainted with my family.
And so it goes, it's probably just simple cowardace on my part. Maybe more inexperience, I'm not quite sure of what to say to someone I've seen naked who doesn't want me to see them naked anymore. In any case, it was just simpler to leave town, at the very least to avoid this other person.
So, I've been substitute teaching for a while now. It's something I probably should have started a lot earlier, since it's something I'm relatively good at, it pays pretty well and it's a real need in the district I teach in. I didn't start earlier because of Vicke. Now there's nothing particularly wrong with Vicke except that she didn't want to be my girlfriend anymore. On the other hand, it's sort of hard not to take that personally. Anyway, I could have taught middle school or grade school, but that's just not what I'm cut out to do. Some people are, and I admire them for having a skill that I don't think I ever will. I've done some middle school, but I really find myself exhausted at the end of the day. No, for me it's got to be high school if I'm going to keep all of my hair on any given day. Vicke was a complication because she teaches at the high school.
On Wednesday, regular readers of this blog will remember me posting about Wednesday, I taught Spanish. As I headed down the hall, I found myself getting closer and closer to Vicke's room. I ended up right across the hall from her. I had resigned myself to the fact that we'd probably run into each other during the day. It didn't happen, though I'll admit it wasn't as big a relief as I imagined it would have been. At the end of the day I just packed up and left, no big sigh ofCat relief or anything.
So today I'm coming back from the office heading back to my assigned classroom. Just as I'm heading into my room, I saw her out of the corner of my eye. I wasn't exactly sure it was her, I hadn't seen her in over a year and I was looking the other way, but it was probably her. No big deal. I just had a seat and started doing some writing, preparing for the next class. It was lunch period, and a couple of students were in the room. Vicke came in a few minutes later. "I know you!" I said, sounding as casual as I could. Oddly enough, I felt pretty casual.
So, we sat and talked for a few moments. We had met as friends. She worked with my sister and we got to know each that way. It sort of felt like just picking up. I hadn't seen her in over a year, so we had lots of catching up to do. It was nice.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
So what'd we do for 5 periods of Spanish class yesterday? I was at a real disadvantage, as the teacher had taken ill overnight and it was the first day of a new semester. Luckily, there was a videotape of a biography of Carlos Santana in the room. The teacher suggested I play that. That was fine for the students, I had to watch it 5 times. And what's worse, no questions on Carlos Santana came up while playing trivia at Boston's with TSA and Mike.
Still, it was easy money for me. Come into class, take roll, joke with the kids that I don't speak any Spanish then turn off the lights and play a video for 43 minutes. Repeat as nescessary. Every time I think my life completely stinks, I have a day like that. Get paid to do nothing, get to see the grand-nephew, get to play music in front of people, get to drink beer and play trivia. Supper was leftovers, so life isn't perfect, but acceptable.
The laundry is really piling up. I need to find some quarters and do a load or five.
New England by 10
I know, I know, Pittsburgh is the better team, but how do you pick against Belichick? The guy is uncanny! He's the best X's & O's coach in football today. If there is a possible way New England will beat Pittsburgh, Belichick will find it.
Philadelphia by 3
Closer than most people expect. The Eagle's defense is exceptional and McNabb is the type of QB who just wins games somehow. Plus, if Philly somehow loses a 4th straight NFC championship game, heads will roll. I just don't see the head of Andy Reid rolling very far.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
I Miss The Chonger
So maybe I didn't grow up with a father who was the cat lovers' poster boy. And, in all fairness, who can blame him? Cat's are nosey and they don't listen........ever. We had dogs, who generally offer unconditional love. Cats are affectionate, but only on their terms. If a cat doesn't want anything to do with you, there is nothing you can do to make it come to you. Perversely, if you want nothing to do with a cat, it is all over you. Hard to love animals indeed.
At the beginning of 2001, the place I was living in was sold out from under me. Unable to find a place to live, a friend offered me a room in his two bedroom apartment. There was, of course, a hitch. He had 3 cats.
The oldest was Cheech. Cheech is very set in his ways, he's lived with Derek so long, he just figures that's the way things should always be. Any disruption, i.e., a new roommate, and he's out to make trouble. Before I moved anything into my new room, Cheech marked the room as his. At least he didn't get any of my stuff. All in all, though, Cheecher didn't much care for me, and over the next couple of years had very little to do with me. Given a chance, I'm sure he would have pissed on anything he thought was mine, but a bedroom door that closed kept that from happening.
Pegasus was the youngest. Pegs still had a lot of kitten in him when I moved in, which actually made him a lot of fun to be around. Still, he had little things he did that would just drive me up the wall. He would lick plastic shopping bags if they were left lying around. That may not sound to annoying, but it was constant, he wouldn't stop licking until you physically took the bag away from him. I never understood the fascination. He was pretty bad about getting into my stuff, too. Still, you just sort of learn to live with a cat.
Then there was Chong. When I moved in, Chonger was easily the most annoying. He followed me everywhere, cried when he didn't get attention, always tried to eat anything I ate, was constantly under foot and was always climbing on my stuff. It was infuriating! That damn cat was driving me insane.
My mornings would usually begin with the Chonger scratching at my door. Not that it necessarily woke me, but it was infuriating that the stupid cat just had to be involved in anything I was doing. He'd follow me to the bathroom, then out to the kitchen while I made coffee. After that he'd follow me to my computer and sit right behind me while I checked my email. Eventually he'd try to climb on my CPU or, worse yet, walk across my keyboard while I was trying to type. Why did this animal have to be involved in every little thing I did?!?!?
This happened everyday! Then one day while I was reading my email, I just reached behind me while he was crying and I petted him. He rubbed up against me. I scratched his back. He purred. Things started to change for me.
If Chonger came by while I was eating, what do I mean if, when Chonger came by I started giving him a little something. The guy loved pretzels. Once, while drinking a beer, he jumped up on my lap. I dipped a finger in my beer, offered it to Chonger, who seemed quite happy to taste such delicious nectar. A cat who likes pretzels and beer? Maybe I was all wrong on this cat thing.
That probably did it. Having just bought my first digital camera, Chonger became my primary subject. I can't tell you how many pictures I have of my boy, enough to make a movie to the SRV song "Scuttlebuttin'" which I retitled "Chongerbuttin'".
You see, Chong has a big butt, along with a love of pretzels and beer, something else we have in common. Maybe that's not so surprising. Chonger doesn't run very well either, his butt end keeps trying to get in the front. And when he strayed to far from home on the rare occasions I let him outside, watching him try to run would get me laughing hard enough that I couldn't ever stay too mad at him.
Before I knew it, the little guy meant a lot to me. I'd warmed to Cheech and Pegs too, but Chonger and I had something special. He was my buddy. We spent a lot of time together. When he would crawl into my lap, I wasn't annoyed any more, I was quite pleased. The photo to the right isn't staged, Chonger crawled up on my belly after I came in from a bike ride. My camera was sitting on the coffee table, so I snapped a picture. A print of that photo was the first thing I put on the wall of my new appartment when I moved.
I see it every day, and think of the special and very unlikely relationship that I had with this guy.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
"Drunker Than Cooter Brown"
August was a heady time for me. I was in a band that people wanted to see, that bar owners wanted to pay. The rest of my life was a mess, but at least I was in a cool band, that had to count for something. We had played a couple of shows, had opened for a national touring act had booked a return engagement at a bar in Spearfish.
Then Brian was told he would be spending the next couple of months on a strip of land in the Indian Ocean. As we were trying to figure out how to handle the next show (replacement bass player, do show as a 3 piece) JB decided he didn't want to be in the band anymore. His stated reason was that he wanted to do his own thing. I've got my doubts, I heard different reason, though I heard them second hand. That's neither here nor there. All of a sudden my life was a mess, and the one cool part of my life had come crashing down.
In truth, I had considered quitting 957 for a couple of weeks when all of this happened. There are lots of reasons why I didn't, but the main one was that I had decided I would continue to play with the guys as long as it was fun on stage. Since it always was, I kept plugging away and just dealt with all of the other stuff as best I could.
I guess what brings all this back is running into Brian. The same night I also ran into Nate. Nate had recorded our first show in Spearfish and we had considered releasing the recording as an album. I even started working on an album cover.
As it turned out the mix on the recording was horrible. Nate and JB had mixed it, and somehow all you could hear was JB's voice. I want to chalk that up to them not knowing what they were doing, but considering how thinks worked out it sort of makes you wonder.
Brian asked TSA and I on Sunday if we wanted a copy of that show. I only heard it once but wasn't happy with it. I don't know if listening to that would bring back positive or negative memories. Brian gave me a CD of photos from one of our last shows. My first impression is how happy we all looked. It did serve to remind me that we actually had a good time playing together, something that had slipped my mind over time.
The same night, TSA and I played a song from the old 957 repetoire for the first time. It was the old Gloria Gaynor disco hit "I Will Survive." The more I think about it, the more fitting it was that we played that song on that night.
I was one of those people who didn't think that experiencing four season was important. I've never liked the cold and figured that living in a place without winter would be a welcome change. That changed when I spent my first winter in southern California. I had no idea how many cues I took from my surroundings. My first Christmas there sort of snuck up on me, after all I hadn't had to scrape the ice off of my winshield or warm up my car for 15 minutes before heading to work. To make things worse, my apartment was primarily surrounded by palm trees. Palm trees don't lose their leaves (unless it's really windy, and then those fronds don't fall gently onto your car....) and keep their color year round.
Oddly, December in Long Beach, CA was probably the nicest month weather-wise. The air quality was generally better and the wind didn't seem to blow quite as much. I went kayaking in Alamitos Bay my first December in Long Beach. I'd throw on a pair of shorts and ride my bike along the beach. If it sounds like paradise, it was in a lot of ways. Sometimes you don't miss things until they're gone.
Last winter was my first winter back in the cold since '98-'99. When it's not an absolute necessity to get somewhere, I can't tell you how much fun it is to drive my Subaru in the snow. I know it's going to get me where I need to go. When a lot of people thought we were going to get snowed in at Cheers after an open mic last March, I knew my Subaru would get me home. I even stopped off for some munchies on the way home. Granted, I had to keep the vehicle moving, it's limited ground clearance meant I was pushing more snow than someone in a real 4X4 would.
Yesterday I spent the day with my dad and niece and he pulled us around on a sled behind his ATV. What a blast, even if my niece did get her lip stuck in her braces after a particularly spectacular crash. We were out there for hours, I got spun into the ditch a number of times, and my pants were so soaked that even putting them in front of the fire didn't dry them of for hours. As much fun as biking and kayaking was in December, I never got to ride on a sled in Long Beach. Maybe 'Monster Garage' will make some vehicle that creates a trail of snow behind it so you can pull a sled behind it........
Monday, January 17, 2005
I'll Be Damned if I Don't Love Open Mics
Last December I attended Steve Thorpe's open mic at Knight's Cellar in Spearfish. The only reason I attended that was because I had written a song about ex-governor Bill Janklow's manslaughter trial. The end of the trial was coming up and I thought I had better perform the song somewhere while it was still relevant. So I did my one song (on guitar no less!) but needed to add some other things, I knew a few songs on harmonica only and played those. Steve asked me if I'd like to become a regular, and someone else asked me to play another open mic that Sunday in Deadwood, so I guess I did OK. Since it was really the first time I'd played in front of people I didn't know, I was pretty pleased with how things turned out.
A really bad bout with the flu followed. Chest congestion may be bad for the average person, for a harmonica player it's torture. I took about a month off after those two open mics, finally strolling into Cheers on a Sunday night about a month and a half later. Since then, I've spent every Sunday night at Cheers lounge playing harp or guitar.
Last January I could play a little. A couple of open mics in and I could tell I was getting better. I met TSA and the one who shall be known as JB (both of their actual names are 'Andy' - this is the easiest way to differentiate them) early on and within a month we were playing together. Patient 957 was born. There was something happening there, we had an intersting sound and JB was simply a song writing machine. Now I was playing every Sunday night with two guys whose skills were developing rapidly. It's one of those thing where you have to get better just to keep up. When we first started playing together, I didn't really understand the harmonica, after about a month, I had a much better understanding of the relationships on a harmonica, how a melody is formed, how to play a harmony and how to follow a guitar player. The education continues, I don't profess to know everything about the harmonica, but I do know that my abilities are immeasurably better than they were at this time last year.
So when I was asked how long I had been playing harmonica, my response was 'about 16 months.' While that's not entirely true, it's true enough. Before that time, I could draw and blow, make some melodies, do some things that actually sounded cool. Now I can actually 'play' the harmonica.
What's more, other people are noticing. When I got home from open mic at Cheers tonight, I had a message from a respected area musician that he wanted to jam with me. TSA is trying to get me involved with a volunteer program at the hospital, playing music for patients. I got asked to play in a church group with my dad and niece (after some of the songs I've played, I'm surprised my harps didn't burst into flames upon entering the sanctuary.....). A year ago, I wasn't ready for any of these things. Now after playing once a week in front of people, practicing with the 957 guys occasionally and TSA after that, playing 3 open mics a week for a while, I am ready to do these things.
Now I can't imagine my life without playing music. I spent the night at my folks' last week. There was a possibility that I could get snowed in, so I took the guitar and big bag o' harps. When 957 broke up, there was no question, TSA and I would press on, continue to make music, continue to play as much as possible.
I'm not going to kid myself, this isn't something I could ever do as a career. I've been around real musicians, and they have something - you can actually see it - that I will never have. On the other hand, I play an instrument that tends to be a second instrument for most. I can name several professional musicians who, in addition to their primary instrument (voice, guitar, etc.), play harmonica, and I can say without a doubt that I am better than them. I'll never be able to write songs or sing like Bruce Springsteen, but I'll put my harp playing up against his any day. John Popper, James Harman, Kim Wilson? That's a completley different story. Those guys are primarily harp players. They play at a level that I'll never achieve, I can accept that. But I'll still keep having fun with a $25 hunk of metal. As far as I'm concerned, that's enough.
Sunday, January 16, 2005
Not that it's any huge surprise. About 6 or 7 weeks into the season everyone pretty much assumed that the Steelers, Patriots and Eagles would all be playing in a Conference Championship game. Pretty much any other team in the NFC had a real shot of getting this far, and the Falcons were among the better teams in their conference. I wouldn't have been surprised if the Eagles hadn't made it this far considering the Terrell Owens injury, but he doesn't play defense and that's how the Eagles got here.
With said Owens injury, the NFC tilt could be quite interesting. The Eagles are still the better team, but losing their best (or is that most?) offensive player, Donovan McNabb excluded, evens the playing field a bit.
No, the game to watch this coming weekend is New England at Pittsuburgh. Pittsburgh's defense was stellar yesterday, allowing only 3 points. A punt return for a touchdown and an interception return for a touchdown gave the Jets a chance to win, that they were unable to take advantage of. And even though rookie QB (how long has he been a rookie QB?) Ben Rothlisberger played like, well, like a rookie, the Pittsburgh ground game was, well, like the Pittsburgh ground game. As a team, the Steelers are good enough to beat anyone.
Yet, superbly coach New England somehow always finds a way. The defensive coaching scheme, aided by a snowy New England evening, was brilliant against the Colts amazing arial attack. The Patriot safeties kept the Indy wideouts in front of them at all times, I never once saw Reggie Wayne or Marvin Harrison with a step on their man, streaking toward the end zone (take note Mike Shanahan). New England's linebackers absolutely dominated, hampering the run, disrupting the pass, and creating turnovers. And the addition of Corey Dillon paid huge dividends today, New England controlled the ball for most of the 4th quarter. The Patriots can run the ball this year, and the addition of Dillon makes this year's team better than the one that won the Super Bowl last year.
But Dillon won't be running against the Colt's iffy defense next week, he'll be knocking heads with the best defense in football. On the other hand, Ben Rothlisberger won't be playing against a team that will allow him to get away with any mistakes. And if Bill Belichick doesn't have something special cooked up for the rookie quarterback, I'll be quite surprised.
Preditctions to come later in the week.......
Too Many Chances
Going 4-2 over your last game may seem like a pretty good finish, though in reality it was a 1-2 finish. Some will argue that it was just bad breaks that put the Jets out of the playoffs. I would argue that it was just good breaks that got the Jets off to the 5-0 start that propelled them into the playoffs. I would argue that a team that had that many chances to win big games in the postseason and didn't capitalize on most of them is sitting right where it should be right now. At home. Still, they've got something to build on next year, this is a team with a future, even if their prime offensive threat (no Jets fans, not Pennington, but NFL leading rusher Curtis Martin) is the one of the oldest at his position.
Looking at the Steelers, by the way, the defeated the Jets, QB Big Ben Rothlisberger actually looked like a rookie yesterday. I know that I blogged earlier that I thought the Steelers would represent the AFC in this year's Super Bowl. I still think they're the favorite, but if they play like they did yesterday, the Patriots (assuming the Pats win today) will find a way to beat them. That's what the Pat's do.
Patriots by 3 (late Vinateri Field Goal)
Eagles by 13 (only because they're the home team)
BOJ "The Greek"
Blind Orange Julius
CEO The Globex Corporation
"Defy us and we will crush you...."
Friday, January 14, 2005
I'll admit, I thought it was cute at first. Craig Kilborn's "reverse - rotation - splash!", Chris Berman's "He - could - go - all - the - way!", Dan Patrick's "You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him....." ESPN's sportscasters started trying to make sports even more colorful by adding catch-phrases and an irreverent tone to their reading of scores and narration of highlights. When one or two were doing it, it was cute. The fact that fine sports journalists like Bob Ley and Charlie Steiner weren't made it more fun and intersting when something unexpected would come out of Keith Olberman's or Craig Kilborn's mouth.
Unfortunately, they created a monster. I believe Stuart Scott was the first sign of the sports journalism apocalypse. Booya! He may know the game, he may be a gifted storyteller, but the catch-phrases have got to go. It's not so much that I'm annoyed at his attempt to have fun, I get annoyed that all of his verbal ministrations (assuming such a term is even possible) draw attention away from the Super Bowl or World Series game at hand. "Did you hear what Stuart Scott said on Sportscenter last night?" "No, I was busy actually watching the content of the highlight."
And if it had stopped with Stuart Scott maybe, just maybe, I could have lived with it. Believe me, you haven't seen sad until you see KELO's resident bufoons try to work the same crap into High School Football highlights. Or until one of the twenty-something first-broadcasting-job weekend sports guys in the Rapid City market try to get "colorful." "If I say 'Booya!' enough times, maybe I'll land that big job in Chicago within the next six months!" Yeah, pal, it could happen. Why don't you try actually pronouncing 'Tiospay Zina' correctly before you work in another tired Backstreet Boys reference. Let's tell a coherent story with your highlights. While we're at it, since you're undoubtedly shooting most of your own video, re-read the section of the camera's operating instrutions entitled "white balance," and learn a thing or two about framing your shots. Oh, that's right, when that big network gig comes along you won't be shooting your own video. Right, you won't be in this market long enough to need to learn to do your job well. That attitude oughta bring you that dream job in no time.......
I realize that sports is supposed to be fun. In a local newscast, it's the only part of the show that isn't serious business - well maybe the weather in Southern California. But imagine if this were to spread to other parts of the newscast:
"Here we see amatuer video of the tragic tsunami in Southern Asia - this ain't Bedford Falls and there won't be a Merry Christmas!!!!"
"In this Department of Defense video, we see a napalm strike on the radical defenders in Fallujah - and that's a little bit warm...."
"After approval by both houses of congress, the handgun bill was brought before the President. BUT NO!!!!! REJECTED!!!!! THAT'S A POCKET VETO, BABY!!!!!!!"
"You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him......"
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Dennis Miller & Fourteen Year Old Girls
My inadequecies in mathematics aside, I met an interesting young lady in one of the Pre-Algebra classes. She was bright, having a good grasp of the material at hand, and was helpful to the other students in class, explaining things with a simplicity that I never would have been able to. Later, she put down her own intelligence. Seems she's one of those 'flirty' girls, and I get the feeling she doesn't want to intimidate guys by being smarter than them. The more I thought about it, I wondered what she was doing in Pre-Algebra instead of Algebra anyway. I got the feeling she was smarter than she let on. Had she "dumbed it up" in order to find herself in an easier math class? Was this just an attempt to make her less threatening to boys her age? And in the end, who's to blame, her or the boys who find an intelligent girl threatening?
I've thought for a long time now that our culture doesn't appreciate intelligence enough. If that weren't bad enough, Late Night TV and Reality Shows seem to be celebrating the moron. If there's anyone we shouldn't be clebrating, it's the moron. When I see Jay Leno giving air time to total idiots he finds on the street, I get pretty upset. He asks people simple questions on the street. I'm sure most people get those questions right. Too bad for them, because that's not what the American public wants to see. We want to see people that don't know who George Washington is, or who bombed Pearl Harbor.
What's worse, I'm sure that some people who know the right answer will give an incorrect one in order to get on TV. How different is that than the student who doesn't want to intimidate boys by being too smart? It would be like a track athlete holding back, not wanting anyone to think they were too fast, like a weightlifter "accidentally" crushing his larynx because he didn't want anyone to thing he's too strong.
We don't appreciate intellignce. We celebrate idiocy. I could accept that if we didn't, as a society, often view intelligence with contempt. Refer to someone an "Einstein" sometime. How do you think it will be perceived? Is it an accolade or an insult? Albert Einstein was one of the greatest thinkers of the modern age, his Theory of Relatvity one of the first unifying theories in science. And we use his name as an insult. What the hell is wrong with us?
I blogged this on the old Patient 957 site, but it applies here. I enjoy the comedy of Dennis Miller. I find the intelligence he brings to comedy refreshing when faced with a plethora of "what is the deal with......." comics. Dennis hosted Monday Night Football for a couple of seasons. An interesting choice, that did what ABC's Roone Arlidge set out to do, get people talking about Monday Night Football again. Dennis Miller didn't have the broadcast experience of Al Michaels or the knowledge of football of Dan Fouts. He had trouble fitting in. Still, I found his references interesting, particularly when a team was getting beat by forty points, it gave me a reason to stay tuned. A number of people didn't like Miller on MNF. I've got no problems with personal tastes, I realize he's not everybody's cup of tea. Some people complained that he didn't seem to understand football. Others complained that a comedian had no place broadcasting a sporting event. What bothers me is a complaint I heard from many places, including my local newspaper at the time; he's too smart. He's too smart? Miller was eventually replaced on MNF by former Raiders coach John Madden. Madden may know football, but he's not the sharpest tool in the shed. Yet I don't hear anyone complaining that he's too dumb. I'm an intelligent guy, I try to surround myself with intelligent people. I try to read and watch things that show a certain level of intelligence. I also happen to love football. ABC said they let Miller go because they were looking for a change. I think it's because he was too smart. If that's the case, is firing someone because he's intelligent any different than firing someone because he's black or gay or because he's a she? He is what he is and he can't change that. Thanks Dennis Miller for not dumbing it down.
Tony Siragusa of FOX is too dumb to be a sideline reporter, though......
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Weather & Harmonicas
That's the way things are supposed to work, anyway. Last Wednesday we got about 6 inches of snow. It wasn't gone by the weekend, it probably won't be gone by this coming weekend. It hasn't been above freezing since the snow fell. We've still got a lot of snow around, and with the temperatures expected to drop even further this week, I don't think we'll be seeing bare ground any time soon. On the other hand, without the daily freeze and thaw, the snow has stayed white. It's actually aesthetically improved the regular January look of this town.
It's not that we can do anything about it. Life goes on weather it's 60 degrees or minus 20. I've still got to get groceries and change the oil in my car. I had to buy yet another harmonica today, no matter how cold it was outside. If you play with enough people, someone will eventually want to play in a key that you don't have. Sometimes I think it's a game of "Stump the Harp Player" that I keep losing. There is joy in a new harmonica, you just can't wait to play it. Part of that is because you can't play it in the store. Well, you could, but then you have to buy it. No, I wait until I get into the car and play it all the way to my next destination. A lot of the fun in that is just being able to create something while you drive. Another part is watching other drivers look at you, it's not something the average commuter expects to see. I just give 'em a wave and keep playing.
Monday, January 10, 2005
I first tried out for Jeopardy! in June of 2002. It was something I’d wanted to do since moving to southern California in 1999, but had just never gotten around to. I had tried out for Weakest Link in 2000, passing the test and doing well in the mock game. At the time, I felt regret. I didn’t want to be on Weakest Link, I wanted to be on Jeopardy!. The point was moot as Weakest Link never called me back. Soon after, I found a phone number at the Jeopardy! Web site and immediately called. I was scheduled to take the test on an afternoon at a Culver City hotel.
When I arrived at the hotel, there was a long line of hopefuls waiting for the doors of a meeting room to open. We all waited quietly. I struck up a conversation with a woman in the line who had taken and passed the test in 1983 and again the previous year, but had never appeared on the show.
We filed in, about 150 of us and took seats in the meeting room. We were all given a legal questionnaire (SSN#, "Have you ever been on a Game show?" "Are you currently running for political office?") a "Chat Sheet" ("List 5 Interesting Experiences…..") and a sheet of paper numbered from one to fifty. We all set about filling in the first two items while watching a video about the testing process and some "Fun Facts" about the show.
The test itself was given on a projection screen, simultaneously read by Jeopardy! Announcer Johnny Gilbert. Eight seconds were provided for a response before the next clue was revealed. I found it to be more of a time management exercise. At times, I couldn’t come up with the response in the eight seconds provided. I would write myself a clue in the space provided, hoping to come back to it later. This worked a couple of times, once, I couldn’t remember the name of tennis pro Anna Kournikova, and simply wrote "Russian Chick" in the space provided. As the test wound up, I remembered Anna’s name and quickly added it to my sheet.
The Contestant Coordinators collected our tests and played us another video while they scored our tests. Most of us spent the time asking each other about the responses we couldn’t come up with or weren’t sure about.
The coordinators returned a few minutes later and were pleased to tell us that thirteen people had answered at least thirty-five questions correctly and would be asked to stay. The others would be asked to leave. I wasn’t sure how I did, but didn’t have to wait long to find out, as mine was the second name called. I’m glad I wasn’t the thirteenth name called, that would have been far too nerve-racking.
The other hopefuls left, told they could try out again in a year’s time. The lucky thirteen stayed, had our pictures taken and played a mock game. We didn’t get to play a whole game, just a portion, primarily to give the coordinators a chance to see how we would react to the pressure and the buzzer. After a few minutes, we were told that they would call us if we were to appear on the show.
I waited anxiously by the phone for a few weeks, but soon decided not to worry about it. I watched Jeopardy! daily, though, hoping to see one of the thirteen I tested with. As the season I tested for draws to a close, I have yet to see one of us on the show. There was one "possible" in the final weeks of the season, but I wasn’t sure.
In June 2003, I realized it had been a year since I had taken the test, and called to schedule another test. The second time through was much easier. The test was in the same hotel, so I didn’t have to stress about finding the location. I knew what to expect, had five interesting stories about myself ready and was determined to pass again.
It was a different test than the previous year; I would have been quite surprised to find out otherwise. I had been a bit unsure of my performance the previous year, this year, though, I was on fire, I seemed to know most answers right of the bat. While the previous year I had sweated a bit when they called names of the qualifiers, I was sure I had made it this year. I don’t even remember when my name was called; it just seemed like they were going to call it, so I shouldn’t worry about it.
This year when we played the mock game, I made a real effort to be more animated, to be the contestant they were looking for. Surprisingly, I don’t think I got many responses correct. I left with a fatalistic attitude. The previous year I wanted to get on the show so bad. This year I tried not to think about it at all. I had actually come to enjoy taking the test. If I made it on the show, that would be great. If I didn’t, I’d get to take the test again next year.
I’m not going to get to take the test again next year. At about 4pm on June 20th I got a phone call. The caller ID said "SONY PICTURES" and I wondered what they would be calling me for. I figured it out before the phone got to my ear. I was asked to attend a taping on July 23rd at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. While this was still no guarantee of getting on the show, it was better than last year.
I didn’t wonder about what to study or what to wear, my first thought was whom I should tell. People have been telling me for years that I should be on Jeopardy!, in fact, being on the show is one of the few goals in my life. I told my roommate who was in the room when I took the call. I called an old co-worker, to ask if she wanted to attend the taping. Eventually I called my girlfriend. She had been talking about coming to visit me in California over the summer, so I tried to get her to come during that week without telling her why. As she resisted, I finally told her why I wanted her here during that particular week. She was sworn to secrecy, and we scoured the Internet, looking for cheap flights to LA.
How do you study for Jeopardy!? It’s general knowledge; categories can come up based on any conceivable subject. I worked on a few things I felt were deficiencies, like Shakespeare, and worked on some things that come up a lot; Academy Award winning Best Pictures and US Presidents. Other than that, I figured there wasn’t much I could do. I decided to be sure to watch the show daily (I even practiced ringing in with a length of dowel). I also searched the Internet for experiences of other contestants, figuring that the fewer surprises I have to deal with, the better.
Having my girlfriend visit the week of the show turned out to be a good move. I spent most of the time leading up to the taping day worrying about her and finding things for us to do together. I hardly thought about the show at all, which kept me at ease. If I would have been thinking about it I would have been nervous. As it was, I knew the taping was going to happen, but it was third or fourth priority at any given time.
June 23rd arrived and I got up early (I’m not an early riser, so this was a bit of a hardship) showered, had coffee, checked the traffic on the Internet and headed off to Culver City. The traffic was bad, but I had allowed plenty of time for it and arrived early at the Sony. About 12 other people were waiting in the parking garage when I arrived, and we all go on a bus and headed off to our studio.
It was a classic case of hurry up and wait. We had been told to arrive at the studio at 9am, but taping didn’t begin until 11:30. We filled out forms, were told the rules we were to abide by and enjoyed coffee, doughnuts and fresh fruit in the green room. We also worked on our "Hometown Howdies" which are short announcements that are to air in the local market the contestant is from. Since I was from Long Beach, CA, I figured mine would never air.
At about 10:30 we all went out to the studio and as the crew went though their rehearsal, we went through ours. We got to practice selecting categories and responding just as if it were a real show, stopping every few minutes to allow other contestants to take a turn. This done, we were herded back to the green room to wait for the taping.
Jeopardy! tapes 5 shows a day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Three shows are done before lunch, and then two more are done after lunch. The show is taped in real time as much as possible, meaning that tape is not stopped during commercial breaks. The one standard exception to this is that in the commercial break before Final Jeopardy!, tape is stopped and the contestants are given as much time as necessary to figure out their wagers. Additionally, tape can be stopped if there is a gameboard malfunction, if Alex stumbles over a clue or if an unexpected correct response is given. This all means that a Jeopardy show is taped in roughly 30 minutes, with a 15 to 20 minute turn around between shows.
Contestant selection is random with a few exceptions. Champions get to return (obviously) and southern California contestants are saved toward the end of the taping schedule on Wednesdays (the last taping day of the week). Basically, the out-of towners are all given a chance to play first. So what seemed to be a pretty good chance that I would get to play that Wednesday turned into a 1 in 3 chance as there were two other local contestants.
Luck was not on my side, and I was not selected to play in the final show of that day’s taping. I stayed and watched a Rhode Islander named Chuck win that show. I was asked if I wanted to come back the next Tuesday or Wednesday and that I would get on the show whichever day I chose. I chose Tuesday.
My girlfriend was unable to stay the additional day, so it would just be my roommate in the audience when I finally made it on the show. Traffic was heavier that Tuesday then it had been the previous Wednesday, and I barely made it to the bus as it headed to our studio. It was a different feel for me that morning as it wasn’t and "if" I would get on a show. It was definite, I would be on the first show. Against Chuck.
Everything was the same as the previous Wednesday. I didn’t have to fill out the forms as I had already done that. One change was that since I was moving back to Rapid City, I would need to change my "Hometown Howdy" since the show would air after my move. At noon, I was on the set for my taping.
Everybody says that being on the show is a blur, that you’ll remember very few details of your show. I never believed this. How could this possibly happen to me? Being on Jeopardy! is the only goal I’ve ever had in my life, how could a person who seemingly remembers everything forget the minute details of such an occasion?
The people are right. I remember some things, but as a whole, it was a blur. Here’s a few of the things I do remember:
• Alex made eye contact with me during the open of the show.
• I didn’t like a single category in the first round.
• I finished tied for second with Leslie going into the commercial break before Double Jeopardy!, but that her response of "Typhoon" would be ruled correct and I would be in third when we came back and I would select first.
• I didn’t like a single category in the Double Jeopardy! round with the possible exception of "Russian Geography."
• The "Foreign Languages" category was confusing. We didn’t really understand that correct responses were what languages are called in other languages.
• I got the first Daily Double of the round in "Foreign Languages," wagered enough to move me into first place and gave the correct response, "German."
• "Russian Geography" didn’t treat me very good.
• I was in third place going into Final Jeopardy! with $8800. Leslie was in second with $9600. For the life of me I can’t remember how much money Chuck had, but he could be caught.
Time slowed back to normal when we hit the commercial break. I considered my wager. I’m horrible at math and arrived at my wager through a number of factors, primarily figuring if Chuck bet just enough to beat Leslie if she bet everything and was wrong, that a wager of $4801 and a correct response by me would make me the champion. I wrote my wager, but it was illegible. The contestant coordinators gave me a couple more chances. Finally somebody, I have no idea who, wrote in my $4801 for, confirmed that was what I wanted and we went on to the final.
The category was "Awards." The answer: "This award, created to be the broadcasting equivalent of the Pulitzer, was named for a Georgia philanthropist."
I worked in broadcasting for 13 years. I wrote down "Peabody" immediately, 99% sure it was correct. I had spent the previous Wednesday with Chuck. I knew he was good with movies, but didn’t know how much he knew about TV and Radio. I knew nothing about Leslie, having just met her a few hours earlier. My chances were good.
"Peabody" was correct, I finished with $13601. Leslie responded "Turner" and would end up in third. Now it was Chuck. He showed no indication one way or the other. "Peabody" was revealed on his screen, I would finish in second, which was good for $2000 and satisfaction that I didn’t make a fool of myself.
We were hustled out to the front of the set for the closing shots of the show. Chuck was puzzled by my wager then realized I had wagered enough to beat him by $2 if he had responded incorrectly. He seemed shocked.
So how does it feel? It’s tough. As I sat through 5 shows the previous week, I figured I would have won at least two or three of them. On my show, the categories didn’t agree with me. I am in no way bitter about this, I had always said that I could win on the show if the categories were in my favor, and wouldn’t if they weren’t. Throw in the competition factor, Chuck was a great player and Leslie was no slouch, and I’m extremely proud of second place. My dream was always to be on Jeopardy!, if I won, that would be a bonus. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. I wanted to compete in Final Jeopardy!. I accomplished those three goals.
As I write this, the shows have not aired yet. My family and friends still do not know that I was on Jeopardy! I’ll send out emails a couple of weeks before the show. As for me, I’m looking forward to the start of the new season. I want to see how Chuck did, I’d take some pride in losing to a 5 time (or more) champion. I’ve met about 26 people who’ve been on Jeopardy! I can’t wait to see how they do……
My show aired yesterday. I watched it with my folks, sister and one of my nieces. My biggest fear about watching the taping was that after going over the show in my mind, I began to believe that I had made a mistake in my wager, that I could have won if I’d have bet all of my money. That turned out not to be true. Chuck had finished Double Jeopardy! with $16,900 and wagered enough that even if I had bet everything I couldn’t catch him. He played it right, but I would have got him if he was wrong. That was the only way for me to play it, but it just didn’t work out.
Watching the show, I noticed a couple of things I could have done differently. Notably, I should have bet more on my Daily Double, though it was in a category that we didn’t really understand. I wagered enough to get the lead, but if I’d have wagered more, I would have been in a better position at the end. How cool would it have been to say "Let’s make it a true Daily Double, Alex."?
I also got one response incorrect. It’s the only time during the show that I guessed, though it was an educated guess. I responded "1985" to the clue about Chernobyl disaster. The correct response was "1986." It was a $1600 clue, meaning that not answering would have allowed me to finish Double Jeopardy in second place. Of course, answering correctly would have given me $3200 more than I finished with. It was a bit of a "Hail Mary" so late in the game. On the other hand, since Chuck and I both got the Final correct, it still wouldn’t have mattered.
So how would you have done in my game? A few months ago I found a website maintained by a former Jeopardy! champion. She has created a log of the last couple of years' shows, showing all the clues and correct responses. It also shows what contestants answered and shows number of correct and incorrect responses by each player. A fun site even if you haven't been on the show. I've provided a link to my game on the left side of this page entitled "My Jeopardy! Game". If you want to see something really scary, check out some of Ken Jennings' shows. That guy was amazing!
"Who is BOJ?"
Sunday, January 09, 2005
OK, you didn't hear it here first, but I have been harping on what a jerk Randy Moss is for the last couple of days. I guess I was right......