Random adventures through my life... in all their glory and splendor.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Memories of my childhood, as told through caffeine-goggles

So I'm sitting here at The 'Boo. You know, CariBOU Coffee. I've been here once before under similar circumstances so you know, we're, like, pals now so it's earned a nickname. Of course, I'm here by myself so there's no one else around who can appreciate my cleverness. That is, if shortening the name of a location down to one syllable constitutes clever... ala 'The L' or 'The Y.'

Chris is off knitting a couple blocks away at a friends house. I was invited to join them but I declined and opted to chill at the Boo. Admit it, it's growing on you. (I think what makes it so cool is that I'm sure I'm the first person in the world to think of it.) Anyway, yes, I said knitting. She is off cavorting with her knitting buddies, or as I like to call them "unsavory elements who refuse to put down their needles." And I'm stuck here at the Y. I mean the Boo. Whatever. I'm left to caffeinate myself slowly (or quickly if I prefer) and try to stay out of trouble until she calls and says she's on her way. Then I'll go wait outside until she pulls up and drives me home.

The only thing missing at this point is Ken. When it came to standing around waiting for parental units to arrive in vehicles, there was no one more often by my side than him. He was like my early teen equivalent of a foxhole buddy. We'd stand around with our coats unzipped in the parking lot of a church, or school, or community building, or wherever depending on what day of the week it was, avoiding eye contact and trying to find something to talk about that we hadn't already verbally smothered the life out of the night before. I don't know exactly when we learn the art of the rhetorical question, but I sure didn't have it back then. Some nights there would be grueling expanses of silence as we'd desperately try to think of something poignant to say. Something new... Something pertinent.

As an adult, I've lost that urgency.

When did stating the ridiculously obvious, or random words start counting as acceptable conversation? As a teen I never would have been caught saying something like, "Oh, looks like the radio's on" or "Man, this weather..." while tugging the strings of my gray hooded sweatshirt so tight that only my nose would stick out. And I certainly wouldn't have expected any kind of intellectual nod from Ken while he jerked his coat zipper back and forth loosely to the rhythm of some song by Queen. No wonder kids think adults are lame. If you didn't have something profound to bring up, you didn't say it because you didn't want to prove to everyone you were an idiot. You just stood there picking at the flapping sole of your tennis shoe until you thought of something. Of course, you have to define the word "profound" through an adolescent, blurt-prone filter, but still, if only for a second, you thought your insight was important. More often than not though, feeble attempts at conversation would ensue. Phrases like "My braces hurt" would come out completely unprovoked, but hey, at least it wasn't some comment about the existence of weather. And eventually, one of two things would happen, either a car would pull up and rescue us from the dusk of uncomfortability, or the conversation would somewhat begrudgingly get rolling again... and THEN a car would pull up.
Take the following example:

"I can see my sock through the hole in my shoe. (Pause) Did Andy get a BMX?"
"No, he got, like, a 12 speed or something."
"Did he ever get passed the third level of Lode Runner?"
"Yeah but I had to show him..." **Beep Beep**

Fortunately though, all this verbal fumbling eventually paid off and allowed us to land impressively wicked babes later in life. You know, High quality women who are thoughtful enough to drop us off at coffee shops while they go seek the council of other women with an unhealthy obsession for natural fibers.

True story. As I sit here, some guy (not me) sitting at the table next to me with brown hair, glasses, an oversized gray hoodie, a black watch, bracelets, faded jeans, and short white athletic socks with brown shoes (I said NOT me) just asked the girl behind the counter how much a walrus weighs.

The answer? "Enough to break the ice. Hi, my name is..." I didn't actually catch his name though because at that moment my brain somehow slapped my forehead from the inside. I tuned back in in time to catch him high five his buddy. Then he sat down and made a Thundercats reference thereby singlehandedly molesting my whole childhood. Nothing is sacred to this generation.

I've been totally scarred at the 'Boo.

Granted, 25 years ago, this guy would have been my total hero, but since he hasn't had as many years to hone his skills at conversational repartee as yours truly, I'm going to put this in the simplest terms I can:

You can put whipped cream on a turd, but it's still a turd.


Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to pack my bag, put on my oversized winter coat, and stand around outside until my wife pulls up to drive me home.

And on that note, I think my friend Ken said it best:

Zrippah-Zip, Zrippah-Zip, Zick-Zak!
That's his coat's zipper singing "We Will-We will-rock you," loser.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

"I'm running the wrong way."

If you happen to be reading this and you don't live in the area, earlier this week some asshat in a trenchcoat walked into a lecture hall at NIU and started shooting, leaving several dead and eventually killing himself. Now, DeKalb is only a half hour away from here so everyone has some kind of connection to the University. Everybody knows someone who was there, or should have been there, or a friend's friend who saw the whole thing, or whatever. But I've got to tell you, I don't mean to be cruel, but I just can't wrap my mind around that kind of situation. The blatantly senseless violence. The emotional wreckage. The lack of clear motive. Even though it happened 30 minutes away, when I hear first hand reports, I still kind of glaze over. There's nothing to say, there's nothing to do. I can't relate to this on any level, nor would I attempt to cheapen the experience by acting like it.

So as folks around here have been talking things out, I've just kind of been, well, letting them talk it out. I try to actively listen, but for the most part I just sit there zoned out. I've been emotionally distant throughout the whole ordeal, but that's not my personality and I know it. So I've been waiting for something to sink in. Something to click. Something to push me out of shock and onto the next phase of healing and understanding.

This morning in the chiropractor's office, I found it. I was sitting in the reception area sifting through the Rockford paper, noting how the local media was handling this whole thing. Students shocked... police acted... parents relieved... school responded... No offense, but you could pretty much write these stories beforehand and just fill in the names and numbers after it actually happened. As I drifted over the headline "As Students Fled Danger, Medic Ran to Give Help" I slowed down to indulge in a 'Hero story' no doubt about some emergency responder who jumped out of an ambulance and acted supernaturally. But I was wrong.

Ok... just to give you some background info, I am a total chump for heroics. I went to a conference once where one of the speakers read clips out of some "Winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor" book for about 15 minutes out of his 20 minute lecture. It was absolutely riveting. I was completely absorbed by all the selfless and monumentally stupid things men do for God and Country. It really only takes one story about a guy charging a machinegun nest to bring me to tears anyway, Band of Brothers made sure of that.

So I start reading this article, and I get to the part about how Jeff Merkel, a Navy medic who is now at NIU on the GI Bill, called his wife and I quote;

“I told her, ‘I’m running the wrong way,’ but I had to,” he said. “I know how to do things. I’ve seen this kind of violence.”

And I lost it. Yes Jeff. If your gut reaction was to run toward an unknown threat to assess damages and help victims, the fact that you "Know how to do things" is a ridiculous understatement. I sit here wondering if I would have even had the presence of mind to duck and crawl out of the auditorium, let alone help anyone. I can't relate to this kind of heroism any more than I can relate to the tragedy or the insanity that brought it about, but it touched me when the other two hadn't. And "running the wrong way" has such tremendous spiritual implications I could write a series of blogs on that phrase alone.

So I'm sitting there unsuccessfully trying not to cry and needless to say, that is when I get called into the chiropractor's office. Fantastic. My doc walks in perusing my chart and says, "Hey Karaoke King, How are you doing today?" And I'm like, "JUST FINE! WHY? I mean **wipe-wipe** I'm fine. Well, my back doesn't hurt. **sniff** How are you? Say, are those my X-rays?"
"I'm good," He responded, "Why don't you lie down and let me take a look at your back."

Good Chiropractors know where to push, great ones know where not to.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I said tree HUGGER, not MUGGER...

We moved out to this sleepy little community about 8 years ago to get away from the craziness of Big City life. You know, to start a family where life is a little more straight forward. Where there aren't as many bad influences like you have in the burbs. You know, like gangbangers, White Castles, and community colleges. That kind of crap. True story, I knew we were no longer in ChicagoLand when I saw an ad in one of the local papers advertising "A free shotgun with purchase of an ATV." Let me know when you can get that kind of deal at a Starbucks.

But somewhere along the line, everything changed. It's like we just got here and suddenly the schools were overcrowded, the Earth started warming up, and people were driving imports. It's like we were right back in suburbia. And I gotta tell ya, I'm feeling like some soccer mom just crammed me into back a minivan full of cleat-wearing, iPodded, stinky boys and took the beltline straight to Hell. I blame WalMart.

Well, the other night, it hit home. Literally. One of the things I've noticed about youth around here is that they really want to be all 'awesome' like the City kids. So, they do their best to mimic their antics. You know like cosmic bowling, or going to a private school, and my personal bane... littering. I cannot begin to tell you how many Twinkie wrappers and fastfood bags we've found in our front yard over the years. I don't know what it is about my lawn that says, "Don't worry, clearly these folks work for the department of sanitation" but apparently it whispers it to all the kids in the neighborhood. I found a full, upright cup of salsa once, still wrapped in tinfoil (I guess the burrito had enough flavor on it's own.) I also hit a ten dollar bill with the lawn mower last fall. For future reference, don't try to cash a shredded bill at a bank unless you can recover both serial numbers. Who knew?

Anyway, you're probably wondering why I'm grousing about litterbugs when it's 5 below outside. Well, the other night, I walked out the front door and found this laying on my sidewalk:

And my first thought was, "Why the hell would anyone break off a reflector and throw it at my house?" For whatever reason, my brain usually asks "Why" before "Who" or "How." It also takes things extremely personally. I've spent far more energy than I care to admit mulling over whether an errant Ho-Ho wrapper was a symbolic gesture or just windblown garbage. Anyway, upon further inspection, this reflector was not the only piece of vehicular debris in my front lawn. So, I followed the only logical course of action. I took a deep breath, trudged back into the house, and asked my wife point blank if there was anything she needed to talk to me about.

"Like what?" she responded, blinking twice. She caught onto my tone though and was taking me seriously. I could tell because she stopped knitting to make eye contact.

"Oh, I don't know..." I said with as much restrained judgment as I could muster up, "How's your car these days?"

"Why? WHAT? Did you hit my car again?" At this point, I *think* she actually set down one of her needles. But either way, I knew she didn't have anything to do with the situation out front.

"No, nothing, never mind. There's a bunch of green car parts in the snowbank that apparently are not off your Saturn."

"Really?" She went to the window, but at this point it was too dark to see anything.

The next morning, Chris took pictures from the other side of the sidewalk:What the picture doesn't show is that the gouge taken out of the tree is at least 3 and a half feet off the ground. And keep in mind that our house is in the middle of the block. I'm not saying it hasn't been slick out there, I'm just saying that it's not like some bloke just slid through an intersection, hopped the curb and clipped our tree. Someone was going pretty fast... and if that someone is you, I've got your bumper and I'd like a word with you.

It's a sad day when trees aren't even safe to line the streets anymore. What's this place coming to? Will the hatred ever end? I mean, if it was a Sugar Maple, I'd understand... But, dude. Won't someone think about the conifers?!?!!

All we are saying, is give trees a chance.

PS- Apparently our tree was the only victim and that whoever else was involved is ok. A police report was filled out, but we can't request records until business hours, so stay tuned for the next exciting episode of "Get Off My Lawn"

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Winter Schminter

This winter is starting to wear on me. Chris has blogged about this as well. But seriously, we have this deal with our neighbors. We mow their front yard, they take care of our sidewalk in the winter. Then, our neighbors on the other side have a plow so they take care of the driveway. It's been quite a while since I've had to do any serious shoveling, and I know I shouldn't expect to get through a winter without shoveling but a guy can dream, right? So here's a couple more action shots from my folks house.

Earlier this week I shoveled on our Snow Day so it wasn't like I had just worked 8 hours and had an hour commute to look forward to. One of my coworkers did go in the day it snowed around 12 inches. The problem was that only about 3 inches were on the ground on the inbound commute, which is bearable. But by the end of the day, the driving conditions were ridiculous. He took a picture on the way home and I thought I'd share just to show how bad it's getting around here. (Double-click to embiggen the picture if you can't read the sign.)
Ok ok, just kidding, but when is the last time I've posted a photoshopped pic...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Dopplegangers! Imposters! Fan Club?

How do you know your blog is popular? You start running into people who mimic your behavior. Take this couple I found on the interwebz the other day. I don't care how much you knit, or how snazzy your laptop is, or how red your room is, or how boring your life is, or how cute your cats are, you will NEVER be the as awesome as the originals. Never! Besides, all the cool kids have 3 cats these days. Pfft. Two cats is so 2006.

So, uh... wanna hang out some time?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

There's a reason why they call it a Snow Day...

I was hoping to get a chance to go out and shoot some pictures

but it was my turn to shovel

And my cat was useless

And so was this one

And my berries were cold
So I didn't get any pictures

Big pond, small fish pt II

So last Saturday, I ended up running with the big dogs. Matt called and said he had a green light to go to karaoke night. Now, if you are a loyal reader, you know that Friday night is karaoke night period end of quote. So after explaining to him that he had the wrong night and that I already had plans (no really, I did) Matt said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Save the drama for your Mama. We're singing in Hanover Park tonight." So I rescheduled my other plans and trucked out east.

I had been warned about culture shock, but I still had a pretty serious case of country mouse syndrome. For starters, singing started at 10pm, and secondly, there were 35 singers. 35. So, let me do the math on this one... 35 people x 5 minutes per song = you're lucky to sing twice in four hours, and that assumes you can make it until 2am. It reminds me a lot of going to an amusement park, where you stand in line for 2 hours for 3 thrilling minutes. So really the highlight of the evening was sitting around with Matt making fun of anyone who made me feel old and inferior... which was pretty much everyone. But you know what I always say... those who can't do, blog. So to that end, apparently in Hanover Park, any kid who doesn't go to school or have a job does karaoke. I know this because, A) by looks of them they clearly weren't going to church the next morning and therefore obviously high school dropouts and B) they were just a little too good at this singing thing. A little too refined. And that was enough license for Matt and I to act like the judges from the Muppet show. Ok, but seriously, there were a lot of amazing singers. Definitely a younger gene pool than what I'm used to though, and apparently this is the other world that Jeti Entertainment lives in. Who is Limp Bisquick anyway?

In Belvidere, it's no big deal to try new songs. Folks appreciate the effort even if the execution is not particularly... polished. You can practice a song over and over only to find out that the karaoke key is higher than the recording you've been listening to. That kind of thing happens. If you only get to sing one song, then the stakes are a lot higher and it's a lot harder to take risks. The other advantage of singing in a smaller venue is that you get to see growth. I've seen people go through a huge metamorphosis throughout the course of an evening. I mean that in a good way, well, ok, I've seen it go south too, but that usually is due to a little too much 'liquid confidence.'

Maybe these things happen in the Big Pond too, and I just didn't see them unfold that night. Also, I've never been in a bar with so many people and so few listening, but I guess that's the way things work. Anyway, I guess I'm spoiled rotten in my little pond where everybody knows my name.

I've occasionally entertained the idea of singing in a karaoke contest somewhere, but mostly just to affirm if I'm good enough. But you know, I don't think that's really necessary any more.

Big fish, small pond pt I

So last Friday, Chris and I went out to karaoke. And let me just take a moment to set the record straight, I don't go religiously because I have no where else to be on the weekends... ok well, maybe I don't actually have any place else to be, but singing karaoke is where I'd choose to be even if I had another offer. And besides, now my wife is there and like, my one other friend, so why would I want to go anywhere else? Granted, karaoke may not be as 'cool' as staying up late doing keg stands or playing cribbage, or whatever you kids are doing these days... Not all of us enjoy diving into the pinochle underworld at the VFW, or enjoy the thrill of Blessed Virgin's high stakes bingo night, you know. If you can't go a weekend without the adrenaline rush you get from playing that damn Atari2600 into the wee hours. Fine. I'd say YOU are the one with the problem, my friend. And as far as I'm concerned, you can take your Guitar Hero, and your Facebook, and your Grey's Anatomy with you into the 5th circle of Hell where all you riff-raff belong.

I'll be at karaoke.

Anyway, I digress... I guess... bottom line was Karaoke was a hoot and we were pretty much the only ones singing so I think I sang about 17 songs. Other than the fact that I couldn't get John Denver's "Calypso" out of my head for about 4 days (thank you soooo much, Marty) it was great. And if you didn't know, my wife has every WHAM song committed to memory and has been known to even do a little dance while singing. And seeing THAT is worth giving up euchre night. Or at least moving it to the karaoke bar...

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I shot a man in Reno HEE-HEE just to watch him die. BWA-HAAHAAHA!

Although I've been blogging consistently for a couple months now, I haven't done any song writing. I haven't really even gotten 'the bug' to do so. With blogging, I can start with, "What bonehead maneuver did I pull off today without getting myself killed?" and work from there. The beauty of this approach is that every day is filled with new material. Also, in the blog/journal format, if I write something that isn't terribly interesting, I can wait around until I do something else stupid and turn right around and type up another one. Which, depending on the day, could be less than an hour.

Song writing is different. Since I inevitably put way more time and effort into it than I initially intend, I feel like I need to make count. No gutter-balls, so to speak. It needs a 3 minute story arch. It needs to be clever, yet not esoteric. It needs to be catchy yet poignant. Blah blah blah... and thus songs don't get written. I heard a live session with Suzanne Vega the other day. Apparently, she has songs on her latest album that she started six years ago. !!! It shouldn't take longer than 5 minutes to decide if whether then next chord should be C or G. It's got to be one of the two... Six years? Come on Suzanne. I just don't have that kind of attention span. (Hmmm... that rhymes, may have to use it later...)

Anyway, Yes, I know, that's totally the wrong attitude for song writing. I need to just turn off the filter and do it. But even then you need a starting point, or an ending point. Either will do. Sometimes artsy types begin a journey and see where it leads, other times you set your sites on the horizon and try to figure out how to get there.

Well, finally I had two ideas that when combined could work their way into becoming a song. The first was the belief that, although one of my friends says he's over his Johnny Cash phase, I came to the convenient conclusion that he's just tired of all the JC songs he knows and not really sick of the genre. The other spark came from the fact that this same friend is about to be the father of his fourth son. We tease him on a fairly regular basis about being prejudice against little girls and so forth, so I imagined at some point, this would probably be discussed around some family meal as well. I envisioned teen aged boys poking their father. "Why don't we have a sister?" "Yeah, Dad, where's our sister?" And then I thought, what would be cooler than to say, "Oh, you used to have a sister...," whip out your guitar, start playing a boom-chucka-chucka-chucka rhythm, and sing some scandalous tragedy that ends in the terrible death of a girl?

Yes, that's certainly cool enough to write a song about and since I'd never tried writing a tragedy before, I thought I'd give it a go. Now I had a style and an ending. That was enough to get started, and soon I stumbled on the phrase, "Your sister, she won't be coming home." There's something about the 'sister, she' part... the reinforcement through redundancy, that I really liked, so I knew I had a good chunk for the chorus. For you math nerds who can't relate, this is like knowing two angles and the distance between them on a triangle. It's a slam dunk and only a matter of time before the whole thing fits together. (Just a little geometric proof illustration so you remember whose geeky blog you're reading...)

Anyway, so I hunched over my laptop and started filling in the gaps in my story like a crossword puzzle. This is kind of how my brain worked:

Ok, so this is a Johnny Cash like song... so, the singer should be singing from prison. Typa-typa-type. Aaaand, the song is about 'the sister' dying tragically. Ticka-ticka-tick. Add some religious undertones. Tappa-tick-tip. No wait, it's a case of mistaken identity, so it's is not about the sister, her death is the ironic twist. BackSpa-a-a-a-a-a-ace. So what would drive the singer to murder? Adultery! Typitty-type-type So why would the singer accidentally kill someone he doesn't know...? Wrong woman! Ticka-tappa-tick. Ok, and just to make sure the singer is really guilt-ridden, he's got to do something heinous like kill a priest too. Ticka-tick... tap... tap... Delete-delete-buhleet. Typa... Delete. Ticka-tap. Delete Delete. Crap. How do I kill a priest in an adulterous case of mistaken identity? Double crap. How about a Nun? It doesn't have to be a priest if it's easier to kill a Nun... Usher? Altar boy? Flower girl? Gah!

This is how your brain tells you it's time to walk away.

So I stopped for the evening figuring I'd find a way to put down the priest or whoever in the morning. Well I woke up thinking about it, and still couldn't find an even remotely plausible way to get a priest in bed with the wrong girl at the wrong time. I was stuck and so I did what the pro's do when they get caught in a rut... you ask an expert.

"Hey Brian, I need to kill a priest and an innocent woman, how do I do it?"

"Why are you killing an innocent woman?" (It's worth noting that I was not questioned about my motives for killing the priest, nor why I was trying to murder anyone at all at this point...)

"Because I need to kill someone else in a murderous rage, and the victim is a sympathetic plot point."

"Oh, then that's easy. You shoot the confessional and take them both out. You should watch more movies. "

"Thanks, Brian, I knew you'd know how to solve my dilemma."

"Sure, anytime you have need to off some clergy, just let me know. Wait... why do you...?"

"Oh, no reason. Thanks, bye!"

So I got home and continued typing. An overheard confession, 12 bullets, a case of mistaken identity, a dead priest, and a life sentence later, my Cash-esque tragedy was complete. Chris happened to walk in just after I finished it and so with wild anticipation I sang it for her. Afterwards, I looked at her expectantly. She just sighed... "If you're trying to be serious, don't smirk when you're killing people off. And if you could use your powers for good next time, that'd be great."

I guess she's right. You can write Cash lyrics and sing it Cash style, but Johnny Cash never giggled delightfully at his own cleverness in front of an audience. Ever.

I bet Edgar Allen Poe did, though.