Sunday, December 31, 2006

Prokofiev: "Diabolic Suggestions"

Below is a really bad recording of me playing the piano. I'm playing Prokofiev's Diabolic Suggestions.

Okay, click here if you just want the dirty stuff and don't want to read my blog.

By the way, I'm still having an absolute ball over the fact that I've finally managed to get my PC to recognize all things analog, record them, and post audio recordings as MP3 files and post them online. I've been trying for over two weeks now to get this done. I can't believe it's finally happening, so please, kindly bear with me if I go nuts with my new ability for awhile.


Back in 1994 when I was in a cloistered monastery and didn't have anything else to do, I spent a lot of time practicing the piano. We weren't allowed to watch TV, read newspapers, make telephone calls and/or masturbate, but I was allowed to hone my pianistic skills unabatedly.

Since I didn't have much else to do, except look forward to a haircut, I tried to learn the horribly difficult piano works during then. I was never that great of a pianist, certainly not one to perform Beethoven's "Appassionata" in public, but spending hours mastering Beethoven's huge works kept me from going insane.

So, out of frustration, not only did I master the "Appassionata", but I tackled an even more huge piece. It's Prokofiev's last movement of his "Opus Four, No. 3" which he entitled Diabolical Suggestions.


It's such an outrageously difficult piece that it's seldom performed and I've only heard one recording of it. But during my Novitiate year of time-on-my-hands, I thought I'd attempt the bloody thing.

I practiced and practiced and finally learned the damn thing. Here it is, if you want to just bale out now and not read anymore of my blog. That's okay.

I have to admit, though, while I'd be playing it at the monastery, I would imagine myself as a Miss America contestant in the talent portion of the competition. (No! not because they get to make football players look more stupid than usual) but because the Miss America contestants who play the piano always play some huge, loud piece, and as well they should. But I'd be thinking that none of them could even come close to playing Prokofiev's Diabolic Suggestions.

The piece is absolutely nuts!

It's all over the place. If any Miss America contestant would play this piece, she'd win, hands down. Can you just imagine Miss Big Texas just barreling down on a big 'ol 9-ft Steinway piano? ; lots of sprayed hair and arms flying all over the place?

That's how I imagined myself in the monastery when I was trying to learn this piece. . . .

There's even a musicology urban-legend that claims Prokofiev wrote the piece just to show off that he could write a piano work that would utilize all 88 keys of the piano.

I don't know if that's true. I do know this piece backward and forward and, come to think of it, I can't think of any note on the piano that this piece doesn't use. . . . hmmm. . .

My recording is horrible. Even though Prokofiev's works are known to be loud and bombastic, this piece is supposed to be subtle and "devilish", thus the name of Diabolic Suggestions.

I just couldn't play it that way. It's a "Miss America" piece, all the way.

There are a couple of recordings out there where the performer plays it very quick, creepy and subtle, but I think there are just too many notes on the score to be played that way. Maybe Prokofiev could do it, but I just couldn't.

The recording is on a cheap recorder full of hisses and pops. However, I don't think you'll ever hear any other interpretation of this piece as aggressive as this one, certainly not with the loud ending like I did, as it's supposed to just fade away into a quiet scampering of notes.

This was recorded in November of 1997.

Click Here and brace yourself. I had a ball doing it!

Of course, I'd love to know what you think. . . .

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I really didn't think I could do it . . . .

You may recall that Santy Claus (my mom) deigned to give me a nice, expensive CD recorder so that I could transfer my mellifluous piano playing onto CD's for her.

My digital piano wasn't compatible with the recorder, even after three phone calls to Sony. I tried, I really, really tried, but couldn't get the two things compatible. Even though my digital piano cost a mintillion dollars, that was back in 1991 and the two just weren't compatible.

Then I bought and tried three new programs that were supposed to transpose analog-to-MP3 files, but for some God-known reason, nothing would register. Nothing.

I went onto eBay and got a new 17-inch flat-panel monitor. I won the bidding out of 19 people in the last 20 seconds! Then the monitor came without a power cord. I had to have the new monitor so that I could get rid of the old clunky monitor that set on a side desk. Getting rid of the side desk would enable me to move my digital piano in its place next to my computer desk.

Now, you KNOW your apartment is small when a flat-paneled computer monitor enables an entirely new decorating scheme.

Well, it did. And also two banks of track lighting, so my little-bitty apartment is even more fab.

(Yes, I just said "fab" but it was with a Texan accent).

I walked up to CompuServe for a power cord. The said Radio Shack would have it. They did, but it was forty-eight bucks and they said to call the manufacturer which was Dell.

I was all set to have Dell say, "Sorry, you bought our monitor on eBay and now we won't supply you with a power cord and there are none to be had in this world. You have to give us $300 for a monitor that will work."

They didn't. After much phone calling, I got a power cord for $10.65.

Then I re-arranged ALL my furniture, rugs, electronics after my new flat-panel thingie wouldn't be operational. That's in addition to returning the CD-recorder in a taxi early this morning and purchasing and downloading three new programs.

I also made Lorraine's incredible shallot/olive oil dressing and ate it on everything today: Romaine lettuce, Progresso Minestrone, and a garbanzo/brown rice casserole.

FINALLY! I had given up! I was defeated for the day.

Then I googled "analog to MP3" and I found the Holy Grail of programs. It's called "RipBurnEdit" by Blaze Audio.

It was a slice of heaven. It recognized my piano. It recognized ME. It knew what I wanted to do and transferred every tiny minutae of my playing. (Which was nice, but scary).

It thought ahead and said, "Do you want me to download your lovely piano playing into both MP3 and Windows Media?"

And I crumbled and said, "Oh, God! Yesss!"

By that time I was a wreck. My acid reflux was amok. A fever blister had sprung up. I had become so horribly depressed and despondent. I didn't want to blog, ice skate, or talk to anyone. I didn't even want to binge on Valium-and-carrot juice - - that's how messed up I was over this whole recording deal.

Anyway, this program was wonderful. The first thing I recorded tonight was this Bach fugue that I've been working on (Fugue in G-sharp minor). It's a booger of a thing, really. I just played it straight away and laid down the track, no practicing, no warm-up, just boom. I wanted to get something recorded. So, here it is.

BTW - This piece is usually played at a slower tempo, more languid and somber, but I think it should be played like a march and gradually get more intense.

That's a live recording, quick-n-dirty.

I'm just so damn glad to be able to DO it!

My many thanks go out to the producers of Blaze Audio and their fine "RipEditBurn" product.

Believe me, I've tried many, many analog-to-digital programs and I can highly recommend this one.

I'm on a roll now.

Look out!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Best Friends

Back when I was four years old, my family moved from a small town in North Texas to a small town in South Texas along with our Shetland pony named Smokey.

Soon after we were settled, I became best friends with the kid next door. Kyle was the same age and was living there with his grandparents because his folks were going through a divorce or something like that. Kyle was Jewish, just like the Kyle on Southpark, but I never knew what "Jewish" was because there aren't any Jewish people in South Texas. Anyway, we were inseparable for the next two years.

I still have a newspaper clipping that includes a pic of my kindergarten class. There were are, Kyle and I, among a dozen other kids in our little bitty chairs with our greased back hair. Remember Vitalis hair tonic?

I remember being sick in bed with "the croop" and Kyle would come by my window each day to check on me. I doubt he was really checking on me; he was probably just bored.

Kyle and I would go all over our little neighborhood and catch "horney toads". Back then, Texas horned frogs were everywhere. (They're practically extinct now, probably because they all fell prey to six-year-old boys back then) We'd catch a dozen or so and keep them in a coffee can for a couple of days and let them go. I always thought horney toads smelled like coffee for some reason.

One day, Kyle got bit by a mouse. For the next couple of weeks he'd have to go to the hospital each day and get painful rabies shots in his stomach. We'd be in the back yard, antagonizing horney toads and his grandmother would call him in the house to get ready to go to the hospital. He'd begin wailing and our play time would come to an end. I'd hate that.

Kyle's parents either got back together or his dad remarried. At any rate, he had to leave and move away to San Antonio. I was devistated.

A couple of years later, I was with my grandparents on a weekend trip to San Antonio and actually called him up. We talked on the phone, but it just wasn't the same.

A lot can change by the time you hit nine years old. . . .

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I miss the old place

Back in October, the building where I work was involved in a fire and we’ve been displaced since then. Our facility sustained quite a bit of damage and it looks like it’s going to take another four months before we can move back in.

In the meantime, all of us on staff are now working out of the head office which is on the west side of Chicago. It’s a fancy brand new building that has lots of offices, a homeless shelter, cafeteria, chapel, etc. etc. However, the West side of Chicago is a pretty scary place.

I really, really liked the location where I used to work. It was downtown and a mere ten blocks from my apartment. How many people in Chicago are fortunate enough to be able to walk to work? It was a very nice walk, too, straight through the heart of downtown.

I miss the old place. A lot.

Now, I have to take the “el” west of downtown and transfer to a southbound bus in a really icky part of town. I’m including pics of where I have to transfer from the el and wait for the bus. There are lots of abandoned building around, no restaurants or Starbuck’s within walking distance, and often some pretty messed up people around.

I used to be able to walk to work and pass by Macy’s, Border’s and could even ice skate on my way home after work.

Now, for the next few months, I get to wait for a crowded bus in the cold next to a fetid vacant lot. There's a dog pound nearby and I can always hear big dogs yapping and growling. One day, I even saw the dog truck drive by, full of snarly inmates. I hope none of them get out and gnarl my leg off.

I used to have a nice glass downtown office overlooking Wabash Avenue and a roof garden. Now, I’m in a maze of sterile cubicles where I can’t play music or have anything to eat.

I used to be able to walk within a one-block radius and have Thai or Indian food for lunch, or even KFC if I was feeling a bit oinky.

Now, the only place within walking distance is Doggy’s Soul Food Eatery, which I hope, has nothing to do with the dog pound nearby.

My other option is to bring my own lunch but I've yet to be organized enough to actually prepare a lunch ahead of time.

Then, there's always the cafeteria in the homeless shelter.

Actually, the cafeteria isn’t bad at all. The cafeteria is also a food service training program, so it’s impeccably clean and the food’s pretty good. Most of the time.

The day after Christmas, the entrée turned out to be leftover Turkey Gristle in Barbecue Sauce over Rice. But yesterday, they had the best minestrone I’ve ever tasted.

I think I should really work on making my own lunch. Anything's better than turkey gristle.

I miss the old place. . . . whine . . .

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Peeing in a cup

So, I’m at work today. It turns out that all the social workers in the homeless shelter are off today as well, so I’m having to fill in downstairs at the shelter. It’s a department that I don’t even work in, but it’s a nice change of pace.

Also, I’m the only male employee in the shelter which means I have to do the “drops.” So, basically, I’m here to watch homeless guys pee in cups all day.

Having worked in a substance abuse treatment center, it’s not something with which I’m unfamiliar. I’m an old pro at it.

Unless you don’t know, guys are really, really uncomfortable peeing near each other. Walk into an airport washroom where there are a bazillion urinals lined up like grave stones at Arlington Cemetery, and the guys will be spaced apart as far as possible from each other.

So, you can imagine how uncomfortable it must make a guy feel to have another guy standing behind you in a teeny-weeny restroom, waiting for you to merrily pee away.

It makes me, the guy standing behind you in the small restroom, pretty uncomfortable too, especially during those interminable silences when absolutely nothing is happening. Which makes the pee-er more uncomfortable, thus making it harder to pee, which makes me, the pee-ee more uncomfortable, and . . . . Well, you get the idea.

You definitely don't want to stand behind the guy and shriek at him: "Pee damnit! Come ON, already!! Pee, you idiot!! What's the hold-up?? Now! NOW! NOW!!!"

No, it’s my job to make the pee-er more comfortable with peeing.

I'm kind of pee-shy myself. It all began when I was seventeen and getting a physical to go to college. I had to give a specimen, but the washroom at the doctor's office in my little-bitty home town was all the way across the waiting room. As a shy seventeen year old, I was so awfully self-conscious about carrying the little plastic cup in front of God and everybody. I just knew everyone in the waiting room was waiting to see me emerge, triumphantly with my specimen.

I knew everyone was watching and waiting. I couldn't pee. No way.

So, I had to go back across the waiting room empty-handed. And of course, the nurse sent me back again for another try. This went on three times until, finally, they let me bring a specimen from home. There were probably little kids in the waiting room saying, "Mommy, what's wrong with him?"

So, I’ve developed a sure fire way of ensuring pee-ation. Here's the trick: You imagine yourself in a roller coaster just as it’s slowly going over the crest of the first hill. (For some reason, wooden roller coasters work better).

Just imagine the coaster cresting the top of the chain lift, click-click-click, then it releases, and boom. Ladies and gentlemen, we have pee.

Works like a charm. You should try it next time.

So, today when a client said, “This might take a while,” I told him about the roller coaster scenario. He peed right away and said, “Hey! That works.” We were in and out in a flash.

Damn, I’m good.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Trivial Pusuit -- New Rules

As usual, I had a very enjoyable evening last night with The Iwanskis (i.e. John and Miss Healthypants).

We had all played Trivial Pursuit together before. Last time, John blew us all away. He's definitely THE most smartest guy ever to walk this planet. While playing Trivial Pursuit, the guy answers every question, fills up his pie, scoots to the middle and wins with the rest of us in the dust.

I'm a smart guy. I know everything. But Iwanski leaves me agog while playing this game.

So, Miss Healthypants and I changed the rules this time. And we've definitely developed a much more entertaining way of playing Trivial Pursuit.

Here are our new rules:

Whenever anyone answers anything correctly, they have to supply an anecdote, a little life story that supplants their answer; some little story from their past that corresponds to the subject (science, geography, arts, history, entertainment, etc)

If their story is really significant or entertaining, then they get an extra "pie". If it's really lame, then they have to re-play the die.

Obtaining the little colored pies can really become fun and completely subjective:

During the game, there are TONS of "pie" allusions and it really becomes hilarious. I can't begin to remember them all.
1. I told a significant story again and was able to "re-pie"
2. John impressed us all with a scientific analogy that tied in with a previous story. He "im-pied pi"
3. A really lame attempt at supplying pie can result in being "un-pied"
3. I re-told a story and, thus, I had to de-pie my pie.
4. John almost made me and Miss Healthypants cry at the same time with a touching story. We agreed to double-pie him.

Double-ie-ing, re-pie-ing, and de-pie-ing become completely subjective rules, but make sense and fill the pies with all sorts of colors really fast. I wholly support the new rules.

Your thoughts?

It was too good to be true . . . .

Mister Santa Claus had seen fit that I receive a new toy for Christmas since I'd been such a good boy during the past year. I'd asked Santa for a CD recorder so that I'd at least be enabled to transfer my old audio (cassette) recordings to digital and also record my live audio dilly-dallyings to digital.

The main reason I bought the CD recorder was, well Hell, . . I'll just tell you!

The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is sort of THE Olympics of piano competitions and it's held each year in, of all places, Fort Worth, Texas. There was even a movie made about it in 1980 starring Amy Irving and Richard Dreyfus titled, "The Competition".

I hated that movie because Amy Irving's character won the competition by playing Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. She blew Richard Dreyfus out of the water during the 3rd movement of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto.

I never got past the opening of the first movement of that damn thing, even though my piano professor thought I could compete with it.

Anyway, the Van Cliburn has opened up an amateur division for people over 35 years old who are not professional pianist. Perfect.

So, yeah, I want to compete in it. I'm definitely over 35, but I know I play better now than I did back when I was in college.

(At least I won't be performing while on "yellow mollies" like we did back in college in 1979. )

I have to submit a fifteen minute recording of myself playing examples of the four musical eras: (1) Baroque (2) Classical (3) Romantic (4) Modern

Anyway, I bought this new CD recorder and it didn't work. I needed it so that I could submit the required fifteen minute audition recording for the Van Cliburn.

I was hoping to play from my digital piano straight into my new digital recorder. Back when I was a young, lithe, piano-competing-college-age-machine, all you did was play in your teacher's studio onto a cassette recorder and he'd send it it.

I thought I could do the same with the CD recorder nowadays.

Boy, was I wrong.

I didn't have the right kind of compact disc Cd's.

I needed "audio" CD's. Or audio CD-RW's. I didn't know that.

Okay. That's fine.

Now, apparently, my new CD recorder couldn't record, namby-pamby, straight away from my digital piano. I seem to require an additional receiver-player in which to input my piano which will record my output from the piano (which will actually be out-putted into the CD recorder. Got that?).

When I got this thing, I just KNEW it wouldn't be that easy!

Being "that easy" never is.

But here's a benefit. I was forced to dig out lots and lots of cassette recordings of myself playing the piano. And, you know? There's some pretty good stuff there.

Once I obtain a receiver/player-type-thing, I'll be able to post some recordings on here for you all to listen to.

I doubt it. It'll probably take another gazillion dollars worth of equipment.

It always does.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Britney Spears Panties Donation Rejected by Christie's

The following is an article I wrote for Click here to see it. Thanks go to Iwanski for mentioning that Britney Spears' underpants probably reek of Marlboros.

LOS ANGELES - In an attempt to emulate Diana, Princess of Wales, Britney Spears contacted Christie's, London's world famous auction house, in hopes of donating her clothing to raise money for charitable causes and to underline further her split from Kevin Federline.

Unlike the late princess, who donated seventy-nine formal gowns to Christie's to put paid to her relationship with Prince Charles, Spears proposed to auction her used panties.

"I was quite stunned by Ms. Spear's gesture," reported Christie's consignment specialist, Adrienne Hines, who heads the Los Angeles division of the auction house. "While we were ever so grateful to receive Princess Di's formal gowns, we were taken aback with Ms. Spears' request that we auction off her undergarments."

Hines pointed to several boxes, most of them from liquor stores, stuffed with various styles of panties and thongs. "

Apparently, leopard must have been her favorite color," she sniffed.

Spears wanted the auction proceeds to be donated to charities in a campaign called "Panties for Humanity," Hines explained.

"For example, she knew that the gown Princess Di wore while dancing with John Travolta had garnered $225,000; so Britney thought these little babies might fetch a high price," said Hines as she held up a simple pair of day-of-the-week white cotton panties monogrammed "Tuesday."

"She claims to have worn these while filming the video to 'Baby One More Time.' Frankly, I'd hate to think of who would want these.

"It was soon after Ms. Spears had pitched her proposal that she was seen partying with Paris Hilton and wearing no panties. Apparently, she'd donated all of them to us and decided against replacing them."

Hines said that the upscale auction house had no intention of fulfilling Spears' request.

"Used thongs are simply not what we're about at Christie's. Besides, I don't think the stench of Marlboros ever could have been removed."

In related news, Hines reported that Paris Hilton later showed up in her office with boxes of panties to be auctioned, but "it became apparent that none had ever been worn."

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Beef Maw Mystery

Here’s a pic from our dinner at Lao Sze Chuan. (see previous post) Again, the meal was incredible.

Pictured: (counter-clockwise) spinach with dry chili, Quong Di sole fillet with pak choy, my plate, eggplant with garlic sauce, chicken with three spices, and pot stickers.

Crab Rangoon is not pictured because Miss Healthypants already ate them all.

Now, we have a question about maw. What is maw? That’s our question. On the portion of the menu that features “Very Chinese Special” there are items like fish head casserole soup, pork stomach with sour pickle, and spicy beef maw.

I found out later that fish maw, of which there seemed to be a huge abundance in the Chinese markets, is the air bladder of the fish. Would beef maw, then, be the lungs?

I read somewhere that Lao Sze Chuan does feature beef lungs, but I didn’t see “lungs” anywhere on the menu.

At any rate, we all agreed to try the spicy beef maw next time we go. It’s served as an appetizer and only $4.50, so it’s definitely worth a try.

Any input regarding what beef maw is would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Get Ready . . .

I’m excited.

My new toy for Christmas just arrived and I’m anxious to play with it.

Because I’ve been such a good little boy this past year, Santy Claus brought a CD recorder to me. Now I can play on the piano, record it to CD, transfer it to and MP3 file, post it on a website and link to that website from my blog so that you, my dear readers, can have the divine pleasure of hearing me play.

Is that narcissistic or what?

I don’t care. I think Bach or Beethoven would be awfully amazed that their glorious music is in my sad little hands and about to be broadcast out to you, dear readers.

Now, if I can just figure out how to work the damn thing. . . .

Monday, December 18, 2006

Pork Stomach with Sour Pickle

Tonight after work, I’ll be meeting Miss Healthypants and another friend of ours for our monthly restaurant get-together. It’s usually the three of us, but sometimes spouses or other friends join us too.

We often try new restaurants and have had some pretty fantastic meals, what with all the fantastic restaurants Chicago has to offer. We’ve eaten in Thai, Moroccan, Ethiopian, Italian, Persian, Chinese, and Indian restaurants to name a few.

However, we keep going back to this particular Chinese restaurant in Chinatown that specializes in Szechuan cuisine. Lao Sze Chuan was recommended to me a few years ago by a co-worker who hails from the Szechuan province of China and she said it was her family’s favorite restaurant.

I can see why.

Their menu is huge. And I mean huge! If you want hot-n-spicy rabbit or octopus, they’ve got it. If you want lamb, sea cucumber or sea slug, it’s there too.

I try to order something different every time I go and I’m always surprised at how different every menu item is and how utterly tasty everything is. If you like hot and spicy food, this is the place to be. It really is authentic, for everything there is like nothing I’ve ever eaten in your run-of-the-mill American Chinese restaurant. This is the real McCoy.

There’s a section of the menu called “Very Chinese Special” that we’ve always shied away from. Apparently, in the southern portion of the Szechuan province, they eat all the icky parts of the animals. My friend who recommended the place scoffed and said, “Oh, they eat anything down there!”

Here are some menu items from the “Very Chinese Special” portion of the menu:

Fish Head Casserole Soup
Pork Stomach with Sour Pickle
Pig Ear Szechuan Style
Stir Fried Beef Maw

I don’t know about you, but I have a hankerin’ for some good maw. I’m going to order that just to freak out Miss Healthypants. Or maybe the Pig Ear Szechuan Style.

If I’m going to eat a pig’s ear, I definitely want it Szechuan Style.

I mean, really.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

In the Night

I was out with a couple of friends last night and my friend, Steve, knew how to take nighttime pics with his camera. I've yet to figure out how to do that with mine. He wanted to take some pics here at my place and was happily snapping away. So, here are some pics from my balcony and one of us on the roof. I'll be setting up an photo album soon which will have a link, etc, but in the meantime, here are some pretty night time pics.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Dark Side of the Moon

Our dear friend in blogopia, Lorraine in Seattle, has been silenced by the terrible storm they experienced out there yesterday. JP over at All Things Bitter reported an initial contact with her by phone but then all contact was lost. I tried calling last night to no avail. Her site has been inactive since the storm. . . .

. . . It reminds me of when the Apollo astronauts orbited the dark side of the moon and Mission Control could have no contact with them. They'd just have to wait . . . and wait . . . in silence.

I have to admit that the idea of Lorraine not posting anything is pretty depressing.

I was teasing Lorraine awhile back after she admitted an addiction to emailing. I said she suffers from epistulariphilia, or rather, an addiction to correspondence. I must admit to having a pretty advanced case of it as well.

I wonder how our dear Lorraine is fairing, having suddenly been cut off from the world? News reports say that Seattle could be without power for the entire weekend. As an addiction counselor, I'm concerned that Lorraine, as an epistulariphiliac, will suffer some pretty severe withdrawal symptoms having been cut off from all correspondence so suddenly. These symptoms are likely to include:

1. Tremors
2. Sweating
3. Confusion
4. Nausea
5. Hallucinations (both visual and auditory)
6. Extreme Bitchiness (i.e. irritability)

I'm concerned that she'll be doing this without a supervised detox. It won't be pretty.

I hope her friends and family members (The Spouse and The Child and The Neighbor and The Dog) will know how to handle someone experiencing acute withdrawal from epistulariphilia. They're likely to find dear, sweet Lorraine crying and hugging the laptop in a fetal position on the floor in the middle of the night. Or worse, they might find her sucking on the mouse in a frantic attempt to communicate with the outside world.

At least, that's how I'd be found if I had no internet access.

I hope The Child won't be traumetized by the sight of her mother in the throes of withdrawel. Seeing something like that could scar the poor thing for life.

Let's all say a prayer for our dear friend that she and her loved ones can make it through the weekend. I know that all of us at Mission Control will give a big cheer when we hear that first correspondence eeked out from the dark side of the moon.

We'll keep you posted.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Hair Dilemma of 2006 Has Been Solved

I’ve been going to the same hair cutter for a couple of years now. My last hair cutter, Phil, was great. He made me look younger and did such a great job of hiding my receding hair line. I loved Phil, but he vanished on me. Hair cutters tend to do that. Once you nail down a good one, they realize they're good and move on to bigger and better things.

So, being Phil-less, I began the hunt to find a new hair cutter that could do the same miracles Phil could. I was referred by a friend to this one fellow but the place was so extremely hip, noisy, and it made me nervous.

Finally, one day, I just wandered in and found Tikrit. She was from Turkey and could almost do what Phil did. (Actually, her name wasn’t Tikrit, it was Filiz which I could never remember, so I always thought of her as Tikrit since both names have two i’s in them).

Every time I was there getting my hair cut, I’d notice Rob. Rob was your basic, good-looking, effeminate, homosexual hair stylist. Rob looked like he knew what he was doing and he always had a customer in his chair.

I wanted Rob.

I have absolutely nothing against nice Turkish women doing my hair, but when you want a really good hair cut, you want a "Rob" or a "Phil" doing your hair. At least I do.

One day, I just happened to be in the neighborhood and, needing a hair cut, stopped by to see if Tikrit was available. She wasn’t, but Rob was!

Needless to say, Rob did a great job on my hair. It was better than Tikrit ever did.

Here was my dilemma: How would I switch over to Rob without hurting Tikrit’s feelings? And what if I switched over to Rob and Rob left me like Phil did. I couldn’t go skulking back to Tikrit if that happened and I’d truly be in a pickle.

So, I kept going to Tikrit.

That is, until yesterday. I actually made an appointment with Rob. It was a big moment for me.

I was hoping that it would be Tikrit’s day off, but of course, she greeted me at that door. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Anyway, I told Rob that I wanted to do something different with my hair. I explained the idea I had, he told me his ideas, we consulted, and it came out fantastic.

Of course, Tikrit was at the counter to take my money, so I just smiled really big and said, “You know, I just wanted to try something completely different.” She smiled really big and said “Fuck you,” with a Turkish accent.

No, she said my hair looked great. Which it did. I realized that making the move to Rob was a good idea. I would have never tried a new hair cut with Tikrit because of the language barrier. I just needed a basic, good-looking, effeminate homosexual hair stylist with whom I could use phrases like “whispies” and “wedgy-things” and "scrudge-scrudge" and “fabulous” and he'd know exactly what I was talking about.

When I came in to work today, I got three compliments right away.

Now, you just watch. Next time I need my hair cut, Rob will have abandoned me.

They always do.

I'm Being a Grinch

‘Tis the season for giving and I know lots of folks want to volunteer on Christmas day to help serve meals and such at homeless shelters, but let me give you the inside scoop here . . .

At this time of year, so many people want to do that, to help the homeless, take their kids, etc, thinking that they’re doing a good thing when in reality, they’re just overwhelming the volunteer coordinators at these agencies.

Believe me.

The agency I work for serves lots of homeless in Chicago, has shelters, food services, the whole gamut.

Our poor volunteer department is overwhelmed with well-intentioned people wanting to help on Christmas day. The folks wanting to help on Christmas day are really only wanting to make themselves feel good and toot their own horns which is pretty self-serving.

A word of advice: If you want to help during the Christmas season, leave the homeless shelters alone and let them do their work. I know that sounds crass, but it’s reality.

If you want to serve meals to the homeless, go in February when it’s a grillion degrees below zero and the shelters are full. That’s when they really need the help. Better yet, donate money! Anonymously.

Otherwise, stay home and watch the kids fight over the Nintendo Wii. That's what Christmas is all about.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Away in a Manger

I posted this last year, but Miss Healthypants said she liked it a lot, and I'll do anything when anyone compliments me, so here it is again. . . .

I was a bearded Joseph at my church's nativity play and my friend, Beth, got to be Mary. All we had to do was to walk out, stand there, and gaze at the baby Jesus which consisted of a doll in a cradle festooned with hay. Beth was to kneel beside the cradle and I was to stand beside her with my hand on her shoulder while the shepherds and wise men did their thing. That's it!

However, some pranksters (i.e. my younger brother and his friends) had crossed the eyes on the doll just before the play began.

Beth and I had to gaze at this psychotic-looking doll the entire time. Needless to say, we turned into a couple of out-of-control nine year olds by the time the narrator read, "and wrapped him in swaddling clothes."

That got me to thinking about the manger scenes that are displayed every year, especially the original one on December 25, 0000.

Everyone is always displayed gazing upon the baby Jesus with these looks of adoration, but I've often thought, "Just how long did they have to do this?"

Our nativity play took about 15 minutes, tops, yet it seemed like forever. So, how long did everyone really stand there gazing at the baby? An hour? Two? Until sunrise?

And who decided how long they had to do this? Did they get bathroom breaks? I can just imagine how it went:

Shepherd #1: (pokes Shepherd #2) Psssst! Say, how long are we supposed to stand here and look at this kid?

Shepherd #2: Beats me. Maybe that guy with the myrrh knows something.

Shepherd #1: What is myrrh, anyway?

Angels: (in three-part harmony) Aaaahhhhhh! Aaaaahhhhh!

Mary: If Joseph suggests this 'natural child-birth' thing next time, he's gonna end up with that staff around his neck. God! I wish I'd gone with the epidural. . . .

(Donkey pees all over the straw)

Shepherd #3: Hey. Did you guys remember to shut the gate on the flocks we were watching by night?"

Shepherd #1: I told Shepherd #2 to get it on the way out. We're good.

Angels: Aaaahhhhhh! Aaaaahhhhh!

Wise Man #2: The kid's still crying. I don't think he likes frankincense

Wise Man #3: He didn't seem to care for the myrrh either.

Wise Man #1: (looking up in the sky) Where'd that star go? Hey. You guy's know the way back?

Wise Man #2: Beats me. I'm terrible with directions.

Mary: (sigh) It's East, you fool!

Wise Man #1: Mee-oww! Chill out, lady.

Shepherd #1: Seriously guys. Just how long are we supposed to hang around? I'm hungry!

Angels: Aaaahhhhhh! Aaaaahhhhh! (cough! cough!) Did anyone bring any Sucrets?

Mary: God, get me outta here . . . Joseph! Did you remember to call the sitter?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

This is for Iwanski

Iwanski challenged me to translate "All my Ex's Live in Texas" into Russian.
So, here you go. Next time you and Miss Healthypants are over, I'll sing it for ya. I'm warning you, though. It might get really ugly. . .

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Perfect Boiled Eggs

I've finally figured out how to boil an egg.

The problem with boiled eggs is that after their boiled, they're impossible to peel. Also, I don't like chalky yolks, but ones that are pretty squishy in the middle. So, if that sounds good to you, here you go.

Boil water. Gently lower the eggs in the boiling water and keep boiling for SEVEN minutes. No more.
Place eggs in ice water until cool enough to handle. The shells slip right off in the most cooperative way and the yolks will be pretty squishy.


So, how do you guys like your eggs?


Lorraine over at Here’s The Thing is an incredible writer and I’m always finding myself envious of her abilities. In a recent post, she spoke about being addicted to emailing which, of course, I can highly relate.

I think emailing is wonderful and I wholly embrace it. It’s enabled me to remain in close touch with friends from college, relatives, and “occasional exes from Texas” who, otherwise, might have fallen by the wayside as relationships often do.

However, I still admire the act of actually writing a letter with an actual pen and paper, addressing an envelope and posting it off. There's still something awfully romanticized about it and a handwritten letter can often be more expressive than an email.

My grandmother and I wrote a great deal to each other until she passed away four years ago at the age of 92. Her letters were so funny and charming and I always got a thrill to see her handwriting in my mailbox. I’ve kept about 20 years of her letters; there are 865 of them in all. Such a treasure.

I obtained a pen pal back in 1980 and we’ve been writing faithfully ever since, gosh, 26 years now. We’ve never met, never spoken on the phone, have never emailed, but have kept a faithful pen & paper correspondence all this time.

For a while, I had a pen pal in Russia on whom I’d practice my Russian. He said my grammar wasn’t very good, but often complimented my Russian handwriting. (Example below).

I think it’s much better than Lee Harvey Oswald’s, don’t you?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Back In Chicago

After all the airport mayhem and managing the flight from Texas, it's really nice to be back in my little apartment in Chicago. Here is a morning view, 580 feet above the street, snowy, and at 21 degrees.

It's good to be home. . . .

Flying Back From Texas

I was scheduled for a direct flight from Austin, Texas to Chicago on American Airlines.
I'd done the flight to-and-from countless times.
I knew the gates at Austin International by the smell:
Gate 5 = Matt's El Rancho
Gate 8 = the Big Barbeque
Gate 13 = Schlotskey's

Wednesday, Oct 29, 3:30 pm -- my flight to Chicago was canceled. I'd been re-routed through a connecting flight through Dallas/FW which was leaving an hour earlier than I'd planned. I barely made the connecting flight.

Wednesday Oct 29, 4:30 pm. I arrived at DFW and took the new-cute-little-shuttle-tram-thingie across from the C Terminal to the A-Billionth Terminal for my connecting flight to Chicago.

Wednesday Oct 29, 4:35 pm. There were three flights leaving from A-Billionth terminal to Chicago which had all been delayed because the airplanes were ALL sitting on the ground at
1. Oklahoma City, Ok
2. Abilene, Tx (I didn't even know they HAD an airport)
3. Omaha NE (Thank you, JP. It's all your fault)

They were delayed because they were (a) sitting on the ground due to a new ice age pummeling the midwest or (2) tornadoes, hail and lightening pummeling the DFW area

I spend the next ELEVEN hours bothering the gate attendants, sweetly asking if the airplane from each of the cities had left the ground. It was imperative because a MAJOR ICE STORM was due to imbue the Dallas/Fort Worth area by 7:00 am.

Having lived in DFW from 1987 to 1997, I knew that a Major Ice Storm at 7:00 am would impale and immobilize the entire area for the next 48 hours if I didn't get outta the DFW area.

I sweetly bugged several attendants every half hour while reading a horrible novel for which I'd just paid ten bucks. It was titled The Miracle by Irving Wallace, about the "third coming" by the Virgin Mary at Lourdes which would take place in the future. It was entertaining for the trip but went down the trash chute when I got home. I'd read half of it.

The airplane from Abilene left at 12:30 pm. I got my name WHE as number 3 on the list
The airplane from Abilene landed at 12:50 pm. I got a secured seat.
2:30 am We loaded even thought they couldn't get a ground crew to take the baggage off our airplane from Abilene. (I thanked thanked the gate attendant for keep us informed. If I'd had her name, I'd liked to have written a letter of commendation on her behalf -- she was charming, informative, and extremely patient).
There was no ground crew to load/unload our airplane. Thunder, rain, lightning.
3:30 am. We still waited
3:50 am. We took off in wind, lightening and rain. Yay!
3:50 - to Chicago - - extremely turbulent all the way. Yay!
6:30 am - I slumped into my bed.
8:30 am - my nice boss said "don't even bother . . ."

Friday, December 01, 2006

"Dillo Trappin' in Texas

I just had to take this pic just before leaving my parent's house in south Texas. This, my friends, is an armadillo trap that my dad built.

My dad and his neighbors had, apparently, been inundated with an influx of nasty armadillos lately.

In case any of you aren't familiar with armadillo infestations, let me, a genuine South Texas ex-native big boy, educate you with the proclivities regarding the Texas armadillo:

1. Armadillos like to burrow into my dad's lawn.

2. Texan sons don't take kindly to seeing their dad's lawns burrowed into. Even if they're from Chicago.

3. Texan sons enjoy knowin' their dad's've takin' care of any-and-all armadillos.


There have been a huge infestation of armadillos in my dad's neck of the woods. They're nasty, big and no-good creatures. They dig up well-manicured lawns and belong way aways in the woods.

My daddy enjoys building things. He always has. I like that about him.

When I was eight years old and and my little brother was six, daddy built us this giant fourteen-foot play-tower. It was this monster wooden tower-thing that was embedded in cement, had a climbing ladder, a knotted rope and a galvanized/wooden slide that attracted kids from a fifteen-block area. That was almost forty years ago! You can't say I don't appreciate his creativity.

As teenagers, my friend, Tim ended up in the emergency room, twice, on account of us trying to turn the wooden slide into a roller coaster.

Hint: Do not saw skateboards in half and nail them to the bottom of a sawed-off dog house to make a roller-coaster car and roll it down a 14-ft galvanized-steel slide. The ending doesn't work. Especially with Tim in it. Repeated attempts are especially not advised.

So, he built an armadillo trap. The 'dillos enjoy cave-like holes that smell like armadillos, so he built a cave-like wooden hole with a wooden tickey-pole in the middle that would release wooden traps on both ends, tossed an armadillo in it for eight hours to poop and pee in it overnight to make the attract an armadillo and 'viola!

You wake up with an armadillo in the morning!

It works!

My dad has caught eleven armadillos which he's taken in his pick-up truck and released into the woods across in the the nearby Guadalupe river.

But sometimes, my dad gives them to the woman down the street who does my step-mother's hair. The woman likes to butcher armadillos. I can't say I've tasted her 'dillos, but my step-mother's been awfully pretty for thirty years!

Really. You don't get more Texan than that.