December 31, 2006


Of pending parenthood, vol. 1

Many of you know that my wife and I are expecting our first child, a son, in March. Of course we are very excited and of course like all newly expectant parents we have a great deal of trepidation about the whole affair - after all we waited through 13 years of marriage before hopping off the fence.

A few years before our child-rearing future became apparent - about the time we bought our first house, I began noticing myself becoming the curmudgeonly man who complains about “kids these days.” Various incidents cropped up that put me in the unenviable position of being the keep-the-hell-off-my-grass kinda old fart, the guy who gives the Archie Bunker wave and exclaims that yute is wasted on the wrong people. Every time I caught myself doing this it gave me pause, thinking, “Man, that guy’s a dick!” Honestly, there are some other aspects of my personality that could have and do still lend to that assessment at times, but with regards to the kids I’m still thinking that I’m not that old, for crying out loud. Of course phrases like “for crying out loud” don’t help that perception – some in my circle use that mostly as a parody of our parents, but at times it seems closer to self-parody.

I am noticing myself standing at a distance from youths of today, and I take that mostly as a reassuring sign of progressive adulthood. But when my thoughts cross over into ones like “just look at who is going to be running our country in 20 years” well then I feel like I’ve been suckered into some evil status quo of adult muckedy-muck that I would’ve chortled at mightily in my youth. I was a smart kid who enjoyed engaging with adults if they would suffer their ear to listen, and now I want to be that adult. What I realize now is that it will take some effort, as (and I know this sounds grousy) finding the smart kids seems to be getting harder. I realize I am about to have my hands as full as I can handle, which I say so that when my wife reads this she doesn’t freak out and think I’m going to run off being a full-time mentor. But I'm ready to be father and a father-figure.

The other side of the coin is that I wonder and stress over what kind of parents we are going to be. I’m fairly lazy by nature (which surely has me headed for a rude awakening, in fact several), but so many other parents infuriate me with how lackadaisically they seem to be raising their kids. In the immediate sphere we have our neighbors on either side.

The first is a couple with a boy toddler. The dad is a self-employed redneck dude in his early twenties who is hardly ever home. He has a history of drug abuse (according to his wife), works 16-18 hour days, and his friends are teenagers who hang out at his house at all hours. They love to make noise at their pool and squeal the tires, for which I try and cut them some slack, although I admit to calling the sheriff once when they decided to light fireworks off at 2:30 a.m. His wife has next to no idea how to discipline their little boy, and the kid seems destined to become a redneck hellion. One day Jennifer was out in our yard and the boy called to her from his second story bedroom window, leaning precariously against the screen and repeating, “Ha’yew sahne mah mawmmy?” He has mastered the art of doing exactly the opposite of what his mawmmy tells him, like "come over here," "stay away from that," and "do NOT throw that rock." Yep, it’s a mess. My nightmare scenario is that this kid will be like the unstable tormentor from “Toy Story” right about the time my son is hyper-impressionable with regards to the joys of destruction and disobedience. I should have a little more faith, eh?

On the other side is a single mom with a fifteen-year-old daughter. Now the mom is really nice but is a bit of a hoochie, with a revolving door of boyfriends and frequent weekends leaving daughter on her own. The poor kid could use a good, stable father figure but first on the list would be a more attentive mother. Mom recently bought the girl a car. Mostly she sits in it with her friends and thumps the subwoofers enough to vibrate their inner ears and cop a free buzz. And although she only has a very restrictive learner’s permit, Jen and I have both witnessed her taking it out on occasion past the state’s teen driver curfew (set for kids who actually have a license) and likely without any qualified accompaniment. I’m a bit of a night owl, and the other night before I hit the sack at about 1:45 a.m. I poked out the back door to unplug our Christmas lights. Over on the back porch next door was a group of about eight or nine kids, not making much noise but standing out there smoking. I know it’s school vacation, but I realize now that for those kids to be out there at that hour, our neighbor must be “the cool mom.” For her part the mom has said she’d rather have them there than out making trouble, which has wisdom as long as she keeps her eye out against that trouble showing up at her house. The point is that while I scammed my folk’s car when I was underage and I stayed at the house of my friend with the permissive parents as much as I could, I think me and my friends turned out just fine. We were perhaps reckless but we weren’t rank stupid (a bit lucky I’d have to admit). So I hope the girl turns out OK – she’s a good kid though I am suspicious of some of her friends. They better stay the hell off my lawn.

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December 28, 2006



Just in case there is somebody out there watching, reading, listening...

If you could take off today without consequence and do one of the following, which would it be?

View the body of former President Gerald Ford lying in state at the U.S. Capitol.

Go to the Apollo Theatre in Harlem to pay respects to the expired James Brown.


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December 25, 2006


The Afterlife Cafe makes it FUNKY

Godspeed, James Brown, aka The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz, aka The Godfather Of Soul, aka Soul Brother Number One, aka Mr. Dynamite...

My earliest memory of James Brown comes from my days in elementary school. By the early 1970s schools in Evanston, IL were pretty well integrated without much fuss (at least as far as I could see). In second grade, a black friend invited me and another white kid to his birthday party. We were the only honkies at this gig, and we were petrified little wallflowers, that is until our brothers of another color would have no more of it. We were cajoled out to the dance floor, and it's the first time I can remember just letting loose of inhibition and becoming euphoric in movement. Hell, I probably picked up a few moves that served me well in my later Deadhead years (not that rhythm mattered at those functions). The strains of JB's, "Awww, Hyit ME!!" would be parked down on the basement level of my soul for a long time.

In the years after that party I followed the typical flow of musical tastes among white suburban teenagers. It wasn't until well into adulthood that I rediscovered my tiny roots of funk and began cultivating an avid appreciation of James Brown. Sometime in the early 1990s I would gain copies of "20 All-Time Greatest Hits" and "Live At The Apollo" (1963 incarnation), and baby, it was a new breed of pure dynamite!

Oh, I almost forgot another one of JB's AKAs - Reverend Cleophus James

In a scene from one of my favorite films, The Blues Brothers, the Rev. James shouts out in his inimitable way (several times):


To which Jake Blues (John Belushi), at the apogee of a musical epiphany, shouts:


One paragraph in particular stood out in the Associated Press report of his death:
"He often talked of the 1964 concert in which organizers made the mistake of having the Rolling Stones, not him, close the bill. He would remember a terrified Mick Jagger waiting offstage, chain smoking, as Brown pulled off his matchless show."

The above scenario with Jagger can actually be seen in the the '60s concert film, "The TAMI & TNT Shows" (TAMI was Teen-Age Music International - a foundation devoted to providing music scholarships to teens).

In a special appreciation for the Los Angeles Times, Robert Hilburn, the Times' pop music critic for nearly 40 years, sums it up best:
"Long before he was showered with more celebrated (and fitting) titles... Brown was briefly thought of by some as the black Elvis, which was mostly silly - except in one profound way. If Presley was the artist most often cited by leading white musicians as an influence - and I found that to be true in the '60s and 70s, Brown was the name I most often heard when asking black musicians about who inspired them."
Read the rest of Hilburn's tribute.

I can't let an appreciation of JB slip by without a passing mention of the fact that the man had his demons:

Enough said? Well, perhaps I should also mention that, in my humble opinion, not everything musical that the man touched turned to gold. Indeed, he often skirted and dipped a toe across the line into some pretty cheezy shit (case in point - his performance of "Living in America" in Rocky II). But hey, he was sincere.

Go in PEACE, James baby - I hope in your show of tomorrow you stay on the good foot.

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December 18, 2006


Congratulations to all of You

One down, one to go. Ro-llin' Sto-owwwwn...

I always knew that this blogging thing would pay off. We, that is You, have been named Time magazine's Person Of The Year.

Actually, as I see it (which I suppose must be the way You see it as well) it seems the editors have again copped out with another of their nebulous selections à la "The Middle Americans" (1969), "The Computer" (1982), or "The Whistleblowers" (2002).

It could be worse. They could have chosen George W. Bush. For the third time. Or pulled a repeat of 1990 with "The Two George Bushes" (the nut may be close to the tree but is decidedly one dimensional in comparison).

But alas, I'll spare you further attempts at wit and simply refer you to Nora Ephron's column on today's HuffPo. There are some interesting takes in the comments posted to be sure.

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December 15, 2006


Happy Birthday, Bill of Rights!

image courtesy of the Bill of Rights Enforcement Site

"A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on Earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference."

– Thomas Jefferson, Letter to James Madison, Dec. 20, 1787

Today marks the 215th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Every person in America knows it is comprised of the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, some more than others. You furrners know, of course, that as the greatest country in the universe we're pretty proud of James Madison's humble little framework. Despite his advanced age, the Bill (or The Billster, as I like to call him) is still somewhat prominent today, though in a conceptual sense. As I understand, the original was destroyed after two copies were made - one by rolling a big wad of Silly Putty over the parchment, peeling it back and mounting it on the ceiling above Ruth Bader-Ginsburg's indoor pool. There it can only be read by keeping totally still and thinking pure thoughts. The other has the words - and man, there's a bunch of them - etched into granite and placed in Antonin Scalia's billiard room, where hyphenated bitch Justices with lead pipes are expressly forbidden from tinkering with it.

Anyway, Libertarian policy wonk Adam B. Summers writes in today's Orange County Register that the poor old BOR ain't what she used to be. He cites TJ himself in maintaining that among the 10 original amendments, Old No. 10 is the most important of them all, not to mention a damn good sour mash recipe.

Jefferson wrote in 1791:

"I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: 'That all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people'. To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible to any definition."

To which Summers adds this analysis:
"The Anti-Federalists (like Jefferson) were, sadly, prescient in their criticisms of government power under the Constitution and the tendency of men and women of ambition to find ways to expand that power at the expense of the governed. The founders must be spinning in their graves. Nearly everything the government does today is unconstitutional under the system they instituted. Governmental powers were expressly limited; individual liberties were not. Now it seems it is the other way around."

What's a poor civilian to do?

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December 13, 2006


Damn good actor


"Wait! Where are you going? I was going to make Espresso!"

I continue posting with an unfortunate nexus, that being the death of Peter Boyle, one of my favorite actors - the connection being that John Lennon was best man at Peter’s wedding. “We were both seekers after a truth, looking for a quick way to enlightenment,” Peter once said of Lennon.

Peter, 71, died Tuesday evening at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

His most famous film role is arguably that of the monster in Mel Brooks’ 1974 Young Frankenstein, with it’s classic scene of Peter and Gene Wilder decked out in tails, tapping (and bellowing) out their wacky version of Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ On The Ritz.

The story of how he met his wife Loraine Alterman is somewhat famous. As a reporter for Rolling Stone, she was visiting on the set of Young Frankenstein and Boyle, still in monster makeup, asked her for a date.

His last role, that of the churlish and vinegary Frank Barone in the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, a role he played for 10 years, is also widely known.

“He's just obnoxious in a nice way, just for laughs,” Peter once said of Frank, through whom he inserted the signature phrase “Holy Crap!” at the most comically opportune times.

When Peter tried out for the role, however, he was kept waiting for his audition - and he was not happy. “He came in all hot and angry,” recalled the show's creator, Phil Rosenthal, “and I hired him because I was afraid of him. But I knew right away that he had a comic presence.”

Co-star Doris Roberts, who played his wife Marie on Raymond said Peter was not at all like the character he played on television. “He was a brilliant actor, a gentleman, incredibly intelligent, wonderfully well read and a loving friend.”

The son of a local TV personality in Philadelphia, Peter was educated in Roman Catholic schools and spent three years in a monastery before abandoning his religious studies. He later described the experience as similar to living in the Middle Ages. He left to become an actor when he “felt the normal pull of the world and the flesh.”

He traveled to New York to study with famed actress/teacher Uta Hagen, supporting himself for five years with various jobs, including postal worker, waiter, maitre d' and office temp. Finally, he was cast in a road company version of The Odd Couple. When the play reached Chicago he quit to study with that city's famed improvisational troupe Second City. Upon returning to New York, he began to land roles in TV commercials, off-Broadway plays and finally films.

His early roles had him typecast in tough, irascible roles, but he began to escape that image as Robert Redford's campaign manager in The Candidate and left it behind entirely after Young Frankenstein. He won an Emmy in 1996 for his guest-starring role as a morose clairvoyant in an episode of The X Files, in which he uttered the hilarious line, “Sometimes it seems like everyone is having sex but me.” He also received Emmy nominations Everybody Loves Raymond and for the 1977 TV film Tail Gunner Joe, in which he played Sen. Joseph McCarthy. In Martin Scorcese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver he played philosopher cabbie Wizard, who counseled Robert DeNiro’s violent Travis Bickle with the sage advice, “You get a job. You become the job.” He did dozens of other films, including the two classic comedies Johnny Dangerously and Yellowbeard.

In 1990 Peter had a stroke and couldn't talk for six months. In 1999, he had a heart attack on the Raymond set. He soon regained his health, however, and returned to the series.

Despite his work in Everybody Loves Raymond and other Hollywood productions, Peter made New York City his home. He and his wife had two daughters, Lucy and Amy.

Thanks to the Associated Press and Internet Movie Database for contributing nearly all of this post. I love you guys.

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December 08, 2006


Playin' those mind games

While I'm on he subject of anniversaries, today marks an inauspicious one, that of the murder of John Lennon. In today's HuffPo RJ Eskow reminded me of just why I miss my favorite ex-Beatle so much. Eskow, having lived in New York and having actually seen the Beatles, gives a full 26 reasons why he does - one for each year since Lennon was gunned down in yet another senseless assassination in modern America. Here are some I can relate to:

That screaming wail that opens "Mr. Moonlight"

The way his primal album anticipated punk music

Not being afraid to appear ridiculous in pursuit of a good cause

Always being willing to care too much, rather than too little

Embodying the very opposite of "ironic detachment," which has been the definition of what it means to be "hip" for far too long

Being publicly insecure ("I'm a good guitar player," he said in an interview. "I know I'm not technically that great, but Clapton says I'm good")

Writing simple sounding but deceptively complicated melodies

The fact that "Sexy Sadie" was originally called "Maharishi" (explains a lot, doesn't it?)

Using Asian scales in songs like "Oh My Love"

Writing a song about karma - and then having Phil Spector produce it

Having the greatest voice in rock and roll

That 3/4-size Rickenbacker (if anybody wants to buy me one, I'll send you my address)

That single-cutaway Les Paul Junior (see #18, above)

His dedication to honesty

Being prepared to go to Memphis and march with the laundry and restaurant workers who were out on strike (as he was reportedly about to do at the time of his death)

The last line in "Working Class Hero," which was something of a "Twilight Zone" ending: "If you want to be a hero, then just follow me" ...

Embracing each new passion without hesitation, even if it contradicted the one that preceded it. "The way to know God," said Van Gogh, "is to love many things." (sorry, John!)

Eskow caps off his post with a great anecdote about seeing Lennon at Max's Kansas City.

Thanks RJ, even though it wasn't enough for me.

(check out RJ Eskow's blog A Night Light)

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December 06, 2006


All the years combine...

Lately it occurs to me (ironically as I watch an episode of "The Drug Years" on VH1) that 25 years ago this evening I attended my first Grateful Dead show. What a long, strange trip indeed.

The Dead in their early 1980s incarnation (wake up Phil!)

All the years combine - they melt into a dream
A broken angel sings from a guitar
In the end there's just a song - comes cryin' up the night
Through all the broken dreams and vanished years
Stella Blue
Stella Blue

When all the cards are down, there's nothing left to see
There's just the pavement left and broken dreams
In the end there's still that song - comes cryin' like the wind
Down every lonely street that's ever been
Stella Blue
Stella Blue

I've stayed in every blue-light cheap hotel
Can't win for trying
Dust off those rusty strings just one more time
Gonna make them shine

It all rolls into one and nothing comes for free
There's nothing you can hold for very long
And when you hear that song come crying like the wind
It seems like all this life was just a dream
Stella Blue
Stella Blue

(Who says rock n' roll ain't poetry?)

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December 03, 2006


Double-digit doggie


The Baby Cheeks is 10 years old! Happy birthday, Ballou!


December 02, 2006


Oh my God, oh your god

Dennis Prager, columnist and charter member of the Chuck Colson fan club, is upset that Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible but rather on the Quran. There are many comments taking issue with his article, but the bulk are sailing right (in circles, I'd suppose) along with Cap’n Paranoid on the S.S. Theresanotherone. Scroll the comments - some are pretty damn scary.

Prager wrote:

"Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its
values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are
incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress."

Of all the arrogant bigotry, and yet I am not surprised that the right's knees jerk so.

So as one commentor astutely pointed out, hey, we have a Constitution, let's check that! Prager obviously has not done this. Article VI clearly states:

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several
state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United
States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support
this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to
any office or public trust under the United States.”

Prager’s short-circuited logic continues with typical mighty righty whining about multiculturalism and political correctness topped by a heinous analogy of this situation with that of a racist elected to Congress choosing to be sworn in with a copy of “Mein Kampf.”

What absolute twaddle.


December 01, 2006


It's a write-off fer sure

For shits and grins I sat down this evening and cranked out the 1,000 or so words I needed to break 10,000 for NaNoWriMo. As if getting one-fifth of the goal is some kind of benchmark - it actually made me feel worse, for a while. There are several excuses that litter my path to Weenieville (hat tip to Nobody Much for hiding the key to the city under the doormat), but I won't bore you with the details because who in their right mind wants to hear detailed excuses? Instead I'll give you these boring details of my NaNo failure (insert The Simpson's Nelson laughing HAHA):

45 pages
215 paragraphs
1,233 lines
56,324 characters (inc. spaces)

(cue music - what the fuck ever)
10,069 words

The sunny side is that at least I got on my butt and produced a good start to something I WILL finish. Someday. I will, you know, even if just to spite YOU! Nyah!


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