Thursday, September 17, 2009

Susan Boyle in Coming to America

I'm sure most of you have seen this, but I don't watch any of the reality programs, including and especially the "Star Search" variety like Idol or America's Got Talent. But it was on the latter program that Susan Boyle, she of the "I Dreamed a Dream" who captivated us earlier this year, made her American debut. And as cheesy as it sounds, I love a good underdog story. I admire this woman's courage and dedication, and obviously it has paid off for her. So here she is, doing a remarkable cover of The Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses".

Saturday, September 12, 2009

You Must Watch this Video

I apologize for the two-week absence: I've been sick as hell, really. I only started feeling better in the last couple of days.

Which is oddly appropriate for an introduction for this video, which appeared in my GMail inbox today. It is a song about why we don't need no helth cur here in Amurca. It's called "We're #37" because that's where America ranks among all the nations of the world in quality of health care.

But it's funny, and it rocks (sort of), so give it a watch.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Coolest Dog In The World: Deconstructing the Boston Debacle (Part Four: In Which We Meet Rocket)

I'm a dog person. Have been all my life. My first dog that was MINE, I got when I was about 10 years old, from my uncle. He had puppies all over the place, and I found one I had to have. He said, "If you can catch him, he's yours." That's all it took. Finally, I cornered the scared little guy underneath my uncle's heating oil drum. I don't know which one of us had more oil on us, me or the dog, but I got him. And I held him all the way home.

I named him Waldorf, after a dog in a book that was a favorite of mine at the time. He was a great dog. A year or so later, standing in line at the movies, we noticed a Cairn Terrier wandering around the theater line (a Cairn Terrier looks like Toto). I chased that guy down too. Pat (as he came to be known) had had a bad life. He had a rope collar that he had outgrown, and his skin and fur was starting to grow around the collar.

My mother put an ad in the paper, as was the custom at the time, and prayed that whatever sick son of a whore put the dog in that position didn't claim him (which he didn't). I don't know how much the vet charged to remove the old collar from Pat's neck, but he was very resistant to collars from then on. I don't think he ever wore one.

Pat and Waldorf became good friends, there was no argument about pecking order between them. They would cruise the neighborhood together, and come home when they were hungry or tired. Later, we found out that they had about 6 other places where they were taken in by families who had made names for each of them, they just made the rounds, getting fed at least 4 times a day, and treated like royalty. But they always came home.

But as I and my siblings aged, so did Pat and Waldorf. And I don't know if it was just the slowing down that accompanies age, or if he got caught up in too much traffic, but one day Waldorf got run over on the highway. After a day or so of looking for him, I drove out to the pound, where I claimed his body and took him home for a burial. Pat stood by the grave, as if he were mourning.

Pat wasn't the same after that. The spark he had, the twinkle in his eye, the bounce in his step, they were all missing. And about 2 weeks after I buried Waldorf, Pat was run over on the same highway, almost in the same spot. Now you can tell me that dogs don't have emotions, or can't plan things, but you won't convince me that that dog didn't commit suicide. He had lost his best friend. He had lived a good life, but now saw no future. So he did what he thought Waldorf would have done in the same position.

I buried Pat right next to his friend.

Now, if you think I'm just telling you this because I wanted to tell you about the love that dogs can feel for each other, you're half right. But there is something else I wanted to share.

See, I thought my two dogs were the coolest dogs ever. And they certainly knew the value of a friendship.

But while I was in Boston, I met a dog who strangely reminded me of Pat. His name is Rocket, and his people are Bart and Michelle Welden. When I say this dog is cool, it's giving "cool" a good name.

Michelle drives a convertible. And when Rocket goes for a ride, he wears special doggie goggles, so bugs don't get in his eyes. And his long, floppy ears glide out like wings. Apparently, it's a sight that garners a lot of attention from fellow motorists, who break out the camera phones every time he sticks his head above the windshield.

And after hearing the stories, I had to agree that Rocket is indeed, the coolest dog in the world. At least now. My two would have given him a run for the money, but Rocket has no equal right now. You can have your Portuguese Water Dogs. Give me an old hound like Rocket, and I'll be alright.

This one's for you, Michelle and Bart. And for you, Rocket. You're a beautiful family, and I am richer for having known you.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The rest of the infamous Barney Frank town hall meeting

You've heard of or seen by now the clip from a Town Hall meeting in Rep. Barney Frank's Massachusetts district about health care reform. And no doubt, you've seen him cut that idiot lady teabagger (isn't that a physical impossibility: lady teabagger? Lady teabaggee, I can see, but...) off at the knees. But here is more of that same meeting where he handles ignorant constituents of both genders with equal aplomb. I have a man-crush on Barney Frank.

I Have Been Off Sick

I just noticed that the last time I posted was a week ago Friday. I apologize. This is suicide in the blog world, I know. But this being a one-man operation, I have nobody to step in when I am unable to fulfill my duties.

I have been sick-I MEAN SICK- for the past week. Right now, I feel like my head is about to explode. So I'm gonna cut this post short.

I do have one question though: If anyone knows where to get some good narcotics, please contact me through my email address, or post a comment below.

Thanks,

Dale

Friday, August 21, 2009

I'm In Rapture: Deconstructing the Boston Debacle (Part Three:Pat Benatar! Blondie! The Donnas?!)

I'm sort of running this story in rewind: I began with the Trip Home; jumped back to Saturday afternoon at Salem, then Sunday afternoon alone with Emily Dickinson (BTW, I left the book for Dawn -- Miss Emily deserves to stay In Massachusetts, she would be so lost in the Midwest.) Now I'm fast-forwarding to Saturday night (August 8) and the first of two concerts we were to attend.

Originally, we thought it was going to be one show, Blondie and The Pretenders. However, Dawn, pressed as she was for time, what with working a high-stress job and raising two lovely teenage girls, mistook the billing. Saturday, 8/08, was Pat Benatar, Blondie, and The Donnas, a fairly good act but not worth rushing to the venue to be there in time to see their set. The Pretenders were scheduled to appear on Wednesday, 8/12, with Cat Power opening, definitely an occasion to skip the warm-up act. (I remember once, I went to see Van Halen (with Dave, the 1984 Tour) at Hara Arena, Dayton, Ohio. "Autograph" opened for them. In case you've forgotten, and if you have, please tell me how, Autograph had ONE song on the charts: "Turn Up The Radio". Besides that, they could have been a local garage band. They SUCKED is what I'm sayin'.)

Anyway, sweetheart that Dawn is, she bought tickets for both shows. "I promised you Blondie and The Pretenders, and I'm giving you Blondie and The Pretenders" is not exactly what she said, but it sounds good.

Now, as fate would have it, we could not see The Pretenders' show, as I have explained before. But we made the best of the Blondie/Benatar show.

Twenty-five years does a lot to change people (I hadn't seen either Daw nor Bart since college), but Dawn can always be counted on to Bring the Fun. She even lectured me on the way to the show: "Dale, you need to be more of a participant in your life. Stop standing on the sidelines." Evidently, she had forgotten my modus operandi at school. I didn't bring the fun, I let the fun come to me.

"I'm more of an observer," I told her, adding "I like to watch," one of my favorite movie quotes. (Easter Egg: Here's your trivia challenge. Name the movie which I quoted, the actor who said the line, that actor's character's name, AND the actress to whom he spoke the line. First answer with correct answers for all parts of the question gets a mix cd.)

So, after about 4 Heinekens for me, 4 Bud Lights for her (and some herbal therapy), we met up with Bart and his beautiful wife Michelle.

But I digress (wow, you NEVER digress, Dale). We walk over to the Bank Of America Pavilion, which looks to me like an open-air Sydney Opera House set up at Timberwolf in King's Island. A beautifully engineered shell covered the seats, which were placed on a slope, so that each row of seats was slightly higher than the one before it. It was a beautiful venue for a concert.

The ladies excused themselves to use the pissoir, while Bart and I wandered over to the beer tent. I don't want to complain about the prices, bu I couldn't afford to live in Boston. Twenty bucks got me a Sam Adams Summer Ale and a Miller Lite for Dawn, both from the tap. I told the barkeep to keep the change, cause what was I gonna do with a buck, but I know it didn't impress my server. (Two things I learned in Boston: they don't get discounts on Samuel Adams, and they don't have to sign loyalty oaths to the Patriots, which made Bart happy since he's been a Steeler fan since before Terry Bradshaw played.)

I want to stop here and say something to those of you (Alison and Matthew) who object to my Hawaiian shirts. First of all, they're slimming. But that's beside the point. For the concert I was wearing one of my loudest Hawaiian shirts, and therefore became a beacon to the others in my group. They didn't have to wander around for fifteen minutes looking for Bart and me because my shirt was so highly visible. So Na-Na-Na-Na-Nah-Na.

As I said before, Dawn brings the Fun. And she attracts others who also bring the Fun. That's how we got to meet Joseph Pimentel. Keep in mind that I'm a lousy judge of character, and my first impressions are usually dead wrong. Such was the case with Joe Pimentel and his sidekick David Dutra. I thought at first they were a couple of goombahs, a couple of mooks. And once again, I was wrong.

Joe and Dave were consummate gentlemen. They danced with Dawn, and did nothing untowards (I think Dave got an ass-grab in at some point, but Dawn didn't seem to notice, or if she noticed, she didn't mind.) But there was the Fun, right with Dawn, Joe, and Dave.

Me, in my role as observer, kept my distance in case something went awry. I may not be tough, and I probably would have gotten my ass kicked, but I was there to help keep my friend's dignity intact.

In fact, after she wore herself out dancing, she came back to our seats, followed by some weird fuck who thought he could get a dance too, or maybe more. I moved between him and Dawn, and he got the message.

By this time Pat Benatar was on stage, the last act of the night. About 25 minutes into Benatar's set, Dawn, more than a little buzzed, asked if we could go. Sure, we'll go. She apologized, but I told her, I came to see you and Bart, Pat Benatar was just gravy. We said our goodbyes to Bart and Michelle, and started walking to the lot where she had parked.

Let's jump in the wayback machine now, because I've given no indication about how the music was.

Blondie was perfect. Although I didn't hear "Rip Her To Shreds", the band played an excellent set. And for the encore (and I cannot remember the song they did, but it was one of Blondie's best), the band segued into "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough". That was it for me. We had left our seats and were standing in the walkway. I had consumed just enough Sam Adams to loosen up and "be a participant". I tried to stop them, but my feet started moving. I mean, it's Michael for Chrissake! How can you not dance? I pulled every MJ move I knew. Michelle asked me if I could moonwalk, but fortunately I was unable to oblige, having never learned that step.

And guess what-Matt and Ali? My friends liked it. So HA!

Two days later, when Bart picked me up at Dawn's to spend the night at his house, I felt the need to apologize. "If I'd known I was gonna see you again, I'd have behaved myself better the other night," I told Michelle. (More on Bart and Michelle in a later post.)

So Blondie rocked the house. And for the record, I'd still do that cute little chick. She is STILL smokin'.

Pat Benatar followed soon after. It was actually a surprise because I expected a longer intermission. Pat Benatar is still lookin' hot, too. There's just one thing that bothered me. I do enjoy a concert where the front man/woman likes to tell a story to introduce the next song. But there were several factors inhibiting Pat's introductions. 1) Her band was the last act. The crowd had gotten used to a presentation with no segues. Finish one song, start another. 2) Pat's speaking voice is very mousy, not the striking, defiant voice of, say, "Love is a Battlefield". So even if you wanted to ther the intros, you couldn't, and everyone around you was talking-no respect. And 3) It's Boston. She's doing her intro while a bricklayer in a Tedy Bruschi jersey yells "Who gives a fuck? Play the Goddamn song!"

So the band: terrific. Right on time. The songs: just as we remembered them. The intros: save it for VH1's Storytellers. Only once, when Neil Giraldo, Benatar's lead guitarist and, as I just discovered, her husband, and de facto leader of the band, introduced a tune did people listen. They had no choice. Giraldo's voice boomed out of the speakers. And he has that old, grizzled, tattooed, been-a-rocker-all-my-life so don't fuck with me vibe that you just knew if anyone yelled "who gives a fuck" while he was speaking, he'd jump off the stage, go out into the audience and commence to kickin' some ass!

They rocked.

Alright, fast-forward to Dawn and me leaving the show. It's obvious that she's not gonna drive. I've got my wits about me, but it's a city I have zero experience with. Dawn can direct me, but what if she passes out? I'm screwed.

Fortunately, she stayed awake for the entire 45 minute drive (give or take: I was too nervous to look at anything but the road. Apparently there's an art to driving in Boston. It's a little like bumper cars, a lot like "get out of the way, asshole". I was the asshole. At one point Dawn turned to me and said "You're not a very good driver." Well, let's consider. I don't know where I'm going. You're too drunk to drive. I'm keeping it together but if I get stopped, I'm gonna test over .10 BAC. Can you put MORE pressure on me? In her defense, when I told her about it the next morning, she was profusely apologetic. Just chalk it up to the beer.

All in all, I had a great time at the show. And Joseph Pimentel? Both Dawn and I friended him on Facebook. You should too-just tell him I sent ya. This guy's picture gallery includes so many concerts and ballgames you wonder when he gets the time, let alone the money, to do all this stuff. This guy is not standing on the sidelines-he's in the game.

God bless you, Joe.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Come Join My Start Up Page

I'm trying to get more attention for this blog. To facilitate this goal, I have posted a profile of myself on Startup.biz to gain a bigger readership. Feel free to visit this website, and perhaps join me in it. Yours,

Dale


Visit StartUp

Said I'm goin' down to Yasgur's Farm, gonna join in a rock & roll band...

Here ya go, kids, yet another clip from Woodstock: 9 minutes, 28 seconds of footage, beginning with the farm as it was before the concert, and ending with the "half a million strong" audience Joni Mitchell would later write about.

We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon, and we've got to get ourselves back to the Garden. Amen.

We're Rockin' Out This Weekend!!

Once again, another band which performed at Woodstock: Ten Years After. Alvin Lee was an absolute genius.

Please note: All the clips featured here (Hendrix, The Who, Ten Years After) are courtesy of Crooks & Liars, one of my favorite blogs.

So now: "I'd Love to Change the World" by Ten Years After

I am so OLD!

My birthday is coming up. Not that I'll be doing a lot of celebrating--at my age, birthdays are not so much celebrated as mourned. I'll be 47 years old on August 25, and I have decided that instead of asking for gifts, I'm asking for donations to charity for me. The charity I've chosen is The Hunger Site. If you'd like to donate, you can visit my Facebook link to The Hunger Site here.

Even if you don't want to donate, please visit The Hunger Site. A simple click of the mouse gets the sponsors of the site to donate food to hungry people around the world. Also, the site cooperates with other charities. There are, on the web page, separate tabs to raise money for Breast Cancer, Child Health, Literacy, Rainforest protection, and Animal Rescue charities. Click on the link above, visit the Site, please bookmark it, and don't forget to go back daily and make the clicks to help people less fortunate than us.

Thank you.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Who at Woodstock

The second most awesome thing to happen at Woodstock, after Hendrix' National Anthem, was Pete Townshend wrecking his guitar and throwing it into the crowd. So here ya go:

"Keep Your Goddamn Government Hands off My Medicare!"

Arthur Laffer, he of the "Laffer Curve", the architect of Supply Side (or "Trickle-Down") Economics, Reagan's favorite economist, and famously mentioned by Ben Stein's character in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (is there anything in life Ferris Bueller doesn't make more relevant?), had this to say about health care reform recently:

"If you like the post office and the Department of Motor Vehicles and you think they're run well, just wait till you see Medicare, Medicaid and health care done by the government."

Right, Art. Here in Indiana, the wait at the BMV for anything is less than the wait for a Big Mac and fries at McDonald's. And as for the United States Postal Service, where else are you going to find a company that will, for less than 50 cents, pick up and deliver a letter to anyplace in the United States? Not FedEx, not UPS. Nobody. Sure, e-mail is free, and if you use the library or Starbucks, or anyplace that has wi-fi free, you don't even have to pay an ISP. But a letter is sometimes preferable to an e-mail, is it not? You wouldn't write a "Dear John" e-mail. My mother can't send the endless newspaper clippings she sends me through gmail.

So, Art Laffer wants to compare the possible government managed health care plan to the two most efficient services of government extant. And the two bureaucracies with which each of us has intimate knowledge. Great comparison. I'm sold on government-run health care just from Arthur Laffer's denunciation. And I'm not even considering that it was Laffer who helped create the worst economic policy since the Hoover Administration.

It's time for the Republicans to get a new metaphor. The United States Postal Service and the various states' Bureaus of Motor Vehicles are entirely too efficient for the rhetorical effect the Right wants. I hate to help them out, but my recent experience gave me a great idea.

The Republicans need to start using Amtrak for a metaphor. If they want to compare government managed health care to the most inefficient of the federal government's programs, Amtrak is their golden opportunity. You already know of my experiences with rail travel. Amtrak is the perfect metaphor for the Right.

But they can use whatever metaphor they want; they still cannot convince the majority of Americans that government run health care is a bad idea. That's because we already have it in the guise of Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, the older people attending town hall meetings on the topic lately are using this as a talking point: "I don't want the government to take over health care because I don't want them screwing up my Medicare." While this may not be a direct quote, people are actually expressing this concern at town hall meetings. It's insane.

So Medicare obviously works, because the people who benefit from it don't want the government mucking it up. Therefore, the government can operate an efficient, well-run health care plan. And let's not forget who insures all our elected representatives, our congressmen, our senators, even our president: that's right, the United States Government.

So what's the problem?

[Note: The title for this post was suggested by, and in fact directly lifted from, an article in The Huffington Post by Bob Cesca. I'm hoping that the fair use doctrine extends to this.]
This weekend is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. 40th!!! Are we really getting that old? Anyway, here's my favorite rendition of the National Anthem of all time, performed by Jimi Hendrix on the Sunday morning of the Arts & Music Fair on Max Yasgur's farm to an audience "half a million strong" (Joni Mitchell).

There will never be anything like it. Ever.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Music Trivia Correction

In the post from July 22 of this year, I released the answers to the Ultimate Music Trivia Challenge (well, let's say the Penultimate Music Trivia Challenge, since in all likelihood I'll be issuing another soon). In that post, I answered the question "Which is the greater distance: the Highway to Hell or the Stairway to Heaven?".

I'd like to correct that answer. It didn't occur to me until recently, but the Stairway to Heaven must necessarily be longer than the Highway to Hell, since Steve Miller tells us clearly that "You know you've gotta go through Hell before you get to Heaven". So logically, Heaven is a longer journey.

I apologize if I caused any confusion by this; and I thank you for allowing me to set the record straight.

Deconstructing the Boston Debacle Part 2: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

Last Saturday, Dawn, my hostess in Boston, took me over to our friend Bart's house. (I knew both Dawn and Bart in college, and surprisingly enough, remember them.) Bart lives in Beverly, MA, in a part of town known as Beverly Hills. After an impromptu concert of Weezer covers, I turn my attention to Bart and Dawn again, who appear rather perturbed by my lack of maturity.

Beverly, it turns out, is right next to Salem, Massachusetts, home of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. In 1692, two young girls in the Salem colony began acting in a bizarre manner, causing some in Salem to believe that they had been victims of witchcraft. The actions of the children mirror an event that had transpired four years earlier by the children of Salem's Goodwin family. On that occasion, the Goodwins' servant had been accused of witchcraft and hanged. In short order, more children begin exhibiting signs of possession or affliction, and several people in Salem, most notably a black servant named Tituba, are identified as witches. Before the episode is over, 19 people will be hanged and one crushed to death under stones.

Ironically, many scientists in the 20th century will identify ergot as the culprit in the Salem "possessions". Ergot is a mold that grows on the rye grain. Rye bread baked with grain that has been exposed to ergot will carry the mold as well. The physiological effects of ergot on humans include hallucinations, seizures, and what is best described as "irrational behavior". Ergot also happens to be the substance Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann used when, in 1938, he first synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. Ironic just doesn't seem to accurately describe this confluence of coincidence for me.

Let's just stop here and let all this sink in: I went to college at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio. While there, I met and became friends with Dawn and Bart. While there, I also learned to enjoy the physiological effects of LSD, a hallucinogen discovered by Albert Hofmann, who used ergot, a rye grain mold. Now, I'm visiting my friends Dawn and Bart in Boston, where they have lived for over two decades, and we're walking around a small colonial village made famous by people who, over 300 years ago, ingested ergot, causing a witch scare which ended in the deaths of 20 innocent people. This is more fun than Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

With Bart as our guide, we tour Salem. The Village of Salem, it turns out, is not altogether shy about its history. In fact, the whole witchcraft thing has been merchandised and commercialized here, with gift shops and trinkets and tour guides in costume and some very very bizarre people. The place is a magnet for weird. I feel right at home here. It is also Goth Paradise. I see more emo freaks in one place here than I have ever seen. Guys with snakes around their necks, guys made up like demons, girls dressed like witches; then there are the new age stores, the dozens of fortune tellers, tarot readers, crystal ball gazers, etc. I'm really regretting my decision not to pack a little ergot inspiration at this point.

After a light lunch and iced teas at an amusingly-named "In a Pig's Eye Restaurant", we conclude our tour of Colonial Salem and take Bart back to his house. We are to meet Bart and his lovely wife later Saturday evening at the Blondie/Pat Benatar concert (I'll be addressing this event at a later date).

On Sunday, I will begin (and finish) a book of poetry I brought along for the trip, a volume of Emily Dickinson, she of the "Because I could not stop for Death/He kindly stopped for me". Dickinson lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, about 90 miles west of Boston. According to biographies, she may have been in love as a young lady, with a lawyer in her father's firm, Benjamin Franklin Newton. Newton died a couple years after Dickinson met him, having succumbed to tuberculosis. It is possible that Emily loved other men as well, but never consummated her relationships. Soon after the death of Newton, she and her sister devoted themselves to caring for their ailing mother. Dickinson would rarely leave her house (called The Homestead) afterward, eventually becoming a recluse, communicating only by mail.

Pardon the digression. Dickinson obviously had a profound effect on me. Though a prolific poet who wrote about many parts of life such as love, nature, etc., Dickinson's poems on death are perhaps the most affecting.

So, after visiting Salem, with witchcraft and devilry on my mind, and reading an entire volume of Emily Dickinson's poems, I was sinking into a profound metaphysical funk. I became scared of the dark. I slept very little, while disturbing scenes from The Sixth Sense kept leaping out at me from my Lizard Brain. I began wishing I had brought something by Shel Silverstein to read, or even Hunter Thompson.

If only I'd taken Bart up on his offer to go to his sailboat, hang out and drink beer, it might have turned out differently. Or even visited South Boston to tour the sites in Boondock Saints. Maybe everything would have been different. Hmmmm................... In a Pig's Eye!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Home At Last: Deconstructing the Boston Debacle (Part One: My Escape)

If you're thinking travel by rail is the one part of the Great American Experience you're missing out on, allow me to disabuse you of that notion, quaint though it seems. It sounds romantic, I'll give you that, but the realities of train travel are as far from romantic as you can get.

Circumstances beyond my control have forced me to beat a hasty retreat from Boston. (By the way, if anyone asks, I was with you.) On Sunday evening, I call the Amtrak booking center, at 1-800-USA-RAIL (mention my name......I dare ya) and the guy tells me that no, he doesn't have a seat available on Monday's train to Chicago, but he can lock one in for Tuesday. Tuesday morning, when I arrive at South Station in Boston, I discover at the Amtrak ticket window that "locked in" means standby, in case they get a cancellation. So I wait for 15 minutes at the window while the ticket agent, a young, gorgeous woman whose parents apparently came here after escaping Viet Nam, continuously refreshes her computer screen, until she can get me a seat.

New ticket in hand, I walk back to my table in the lobby to discover two women sitting down to breakfast and two security guys standing by my duffles. They introduce themselves and explain that I can't leave my bags unattended, for Homeland Security reasons. Apparently they're very sensitive about this kind of thing in Post-9/11 Boston. This is something I know, but stupidly did not consider. (In my defense, there is no security other than personnel at Amtrak stations. None. Zero. Nada. Bupkus. I could have been wearing a Jockstrap Bomb, for all they knew, and as long as I didn't leave it unattended, I could have boarded the train. Talk about a Crotch Rocket.) Anyway, I expected them to take me to a small room and beat me profusely about the head and shoulders, but they just give me a stern talking to, like Dad used to (tell me again how being a white man in America doesn't have its advantages), then let me go on with my day. I resist the impulse to ask if I can borrow the car tonight, which probably would have landed me in the aforementioned small room.

Finally, I get to board the train which will take me home. My first indication that Things Are Not As They Seem comes when I notice the first line in the Safety Instructions pamphlet: "Never exit a moving train." Good advice, but it makes me think that perhaps I'm not dealing with The Best and The Brightest passenger-wise and perhaps crew-wise. My fears about the crew are to be assuaged later, when I note that our conductor is John Goodman and the guy in the galley is Vladimir Putin. I feel kind of sorry for Goodman, thinking times must have gotten rough since "O Brother, Where Art Thou". We need to start a writing campaign to get the Coen Brothers to do something new, at least to help poor John Goodman get out of working for Amtrak. (He does seem appreciative when I tell him I admired his work in "The Big Lebowski".) Hand to God, the cat looked like John Goodman. And the galley guy did look like Putin. I'm regretting not getting pictures.

I board the train early enough to gain a window seat, but as the train is very heavily booked, I get a neighbor, a young man on his way home to Cleveland (Avon Lake?) after leaving the Coast Guard Academy. He tells me later that he chose his seat because he knew he'd have to sit beside someone, so he looked for the most normal-looking person on the train. That should tell you about the other passengers: If I look normal in comparison, we're swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool.

Finally, we're on our way. The trip progresses in fits and starts, stopping at small stations to pick up/drop off various passengers. At one point in Western Massachusetts we slow down to a speed at which I could, in fact, exit a moving train, and get back on if I so wanted. As it turns out, the tracks are owned by a freight line, Amtrak just leasing the rights to use them, so freight trains have the right of way. When we get behind a freight train, we slow down to whatever ridiculous speed the train crew decides to travel. Apparently, they only speed up through cities, where the potential to add kills to their record is greater. The irony that freight freight takes precedence over human freight seems to be lost on these people.

Thus we slog onwards, slowing down for freight trains, speeding up when they aren't ahead of us. At times we stop until given a go-ahead from dispatch; more than once, we are traveling in reverse. All the while, we're sitting in seats that seem bought from the gulags of the old Soviet Union, maybe sold by Russia to help its economy. Maybe that's how they got Putin, too.

When we get to the station in Albany, NY, where we have a short layover so the train can pick up more cars and passengers, local police meet the train at the station. We must remain on the train until the police search the train in vain for a fugitive. At the next stop a middle-aged couple who are not passengers get on board the train to help elderly parents of one of them get situated. They don't get off the train fast enough, though, so they are stuck on the train until the next stop, Syracuse, easily an hour and a half away. These poor folks were screwed. If they bought a ticket for the next train back, they would have waited until well past noon Wednesday for the train from Chicago to Boston. Presumably, they were able to call friends, family, or neighbors back home to come get them, or find a bus or something, but then again, they were dumb enough to get on a train, so who knows?

The night passes uneventfully. I don't sleep, partly because of the comfort level of the seating, mostly because of the ADD medication that the doctor gave me last week, one day's dose of which usually keeps me zinging for days. I decide to make the best of this situation with an experiment on the effect sleep deprivation has on my creativity. I find that at about 20 hours in, I'm fairly coherent, and my writing is colorful and mellifluous, but by hour 35, I'm just screaming fucking mad, coming up with phrases like "Jockstrap Bomb". At any rate, I can't write anything down, because the train is now moving swiftly and my hand is shaking like James Bond's bartender. The train is irretrievably behind schedule: at 6 AM Wednesday, a half hour before we should be in Elkhart, Indiana, we pull into Cleveland. It is a full 4 hours plus before I can disembark at home and say good-bye to Mr. Goodman.

I chose Amtrak because I thought it would be an interesting way to travel, to see the country in a way you can't driving or flying. I neglected to consider that in most places, the train tracks run through the shit-hole part of town, so what I saw was an endless, seamless, look at poverty in America. I could have stayed home. I don't regret the choice: I did find much of interest, and the entire episode has given me material which should last for at least two weeks. However, the trip out to Boston, which was only slightly better than the trip back, set the mood for my entire visit. I never recovered from the mind-numbing shock of rail travel, and that, coupled with my inherent eccentricities, was so off-putting to my friends in Boston that I left them with the conviction that I had finally, after all these years, succumbed to the drugs and gone certifiably bat-shit crazy. I wish to extend my apologies to everyone who came in contact with me in the greater Boston area. The next time I visit, in 25 more years, I'll behave.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

On Friendship

Recent developments in my life have caused me to reevaluate my core beliefs about myself and my relationship with humanity. Yes, I pass myself off as a misanthrope (or "Angry Liberal, picking his nose at the back of the classroom" as an old acquaintance so accurately described it), but at heart I have an abiding belief in the goodness of Man. Maybe misanthropy and optimism go hand in hand. After all, when one believes so adamantly in the possibility of humanity only to face the reality of what we do with it, how can one not come to despise Homo Sapiens?

I don't make friends easily. I can count on my fingers and toes the number of TRUE friends I have had in my life. As a young man, my naivete cost me dearly in faith, optimism, and money. I learned very hard lessons about trusting my fellow man. So I put up defenses to keep those who would get close to me at arm's length.

What I didn't count on, though, was the ability of certain people to get past those defenses; to vault the walls I had built around me and get to know me despite my best efforts to the contrary.

I'll give you an example: Eric Demas is a man I've know for about seven years. I met him at work, and at first thought he was one of the stupid rednecks this area of the midwest is so proficient at producing. And while he did prove to be a redneck, I couldn't have been more mistaken about the stupid part. The man may not be much on "book larnin" but he has an innate intelligence that is lacking in so many people with an alphabet after their names. He's so damn conservative he pisses me off on a regular basis, but he agrees with me on the issues that really matter. A hunter who feeds his family every winter with what he kills, he'll be the first one to admit that "you don't need an AK-47 to hunt deer". He's a member of the NRA (I think) but doesn't drink all their kool-aid.

Or consider this: Eric is a fiscal and social conservative who doesn't think he pays ENOUGH tax! He'd gladly give up more out of his take-home pay if it meant better health care and education for his children (and yours). I've always suspected he's a closet liberal, but he won't admit it because he loves our arguments so much.

Eric is my best friend. He's given me shelter when I needed it, advice when I didn't want it, and a nagging pain in my ass every time I've been around him.

And here's why: He gets me. I'm not that complicated a man, but I have my eccentricities. He knows when to leave me alone. He knows when I need company. Last week, he called me on Wednesday (July 22) just to say hello, and 30 seconds into the conversation he KNEW I was in trouble. (Not the trouble where you need an alias, a bail bondsman, and a good lawyer; not the trouble where you need someone who can keep a secret to take you to the free clinic; the trouble where life is getting to be a little too much to handle and you need a break.) I don't know if he heard it in my voice, or felt it in the air, or what, but Eric said "I'm coming to pick you up tomorrow, and we're spending the day together." Life being what it is, he wasn't able to make it to get me on Thursday, but about 12:30 PM on Friday, he was walking in my back door.

We went to a public access park near where he lives, grabbed two tubes and a six pack of beer out of the truck, and went out to float the river. His backyard abuts the same river about two miles downstream of where we put in, which gave us a couple hours to drink, shoot the shit, and work my problems out.

By the time we got to his house, we had solved all my problems. His, however, were just beginning. Shortly after we got out on the river, his wife received a phone call that Eric's little brother had been in an auto accident and was being airlifted to a hospital in Kalamazoo. (For distance reference, Google map Constantine Michigan to Kalamazoo Michigan. It's a fur piece.) Rebekah (don't call me Becky) Demas had waited patiently for two hours for us to get off our bullshit river float so that Eric could attend to very important family business. I naturally shifted into babysitter mode and immediately realized why I had packed an overnight bag.

That's Friendship, with a capital F.

Eric gets me. Karen gets me. And until this week I thought that was about the extent of it. Like I say, I don't make friends easily. And I don't keep friends easily. (I'm always reminded of the movie Wyatt Earp, granted a poor imitation of Tombstone and about 2 hours too long, but that's not the point. In the scene where Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp meets Dennis Quaid's Doc Holliday, Doc asks, "Do you believe in friendship, Wyatt Earp?" "Yes," replies Wyatt. "Do you have many friends?" Costner shakes his head. Or, better than that, the scene in Tombstone when Wyatt, Doc, and company had just escaped a shootout: Turkey Creek Jack Johnson: "Why you doin' this, Doc?" Doc Holliday: "Wyatt Earp is my friend." Creek: "Friend? Hell, I got lots of friends." Doc: "I don't.")

But I digress. In the past 10 days, I have discovered that I am loved much more than I ever realized. In a "wishful thinking" post on Facebook, I mentioned an upcoming Pretenders show in Asbury Park, NJ. I asked if anyone was up for a road trip, knowing full well I had no means or method for getting there myself. This led to a message from Dawn LaRue Kaminski, a dear friend from my days in Athens, inviting me to Boston to see the band there. Still thinking it a lark and a game, I started wheels turning. In my weekly phone call to my mother, I described the bill Dawn described (Blondie and the Pretenders) in her terms, saying it would be like her seeing Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller back to back.

Well, Mom's a sentimental sort, so she sent me money to get to Boston. Dawn's a generous sort (or maybe just nuts), so she said if I get myself there she'll cover the tickets. A couple miscues later, and now I'm going to Boston for a week to see Pat Benatar and Blondie on one bill, then the Pretenders at a separate show a few nights later.

My point is this: I haven't seen or spoken to Dawn LaRue in 25 years. And the time she knew me was the time when I was at my absolute worst. Doing one hit of acid was just to take the edge off, if I really wanted a good time, I was dropping at least a 4-way. I invited Dawn and my other friends out to a party once, when I shared a house in the country outside of Athens. When they got there, I was already peaking and out on my own little adventure. They politely stayed for a couple beers, then excused themselves and left.

THAT is the Swinedog Dawn remembers. And she is still inviting me to her house. That is friendship. And it took me a few days for all this to really sink in. These people, Dawn, Bart Weldon, Camille Nice, Steve Maag, loved me for who I was. Not some addle-minded acid head with no future, but the real me. THEY got me. And I never knew that until now.

Thanks guys. I love you all.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Andy Warhol was off by 14:45

I'm out here posting because the woman who promised to love, honor, and hold the remote is in the other room watching Showbiz Tonight on CNN or Headline News or whatever. So I decided to write something, anything, to avoid hearing one more thing about Michael or Jon and Kate or Hulk Hogan's fucking divorce. In a way, I'm glad because I've had a mental block the last couple days that's kept me from writing anything worth a shit.

What is so damn amazing to the unwashed masses about the private lives of anyone? Why should I care who gave Bret Michaels an STD? (Editor's note: The veracity of the claim that Bret Michaels received an STD from anyone remains to be proven. To our knowledge, Mr. Michaels has never had an STD.) .... Sorry, the editors had to muck about in my column. I don't know for sure if he ever had clap, but touring at least 200 nights a year times at least six groupies per band member: you do the math.

But we have become a nation of voyeurs. I can't say that I have never watched a reality television show, because I honestly don't know. I may have and not remembered. But I do not purposefully set out to watch anything, not the Real World, not American Idol, or any of those. I feel it cheapens us as a society. And we have cheapened ourselves enough already.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Happy Birthday Mom

Yesterday was my Mother's 86th birthday. I know this because I called her last night just to see how she was, and she reminded me of the fact. But I've been thinking of everything she has gone through, and she's gone through a lot.

When she was a kid, seeing an airplane in the sky was a big thing, because there just weren't many flying around northeastern Ohio at the time. This usually signaled the fact that a "Barnstormer" was coming through, and if my Mom and her friends were lucky, he would land at a nearby farm field and offer rides for a nickel.

She has witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the horrors of World War 2, the "police actions" in Korea and Viet Nam, and two wars in the Persian Gulf and Iraq.

She saw the World Trade Center built, and then saw it destroyed by terrorists.

She watched as Neil Armstrong put his foot on the moon for the first time. At a time when space shuttle launches are so routine we hardly even notice, we tend to forget that for some people, space travel was a science fiction dream. My mother would not have believed growing up, that someday this would all be possible.

She saw the advent of the personal computer. I cannot forget the smile of wonderment on her face as I showed her how she could find and communicate with anyone in the world instantly, or find a website with information she always wanted to have. It was like watching a child discover something on his own.

Just like space flight, computers were something undreamed of when Mom grew up. That was Dick Tracy stuff.

She has lived under 16 Presidents. She grieved with the nation at the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King.

She has witnessed the struggles for equal rights, first by African-Americans, now by gays. Though she could not make the trip, as she had a house full of kids, she figuratively stood by the protesters in the Birmingham bus boycott, spurred by Rosa Parks, the civil rights marches in the south, and the 1963 march on Washington, where Martin Luther King gave his "I have a Dream" speech. Ironically, though she was born and raised in Canton, Ohio, she spent most summers of her childhood in the Deep South. She was familiar first hand with the evil of racism.

All this she has seen. The technological advancements in her lifetime have been astounding, and, in 1923, unimaginable.

In fact, the technological achievements of the past 200 years have been greater, come faster, and changed our lives more than the technological advancements of the genus Homo Sapiens in all the millenia prior to the 18th century.

Now, those technological achievements are seeming to put our very existence in peril; whether through nuclear attack by a rogue nation or a terrorist group bent on our destruction, or through global warming and the greenhouse effect. But as a species, we are equipped with the intelligence to stop those threats, if only we would take them seriously.

I'm not here to preach about global warming OR terrorism/rogue states. We get enough of that from politicians. I'm just pointing out the distance we, as a people, have traveled. And I am awestruck that my mother lived through the fastest of the fastest technological advances in history.

Happy Birthday Mom (a day late).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Those Steadily Depressin' Low Down Mind Messin' Workin' At The Car Wash Blues

I have been broke for about 4 weeks now. Having depleted my initial unemployment claim and two extensions, I now have to apply for a final, 20 week extension. As a condition of this I must agree to submit applications to at least three OPEN positions per week (as if I can find three open positions here), and accept any job offered at minimum wage or above. To this I agreed, I am more than happy to accept any job.

Here's the problem though. I submitted my application for this special extension of unemployment benefits on July 1. I was supposed to be able to file claims within 21 days, that being the amount of time necessary to get my name into the system. Twenty-one days from the First would be July 22. July 22 has come and gone, and still I could not file a claim.

So, I took myself down to the unemployment office this a.m. to find out why I can't get my claims filed. I have a very understanding landlady, but I'm sure she is more frustrated than I am. Not to mention we're short of food on a regular basis.

The woman at the local unemployment office could not explain why I wasn't in the system yet, and assured me that if I just give it time, it will happen. That's when I asked for the phone numbers for HQ in Indianapolis. As it turns out, the first number I had was worthless; I got the usual automated runaround. The second number I was given, though, gave me an option to speak to a representative. After being on hold for about seven minutes (not too bad, considering), I was able to speak to a live person. I explained my situation, and was assured that if I just gave it time, it would happen. So, if you're following along, I waited seven minutes on hold to be told the same thing I was told at my local unemployment office. Wow. We're making progress now.

So, what does one do when all avenues for recourse are dead ends? In my case, I go over their heads. I called 411 and asked for the offices of "My Bitch" Mitch Daniels. I asked the gentleman who answered the phone at the Governor's office if I could speak with Governor Bitch, I mean Mitch, and was informed I would have to make an appointment. So I asked to leave a message. The gentleman then transferred me to a young woman who was, as far as I can tell, chief message-taker to the Governor. This time, when I asked to leave a message, I was able to. This is the message I left with the young lady:

"Since I filed for an emergency unemployment extension on July 1, and the 21 waiting days are over and I still am unable to collect any benefits, kindly let Mr. Daniels know that he should expect about 4 rooms of furniture and 3 more occupants in the Governor's Mansion, since he can now care for my family." (I swear on my mother this is true.)

That seemed to generate some activity. I was transferred to the Governor's liaison for Workforce Development, who got my information and assured me that she would do what she could for me.

When I was done with this conversation, I didn't really expect much. I mean, I'd been told twice, "Just be patient, it will happen". What was the Governor's liaison going to tell me? "Be patient, etc...." Except within five minutes I received a call back from the very same woman telling me that by tomorrow I should be able to file claims. It still remains to be seen, but I'm betting that this time I'll get some action.

The moral of this story: ALWAYS go over their heads. You might piss people off, but if you really want it done, talk to the people with influence.

I still won't vote for Daniels. But at least I got one good thing out of him.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Music Trivia Answers

1. On the Byrds' "Eight Miles High", Roger McGuinn's opening guitar licks were inspired by what legendary jazz sax man? John Coltrane from the song "India"

2. In 1977, Elvis Costello made his first appearance as musical guest on Saturday Night Live. Early in the show, Costello and his band, The Attractions, performed a song which went well. However, in his later appearance, Elvis did something that frustrated the NBC censors. What did he do? The band started playing "Less than Zero". After a few bars, Elvis yelled "Stop, stop" and directed the band to play "Radio, Radio". They had been told not to play that song because it was an indictment of the radio industry's practice of only airing a small set of artists' material (which is still in practice today). This sent the censors into a fury, and pissed off Lorne Michaels, SNL's producer. Elvis Costello has never appeared on SNL since.

3. Which is the greater distance: the Highway to Hell or the Stairway to Heaven? (answer in miles and kilometers, show your work) As it's easier to get to Hell than Heaven, I hold that the Stairway to Heaven is longer. Credence must be given, though, to Camille's contention:

"As there are no stop signs nor speed limit (and no mile markers, I checked) on the Highway to Hell, I submit that one can arrive there in a more timely fashion, especially since there are two paths one can go by to the Stairway to Heaven, but in the long run, you still have time to change the road you're on."

4. Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne" was written about a chemist and producer of high quality LSD. What was his name? (last name only is acceptable) Oops, I screwed up. Owsley was his FIRST name. Owsley was what I was looking for, and both contestants answered Owsley Stanley III. Great job, kids.

5. What is the unofficial fight song of the Ohio State Buckeyes? "Hang on Sloopy" by The McCoys

6. Rock and sports are inextricably intertwined. For example, Red Sox Nation's national anthem is the rock & roll classic "Dirty Water". Name the band which recorded the song. Bonus point: Name the band which recorded a 1981 cover of the song, substituting London for Boston as "my home". First version was recorded by The Standells. The cover was done by The Inmates.

7. What was Prince talking about in "Little Red Corvette"? Her vajayjay.

8. This journeyman keyboardist, from MY home town, was already a well-known and well-respected session man when he landed a gig as piano player for Crosby, Stills and Nash. Who is he? Michael Finnigan. And he does, in fact, have whiskers on his chinnigan.

9. Which pioneering rock & roll DJ can be heard at the start of "Cleveland Rocks"? Bonus point for naming the artist who sang it. The old Moondog, Alan Freed

10. What does NRBQ stand for? New Rhythm and Blues Quartet, THE most under-appreciated band in rock and roll history

11. What's the deal with Amy Winehouse? I don't know, but she's still sexy. (I dig trashy chicks, what can I say?)

12. Name the original drummer and bassist for The Beatles. Drummer: Pete Best Bassist: Stu Sutcliffe

13. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" by U2 is about what event? January 30, 1972, Derry, Northern Ireland. 27 civil rights protesters were massacred by a contingent of the British Army.

14. Name the band that recorded "Ride Captain Ride". Blues Image

15. What was the name of the farmer who allowed his land to be used for the original Woodstock Music Festival? Max "I'm a farmer" Yasgur. The coolest old man ever.

16. This pioneering electrical engineer had already secured immortality through his work. Now, sadly, his name will forever be linked with '80's bad hair metal. Who is he? Nikola Tesla

17. The Beach Boys "borrowed" the melody for "Surfin' USA" from an early rock & roll legend. Name the man and the song. Chuck Berry "Sweet Little Sixteen"

18. Who invented the synthesizer? Robert Moog

19. Speaking of synthesizers, Pete Townshend of The Who was experimenting with one when he wrote "Baba O'Riley". What data did he use for input to the synth? This question was difficult to phrase correctly to get the idea across; consequently, I got correct answers, just not the answer I was gunning for. Townshend wanted the song to be a tribute to the philosopher Meher Baba and musician Terry Riley. He fed the life information of Baba into a synthesizer, hoping that the resulting musical output would be the backing track for the song. It didn't work as planned, and Pete eventually played the melody on a Lowry Berkshire Deluxe TBO-1 organ. Because of my inability to phrase the question correctly, all answers were accepted as correct.

20. This funk band had hits with songs like "Cut the Cake" and "Pick Up the Pieces". Who were they? Average White Band

21. "Buster Poindexter" had a hit in 1987 with "Hot, Hot, Hot", which became an embarrassment for Buster's alter ego. Who was he, and what was the name of the glam band he fronted?
David Johansen, The New York Dolls
22. What did Sinead O'Connor do to piss so many people off in 1992? She tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on SNL, saying "fight the real enemy" as she did. She suffered the same fate as Elvis Costello, being banned from ever appearing on Saturday Night Live. Her action proved to be rather prescient, though, as in the ensuing years, scores of priests have been revealed to be pedophiles and the Catholic Church has been forced to pay out millions of dollars. Sinead O'Connor 1, Catholic Church and SNL 0.

23. An OLD Old School rapper warned "Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge." What did he call himself and what did he call his posse? Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

24.Gerry Rafferty is best known for two songs, one he recorded solo, and an earlier one with his former band. Name both songs and the band. Stealers Wheel, "Stuck in the Middle With You", solo "Baker Street"

25. According to Jay and Silent Bob, this is "the greatest band in the land". Bonus point for using the correct adjective. Morris Day and the Motherfucking Time. "Don't you ever say an unkind word about the Time. Me and Silent Bob model our whole lives around Morris Day and Jerome. I'm a smoooooth pimp who looooooves the pussy, and Tubby here is my black manservant. What?"

26. Why is "Dexy's Midnight Runners" an exercise in redundancy, and what was "Come On Eileen" really all about, anyway? Dexys and Midnight Runners were both nicknames for speed, therefore the band name is redundant. "Come on Eileen" as far as I can tell, refers to the narrator pulling out and ruining Eileen's dress.

27. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds......a picture your kid drew? Really? You're sticking with that one, huh? Yeah, we're sticking with that one.

28. In this quiz, as I explained before, everyone's a winner. But "Every 1's a Winner" was a chart-topper for what band? Hot Chocolate

29. Mark Wahlberg the actor or Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch?
I hate to say it, but Wahlberg has proved to be a very good actor. God forgive me.

30. What was Dusty Springfield's biggest hit? Son of a Preacher Man

Extra Credit: Which songwriting duo has had the most influence on modern music: Elton John/Bernie Taupin or John Lennon/Paul McCartney? Use logic and facts to back up your argument. Spelling and grammar count. NOBODY tops the Beatles as far as influencing modern Rock and Roll. And Metallica can kiss my ass. They suck.

I hope you all enjoyed the quiz. Thanks for playing.

BTW: I need addresses to send the CD's. You both have my e-mail address. Thanks.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

On The Other Hand...

It's better than it seems.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tech Support:

Last year, I took a class to gain CompTIA A+ Certification. Basically, what that means is that I have achieved the lowest rung on the IT professional ladder. I am qualified to repair computers. Unfortunately, that and a buck-fifty gets me a cup of coffee. I can't get work because employers require at least one year of experience in the field. I can't get experience until I get the work. It's a Catch-22. I cried and pissed and moaned about this for a couple weeks, then figured, hey.... I'll just go it solo. So, I got flyers out and posted an ad on Craigslist, trying to keep this thing underground and off the radar of the IRS. As of today, I have done.......absolutely nothing. Just my luck.

So, what to do? Well, here's something: Many people don't have access to the information that I did, and, being a generous soul (kaff, kaff), I feel compelled to share the knowledge I have with others.

Don't worry, this isn't going to be a regular thing here. That would be really boring. And I may be disseminating information that the reader already knows. After all, the information is out there if you look, and there are plenty of magazines available at the local supermarket about computers as well. So if you already know this stuff, great. Stop reading right now. If not, read on, and I'll try to give you something useful.

The most important thing I can tell you is to back up your data. I say this from experience: a couple years ago, my hard drive crashed. Windows would not boot, even with help from Microsoft tech support. I was on the phone with the Microsoft guy for over three hours, and still nothing. I wouldn't have been so upset had it not been for the over 8,000 music files I had spent the previous 5 years collecting from various peer-to-peer sources. Yeah, I pirated music. And I still do. So sue me, RIAA. Like a stupid noobie, I had not even thought of backing up my hard drive. 8,000 songs. Gone. And you know how much I love music. Some of the most obscure tunes you could name, I had. And lost.

There are plenty of applications which make backing up your data easier. I can't recommend one over the other, because I haven't tried them all. A simple Google or Bing search can lead you to several options. Windows has a backup utility included in its software; however, if you use XP the backup is not on the basic install. You must insert the Windows XP install disk, and find the installation files for Windows backup. To learn more about the Windows backup application, read this article.

Must Have Applications

There are many applications available to make your computer run better, and safer. The first app I would recommend is
Ad-Aware from Lavasoft. Regular use of this will rid your pc of adware, malware, and other malicious pests which are placed on your computer by various websites. An alternative to Ad-Aware is Spybot, which performs the same tasks. I have both apps on my pc, but if you do this, be careful. Spybot may recognize Ad-Aware as a malicious application, and vice versa.

Now, let's talk about anti-virus programs. Your ISP probably came bundled with either McAfee or Norton anti-virus, and both are satisfactory for the task. If you don't have either, I recommend either Avast orAVG. Both are free, and both are light years ahead of McAfee or Norton. If you have the money and want the best anti-virus going, I would recommend PC-Cillin from TrendMicro. TrendMicro also has valuable tools such as Hijack This, which I have found to be very useful.

Another good application is Web of Trust, or WOT. WOT is a website rating system that warns you when you are trying to access a website with a poor reputation. Its rating system consists of a green light for sites which are safe, a yellow light for sites which are questionable, and a red light for sites which are malicious. If you try to access a red light site, WOT will actually redirect you to one of its pages warning you and giving you the option to get out of the site immediately. I follow its recommendations religiously.

You will also need a firewall. A firewall prevents hackers from gaining access to your files or hijacking your PC. Again, your ISP should have provided you with a firewall, and Windows has its own, although you will have to activate it. If you're looking for something with more muscle, though, I recommend Comodo or Black Ice.

That is the basic package. There are other utilities and apps that you may find interesting, but are not necessary. Ccleaner, or "Crap Cleaner" does just that. When you run ccleaner, it removes all the useless files and partial files that are cluttering up your system. CCleaner is free to download and use. Anti-Keylogger protects your pc from spyware and malware, specifically targeting those programs that would invade your privace by keylogging, or tracking what you input on your pc. Anti-Keylogger is free to try, but you must purchase it after the trial period.

That should get you on your way to a safer and cleaner computer.

NOTE: There is one thing you should avoid. Many pop-ups and ads try to get you to download a registry cleaner. While a registry cleaner is a good idea, it's only a good idea for people with intimate knowledge of computers and how they work. I won't even try to mess with the registry on my pc. Yes, many programs that you install and later uninstall will leave files on your registry. However, those files are so small they take up very little space on your hard drive. And if you delete the wrong files from your registry, you just turned your computer into a very expensive paperweight. I cannot stress this enough: DO NOT FUCK WITH YOUR REGISTRY.

I hope I've helped.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Indulge Me In A Little Navel-Gazing: Or, Am I Really An Asshole, or Just Naive?

In the movie "Bull Durham", Susan Sarandon's character Annie Savoy says, "The world was made for those not cursed with self-awareness." If you don't understand what that means, stop reading right now, and return to your life of good fortune. If you understand, well, you understand. In contrast to Annie Savoy, another great philosopher, Socrates, tells us that "The unexamined life is not worth living."

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right; here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

I've been trying to write this for several days, getting three or four paragraphs in and then scrapping the draft. My adviser, Huffington Post's book The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging, tells me that a good blog post need not be perfect, just timely, and a blog needs constant updating, at least one post a day. Well, I am not going to argue with one so successful as Arianna Huffington, but I am not so confident in my writing as to just post any garbage that comes to mind.

But I digress (I'm beginning to see a pattern here). We were discussing philosophy. I am one of those Savoy describes as "cursed with self-awareness". I cannot get through one day without examining my life and every move I make in infinite detail. But somehow, I manage to do all this without any awareness or regard for those closest to me. Often, they know me better than I know myself.

I was reminded of this a few days ago, when the woman who promised to love, honor, and tolerate reminded me of an errand I needed to do for about the 10th time. Me: I know, I know, why do you always keep reminding me of stuff I already know I have to do? It makes me feel like you don't trust me to remember anything. She: I feel like I have to remind you because all your life you have never been able to follow through on anything important.

Wow. What a revelation. She was able to state to me something that I have never been able to identify by myself. And she was absolutely right. I have never completed anything, never seen anything through to its logical conclusion.

And..... I have no way to finish this article. What are the odds? The very frailty to which I am admitting is asserting itself even as I document it.

The impulse to introspection is strong with me, to get back to the point. Perhaps it goes back to my childhood. I never spent much time playing with friends; I had a hard time making friends, to be honest, and I still do. So I spent a lot of my time as a child reading the World Book Encyclopedia. I think that's where I got my fondness for trivia. I would just pull a volume from the shelf, open it up, and read about the first thing that caught my interest. While you may think that this would make me wise, it in fact did not. I have no common sense whatsoever. I possess a veritable warehouse of knowledge in my mind, which made me a valuable partner for Trivial Pursuit, but did me no good whatsoever in the real world. I call it "Jeopardy Smart".

So there you have it: I'm a self-centered, self-contemplating, selfish bastard who has no real social skills, no street smarts, and no clue how to read my spouse. So you tell me: am I an asshole or just naive?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Viewer Discretion Advised

Warning: This posting contains material that some may find offensive, blasphemous, sacrilegious, or irreverent. I do not apologize for that. God has a sense of humor; how else do you explain Ted Haggard? I recommend you get one too.

I've been seeing a lot of ads on TV for Scientology lately. This is strangely alarming, though not at all unpredictable. These are difficult times, frightening times, and people are looking for something, anything, to help them through troubling times. And in an era of 10,000+ member evangelical megachurches led by hypocrites (see Haggard, Ted), one more way to fool the people isn't going to make much difference in the long run.

All this has got me to thinking (never a good idea): When you really think about it, is Scientology as a religious concept any more far-fetched than Christianity? Well, let's take a look.

Scientology

I'll be honest: I understand Scientology way less than I understand Christianity, and I don't understand Christianity very well at all. To further complicate matters, I keep getting Scientology mixed up with the backstory for Superman. But to the best that I can explain it, here it is:

A long time ago, a race of aliens boarded a spaceship, led by Jor-El, leaving the planet Krypton on their way to colonize Earth. Upon arrival, for some reason Jor-El dumps them all into a giant volcano, killing all the aliens. Their souls, however, escape the inferno and inhabit early hominids, causing evolution (good) and, eventually, the career of Tom Cruise (bad). Our job is to recognize that our souls are made of Kryptonite, and all become roadies for Three Doors Down.

Christianity

Roman-occupied Palestine, ca. 3 B.C.E.:

God knocks up a virgin, then skips out on child support. No reliable paternity test exists at the time, so a bachelor carpenter named Joseph (read: old, gay, ugly, or any combination thereof) decides to marry the girl (Mary) to save her from the disgrace of bearing a fatherless child, and so they can call the kid Jesus instead of Little Bastard. (In another Bible verse, the child is to be named Emmanuel, but since that's already the name of a soft-core porn star, they go with Jesus, which is really just a Hellenized form of Joshua.) Joseph fades into the background of the story after this, because really, the girl's first boyfriend was the Almighty, and who wants to keep hearing that? "Well, Yahweh never had any problem with premature ejaculation!" If you've ever dated a Jewish girl, Oy Vey, you know what I mean.

Anyway, the happy couple are on a road trip, maybe following the Grateful Dead, I don't know, and Mary goes into labor. She can't get a room, so she gives birth in a goddamn horse stall, plopping the kid into a feed trough. Apparently, adequate health care was an issue then, too. God, who has been screening his calls for nine months, now shows up again, sending angels to hand out cigars and tell the Israelites that their problems are all solved. One angel comes upon some shepherds, happily buggering sheep before they bed down for the night, startling them, and giving one the idea for a screenplay called Brokeback Mountain.

Meanwhile, to the East, a group of Magi (or wise men, from magus, Latin for sorcerer, and root of magesty, magisterial, and magistrate) see a new star in the sky over Palestine. (Maybe it's the light from Jor-El's spaceship.) Auguring it a good omen, they set out on a journey which leads them to the very same unsanitary manger in which the little baby Jesus is lying. They leave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, valuable commodities then as well as now. (Side note: As the magi were from Persia, I often wonder if one of them could possibly have thought to bring some opium. God knows, Mary needed something for the pain, and that would be a Helluva sacrament. I might even reconsider my desire to go west and join a peyote cult. I'm just sayin'.) The magi depart, and despite the expensive gifts, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus live a life of poverty from then on.

In a development that will be strangely echoed in about 2009 years, the Israelites promptly forget all about their Messiah just because everything isn't fixed before the ink is dry on the birth certificate. (I was going to say "before the placenta was cold" but I've given you enough strange imagery to digest already.)

Luckily, all this took place right around the winter solstice, so that centuries later the Catholic Church could co-opt local fertility rites as its reach expanded.

Not much is reported about Jesus as he grows up, with the exception of an arcane tale about 12 year old Jesus hanging out with the temple priests in Jerusalem, something Holy Mother Church should have kept in mind in their hiring practices.

Fast forward another twenty years, and Jesus is a fully grown man, preaching a gospel of peace and humanity. What's worse, he's got long hair and doesn't work, the dirty hippie. Feeling that Jesus isn't showing the requisite level of respect for authority, the Romans decide to kill him, although Pilate tries to avoid responsibility by throwing it back to the Jews, thereby beginning two millenia of anti-semitism and causing the Holocaust. (Again, luckily, this happens right around the start of spring, allowing the Catholics to co-opt yet another fertility festival.)

The method of execution the Romans use to kill Jesus is crucifixion, a particularly gruesome method that actually causes death by suffocation, since so much pressure is placed on the chest, one cannot get enough oxygen. By the time he's dead, Jesus has a spear puncture in his side, a couple broken ribs, and two broken legs.

Three days later, he's up and around, ambulatory and looking to score some myrrh.

So there it is. Yeah, Christianity is way more believable.



Monday, June 29, 2009

A Few Words for Recent Graduates

Another season of Americana has come and gone; that being the Graduation season which is met in this nation with, literally, much Pomp and Circumstance. And, like all American Institutions, this one comes with its own rituals. Namely, the invitation of prominent or not-so-prominent speakers to address one's commencement. Jon Stewart has done it; so has Stephen Colbert. Presidents, Vice Presidents, Presidents' and Vice Presidents' wives. Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's volatile Chief of Staff, delivered the commencement address at George Washington this year. One hopes he kept his remarks clean.

The gig, by all appearances, consists of standing in sunny, warm June weather in heavy robes, listening to other blowhards deliver endless speeches while smiling and applauding at the appropriate times. Then, when it's your turn, you deliver your endless, boring speech. For the effort, you're rewarded with an honorary degree.....sometimes.

I've given this a lot of thought, and I've concluded that I'm not likely to be awarded any degree - honorary or otherwise. However, I do have some hard-won wisdom that I can impart to those who are now poised to enter the "real world". So folks, wake the kids, sit them down, and let Uncle Tripster enlighten them.

1. Life isn't fair. Get over it.

2. Learn the art of compromise, but never compromise your principles. From there, it's a short leap to selling your soul. Trust me on this one.

3. Just because you have a degree doesn't mean you've stopped learning. Pursue knowledge whenever possible.

4. Consider this: every one of the world's major religions, Judaism; Christianity; Islam; Sufism; Buddhism; Shinto; Sikh; Taoism -- all have, as a basic precept of their faith, some form of "The Golden Rule". Treat others as you would have them treat you. This can hardly be a coincidence.

5. Your parents are pretty dumb right now. They'll wise up. Give them time.

6. Over the years, your perception of success will change. Right now, you're going to be chasing the dollars. There's nothing wrong with that. Save some for retirement. But many years from now, you'll realize that success isn't about the money you make as much as the lives you touch. Do the right thing. Leave this world cleaner, better, more just than you found it. And if, when you depart, just one person can say they are better for having known you, you will have succeeded.

7. One thing nobody told you: Real life is hard. Excruciatingly hard. And it doesn't get easier, so get used to it now. I don't care what job or position you get, there's always someone out there who's gonna bust your balls. So get tough. Fast.

That's all I got. Good luck.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Where the Hell is My Wallet?

I lost my wallet yesterday. It's not an unusual occurrence, it happens about once a month; usually it turns up in a few days. Problem is, like every other sentient hominid in the world, everything that allows me to function and move about in modern society is in my wallet.

In Indiana, in fact, if a police officer pulls me over, I MUST have a driver's license in my possession. If I cannot produce it, I get a $50 fine in addition to whatever other infraction for which I get cited.

My question is, when did just knowing who you were cease to be enough? I remember when I never even carried a wallet, no ID of any sort. People knew who you were.

Update: Just found my wallet.

But I won't let that stop me now. When I grew up, and I know there are a lot of you who know what I'm talking about, your identity was never questioned. Everyone who needed to know you knew you. If the cops pulled you over, they would call in your social security number and get whatever facts they needed.

So what happened? Well, the aforementioned Indiana law was a factor. When it got really bad, though, was after 9/11/01, when Congress passed the Patriot Act, a wholesale sell-off of the Constitution. I remember trying to cash my paycheck shortly thereafter, and being turned down at bank after bank because I couldn't produce TWO forms of picture ID. Huh? (Note: I have never been good with money, so I don't keep bank accounts for long.)

I have made bad decisions, and live with the consequences every day. I have committed my sins, and expect to stand before the Father to account for them. I have at times lived on the margins of society. And one thing the Government doesn't understand is that those of us on the margins of society don't appreciate being marginalized.

I will continue to carry a wallet, with picture ID, though grudgingly. But I will continue to remember when, in America, you could be recognized without having to produce useless documents.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I wouldn't call it a "Tribute"

I'll be the first to admit that Michael Jackson overstayed his welcome by a dozen or so years. But it cannot be denied that his was one of the most forceful presences in modern music. For you, my loyal reader(s), I give you my very favorite Michael Jackson performance. Even at a very young age, Michael had the ability to sing about love and loss and make you BELIEVE that he'd suffered the heartbreak personally.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Happy Father's Day (A Day Late)

Well, yesterday was Father's Day. I never got too excited about it as a father: now that the kids are grown, and Alison is out of the house, a great Father's Day to me is just being able to hang out with my family for the day. I don't want a bunch of gifts, no ties or wallets (although a Johnny Bench throwback jersey would be cool, or a J. Peterman shirt), I just want my kids to hang out with me and maybe a pan of brownies.

My dad never made a big deal out of it either. One Father's Day, I spent the day with him fencing off his property down in the lowland of his property. Hell, I didn't even know it was Father's Day until we were done. But we worked hard, and put in a full day, and when we were heading back to the house he told me that that was the best Father's Day present he'd ever gotten. I was 12 or 13 then. In years after, I always helped him work on one project or another. I suppose part of the reason he liked it so much was that he didn't have to give me money to buy his gift. But there was something spiritually uplifting and satisfying in doing physical work, and helping my dad with his projects.

That's all I want from my kids, really. Hang out with the old man for a day, help me with something I'm doing. That's better than any gift you could buy. If you're a dad reading this, you know what I mean. If you're a kid reading this, I hope you understand what it means. Either way, I hope you come out of this with a new understanding of the relationship between a father and his children.

Remember: Father's Day is just another day for us dads. For us, EVERY day is Father's Day. Because it isn't about the Fathers, it's about the kids.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What's It All About, Alfie? The Origins of Dancing Madly Backwards Again

When I began this anthology of haphazard psychotic ramblings and eccentric observations, I promised you, dear reader(s), that one day I would explain the curious appellation it bears. What exactly is the provenance of Dancing Madly Backwards Again?

Well, I'm glad you asked. It all started about 29 years ago. It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day. No, wait. That's Ode to Billie Joe. It was actually early September 1980, and a naive kid from Troy was beginning his Freshman year at Ohio University. I had chosen OU in part for the excellent journalism department, in part because it was a relatively small school in a small town, not unlike whence I came. But in large part, I chose to matriculate there (NO, NOT THAT. It's not even spelled that way. Look it up.) because of the bucolic atmosphere of Athens, Ohio. It seemed like a place where I could pursue my studies without much distraction.

Fast forward two months, to November when, as a freshly minted 18 year old, I was proudly voting in my first general election, and for the presidency, no less. I pulled the curtain in the voting booth and cast my vote for John Anderson, who was running as an independent. Did I mention I was naive? John finished strong, netting about 3% of the popular vote. In case you slept through history class, a guy named Ronald Reagan, actor and former Governor of California (kind of like Schwarzenegger, only he did films with a monkey) was elected President of the United States. Yes, it happened kids. You can pretend it didn't, but that won't make it so. You can wish Carter had been re-elected; then you can wish in one hand......

No, Reagan was president. In fact, it was a landslide victory, so the election was called fairly early the night of November 4. So I woke up November 5 with trepidation. I thought Trepidation was an odd name, so I asked her again. It turned out her name was Trudy. I promised I'd call her, and headed back to my dorm.

That's when I saw it. Directly across the street from the main campus green stood the College Bookstore. It was an independent business, not affiliated with the university in any way. It just so happened that its owners were peculiarly unimaginative. Hence the name College Bookstore.

But I digress (because you'd be disappointed if I didn't). The entrance to the bookstore was actually facing Court Street, the main business road for the town. So facing the college green was a huge brick wall that made up the side of the bookstore. And there, freshly spray-painted on the wall, were the words that would haunt me for life:

Dancing Madly Backwards Again

The meaning wasn't immediately obvious. I studied it for days. Every night, on my way to the quiet confines of The Union, where I studied, I passed that wall and it's haunting message. And at 2:30, when The Union closed, I'd walk past that missive of unknown origin once again. I thunk and I thunk and I thunk and I, being a bear of very little brain, got tired of all that goddamn thunking.

You must understand the context of the time, dear reader(s). 1980 was a transitional time. The tumult of the 60s was still fresh in the mind of the student population, especially the older ones on the 10 year plan. The massacre at Kent State was just a short 8 years past. The crimes of Watergate and the disgrace of President Nixon had soured us on politics as usual. Dissent wasn't even considered treason then, like it has been for the last 8 years. In short, Athens was a bastion of free thought and radical political views.

So in that heady brew of intellectual thought, cheap beer, and good weed, an idea was born. The night Reagan became President-Elect of the United States of America, some unknown radical summed up his feelings in four short but effective words.

With the election of the Father of Neo-Conservatism, the architect of trickle-down economics, one bright soul saw our nation in retrograde. After the disillusionment with our government, the loss of trust in the office, our fellow citizens saw fit to elect the one man who represented the worst of what America was. Put briefly, our beloved country was dancing madly backwards again.

Those words stayed on that wall for years. They may be there still, I don't know. Every time I go back to Athens, I experience a flashback, so I haven't been there for a while. But they were there for the span of my career there. And that phrase became ingrained in my subconscious, where it took on a life of its own, and gained a multitude of meanings.

What it eventually became for me was a metaphor for life. When I dropped out of school: Dancing Madly Backwards Again. When I failed at running a business: Dancing Madly Backwards Again. You see where I'm going here.

On the surface, it doesn't sound like a healthy philosophy for living one's life. It's not a very positive metaphor. But I've grown into it. It reminds me of my successes as much as my failures. It teaches me that, no matter how bad things seem, they could be worse, and there is still hope someday that we may dance forward into a better place. Yeah, it sounds lame, and if I were the type of writer who frets over rewrites constantly, I'm sure I could spiff up the sentiment. But it is what it is.

Steely Dan sings, "They got a name for the winners in the world, I want a name when I lose." If there is one thing I've learned in my 47 orbits of the sun, it's this: life is about losing. You lose family, you lose friends, you lose lovers, you lose jobs, you lose money, yer dog, yer truck, yer double wide.....In any contest there is only one winner. The rest of us are losers. The New York City Marathon hosts thousands of runners every year. The one who covers 26 miles the fastest is the winner. The rest of them are losers.

My point is that "loser" carries a stigma it doesn't deserve. I am a loser. But if I had never tried, I couldn't have lost. And that means that at some time in the contest, I believed I could be a winner. So what does it really mean to be a loser? To me it means that I believed, I gave everything I had in the battle. And a stronger person won, and that person deserves my respect, and if she is truly deserving, she will see I deserve her respect as well.

When you think about it like that, being a loser isn't such a bad thing after all, is it? So I'll wear that with pride. And I will continue dancing madly backwards; again, and again, and again.