February 28, 2005

After the grunge

February was a tough month to get excited about for me, up until today.

I was virtually on my deathbed from the Dreaded Grunge, at the start of it. Hack, sniffle, wheeze, and the requisite buckets of phlegm, just to breathe at all. In comparison, my unblushing bride went through a similar but shorter ordeal, and (with a personal constitution I suspect is almost otherworldly) managed to not only get vertical but resume her keepin’ on keepin’ on. I in turn held on to my misery, turning it into Fate of the Nation stuff. They tell me all guys do that. Maybe so, maybe so.

Meanwhile, there was no justice in this life. The 19-year-old Plaguebearer didn’t so much as get the sniffles. Of course I wanted to murder him.

Winter came, winter went. Then it sneaked back in and slapped us around again, simply because it could. We saw three snowfalls, which I believe is a record for one month in our area, and a fourth is coming down outside now, as I write this. The small-engine-repair shop did manage to get our snowblower fixed and back to us just in time. She Who Must be Obeyed figured (accurately) she would just barely get it down to the basement storage area, and have to lug it back up again. I think I’ll turn that over to her son. Take that, you non-sniffler, you.

Amidst all this, a few other things. A night talking to and hearing Odessa Harris and the others. A relatively rare pair of drinks, which probably helped snap the back of the Grunge (or at least I’ll say it did, because I stopped the major hacking about that same time).

Then there was another trip down to Toledo, about 9 days ago or so. I was cured, I tell you. Cabin fever hit with a vengeance, and besides all that I was feeling fiendishly clever again, which always gets me in trouble and always costs me money. I was right on all counts.

“Let’s go down to Toledo,” quoth I to mine bride. “I want to buy you an early birthday gift, and I need your help in picking it out.”

Zang. She perked right up and started to get curious, and so I finished getting my Port Royal kit together and out the door we went. A meal and about an hour of travel-time later, we wandered into a Best Buy on Monroe Street, where we spent roughly an hour and a few hundred bucks, and then after that we headed over to the tobacconist’s, because by then I was severely Jonesing for want of anyone to talk politics and other stuff at. I am blessed that Port Royal also has good coffee, and doesn’t fling me out in the street to drink it.

The “kit” I mentioned was actually the final CD-R that I’d burned a few weeks ago, as part of a give-away to several of the A-Team who shine there. Political images, photographs, and a few cigar-related images which got on there because of where I gave them out. I had one such disk left, and I’d made up my mind I owed it to a guy, over a misunderstanding we’d had on the day Hanoi John Kerry stood up and conceded the election. (Yeah, I know. I am dreadfully slow at seeing my very few flaws for what they are.)

The political season had done that to me. Lawyers running around doing this, trying that. All the election-year craziness, the truths half-told, the lies half-heard. And the Morning Justice Prevailed, I’d gotten hinky in almost a Hunter S. Thompson kind of way, over a guy in the crowd who simply was not the poli junkie I fancied myself to be. He kept talking — while Kerry was conceding. I was, to summarize, about to Get Stern™.

So that one had festered a while, and I finally had decided enough of this crap, it was probably my fault, so give him the damn CD and let him use it for a coaster like I am sure all the others have done, since I inflicted it on them.

We’d been down there the night of the Odessa Harris Group's performance, and he’d been in there with a friend. And (churlish me) I wanted to apologize to him right then but hadn’t, because he got to talking about a new secretary who managed to infect two of his computers with spyware and a bunch of other stuff. Aha. Halfwit that I am, I delude myself into thinking I know this subject. I got sidetracked, telling him what little I know. And then it was time to go hear Odessa, and so I still owed him the apology.

Not so the night we went down to Best Buy. I stumbled in the door there and within minutes a goodly number of the regulars started trickling in as well. SWMBO finally had enough of staring out the window at a chocolate shop across the causeway, so she took off and I started pestering people. (I do that one fairly well.)

Finally, I showed the disk to Neil, the owner of Port Royal. And just as he got it locked into his laptop, in walked the intended owner of that disk, in as sweet a bit of farcical timing as anything I’ve seen in ages. Neil finally got the disk out, and I gave it to its new owner. And by then SWMBO got back with a bottle of cherry wine, a bookmark, a t-shirt from a shop somewhere in that row, and chocolate. She was pleased: something to wear, something to munch (and sip) on while she read, and something to mark her place when she put down the book.

We wound up eating at The Seafood, in Sylvania, a superb specialty restaurant we’ve enjoyed for about five years. I got my creamed herring and tried their perch, she got her shrimp appetizer and then scallops. And then we wandered back home.

Today was the nine days later, and two guys from Best Buy showed up, and soon uncrated the dishwasher my lady has talked about getting for the last seven years or so. Today, I felt pretty damn good with myself for hijacking her to go with me. I don’t tell her enough how much she means to me.

Especially now that neither one of us has to do dishes, as if I ever did myself.

Posted by Weaselteeth at 11:04 PM

January 02, 2005

Concert Fiend

Every so often I mention to my mother how glad I am she introduced me to music, because I always get this blank skeptical look that instantly fades into that careful Retired Teacher Blankface gaze that says she ain’t buying a damn word I say.

The funniest part of it is, it’s 100% true. She just didn’t notice it at the time. She taught fourth and fifth grade in elementary school, mostly, and the music part (at least as far as she knew) came in from her playing piano or the organ, at various church functions.

She knew I listened to the radio a lot throughout my teens, and that I collected a few vinyl records, but what escaped her was the other part, me growing up as she played again and again her own favorites. Mantovani, Lawrence Welk, Ferrante and Teischer, and a handful of the very best Broadway cast recordings of the late 1950s through mid-1960s. Grand, funny stuff, like this or this. Soaring, timeless songs by what history still regards as the definitive performers, like this, this, or this.

Throughout it all, music from the radio. Dave Van Ronk’s nightly concerts (or so it seemed) over WBZ Boston. Motown, over CKLW, the Windsor powerhouse station heard all up and down the East Coast. Music over WJR Detroit, everything from Tennessee Ernie Ford to Johnny Horton to Patsy Cline and Bobby Darin and Old Blue Eyes himself, the Chairman of the Board.

I slid into the folk scene by way of Ian and Sylvia Tyson, then Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, and finally went straight for the main vein, brash young Bob Dylan himself, from the first album through what became about the first third of his stunning output. Over the years I bought about 300 to 400 albums (some of them as many as three times, counting CDs), and I kept listening, to what was new, what was good, and — all too late — what was live.

Silly me. I’d grown so used to albums that I just accepted the premise that the LP or CD represents the definitive version of any given song. You might have ten versions of something before you found the one you personally thought best, but at least each performer had done their very best with their version, and that (I thought!) was that.

The few live concerts I’d attended were actually disappontments, for the most part. Either I was too far from the stage, the audio was too this or too that — the list dragged on. But then after I got married to She Who Must be Obeyed, that happily changed for the better.

We started out by accepting an offhand invitation to drop in to Rusty’s Jazz Café, in Toledo. A guy I knew who was working at Port Royal Tobacconists mentioned he was “in a band” there, and we’d never been to a jazz club before, so we set aside a Sunday night and went down there.

Bam. Baseball bat across the forehead time, particularly after the Bob Rex Trio launched into my personal gold standard jazz tune, “Summertime.” Just a small grand piano, a stand-up bass, and the drums. The guy who’d invited us was Bob Rex, and he’d had various people as part of that Trio playing there for what was then going into its twentieth year.

We wound up going there nearly every week for a year, getting to know Bob, keyboardist Mark Keiswetter, and bassist Clifford Murphy (who owns his own jazz club in Toledo but on his one night off would hop across town to play at Rusty’s). I rediscovered my love for fine bass-playing, and virtuoso piano. And of course those classics, songs from America’s finest composers, all compacted into four or five terrific hours and served at a distance of six to ten feet away.

Work schedules changed and SWMBO then got Tuesday and Wednesday off for a while. We got to know other performers at Rusty’s. Guitarists. Conga players. Singers. More bassists and drummers and piano-pounders. Saxophones and flugelhorns and trombones as well. Black, white, sighted or blind, it didn’t matter — just the music. Applause during songs, saluting individual performers, or after songs, for the entire group. Getting drawn into the groove and happy to be trapped there, an emotional free-flight that invariably left us feeling high when we left, buzzed on the true American art form now loved round the world.

That led us to trying our luck with our venues, notably The Ark in Ann Arbor. Performers including Todd Snider, Jesse Cook, Saffire (The Uppity Blueswomen), John McCutcheon, and Little Feat.

But the wildest one was just this last month, after I’d more or less stopped posting at my last site but hadn’t gotten this one running yet.

Bob Rex had told me about a gig he had in Monroe (which I missed), and I wanted to make it up to him, so SWMBO and I went down to Toledo to pick up pipe tobacco for me, and perhaps find Bob, who was there.

Apologies offered, apologies accepted. And he was playing the following day at about 5 p.m., as part of a music series organized by the Monroe County Tourism Bureau, at one of the local malls. Sure, we’d be there. Hey, drive an hour to Toledo, drive an hour to Monroe, what's the difference? But then I overheard a quiet guy in his 50s who was standing in Port Royale, mentioning he was in town to perform, and I asked him who he was.

Eric Tingstad, of Tingstad and Rumbel. Exquisitely fine guitar and oboe, ocarina, and English horn duets, and a source of many great hours of listening delight throughout the mid-80s, when I was in my New Age mode. I literally dragged him over to meet my bride. Found out where he was playing — the following night, at Lourdes College in suburban Toledo. And then I knew we were in trouble, because I’d already promised Bob we’d be there in Monroe, an hour away from Toledo.

Oh, it was “doable,” as the old saying goes. Just so tight that it was nearly waterproof.

Off to Monroe, and then walk around a jammed mall in the Christmas rush, trying to find the right venue among what I suppose were several in that building. An hour of jazz, people passing by on all sides, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. By the time you have invested hours in Christmas shopping, you are going to welcome something other than just pure Christmas music. They learned that one about a third of the way into the set, launching into a latin-flavored song that drew their best applause.

Bob kinda-sorta knew we’d have to leave early, and we did, and then off down I-75 (that dreaded road I have come to hate due to trying to find Amtrak). Roaming around looking for Lourdes. Finally finding it, going in and asking if any tickets were left — and getting Row 2 in an ampitheatre about 90% filled, with only minutes to go before the show.

Finding our seats. Trying to get comfortable despite some perfume-drenched hag only two seats away, who was killing me one nostril at a time. And then the news that Eric and Nancy were actually the warm-up act for a pianist I had never heard of, David Lanz, and if we wanted to hear the rest of their set we’d have to hear him as well.

Oh well. In for a penny, in for a pound. A truly delicious set by Eric and Nancy (a true maestro in her own right with a surprisingly small and versatile series of ocarinas). What wound up being many of their best songs, off American Acoustic. (Buy this. It is splendid. And after you are addicted, buy more.)

And then David Lanz, in a neon purple tuxedo coat and Joker-baggy trousers, and an endless Yuppie stream of unfunny pseudo-sophisticate crap which utterly wrecked the effect of his Grammy-nominated (and excellent) piano performance. David, your act needs work on the patter. But everyone who buys your Romantic CD should find you were in fact well worth the money. Oh yeah — lose the coat.

All things I wanted to write about, but I wasn’t sure if I would get my archives transferred from the old site, and was reluctant to write about and then lose only a few days later. But I can tell you: two concerts in one day and in two cities is something even I am not crazy enough to try again soon.


Posted by Weaselteeth at 06:25 AM

December 28, 2004

Is there heat with that?

Normally I don’t go to bed until about 4 a.m., and on my good weeks that means I get about six to seven hours of sleep. This wasn't one of those weeks.

A few days before Christmas, an old friend from here in Burntmattress came home for Christmas. She’d been holed up in darkest Arkansas for about seven years, married to a total POS who’d talked her into moving there because it put them close to the crystal mines. Something to do with New Age mysticism and that stuff, which didn’t save him from finally dying of chirrosis of the liver, leaving her down there to figure out what to do next.

Maybe a few buckets of those crystals could help explain why folks in Little Rock cleared out several blocks of low-income waterfront housing, making way for a concrete trailer memorializing their ex-governor, the pathological sex fiend. But hey, who am I to argue? Tourism for Bubba's Massage Parlor and Sex Toys Palace should bring in a few bucks from the suckers. And it’ll give the Arkansas state cops something better to do, rather than scout for bimbos for Bubba.

So anyway, Christmas was here and my friend came back to see her mother, Helmet Head, who earned that nickname from the serial coats of lacquer holding her Thursday hairdo in place. They thought they'd lined up the same arrangement as last time, where another guy would go pick her up in Toledo at the Amtrak station, and then I would take her down there for the return trip. Which all went to hell when the other guy wanted Fort Knox for the job, so I volunteered to go get her.

She was supposed to come in about 2 a.m. or so, which wasn't out of my usual sleep cycle (including the round trip). But it never dawned on me that Amtrak was still a quasi-government agency, so I never bothered to try and catch a nap that afternoon. At 11 p.m. my friend called and said there’d be a delay until 3 a.m.

At midnight, She Who Must be Obeyed got home from work, heard about the scheduling stuff, and decided to come along for the two-hour round trip to the Glass City. What my sainted wife didn’t tell me was, later that same day she had to work a 12-hour day. So we drove down there, and about 2:50 we learned there’d be another two-hour delay, because they'd had trouble somewhere in heating up the passenger cars.

Think about that one, kids, if you like traveling indoors in winter. What next? In-transit showings of Boxcar Bertha, maybe?

By the time it was over, we picked up our passenger at about 5:30, only five hours later than scheduled. By the time we got home about 7:30, I was so groggy I thought I was either hallucinating or else wondering how come I wasn’t. Which made for a lovely week of trying to get adjusted again, knowing I still had to drive my friend back down there to escape from Helmet Head and Burntmattress, once again.

Last night, which made the first round look like only a warm-up.

This time she was supposed to start calling at about 3 a.m, to find out if they’d on time, which would have meant we’d leave at 4 or so and be there in time for the 5:30 train. But SWMBO heard on the radio that there’d be dense fog, and we’d already had a 6-inch snowfall, so I wanted two hours of lead-time, not 90 minutes. At 4:10 came the call. Another hour’s delay at the minimum. By then I was getting very antsy about the roads, so I told her I’d pick her up at 4:30 and we’d leave early.

Which was fine as far as it went. The roads turned out to be clear and traffic nonexistent. We even had time to find a place that would sell her a pre-paid telephone calling card, and on our fourth try actually got one of those as well. By then we decided she should check in with Amtrak again, and then more proof Amtrak is a quasi-gummint organization, because now we learned the original delay wasn’t true, and we now only had about 23 minutes to get all the way across town to the station.

I should have known not to get onto I-75 from where we were, and then I had to figure out how to get back the way we'd come, without getting further lost in the bowels of the Willys Jeep Parkway (or whatever it’s called). The train was supposed to depart at 6:35, and we hit every red light after getting off onto the surface streets, but at 6:20 a.m. we finally got to the station. I was wound about as tight as it gets; she was just numb, from my driving and the overall wonderfulness of Amtrak in Toledo.

And yes, this delay was also because they couldn’t heat the passenger cars.

Got home at 8 a.m., still twitching and spazzing from the ordeal. SWMBO looked nice and comfy under 3 feet of quilts, but then she wasn’t riding Amtrak so she had heat. And me, I know better than to complain to the gummint, but I’m peeved enough to try it anyway.

Memo to Toledo Mayor Jack Ford. Word, fool.

Instead of parking your ass for lunch at the Coney Island at Westgate Shopping Center, go camp on somebody’s chest at the Ohio Department of Transportation, and then at Marci Kaptur's congressional office. Practice your loudest, most piercing screams. Bring lawyers. Beady-eyed little ambulance-chasers with souls of coal and writs of pure-D venom.

Don’t let up until every last dirtbag pencil-pusher in state and federal gummint puts up clearly-marked signs placed well in advance, not 100 feet from the exit, showing the way to Amtrak.

More memo. At the first stoplight coming off Exit 208-A, actually put up a sign showing which way is that station. Don't make people guess it’s a right turn. Don’t wait several blocks from there. You are not helping tourism in your city if you fail to do this. And then put up real signs on Broadway, how to find that station without a Ouija board, two St. Bernards and a pack of Girl Scouts.

Not that Ford will listen to this, of course. His idea to bring business to Toledo was to support no-smoking regulations for restaurants and bars, which has done wonders for similar businesses in the suburbs. With logic like that, they’ll promote tourism by blocking all the roads.

The next time I’m going to say, vote with your feet. Leave the incompetents at Amtrak, but take my friend to Toledo Express Airport (which at least is on time, and heated). That’ll make my friend really happy — particularly if she’s got a train ticket.

Posted by Weaselteeth at 08:57 PM | Comments (2)