06 August 2012

list adjustment

Morale sucked at work, so I took Scrappy into the awfice.
So, I've only got two weeks left at my old job, and I'm realizing that I need to adjust my list.

This is not because I'm bored at work.  This is also not because I'm depressed by being in an environment where I'm leaving to take a terrific new job, and others around me are leaving because they think they're going to get shoved out.  This is because my list contains things that will be rendered substantially more difficult (if not impossible) by virtue of my change of jobs.

One thing on my old list was an "LA Thing."  I chose it, because I thought that I was traveling so often to LA that I could easily knock it off.

Well, now I've got a job where I'm not headed to LA once a month, so I won't likely check those things off.

The remaining LA list item is:  Eat an Oki Dog.  I thought that'd I'd also put "Visit the Getty." on my list, but...well...I don't see it there, so I guess it wasn't something I was supposed to do!

I put Oki Dog on my list, because I saw something about it on either tv or the intermanet, and I thought, 'I love hot dogs and that's one crazy hot dog.  I should eat that some time in LA!'


After I put it on the list, I read some of the Yelp reviews.

Erik H. said, "If you like food don't go here. Simply put, it's a dirty, salty gut bomb. If you're constantly getting drunk and eating here you might consider getting serious help."

And then, there's this epic review from Dave A.:
This place is now basically a clubhouse for the homeless. It has always had a seedy rep. and I'm amazed it's still around.  
Back in the 80's the Oki's on Santa Monica was THE punk hang out.  One would often see Darby Crash of LA's own The Germs hanging there. The food matched the 'tude. What punk didn't want two hot dogs, a gaggle of pastrami, and a mound of chili, wrapped in a 12" tortilla to fortify his stomach after an evening of slogging down Pabst Blue Ribbons and snorting a bag of baby powder cut cocaine. The thing was only like three bucks and often constituted all three squares for these guys. 
The Fairfax location is the last remnant of this history. It's the little chunk of meteorite that spun off from the mother planet after the 1990's slickness crashed into the old location pummeling it to pieces. 
Danger Will Robinson, you must be very brave to enter this bright orange terror dome.  After a raucous and fateful night at Lola's I ventured the half block over there, drawn like a moth to an orange flame, but when I got there I almost turned tail.  First thing I saw was a homeless woman trimming her toenails by the take out window. No, amazingly this didn't stop me, I'm an L.A. boy and I've seen much worse, besides those Appletinis at Lola's are known to tamper with a persons good sense.  
I walked into the cobbled together outdoor patio and was quickly surrounded by down and out, toothless and stubbly vagrants. I ordered a burrito and sat down on one of the tables. The TV was on and Carter was eating Cheesy Poofs on the screen. Me and my new friends were giggling our heads off together, and suddenly I felt like I was having an acid flashback. There were four Cheshire cat dolls on top of the TV staring at me with huge toothy grins, Carter was yelling something about his Poofs, and when I looked up to see that my food was ready, the guy behind the counter who had made my food looked exactly like all the guys in the patio.   
It's great that the management gave a job to this guy, but I wished he had taken a shower before he started his shift.  I grabbed my Burrito, bought a shirt for posterity, tipped the guy four bucks and jetted off to my car to feed my angry belly.  
Burrito was hot. That's the best I can say for it beside the fact that it shut up my tummy.I doubt I'll be back, but I do have a soft spot in my heart for this place.Long live Anarchy!
 Oy.  I don't know that a life worth living requires eating an Oki Dog.  Instead, I'm replacing this list item with "Eating a Chicago Hot Dog.

Oh, and remember how I mentioned that morale at work sucks?  Well, I decided to take Scrappy to work with me.  He's so sweet, he could elevate just about anyone's mood.  And...it was a success.  I edited the video I took into a movie trailer, and here it is!

Oh Scrappy...

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26 July 2012

get a new job

This is me doing my job on a Tuesday. I was on C-SPAN 2. That's the second-highest level of C-SPAN!
I've worked at the same place for the past fourteen years.  They've promoted me a few times.  They moved me from Chicago to New York.  And they've given me tremendous opportunities to do really exciting work.  For most of those fourteen years, I've had bosses who made me feel like my work was valued, that my input was welcome, and that my contributions were appreciated.

I've spent most of my career there, and though I didn't feel like I was in a rut, I've always wondered whether I'd work there until I retired or died.  I reached a pretty high level in the organization, and after such a long time in the same place, it wasn't exactly clear to me what my next career move would be, even if I were to decide to make one.  I heard someone say that when you've been in a job for 10 years, it's unlikely that you'll ever leave.

That's why, nearly six years ago, when I put my first list together, I thought that I should put something on my list to try to make some sort of thing happen in my career.  I started off with "get a promotion or a job offer," thinking that it would force me to network and interview and to put myself out there.  So that even if I got an offer I didn't want to take, I'd at least feel like I was open to the possibility.

It didn't happen in my first 101 days, and that's when I realized that I might need to broaden it.  My employer was in the habit of giving 3% raises to everyone across the Board.  I thought that maybe my chances of getting an out-sized raise would be more likely.  If I were going to stay in my job, and I'd progressed about as far as I could go in the organization, maybe I could at least buck the trend by getting an outsized raise?

Well, I got that outsized raise, earlier this year, shortly before my employer merged with another organization.  It came out of nowhere, and I didn't even ask for it.  I checked it off my list, but I didn't even blog it, because, well, it just felt like a non-event, you know?

And post-merger, my title changed, and my job duties changed, so, technically speaking, I got a new job.  But, honestly, the new job has a smaller footprint than my old job did.  So, I didn't really view that as any kind of list-worthy achievement.  And then, something really bad happened.  A trade publication did an analysis of who the senior team was in the new merged organization, and they portrayed my new job as a demotion for me.  So, now, when you google my name and employer together, one of the few things that comes up is an article that makes it look like my career has reverse momentum.  Not good.  Not good at all.

So, after 14 years, I decided that maybe I should be opening myself up to the possibility of making a move.  I started networking--something I hadn't done in over a decade.  I started taking people out to lunch and asking what was going on in their work life.  And pretty quickly, I learned that I had some really good skills that could help some of those folks meet the challenges they were facing.  So, in the course of those conversations, opportunities opened up for me.  While in China, one of my networking contacts asked me to come in and interview for an opening they had.

I went to the interview, and since the job wasn't a perfect fit for me (I felt like I could do more stuff than just what was posted as their vacancy), I made a pitch for putting me in an expanded role.  So, the week after we came back from China, I had two "formal" interviews in one week, and landed the new, expanded job--a job that may very well turn out to be my dream job--in exactly 7 days.  Seven days.  In this economy.  Are you freakin' kidding me?

I'm sad to be leaving my current job.  I've got some incredible colleagues who've become some of my closest personal friends.  And not being able to work with them on a daily basis makes me really sad.  But this new job is so exciting to me, that I'm barely able to contain myself.  I really feel like I might spontaneously combust--that's how jazzed I am about it.

So, what's the take-away, here?  In a very short time, I found a really terrific opportunity, and it wasn't hard work, at all. I didn't spend endless hours on a job board, and I didn't send out dozens of résumés.  I just started trying to do a better job of connecting to other people, and I opened myself up to the possibility.  A year ago, or three years ago, I wouldn't have been open to making a move.  Who knows how many terrific opportunities were out there that I never found out about, merely because I wasn't open to the possibility of changing jobs?  I guess it took a while, but ultimately, I got to the place I wanted, by putting this on the list.  I opened a door for myself, and what I saw on the other side was tremendously exciting.

So, I walked through the door.

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18 July 2012

attend a brooklyn cyclones game

It's been a long time since I've attended a minor league baseball game.  This, notwithstanding the fact that the Brooklyn Cyclones (a Mets farm team in the minorest of all minor leagues), is just a short subway ride away from our house.

Last night, we checked this off my list, by taking the train out to Coney Island where we rooted for the Brooklyn Cyclones, as they took on the Hudson Valley Renegades.

Here are some of my observations of the evening:

  • In order to keep the fans engaged, there's a lot of "business" going on during these games.  At one point, The Spouse remarked to me that it was hard to remember that there was actually a game going on.  True.
  • Last night was NYPD Appreciation Night.  Which meant that there were a ton of cops there.  At one point, they ran some sort of a contest where they had two different cops from two different precincts do push-ups on top of the two dugouts, to see which cop could do the most pushups in 30 seconds.   There was no prize for winning, as near as I could tell.
  • They give away a lot of free stuff at the games.  We got a free shirt for being the among the first to arrive (we took the express train), and we had a coupon for a free ball cap.  Then, at random moments, they'd have a motor scooter drive by to throw more tee shirts into the stands.  Also, little celophane packets of other things.  I'm not sure what was in the packets, because I didn't get one.
  • They had a race down the third base line where four people dressed up like giant hotdogs tried to see which hot dog could run the fastest.  This being Coney Island, you'll have no problem finding a hotdog at the stadium.  I was shocked, however, that they had neither relish, nor chili at the stadium hot dog stand.
  • Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament was doing a promotion where between innings, they'd have sword fights, and we were supposed to root for the fake knight that was wearing a tunic that matched the color of the fake Burger King-style paper crown they'd handed us on the way in.  This being Brooklyn, however, the crowd was kind of rowdy, and by the time the Brooklynites had a few beers in them, some of the guys behind me started shouting "KILL HIM!  KILL HIM!" during the stage combat fight.  Niiiiiiiice.
  • There is no consistent thematic iconography at a Brooklyn Cyclones game. The team is named after the historic wooden roller coaster in Coney Island, where the team plays.  Because Brooklyn is the borough of Kings (and in Kings County), all of the hijinx on the sidelines is orchestrated by a portly guy in a red vest who's wearing a red Imperial Margarine crown.  And the cheerleaders are called the "Beach Bums," because the stadium is right on the beach.  So, what's the throughline here?  Well, there are lots of different things about Brooklyn and Coney Island and they want to mention all of them, so they've decided not to call the cheerleaders "Coaster Girls" and the Master of Ceremonies is not "Mr. Cyclone."  It's all just so random and uncoordinated.  As a gay man, it bothered me.  The Gays like thematic consistency, see?
  • At one point, between innings, they did this thing where they told everyone to stand up and scream as loud as possible.  While we did this, people stood on the top of the dugouts and threw quesadillas at the screaming fans.  This was orchestrated as something supposedly fun for us to do, and it even has a name--"The Quesadilla Scream."  I don't understand the appeal of having someone throw Mexican food at you, while everyone around you screams bloody murder.  Call me crazy.  My spouse, on the other hand, was disappointed that he didn't get a quesadilla.  As soon as the exercise was over, he announced that he was going to go look for a snack.
  • A foul ball nearly hit me in the head.  Had I been sitting one row back, and three seats over, I would not likely be here to write this post, today.

There were other things happening, but, honestly, who could keep track of them.  I think the Cylones lost last night.  I'm not exactly sure.  We left before the game ended (there was going to be a joust after the game, as well as an opportunity to run the bases), but it was humid, and I hadn't slept well the night before, so we just hopped on the train and headed home.

OH!  And it will surprise you to hear that I had a no-drinking day yesterday.  They only had beer at the stadium, and though I love a beer at the ball game under normal circumstances, it was really hot and humid, and I couldn't bring myself to drink something that would have made me feel fat and bloated.

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16 July 2012

shanghai-ed in shanghai

22 hours into our delay.
I've already completed my list item of small-screen movie watching, but if I hadn't already finished that part of my list, I'd probably have done it on my way to and from China.  The flight's about 14 hours, each way (we flew out of Chicago), so even with meals and a lot of sleep, I still watched three movies out, and three more on the return.  Those films were:


My spouse watched a couple more movies than I did, while we were sitting on the ground for lengthy, lengthy delays.

We flew on American Airlines from Chicago to Beijing, and then returned from Shanghai to Chicago, and though I am completely loyal to American -- I don't plan on switching allegiance anytime soon -- the ground staff at Shanghai were completely unable to deal with the delays we encountered.  The cause of the delay--not the airline's fault.  The way they dealt with the aftermath, and the hotel they chose to "accommodate" us--ugh.  

Here's what happened.

Our flight home from Shanghai was supposed to depart at 4 p.m. They let us get on the plane at 6 p.m.  Would we take off?  That remains to be seen.  We sat on the tarmac for six hours, while there was thunder. And lightning. The way ya love me is frightni-hi-hing. Ya better knock, knock...


..on wood, baby.

So, at one point the pilot came on and said, "We're cleared to take off in one minute." Then 30 seconds later, "They've made it five minutes."

Then, four minutes into the five minutes (after a nearly six-hour delay on the tarmac, did I mention the six hour delay part?), the pilot announces that because of the length of the flight, the crew would have to be taken out of service, because they were no longer legal to fly. 

But, of course, there were no gates at that point, because no other planes had been able to take off during a thunderstorm. So, we went to the most remote part of the Shanghai airport, where there were no buildings or runways, just pavement, and that's where we sat until they brought wet metal stairs up to the plane. And we got into buses and drove for about a half an hour to the terminal, where someone gave us a card that said nothing. And no one was there to tell us what to do. No one was there for us to even ask them what we should do. In fact, there wasn't even anyone there to ask whether there was someone we could ask about what we should do. So, we basically just all stood around for a while, until someone (I think they were Chinese) decided to get in an elevator. Then all the other Chinese people got in the elevator with them. And that's when the white people decided to look for stairs. So, my spouse and I bolted up three flights of stairs with our luggage, and there was someone wearing a blue uniform for another airline (not the one we were flying) and she said, "Go this way."

Well, we went, because there was no one from American Airlines telling us what to do, and then we found ourselves going through immigration checkpoints BACKWARDS. Like, not on the entry immigration, but literally BACKWARDS through the departure immigration. So, you approached the Chinese guy in the booth from behind, and he had a little stamp that said CANCELED, which he stamped over the exit stamp that we'd gotten several hours earlier. Apparently, that's all that's needed to un-do your departure from China. Just stamp CANCELED on it.

Also, the immigration police confiscated our boarding pass receipt, so we had nothing other than this blank card that some dude gave us, to show that we were even on that flight to begin with. And that card didn't actually show that, because it was blank, remember?

So, then we're out in the terminal, and it's completely dark, because they've turned out the lights, because it's after midnight, at this point, and then, FINALLY, we see someone from American Airlines. She said that they would put us up in a hotel, and that we should just go through that door over there.

We did. And when we got through that door, there was no one there. Just a bunch of stranded travelers standing around looking confused.

At this point, I'd made several calls to the airline, and because I've got status that puts me through to the elite agents, the phone people were much more helpful. They told me that the flight had not, in fact, been canceled, but that it would now depart "in the morning." I asked whether they had a time, and the agent said, "Well, it's showing a 1:30 p.m. departure." I pointed out that 1:30 p.m. is not, strictly speaking, "in the morning." She agreed with me on that point, and I decided not to call her a name, because she was actually nice and apologetic and was the only person who'd given me information about things.

So, from the standing around place, we just figured we'd move to the opposite area from where we came in, thinking that things might be happening in that direction, and there was a Chinese guy there, who asked us if we had any bags checked. He wasn't wearing any kind of uniform or badge--just a white short sleeved dress shirt and blue pants. We did not have bags checked, so he told us to go to Door 23. 

Door 23 is a door that goes OUTSIDE. As in OUTSIDE THE AIRPORT. There were some buses there, but no one was getting on them. There were only a couple of Chinese people standing near there smoking. Who were these smoking Chinese people? Were they passengers? Were they bus drivers? Did they work for the airline? Did they have jobs at all?

No one explained. People just stood.

I sent Spousey back up to the last place we'd been, before going to door 23, just to see if there was any kind of information. He didn't get any more intel, but when he returned, there were a bunch of other people from our flight who were following.

It's not clear whether they followed because they thought my spouse looked important, or whether they'd also been told to go to door 23, but some of them had pieces of paper that said, "You are being accommodated." The papers were photocopies with a red ink stamp that said something in Chinese.

Scruff said, "This is the only place I know to go. Door 23." 

I said, "Those people have papers with a red stamp on it. I think we should get one of those papers." At that point, a woman with a clipboard waltzed through Door 23, and I stopped her.

"We need a paper."

She said, "show me your boarding pass." I told her that the reverse immigration police had confiscated it. She asked to see my passport instead. I showed her, and she gave us a stamped paper.

Then, we got on the bus. There were two buses waiting, but no one was getting on the first bus, so we got on the second bus with everyone else.

The second bus left first. (Of course it did.)

We got to a hotel, and Spousey and I realized that it was going to devolve into a shitshow very quickly, so we rushed to the desk with our stamped paper, and they photographed our passport and gave us the key to room 104.

We got in the elevator and went up one floor, but the room numbers said 39-80. 

So then we went up another floor, and it said, "Rooms 39-80."

We then went all the way down to the ground floor, and found a sign that said, "Rooms 00-38." 

As we walked down the hallway, all the rooms had numbers on them that were in the low 100s. So, we eventually found Room 104, and the key worked.

Which was not such a good thing. The room was filthy, and there were mosquitos everywhere. The carpet was damp and stained, and moldy.  There were cobwebs on the walls.  Spousey and I immediately dropped our bags and left the room to make a plan. 

At this point, it was 1:15 a.m. As we passed through the lobby, the line
 for rooms was out the door. And the busses kept coming.

There was a bar, we noticed, though only two people were there. A guy from our flight carrying five beers breezed past us and said, "They close at 1:30, guys. Better step on it."

We tried to order business juice, but we didn't trust that the ice would be good. I drank my juice warm, and Spousey opted for beer. He ordered three bottles, and I got a triple.

We decided that even though the room was disgusting, it was already nearly 2 a.m., and if we just waited it out for a few hours, we could go back to the airport and get breakfast.

I did not sleep much at all. We probably got three hours, max. And, actually, those three hours weren't really "sleeping" so much as "laying in a moldy room with filthy carpeting and cobwebs on the walls with the lights out."

We got up at 6 a.m., and I took a shower. The shower, itself, seemed to be relatively innocuous. The water ran clear, and they had soap and shampoo. I used as much soap as I possibly could, dressed quickly, and brushed my teeth with bottled water. I still felt filthy.

We got on the first bus to the airport and found a restaurant that looked clean-ish, we sat around and waited. No one from the airport gave us any info about when our flight was leaving, what seats we'd have, or what time we might be expected to leave Shanghai. There were no check in positions for the airline. I made some calls, and the telephone people told me 1:30, which was what they'd said the last time I called.

So, around 10 a.m., the flight showed up on the board for a 1:30 departure. At 10:30, the British Airways check-in area magically turned into an American Airlines check-in area, and people started lining up. People started cutting in line. People started shouting at each other. We ignored all of that and moved forward in the line, trying to block the cutters.

We got a boarding pass and went back through security, and sat in the lounge until our flight boarded.

Which it did.  Late.  And we were delayed on the tarmac, again for a couple of hours.  So, by the time our flight took off, it was about 23 hours after it was supposed to.

And that was how I spent the last 24 hours of my honeymoon.

The end.

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13 July 2012

drinking (or not) in china

My spouse, drinking Jim Beam and posing "Chinese Girl Style" in the Guilin Airport.

I'm a whisk(e)y drinker.  Specifically, an American whisk(e)y drinker.  Over the years, I'd much rather not drink at all, than to have something other than bourbon or rye in my glass.

One thing I've learned in my travels is that the availability of quality American whiskey (screw the spelling/parenthetical "e", that's too affected for even me...), is that you never know exactly what you're going to get or where you're going to find it.  There was a time when you'd be lucky to find Jack Daniels in a European bar. More recently, I've noticed Four Roses showing up a lot over there--they must have a good distributor in Yurp.  That's fine with me.  Four Roses is pretty good.  I'd rather have that than Jack Daniels.

So, with each new country I go to, I wonder...will they have the hooch I like?

Bourbon is not ubiquitous in China.  The hotel bars all had it (we were staying in some nice hotels), and occasionally you'd find it at a restaurant.  But most of the places we ate were somewhat "local."  We didn't go to China to only eat in the hotel, right?

The good news is that of the whiskeys that seem to have gotten a foothold in China, my dear friend and  colleague, James Beam seems to be doing pretty well.  Jim Beam is my "table bourbon."  It's not too sweet, it's got decent spicy notes, and for drinking that's not a special occasion, we keep a giant cube of it (God Bless Costco) at home for our domestic business juice consumption.

In Beijing, we stayed at the Shangri-La China World Hotel, which was completely lovely.  They had a really terrific whiskey bar in the hotel, called Aria, and while staying there, I defaulted to Jim Beam most nights.  (If you're a scotch drinker, you should know that they've got a really impressive collection).

We also found a really wonderful restaurant on the perimeter of a lovely park, in Beijing.  Xi He Ya Ju was really delicious, the service was friendly and attentive, and we had such a terrific experience there, that we decided to return for a second visit a few days later.  On my first visit, I saw Jim Beam on the drink list, and wound up finishing their supply with just one drink.  Two days later, when we returned, they hadn't managed to procure another bottle.  So, I drank beer.

Something similar happened in the next city on our trip.  In Xi'an, our hotel had a bottle of Jim Beam on the shelf, but the first night there, my spouse and I drank the rest of their bottle after just one and a half rounds of doubles.  The next day, when we returned to the bar, we saw that they had another bottle of Beam up there, so we ordered it again for our nightcap.  It was not Jim Beam.  It was scotch.  Sometimes when I ask for Jim Beam, the bartender hears "J&B," and I'm served scotch.  This time, however, when we discussed with the waiter, he pointed to the bottle of Beam, and insisted that that's what came out of the bottle.  Considering we drank them out of Beam the night before...I think I know what happened.

At the last stop on our trip, we stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria Shanghai on the Bund.  It was--hands down--the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in.  The Long Bar at the hotel is fabulous.  It used to be a gentlemen's club in the 1930's and it's since been restored to its former glory.  They've got an oyster bar, and a really terrific selection of whiskey that includes one of my more obscure favorites from back home--Noah's Mill.  Noah's Mill is one of the bourbons they serve at The Farm on Adderley, our neighborhood haunt.  It's got a pretty high alcohol content, but it's still surprisingly smooth.  So, since we were toward the end of the trip, and I was excited about heading home in a couple of weeks, I ordered Noah's Mill.

And after just one single evening at the Long Bar, guess what happened?  They ran out of it.  Back to Beam!

Clearly, my superpower is drinking Chinese establishments out of bourbon.  So, as far as the list is concerned, there were two days when I didn't have anything at all to drink, and a few others when I only had a beer with lunch during a break in our sightseeing schedule.  But beer counts, so I'm only adding two more days to my no-booze tally.  Oh! And one more, because I didn't drink yesterday, either.

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08 July 2012

new country: china

You're probably wondering why I haven't updated my blog with new list item completions in over a month.

China is why.

See, the Chinese government has taken all of the joy out of the internet, by blocking all the websites that have things to do with anything fun-related.  No Facebook.  No YouTube.  And no blogs--at least not on the blogging platform that I use for this here blogging thingy.

Think about what that means!  There are over 1.3 billion people who've never annoyed their friends by posting about their fake Facebook farms.  And none of them have seen a video on You Tube of a cat flushing a toilet!


I'm going to slowly relate the story of my three weeks' worth of adventures in China, but it's going to be in stages.  Suffice it to say that I added a new country (additional completion), watched 6 new movies (again, something I've already completed, but I did it anyway), and one day of not drinking.

More to come, people.  More to come.

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31 May 2012

chilled sweet pea soup

I'm afraid I'm not having much luck making progress on my 101 Things list right now.  I did have a vegetarian day, yesterday.

Breakfast was...uh...I skipped breakfast, actually.  I did grab a little cup of fruit on the way to the office, but it wasn't an actual breakfast.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am fat.

For lunch I had spinach ravioli in a brown butter sage sauce.  I love, love, love brown butter sage sauce.  If it were a human man, and I weren't already married to the most wonderful guy in the entire universe, I would gay marry brown butter sage sauce.  For realz.

Then, for dinner, I went to my old standby, The Farm on Adderley.  I wasn't terribly hungry, so I went with a couple of appetizers.  Broccoli Rabe with tahini and chili flakes, followed by a chilled sweet pea soup with parmesan foam.

I love chilled soup in the summer.  This is where I part ways (only philosophically) with my spouse.  I think gazpacho in the summer is delightful.  I'm not opposed to a chilled fruit soup for dessert.  But David much prefers soups that are served warm or hot.

To each his own, I guess.

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25 May 2012

new country: slovenia

Slovenia is beautiful.

There.  I didn't bury the lede.

When I told people I was traveling to Slovenia to attend a conference, people invariably asked, "why would anyone hold a conference in Slovenia."  When I told them that the conference was in the improbably-named town of "Bled," I got blank stares.

Anyway.  The point is, Slovenia is really, really beautiful.

The conference started with a reception in a villa that used to be one of Tito's homes.  Leave it to a Yugoslav dictator to serve up executive socialist realness by putting murals of workers marching toward, uh, something, on the wall.  Apparently, this was one of the rooms where he watched movies and smoked cigars.

We went to a neighboring town for dinner, one night.  It was cute. The restaurant--or at least the building--was something like 500 years old.

While we were waiting outside for them to usher us in, some little old Slovenian lady stared at us out the window.

Entertainment featured a trio of accordion, violin and upright bass.  They played such classic Slovenian folks songs as "Ebony and Ivory" and "New York, New York."  My favorite, however, was when they threw themselves into "Those Were the Days, My Friend" at breakneck speed.  Seriously.  They played that shit so fast, I nearly had a seizure.

We used to joke that when my mom got her car sprayed with pina colada scented air freshener at the car wash, it was only because they didn't have "roast pork" as an available scent.  That's why I had to text my mom about the meal.  Sausages, roast pork, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and cheese strudel.  My mom's reply, via text?  "I must have Slovenian genes."

The view off of the balcony of my hotel room.  Since I grew up in the mid-west, I tend to geek out over mountains.  I think they're awesome.

So, Lake Bled is the centerpiece of the resort, complete with a castle on an outcropping, and a quaint little church.  At dusk, it's all lit with floodlights.

Dinner on the last night was interminable.  We showed up at 8 p.m. and the last course didn't get served until after 10.  The Slovenian wine was flowing freely, however.  For the most part, it wasn't bad.  The Riesling was dry, with notes of grapefruit and sandpaper.

I've hit my requisite number of "new countries" for this part of my list, but I'm adding Slovenia to my tally, just the same.  It's an "additional completion."

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02 May 2012

may garden update!

The garden's turned green!  Here's my May 1 update.  You might recall that I'm trying to do monthly garden updates.  So, if you want to compare with last year, check out my earlier post.

The clematis are starting to open up.  Just barely, though.  They're among my most favorite of the flowers we have in the back.

There are small flowers on the red twig dogwood.  Really, this shrub is more about providing winter color, but it's nice that we've got some small, white flowers in the spring.

The bleeding heart is huge this year!  for something that goes away completely over the winter, I'm amazed that it's so enormous this year.  And the flowers are beautiful, too.

There's a little butterfly on the white lilac flower.  I'm not sure if you can see it.  The flowers are fading just a little bit, but the scent is phenomenal.  I think I love the fragrance of white lilac more than just about anything--except maybe jasmine.
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26 April 2012

the sound of music at carnegie hall (2012) and at brookpark middle school (1982)

Tonya, Alan and I sing, circa 1982.
If it's true that our lives radiate out from a central point, which becomes the frame of reference for everything we do later in life, that moment for me would likely have been when I was cast as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music at Brookpark Middle School, in Grove City, Ohio.  Basically, I peaked in the 8th Grade, people.  That's all you need to know.  

So, obviously, when I found out that they were doing a concert production of The Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall, I pretty much had no alternative but to buy tickets and go.  Especially since I need to see two things at Carnegie Hall in order to check off one more item on my 101 Things in 1001 Days list.

In case you've been hiding from the Nazis in a convent for the past 50 years, let me give you the basics about what's so goddamned special about The Sound of Music.  It was originally a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical on Broadway, starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel.  I know that original Broadway cast album backward and forward, because we had the LP when I was growing up.  Then, it was made into a movie with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.  The movie was a smash hit, and was played on television for many, many years during the holidays, because even though it has nothing to do with Christmas, it's a Christmas movie.  Don't argue with me on this point.  It's a Christmas movie.  Because I said so, that's why.

Then, in 1982, the stage show was revived at Brookpark Middle School.  There were two casts, but I got to play Captain Von Trapp in both of them.  In one of the casts, Alan Sturm and Tonya Turner played Max and Elsa.  In the picture, above, you'll see us singing one of the songs that was cut from the movie.  Either "How Can Love Survive" or "No Way to Stop It."  Not sure which.  Anyway.  Bottom line:  we were alsome.  I'm surprised audiences (two consecutive weekends, by the way), didn't demand a revival cast album.

About ten years after The Sound of Music brought audiences to their feet at Brookpark, the Sound of Music was adapted into a television situation comedy, called The Nanny.   They ditched all the songs, and instead of a nun, they made Maria a Jewish cosmetics saleswoman from Queens, and instead of a navy captain, the father was a Broadway impresario.  They changed all the names of the characters, too.  Maria became "Fran."  The Captain became "Mr. Sheffield."  Max and Elsa were "Niles" and "Ms. Babcock."  The Mother Superior was pretty much the same, though.  She was played by Renee Taylor, and instead of calling her the Mother Abbess, everyone just referred to her as "Ma."  (Pronounced, "MAAAAAAAAAA.")

So, here's the rundown of what we saw at Carnegie Hall, and how it compares to the other versions you might be familiar with.

Maria was played by Laura Osnes, who won a tv reality competition to be cast as Sandy in a Broadway revival of Grease.  I don't know how she was in that show, but as Maria, she was a revelation.  She's got the voice of a goddamned angel, she's pretty and charming, and I'd say that she stacks up really well against Mary Martin, Julie Andrews and Fran Drescher.  We had awesome Marias in the Brookpark production, but there were two of them, and I don't want to sound like I'm playing favorites.  Jane Morbitzer and Emily Howard--if you're reading this, you were good, too.  But Laura Osnes was pretty darned alsome.

The Captain was played by Tony Goldwyn, who most of you probably remember as the bad guy who came to no good end in the movie Ghost.  I found it extremely difficult to think of Tony Goldwyn as a sea captain with seven children.  He doesn't look like a sea captain.  He looks like Carl from Ghost.  His performance was okay, I guess, but when I played Captain Von Trapp, I learned to play Edelweiss on the guitar.  That made my performance so much more authentic, and I just wish that Tony Goldwyn had called me, so I could have explained to him why it's important to pick up a guitar for that song.  And let me tell you.  I killed with that song, when I was 14.  Miss Johnston, the really mean Social Studies teacher, who never said a nice thing to a student in her entire career, ran up and down the aisles after my performance, demanding that the rest of the students stand to give me an ovation.  And because everyone was scared to death of Miss Johnston, they did exactly that.  Rumor was that Miss Johnston used to be a nun, but before that she was a drill sargeant in the Marines.  Either way, I rocked her socks off.  I've never heard Mr. Sheffield sing, but I've met Theodore Bikel in person.  I'm willing to say that Bikel was probably better than I was in the role, but we both had Tony Goldwyn beat by a mile.

Brooke Shields played Elsa at Carnegie Hall, and, well, I was disappointed.  I've seen her on Broadway, before, and she's really, really terrific most of the time.  I'm not sure what happened here.  She didn't connect, in ways that she did in everything else I've seen her do (she kicked ass in "Wonderful Town," by way of example).  Patrick Page played Max, and he was pretty good, I think.  But honestly, Elsa and Max at Brookpark were even better.  Alan and Tonya had great comic timing, and we all stayed friends into high school, and get this--they got married to each other and had a beautiful family.  Elsa and Max got married!  And had babies!  Who grew up and went to college!  I think the next time you watch the movie (where they cut the Elsa/Max songs because whats-her-bucket couldn't sing, I guess), imagine that the whole thing works out because after Elsa decides that she can't compete with a singing nun babysitter, she just hooks up with Max, and everyone lives happily ever after.  The Elsa and Max songs were back in for Carnegie Hall, and they added a couple more from the film that weren't in the original Broadway show, but they cut "An Ordinary Couple" which is kind of a dud of a song, so nobody missed it.

Other things you might be interested in:  Rolf was played by Nick Spangler, who was on The Amazing Race with his sister, Star.  (Yeah. Her name is Star Spangler.  Crazy, right?  Star wasn't in this, though.)  The smaller roles, like the party guests and the singers who were runners up in the competition at the end?  Those were all cast with the kids from the movie version.  And my absolute favorite mezzo from the Met, Stephanie Blythe played the Mother Abbess.  She was incredible, as always.  I could watch Stephanie Blythe clip her toenails on stage, and I'd be enthralled.  But when she's singing, it's even better.

All in all, a lot of fun!

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