Reporting, Recording and Relaying - But Always Telling It As I See It

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fear and Loathing...My Minute With Hunter Thompson

In 2004, I received a letter from the Woody Creek Rod and Gun Club in Colorado. Stamped across the back in bold, red lettering were the words, “Sexually Explicit Material.” This is startling to say the least. Puzzled, I nonetheless added getting the mail to one of the perks of getting home before my wife. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Several years prior, I entered the Hunter S. Thompson phase of my life. (This was after I exited the Jack Kerouac, Beat Generation phase.) When I say entered, I mean plunged. I devoured Hunter’s books, letters and essays like Vegas tourists at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Reading someone like Hunter, who didn’t just write a story, but who lived the story (Hells Angels, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail) was akin to finding out that everything you thought you knew was in fact mere reportage. He wasn’t an outsider looking in, gleaning quotes and describing scenes. He famously said, “The truth is rarely told between nine and five.” Hunter rarely worked between nine and five.

In the midst of all this, in May 2003, I did something I had never done before as a “fan.” I wrote Hunter a letter, addressed simply to Hunter S. Thompson, Owl Farm, Woody Creek, Colorado, with no idea whether it would ever get to him and with zero expectation of hearing back. In fact, the letter didn’t ask any questions and certainly didn’t ask for any favors. I simply stated that I admired his work and it reminded me of a line from “Catcher In The Rye” when Holden Caulfield said something like, “I like to read books where I wish I knew the author, so when I was finished I could call them ask and ask them questions.” (Strictly paraphrased, but it was something like that.)

Eleven months later, I received the envelope from the Woody Creek Rod and Gun Club. Inside was my letter onto which Hunter wrote: “Dear Dave, I just tried to call you at home but you ain’t listed in the C.W. Hunter.” Now, I have no idea if he really did try to call and really no idea what “C.W.” stands for. Also inside was a signed five dollar bill (a bit odd) and a few stickers pimping his upcoming DVD release. Since I figured I should completely geek this out, I had the letter framed. I am not pretentious enough to think he singled me out, but you know, it’s a damned nice memento.

(You probably know that less than a year later, Hunter pulled a real asshole, selfish maneuver and shot himself in his kitchen. That doesn’t diminish my respect for his work, but it does diminish my respect for his character.)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Clapton Comes Alive - Apparantly

My unbiased review of last night’s Clapton Concert.

The Good:

Need someone to find a needle in a haystack? Ask Eric Clapton. If he approaches that task the way he does his music, he won’t stop until he finds it, no matter how long it takes to look. Tom Dowd, the legendary producer of “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs”, once said about Clapton, “He plays notes that aren’t even on the guitar!” Not sure about that, but I do know if there is a note that has to be played, it gets played. Clapton explores every hiding place in an arrangement, as if say “found ya, mate!” and carves out a soulful lick or stylized bend. His interesting line-up last evening included drums, bass, two keyboard players and back-up singers. The two keyboard players were an interesting combo, adding the orchestration of the classic Hammond B3 with wicked piano chops, popping in and out of songs like ghost crabs at the beach. A song I never really cared for, “I Shot The Sheriff,” was the evenings highlight thanks to the strong, expressive back-up singers.

The Bad:

Simply put, I wasn’t entertained. I don’t need long, rambling soliloquies between songs, but something between Clapton’s silence and “Hey Pittsburgh! Are you ready to rock?” would have been nice. He came, he played, and he walked off stage. I get the feeling he considers himself the elder blues statesman (which he may be) and that his appearance was more of a viewing of his blues virtuosity than an artist engaged with his audience. It left me wanting to say, “Are you even glad we came?” Even the encore was flat. The band trudged back on stage, went through “Crossroads,” and walked off. Cue the house lights. My wife may be right when she said, “He’s old, and I think he wanted to go to sleep.” (This is a complaint which if I could, would tell Eric directly. “You have a very capable band; have the courtesy to introduce them.”)

The Who (Lite)

Roger Daltrey’s vocal chords are not broke. As the opening act, he and his band ran through some great Who songs as well as some of Daltrey’s solo, bluesy stuff, ending with “Baba O’Riley.” Unlike Clapton, Roger looked happy to be onstage…even though relegated to opening the show. I believe, but am not sure, that he is warming this band up for a solo tour. If he comes around, go see him. His band rocked, particularly the drummer who looked like he was trying to beat the heads off of his drums.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Youth Sports Role Models - They Are Alive And Well

“This year we are going to concentrate on personal development. We are going to teach integrity, teamwork and grace under pressure. Many of the athletic skills the kids will learn will not be important when they get older, but these personal skills will be.” Wow. In a day when the biggest sports news has been Tiger’s robotic press conference, another athlete trying to explain away his pathetic behavior, this was a shining example of what youth sports can be at its pinnacle.

The above quote is more impressive when the source is duly noted. Sitting in the pre-season Seneca Valley Lacrosse meeting, you may expect this from one of the dedicated adult coordinators. However the SV Lacrosse youth program is not coached by adults. The program is coached by college kids. Nineteen and twenty year olds, four of them, who dedicate their time to attend practices, coach games, and apparently have a far greater grasp of what sports can provide a child than many of us over-zealous adults. One coach has a double major, sociology and criminal justice, competes in lacrosse, soccer and football, but coaches youth lacrosse because he wants to give something back to his community. When I was his age, I barely had one major, played intramural deck hockey and tried not to schedule any class before noon and none of Friday.

Kids can look far and wide for role models; I hope my two boys realize that the biggest role models in their lives will be at practice March 6.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Technology - From the Greek τεχνολογία

I was in the spare bedroom of our first apartment when I turned on the PC my wife and I had just purchased and thought, “This whole Windows thing is never going to catch on.” I think we were running version 1.bluescreenofdeath at the time and before I learned the most important command…Ctrl-Alt-Delete. So, after tonight’s open house at the school I started thinking about technology…brought on by the fact that in my kids classroom they have; PC’s with their own individual network login, flat screen TV’s, and Flip Video Cameras. They showed me their PowerPoint presentations.

The fun thing about technology is that we can be completely content with what we have and can’t imagine much if any improvement. But it does leave you wondering what is next. Somewhere in one my economics classes we went over the law of diminishing returns, and explored the fact that it governs darn near everything. On our TV in our family room we pretty much have the whole shooting match for cable…digital, HD, On Demand, PVR, you get the idea. It would seem that diminishing returns certainly govern this. Granted, we could add more movie channels, but other than that we seem tapped out. Well, I thought the same thing when we had expanded cable which gave us about sixty stations. Now, we have God knows how many, including the whole 400 series of which I was unaware of until recently. It seems…well, better. Before you know it, you are wondering how much attention your wife pays to the cable bill and if you can get away with purchasing Tiger’s Wood when everyone is sleeping. (She does pay attention, BTW.)

I never knew I wanted 1,400 songs in something the size of a gum packet, but have went back through security at the airport to my car to retrieve my iPod rather than face the fifty minute flight to Charlotte listening to Broadway’s Brightest Young Stars out of my armrest. Clear Channel controlled radio seemed fine, but satellite radio is definitely better.

The point is, these a few examples of things that seem great until something better comes along…which is usually something we didn’t know we wanted, that turned into something we needed, that became something we can’t live without. Recently, someone was discussing how books may be delivered in the future and said "Imagine reading an e-book that had an interactive interview with the author and video links within the text."  I just might want that.

(How many clicked the Tiger link above?  Come on...I am not that twisted!)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Walking Taco Anyone? Michelle?

Michelle Obama recently kicked off her “Let’s Move” initiative to fight childhood obesity. One of the attributes of this program was improved school lunches. Just so happened I was on the boy’s school website recently trying to keep track of delays, etc and found their latest lunch menu (which they will never have because they are off for the fourth day in a row.)

Anyway, today’s menu had two interesting items. The first was a Walking Taco. Now, is it me or does that sound more like a diagnosis than a food? Walking Taco smacks of something you pick up after a forty-eight hour bender in Tijuana that’s only treatable with high dose anti-biotics and anti-itch cream…and would probably be why you would not be naked in front of your wife for a few weeks. Turns out it is basically taco meat and cheese dumped into a bag of Fritos. I’m not a nutritionist, but I am pretty sure Michelle is aiming a Predator missile at this one.

The second is “Apples, Fresh.” An important note here…the quotations are not mine. That is exactly how it appears on the website. Nothing else has quotes. The easy cliché would be, “What, as opposed to ‘Apples, Rotten?’” Now, logic dictates this is probably to differentiate from, “Apples, Canned.” Either way, I find the quotes part funny.

Taken separately, these are two unique items in their own way. But here is the other thing. Have you ever thought to yourself, “You know what would go great with these tacos? Apples! A nice big apple… fresh.” So it seems to me, the first order of business should be to, crazy as this sounds, plan a meal that actually makes sense. Granted, the school did try a little cross cuisine and added some Spanish rice to the mix (I know the boys love their Spanish rice), but tacos and apples? I know, it counts as a fruit on that crazy pyramid that is as useless a government tool as the Terror Threat Level kaleidoscope. Either way, it doesn’t matter to us, the boys are having bologna (jumbo for us true Pittsburghers)…and why jump off that train.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Have A Heart Attack To Save Your Life

I had just read an email my sister forwarded me from her daughter who is studying in Rome, when she called and said, “Everyone is alright.” “I guess so,” I said, “Sounds like she is having a great time.” We both were speaking of two entirely different things…but hadn’t realized it just yet. Then, she said this. “Dad is in the hospital, he had a heart attack.” Well, that focuses your attention.

Believe it or not, there are certain things that continue to amaze me. For instance, “missionaries” who are stunned that taking a busload of children out of their home country is illegal, the fact that you can still buy something called “Spotted Dick” at the grocery store and the wonderment of modern medicine.

The next day they threaded a catheter up through a vein in dad’s leg into his heart then slid a medicated stent into place. It would seem that one in a thousand people would be able to even survive this when in fact the opposite is true. It’s so easy you don’t even have the benefit of anesthesia. “Really Doc, up through my groin, huh? All the way to my fucking heart…while I’m awake. Are you out of your mind?” When the surgeon came to talk to us when my dad’s procedure was over, he had all the stress of a man who looked liked he had hung a picture or spackled a whole in some drywall. Within forty-eight hours, my dad had a heart attack and walked out of the hospital, by and large, fixed. Impressive. I’ve had electrical problems with my car that have taken longer to fix.

I’m not sophisticated enough to figure out the healthcare system and its problems, I’m not sure how fast or slow you get through the ER in Canada and I’m still puzzled by how the hell the British ever came up with “Spotted Dick”…although I know it is a dessert. I do know medicated stents are the latest and greatest invention of non-invasive heart care (email me for the cool description the heart doc gave me on these suckers), although I still can’t believe you start at the leg. Oh, and if you want to bypass the crowds in the ER, tell them you have chest pains.

(The photo above is of the aforementioned's not a fish or other aquatic animal.)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

What Happens When You Forget The Milk

Well, we weren’t going anywhere. Twenty inches of snow will do that to you. When we went to bed Friday night, the estimate from the local forecasters was eight to twelve. My math tells me they missed that by, oh, 100%. The funny thing is, you have to put your foot into it to really understand what this amount of snow is like, and I did. Early Saturday morning, Zeke the mutt got stuck in our back yard. Maybe this isn’t much of a concern for a healthy 3 year old Husky, but for a fourteen year old, twenty-six pound dog with arthritis, failing kidneys, and bad eyes and ears, this has the potential for catastrophe. Not realizing the scope of the snow fall, I stepped off the deck, in slippers, and went up to my knees, which meant the snow was up to Zeke’s spine. He went back to sleep, I made coffee.

Later that morning, there were two completely divergent views of this blizzard. The boys had the same look on their eyes as I do when I am walking into the poker room at the Mirage; that is “Man, there are hours of fun to be had here.” Or more accurately, “Man, which one of these dupes is going to take my money tonight!” I, on the other hand, stared out our dining room window and thought, “I hope to hell there are a lot of Advil upstairs because my back is going to be killing me.” I had the unique opportunity to shovel in layers, ten inches at a time. Of course there was no hurry. By the afternoon, the driveway was clear, but our cul-de-sac was not on the priority list for plowing, so unless I wanted to practice pulling in and out of our garage, we were still stranded.

Not having access to our vehicles and our stores and our daily dose of commerce, seemed crippling. It wasn’t being stuck at home; it was being denied access to our “lives.” I try my hardest to not go anywhere on the weekends, but take away my ability to decide to not go anywhere and I felt like I was on C-Block. We consume like we breathe, freely. Since we didn’t get to the grocery store, we actually “wondered” what we were going to do for dinner. Somehow, my wife “cobbled” together pesto chicken, cheesy rice and broccoli. We ate more from what was laying around and in the freezer than I am sure a billion people did yesterday. Process that for a minute. We were trying to save the milk in case we needed it for breakfast; some people woke up and wondered where they were going to get some water to drink.

Being snowed in sucked…actually, no it didn’t.