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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Probably Not The Lesson I Needed...

I'm a pack rat, I'll just put that out there right here at the beginning. I keep shit I have no earthly use for, all the time.

So anyway, this whole playin' in a rock band has got me doing some solid-body playing (on a borrowed, cheapie solid DeArmond). Though, especially when practicing alone, I find myself playing Modern Love and Rock This Town on my handmade archtop.

So anyway, the guitar before this handmade axe, my Yamaha, is a hell of a nice axe in its own right. And it's gained favor for the basement rehearsal scene because it has less acoustic life and thus feeds back less.

But when I got this Yamaha, I was fully enthralled in a case of prima donna jazz snobbery and was convinced I'd never want a solid-body guitar again. So I traded my solid-body in when I got the Yamaha to save a couple hundred bucks.

This was a guitar I'd given $350 for (if memory serves) when I was 15.

It was a Gibson RD Artist, blonde with an ebony fingerboard and active electronics. I had the active electronics removed because they wouldn't quit picking up KUDL's signal. But it was a great guitar, set up perfectly, a little on the heavy side but incredibly playable and it sounded great.

Now that I'm garage-banding it, I want that RD Artist back, and badly. I don't have any money, but I got curious and checked out the eBay situation vis-a-vis my old axe. Here's a starburst version of the same, I can buy it now for $1895. Here's another, a '78 that I could have for a mere $2449.

To revisit: I bought it for $350 when I was 15, sold it, effectively for $200 when I was 17, and if I want it back it'll cost me arround two grand.

The lesson? Never, ever, let go of a possession. No matter what. All the useless shit in my house, if I get rid of it I'm guaranteeing I'll want it back when it's unattainable.


After our snowman building festivities, Em and I played with my old Tinker Toys.

I built a car with a suspension, Em built modern art.

I also discovered geometrics I never realized Tinker Toys had: like that that blue ones will make an 45º angle joint that's the right length between wheels hooked by 90º arrangements of the yellow ones. I think I stated that correctly, anyway.

And as with Lincoln Logs and Legos, you always run out of pieces before you run out of what you're building...

Grilled Salmon & Steamed Brussels Sprouts

Not much of a recipe, just good simple food.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rocket (Snow) Man

There wasn't enough snow left in my yard after church to make a snowball fight, let alone a snowman.

Building snowmen and sledding are two activities that present such rare opportunities (barely once a year each), I feel remiss in not doing them with the girls. Even when, as in this case, they both made it abundantly clear they thought it was a dumb idea.

I found a good use for spent model rocket motors, though. And, for that mater, for the disabled veterans of Lobster Fleet.

Had to work fast: no kidding, we built this snowman with me in one of my Hawaiian shirts. I left the coat in the car, it was that warm. We normally try to build a little bit bigger snowman, but I didn't know how long there'd be snow on the ground as fast as it was melting. So he's as dirty as Crusty, and stood about as half as tall as Snowchick.

Plus, my two kids were losing patience with Daddy.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Home Show

This is not normally my scene. I've been to it once, way back, and that would have generally been enough. I've never understood why people pay admission to go in and be hustled by a whole floor of salesmen.

Hannibal Lecter's line about how you don't seek out things to covet, you covet what's right in front of you, well, a Home Show is, as far as I can tell, an exercise in seeking out things to covet. I can find plenty of materialistic distractions in this world for free, thank you very much.

But a client who was showing there told me to bring my kids down and since he backed this invitation with comp tickets, we went.

Em objected. Irritatingly, childishly, and loudly.

I know not everything I've ever taken my kids to has been great. Disappointment is part of life, and sometimes things don't live up. Deal with it.

But most of the things I haul my kids around to are basically fun. The Nelson, Kemper, Moon Marble, HMS Beagle, the Plaza, various and sundry parks, children's museums, and so on. So why would Em assume that my latest idea is terrible?

I asked her, you don't even know what the Home Show is, so how can you know it sucks? Because YOU came up with it.

Has bitching and moaning ever gotten her out of something? Nope, but she apparently hasn't given up the strategy just yet.

Then, after the second booth that gave her free candy and/or some sort of ad specialty, she said, 'You didn't tell me there'd be free stuff!'

The trip wasn't quite free, I did have to pay for parking and I broke down and bought some root beer and a touch of junk food. But it was still a pretty cheap outing and we definitely got our exercise. I figured we'd be good for an hour, maybe 90 minutes in the joint. At four hours in, when I said we should head to the car, Em said, 'Just a little more?'

Only if you promise not to assume my next idea is terrible just because it's mine. Which she grudgingly promised. How long until she breaks that promise? Probably measurable in nanoseconds.

The show was, by the way, dead. This is normally the second biggest crowd to hit Bartle Hall every year, and while we didn't quite have the place to ourselves, there were vendors so desperate for someone to talk to they'd actually throw free candy at my kids rather than wait for them to come grab it.

'It's like a parade,' he explained. 'But backwards.' I'm pretty sure most year's he'd be too busy to play parade.

I can't tell you how many people asked me if I was planning to spend money improving my home this year. And when the answer was no, they would tell me things like that it'd be good to get a bid so I know what the price would be when I'm finally read. Really. Please, just take this card.

A guy selling flower bulbs, he came from trying to get $12 for four bulbs to offering me a box of 75 or so for $30, and eventually to just trying to see if there was an amount of plant matter he could throw in a bag or a box to get $20 out of me. He was a great salesman: I detest yard work and gardening, I'm broke, my hours have been cut by 20% for over two months, and I still almost bought some bulbs. Which would probably still be in my garage next year waiting for me to remember to plant them.

But when the economy is good, all you have to tell a guy in sales is he's wasting his time, no chance of a sale. When things are good, they break off and look for their next possible sale. It's only when they haven't seen a possible sale in too long they start to forget there's such a thing as a person who isn't worth a second or third effort.

The informercial booths seemed to be doing well. ShamWow, the miracle sponge, a supposedly amazing lint roller, these people were doing exactly what you see in paid programming, but live and in person. And Em is a sucker for informercials, so she was an eager audience for these guys. The lint roller chick was doing fine until Mo decided to show her level of interest by yelling 'Whoa' and falling down in the aisle.

I said, 'I know you've had more cooperative audiences...' She laughed and continued with the demonstration but you could see her heart wasn't in it. She's exceptionally cute and personable, but it was getting late and you could tell she's just not used to people prat-falling in response to her pitch.

Saw quite a bit of cool non-home sort of stuff, too. Wonderscope was there, so were pet adoption outfits with cute puppies and kittens. And there were birds. Parrots and whatnot, but also a Eurasian Eagle Owl, which was massive and quite impressive. I'm not exactly mouse-sized, and the claws on this bird scare me.

Smart Cars were also on display, including Gertrude* the lovely and talented sales-chick who I test drove one with. Even though I tell people in the blog post that's not her name, she told me a woman came in asking specifically for Gertrude and would not believe no such person worked there. Even had a print out of my blog post with her. Go figure.

There were also Kandi cars on offer. Whereas Smart Cars are the Daimler take on small, efficiency vehicles, Kandi is brought to you by legendary craftsmen and slave labor of China. The ones who put all that high quality merchandise on the shelf of your local Wal-Mart. Cute cars, and cheap, but somehow I doubt they perform quite like a Smart Car. I'd do one of their trikes, maybe, which are technically (and from a safety standpoint) motorcycles. But while a Kandi may be 'street legal,' you have to be able to go at least 40mph to drive on the Interstate, and these puppies top out at 25.

On the way out, we met Harry Bartle, the crook** Bartle Hall is named for. It's a larger than life bronze, and for some reason everyone pulls his finger. It's the only shiny part...

*Really, Gertrude is not her name.

**A two term Democratic mayor of Kansas City: he may have been a Boy Scout, but I'll guarantee you he knew a thing or two about how to get things done. Tom Pendergast's body was scarcely cold when Bartle was elected...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sometimes It's Hard To Be 13...

My Dad treated us to dinner this evening, at a restaurant of Em's choice: the Chinese place owned by one of her BFF's family.

I think this photo pretty well captures it. Mo is Chicken at a restaurant! Em is Dad is visible to the naked eye!

Damning Yourself With Faint Praise

I've been seeing stuff in the news about how the Communist government of China has been 'celebrating' its occupation of Tibet.

Now if W. was wrong about the Iraqis greeting us as liberators in the long term, at least initially, a lot of them were rightly glad to be shut of Saddam and the Baath Party. But not even for one brief, riotous, museum-looting period did Tibet find China's affections agreeable.

By an account of the Tibetan Government in Exile, 1.2 million Tibetans have been murdered as a result of China's 'Great Leap Forward.' And lest we congratulate ourselves as Americans for not slaughtering nearly that many Iraqis in our latest escapade, we did turn our back on Tibet and allow it to happen in the interest of splitting the Sino-Soviet relationship. Good ol' Nixon, if you ever think he couldn't have done more harm, you just haven't read enough history.

Now, if you think I'm being disingenuous by comparing China's occupation of Tibet with our occupation of Iraq, it's true up to a point. But that point isn't quite where you'd think. China has been busy lately touting what a benefit it is to Tibet.

One of the articles I saw included a bit about how the Chinese Govt' was displaying a helmet used to hold a person's head still while their eyes were gouged out as proof that Tibet was more brutally run by the Dalai Llama than by Chairman Mao and his successors. I'm not sure under what circumstances a Tibetan might expect to be blinded, and certainly it's not the sort of tool a culture should be proud of, but if Red China has to reach that far to make itself look good by comparison?

Sorry, I've got my boot on your throat and I'm about to rape your sister, but it's for your own good.

The right wing maniac in me has to point out, however, that Tibet's problems underline the flaw of pacifism. I'm not pro war, far from it, but when you take the position that there is never a situation where you have to resort to violence to defend yourself, you're a sitting duck for the many, many others who don't share that view.

As the old libertarian saw goes, if the First Amendment doesn't work, the Second will.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Banned Practice II

I have come up with the best names for our little band, I can't see why none of my bandmates will sign on.

Last week, I proposed Foolkiller. I have a great logo concept in mind for it. The Foolkiller Folk Theater was a punk hangout when I was a teenager, and there's Johnny Pye and the Foolkiller and the whole riddle of how a man can be a man and not be a fool (by being dead). And the bogeyman lore of 'the Foolkiller's gonna get you' when someone does something stupid.

When I asked what anyone thought of naming the band Foolkiller, I got 'We don't really need to go there yet.'

Which is true. We have explored a few circles of Suck but have many to go before we can even play a complete song as a band. And I'm not criticizing my bandmates, I have contributed more than 25 percent of the Suck in this quartet.

But I'm learning to suck gently, play with the balls a little, make eye contact, moan...

I came up with a better name, though. It went over to about as much enthusiasm, but it's really the perfect name: Free Beer.

Free Beer at our wedding reception. Free Beer at the Record Bar or Brooksider. The place will be packed.

Of course, we have to get a lot better than we are because once people find out Free Beer is just the name of the band, it'll get ugly if we can't play for shit either...

Photo Credit, by the way, to Melissa for the shot that includes my Rodness and the other flash photography specimens here. I hate flash photos, but in a basement with my camera, it's flash or blur take your pick.

Pointless Perfected

Rich people are just poor people with money, right?

I don't know if this is a poor guy with money or a poor guy with more credit than taste. A mauve Hummer with low profile tires and rims?

And yes, it's a guy, I saw him get in it and drive off without even trying to hide his face in shame.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

So This Old Man Almost Got His Nose Caved In...

I was waiting to ask one of the sweetest, nicest librarians I have ever met a question, and the guy she was talking to was telling her, 'We're actually looking for people...'

The long and short, he was trying to get her to refer people who come through the library looking for jobs to him. Because he had jobs for them if they had people skills, blah blah blah.

She asked the name of the company and he said, 'Primerica.'

Something inside me died just hearing it. Still, as I say, this particular librarian is one of those radiant people who make you feel like you might be in a toothpaste commercial when she smiles and I decided I wasn't going to say anything.

Then he asked me what my 'job title,' was and I said Graphic Designer. When he started to ask another question I held a hand up, 'Don't bother. I've been there, done that with Primerica. Biggest rip-off in my life.*'

So this character starts trying to argue the point with me. And I kinda lost it.

'It's overpriced insurance and overpriced, load mutual funds with high expense ratios that underperform the market consistently.'

'Now wait,' he says. 'I've been with Primerica for 24 years...'

'Great. Some people make money with Amway†, but most don't. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.'

At which point this guy said—and to understand how ridiculous life got for a minute, I'm pretty sure he retired from something else before he took up Primerica: he was old, 'Now you're looking for a fight.'

I managed not to laugh in his face. Sort of.

Why am I so bitter? Because I 'invested' something like $1000 in an IRA with Primerica back in 1997. Only $1000 because I started to doubt the wisdom of further deposits. I dropped the overpriced term insurance in favor of a policy from a legitimate insurance company*† a few years later.

So I didn't get stung as badly as I could, but in 2006 when I finally came to my senses and took the money out, it was barely over $900. I had lost something like five to ten percent in almost a decade when the stock market was doing well!

Thing is, Primerica gives good theoretical advice. It makes sense to buy term insurance instead of whole life, and if you're disciplined enough to invest the difference in good mutual funds (something you won't find at Primerica, I guarantee you), you're way ahead.

But by selling their crappy, overpriced products instead, Primerica performs something like a miracle in turning good, sound advice bad. Their goons put messages up on boards making it sound like the only people who say Primerica sucks are people selling their competitors products. I'm not selling anyone's products, I'm just a plain old fashioned victim. You're literally better off in a casino where the slots pay a 99% return.

At least a pimp would be more discreet than to try to get the local library to hustle girls for his stable. To claim you're offering a job to someone when you're actually trying to recruit them into a terrible MLM scheme...

I should have taken the old man up on that fight. 24 years of scamming people this way, it's high time someone broke this geezer's nose.

*Technically not true: the $3000 retainer I paid to Scott Hattrup to be my divorce attorney was a bigger rip-off. He didn't return my phone calls, didn't turn out to even know how to proceed in a divorce, and didn't quit mis-handling the case after I fired him. If I'd stayed with him as my counsel, I'd be living in a van down by the river, for real.

†I shouldn't damn Amway by association. I've heard some Amway customers say they get good stuff cheap for being in the system. Which makes Amway, at least from what I hear, a much more above-board concern than Primerica.

*†Don't let the Primerica assholes fool you. They'll roll out Smith Barney and Traveler's Insurance as signs of legitimacy, trusting that your simply recognizing the names of these firms will satisfy any skepticism you have. These firms are household names, but so were Arthur Anderson, Enron and AIG: it doesn't mean you're smart to do business with them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Crazy Train

Tom Lehrer once commented on people who make you really look at how little you've done with your life by saying, 'When Mozart was my age, he'd been dead for nearly two years...'

Lest Tom feel unaccomplished, he's probably a bigger figure in my life than Mozart. I dig Mozart, maybe even love him, but could he have done a Viener Schnitzel Waltz? Case closed.

Anyway, what with the band and all, I've been practicing guitar with a decidedly rock & roll bias for the first time, in something like 23 years. And in trying to recover some of what I've lost (almost everything) I've discovered a quaint non-profit cottage industry of YouTube guitar lessons.

Time was when this kind of stuff cost you upwards of $30 a half hour. I transcribed stuff like this for students when I was as young as the kid on the toilet, here. But I didn't give it away on the internet, I parsed it out in weekly lessons.

Now, on the flip side, with all the lessons and 'tabs*' out on the 'net, you can't scream at your teacher when they get it way, way wrong. Which happens a lot.

So anyway, in the process of trying to learn a song I once (sort of) knew, and haven't even convinced my band-mates to play, I found this charming lass playing Crazy Train on violin. Even went to the trouble to multi-track and cover both the overdubbed guitar stuff and the vocals. I am in awe: she has learned details on violin I was too lazy to learn on guitar back when this was a 33 rpm activity.

If I could claim Mozart an unfair comparison (I've outlived him, so far, by over three years), what of this chick who's probably way younger than me?

I have a standing marriage proposal to my friend Julie, but I'll also make one to tomatomedia, whoever she is. I know, you shouldn't propose to multiple people unless you're a Mormon Fundamentalist or something, but it's not like either one will ever take me up on it.

*I hate tablature. It's a system of notation specifically for guitar which shows finger positions on a fingerboard. If you can bother to learn tabs, you can learn to read music. Which opens up the possibility of reading...I don't know, anything! Written for violin, for piano, for belching monks, whatever. And while real music notation allows for position markings and fingering details, tabs do not really address such issues as rhythm: if you haven't heard someone else play the song, tabs do you no good at all.

I find myself trying to decipher tabs, nonetheless, because as VHS lost out to BetaMax, as government intervention has trumped actual markets, the bad idea has won. Try to find a legit transcription of a rock song online, it's impossible. I found myself, with the above embedded
Crazy Train lesson actually translating tabs to sheet music because it makes my head hurt trying to read the tabs...

Improv Stir Fry

No recipe, this was strictly wingin' it. I had some basmati rice I cooked a few days ago for another dish I've forgotten.

So strictly with what was on hand:

Improv Fried Rice
1/3 cup canola oil
6 dried chilies
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
20 (or so) fresh curry leaves, torn
1 diced onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup fish sauce (I used a Thai fish sauce recommended by the market owner)
1/2 cup oyster sauce
1/4 cup crushed peanuts
eight cups cooked rice, refrigerated
4 eggs
1 cup frozen peas
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Heat canola oil, chillies, and curry leaves until they start to change color; add onion, mustard seed and cayenne, keep stuff moving. When edges of onion pieces brown, add garlic, peas, fish and oyster sauces, rice and keep moving until rice is broken up. Add a splash of water if you've neglected the leftover rice fora few days, rendering it too dry even for stir fry. Crack in four eggs and keep everything moving until it looks about right. Serve with red onion loops and alfalfa sprouts for garnish (or whatever you have on hand).

Would have been better if I'd had some bean sprouts or bell peppers, something crunchy to add at the end...