Tuesday, January 29, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different...

I could write a blog venting about all the shit that's hit the fan this week, but that's wholly depressing and boring to read, so instead, I'll give my opinion on the recent rule changes for the 2009 season recently proposed by DCI and my thoughts on the activity (in regards to DCI) as a whole.

Suffice it to say, I am not a fan of the direction DCI is taking drum & bugle corps. Here is the letter I wrote to DCI:

For what it's worth (very little, if the current direction of the activity is any indicator), I would like to state my wholehearted disapproval of the recent rule changes put into effect for the 2009 competitive season.

There is a fine line between innovating and re-inventing an activity, and DCI has been treading further and further past this line each year. I was a member of a DCI level Div II in the early 90's and saw the furor created by the addition of a 3rd valve. "Old School" corps veterans insisted that it changed the sound, made corps too easy, etc., and I tended to ignore them. I was simply pleased that we were now able to play more notes and have a fuller, richer texture to chords. Similar arguments were raised, I'm sure, with the the addition of the 2nd valve, rotors, and of course, the addition of the pit percussion.

Now, however, it seems as though DCI has been instituting rules to make drum corps more of an art form than an experience. Gone are the days of spine-tingling, bright, in-you-face shows, filled with pageantry and excitement.

The rule changes being approved by the Board of Directors over the past several years seem solely for the benefit of making the "artist's" visions become reality more easily by removing all possible obstacles including changing instrumentation to fit more standardized, mass-marketed equipment that the sponsors already produce. In other words, the recent rule changes seem geared solely to the designers and instrument manufacturers, not the participants or the fans.

I was opposed to the move to Bb horns. This was touted as a benefit to the smaller corps, as they would now be able to buy inexpensive, standard horns, rather than more expensive G bugles. Yet for the first several years, only open class corps were allowed to use them, thus setting a standard that required most smaller corps to go to the great expense and time to completely replace their existing horn lines in order to be taken seriously. This conveniently created a demand for the manufacturers to only produce their higher profit margin, mass-produced instruments already in production, rather than have to make a smaller profit on the more custom made G bugles.

I still resent the move to Bb bugles. It's a different (though yes, arguably more concert-like) sound than the activity has established, but it's not Drum & Bugle Corps. The addition of amplified voice, electronic synthesizers, and (as I see coming) woodwind instruments makes this an entirely different activity.

If DCI wishes to continue down this road to becoming a summer BOA program, by all means, create one, but I have had enough of DCI preaching that it is trying to preserve this great activity in the cloak of "evolution". DCI has stopped evolving and has gone to recreation at the expense of what was once a great and exciting activity to watch and perform.

I, for one, will be taking my ticket money to DCA from now on. A bit mired in the past, perhaps, but infinitely better than what has transpired in DCI. DCA may be slow to "evolve" at times, but they at least have a sense of what their supporters and fans want, as opposed to the corporate, self-involved, and pretentious interests guiding DCI's recent decisions. DCA is still DRUM & BUGLE CORPS.

If you want to mess with format and structure, create a new genre. Make a "Field Show" class. Maybe even combine a few contests to gain crossover fans. Grab the favorite brass quintet of your choice and take it on the road. It's proven successful and audiences will go to see it (including myself). But if you want to call it Drum & Bugle Corps, keep the standards and practices that make it so. It's not drum and synth and woodwind and guitar and voice corps - it's DRUM & BUGLE CORPS.

Call me a Spartacus wanna-be, but until DCI comes to it's senses, I will be boycotting all DCI events (along with most of my fellow disgruntled corps veterans) and spending my ticket, souvenir, and concession money at DCA shows.

Sincerely,
Paul D. Keiser
Northern Aurora Drum & Bugle Corps
Baritone 1990-1994

Friday, January 25, 2008

Even Keel, But Not Improving Yet...

(From January 25th 2008)

HEY! Been a while! How the hell ya been?...GREAT to hear!

Now, shut up. I'm trying to type...

Seems that, unlike the housing market, my situation has bottomed out for now. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but not exactly hunky-dory, either. It just means that the piles of shit waiting in queue for the fan are each taking their turn. This week it was an unprecedented hangover, Liam being suspended from school (again), and the power getting shut off for non-payment.

Sunday night I stayed up a bit too late, drinking whiskey. Lately I've been trying whiskey, with mixed results. (my God, was that a pun?) I'm not usually much for hard liquor. I'm more of a beer-an-hour kind of guy. Given the chaotic nature of my life lately and the propensity for Murphy's Law to profile me, the timing of my experimentation with the Devil Water may have something to do with self-medicating. Well, lesson learned. Woke up on Monday still a bit buzzed and feeling like a pile of roasted shit, which has NEVER happened to me, to my recollection. I don't often drink to excess and usually confine myself to mild cocktails or beer. I tried to compose myself for work, but an hour into my shift, I realized it was just too much. I went home, intending on an hour's nap, which somehow turned into 3 1/2 hours.

I'm an hourly employee at Ye Olde Tuba Store, so 3.5 hours means a big hit to the ol' paycheck I couldn't afford. My only solace was that on Wednesday, I'd be driving one of the company vans to Indiana to pick up a mess of tuba cases. 4 hours minimum on the road each way meant a bit more time on the card, so hopefully I'd recover most of it, but it meant I blew my only chance at overtime in the past 5 years or so.

Monday night we get a call from Leigh, who's pipes had apparently burst in the cold. She may need some help to get the situation under control, and at least need to borrow our shower. Being our best friend and owing her a MILLION times over for rescuing us on Christmas Eve, I stayed home from chorus rehearsal to be available to either run to the hardware store for parts, watch the kids, or whatever else may need to be done to help our dear friend. We ended up not being needed for anything that night and couldn't get a hold of her to find that out until late, as she was out getting parts with her much-handier-than-I brother. I was a bit irked at missing chorus, but she was in mid-crisis and had MUCH bigger things to worry about! I was just glad she was able to get things under control. Her water's turned off until the final repairs can be done, so she's been borrowing our shower for the past few days. Fine with us! Just gives us a chance to see her all the more! :)

Tuesday, I get a call from Liam's school asking me to pick him up. That's NEVER a good thing. As I have no car, they would have to wait for Sonya to get him, while I sat and stewed at work over his behavior as of late. Apparently, he threw another fit for something wholly unimportant like his place in line, lashed out a bit, and was suspended for the remainder of the week. A bit of an overreaction by the school, in my opinion, to what was apparently him defying the teacher's order to miss music class for disobeying her and then pushing a chair in anger, resulting in it falling down the risers of the music room.

I'm VERY unimpressed with the school's increasing tendency to simply remove Liam when he acts out, rather than try some sort of in-house discipline like an in-house suspension or recess detention. This suspension basically reinforces the idea that if he doesn't like something at school, if he acts out, he gets several days off. This time, however, his time at home was much less pleasant. He's grounded to his room for the duration with no TV or computer, and permission to leave only for bathroom breaks, getting ready for bed, and chores. You take away the kid's TV and computer privileges and it hits home a lot more. Sonya's been printing out extra worksheets and assignments for him to do in his more idle time, as well. This suspension is NOT just time-off, and he's duly disappointed with it. It does frustrate me, though, that I'm not available more to help enforce it.

Wednesday, I'm picked up by the salesman to hit the road for Goshen, Indiana. We were to pick up 32 tuba cases and 16 tabletop xylophone cases from the case maker, a bright-eyed, chipper old guy named Delmas. Thankfully, the salesman was in the other van, so the only time I had to relate to him was at the beginning of the trip and when we loaded up the vans in Indiana. The first half of the trip was pleasantly uneventful. I borrowed Liam's MP3 player for the trip (as mine was lost in the Christmas Eve car crash) with a full 1GB of choice classic rock, jazz, funk, neuvo-swing, and 80's tunes, and plugged it into my FM transmitter. 4 hours of me, my music, and the road - ahh, bliss.

We get to Goshen and start to load when I get a call from the home phone. This is odd, because Sonya usually calls me from her cell. On the line is Liam, calmly relaying to me that the power company had shut off the juice and mom was really upset and on her cell, screaming at the power company. Apparently, we had somehow neglected to pay them since July, which I find rather hard to believe. I talk to Sonya and let her vent about the absolute jerk of a tech who came to shut us off and the runaround she got on the phone from the power company. I talk to Liam and thank him for being so calm and cooperative during this crisis (in a family crisis he keeps his cool - he doesn't get to watch a movie at bed time and he flips - go figure), and then get to loading the van, worrying the whole time about my wife and kids in a cold house. As a father, you can't help but think you've failed your family in a situation like that - especially when you're 4 hours away and can't really do anything about it.

Salesman needs to head to Elkhart for something, so I head back home solo. I get a call from Sonya a bit later. Thankfully, when all was said and done, Detroit Edison put us on a budget plan, waived the shut-off and reconnect fees, and got us turned back on before Sonya got home from picking Courtney up from school. They arrived from school to the sweet music of the furnace, trying desperately to catch up with 4 hours of falling indoor temperatures. Whew! I arrive home after being stuck for 2 1/2 hours in snowy, rush hour traffic from Ann Arbor to home, drop the van at work, and walk home in the dark and snow.

The nice thing about things "bottoming out" is that it can only get better from here (I hope, knock wood). I've been taking a great deal of comfort in the fact that I know that my family and I will never hit rock bottom. We'll only be as uncomfortable as my pride makes us. I've received a lot of offers to help in various ways from family and friends lately. While many offers I've declined (or at least gently discouraged), the offers in themselves truly warmed my heart, once again proving my mantra, "With true friends, you will NEVER hit rock bottom". I have so many good friends ready and willing to help my family and me at the drop of a hat, and rest assured, I'd do the same for any of them (you).

A HUGE thanks go out to Rachael Levy, Leigh McLaughlin, Barb Bertolini, Diana Schnuth, and especially Sonya's and my parents and siblings for all the help you've offered over the past few weeks!

While I always encourage anyone and everyone to comment on my blogs, please refrain from specific advice on this one. No "You shoulda done this...", please. I just needed to vent a bit, and give some background to my previous, enigmatic blog.

Well, it's gettin' late. Gotta get home to be ready to be picked-up by my co-worker for another full day of working both jobs.

Coming up next: Paul Wins the LOTTERY!!!

(I figure if I put that in print, maybe my chances for it will improve)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Off Balance...

Ever feel like you're juggling, and every few minutes someone throws a new ball at you?

Then, suddenly, someone kicks the back of your knee...

Yea. I'm there.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Arranging Rehab?

I need an intervention or something.

Since my blog about rearranging "Might Mouse", I have arranged about 6 songs, all in the span of a week. So far I have "Mighty Mouse", "Family Guy", "The Old Bathing Suit" (from Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas), "Saying Goodbye" (from Muppets Take Manhattan), and an abbreviated version of "Iowa Stubborn" (from the Music Man), as well as most of Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride", all arranged for quartet.

As if that weren't bad enough, I have about a dozen more songs on deck in my brain, ready to be made into reality, including some more Muppet stuff, Monty Python, the Limelighters, stuff from A Mighty Wind, and others. That's not including the tweaks to a few pre-arranged songs I want to turn into parodies for my quartet.

Hi. My name's Paul and I'm an arrange-a-holic.

Pardon my Geektitude...

But I am in awe and drooling with anticipation over this movie...



There. Just justified the title of my blog.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Choral Ennui Leads to Flowing Creative Juices…

Monday was rehearsal for my barbershop chorus. I hadn’t attended rehearsals for about a month, with all of the insanity leading up the aforementioned “Worst… Christmas …EVER”, so I was glad to get back into the swing of the routine. We have a show coming up in late February, so I needed to get the songs back in my noggin and learn any choreography I may have missed. Lou picks me up and we walk in to warm smiles and ringing chords. Ahh, barbershop – my island of adequacy.

After some warm-ups, we’re handed our newest piece of music. We almost NEVER get things less than 3 months before a performance – let alone something as big as our annual show. The show this year is entitled “What’s Up, DOC” (DOC being the acronym for our Detroit-Oakland Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society), a clever moniker for a show themed around kid’s songs and cartoon and children’s TV theme songs. Our newest addition is an arrangement of the theme to “Might Mouse”, penned by one of our own chorus leaders.

The arrangement is absolutely wretched.

Don’t get me wrong; I like and respect this person. He’s a great guy and an adequate arranger. He does a few arrangements for his chapter quartet, consisting of himself and three other chapter leaders. His arrangements are quite functional, if a bit replete with barbershop clich├ęs, stolen tags, and consisting of few chords more interesting than simple triads and the bare minimum of straight dominant 7ths. He’s done a few arrangements for the chorus before, that have been decent and easy enough to learn for the lowest common denominator in the chorus, but nothing particularly interesting or inspired.

This was at the lower end of his scale.

We start learning it, and I stroll over to Dave, my quartet’s bari, who has two (count ‘em – TWO) vocal music degrees, and before I can utter a word, he grins and rolls his eyes. As they are teaching the parts to the chorus, we’re in the back kibitzing virtually every aspect of the arrangement. This chord is wrong, that chord is improperly voiced, this phrase is over-simplified, that phrase has poor voice-leading, this phrase is just plain dull, majors chords where there should be minors or 7ths, the whole thing is pitched too low, etc. I know he was writing it to be simple and quick to learn, but SHEESH! We point out a few items as they're teaching it and he fixes the simplest of them one the fly.

We spend about 45 minutes learning it and by the end, most of the chorus has it pretty well down. A good thing, as we have only about 6 more rehearsals before the show and there are several tunes we still don’t have sounding very good. I’m sure they’ll all sound great by the end, but the pressure, nonetheless, is on. It should be a fun show, with most of the chorus in the costume of some kid’s show character (I’m Fred Flintstone, apparently) and the rest in black t-shirts with a cartoon character on it.

Later, I’m asked by one of our chapter leaders to give a vocal evaluation next week to one of our newer members. I appreciate being entrusted with this duty and feel somewhat respected as a musician to be asked to do this on occasion. This guy, however, is the weakest link in our chorus.

One thing you should understand about most barbershop choruses is that they’re like Little League teams – everyone plays, regardless of talent or ability. Ya got a kid who can’t catch worth a tinker’s damn? Stick him in right field. Got a guy who can’t sing very well? Stick him in the second to last row, surrounded by others on his part to shore him up and tell him to sing softly. That’s the usual M.O. for most barbershop choruses (sans the international finalist level, of course, who usually audition to even get on stage).

This guy, on the other hand, is impossible. Oh, he’s full of determination and desire to do well, but he just…can’t…get it! He stands like a statue with a somber look on his face and is basically a Johnny One-Note who can’t carry a tune in a bucket. For the past 6 months or so, whenever we have our vocal coach in, we spent a good half of the time trying to fix the basses and it’s almost always HIM that’s wrong. Eventually, our coach gives up, lectures them on learning their part, and just shrugs, not wanting to call him out and embarrass the poor, tone-deaf new guy.

I’ve dealt with people like this in marching band - kids with no sense of pitch or rhythm who can’t seem to grasp the concept “left foot, right foot”. Usually, after some personal coaching, they get it, but on rare occasion ya just gotta shrug and pray a judge doesn’t walk by them. Our chorus Big Wig tells me that this guy is having problems getting the higher notes – ON BASS PART! How do you fix that? In a show, it’s easy enough to just have him sing an octave lower (assuming he can hear the note in the first place), but on contest, a 5-part chord is an absolute no-no. I don’t like being the one who has to recommend giving someone the axe, but I anticipate having little to report that would recommend him. Likely, he’ll just be told he can’t sing in contest. More likely, he’ll be told just to stand on stage, do the choreography (which he doesn’t do any better than he sings) and just not sing. Still a no-no in contest, but harder to prove.

After chorus, I’m so frustrated that I open my laptop and start up the olde Finale ‘07 music software. The “Mighty Mouse” arrangement has me so wound up, that I HAVE to re-arrange it. At this point, I know we won’t use it in chorus, but I can’t just let that mediocre piece just stand, unchallenged. At first, I figure I’ll take what we were given and tweak it, but after looking at it I realize it’s better just to start from scratch. I play the original version from my collection of MP3s (I have a formidable collection of TV tunes) and get crackin’. After a couple of hours, I have something I’m happy with, save it, and hit the hay, figuring maybe I'll give it to my quartet after the show is over.

The next day, I open “Mighty Mouse” to listen and re-evaluate what I’ve done. I’m still pleased, but as I look at the folder with my Finale Files, I notice a tune or two I’ve started and never finished, so I dust them off and start working on them. Before I know it, I have one finished, a whole new one arranged, and another almost done. My addiction to arranging has re-emerged. Now I have a list of about 10 songs I want to start on for my quartet, and if the past 2 days are any indicator, I ought to have most of them done within a week.

Arranging (and marching drill designing) is like a puzzle addiction. Many people start puzzles like crosswords or Soduko and just can’t stop. Now, imagine designing your own puzzle on a scant template, solving it, and when you’re done, having not only the satisfaction of a job well done, but also a work of art. Better still; imagine that work of art being displayed in a gallery. That’s what it’s like to arrange a piece, then have it performed. Assuming your hypothetical “gallery piece” sells for money, that’s selling an arrangement – all for having fun with your bizarre obsession.

Now, I don’t have copyright for any of what I arrange and I’m pretty sure most of it isn’t public domain, so I can’t legally sell the arrangements – not without going through the time and expense of obtaining copyright or hefty legal repercussions, anyway. This means my quartet can’t perform them at paid gigs (technically speaking) and if another quartet wants to use them, I usually just charge them in free beer at social gatherings with the warning that they perform them at their own risk. Still, it’s a thrill to have them performed at all!

Anyway, it’s been giving me a great deal of personal satisfaction that, even if I’m not getting rich off it, I’m doing what I love and it’s (occasionally) being appreciated. Now if I could just get some commissions to arrange stuff that’s legal!

So how was YOUR Christmas, Paul? Part 3

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. It’s been 8 days since my last blog…

Okay, it’s been a while and I have other things to blog about, so I’ll just give the (somewhat) abbreviated version of the remaining parts of what I like to call “Worst…Christmas…Ever!".

Had my left 2 wisdom teeth extracted the day after I got the remains of my car from the impound. Got up at 7am and grabbed breakfast at McD’s. Had the wrong time in my head for the appointment, so I spent an extra half-hour of excruciating anticipation in the waiting room before getting things going. The actual extraction and subsequent stitches for one of the holes were quick and (relatively) painless, but as usual, the waiting and the Novocain shots were the worst. He explains the possibility of “dry socket”, where the clot becomes dislodged or never forms at all, creating infection, severe pain, and necessitates more surgery. (GULP!) This inspires the over-cautious reactionary in me for the next several days.

After a bit of wrangling about billing, I’m given scripts for Tylenol 3, amoxicillin, and Motrin and sent on my way. I hit the drug store for the prescriptions and head home with gauze in my mouth.

After gathering the kids, we went to Christmas Part Deux at my grandfather’s place. Aside from not being able to eat anything with the gaping holes in my jaw still bleeding, it was fun. We leave and Sonya drops me at work at the video store. Yes, I worked the register, with gauze in my mouth, after oral surgery. I’m an idiot.

About 9, Sonya calls me at work (she doesn’t do that usually unless it’s an emergency). Apparently, someone broke into her parents’ house in Detroit and ransacked the place. Sonya was rushing down to help and, thus, wouldn’t be able to pick me up from work for a while. After explaining my situation to the boss, I’m let go early to catch a ride with a coworker who was just leaving, so I could stay home with the kids and not give them another late night. I managed to get the kids in bed without killing them, despite having had a downright shitty week, a sore jaw, holes in my mouth that wouldn’t stop bleeding, and doped up on a trilogy of meds.

The next day, we all went back to Sonya’s parents’ house with Leigh to help clean up a bit more. Bless her heart, Leigh is always there to help out. Thankfuly, there wasn’t much of obvious value at that house. It seems they hardly took anything: a few DVDs, a jar of change, but not much else. Odd and almost frustrating, considering they took the time and effort to kick in 2 doors, empty every drawer, and even take a lamp to the empty second floor to inspect up there. Even the silver was still there. We cleaned up for a couple hours, then wrapped up and had diner at Mexican Village afterwards. I hadn’t eaten in roughly 36 hours and was still bleeding a bit. At the behest of virtually everyone and despite not actually feeling very hungry, I order a side of beans and rice. I finish the beans and a bit of the rice.

The next day, I check my voice mail to find a message from the auto shop. Just as I had feared, the car’s a loss. Sonya still wants to ask some questions, hoping the guy was basing that prognosis on more repairs than were needed to get it moving and (relatively) legal, drawing the process out further. I have yet to retrieve the car, but I expect in the end, I’ll be calling Charity Motors to have it hauled away for parts and some meager tax deduction.

I went onto my credit union to look into a loan for my next car. My credit’s pretty f*cked up right now, so with a co-signer, I may be able to afford some $2500 beater to get me through the next couple years. I’ll probably end up in another late 90’s Ford. Eh, no biggie. I’ve had 3 other Ford sedans in my day. They’re comfy, fairly reliable, get decent gas mileage, and are relatively cheap and easy to repair – especially compared to the Isuzu. Still, I will miss having an SUV. I know they’re not economical or politically correct, but it was comfy, spacious, and I liked having a higher vantage point on the road. It fit me like a glove.

New Year's was quiet and peaceful. We were invited to 2 parties, but given the impending snow storm and the absolutely hectic and shitty week we've all had, Sonya and I decided to just stay home. Sonya's parents came for the kids, as they had plans for the next day to go to the opera with their grandfather to see Hansel & Gretel (which Liam apparently was absolutely thrilled with and extremely well behaved for. I have a 7-year-old boy who likes opera. I'm a good Music Dad and he's got a great music grandpa).

Sonya's brother, Jeremy, joined us and we spent the night munching, drinking, and watching the tube. We set off a few leftover bottle rockets at midnight, watched a couple movies (well, THEY watched - I hadn't eaten much over the past several days, so the drinks I had hit me hard and I passed out quickly). I was just glad to toss out the old year and start fresh.

Thus endeth 2007 and the "Worst...Christmas...EVER"!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

So how was YOUR Christmas, Paul? Part 2

Let’s see – where did we leave off?

Ah yes, Christmas Day.

Christmas Day started off – and remained – relatively normal. Exceedingly so, in fact, given the events of the previous night. About noon, Liam gingerly, but eagerly, enters our room and whispers with glee, “Santa came!!!”

At this point, Sonya and I have managed about 6 hours of relatively decent sleep (Sonya less so, with pain shooting through her chest and back with every toss and turn), so I throw on my robe and head to the living room. As I gather myself, Liam rouses his sister and they both rush to the tree. As usual, the presents from Santa are displayed prominently on top of everything else, unwrapped: glow-in-the-dark Speed Stax for Liam and Christmas Day Barbie for Courtney - just what they asked for. I revel in their faces for a few moments, then explain to them that they shouldn’t open anything else until mom is up and moving. Between the gifts from my family the previous night that were rescued from the car and Santa’s treasures, they have enough to keep busy while I run to the drug store and get Sonya’s prescriptions filled.

When I return with the best Christmas Gift I could have gotten Sonya – drugs – the kids tear into the pile. Usually, Sonya and I will spend a bit on each other and get a few things. With money so tight this year, we skimped on each other to make sure the kids got a good haul. Sonya and the kids did get me the newest volume of Family Guy, however. The kids tore into box after box, exclaiming with utter delight at each new item, be it fun like a toy or practical like new Spider-Man & Dora hats and gloves.

After a few hours, we head to Flint in our only remaining mode of transportation (Sonya’s Prism) for Christmas with her folks. Dinner was supposed to start at about 3, but given the events of the previous night, things were set back a couple of hours. We arrive about 4ish to find Sonya’s father’s cousins already there. Not wanting to waste their time, we hold gift opening off until after dinner, when they have left.

We have a lovely meal of roast beef, a myriad of side dishes, and the Ferris’s traditional Christmas Pudding, and have a wonderful time chatting and just relaxing. After the cousins leave, we open gifts. I got the big item on my “not-necessary-but-greatly-desired” list of a 160GB external hard drive, and spent much of the rest of the evening transferring media from my overstuffed laptop to my new toy while Sonya naps on the couch. We stay a bit later than usual and eventually head home, content that the whole world has NOT gone topsy-turvy and there is some stability left in our lives.

Thursday, I have a dental appointment. I have a mess of cavities and a laundry list of work to be done, but the major problem I need dealt with is a wisdom tooth that had decayed to a hollowed-out cavern. For some reason, Dr. Jay insists on dealing with another cavity first. So I spend a half-hour in the chair while he does his thing.

I must make this clear: I HATE DENTAL APPOINTMENTS! I’m a good patient and can keep my cool, regardless of the discomfort or downright pain I’m in. I’ve always had good dentists and it’s never as bad as I build it up to be, but between the prolonged shot of Novocain, the piercing sound of the drill, and having sensitive teeth to start with, I have to spend a good half hour in the car calming myself down before I even walk into the office. I sat in the chair, closed my eyes, and went to my inner “happy place” while he poked, prodded, and (shudder) drilled. This one was particularly deep, so he wants me to be aware of it, as it may still become infected and may need to be redone at some point. I make an appointment for 2 days later (Saturday, 8am) to get my wisdom teeth extracted.

Friday, I leave work a few hours early to try and get my car towed from the impound lot to a repair shop (at Sonya’s insistence) to see if it’s at all salvageable. This should be simple. Go in, pay the $212 in towing and various other fees (for a totaled car - what a racket), call AAA and have it towed to the shop that was recommended to me, right? WROOOOONG!

I was hoping to do this alone to avoid long discussions about every little detail about the car with Sonya and not have to wrangle antsy kids, but Sonya insisted on coming along and Liam wanted to see the car. After finding the rather hidden offices in a less-than-ideal part of Detroit, I walk in – cash in hand – to bail out my battered and beaten old friend. Of course, the car isn’t THERE, it’s at their OTHER lot, 5 miles away. Sonya’s mom joins us, we get clearance from the main office and head to the storage lot to unload anything of value that may remain in my mobile second home.

Once we see the car and survey the damage in the daylight, we find several things missing – most notably, my trombone. After a litany of profanity that would rival Lenny Bruce, we unload everything else and head back to the lot's office to complain about the missing instrument. Thankfully, after 20 minutes of the guy checking paperwork, he finds it safely tucked in the office. Still, I’m missing a huge box of AA batteries and my MP3 player (which didn’t work particularly well these days, anyway). At this point, I just don’t care. I just want the ordeal over with so I can get to work by 6.

We drive back to the main office. They say if we can get the tattered remains of my poor car off the lot today, they can drop some bullshit $40 listing fee, otherwise, it’ll be that, plus another $15 storage charge. We call AAA, tell them they’ll need all the bullshit insurance and licensing paperwork required to even ENTER their precious lot, and they say a truck will be out in 45 minutes – 15 minutes before they close at 6pm. Just in time, but still making me late for work, so I call to alert my employer to my delay.

I send Sonya with the kids to her mother’s house in Detroit, just a few miles away, rather than have her and the kids stay, restless and bored out of the gords. I sit at the towing office and wait…and wait…and wait. It’s now 5:55pm and the staff is packing up. I call Sonya. She says AAA just called her to say it’ll be another half hour before a truck can get there, missing my window, costing me an extra $55 in fees, the time I missed from work at both jobs, and the past 4 hours of my life. Thankfully, one of the gals at the office (Maxine, bless her heart) opted to stay a bit late to help me out.

The tow truck shows up about 6:40, we get the paperwork all set, and tow my battered “Fortress of Solitude” to the repair shop in Melvindale. By the time it’s all done, it’s 8:30. I call work, who says just to stay home tonight and be ready to work my sales magic the next day.

"No problem," I think, "I'm just having two wisdom teeth extracted at 8am!"

Coming up next: Part 3 - Oral Surgury, Fear of the Dry Socket, More Christmas, Anti-Santas, and a bleak Automotive Prognosis.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Why Isn't Paul More Political?

(From a draft I never published in January of 2008.  Still relevant.  Perhaps even more so now)

Most who know me, know I have fairly strong political views. I can rant for hours about the Commander-In-Thief, his Penguin-esque puppet master, and the vast Right-Wing, corporate-led conspiracy, yet somehow these topics seldom - if ever - make it into my blogs.

I'm a rabid leftist. I was raised with fairly Libertarian governmental views and liberal social views, and they've stuck. In high school and college, I attended protests, boycotted products and companies, and espoused my leftist views at the drop of the proverbial hat. I still wear my beliefs on my sleeve, but these days, my sleeve is usually covered by my coat as I dart out the door to my next commitment to keep my family and life afloat.

My beliefs haven't changed much over the years. Particularly in these harsh economic times, I have become a bit more economically conservative, but my social and governmental perspective hasn't wavered. On the contrary, I think they have been reinforced as I manager to get older and (arguably) wiser, yet seem to not progress much financially. What has changed is my eagerness and ability to be the strong voice of change that I once was. This has happened for several reasons:

1) The discourse has degraded. With the advent of Fox News and the subsequent (and on occasion, sadly similar) liberal backlash, the political climate has deteriorated into a din of noise I simply can't tolerate, and just don't want to be a party to. It's like watching a serious debate turn into a WWF cage match with the entire audience flooding the ring and choosing sides. In the end, it just becomes a useless, bloody mess that resolves absolutely nothing. Sure, I could likely join in the fray and do some damage (as many of the participants on the other political side are the mental equivalent of Pee-Wee Herman in an inflatable muscle jacket), but I'm not exactly a Hulk Hogan when it comes to debate, myself. Words I can do. Fact-based arguments, however, are not my forte.

2) Choosing "sides" on any given issue/candidate isn't as easy as it (seemingly) used to be. I know that's naive of me to say, but as government has grown in depth and complexity, our resources for easily discerning the fact about how it truly operates have diminished. As black and white as either side of the media would like us to believe the political climate is these days, the simple fact is that it's not always easy to tell the good guys from the wolves in sheep's clothing.

Everyone had heard the line, "What publicly funded group has
29 members accused of spousal abuse, 7 have been arrested for fraud, 9 have been accused of writing bad checks, 117 have bankrupted at least two businesses, 3 have been arrested for assault," etc. The answer, of course, being the US Congress. The simple fact is, most politicians are hypocrites and/or bought and sold my major corporations and interest groups. Finding the true motives of most politicians and legislation is virtually impossible these days. Politicians and government officials hire ruthless professionals to hide their dirty laundry and humiliate their opposition, legislation is made so incredibly verbose and replete with "legalese" as to make it impossible for even the most educated and well-intentioned legislators to make an educated decision on, the Spin Machine has made deciphering REAL news from "infotainment" virtually impossible, and REAL investigative has gone the way of the Edsel. While the internet seems to have made all of the relevant public records readily available to anyone who can get to a computer, finding and filtering the pertinent information can take days or weeks, even for an experience research assistant. Which brings me to my final point...

3) Time. There simply ain't enough hours in the day. You've all heard me whine (practically in every blog) about how busy I am. Jobs, kids, school, family commitments, etc., all consume almost every minute of my day. The scant few I have remaining simply are not best spent rummaging through all of the information and becoming an unpaid investigative journalist. That's not my job (though some have suggested it should be). My virtually non-existent "free time" is better spent with my family and sorting out my own thoughts (here, for example) to maintain my sanity within my own microcosm. I could go on for pages about this, but if you want an idea of how busy I usually am, just read some of my older blogs.

In the end, it likely seems that I'm just another jaded non-voter who has lost faith in the American way of life. Not so. I still vote in virtually every election. I have not missed either a federal or state election in my entire voting life, that I can recall. I support my pet causes to the best of my ability. I have even considered running for public office myself on some local level, with the possibility of making public service (NOT politics - there's a BIG difference) my life in some way. I believe the system we have is quite possibly the best in human history...it's just broken. It can be fixed, but it'll take more than a few people with signs to initiate change. It will take a mass movement - a revolution, perhaps - that hits those in power where it hurts them most. No, not money - power. Sadly, money equals power in most situations - as it always has, it seems - but that's what motivates humanity: the power to control. Not necessarily the power to control others, but the power to control one's own destiny. It will take more than one man to accomplish this.