Monday, March 31, 2008

Bonding over Baked Goods…

Tonight is the Cub Scout’s Father-Son Cake Decorating contest. An excellent idea and a great way to get the dads out of their “manly Pinewood Derby” mode and into something a bit different. For me, of course, never having been into the “manly endeavors” in the first place, this was right up my alley.

Sonya and Jeremy were absolutely giddy about designing and making their Pinewood Derby cars, as well as helping Liam with his. I was totally and completely ambivalent. I was pretty busy at the time and didn’t have time to think of a decent design and have never been great with powertools. Oh, I can sculpt something pretty cool – given the time – but I knew I wouldn’t have the time to devote to a decent-performing and simultaneously cool-looking car that they did.

So I just sat back, let them spend the nights up until 4am polishing axel nails, sanding the body, researching graphite lubricants, arguing colors, and making a mess of the living room. I complimented Liam, Sonya and Jeremy on their designs and offered encouragement, but I just didn’t have time to make one myself. I lamented not being a part of it to a degree, but aside from being too busy, I just wasn’t interested in a project where performance was a key factor. I’m an artiste, not a grease (or in this case, graphite) monkey!

Then came the next contest: a father-son cake baking and decorating contest. It didn’t have to taste wonderful or go fast, just be edible and look cool. Now THAT I can do! I can turn almost anything into something cool looking with a bit of ingenuity and the right materials. Hell, even with the WRONG materials, I can make due!

We had almost forgotten about it until Friday night and had no real plan. Sonya, Liam and I have gone over a few concepts when we first heard about it. Extravagant, elaborate plans involving movable parts and such, but didn’t draw anything out. So on Saturday, before I left for work and the kids’ grandma came to pick them up for their semi-weekly overnight, we ran down some plans.

There are several categories to win in: tallest, outdoorsy, most colorful, Cub Scouty, etc., but none of them really sparked our imagination, so we decided to just make something unique and cool. I downloaded a few pictures of Optimus Prime, both the original Transformer and the newer movie version, and went that route.

Originally, we were planning on the new version, but with all of the contours, flaming paint job, and detail involved, I figured it would take forever and we didn’t have much time. After a bit of gentle coercion, I convinced Liam to go with the classic design. Simple in form, but cool and recognizable. I went to the store and got icing, cake mix, and other necessary accouterments. I went to work and the kids went to Grandma’s.

Sunday, Sonya and I went to the Coffee Beanery in Royal Oak for what is becoming a semi-regular gathering of Dondero alumni, all part of our general music geek clique. We had a nice time conversing with several folks we don’t get much chance to see, catching up, sharing stories about work, kids, life, etc., then left to meet up with the kids in Flint.

We arrive to the cakes all baked, waiting for me and Liam to work our aesthetic magic. I darted out to Meijer for a few more necessary supplies: icing dye, pretzel rods, graham crackers, etc. Upon my return, Liam and I get started.

I set my laptop on the table with the picture of Optimus Prime on the screen for us to work by. I started cutting the pieces into squares and rectangle to fit into the basic form and Liam mixes the colors into the icing, then we started spreading it. Now, I’m a whiz at sculpting in plastecine, as most who have known me for years will tell you, but a nice, moist cake is a whole different animal. Getting the icing to spread evenly without tearing the cake apart is time-consuming and requires more patience than Liam apparently had. After about 20 minutes, Liam got bored and frustrated and left to play video games, leaving me to do most of the work.

Eh, such is the mind of a 7-year-old. I was a bit disappointed, but more than happy to try my hand at it anyway. After assembling the pieces, frosting the basic form, applying the accessories like pretzel rod exhaust pipes, graham cracker windows, etc, I call Liam in to place the Oreo tires. By the end, we had a pretty damned convincing Mack truck!

I place the near finished cake in a box Sonya’s mom provided and gingerly carry it down the stairs from the condo, all the while picturing the scene from Sesame Street of the baker carrying “10 Banana Cream Pies!” and promptly falling down the stairs, splattering them all. I arrive successfully at the bottom, place the cake in the back of the station wagon, and we drive home VERY slowly and carefully. Once there, the kids are asleep and drag themselves to bed.

The cake looks good, as I carry it into the house and place it on the stovetop to give it one more admiring look, but it’s not quite Optimus Prime. It needs…something. I head to Kroger just before closing and get a few zip-loc bags. I head home and load some of the colored frosting into them and snip the corners of the bags to do some detail work. After about 20 minutes of filling in holes in the frosting, evening up some lop-sidedness, defining some edges, completing the paint job on the trailer, and painstakingly adding the Autobot logo, I step back and marvel at my own genius…

Paul & Liam's Optimus Prime Cake

It may not win any specific category, but it’s by far the coolest damned cake I’ve ever seen, let alone made. Liam was a big help and we had a lot of fun doing some of it together. The phrase “No Courtney, you can’t help. This is a GUY project” gave me a chuckle, at least after Sonya promised Courtney they’d make a flower cake with no guys allowed to cheer her up.

Sonya helped Liam with the woodworking project for the Pinewood Derby and I helped him for the cake bake. Hell with stereotypes and gender roles! We had a blast and I’m real proud of what we ended up with!! Can’t wait to see what the pack thinks tonight!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Who am I?

Ah, the eternal question. I'm am a contradiction. I'm an eclectic celebration of a dance! I do Fossey, Fossey, Fossey. I do Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham, or Twyla, Twyla, Twyla, or Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, or Madonna, Madonna, Madonna, but I keep it all inside...

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog boiling himself down to a rather appropriate synopsis of his various roles. I figure this is a good way to start.

The basics: 33, male, blond hair, blue eyes, 230 lbs. (working on that…sometimes), living in a suburb of Detroit, and currently employed at a music store as a shipping manager and instrument repair technician (among other titles) and at a Blockbuster Video as “Entertainment Specialist” (read: glorified register jockey who’s not afraid to talk to customers at length and/or make a fool of himself publicly).

First and foremost, I am a husband and father. I have been married to my lovely and extremely intelligent wife, Sonya, for 11 years. We have 2 beautiful children, Liam-7 and Courtney-4, who are more beautiful and brilliant than my genetic makeup has any right taking credit for.

Second, I am a 10th level geek. I say that with the utmost pride these days. The things that bring me the greatest joy and relaxation are the things I would have gotten beaten up by jocks for in high school (and sometimes, almost did). Barbershop harmony, Star Trek, old and off-color comedy movies and comedians, sci-fi, comic books, and a knowledge of pop culture well beyond my 33 years. I sing in a barbershop quartet, a barbershop chorus, play the ukulele and trombone (among other instruments I dabble on), own and watch dated and obscure TV shows, collect comics and odd relics of pop culture from my youth (California Raisins figurines, Garbage Pail Kids, odd toys and kitsch from the 80's), and listen to music that is generally averaging somewhere between 20 & 80 years old.

Professionally, I plan to be a high school band and/or choir director. Currently, that plan is stalled while I try and get old tuition bills paid off so I can finish my few remaining classes. Priority-wise, my being an educator weighs equally with my being a musician. I have a good amount of talent, knowledge, and experience when it comes to music, but it's spread rather thin. "Jack of all trades, master of none" comes to mind. I have a good ear and am fairly proficient on the instruments and genres of my choosing, but I have no illusions of ever making a living as a performing musician (by that, I mean having a lucrative career - "jobs" and occasional gigs don't count). I have always enjoyed inspiring others and helping folks become better at what they choose to do, so education is my chosen field. And, of course, I tend to adhere to the old adage, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach". I've always prided myself on being able to explain how to improve at something, rather than demonstrate it. Plus, I’m perfectly happy riding the coattails of someone else’s success and taking pride in my role in it.

All of the aforementioned, however, covers more “what” I am, rather than “WHO” I am. What I am is identified by what I portray and make visible to the outside world. Most of you who know me already knew everything I just relayed. WHO I am has more to do with my thought processes, beliefs, and values. These, I tend to keep close to the vest, as do most, to prevent conflict, observe social decorum – or more often – to avoid rejection in any given situation.

I’m a mainstream, moderate liberal, politically. I believe that the government’s role is to do all it can to provide for its citizenry every opportunity to maintain the highest level of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I’m a bit more of an isolationist than I realized, as in today’s political climate, NOT to be an isolationist seems to mean being a party to this administration’s “nation building” efforts. Being the geek I am, I’m a full believer in the “Prime Directive” in that I do not believe we should ever impose our will or belief structure on foreign entities unless invited or requested. Any less implies a conquering empire.

I believe in taking responsibility for one’s own actions; owning up to your mistakes, recognizing your own shortcomings, making amends, and hopefully learning from the experience. People are faulted and make mistakes. To expect any more from them is unfair and unrealistic. Acknowledge one’s own shortcomings and attempting to rectify one’s misdeeds is a sign of true character and intelligence. Case in point: Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s response to his mistakes vs. former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer’s to similar allegations.

That being said, I believe, moreover, that one should take responsibility and ownership of one’s own station in life. I often bemoan the status I find myself in. I don’t earn enough, I haven’t finished my degree yet, I wish I had a bigger house, nice car, etc., but the fact is that my own decisions (or lack thereof) have led me to where I am. Yes, unforeseen circumstances can lead one to horrible places and situations, but in the end, how you got there and how you deal with those situations are governed by your own decisions. You have the choice of sitting on your ass and saying, “poor me,” or standing up and doing all you can to change it and better yourself, your posterity, and your situation. That’s not to say I believe in “every man for himself” or Machiavellian means to your own ends. I believe it is every human’s responsibility, should they choose to be a part of the increasingly global society we live in, to try and help and support their fellow humans to the best of their ability, offering doors of opportunity to those in need that those in need must decide to enter themselves.

I believe in God. I question my faith on occasion, not out of despair or frustration – on the contrary, that is often when my faith tends to strengthen – but in moments of overwhelming logical contemplation. I think man needs God. As long as humanity can ask the question “Why?” and not have a definitive answer, humanity will need God.

I think churches – more specifically religious doctrine and organizations – can be extremely detrimental to society and the individual. Just one more group of people in power telling the masses what to think, generally to either maintain their own power and wealth or out of fear of other ways of thinking that they don’t understand. I believe religion to truly be the opiate of the masses. I do not think the concept of divinity is a bad thing. FAITH, however, is different. People without faith are easy led by fear. Fear is a human reaction to the unknown. At the risk of entering into my UberGeek persona again, I quote Yoda: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate…leads to suffering.” Faith eases the fear of the unknown with belief. Faith in people is dangerous, as people are imperfect. Faith in God is safe, as God is perceived to be perfect.

I believe there is an ultimate plan and design for the universe. I believe this to be somewhat separate from religion. My questioning of my faith rarely comes from a lack thereof, but a question of its origin. Does the ultimate plan and subsequent conclusion of the universe derive from a scientific and logical outcome or divine plan? This is my occasional quandary. Being human, I tend toward the idea that God is the architect of the master plan, as the possible combination of variables creating the path toward the end of time is more than science could ever predict. I would rather think a kind, loving, and just God decides my fate and that of the universe, rather than cold, calculated empirical data and formulae. Then there is the concept of cosmic energy and perpetuation of the consciousness via this energy beyond the corporeal being. This becomes an intriguing gray area between God and science. But this rambling diatribe has gone on long enough for now.

Suffice it to say, I don’t know what’s true. That’s part of the human condition. Existentialism is too depressing for my fragile psyche to handle right now, so until I know everything, I’ll stick with my faith in God. He never lets me down. It may sound a trite reason to adhere to a belief structure, but God is love, and love never lets you down. Logical? Perhaps not, but faith isn’t always about logic.

Whew! That was exhausting! I haven’t done that much thinking in a while. I’ll probably keep this subject in reserve for period of total writer’s block and either expand on it or delve into some of my other core values.
It’s like antihistamine for the brain that clears my mental snot buildup.

The Sword of Damocles...

(Another unpublished draft from March of 2008.  Interesting to look back at how much has changed.)

Well, it's been a long time coming.

If you're a regular reader or a friend I've had occasion to vent to regarding my employment situation, you've likely heard me speak of my boss - the ancient owner of the store I work at who remembers when dirt was the newest thing. Well, it seems he's in the last throws of a myriad of ailments and is not expected to last much longer. It has always been assumed that when he goes, so goes the business, and that's just what, it seems, is being set up.

Without going into details that I haven't been thoroughly briefed on and have only heard 3rd party, it looks like I will likely be out of a job within the next 2-3 months. I've never had problems finding *A* job, but now with a wife, kids, mortgage, bills, etc., it's not gonna be easy to find something that'll fill this gap - especially in these times.

The last time I was hunting for a job, it was the end of the technology boom. The economy was riding high, the war hadn't started, the housing market hadn't gone into freefall, and America was still respected (anyone remember that far back?). That was about 5 years ago. Back then, all I had to do was walk into a place, fill out a one-page application, and I would have a job after 1 interview. Granted, I wasn't looking for high-paying, career-level positions, but I was young, friendly, enthusiastic, articulate, and intelligent. It used to be that I would never go for more than 2 weeks without a job. I'd have a reasonable savings built up, enjoy a week off, hunt the next week, and have a job by the end of that week. I NEVER worried abut being unemployed.

Now...I'm scared shitless.

I'm 33, no degree, experienced primarily in low-paying retail and service jobs, have a family to support, and the economy - especially in Michigan - is shot to Hell. What the hell do I do now? I don't have the money to finish my degree, a pile of bills mirroring Mt. Everest, and no real prospects for anything NEARING what I make here.

I have bitched about this job for years. There are a lot of things about this place I won't miss, to be sure, however there were several important and undeniable advantages to this job: VERY close to home, good pay, LOTS of downtime (followed by periods of sheer chaos), flexible hours (at least regarding leaving for emergencies), free repairs for my own instruments, and I've learned a TON about instrument repair, which will come in handy as a band director. I will NOT miss the incompetent management, absent-minded owner (though this method of his exiting is a bit more extreme that I would have wished on him), and the occasional megalomaniacal professional musician customer.

Still, I had fallen into a groove. I had become (relatively) comfortable here. I knew my job(s) and did them well. What now?

I can't take a job at another, similar store (if there IS such a thing) for anywhere NEAR what I was getting here, mostly because I have several job titles here. I could probably get a job as a repair tech at 1/2 the pay, but here I was also the shipping manager, web developer, graphic & ad designer, janitor - basically anything the rest of the folks here are too lazy, busy, or incompetent to do (usually the aforementioned asshat salesman's tasks).

To top it off, I had recently negotiated to get 2 weeks paid vacation from the owner. This happened about a month ago. He had refused to sign the paper I had written up outlining the agreement (80 hrs/yr., not to result in overtime, etc.), saying "my word is good enough!". Now it appears that the manager is planning not to give it to me. More hassling of the ailing boss and manager is clearly needed here.

On the bright side, I just conversed with my friend and former lead of my quartet, Brad, who is currently singing with the quartet at Henry Ford Greenfield Village. It seems that auditions are coming up. The pay's about what I get here and would be INFINITELY more fun than packing and servicing tubas. After getting a bit of info from him, I now have an audition set up for next Tuesday.

I don't expect much to come of it, really. I've heard the quartet (in a few different combinations), and while they're quite good, they seem to focus more on a pure choral sound than a traditional "barbershop" sound, turning it more into male quartet that sings barbershop songs than a "barbershop quartet" in the style I'm used to. This means there will likely be a hundred or so college-age vocal majors from all over, with ears and voices much better than my own, vying for the same 4 spots. Not great odds. I do have a few things they might not, however. Apparently they're in need of someone who can play the ukulele for a few of their tunes. How many college kids do you know that can play ukulele?! Who'da thunk my ukulele could help me get a job as a paid barbershopper?!

I'm hoping that between a shining recommendation from a current member (Brad), my more permanent proximity to the venue, my vast music and barbershopping experience, and the fact that I play ukulele, I might stand a snowball's chance at the gig. The schedule will probably be weird, but not wholly impossible.

Of course, if I DO get the job, technically, this may preclude me from competing with my own quartet. More than half of my income will be coming from singing, thus qualifying me as "professional" and not "amateur", as the rules stipulate. May have to do some research there.

So, in a matter of hours I have gone from towing-the-line usual life, to mild panic, to anger and frustration, to potential professional glee. God, I hate emotional roller coasters. Guess we'll just see how it all pans out.

Thank God I still have a couple months to quell the looming shitstorm this may stir up in my life.

Okay, that's all the whining for now.
Coming up Next, Coda Honor LIVE! and a chance to help a great cause.

End transmission...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Luck ‘O The Irish", My Arse…

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Corktown went well. Sonya and Leigh headed down about 2 hours early to join a friend of Leigh’s in the parade walking a pack of Irish Setters. This left me to gather up the kids myself and head to our usual spot along the parade route across the street from Nemo’s. Not unexpectedly, they dragged out my timeline and bit. After doing a mountain of dishes, a bit of tidying around the house, and gathering some chocolate milk for the kids, I argue with Liam a bit to get moving and we hit the road about 1:30. We grabbed some Taco Bell on the way to be sure the kids get some protein before inhaling the piles of candy they were sure to gather along the parade route and a 6 pack of Guinness for me and whomever else we should meet up with.

We got there about 10 minutes into the parade. About 40 minutes after my anticipated arrival time, but still typical for us, and not missing much. Liam desperately wanted to wear his roller blades to the parade. I wasn’t keen on the idea at first, knowing Michigan Avenue is brick paved and bumpy, and fearing skinned knees or a bumped head marring the experience. I eventually acquiesced, and I’m glad I did. He’s apparently got this roller blading thing down pat. It sped up our movement from the car to the parade, and he spent the whole time zooming up and down within about ½ block on either side of our spot, laughing, cheering, meeting other kids, and snatching up candy and beads without a single scratch or bruise. We met up first with my sister Val’s old flame Stephan and his girlfriend, and later with Val, and eventually my best friend Lou and his fiancĂ©.

Though I forgot to borrow the camera from work, Val got a few great shots. You can see them on her Flickr page here: Val's Flickr Page

As the parade was wrapping up, I spotted a guy in a leather jacket with “Teen Angels” emblazoned on the back. They being my favorite local A Cappella/Doo-Wop group, I stroll over and ask if he’s in the group. After chatting him up a bit, discussing barbershop and A cappella music, I find out he’s the brother of a good friend of mine in another quartet! We have a few laughs as the parade comes to a close, and the small mob of us that had coalesced head to Sonya’s parents’ place to gather and decompress.

The rest of the evening was spent between watching the Balduck Mountain Ramblers at Nemo’s, chatting at the house, drinking, and munching on take-out Botana from Xochimilco’s. I passed out in a chair, letting Sonya take the kids home and figuring on a short nap before heading home. I woke up about midnight (MUCH later than I had planed), and drove home, with a quick stop by AJ’s CafĂ© in Ferndale to participate in their world record attempt to sing “Danny Boy” non-stop for 50 hours.

St. Patty’s Day proper was spent at work, then home to watch the kids while Sonya took some much needed time out to hang with her family at Nemo’s to watch the Ramblers some more and have a beer. That’s about where the fun and supposed “Luck O’ The Irish” ran out…

Just where the hell did that phrase come from anyway? Snakes, famine, and religious oppression at home, hatred, bigotry, indentured servitude, and deplorable living conditions here. Where in the hell did ANYONE get the idea that the Irish were lucky?

Well, even only being about ¼ Irish, it seems that sour brand of “Irish Luck” is coursing through my blood again. The car I bought for such a deal about a month ago is fast becoming a giant mutant albatross around my neck. First the heater core doesn’t work – a $400 repair I haven’t done yet. Then I notice the stereo has a few glitches, which, having no garage, I can’t get to until this interminable cold weather breaks. I still have to find a bed liner for the hatchback area. The front driver’s tire has a very slow leak. Then, most recently, it had been running a bit rough and the “check coolant” light came on. No biggie – probably just needed a top off on the radiator fluid, right? That took care of it for about a week, then the light came on again. This time my car’s thirst was quenched for all of a day before the hood started to steam. The temperature gauge was still within the realm of “normal”, but I figured I’d take it in for it’s first oil change under my care and get $15 worth of free advice from the grease monkeys there.

I drive in with a pleasant smile, hoping they’ll say it’s a slipped hose or something. Well, faith ‘n begorah, if it wasn’t the water pump. On top of that, my serpentine belt is in tatters and on the verge of disintegration. Great. I head to the local discount auto parts store for a $45 water pump, $20 serpentine belt, and a $15 timing belt (which you may as well replace if you’re doing the water pump), and I take it to my trusted mechanic, Tony, at BYOP (Bring Your Own Parts) Auto Repair.

I left it with him first thing yesterday, knowing he probably wouldn’t be able to get to it that day. He usually encourages appointments so he can plan his schedule better. I hop a bus to work from there and wait…and wait…and wait. About 3:30 he calls me with a grim tone in his voice. He knows I ain’t Rockefeller and try to do the minimum needed to get from point A to B. Apparently my thermostat wasn’t reading correctly and sometime (probably Saturday) I had blown a head gasket.

This can often be a death sentence for a car, depending on how the engine’s built. While my Mercury Tracer (basically a Ford Escort) has a good rep and being a Ford product, parts are relatively cheap, it wasn’t exactly designed for durability. It’s the kind of domestic Econo-Box you buy in a six-pack and hope to take good care of to get to about 150k miles. Mine's at about 102k. He runs down the litany of procedures for the work and as my heart beats faster in my chest, having assumed I just dumped $1500 down the drain buying this overrated go-kart, he gives me the total…$500 (give or take $100).

That’s it? I was figuring on about $300 for the water pump anyway. Was I happy? Hell no, but at least that repair brings my total cost of the car to around the Blue Book value (so far – I still have to get to the heater core before next winter). While it’s not a repair I was financially prepared for and will suck my account down to the dregs, it’s not a panic-inducing situation (knock wood).

So I’ll be without a car…AGAIN…for about a week or so while I get the necessary work done. God willing, this will be the last mandatory repair I’ll have to do for a while.

Spring barbershop convention is looking less and less likely…

Friday, March 14, 2008

Wearing of the Green (and other such nonsense)...

Could the evil spell of the cantankerous Winter Warlock finally be losing is hold on us? Could it be that he may finally be bidding a long overdue retreat into his desolate, frozen crypt for the year?

This winter has been particularly long. Between the schizophrenic weather with record-breaking snowfall and several fake, all too brief thaws, stir-crazy kids in desperate need of outdoor activity, a desolate economic watseland stretching our resolve to the breaking point, and the world in general being in seemingly unending turmoil, we FINALLY come to the seasonal turning point for me and my family...

...Saint Patrick's Day!!!!

Easter is often looked upon as the symbolic beginning of Spring for most. Bright flowers (greenhouse grown, riddled with pesticides, then cut or potted), festively colored eggs (chemically dyed), and the Christian time of renewal (oddly enough, replete with Pagan iconography). While I like and appreciate Easter for all of its well-intentioned symbolism and faith-based sentiment, it's not Easter that symbolizes the beginning of Spring for me - it's St. Patty's Day.

Each year for the past decade or so, on the Sunday before St. Patty's Day, my family has headed down to Corktown in Detroit by the old Tiger Stadium for the annual Detroit St. Patrick's Day Parade. For some reason, for all of the parades that I can remember, the weather has always been spectacular. After 4 months of the cold, gray Michigan winter, the parade weather has always been bright, sunny, (relatively) warm and just down-right Spring-like, seeming to turn on a dime and go from blizzard the week before to near Utopian the day of. This year seems to be no exception.

Last week we got pummeled with snow, sleet, ice and a bit of rain, throwing temporal constants to the wind and making winter seem perpetual. Over the past couple days, as if Mother Nature wanted to be sure to get the last remnants of the ice patches (formerly thigh-high piles of snow) out of the way by the start of the parade, the sun has shone and the temperatures have crept up into the tolerable range. The outlook for Sunday: sunny and mid to upper 40's. Not exactly tropical, but a damned sight better that what we've dealt with for the last 1/3 of a year.

The Annual Corktown Saint Patrick's Day Parade, held along Michigan Avenue between the Lodge Freeway and the old Michigan Central Depot train station is a spectacular, festive celebration of everything Irish, Detroit, Spring, and just plain fun. The feel is almost like Mardi Gras, with costumes, music, beads, baubles, and treats being thrown from every passing unit, and of course, a drink in almost everyone's hand. Despite the traditional presence of a myriad of alcoholic beverages, the scene is remarkable family-friendly. Being held always on a Sunday afternoon, most folks tend toward moderation (if not at least keeping friendly respect for the 'sobers', families, and designated drivers). The crowd is boisterous and lively without being rowdy, and it's a safe, fun time for all.

For those of you who have never been, a few tips for your first time:
  • Come early.
    The parade starts at 2pm sharp (after church with time enough to get the corned beef boiling), but don't wait till the last minute. The parade route isn't hard to find a spot, but parking usually is. You're likely to find a spot within 3-4 blocks of the parade route, regardless, but you may spend time winding around every block in search of it while you are constantly maneuvered by police around the parade and marathon routes. Besides, there's lots of great people-watching to do, the bars open at noon, and Corktown has some absolutely GORGEOUS architecture to admire as you wanter the local streets. Get to one of the bars early enough and you may score some beads, buttons, or other swag.

  • Bring a flask of your favorite Irish drink/cocktail.
    Not the whole damned bottle or a full case of beer. Just enough to sip on, keep yourself a bit warmer, and maintain a mellow attitude and shit-eatin' grin. Popular favorites include Irish whiskey, Irish cream, Guinness, Harps, Smithwick's, Killian's Irish Red (if you must - it's not Irish, but made by Miller in Milwaukee), or best yet, prepped Irish Coffee in a thermos. We usually bring hot chocolate for the kids. Be sure to put the hot chocolate in a notably different container than the Irish Cream and don't mix them up!

  • Bring a camera.
    There is SO much variety in the parade units, you'll be sure to want some snapshots. The weather is always so bright and sunny (a wonderful happenstance, knock wood) and the groups and floats so colorful, that any picture you take is bound to turn out publish-worthy, if not near iconic.

  • Wear green!!!
    Obviously. You may be subjected to a light pinch by drunken college girls if you don't.
    Hmm... Come to think of it, some of you may want to leave the green at home, after all.

  • Leave room in your pockets for some stuff.
    You'll be coming home with beads, candy, maybe even a Danish or two (wrapped, of course) thrown from the groups in the parade.

  • Warm up your pipes.
    And brush up on your Irish drinking songs. Inevitably the crowd will break into singing one of the songs piped out by a passing band, community group, or float. Don't worry about how you sound. Most of them won't remember tomorrow morning anyway. ;)

  • Go to one of the local bars (Nemo's is best) after the parade.
    And on St. Patty's Day proper. The huge tent Nemo's has up in their parking lot will be full of colorful characters, friendly faces, and the best Irish Folk band in the area, the Balduck Mountain Ramblers. The Ramblers are there from noon until the last Leprechaun has spent the last of his gold on both parade day and St. Patty's. Learn the words to "The Unicorn Song", "Black Velvet Band" and "Danny Boy"- you'll hear them a lot (much to the band's chagrin).

  • Find Me!!!
    I'll be camped out around Nemo's, most likely, and right by the street. While my cell phone may be out of commission, I shan't be hard to spot. Just look for my kids scrambling for candy and beads, my white Irish sweater, and ever-present Red Chucks.
This is the best parade in Detroit - hands down. The Thanksgiving Day Parade may have giant balloons and bigger floats, but is too cold, too crowded, and too early in the day. The Labor Day parade is warmer, but too politically charged, often too hot, and rather boring. This parade has everything, plus a great afterglow.

If you're thinking of going, drop me a line and we can gather in the same spot, hang out, and catch up! If you're a barbershopper, be prepared to sing a few tunes! We may even be able to get up on stage at Nemo's and give the poor guys in Balduck Mountain Ramblers a break! Given they'll be singing for about 18 hours over 2 days, they're usually more than happy to let someone else hop on stage while they grab a beer!

Corktown St. Patrick's Day Parade
Sunday, March 16th, 2008
Along Michigan Ave., between the Lodge Freeway
and Michigan Central Station

(by Old Tiger Stadium)

For some great pictures of last year's parade, go see my sister Valerie's Flickr set here: Corktown St. Patrick's Day Parade 2007

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Coda Honor on YouTube - DAAAAMN we're tight!

Lately, each time my quartet has gotten together, we've been ringing chords more and more. It seems that even when we don't have time to rehearse, we're improving. Maybe we're listening better, maybe we're relaxing more, maybe it's just dumb luck, but starting with our rehearsal about 3 weeks ago, this shit keeps getting more and more fun. We sang "Zippidy Doo-Dah" 3 weeks ago and sat on a good ol' barbershop 7th chord in the tag for what seemed like years until we finally ran out of breath, giggling with glee. It happened again at the next rehearsal, 2 weeks later.

Monday night we performed for our chorus at the chapter's guest night. Our bass, Big Dave, was running a bit late, so we went on second, after Singing with Dad, a quartet of 2 fathers and 2 sons from the Macomb chapter who had been singing together and competing forever. I was a bit reticent to follow such an experienced group, but figured this was OUR chapter and some inexperienced rookies, so no big deal.

One of the other chapter quartets had been singing through "Darkness on the Delta" on the break, so that one was off our list. The chorus had been bombarded with our rendition of "Underdog" in the past few weeks, what with the prep for the annual show, and "Rainbow Connection", though a signature song of ours we do well, has been a bit done to death for these guys. We decided on "If The Lord Be Willin'", a chorus song we do quite well, and our Fall contest ballad, "I'll Be Seeing You", which we haven't touched much on lately.

WOW! It must have been the comfort of being in a familiar setting and the near bathroom-style acoustics of the church basement the chorus rehearses in, but we RAAAAANG like never before! I had one of the guys in the chorus record it for me, and after several plays, I'm still amazed:

"I'll Be Seeing You"

"If The Lord Be Willin'"

And for those of you more interested in kitsch or for some morbid reason want see how white my legs can look in mid-winter, here's our performance of "Underdog" at the Detroit-Oakland chapter's annual show a few weeks ago. Please, no comments on the bad pompadour wig - I should have just sprayed my hair black...


Special thanks to Paul F. Perry, bass and arranger of The Blanks (from the TV show Scrubs) for the arrangement. Heck of a guy, whom I now owe a few beers. I wish I was that clever at arranging!

Now, the trick is to come up with the funds to get us all to contest this April. Registration is covered by some money for singing Valentines we helped Today's Special with, but gas, food, and lodging for the 3/4 of us in the quartet who are broke is another story. Gotta try and come up with about $350 or so for the 3 of us in the next 3 weeks.

...Time to start casing liquor stores and pricing ski masks.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Four Eyes and a Dropped Shoe...

Pardon the lack of blogs. My laptop power cord has gone "PFFT!" again and I've been busy at work, so I haven't had much time. Another chord's on the way...again.

Well, I finally did it. I got glasses. I held out longer than anyone in my family at age 33. Picked them up last Saturday, with Courtney in tow. The first few minutes with them on were rather disorienting, but after my eyes adjusted, I was surprised how much better I can read things at a distance. I'm generally wearing them most of the time, but I can get along without them. I've already gone through the "Crap - left them at work" and "Where the hell did I put those things?" while they sit perched atop my head.
New Glasses

As for the barbershopping gig at Greenfield Village, well, as they say, "if it's too good to be true...". I came home Tuesday to a disturbingly thin envelope from the Henry Ford with a 1-page letter replete with gratitude for my inquiry, yadda-yadda. No gig for me. I was initially rather upset, but I managed to let it roll off my back. It still kind of irks me, but I probably came off a bit overbearing at the call-back. I tend to have an enormous ego about the few things I feel knowledgeable about - including, of course, barbershop. There's probably a number of other reasons - some justified, some not - why I wasn't given the gig. My friend, already in the quartet, was moved to tenor, which gives me the impression they don't really audition for specific parts, but want folks versatile enough to do more than one. I'm only decent on tenor & bari, really. Oh well, maybe I'll try again next year, if it fits into my schedule.

On happier barbershopping notes, I was scheduled to work this Friday during the chorus's annual performance for the Greenfield Presbyterian Men's Club dinner, so I couldn't make it. Being so close to my Blockbuster, my quartet decided to stop by after the show, and we managed to sing for about 40 minutes for the customers while I was on the clock. Granted, it's not the $90/day I'd get at Greenfield Village, but it was nice to get paid to sing (sorta). We sounded good and had a lot of fun.

Been working on some graphic design for a pet project of my dad's. It's fun. I love this stuff. Did some nice things and it was well received.

Okay, gotta run. Guest Night at chorus tonight and my quartet's performing. I gotta get home to prep Liam for Cub Scouts first.

Coming Up: Video of my quartet in the 2008 DOC Annual Show!