Monday, June 29, 2009

Double C-note Entry!!

Yup, 200th post. Should that mean anything? Make me reflective? Have me analyzing my progress over the past 3 1/2 years so I can coalesce the vapor of human existence into a viable and meaningful comprehension?

Probably...but it won't. And kudos to those of you who got the reference...

So here's how my weekend went...

It was mildly uneventful, with a few minor exceptions. The weather was just downright frickin' BEAUTIFUL! Saturday started with sleeping in just a tad, checking e-mail & Facebook, and some chores (laundry, dishes, etc.). It seemed like it was going to be a fairly boring weekend. About noon, my roommate, Paulie B., asked that I drive him to Ikea for some "knick-knacery" to deck out the digs in. I had never been to Ikea. I had heard over the years about the wonders of Ikea - the simple and functional design, the rediculously affordable wares, the fun and festive shoping environment - but never made the 1/2 hour trek to the nearest one in Canton. As I walk in the door, expecting some kind of Sam's Club-ish warehouse, I'm greeted to the smell of cinnamon rolls and offered a Sweedish meatball...and I was smitten. Any store that greets be with comforting smells, a friendly smile, AND meat is okay in my book!!

Paulie and I browsed for about 2 hours, finding all SORTS of great furniture, rugs, housewares, and odds-and-ends that would be PERFECT for the House of Pauls, meanwhile I was making my own mental shoppping list for when I eventually move back into my own house. Of course, as I'm dead broke , I simply bought a 6-pack of the cinnamon rolls that had seduce me upon entering, and 2 8-packs of wooden clothes hangers for $3.95 each to start replacing the bent and warped wire ones in my closet. A seemingly insignificant purchase, but for some reason, the quality and price had me squealing like a teeny-bopper at a Jonas Brother concert! My first Ikea purchase!!! It was like a rite of passage.

From there, we head back, I hang my fresh, clean laundry on my new hangers (yay!), and Val stops by in her new ride she bought exclusively for getting herself to California in a couple weeks. We pile the lawnmower into the back and head to her friend Pashka's place so I can mow her lawn. As Pashka was out of town and unavailable to visit, Val decides to head to the Salvation Army for some shopping during their 1/2 clothing sale while I tend to the yard work. I finish quickly and I cool off in the breezy evening and have a nice chat with a friend on the the phone while I wait for Val to pick me up. We then head to help out my ex-wife by mowing her front yard. After I'm done mowing and Aunt Val's done chatting up her niece, we pile back into the new ride and she drops me home to have a peaceful evening at home.

Sunday was productive and peaceful. I woke up and made scrambled eggs and thick-cut bacon for me and the roommate (the place STILL smells like bacon - yummmmmm). As the beautiful day wears on, I helped Paulie vacuum up the varitable RUG of dog hair underneath the washer & dryer, sweep the floors. I notice the neighbor next door edging his sidewalk. I had planned on this as one of my chores for the day, but as he has crept a good 3 feet onto our property with his edging, I couldn't put it off. As I'm slicing into the 1-foot-square patches of turf that had overgrown onto the cement over the past half-decade, my neighbor offers his garbage can for toting the remains to my compost pile. Then, the neighbor across the street offers his wheel barrow! As I finish, my next-door neighbor helps me shovel the dirt & grass and grabs his blower to clear my sidewalk! As I admire my clean and clear sidewalk, I'm suddenly struck with the notion that I have completely awesome neighbors and live in a great town.

After that was done, Paulie, as a gesture of gratitude, takes me out to see the new Transformers movie. I don my Autobot belt buckle and we head to the Star John R. Cineplex. It was fun. A decent enough movie, heavy on mind-blowing special effects and way cool action sequences, but painfully thin on plot or character development. The main character's parents were better developed than anyone else, and have the least screen time. A good popcorn-munching flick, but a bit of a disappointment and PAINFULLY long at nearly 2.5 hours. On the plus-side, it DID have Devastator, Soundwave, & Rampage (who was the only robot that looked even remotely like his original counterpart).

After that, I headed out to Caribou Coffee in Royal Oak for their Open Mic night. I had hoped to have my quartet sing there, but asking 2 days ahead of time was a bit too last-minute - especially for our newly employed bass, who had to work. I showed up with my ukulele a bit late, but James, a Caribou employee, friend, and Blockbuster customer, was glad to have someone else to fill some time, as the roster was kind of light that night. I sat with my sister and we chatted and played on our laptops while we waited for my name to be called. After listening to some good (and not-so-good) guitar players and some mediocre poetry by an octogenarian, I get up there. I hadn't planned ANYTHING, but decided to try Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - and made a miserable mess of it. The crowd was very forgiving, and I played it up with good humor, gracefully leaving the stage with a witty quip. As the evening progressed, Valerie and I decided to try something together, so we ducked int the alley and tried "Lucky" by Jason Mraz & Cobie Caillet. It sounded decent, so we went up and tried it with the following pallet-cleansing results:

From there, I went home and hit the hay, satisfied with a weekend off great weather, some great fun, and some productivity. This week's packed to the gills with quartet rehearsal, chorus rehearsal, dinner with my baby girl (while my big boy is off at summer camp), work, and who-knows-what for the holiday weekend! As usual, I'll fly by the seat of my pants and make the best of it!

Friday, June 26, 2009

15 Books in 15 Minutes

I did this survey on Facebook and thought it would make a good blog. A bit of a divergence from my usual stuff. Yea, it took me a LOT longer that 15 minutes to write them up, but ooh well. I can't just say a couple words about these books.


15 Books in 15 Minutes

Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 (or more) friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose.

1. The Bible. (specifically the story of Sampson & Delilah in Judges) - Okay, I'm not a big Bible-Thumper, but my mom used to read this story (quite enthusiastically) from her braille bible when I was a kid. I always asked for it.

2. The House With The Clock In It's Walls - John Bellaires - My 5th grade teacher read this to the class and I re-read it myself. Oddly enough, my father-in-law found it for Liam last summer,as well! Great young-reader level Gothic horror.

3. 1984 - George Orwell. (I'm stealing K.T.'s write up on this. It's perfect, and I'm lazy) This book stuck with me after I read it in high school and I still remember certain scenes and images from the book (The movie sucked! Don't bother!) as being so solid -- possibly one of the best books ever written. (PK's note - it's also a beautiful and tragic love story)

4. Animal Farm - George Orwell. Another great. Emotionally riveting, politically inflammatory, and a timeless story. This book wrenched my emotional and intellectual guts out. I've read it several times.

5. Charlie & the Chocolate Factory - Ronald Dahl - Read this in 5th grade and devoured it.Of course, I saw the movie first, but at that age, I was AMAZED that there were so many differences! "You mean when they make a movie about a book, they can CHANGE things!?" It curtailed my impulse to watch a movie rather than read for my book reports. I subsequently read "James & The Giant Peach" as well as "The Great Glass Elevator". I always wished they made a movie on that. Imagine floating Vemicious Knids with today's CGI!

6. Skeleton Crew - Stephen King - A collection of short stories, many of which made it into the Creepshow movies. I had it on my night table at age 11 and read a story a night before bed. BAD idea! Loved it, of course, but I didn't sleep much or well while I was going through it.

7. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (series) - Douglas Adams - I won't write up every book, because they really can't be looked at individually. Once I realized Adams was a Monty Python writer, it cast a WHOLE different perspective on the series and I found it absolutely...freaking...HILARIOUS! The only one I haven't read is "Starship Titanic", but though it's a part of the Guide's multiverse, it's by Terry Gilliam and not Adams, so I don't feel guilty about it. I'll get to it eventually.

8. Star Trek: The Return - William Shatner (& Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens) - THIS is the book that got me back into reading for pleasure. I had stopped reading books that weren't assigned about 8th grade or so. No time, too much effort, excuse, excuse, but while walking through Rite-Aid, I saw this cover with Picard & Kirk's face. I was intrigued and bought the paperback. While reading it, I found it was the 2nd in a series of Trek books by Shatner and devoured the series. There's some pathetic "I'm Not Dead Yet" moments, ego maniacal passages, and some WICKED bad puns now and again, but good stories! Kudos to the Reeves-Stevens for keeping Shatner on a leash! I now own and have read some 20 or so Trek novels and own most in hardcover.

9. Metamorphosis - Fraz Kafka - Creepy. This was assigned in college and was my first foray into existentialism. Good thing I'm generally a cheery person. A GREAT read full of amazing imagery, but just a plain downer. Then again, the same can be said of most of Orwell's stuff.

10. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo. Okay, I didn't finish it. Have you seen this book? I mean, have you SEEN this book? Unabridged?! It's a mile thick! That's not so daunting in an of itself, but the rambling descriptions of Paris can make you feel like you're reading the 'begats & begots' sections of the more dry books of the Old Testament! I try not to read 'abridged versions' of anything. I like to see what the author was trying for, like the director's cuts of movies, but it's like going from a 25lb barbell to trying to bench press a Mack truck. A great story, no question, but get over your literary high horse and read an abridged version - or just see the musical. It makes a great step-stool for changing light bulbs, though.

11. The Killing Joke - Allan Moore & Brian Boland - Batman...yeeeeah! I owned a 1st printing of this uberdark graphic novel in High School. It was my first REAL comic book purchase. It practically tripled in value in a few months. When they got to the 9th printing, I traded it for Ralph Biggs's copy of Dark night...and creased the cover on it. Needless to say, the trade became permanent for good form. I bag and board nearly everything now. Great story, AMAZING artwork, shocking plot twists, and NUDITY (rare for the family-friendly DC, especially in the early 90's)! I still own a copy, but it's hardcover...and in French. I don't read French. :/

12. Stupid White Men - Michael Moore - Yea, he's a self-serving blowhard, but the guy's got a lot of great points, his ideals line up with mine, and he's just freaking hilarious! Most of his books are pretty similar, but this one's not as dated. I should reread them to see if they hold up as well a decade later. I have most of his books, and this one I got him to autograph.

13. Lies and the Lying Liars The Tell Them - Al Franken - C'mon. Politically left, well researched, AND an SNL cast member and writer?! You think I WOULDN'T own his books? He blends current events, pop culture, and his own personal life into a GREAT read. It's like sitting on a living room couch and talking with him over coffee. Comfortable, unpretentious, never preachy. Just a helluva guy and a helluva writer.

14. The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein. Classic, though I never quite reconciled whether the focus was about a mother's love and generosity or the ungrateful, oblivious kid. Still, it makes me cry whenever I read it.

15. Pat The Bunny - Edith Kunhardt Davies - Who didn't own this book? It had a special place for me, though. As my mother is totally blind, this was the one book we could share interactively. We could pat the bunny, feel daddy's scratchy face, smell the pretty flowers, and truly experience the book together. Lots of happy memories of this book, and the first book I INSISTED on getting when my son was born.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Whistle while you work...

Wow! Has it really been almost three weeks since I wrote a blog? Deepest apologies, dear readers (and lurkers). I'd love to say there's been nothing worthwhile to report, but that'would hardly be the truth, and to be honest, there's too much to try and fit in one blog.

Lemme e'splain... No. There is too much. Lemme sum up.

I'm on the verge of being financially destitute, but I'm managing to scrape by with the help of my family. I'm going through a divorce, but I don't feel lonely. I'm at the lowest point of my life, but I'm happy most of the time.

I know, right!? Makes no sense, but I'm not complaining (much). I am surrounded by the coolest people and drawing strength from the fact that I have unbelievably supportive friends and family to see me through this. I've re-established my direction and WILL pull myself out of this, as I always do. The only real frustration is not being able to give any real details here, as pertinent personal and professional parties have a tendency to snoop around my blog, looking for ammunition. It's pretty maddening, because most all of the things I want to blog about are on these topics.

I saw the premier episode of Glee (CBS) a week or so ago and it rekindled the fire in me to finish my degree. I plan to meet with my adviser and re-enroll at Wayne State in the Fall. The biggest trick to that is to somehow find the $850 I owe them before the term starts. This will be particularly tricky as I am currently earning BELOW minimum wage, working on commission. I could rant for several blogs on this topic, but it is what it is and all I can do is sell my ass off and try to earn more, for the time being. It's infuriating, but as always, I'll work hard within the system to better my situation.

I'm finding that having a roommate has it's ups and downs. I don't have the freedom to use the space as I please much of the time, as we have to coordinate our social schedules. Even just sitting in front of the tube to chill is often out, as he also want the freedom to have his friends or his band over or do some chores and play his music (which, thankfully, is usually all kinds of awesome - the kid's got good taste in music).

One of the perks (and perils), though, is that Paulie's pretty damn OCD. He keeps a STERILE clean environment. The drawback - he expects me to share in said disinfecting. Living in such an environment is VERY refreshing, and I have no problem keeping up my end, but his standards tend to get a bit...much. In my experience, most people have 2 levels of clean: everyday, and company. "Everyday" is tidy enough - dishes accumulate a little bit, the floors need sweeping, the occasional pile of mail or clutter is left out for a little while, but it's kept to a minimum and not left for so long as to become a day-long daunting chore to get things back to livable. "Company" is the get-in-the-corners, don't-let-a-dish-sit-in-the-sink, clear-off-all-surfaces, mop-all-floors, harsh-disinfecting-chemicals-over-every-surface kind of cleaning one does when trying to impress. This is the level he expects all the time. I'm finding this the complete opposite end of the spectrum from what I'm used to, which was refreshing at first. Unfortunately, now that he expects me to adhere to his General Patton white glove treatment (thankfully keeping his standards out of my bedroom), it's creating the same frustration and workload I had before. Rather than coming home from work and relax in my own home at any point, I 'm given a list of things to do and I have to hop onto chores. Thankfully, he has some understanding when the kids come over, and they're generally tidy enough when they visit, but I am usually left with some sweeping, mopping, and dishes to do on the quick.

He's not rude about it in the least, but his standards are just a bit over the top. I'm no Oscar, in my opinion, but he's a Felix to the Nth degree. It's just how he is and we're just getting used to each other and learning to adapt. Given my current situation in all aspects of my life, I'm finding my ability to adapt and still stay relatively unstressed VERY handy. I still think he's an Ubercool roommate, and maintain my insanely high opinion of him as a helluva guy. As he says, "OCD isn't for everybody."

I have tons of other things to blog about : the kids, friends, family, but all of that will have to wait for next time. For now, as the man says, "Time to make the donuts." Tune in next time! Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!

Friday, June 5, 2009

My Kind Of Town!

The first time I remember setting foot in Chicago was the summer of 1990. I was on tour with my drum corps and we had a free day between shows somewhere in the Midwest. The bus pulled in front of Shed Aquarium about 10am, dropped us off, and basically said to be back by 6pm. I remember walking through the streets with my cohorts in complete awe of the variety of things to do, places to shop, architecture, sculptures, and culture as we tried to find the Sears Tower in the gaps between skyscrapers. Since then, I have always said that if I could live ANYWHERE else in the US, it would be Chicago.

This past weekend, after finally accepting a standing invitation from one of my oldest friends, Josh, I got to return to "that toddlin' town". He's told me time and again that I should hop a train and spend the weekend with him at his apartment by the lake, so I finally decided to take him up on it. After a mere 32 hours in Chicago, I am more in love with that city than ever before.
I woke up 2 hours before my train was scheduled to leave, just to be prepared for any SNAFU's. Having worked both jobs the night before, I was amazed at how much energy I had! I double checked my packing list, loaded up, and got to the station 45 minutes before departure. I spent a peaceful half-hour snapping pics of the dawn on the trees and playing my uke to kill time. The train ride was SOOO relaxing compared to driving, and for roughly what I would have spent in gas anyway, by FAR the best choice.

I emerged from Union Station about 1/2 hour later than planned, and so I didn't have to wait long for my friend Jenny to pick me up. We headed (via several missed turns and 2 calls to Josh for directions) to Josh's place of employ, as he planned to buy us all lunch at his upscale steakhouse while he worked his shift. Thankfully, it was VERY slow at the restaurant that day, so we all hung out, ate, chatted for a few hours, and did some much needed catch-up for a few hours. Afterwards, Jenny drove me to Josh's place, we talked for a while, and when she left I played on Facebook while waiting for Josh to return from work so we could hit the town.
We walked from his apartment the 3 blocks to the El station and hopped the train a couple miles. We get off, walk 2 blocks, and Josh says, "Paul Keiser, meet Wrigley Field." I look up and there's the sign I've seen in so many of my favorite John Hughes movies. Josh took the obligatory tourist photo of me, then we walk down a few blocks, turn, and all of the sudden I am confronted by a TIDAL WAVE of fabulosity. Josh had taken me to "Boy's Town", the GLBT Mecca of Chicago. We head into his favorite watering hole he described as "the un-gayest gay bar in Chicago...aside from all the Madonna & Cher on the jukebox". The vibe was fun, the beer was cold, the patrons cool, the owner was great, and Josh and I had a great conversation without having to shout (much). I had a BLAST!

After 4 beers and 3 shots of Jager, I'm beginning to feel the fact that I hadn't had much more than 4 hours of sleep in about 40 hours, so we stop by a Mexican place for some grub and hop a cab back to Josh's to turn in.

Sunday was to be the day we hit the downtown. I woke up about 2 hours before Josh, so I played on my computer and watched Ferris Bueller - ya know, for research. Once Josh is up and we'd had abut 3 cups of coffee each, we headed out in the GORGEOUS sunshine to explore Josh's eclectic neighborhood on the way to have Dim Sum for breakfast. We passed stores, markets, restaurants and bakeries representing just about every culture in just the 4 blocks to our destination, all the while Josh pointed out their specialties and his favorites within them.
I've never been much for ethnic food. I'm a fan of the "know quantity" and rarely stray much form the menu at a typical corner diner. I was in an adventurous mood, however, and Josh hadn't steered me wrong yet, so Chinese it was - and I loved it. We strolled back to the apartment, stopping in a few shops on the way and looking at the whole cooked pigs, chickens, & ducks hanging in the windows.

I then packed my overnight bag back up, and we took the bus downtown. The weather was absolutely perfect. Josh planned the route very carefully, apparently, because we hit most every major Chicago icon on our 3 hour walk through the city. The Chicago Theater, the river, Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain, Sears Tower, Chicago Stock Exchange - everything south of the river - on our way to Union Station so I could catch my train home. I got a ton of great pictures you can find on my Flickr page.

As I edited and cropped my pictures ion the ride home, I realized why I love Chicago so much. It has a layout and footprint that feels very much like Detroit, but so much better. The transportation system works, the parks - ALL of the parks - are maintained, the buildings are clean, and best of all, the architecture is maintained and restored, rather than neglected or demolished usually.

Someday down the road, maybe I can find a way to move there. It'll be a while, because I'm not leaving my kids, but someday. It certainly is "My Kind Of Town".