Pop Quiz: MCF's Answers

We now return to MCF's Nexus of Improbability, already in progress....

Before I share my answers to last week's Pop Quiz, here are the bloggers who passed:

Kev Bayer
Name Hidden
Curt, the Happy Husband
Jeff from a Golden World
John Schroeder(Blogotional)

Did I forget to mention that the exam was Pass/Fail? Everyone who took the quiz, passed. Now, on to those answers:

1) They're finally making the movie of your life and, after narrowing the role of YOU down to three actors, they've asked for your choice. Who are the three actors, and which person do you ultimately choose?
Greg Grunberg, John Cusack, and Ralph Macchio. I think Grunberg would be the most realistic choice.

2) You're at a fancy restaurant with your significant other, when your arch nemesis shows up with his gang to rob the place. You left your costume home tonight, and you wouldn't want to reveal your true identity unless there was no other choice. How do you handle this one?
I humiliate myself. I fall to my knees begging, “Please don't kill us! I have money! I'll pay you!” They're as disgusted as my date and when the villain nods to his underling to finish me off, I beg them not to do it in front of the lady. If the scenario plays out according to the rules of comic book logic, said lackey will then drag me to the kitchen out of site from everyone, where I can use my powers and/or honed natural abilities to take him out quietly. I then cut the power and duck back inside, taking everyone out one by one. Later I feign that I fainted in the kitchen and don't remember anything after that. She'll never go out with me again, but it's the price of being a hero.

3) 4 +X/8=15Y-23Z; solve for each variable.
Y=4/15 +X/120+23Z/15

4) They're turning my blog into a sitcom! Quick, who's playing me?
Michael Imperioli

5) What was the scariest moment of your life?
After weeks of lightheadedness, sharp abdominal pains and evidence of internal bleeding, I finally had made an appointment to see a doctor back in the fall of 2000. I was barely eating during this period, because it hurt so much. I had made an appointment for a Friday afternoon, and was at my office in the morning when I felt extremely weak and dizzy. I went to the kitchen to get a bagel, and walking back to my desk thought I would fall over. I sat down in my chair, felt something go “pop” inside me, and the world receded. My ears began to ring as I felt numb all over and broke into a sweat. I tried to speak but had no energy. There was no pain, only a lightness, and as I set my head down on my desk I was sure I was dying. Somehow, after a few minutes, strength returned and with my head still down, I nudged the phone off the cradle and dialed my parents, telling them there was no way I would be able to make the fifteen mile drive back to the doctor's on my own. Ultimately, I made it to the doctor who hospitalized me, and a few days later they diagnosed it as a ruptured Meckel's Diverticulum, a pocket of tissue in the intestine that doesn't belong there, and only occurs in 2% of the population. Surgery corrected the problem, and the subsequent 11 days with a nasogastric tube down my nose were torture, as were the weeks recuperating at home after the staples were removed. Scary as it all was, I think the worst was that one moment in my cubicle when I felt pain, then tingling, then nothing as my body became something separate from my fading mind.

6) After much thought and deliberation, you realize the best thing you can do with your life is form your own team of superheroes. Keeping in mind that you don't actually possess any powers or a dual identity in this scenario, how do you go about selecting your team, what abilities do you look for in potential allies, and what do you call your group?
As the financial backer of the group with no powers other than a cloak and my vision, I'd ultimately hire a strongman, a beautiful telekinetic with a perfect body, a speedster, a shapeshifter, and someone with a super-brain who was good with gadgets and devices we'd need. I'd want them to be known as MCF's Minions but my money would only carry so much authority, and I'd be outvoted when the others chose the name Masters of MCF.

7) If a hypothetical train is traveling East at 70 MPH, and a hypothetical truck is traveling North at 55 MPH, then name 3 famous people you feel shouldn't be famous.
Richard Hatch, Kato Kaelin, and Joey Buttafuoco. Honestly, there are so many, so I just picked three across a span of three decades or so.

8) A freak accident caused by lightning or radiation or genetic engineering or whichever origin suits you, bestows upon you the ability to step INSIDE your television set and interact with the characters. Where do you go first, and why?
I go to Just The Ten of Us, because no one would think to look for me on an obscure sitcom spinoff about a family with eight hot daughters and because of the eight hot daughters. In sitcom reality I'd have a chance, especially if I tutored them with their homework.

9) After winning a karaoke contest, you're awarded the grand prize from a local radio station: you get to perform ONE song alongside your favorite group! Who do you sing with and what song?
”Alive” with Pearl Jam.

10) A blogger you read regularly posts a pop quiz. Do you take it? Please list your reasons either way.
Yes, because it's fun, gives me something to write about on a day where I might not think of anything, and it's a good opportunity to interact with neighbors, possibly better than those “parties” I threw during my first year of writing.

11) The quiz goes all the way up to 11.
But the answer to The Question is 42.



Phantasmic Links 10.30.05

Today is October 30th, and I went to the beach.

I don't care what the calendar says, a sunny day with a clear blue sky was not going to be wasted. It may have been autumn when I raked leaves in the morning, but it was spring when I walked along the shore in the afternoon, and captured some photos of living things to share here at a future date. When it's cold, and dark, and depressing, hopefully there will be photos here through which to visit better settings. I am looking forward to Halloween though, so expect to see appropriate photos in a few days. And now, here are this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

What Famous Leader Are You?
personality tests by similarminds.com

This wallpaper sums up nearly my entire youth. Thanks to J-No for this one.

I've been accused of being clever when it comes to costumes, so I'm kicking myself for not thinking of THESE. I always thought they were terrifying. Hat tip to Kev Bayer.

No comment of mine could do this photo justice.

Who among us HASN'T pit mice against fruit? Well done, Joe...

I'm really looking forward to this movie, more and more. Hat tips all around to both the Film Geeks and Swimming in Champaign.

Speaking of Sean, here's a hazard of using the bathroom in his house.

My best time for Halloween Concentration is 1:26. Thanks to Jamie Dawn for the link.

I found this addictive laser game on In4mador.

This is why I couldn't host a talk show in France.

I'm only going to say this once, kids: Kitten huffing KILLS. Seriously, please do NOT try this at home.

Here's a happier tale about a cat and the French.

Appropriately enough, I'll close tonight with this Costume Critic. Happy Halloween, everyone!




...of the Mutants.

......of the Berlin Wall.

...of the Roman Empire.

...of the leaning tower?




-en and I can't get up!

...into a black hole!

...on black days.

...apart; the center cannot hold.

...in love.


...on hard times.



...back. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm staying up late tonight!

...short. Help me out, and add to the list!


Vocal Contrast

In a casual voice more suited for his characters on MadTV or his role as Static, Phil LaMarr reclines in a chair during a DVD interview and explains how he came up with the voice of the Green Lantern on the Justice League cartoon. He explains that because Bruce Timm draws the heroes with such prominent chests, the voice should be deep and come from the chest. As he speaks, his own mellow voice deepens, becoming more bold and commanding, delivered in the unmistakable crisp tone of the Green Lantern.

Voice acting has changed a lot over the years, and in this feature I was watching on a recently purchased DVD, the actors definitely take it seriously. Not only do they study and develop the voices and match them to the visuals, but they act out the scenes while recording them. If their character has to throw a punch or deliver a kick, they can't get the right sound unless they throw a punch or a kick. I've always been impressed with the dedication of voice actors, and I think it must be a great career. The Justice League and other Timm series have always had the best voice actors, and it all started with Kevin Conroy's Batman. He set a new precedent for how a hero should sound in contrast to his alter ego, and it was always great to see Bruce Wayne's casual tones deepen to the ominous bass of the Batman. I suspect Christian Bale was influence by this when he worked on Batman Begins. He plays the two sides of his character flawlessly, and one scene in particular stands out in my mind, when he tells an enemy he will protect his city. In mid-sentence you can hear the transformation, and know that someone else is now speaking, someone far more formidable than his millionaire playboy facade.

'80s nostalgia is big right now, and could possibly be used to justify my impulse buy of the first 33 episodes of He-man and the Masters of the Universe. Unlike the myriad other cartoons from that decade which followed, this one seems not to have survived the test of time as well. Not only was it clearly aimed at younger viewers, but the voice actors of that era didn't seem to put as much effort into changing their voices. Each actor could have as many as 10-15 roles, and it was obvious. I always had a gripe with the show that Prince Adam and his alter-ego He-man didn't look all that different. On the action figures, they even used the same head for each toy! But in revisiting this series, I realize that his friends and family had to be complete morons not to realize his secret. In the first few episodes, I noticed John Erwin made the character sound a lot more....effeminate...as Adam. Thankfully, this aspect seems to fade as the series goes on, but the result is that Adam and He-man only sound MORE alike. Only by sound editors adding extra echo to He-man's voice is the difference enhanced.

I don't mean to nitpick a cartoon I watched when I was nine. As a children's show, it still holds up, especially with the morals at the end of each episode, messages I realize shaped the way I behaved and interacted with others in a positive way. I believe many children of my generation grew up, however, and began making cartoons themselves, FOR themselves. The level of sophistication in cartoons like the Justice League, not only in the voice acting but in the dialogue and plot, far exceeds any cartoon I watched as a child. Picking up DVDs for both shows this week only served to underline that contrast. It makes me wonder what sort of cartoons the kids of today will make in twenty years when THEY grow up...


Feels Like Friday

I realize that, since I post just shy of midnight most of the time, it WILL be Friday by the time most of you read this. However, I'm speaking of today which, as I write this, is still Thursday. Confusing, isn't it? Perhaps because this has been an unconventional week, I've consistently felt like I was a day ahead of where I actually was. Maybe it's simply been a LONG week.

My former supervisor, who was laid off a few months back, has been freelancing with our company. As I proceeded to drop off some printouts before calling it a night around 6 PM, I passed him in the hall. “Go home!” he said in his perpetually upbeat tone, “You don't work for me anymore!” I'll say one thing for my old boss: he always had his priorities straight. He always made time for his wife and kids, and occasionally took time off for HIMSELF, just to play golf or see a sporting event. I remember on one of the many occasions he urged me to take a real vacation, hearing his philosophy on life: “You have to make plans, have things to look forward to. I find that having something to look forward to is necessary to stay sane.” Sometimes it feels like the only thing I really look forward to is the weekend, to having a few days before returning for another week of meetings and deadlines, to beginning the cycle anew. Five days goes by fast most of the time, this week notwithstanding, but two days always goes by faster.

Hopefully my sense of days will realign itself soon enough. This weekend will be an hour longer, thanks to the “magic” of daylight saving time. It's not just my daily perception that needs to be realigned, however. I realized today that I'm still very much in an August state of mind, very much considering this to be the end of Summer when in fact we're well into Autumn with November just around the corner. We still had some nice days before it rained for over a week, but we emerged into colder air, even with the occasional appearance of the sun. I have a hard time with this transition EVERY year and, through some form of moronic denial, it takes months before I grudgingly get out a jacket and dress more warmly. A walk into town today wearing a thin dress shirt nearly killed me. Reluctantly, I may have to wear a jacket tomorrow. Part of it stems from the denial, but I think kids may have made fun of me in elementary school for wearing a jacket when they didn’t think it was that cold. For some reason I now see it as a sign of “toughness”, enduring the cold, embracing and becoming a part of it. I hope that by typing this, I'll recognize that subconscious trigger from my past, and actually bundle up.

When I left work tonight, it sure didn't feel like I had to go back for a few days. When I walked out of the house into the sun this morning, I sure didn't expect the bitter cold that greeted me, and with the sun I didn't expect it to last. There are many ways of gauging which day it is, be it what's on television or what I'm having for dinner. But days have a distinctive flavor, a distinctive feel, and I think sometimes that sense spills over. I guess the important thing is that TOMORROW will be Friday for real, and in about six months I should be able to leave my jacket home.

Maybe my perceptions change to the reality I wish existed in the now, rather than the later....


PBW: Columbus, Time, and Travel

We can make plans, but things seldom work out as we might expect. At the funeral this morning for my music teacher, his wife shared in her eulogy the last thing he said to her the night before he died: “I'll see you tomorrow.”

It's been an emotional couple of days. At the wake last night, friends, family and students alike gathered, and I met some people I hadn't seen in years. This morning at the funeral, a brass choir assembled by my former elementary school teacher played hymns throughout the service, honoring the legacy of Mr. Sange. Among the group of colleagues and former students were my middle school conductor, and the saxophone teacher I took my first lessons with, who in turn recommended Mr. Sange. It was an honor to play beside all the musicians who started this journey for me so many years ago, to mark the passing of the greatest of them all. At one point one of the trumpet players, now a professional jazz musician in his own right, spoke of his first lessons back in the 1970s. As I listened to him describe the patient steps, the books of handwritten music, I realized his was the same experience as mine, and wondered how many generations of students went through the same special training. Mr. Sange's eldest daughter spoke of his work with disabled children, and I realized how little I knew of his life. He had one student who, due to a hole in his heart at an early age, had lost blood flow to the brain. Mr. Sange spent years with the boy teaching him drums, first with one hand, then a foot, then another hand, until he could do it. It didn't matter how small the steps were or how long it took, he never gave up on ANY student and always got results.

I was also reminded that when he had his heart attack over 20 years ago and collapsed in the street, my elementary school teacher did more than pick Mr. Sange up: he gave him CPR and saved his life. 20 years later, it was only fitting that he lead our group in saying goodbye to someone who touched many lives, and touched many more because of him. I wish I'd had more time to talk to all of my former teachers before heading back to work, but I'd only taken the morning off. It was nice to thank them, and tell them that I'm still playing. I had a weird sensation of time travel by the afternoon in my office, as though I'd spanned 20 years of my own life in a single day. In the morning I was where I came from, but by the afternoon I was back in the present where I'd ended up.

Christopher Columbus didn't end up where he planned to either. And a few weeks ago, while I planned to head into Manhattan to take pictures, several factors worked against me. Rain began prior to that weekend that didn't let up until a nigh unprecedented eight days later. I'd also caught a bit of a cold, and playing in the rain that Saturday and Sunday didn't help. However, knowing that I'd likely be bedridden on my day off, I wisely brought my camera to the parade in the Bronx, for an insider's perspective. What tonight's Photo Blog Wednesday: ultimately conveys is one of life's unexpected journeys.

My dad drove since I wasn't feeling well that day, and I took a picture of some road work on the side of the Van Wyck:

The lesson of course is that you never know on a cloudy what reflections and obscurity you might capture. I can make out my mirror, the guard rail, and a construction vehicle, but ultimately this is a piece of abstract art. The next few shots taken of the highway and subsequent bridge, are more recognizable:

Here's our friend Bill, the trumpet player, and the society we were playing for that day:

The end was in sight, but we were stopped for a while there while groups ahead of us performed at the reviewing stand. It gave me time to take that picture though, as well as this one of my own father looking through his music:

The true genesis of my musical career comes from my parents. If my mom didn't see a yearbook photo of my dad in band, she wouldn't have bought him a horn on their first anniversary. If I didn't grow up hearing him practice, I never would have told my elementary school teacher and gotten one myself. The path led to one great instructor, and though he's in the ground today, the music lives on. It was around before I was here, and I hope it will be long after I join the big band in the sky myself.



A touch of O.C.D.?

When I graduated college, I worked for a small design book publisher. The various books on gardens, interior design, architecture and other subjects were handled either by freelancers or the staff graphic designer, whom I assisted in various ways. Initially, I mostly made corrections to files, loaded disks to send them to printers, and scanned in the various slides, transparencies, and flat art submitted to us by photographers.

The longer I worked there, the more responsibilities I gained. Occasionally they'd let me create something small, such as a business card or an invitation to a book signing, and at some point designing the bi-annual company catalog fell on my shoulders. I had a sharp memory back then, and my multitasking skills were at their peak. Due to the slow nature of the outdated machinery the company had, waiting for progress bars was a big part of my day. The scanner took three passes to scan an image, and I often had batches of photos to scan at a time. The photo editing software took forever to save, the disks took forever to load, and the printer took forever to print. Fortunately, we had more than one computer and my chair had wheels. I devised plans of attack very quickly and carried them out almost immediately. I learned the timing of my equipment, and knew what I could accomplish on one machine while I was waiting for the scanner. While that computer was saving my changes, I'd roll back to process the images. When I first graduated, work was boring and eight hours went by excruciatingly slow. By the time I was bouncing from computer to computer, the day was fast-paced, challenging, and exciting.

We had a system of filing the photographs that came in, based on the projects. All photos of one particular kitchen would go in a manilla envelope labeled 23A, pictures of yet another kitchen might be in 23B, and a set of garden photos might go in 27A. The scary thing is, after I while I started REMEMBERING these log numbers. Since we were working on five books at a time, often with 30-60 manilla envelopes' worth of projects stacked in mail bins, my mental filing system made it VERY easy to track things down. My memory impressed my coworkers, and scared me as much as it filled me with pride.

That was then.

I'm only 30, although someone reminded me today that I'm far closer to 31 than I'd care to admit. When I first started working at my present company nearly 6 years ago, I could remember the job number of every catalog I designed within the span of a year. That ability is long gone, and as for multitasking, it takes but a single e-mail or phone call to distract me, and I sometimes move on to something completely different leaving another file open and unfinished until hours later when I tab to it and remember I still had work to do. There's information I need to access through a web browser throughout the day, yet my first instinct upon launching a web browser is to type in this URL. It often takes a conscious effort for me to stop myself before hitting return, and go instead to the proper work-related page.

Rituals are important. We all have routines, places where we know we'll find our car keys, cell phone, wallet and other important items before leaving the house in the morning. There have been times I've gotten to work and realized my I.D. card was still home, or that I'd left a piece of mail I meant to take with me. At some point, I naturally started double-checking myself. Before walking out the door each morning, I'd check my pockets and run down a list: wallet--card key--keys--work keys--cell phone---change--sunglasses. I usually bring a case with a sports drink, fresh fruit, and vitamins. I've taken to counting those items. Sometimes I close the case, have a moment of doubt or forgetfulness, unzip it and count it again. Then there are my gym clothes. I pack the bag the night before. I know my sneakers are in there along with a t-shirt and shorts. Yet every morning before walking out the door, I have to go through and count those as well. The scary thing is, despite all this obsessive checking and rechecking, I STILL forget things sometimes.

When I get to work, before I get out of my car, I check that my brake is on, the headlights are off, and I've put it in park. I've left it in drive overnight sometimes and didn't realize until I couldn't start the car the next morning what the problem was. So I count the three levers before I get out of the car. Sometimes I do it twice. Sometimes walking away from the car I stop, double back, and peek in the window to make sure, also checking that I did in fact lock the door.

All of these routines started out small, and helped with my increasing forgetfulness. Checking things once, and having a checklist, isn't a bad idea at all. But I've become so worried about forgetting things that, in second-guessing myself, I'm actually LOSING time. It takes me longer and longer each day to get to work. I guess it's good that I'm recognizing this problem now. I have a lot to keep track of, and the more things I can do without thinking the better off I'll be. But what happens when I start thinking too much? What if this becomes a disorder?

I'm sure I'm worried for nothing. For now, I'm going to reread what I just wrote five or six times, and make sure I didn't miss any key points.


POP QUIZ!, MCF Style...

I was about to sit down tonight and answer the actor's studio meme that's been going around. I might answer it later in the week but, because the mood to be a little different struck me, I decided instead to hit you all with a pop quiz. Here are ten questions to answer on your own blogs. I'll reveal my answers and hand out grades in precisely one week. Keyboards ready? Go!

1) They're finally making the movie of your life and, after narrowing the role of YOU down to three actors, they've asked for your choice. Who are the three actors, and which person do you ultimately choose?

2) You're at a fancy restaurant with your significant other, when your arch nemesis shows up with his gang to rob the place. You left your costume home tonight, and you wouldn't want to reveal your true identity unless there was no other choice. How do you handle this one?

3) 4 +X/8=15Y-23Z; solve for each variable.

4) They're turning my blog into a sitcom! Quick, who's playing me?

5) What was the scariest moment of your life?

6) After much thought and deliberation, you realize the best thing you can do with your life is form your own team of superheroes. Keeping in mind that you don't actually possess any powers or a dual identity in this scenario, how do you go about selecting your team, what abilities do you look for in potential allies, and what do you call your group?

7) If a hypothetical train is traveling East at 70 MPH, and a hypothetical truck is traveling North at 55 MPH, then name 3 famous people you feel shouldn't be famous.

8) A freak accident caused by lightning or radiation or genetic engineering or whichever origin suits you, bestows upon you the ability to step INSIDE your television set and interact with the characters. Where do you go first, and why?

9) After winning a karaoke contest, you're awarded the grand prize from a local radio station: you get to perform ONE song alongside your favorite group! Who do you sing with and what song?

10) A blogger you read regularly posts a pop quiz. Do you take it? Please list your reasons either way.

11) The quiz goes all the way up to 11.



Phantasmic Links 10.23.05

There's nothing like a quiet Sunday afternoon filling out annual enrollment forms for benefits, holding lumber while one's father runs it into a table saw without gloves or goggles, and making progress on a Halloween costume that apparently terrifies cats. It's been a day of progress and discovery, a journey toward a Monday returning all too soon, and of course the day on which I share this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

You've all read my contribution to Lorna's latest ingenious blog party; now see what she's come up with.

Keep up with the latest uses and developments for Google™Maps. Hat tip to Rey.

Hey, a lot of you are parents out there, and maybe you don't get out to dinner or movies as often as you'd like. Perhaps the solution to your problems is a Baby Cage....

In an emotional confrontation, TheWriteJerry's son asks about his cross-dressing.

Mechanical Cybernetic Facsimile
It's funny, but I could swear the letters stood for something else.
I found this one over at Wendy's.

Speaking of which, everyone should wish Wendy and Darrell a happy anniversary!

Enjoy this LOST Rhapsody, courtesy of Sarcasmo.

I Passed 8th Grade Math!

I got 9/10 correct on this quiz I found at Sean's and, much like the last time I was in eighth grade, I was upset that I didn't get 10, and wondered where I went wrong as I sat doing math problems on a Saturday night.

Play a funky updated version of Asteroids, courtesy of the Dosetaker.

This next link devoured a lot of time this weekend, simply by combining two of my all-time favorite games.

Not many people know I once played an extra on scare tactics. I have to say the makeup was very uncomfortable, and the guy we pranked screamed like a girl. Otherwise it was a good day.

This is the smallest car EVER. With gas prices being what they are, it's about time scientists got to work on one of these.

Isn't this Peter Parker?

This trailer asks, ”Why can't I be a movie star?”

My blog is worth $0.00.
How much is your blog worth?



Miles to go...

As I took the the cup of water away, my former music teacher smacked his lips, the most he'd moved since my father and I showed up in his hospital room for a visit, and said, “Man, that's good.” It was only water, but, having gone through an ordeal in the hospital myself about five years ago, I knew all too well how precious a little thing like a sip of water can become, how one can appreciate things once taken for granted. We didn't stay much longer. He was exhausted and facing surgery, and didn't have the strength to speak loud enough for my dad to hear. We each squeezed his hand and said goodbye, and as we walked out I looked back at him and he gave me an encouraging wink. This encounter happened nearly a month ago, but before moving forward and explaining its relevance now, it's necessary to look even further back.

I started playing the Baritone Horn in the fourth grade. No sooner had I mentioned to the music teacher in my elementary school that my dad played, then I found myself learning as well. I struggled with it at first, and remember my father's infinite patience when I'd practice at home, and break down in tears when I just couldn't play what was on the page in front of me. After two years, it was evident that I would need more than what the school offered if I was to continue. During the Summer between graduating elementary school and beginning middle school, I'd take my first private lessons once a week. My elementary school music teacher knew someone from the neighboring town, and for three months we'd visit him at the school. I made progress which surprised all involved, including the teacher. At the end of the Summer he recommended I continue taking lessons, but not from him. He himself was a saxophone player, and felt he'd taken me as far as he could. But there was another man, a retired school teacher in our community by the name of Felix Sangenito, whose specialty was brass instruments.

Mr. Sangenito, or “Mr. Sange” to his students and friends, was primarily a trumpet player, one of the best in New York, but he could play any brass instrument. Trombones, Baritones, Euphoniums, Tubas, Cornets and French Horns alike could be found in his home, along with his trumpets. He had a small room in his basement reserved for his lessons, and there cases of instruments were eternally open. He said if you put an instrument away, you'd forget to play it, but if you kept it out so you could pick it up and play any time, you would. Patient and wise, I learned just as many life lessons in that room as I did musical lessons. The first time we went to see him, I clung to my mother upon seeing his German Shepherd. He spoke in a soft voice and the dog seemed equally peaceful and reassuring. Despite my fear of dogs, I was able to sit in that room and play music. Perhaps it was the calming influence of Mr. Sange or knowing one or the other of my parents were always sitting a few feet away, but that dog never bothered me, and I didn't mind that she'd often sit at my feet as I'd play.

My previous teachers used printed books, and there were a few Mr. Sange used as well, but the greatest teaching tool at his disposal was a blank music book, which I still have today. Each week he'd take out a pen and add to it. First one scale, then another, until all fifteen were committed not only to paper, but to my memory. From there he wrote chords, and finally simple phrases using only one note. The note might have four beats, or be divided into quarter notes, and eventually it broke apart on up beats as he taught me syncopation. Only after mastering the STRUCTURE of music did he begin writing songs in that book, simple melodies within which I'd apply what I learned, and ultimately memorize. He took his time, and explained that it was impossible to learn everything at once, in life and in music. The key was to take small steps and build upon them. When I was young and frustrated, it wasn't a lack of talent, but rather the result of attempting to play too much, too soon. He never expected me to do more than I was capable of, so when he challenged me, I had faith that I was ready. Each year with his help I entered music competitions, played solos, and achieved high scores. With his help, I played in concerts alongside the best musicians in my area.

Sange also had an Italian festival band, and when I was old enough to play in the fire department band with my dad, it was only natural one year that he'd book us to play in a feast. My instrument was still bigger than I was, and I needed a strap to carry it. The day was long and hot, but there were a lot of games and rides to go on when we had breaks, and plenty of free food for the band. By high school, my schedule didn't allow me to make as many of his jobs, and so I wasn't there when he had his heart attack. My elementary school teacher WAS there, fortunately, and I later heard the tale of him picking Sange up from the street where he collapsed and getting him to the hospital. After he had a pacemaker put in, he cut down on the feasts and parades. I continued getting side work, and when I met a band in Brooklyn, I surprised them by knowing many of their songs by memory, thanks to Sange.

Of course, the processions and feasts I play these days aren't the same as the ones I did when I was a kid. Sange was the real star, often serenading the crowd with a trumpet solo of some elaborate piece only he knew. After his heart attack, he stopped marching and only met us at the beginning of parades to play a few warm-up notes and give us the repertoire. Time and age caught up with him, and in the last three or four years he's been close to death before. Last year, his son explained the grim problem of why his father's legs would swell up. His heart just couldn't pump fast enough to move the fluids. He began to develop sores and bruises, but his patience and positive attitude never wavered. Every time he'd go into the hospital and people would think it was the last time, he'd prove them wrong and come home, even travel to Florida with his wife. A month ago, when we visited him, it was the first time I even heard a hint of remorse. For a brief moment he said in a resigned tone, “I never thought I would end up like this.” It was only the briefest of moments though, and soon he was asking after my dad's health, and asking how I was doing with work, and if I still practiced. I knew he'd survive his surgery. I was right. He was sent to a home to recuperate and received dialysis treatments, and my dad visited him there last week. In the years after I stopped taking lessons, my dad continued to help Sange with his cars, and his children's cars. In college, the car I learned to drive in belonged to Sange before my dad, and I'd drive it for a good eight years after that. As my dad helped as a mechanic, Sange helped as a music teacher and my dad would often bring music and ask advice, becoming an unofficial student. Last week Sange was making plans for my dad to fix up his electric wheelchair, so he could get around when he finally came home.

Sometimes we forget wisdom, and other times we just ignore or bury the voices of our past, telling us where we're going wrong. Last night I worked until nearly 8 PM, skipping the gym for the first time in weeks, because I'd forgotten some of the lessons my teacher taught me. I can't do everything; no one can. I still tried, rather than ask others for help, and as a result found myself falling behind again. Driving home, I cursed myself for leaving a catalog half-designed, and knew that while I SHOULD go in early on Monday to finish the second half, my morning self just wouldn't move fast enough. I came inside the house venting, on one of my trademark rants about my luck and how things work against me. My dad used to do the same thing when he came home from the garage. My mother and I didn't understand carburetors, and my parents don't understand computers, but that didn't matter. Like my father, I just had to get it out of my system. Their silence didn't seem at all out of the ordinary, and when my tirade was through and I was emptying the contents of my pockets on my desk, my dad walked slowly down the hall, called me by name in a strange tone of voice, and said “I got some bad news today.” I stopped, looked at his face, and said only one thing, the first word that came to mind: “Sange?” He nodded, and lowered his head.

Sange's son had called my dad earlier in the day, crying and delivering the news. Today my dad spoke with not only my elementary school teacher, the one who once saved Sange's life, but with Sange's wife and daughter. In a few days, I think a LOT of people are going to gather to say goodbye to a man that taught many, and touched many lives. 85 years is a long time, and when I consider the 20 years that I knew him, I realize I only knew a small part of his life. Countless teachers, jazz musicians, and other professionals from many generations can trace their accomplishments back to one very wise man.

A good friend was telling me a week or so ago that the reason I'm patient and understanding of old people is because I spend so much time around my parents, more than most people my age. I never really HAD grandparents. My parents married “late in life”, and I only knew my maternal Grandmother before she passed away and joined the other three who'd departed before I was born. Now my mentor is gone, and I'm glad I got to see him that one last time. I look at my dad with his heart condition, see him get out of breath more and more easily and stubbornly insist “that's how I ALWAYS breathe!” whenever I call him on it. My mom, living with asthma her whole life, has been struggling the last few years with a very personal and painful condition known as interstitial cystitis, which seems to be getting worse, with doctors providing very few answers or solutions. Tonight she almost didn't go to church, and I dropped her off and parked the car. By some divine coincidence they had a blessing for the sick tonight, and as I watched the old lady slowly walk up with the other parishioners to see the priest, I wondered when my parents got old. People my age shouldn't witness this? We're ALL heading there someday. There’s value in seeing the future.

Nothing lasts forever. If one thing doesn't get us, another will, and eventually we all wear out. All we can do is appreciate our family, friends and teachers, for however long they're in our lives, and do what we do as long as we can do it. Sange never stopped teaching, and when he couldn't march he'd still be sitting in a car with his trumpet. At 75, my dad still fixes cars and builds things. Earlier today I carried in lumber for him, and later on heard an electric saw. I think he's building a bookcase or shelves or something, but he wouldn't let my mother or I near him while he worked. Even with her health woes, my mother continued working with volunteers at a local arboretum, and spent time in a greenhouse working with plants. We all have some skill, some talent we're capable of, that someday, we won't be able to do. Someday, taking a sip of water will be the greatest thing in the world for us, and we'll cherish it. I think that's the final lesson. Whether producing something at work, or partaking of something we enjoy, we can all step back from what's going on in our lives at any given moment and say, “Man, that's good.”

Thank you, Mr. Sange.


Depth of Soul

Nicole's vacation had been long overdue.

How many years had it been since graduation? Ten? Twelve? In that time she'd worked hard, but the rewards rarely exceeded the workload. Hard work resulted in more work too often, and many times she questioned the value of long nights alone at the office. Was she accomplishing anything of value? Was any of it worth it? Maybe she had slowly become a hamster in a wheel, killing time until she died. As they closed in, she could finally see the walls of her prison, but such insight arrived long after she'd been trapped.

Or was she? As Summer gave way to Fall, friends asked if she'd be interested in housesitting for them for a week while they vacationed overseas. A relatively new construct in the woods of Long Island's Montauk point, it would be the ideal escape for her. Tourist season had quieted down and many of the residents didn't stay year round. The beaches were vast and quiet, offering many long, contemplative walks.

After the first few days, cherished solitude wore away into crushing boredom, and finally abject loneliness. Nicole realized that beneath the surface, she always felt this way. Surrounded by people, and buried under paperwork, plentiful distractions shielded her from her emotions. Distractions proved difficult to manufacture in this place, and at the end of the day the various shells, beach glass, and other souvenirs she'd picked up on the beach to make her latest stroll feel productive, now looked like boxes of junk to her. She collapsed in a chair with a glass of champagne, resorting at last to the universal painkiller of alcohol, and looked at her treasures, her garbage. She picked up one item, possibly the shell of a horseshoe crab, and turned it over a few times. White and purple, it resembled no shell she'd ever seen. Had some kids spray painted the poor creature's remains? Perhaps here at the end of this island, essentially the end of her world, life she couldn't fathom crashed ashore, at the end of THEIR world. Sleep embraced her as she pondered these things.

* * *

Qlt'qv's sabbatical had been delayed long enough.

Quantum physics defy all conventional knowledge about how the world functions. At the subatomic level, the laws of basic physics don't apply. At best, scientists can make educated guesses as to the behavior of electrons, and hope to accurately predict the actions of unseen forces. It is a science dependent upon probability, with room for error. Worlds could exist within worlds, entire microcosms thriving and functioning, sub-realms equally unaware of the existence of supra-realms.

Naming is a foreign concept on one such planet. It simply exists, as does its people. They live and thrive and feel, cherishing existence itself. Only at the end of their life cycle do they receive a designation, and more often than not that designation is “Qlt'qv”. Parts of a greater whole, there is no need for individual differentiation, and rarely has there been more than one Qlt'qv. Like those before him, this Qlt'qv faced the inevitable task, the final contribution to his society. He would expand, tired of decades of joy and companionship, becoming solitary in the void beyond and gathering knowledge before expiring. Only with knowledge would his society improve and grow, moving beyond their endless lack of any responsibility or stress whatsoever. Qlt'qv was ambitious, and by the time he had extended further than any of his predecessors, he could not go back. Electrons gave way to atoms to grains of sand until he was alone and immobile, in a strange place where outside forces were necessary to act upon an immobile object and induce a change.

Qlt'qv was adapting, and as he understood the foreign physics of his enlarged existence, he knew what was necessary to reach out. Atoms beneath and around him were subject to his very will, and gaseous matter liquified and solidified as he pulled himself up a pulsating, foreign landscape. When he reached the summit of this landscape, this outside force that had acted upon him and transported him farther and faster than any of his kind, he reached between atoms and fused with biological matter alive with electrical impulses. One such impulse shouted out a name: “Nicole”. Soon, Qlt'qv would be bombarded with the improbable.

* * *

Nicole was having the strangest dream. She walked on the beach, on orange sand beneath a purple sky. The stars burst over her head, colliding and continuing through each other. The air was thick with depression, companionship, and eternity, with concepts that neither should have gone together, nor been tangible. In the darkness shapes blinked at her, spoke in emotions not sounds. They were desperate to do something, anything, yet found nothing. Things became muddy. Nicole was exultant in her obligations, dreading the day when she would have to give them up. The shapes rejoiced in a sea of inactivity, prolonging the inevitable tasks at the end of existence. The purple sky shattered, shards of blue and yellow raining down upon her. She laughed as she too splintered into a million pieces. Each piece laughed as it split, and the cycle continued until....

Nicole woke with a start, nearly kicking over a nearby candelabra. The morning sun was oppressively bright, and as she set down her glass and rubbed her eyes, something moist and cold greeted her hands. Shaking, she ran to the bathroom, hesitated, then looked in the mirror. A pulpy purple residue bubbled on her skin, receding before her startled eyes. Small red spots adorned her temples, but as she raised a cautious hand once more to a now dry face, there was no pain or tenderness. In time she would dismiss the entire incident as a product of the previous evening's consumption, a reminder that drowning sorrows can sometimes bring strange things to the surface.

For the rest of her life, she would hold to the realization of the perils inherent in ANY extreme.

* * *

The preceding tale has been a contribution to Lorna's Mystery Blog Party.


Guest Blogger: Chain of Fools

Just when you thought you were out of CloakFest 2005, Guest Blogger Janet pulls us back in with a bonus contribution. Nobody likes spam, and tonight's hostess offers some observations and a proposed solution to equally insidious items in your inbox:

Hallmark's slogan used to be "When you care enough to send the very best."

Forwards, meanwhile, are for those people who "Care enough to send something, but otherwise don't really care at all."

Just like shoes, forwards come in many shapes and varieties.

First, there are the harmless, joke, random list related forwards. These are the forwards that have titles like "You know you're a red neck if..." and "Top 30 Signs You're A Child of the Eighties". In other words, they point out the obvious in long, drawn out, dare I say redundant ways. Gee, I'm a blonde if I need five people to screw in one lightbulb? I did not know that!

Then there are what I like to call the inspirational forwards. These forwards usually surface after a tragedy such as 9/11 or around holidays when people are feeling extra sentimental. They include things like walking on the beach with God and someone is carrying someone. They are not so subtle reminders that God is there for you and in some bizarre way, so is your apparent "friend" who sent the forward to you in the first place.

Next we have the All About Me forwards. These are the quizzes that you fill out that include questions ranging from "Favorite Food" to "Ever have sex on a beach (not the drink, silly!)". The best time to fill one of these out is when you're bored out of your skull with absolutely nothing better to do. The way to fill one of these things out is completely tongue in cheek. Why? Because the real answers don't matter and if the person who sent it to you was that good of a friend, chances are they know all the answers you'd give anyhow and if not, they are no worse for wear to continue not knowing.

Then we have A Picture Says 1,000 Words forwards. Like the title says, they are pictures. They might be of cute little puppies, they might be of someone's new baby. No matter what the picture is of they have one thing in common, there is little to no explanation, just the picture, no more, no less.

This brings me to Ripley's Believe It Or Not type forwards. You know the type I'm talking about. These are the forwards that are asking something of YOU. They come from some man you've never heard of in Argentina who needs YOUR money now. They tell you that all you have to do is convince 50 people to say the word "Butterfinger" while spinning around 10 times and you will get 50 bucks the following week. In short, they are hoaxes. They are the pipe dreams of forwards. Nothing good will ever come with following these yellow brick road of forwards, and yet otherwise good, decent people continue to forward them to other good and decent people.

Which leads me to the biggest forward offender of all: The Chain Letter forward. Chain letter forwards are the icing on the cake. The final piece of the forward puzzle. The glue that holds them all together. This is because the forward might be a picture, a poem about God, an urgent request for money, a quiz to tell if you come from New York, anything...the only difference is these forwards end with the dreaded words:

"Please forward this to ___ amount of people in the next ___ hours. If you don't you will _____, forever!"

Now I don't know about you, but personally I don't appreciate forwards of any shape or size with the possible exception of a conversation thread that is easier to send along to multiple parties instead of sending it individually each time. Then and ONLY then is the forward an acceptable means of communication.

There's only one thing I can think of disliking more than getting a forward; getting a forward that threatens me into continuing to forwarding it on.

Forwards are like the headhunters of e-mails. You know deep down that nothing bad is going to happen to you if you don't tell 10 more people Jesus loves them, but you can't help it, something in the back of your mind tells you just have to do it cause if something bad does God forbid happen, you know who and what to blame.

But really, who's to blame? Who is to blame is YOU. Yes, YOU. Any of you who continue to forward forwards. Just end the charade already! Do you know anyone who actually sits down and reads their forwards? I didn't think so. But I'll bet you all have at least one friend whose primary means of keeping in touch is by sending the occasional forward your way. Then, when you e-mail the person in an attempt to get an actual, update on their lives, you get yet...another forward.

It has to stop somewhere people.

I say it's time to beat them at their own game! Send this post along to anyone you think might give a damn and want to join me in the cause of creating the forward for the greater good,the forward to end all forwards.

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PBW: Ladies Man

Some guys just have it. Girls just smile as they walk by, and they can elicit laughter through genuine humor and not at their own expense. The world is but a sea of happy female faces, beckoning them to swim.

I am not one of these guys.

Driving to work this morning, some road work resulted in three lanes merging into one, and whenever I graciously left room for one car to pull into my lane in front of me, two would attempt it. No one nodded or waved thanks, and many women stared straight ahead, keeping me in a peripheral zone of nonexistence and allowing them to move forward without restriction or obligation. At lunch, standing on line in a supermarket, an elderly woman behind me kept inching her wagon dangerously close to my heels, though I had no control over the speed of the cashier or the customer ahead of me. I stepped up to pay when it was my turn, even as that wagon again stopped shy of a collision, and she began impatiently and loudly slamming her groceries on to the belt. I stepped forward and grabbed my bags after paying, and as I walked back past the aisle she shoved the wagon forward with such force and speed, it would have knocked me into a newspaper rack had I not leapt a bit. And tonight, though there were still two other people in the gym when I left, the instructor not only beat us all to the parking lot, but nearly backed into me as I walked to my car. It was dark and she's always racing to close early so I could understand that, but as I crossed the next row of cars she sped around and zoomed past, nearly hitting me a second time with her IROC. As she peeled out on to the main road through a yellow light in a town where a 30 MPH is strictly enforced, I thought to myself that the only people who ever get tickets usually don't deserve them.

Yes, some guys just have a way with women and, on that note, I now present my paparazzi shots of J-No's wedding for tonight's Photo Blog Wednesday:



Trade Vocalists and WIN.

I don't listen to the radio as much as I used to when I was in college. At most, I listen for an hour a day total during my commute to and from work, and then I find myself listening to traffic and weather, becoming my dad decades before I expected to. I have an inkling of what's going on in music, and every now and then I'll pick up the occasional discounted CD in my company's bookstore, but I'm not as on top of things as I once was. I guess that's why the realization as to precisely who comprised the band Velvet Revolver came to me yesterday, reading the insert that came with a recently purchased album.

There was no mistaking the vocals of Scott Weiland of STP fame. Whenever I'd hear a Velvet Revolver song on the radio credited as such, I just assumed he'd started a new band after his nth rehab. I really had stopped following the whole grunge scene nearly a decade ago. I still enjoyed and appreciated the music; I just wasn't following the behind-the-scenes events. I was aware of their contribution to the Hulk soundtrack. Last week, I picked up a bunch of CDs and when I got to theirs, I was amazed to see that the rest of the band included Slash, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorem, basically Guns n' Roses without Axl. I have to say, it's an amazing combination. Gn'R guitar riffs with a grunge voice, and STP vocals with amazing guitar work.

This trend of mixing and matching the best elements of preexisting bands is certainly nothing new. One of my favorite albums ten years ago, and still today, Temple of the Dog combined members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, a one-time tribute to the fallen lead singer of the group Mother Love Bone. Another group of one-time collaborators I enjoyed were Mad Season, which included members of Alice in Chains, Screaming Trees, and Pearl Jam. It had a flavor both funky and mellow, and unique to the sounds of its members' regular bands, though some influence could be heard. These days, I'd say the best regular group to rise from the ashes of other bands would have to be Audioslave. Combining former Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell with the former members of Rage Against the Machine has produced something greater than the sum of its parts, and a sound that has me excited about music at an age where I'm starting to have trouble discerning one new group on the radio from the other, where it's all sounding the same to me. Up until picking up Velvet Revolver’s Contraband, which in researching tonight's post I now realize is well over a year old, I had no idea that there was another quality hybrid group out there.

Tonight's musings have been brought to you by the “MCF is Getting Old and Behind the Times Foundation.” Donations will be accepted in the form of MP3s and Gingko Biloba. At this rate, it won't be long before I'm praising those “new horseless carriages”....


Where are Those Miniseries?

When I was a child, it seemed that television miniseries were a common event, and a major one. Before I could fully read I would see the word and pronounce it as though it rhymed with “miseries”. I remember my parents making sure to catch The Thorn Birds, and it seemed as though that epic was on every night for weeks in my house. For years the phrase “Stewie got killed by the wild boar!” was stuck in one little boy's lexicon. Of course the BIG miniseries of my childhood, the one that all the kids talked about on the playground, was V. I had to sneak peeks when my parents didn't know I was watching, just so I could keep up with conversations at school. A few years ago I saw it again on DVD, and couldn't believe how bad some of the effects were. There's one scene of a woman running down the hall to escape an alien ship, and using rear projection they superimpose a blown up image of a lizard which was SUPPOSED to be some alien dragon or something that makes her turn back instead of cutting an opening in the screen. Even the birth of an alien child to a human mother reminded me of the diner scene in Spaceballs when I saw it again as an adult. As a child though, images of people ripping off their faces to reveal lizard-like alien features left a lasting impression.

As I got older, the works of Stephen King made their way to the small screen as multipart events. The best of these, without question, was The Stand. The last survivors of an evil plague that wipes out most of humanity included such notable stars as Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Matt Frewer, Rob Lowe, Laura San Giacomo, Corin Nemec and Bill “M-O-O-N” Fagerbakke, to name but a few. It was huge, and followed a diverse group of individuals, each of which was compelling to watch for different reasons. It went on forever ever and then suddenly, it was over too soon. The only miniseries to suck me in so completely before it was the inexplicable Wild Palms.

It. The Tommyknockers. North and South. It seems that miniseries used to consume television when they were on, featured major stars, and made life and everything else seem irrelevant. I hoped things like Gulliver's Travels would recapture the magic of my youth, but somehow it wasn't the same. I'm not sure if the miniseries format has died out, or if I've simply gotten older. Our perception of time changes as we age. When I saw V again on DVD, I think it was only 3 or 4 2-hour segments, but I could swear it was on for months. Maybe I was thinking of the series. About the only modern epic that compared with these series was Dune and to a slightly lesser degree Children of Dune. Then again, they could only go uphill after the theatrical version.

Maybe miniseries don't work anymore, or maybe they just don't interest me. Most dramas are set up with season-long arcs that offer some sense of closure after 24 episodes, something 24 definitely offers. And Buffy was always structured with a season-long “big bad”, an enemy that would recur throughout the season leading to a final confrontation and boss battle in the season finale. Joss Whedon always said he structured the show that way because he never knew if he was going to be canceled. Considering the fate of Angel and Firefly, there's both wisdom and irony in that.

Perhaps we're all too busy to devote our lives to a miniseries. The ongoing dramas take up our attention, and DVDs and TiVO offer an immediacy we didn't have twenty years ago. Who wants to sit through commercials? Who wants to remember to watch something Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday, or whatever nights a show is on? Rose Red was the last miniseries I watched, and it was a chore to force myself to stay with it. I should have learned my lesson from the remake of The Shining.

I can't go back. The miniseries is dead. Long live the miniseries....


Phantasmic Links 10.16.05

Has anyone ever had one of those days when the sun is shining, and you're up on a rickety old wooden ladder that your dad assures you he's holding, but when you glance down he's walked away to pick up a twig or something? And even though you avoid the “bad” rung, the one with the crack in it, you can't help thinking any other rung on a 30-40 year old ladder could snap under your weight at any time? These thoughts certainly don't help as you strain to reach your hand up and over into a drain pipe, wondering if the webbing around it indicates that a particularly nasty spider is waiting just out of sight. Of course, all your worrying is for naught, and your father wonders why it seems like such a difficult task since he was up there by himself in the rain during the week and didn't have a problem. Maybe you have a few words to exchange after the old man slips with that particular confession, but nothing serious. More importantly, with the task complete, you're free to take your camera to the beach on one of the last nice days of the year.

If you're me, you'll decide to look at maps and find a scenic park you haven't been to before. You'll probably discover that, due to flooding caused by the recent week-long downpour, the only roads leading to this park are blocked. Once you circumnavigate through traffic in three other towns and decide to go to a different beach, you hit more traffic since you had to pick today of all days to drive through a town holding its annual OysterFest. Eventually, you find a nice quiet beach with very few people, only by now the sky is filled with clouds and the wind threatens to knock you off your feet. Undeterred, you get some cool photographs and survive to tell the tale before posting this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

Can't name a particular tune? Maybe Musipedia can help, even if you only know a few notes of melody.

Can a two-tongued cat have dinner and clean itself at the same time? I first heard about this phenomenon over at Cube's.

On a similar note, it seems The Incredible Hulk came across childhood pictures of me playing with a kitten. MCF not know Hulk use camera....

Hey! Who wants to watch some autopsy humor?

Any article or advice that claims to offer a blanket solution to human relations deserves to be questioned. I came across this article and thought it has some interesting points, but I'm not sure I agree with all of them, and I don't think they can be applied globally.

This list of the Top Ten ‘90s sitcoms should also be questioned. For one thing, Married...with Children actually began in the late ‘80s.

Well, I guess it's that time of year again...

Who needs a skateboard?

Even with a walkthrough, I had to take a break halfway through Escape from Rhetundo Island, found over at Dosetaker's Weblinks.

I doubt Hobbits once walked the Earth, and I think TheWriteJerry, who sent me the link, would agree. My theory is that the bones in fact belonged to Oompa Loompas...

I'm dizzy, but this Gorillaz driving simulation, submitted by Rey, is insanely fun.

Here are some awful logos, courtesy of Sean, who also had some cool Lost fake Web sites to share this week, for those of us who watch the show way too closely, and then look for such clues and bonuses online. Button, button, I'm pushing the button...

Finally, I have a Bug-gy time waster sent to me by The Happy Husband. In fact, I would have posted earlier tonight if I wasn't playing that game.



Rain keeps falling...

Now that this week is over, and I've gotten my anniversary posts and guest bloggers out of the way, it's time to get back to writing, and sharing the exciting details of my rocket ship existence that keeps at least twenty people a day reading!


It rained here for well over a week. Today was the first time I'd seen the sun, and I was beginning to forget what it looked like. Various streets on Long Island were closed due to flooding, and I heard on the radio that New Jersey was in a state of emergency last night. I had two of every animal in my basement but didn't get around to building a boat, so I guess now I'll have to let them go.

With the rain came the cold, and while I'm sure we'll see some more warm days before winter hits, it was enough of a sign to get the house ready. I put away the screens for the year and put up the storm windows after washing them, and earlier tonight I washed the radiators in preparation for turning the heat back on. This is no small task for the typical single guy, who keeps more clothes stacked on a radiator cover than in the actual drawers of his dresser not five feet away. It took me an hour just to get to the radiator cover and get it out of the way. In the meantime, I continued catching up on The Sopranos on DVD. At some point I may rave about what an artistic masterpiece and intricately woven tapestry it is, but as of tonight I've only finished the first two seasons, and I want to avoid attracting comments that spoil who gets whacked when. Great show though: cast, plot, guest-stars, music and all. I started watching the third season a little while ago, and was in awe when they blended the ”Peter Gunn” theme(better known to people my age from the video game Spyhunter) with ”Every Breath You Take” by The Police during a surveillance sequence. It was remarkable. Peter Gunn played while the family drove. The Police played when the feds were following them. The songs came together seamlessly, and I wondered why I had never thought of mixing that particular chocolate with that particular brand of peanut butter. But, I digress.

The house is now nearly ready for winter, and the perils that come with it. Tomorrow I'll put up the last of the storm windows, and take a ladder around cleaning leaves from the gutters so we don't have any leaks. My office hasn't been as fortunate. The constant downpour took its toll this week, and around the top floor where we sit various leaks sprung up as the maintenance people came up with elaborate solutions using binder clips, plastic sheets, and waste baskets. In my section, where a leak was caused by work on a boiler over our heads a few weeks ago, I heard dripping through the drop ceiling, which still had panels moved aside from the last time. I knew our plastic recycling buckets, up there out of reach, were filling and in danger of coming through the ceiling, which was staining in a double omelet formation. I called to explain the problem, and the receptionist was very agreeable. “Yes, yes I bet you DO have a leak! This weather is terrible!” I asked her to send someone up with a ladder, at which point she said she would, but I had to do one thing--send an e-mail to her department saying EVERYTHING I'd just told her on the phone, just to follow protocol. I was dumbfounded. Had I suddenly fallen into the bureaucratic futuristic nightmare portrayed in Brazil? I sent the e-mail, and by lunch time neither phone call nor e-mail had been answered. I wasn't surprised. The last time I'd called this department to report an electrical shock, no one EVER returned my call. I guess when I didn't call back or die, they assumed all was well.

I went to lunch, ran some mysterious errands which I'll reveal in a few weeks perhaps, and when I came back I found the ceiling panels gone, with two buckets on the floor. One was askew of a drip, and the water was bouncing off the lip and onto the spines of my books on a nearby shelf. Between the buckets, softer drips could be heard as the water hit the unprotected carpet. I took some plastic garbage bags and taped them across my bookshelf, and I added buckets to the other drips while adjusting the bucket that wasn't quite under its assigned drip. When the rain keeps falling, sometimes a person has to take matters into his own hands to stay dry.


Guest Blogger:
Background Character in a Starbucks®

CloakFest 2005 concludes with our final Guest Blogger. Hailing from Scotland, the recently-engaged FawnDoo of The Boiled Egg of Infinity graces this site with his observations of the microcosm of a coffee shop:

This is a story that takes a little telling, which is no problem: all the good stories do. I don't know any of the characters, their motivations, or what happens to them. All I know is this.

A couple of days ago I was standing in a queue at my local Starbucks®, waiting for someone to serve me (and to digress for a moment, why can't I ask the guy behind the counter for a large cup of coffee? Why do I have to ask the "Barista" for a "grande soy milk half-caf cappuccino, hold the foam"? Is this some weird coffee house code? And foam? Since when did my drink have to have something that sounds and looks flame retardant sprayed on top of it?) and I happened to look around at the people who were in the place at the same time I was. For once I tried to get past that very British thing we have of not looking at anyone around us and basically pretending that we're alone even when we're in the middle of a huge crowd. Ignoring the bright "FAIR TRADE! FAIR TRADE! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PEOPLE, WE MIGHT BE A HUGE RAINFOREST STRIPPING MULTINATIONAL BUT WE CARE!" posters and the ambient "not good enough for the lift music CD" jazz, I chanced to look around and actually *see* the people around me.

Nosey? Maybe. Interesting? Yes.

What struck me most about the people in the place was the mix of moods that radiated out from every person at every table and in every chair. Some were happy, some were sad, some were intense, some looked resigned and some even looked angry. As I moved along the queue, picked up my drink (at least, I think it was my drink, but then again coffee house latin was never my strong suit so I might have walked away with anything) and made my way to my table I caught snatches of conversation, glimpses of moments in other people's worlds.

"I haven't felt like this for a long time..." - this was said by one woman to another as they both leaned in towards one another, clearly speaking of something private and trying to keep anyone from hearing. Anyone who has a good sense of hearing and a blog. Whoops. When you read the sentence like that on screen, it sounds good, the sort of thing you would hear in a romantic movie. The woman saying it was, however, angry. Her hand movements were short, bordering on choppy. Her expression was intense, her voice at a level that suggested she would be SHOUTING TO THE RAFTERS if only all of the people around here were gone. I wonder what she felt? What had made her feel that way again? How does she feel now?

As I passed another table a woman sat back and with a loud sigh announced, "I haven't been in touch with him since Saturday..." She was resigned to whatever had happened. Her shoulders were slouched, her friend looked concerned, and whatever happened since that Saturday had obviously not been a barrel of laughs. Just before her table moved out of my field of vision I noticed a hand moving across the table to her, offering support or maybe just trying to steal her biscotti.

Then I passed someone who has, in my head, since been labeled "Mobile guy". That's not to say he was moving: in fact he was completely still in his chair, sitting alone, staring at his mobile phone. I don't mean glancing, or looking, or checking the time, or anything like that. I mean STARING. Staring like you would if the screen had a ticking clock on it and you could see two wires poking out the bottom into a large rucksack. The guy looked terrified, and he was concentrating on that screen like his life, his soul, his world and his fate depended on it. Was he waiting for a text message from a loved one? A phone call? Something to stop him looking so scared in a coffee house? One thing I know for sure - if it did go off, he looked as if he would have had a heart attack right there on the spot.

You will, dear reader, be pleased to note that at this point I reached my seat and, to indulge in rather course vernacular at this point, I stopped being a nosey bastard and attended to my drink and conversation. Even as I did so though, I still couldn't shake myself from wondering about the stories that were unfolding all around me. Some were obviously traumatic. Some carried a hint of great sadness. One in particular was a mute testament to tension. I sat there in a coffee house, itself within a bookstore, and I was surrounded by stories - but only some of them were on the shelves, safely trapped between covers and furnished with a rounded and complete ending. The others had no such safe containment, no such assurances of happy endings, and were spiraling on and on as I sat there.

I think that we can all sometimes fall into the trap of thinking of ourselves and what happens to us as the centre of the world. I often let things get on top of me: work, worries, minor annoyances, anything and everything really - but what's happening to me is also happening to a million other people up and down this country, and tens of millions across the world. We all have our stories, and like all stories they all feature ups and downs. What sets the heroes apart from the victims is how we handle the plot threads. Sometimes a different perspective is all you need: for me, it was a change from "main character in my own story" to "fat guy in background at coffee shop".

As we left the coffee house, two guys walked in and as they passed us one said to the other, "I'm telling you, you two are going to get on like a house on fire." and they both laughed. So some of the stories are happy ones, and might just be getting to the good part. Best of luck to them all, that's what I say. Me, I'm just about to start on a new chapter (and I will probably start telling you all about it soon enough) and I'll try hard not to kill anyone off before the end.

And to conclude, though I know he will never read this, I have to say this: mobile guy, whatever it was, I hope you're ok. You'd probably be freaked out to think of some strange guy thinking about you sitting there looking terrified, but I hope whatever it was worked out okay for you.

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Best Blog Party Party 2K5

On October 13th, 2004 at 10:20 PM EST, a Mysterious Cloaked Figure entered the blogosphere. Since then, no matter what, I've written something every single day. It's been an amazing experience, and one I had been considering for some time. Curt, a friend from my office, had already established himself with a popular blog celebrating marriage in general, as well as his own. He had built a significant community of strangers with common interests and beliefs, and the world was a little smaller and closer because of it. Rey, another coworker, and an old college buddy, had long devoted his time to an online bible resource, which over time became a hybrid of bible study and blogging. And when a third coworker, Jerry, joined their ranks, I now had three places to “visit” online.

I was no stranger to the internet. Certainly I'd played various games, surfed for information about movies and video games, and spent time on message boards. For a time, message board posting evolved into a sort of complex role playing game, an interactive collection of fan fiction in which writers played off one another's stories. My drawings might say otherwise, but I studied art in college. Yet I always enjoyed writing, especially creative writing assignments, and it was fun to see how well a former art major could do stringing words together into cohesive thoughts. Eventually the RPG faded out as people's lives and studies took inevitable precedence, and for a time I enjoyed a break since I inherited many story threads and soon found myself burned out. It didn't last. I found that I missed writing, and needed another outlet. I thought about what all the “cool kids” my age must be doing and then, as I've done for nearly thirty-one years, I did the exact OPPOSITE. I joined my three coworkers in the blogosphere and the rest is history.

I put links to my friends’ sites in the sidebar, and set about writing about the improbable events of my life, as well as my interests. Occasionally I'd get a comment or two, but I didn't have many readers. Sometimes I wondered why I was doing this, but a phrase that came up in a conversation with Rey earlier today sums it up: this is “gym for my brain”. Organizing my thoughts at a keyboard restores a clarity that's lost after nine or ten hours in a gray cubicle. Still, it would have been nice if more people were reading. Then a strange thing happened. People I didn't know began to link to me and comment. The Bayers. AverageJoe. The Film Geeks. Below the links to my pals from the office, an alphabetical list grew of people whose lives and thoughts were interesting to me and, shockingly enough, who were interested in what I had to say.

The real boom came on February 21, 2005. When I invited people to a “blog party”, I had no idea so many would show up. Many have stayed. I would throw five more over the course of the year, and many fellow writers would throw virtual parties of their own. If I had to pick a favorite, I'd definitely go with Lorna's 15 Words Party. It was an exercise that stretched my unused creative writing muscles, and differed from the standard “list of things” format established by my parties. Film Geeks Favorite Movies Party was also a fun one. Probably the most creative individual entry in my opinion would be FawnDoo's Favorite Heroes entry. He approached the list in a story form that raised the bar and challenged me to write better, and he continued the standard with future entries as well as his own parties. I also got a kick out of Darrell's Five Favorite Places.

Of course, I did recuse myself from the official voting when I announced CloakFest 2K5 last month and asked for your votes. I think I've rambled FAR too long tonight, but then that's something of a tradition. So without further adieu, here are YOUR results:

Favorite Party:
2 Lorna's 15 Words Party
2 Femme Fatales
1 Top Five Heroes
1 Five Favorite Places

Favorite Guest:
1 Jerry's Top Five Villains
1 Darrell's Five Favorite Places
1 FawnDoo's Favorite Heroes
1 FawnDoo's entry to his own Old Coot Party
1 Curt's Top Five Villains
1 Afterparty of Estrogen (technically a summary and not an individual contribution, but it got a vote)

Favorite Cereal:
1 Cap'n Crunch's Peanut Butter Crunch
1 Raisin Nut Bran or Cracklin' Oat Bran

* * *

There you have it! Best Party is tied between Femme Fatales and 15 Words. You were split on guests, resulting in a six-way tie, and then there were those baffling cereal votes.

Thank you all for voting, and thanks to everyone who has commented, participated in a party, or linked to me in the past year. You've all made this experience worth the time I invest in it, and I feel like I‘ve made some friends beyond this small little island I call home. The 2K4-2K5 season was great because of YOU, and who knows what 2K5-2K6 will bring? If this was the year of the Blog Party, then who knows what this next year will bring?

Stay tuned...

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