Monday, July 31, 2006
Mark this date on your calendar and keep it sacred forevermore. It is a first in the history of Suldog-O-Rama. Today, I actually know a little bit concerning what I'm going to spout off about.
(The above notwithstanding, I don't know everything about it. And my mind is as disorganized as ever, so I'm bound to forget something interesting and/or important. Feel free to ask questions as we go along. I'll either admit my ignorance or answer to the best of my ability - or trot out some convincing bull.)
(And there are less graphics here than I'd like because I offer no pretentions of knowing a damned thing about why Blogger isn't letting me publish more quickly today. Maybe tomorrow I'll be smarter, but don't hold your breath.)
A reader asked me for some pointers on voice-over work. He feels that his wife has a wonderful voice and he has been urging her to get into a situation wherein she might utilize her God-given talent. I'm going to try to provide some real and honest advice.
My first bit of advice? If you pronounced the second word in the title of this piece as PRY-mer, you might be better suited for work as a painter.
(I'll try to keep the rest of the advice relatively sarcasm-free.)
BEFORE THE DEMO
"I want to pay you squillions of dollars for reading something. Follow me."
Unless someone walks up to you and says that, you're going to need some way of letting people know that you have a voice and are willing to sell it. You will need a demo.
Your demo (maybe a cassette tape, maybe a CD, maybe a website with audio) will be, at least in most instances before you're established, the main factor in your being hired or not. You may have a swell personality and a lovely smile, but nobody gives a damn unless you first prove that you can talk.
Before you record your demo, though, here are the most important things to consider.
1 - Do You Have It?
That is, is your voice salable? Do you have something that people will want to pay money for? Is anybody really going to hire you?
Notice that I did not say, "Can you read a paragraph without stumbling?" I know plenty of voice-over professionals - people who get paid a lot more than I do, and whom I have worked with as a producer - who can't get through four sentences without a mistake. If your overall delivery is good enough - warm, friendly, believable - it will sometimes be enough to trump poor technique. Not if I'm the one doing the hiring, but it happens more often than you might think.
Voice-over quality is generally not objectively measured. This discipline is part of the entertainment business and, as such, it is almost wholly subjective. For example, take someone like Barbara Walters. She has a very noticeable speech impediment, yet she is one of the most successful news people in the history of television. Likewise, there are voice-over professionals who lisp, who pop their plosives, who make "rain" sound like "wayne", and who can't say "suffering succotash" any better than Sylvester The Cat, but who still make better money than I'll ever see.
Am I sounding a tad bitter? I'll admit it - I am. I have nearly perfect diction, which I worked very hard to attain, but for whatever reason my voice is not generally warm and friendly. For the most part, advertisers want warm and friendly. So, if you've got that, you can have faults that would normally make an objective person think that you might not be suited for a career in reading.
I would say that about 25% of the voices I work with regularly have some sort of flaw in their pronunciation. However, that alone won't kill you. As I hope I've said often enough by now, if your delivery is good enough you might still be hired.
And, as I've also said, you might speak the King's English perfectly and never get a job. Even though your pronunciation is flawless, you might have a voice that grates. Of course, that hasn't stopped Fran Dreschler or Gilbert Gottfried.
What all professional voice-over talents have, and what you must also have, is something that separates you from the pack. You don't have to be unique, but you at least have to have something that can't be found easily. The more of "it" you have, the more likely you'll be hired.
Do you have a soothing deep baritone? A sexy, breathy alto? Do you have the ability to mimic (or, better yet, create) comic voices? Is there a natural smile in your voice? Or do you have the ability to inspire? Maybe you have the voice of doom - a basso profundo dripping with menace. Or you might have a particular accent that is pleasant to the ear. All of these are salable.
If, on the other hand, you have a thick Boston accent and you can't read words of more than two syllables without stopping to figure them out and you spit into the microphone, you might want to consider a different line of work.
Or not. As I've said, and will say again, it's entirely subjective. I'd say you're better off starting with good classical tools on display, but Jackson Pollock sold one hell of a lot more paintings in his lifetime than Vincent Van Gogh did in his, so who knows? When you leave things up to the public, the classical definition of talent is not necessarily a consideration.
My best advice is to get a couple of opinions before you invest a lot of time and/or money into recording a demo. In my own case, many people told me - for many years - that I had a great voice. I didn't really take them seriously until I found myself unemployed and in my 30's, with nothing to lose. Then I went to broadcasting school and here I am making the medium-sized bucks.
The important thing is that all of those opinions I received were wholly unsolicited.
If you ask your friends and relatives if you have a good voice, their opinions might or might not be totally honest. Only you know the source well enough to say if it's a good opinion or not. If many strangers, over a long period of time, tell you something? You can fairly much consider it true. So, try to get opinions from those without a vested interest in your happiness. If you get enough positive feedback, you can rely on it.
I cannot stress this enough, though. In the end, it is still subjective. One producer will love your voice while another won't be able to stomach it. That's just the way it is. And if you can't take random rejection, this business will kill you.
Have I said a whole bunch of nothing here? Are you still as undecided as you were before? Sorry, but I can't tell you if you have "it" without actually hearing you. And, even if I did hear you and considered you the second coming of James Earl Jones, somebody else is just as likely to be much happier if they never hear you again.
But make the decision, one way or the other. If you decide that you've got it, then...
2 - Do You Need To Polish It?
Do you need professional training to make it as a voice-over person? Must you go to broadcasting school, or at least take a few classes from professionals?
However, don't misunderstand me. Any classes you take will probably not hurt your chances and may well enhance your abilities. In all probability, taking classes or attending school will at least boost your self-confidence. I would never have made it in any way if I hadn't gone to broadcasting school. I learned a few things that were good to know (mic technique, pronunciation, technical aspects of recording) but the biggest thing I gained was confidence in my natural abilities. The constant positive reinforcement I received from teachers and fellow students was worth more to me than the lessons.
You have to assess your own talents and liabilities, first, and then decide if you need outside help in polishing what you have and/or in getting rid of what you don't want.
Do you have good pronunciation? Do you have a speech impediment you'd like to minimize? How about a regional accent that will hinder your employment possibilities?
Do you know how to position yourself in front of a microphone to maximize what you have? How is your breath control? Can you speak long sentences - or perhaps paragraphs - without taking a breath? Can you pick up a magazine, a book, a script, and read it "cold" - that is, on first look - and almost never make a mistake? Do you have an ear for inflection, for investing a read with the correct emotion?
Have you ever heard your own voice?
That might seem like an odd thing to ask. You've heard your own voice for many years. But have you ever heard it as others hear it? Have you ever heard your recorded voice? Many people haven't and are shocked when they first hear themselves.
Mark this as a cardinal rule, then - listen to yourself before you consider anything to do with voice-over work. At the bare minimum, you shouldn't ever be sitting with a producer, listening to a playback, and saying, "Wow! That's ME?" It would be a dead giveaway that you'd never done this sort of thing before...
Seriously, you should know what you sound like. You won't be able to improve your technique appreciably until you do.
Aside from other considerations, broadcasting school (or a college specializing in media arts) can be expensive. Classes from an established voice-talent can also be expensive. If you think you have the tools you need already, you might want to skip those expenses.
Only you know, in your heart of hearts, if you believe in your abilities as they now stand. If you truly believe in yourself and your abilities, I'd give it a shot without going to school. If you find out you need something else, you can always go later. However...
3 - Do You Have Access To Professional Recording Facilities?
It will not do to send a professional recording engineer or producer a sub-standard, non-professional demo. You will be shot down in flames within seconds. So, do you have recording facilities good enough to turn out a professional-sounding product, or will you need to hire someone to do your recording for you?
Most broadcasting schools will have good facilities for students to use. Classes with a voice-over professional will often include a professionally-recorded tape as part of the class price. If you don't have access to good facilities, you may find that the money spent for school or classes is worth it to you just for the ability to cleanly record yourself.
I've had many demo tapes cross my desk. Some have literally been laughable. I once received a tape wherein the fellow did a reading of Green Eggs And Ham by Doctor Suess. The entire book. And that was the only thing on the tape. It was accompanied by snaps, crackles, hisses and pops being made by the crummy tape recorder he used. I could hear him turning the pages. He didn't have a bad voice, but he sure had a horrible demo.
My first demo wasn't a great one. I had learned enough in school to know that I had to have some variance in what I was presenting, and that I had to send out a decently-clean-sounding tape (no background noises), and there was some cleverness in the presentation, but beyond that I listen to it now and cringe. It took a producer with some heart, willing to look at what I might become rather than what I was, for me to get a job. Those folks are rare, so unless you're tremendously lucky, you'd better have a good tape.
And I'll leave off here for now. More tomorrow on actually putting together your demo.
Go to Part Two
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
(I actually wrote this piece, and published it, last year. However, since I'm currently working on a series concerning voice-over work, I thought it might be worthwhile to put it out here again, as sort of an introduction.)
(Also, this lets you know that I'm still alive - if you call this living.)
I do voice-overs. If you have the money, I'll say anything. I'm a Vo-Ho - a vocal whore.
When I tell people that I do voice-overs, they seem genuinely interested. They ask, "What have you done that I'd be familiar with? Have you done anything that I've heard?" My answer is, "I've probably done something that you've heard, but probably not much you'd be familiar with."
I'm not giving them the doubletalk. Most of my work involves telephone applications, so there's a decent chance you've heard my voice, but it's doubtful you'll remember having done so. For instance, I'm the voice of the National Amusements/Showcase Cinemas chain of movie houses, in some 17 or 18 states. If you call one of their theatres - to try and find out when a certain show is playing, or for directions, hours, etc. - I'm the guy you'll most likely hear, in a recorded announcement.
I've done some TV and radio spots, but only very sporadically. If I had to rely on that money to put food on the table, I'd have starved long ago. However, when you get placed on hold and a deep baritone voice tells you (what I hope are) interesting things about the company you're calling, while soothing/irritating music plays in the background, it might be me you're hearing. If it's a male voice instructing you to "Press One for Customer Service... Press Two for Shipping...", it could be me. Yep - I'm that son-of-a-bitch.
I'll say anything for money. For instance, I recently said this:
"New technology and innovative techniques in the field of cosmetic procedures now produce enhanced aesthetic results in the areas of facial rejuvenation, contouring, skin youthening, eyelid beautification, nasal sculpturing, and tumescent liposculpture. These effective lunch-time procedures are known as radiofrequency laser photorejuvenation."
Of course, "youthening" isn't a word, but I'm being paid to say it, so now it is! And do you think I could tell you even one salient fact concerning nasal sculpturing? Not even if you held a red hot poker to my privates. But, I sure do have the ability to sound like a board-licensed nasal sculptologist, which is why I get the medium-sized bucks. Tumescent Liposculpture? Sure, who wouldn't want that? Probably damned good for the economy. Radiofrequency Laser Photorejuvenation? Absolutely. Had some yesterday. Tastes like chicken.
I like to think that if I'm asked to read a script which contains outright lies, I'll have enough gumption to not do so. So far, most of what I've been paid to say could be the truth (albeit perhaps in an alternate universe) or else it's something I don't really know enough about to realize if I'm actually lying. For instance...
"Do you know what the wearable computer and rugged mobile computer markets did last year? XXXXXX can keep you informed about industrial measurement and control with reports like Industrial Distributed Remote I/O and web-addressable distributed remote I/O, which will be a must have. Learn about the critical issues suppliers face as they attempt to establish competitive positions in next generation application segments."
Sounds plausible to me. Cha-Ching! Next!
Lest you think I'm actually getting rich doing this linguistic tango, I'll tell you that I'm a paid employee at a firm which specializes in telephone recordings. I get a salary. I'm not some free-lance nationwide union guy getting $348 an hour for scale.
(That's not a wholly made-up figure, by the way. I did a union-scale job once, even though I work in a largely non-union market. I received $348 for about 10 minutes of recording. That was the going rate per hour or portion thereof, at the time.)
Anyway, I'm also a member of the production staff, which means that I not only do voice work, but also produce/record other voice talent sessions, piece together finished productions (including laying down musical beds, putting the productions to tape or CD, packing and shipping, etc.) and I used to wash the dishes, but we've got a dishwashing machine now. I still make the coffee, though.
When I do get the rare TV or radio spot, I usually get in the neighborhood of $50 to $100, which is not exactly a ritzy neighborhood. I don't get residuals - that is, no matter how many times it airs, I don't get anything extra. Heck, I've done spots that are 5 years old and still airing. And nobody knows who I am, unless I tell them. The best I can hope for, as far as fame is concerned, is a quizzical "Do I know you from somewhere?" look when I say something to a stranger. Sometimes something clicks in their brain - they've heard the voice - but they never, EVER, know where they've heard it.
Well, this sounds like a whine now, and I really don't mean it to. I have a really good gig compared to someone that, say, cleans septic systems. And it is still a major kick when I'm not paying attention to the TV and I suddenly hear my voice on it.
Anyway, the next time you get put on hold, and you hear a male voice telling you "We're sorry to keep you waiting...", if it's me telling you that, I really am sorry. Really, baby. I mean it. I'm not telling you that just because of the money. I really, really dig you. Oh, yeah, baby. I want your tumescent liposculpture. And I'm not just saying that.
Monday, July 24, 2006
A reader wrote to ask me some questions regarding voice-over work. Well, actually it wasn't so much questions he asked as it was a plea for help. He believes that his wife has a wonderful voice and she could find some work as a voice-over person. He wondered if I could point him in the right direction; steer him towards the right people.
I'll try. However, when I started writing about it I found that I couldn't say everything I wanted to say in as concise a fashion as I originally thought. I'd start writing on one part of it and find myself going off on two or three different tangents, and then those led me down their own twisting paths toward other things I wanted to say. Another mitigating circumstance - my production partner, Dan, is on vacation this week and I'll be far too tied up in actual work to devote the time needed to say what I want to say. So, I will be presenting something about the subject, but not for at least another week or so. It will probably end up being a three or four day affair at that time. Sorry!
In the meantime, I'm sitting here watching Miss Universe on Telemundo. It's bizarre enough in English, but in Spanish it's utterly surreal. Of course, the whole idea of the beauty pageant is surreal to begin with, so why am I in any way surprised?
Fifty or sixty women are trotted out onto a stage in weird costumes. They have been plucked, primped, plastered, painted, and generally put into the same mold, the end result being that they all pretty much look alike - only slight differences in hair color and skin tone remain. The Asian women look like the South American women look like the Scandinavian women. Everyone has a pointy nose and a mouthful of gigantic iridescent teeth. Breasts are all similarly sized from woman to woman and symmetrical.
Obviously, this is some people's idea of perfect beauty. It's not mine. I much prefer a more natural variety of females, not ones that look as though they came off of an assembly line. I like women who look... real.
I'd like to see a beauty contest where no one is allowed to wear make-up, no one is allowed to dye her hair, and they're all nude. It will never happen, of course, because women buy into this crap much more than men do.
Sure, guys like to see the women in skimpy bathing suits - we'd rather see them out of the skimpy bathing suits - but women make up much more of the audience of these things than men do. Why?
How many men do you think watch male bodybuilding contests? I mean, straight men. Straight American men. Straight American men who don't do bodybuilding themselves. Just about none. But straight American women who have never come within twenty yards of competition in one of these freak shows? They watch them in droves. I can only imagine that it is a form of self-torture.
That's facetious, but only partly so. I really do think that there is a certain female mindset that thrives on misery. How else do you explain the success of Lifetime? Every other show is about someone being cheated on or abused.
(There's a whole bunch of women reading this and saying, "Well, bozo, that's because you men are cheating on us or abusing us in those relative numbers." Shut up or I'll slap you. Anyway, there are plenty of other women willing to read me, bitch.)
(See what I did there? Yes, made a complete sexist ass of myself for the sake of a joke. And not even a very good one. My devotion to my craft knows no bounds, except for good taste.)
Anyway, the point I was getting at, many paragraphs ago, is that none of these women really turn me on. Of course, none of these women could give a damn if they turn me on or not, but that's beside the point. What is the point? None of these women turn me on. I just told you that two sentences ago! Duh! Pay attention!
MY WIFE was sitting here watching this with me and she actually said, "I wish I could be beautiful just for a day so I'd know what it feels like."
What in hell is the male equivalent to that? Is there one? Maybe it's some sort of "Gee, I wish I could be a pro athlete" pipedream, but while guys might say something like that, they aren't going to seriously dwell on it. Women, on the other hand, will truly physically make themselves sick because of how badly they feel about their bodies.
And they shouldn't. There are plenty of men who like real women with real curves and real personalities and real boobs, in all of their myriad shapes and sizes and colors. Not every man is in love with the bizarre standards of beauty presented on these pageants. Not every man desires a woman made up largely of plastic. Some of us actually like our women to look, feel, smell, taste and sound like human beings, rather than the shallow mannequins on display in most beauty contests.
So, this has become just a general rant of sorts, but let me finish with something worthwhile. I don't know how many times it will take, telling MY WIFE that she is beautiful before she believes it, but here's one more. I hope this time it sinks in.
Friday, July 21, 2006
(Today's original posting, decidedly non-political in nature, may be found here. If you don't want to hear me ranting, don't read what follows. You've been warned.)
OK, so The Leader Of The Free World (as he probably likes to refer to himself, when he's standing in front of a mirror and pretending to talk to Osama Bin Laden a la Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver - "You talkin' to me? Are you talkin' to me? I'm The Leader Of The Free World here! I don't see anybody else here. You talkin' to ME?") gives a five-second backrub to a German and there are whole armies of mental midgets pooping all over themselves while they jump on his back and scream "Sexual Harrassment!"
Tell you what - why don't you all grab yourselves a nice steaming hot mug of SHUT THE FUCK UP.
This guy is DROPPING BOMBS on people in the Middle East, you idiots. You're going to get all upset because he actually probably maybe might have tried to be nice? Maybe it was innapropriate behavior; maybe not. But do you seriously think the guy was trying to cop a cheap feel? Nobody - no, not even this president, no matter how much of a scumbag you might think he is and how low you think his IQ might be - is that freakin' dumb.
The whole world watches his every move. Think about it. If you knew a camera was following you around every second of your day in public, and that any tiny misstep you make will be given airime on the nightly news shows (as well as being posted on every snarky website from Anchorage to Timbuktu) would YOU seriously try to grope another world leader? Would you being putting the make on the German Chancellor?
The level of "thought" that goes into our political discourse is sickening. We appear more and more each day to be a nation comprised mainly of whining and driveling snot-nosed morons obsessed with fingerpointing at supposed moral outrages while the world around us is being riddled with actual bullets.
Get upset about something that deserves your being upset.
Storm the courts and slap the judges upside their heads until they understand just exactly what the fourth ammendment to The Constitution means when it says "... no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Grab by the collar every newspaper editor in these here United States and remind them, by kicking their asses around the block until they understand, that unless they stand the fuck up NOW and make use of their freedom of the press to defend all of the other freedoms that are being usurped daily, they won't have their favorite freedom for much longer - if, indeed, they truly do even now.
Or, if you really think the guy is a booger-brained dipshit, and you think he's the one mainly responsible for untold suffering and death, gather your numbers together and kick down the doors of The White House and lynch the motherfucker. If there are enough of you, one of you is bound to get through.
But, rail and cry and howl outrage concerning a five-second backrub?
(* sound of ripping his own eyeballs out and setting his hair on fire, just before disemboweling himself with a rusty ice pick *)
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
(I was looking for an image to go along with this post. So, I went to Google Images and first I put in "meme". You really don't want to know what half those pictures looked like. Then I figured I might try "d'oh", as in Homer Simpson. I ended up with lots of Homer Simpson, of course. Then I said to myself, "Self, why don't you try the tried and true alternative, 'duh'?" This is what I came up with and I laughed, so it stays. It has nothing whatsoever to do with what I've written, but neither does what I've written. It does, however, have everything to do with how I felt after having written it.)
My good internet friend, Stu, has tagged me. I've been memed. I think. I don't know if there's a past tense. I don't even know if it can be a verb. I'm not even sure how it's pronounced. I don't know much of anything, thanks for asking.
(I looked it up here and I still don't know what the hell I'm talking about.)
The only thing I think I know is that - once tagged - you respond and then tag someone else. Anyway, that's sort of what I'm doing here and tough bananas if you don't like it.
(Pretty good attitude for someone to take when they aren't even sure what the hell they're doing, eh?)
Here, reprinted from Stu's blog, is how Stu got his:
I was tagged, voluntarily, with a meme from Dariush. I'm not going to ask for volunteers, I'm just going to tag. Screw it, it's 2006 and we've no time for volunteers.
So, to Sully, and to Heather, I say thee: Get Creatin'!
And now, here comes the meme in the forehead:
1. I'll respond with something random about you.
2. I'll challenge you to try something.
3. I'll pick a color that I associate with you.
4. I'll tell you something I like about you.
5. I'll tell you my first/clearest memory of you.
6. I'll tell you what animal you remind me of.
7. I'll ask you something I've always wanted to ask you.
8. I'll pick a song that reminds me of you.
Now, for Sully:
1. I never heard if you used my recipe.
2. Go one week without using your wife's given name.
3. Yellow-Orange, like the Sun that you don't get enough of.
4. I think your candor is inspiring. It's brave.
5. Reading your post about Writer Golf Club Leans.
6. You remind me of a condor, as you are above a lot of stuff, and you're hard-edged.
7. What is the best memory you have from college?
8. Captain Jack by Billy Joel (sorta via Dariush).
I'll end it there. Stu goes on to similarly say things concerning Heather. Since this is my blog, I'm only going to use my words (and Stu's, since he challenged me) and if you want to read Heather's stuff, you can go to her blog and see what she had to say - or go to Stu's, and read her commentary on his memming (???) of her.
(I'm so freakin' confused. I can't even imagine what you must feel like.)
Anyway, if you're still with me, here are my replies to his memery:
I'm honored to be tagged. I'm new to this "meme" stuff - I'm hopelessly outdated. Do I now have to tag someone, also?
In any case, replies:
1 - I have not yet used your recipe. When I do, I'll certainly tell you.
2 - Do you mean at home? Or do you mean that I shouldn't use the term "MY WIFE" in my blog? I suspect you mean the former, so I'll do it - starting today. Remind me next week and I'll at least tell you about it. If it leads to anything truly funny, I'll blog it.
3 - I once ordered softball uniforms in colors close to these for a team I was manager of and I thought they were unique and cool. I was the only guy who liked them.
I get TOO MUCH sun, Stu. I come from northern stock; the lands of ice and snow. We come equipped with skins that do not get brown and pretty, but only turn red and painful when our meager supplies of melanin are screwed with.
Actually, I had an extremely serious sunburn (2nd degree burns over about 90% of my body) when I was a young teen. Ever since then, I've never worn shorts outside and I always use block.
4 & 6 - So I'm a condor with candor?
7 - I never went to college, my friend. Actually, I went to Harvard and Columbia, but those are just the names of stops on the T (Boston's public transit system.)
8 - My favorite Billy Joel song. However, does this mean you think I stay home and masturbate? I refuse to dignify such truth with a reply!
Stu expanded the challenge outlined in number two, by the way. He challenged me not only to not say MY WIFE's name for a week, but to only use each substitute (i.e., HONEY; SWEETIE; MON PETITE MARMOSET) once and never again.
I'm here to tell you that I failed utterly, completely and miserably. See, I knew I could make the original challenge, no sweat, because we both rarely use each other's names in conversation with each other. However, when he expanded the challenge, I pretty much knew it was a lost cause. This is because we do talk to each other quite a bit (well, duh, Jim - there's the challenge aspect of the whole thing, don't you see?) and if I'd be saying stuff like, "Pass the salt, Sweet Dumpling", I'd just fall on the floor giggling and the jig would be up.
See, I'm a lousy actor. I can't keep a straight face for very long at all. I'm just fine when there's a microphone in front of me and I'm by myself in a little room, reading a script, but put someone else in front of me and try to have me read the same stuff and I'm just as likely to break up on the first twelve takes. So, no go, Stu. Sorry.
Anyway, if you'd like to participate in this meme stuff - maybe it's pronounced Me!Me! - I really can't say that I care for any word that it isn't readily obvious how you might pronounce it, no matter how much fun the game can be - then just leave a comment to this blog entry and I'll do to you what Stu did to me.
Whatever the hell that might have been.
MY WIFE and I live in a duplex. We have the downstairs half of the house. Until the first of this month, our landlords lived upstairs. We now have new neighbors.
The new people seem like a nice quiet couple. This is good. We became very used to quiet people living upstairs when our landlords were in residence.
Our landlords were the Pantazopouloses, a young married couple who had their first child - a really cute son named Georgie - while they lived here. Vassilios, a computer programmer, and his wife, Tatiana, a doctor, seemed almost afraid to walk across the floor above our heads. I think in all the time they lived here, we didn't hear their TV once. There may have been three or four instances of them turning up their stereo loud enough to reach our ears, and even then it was just barely so. And they were continually apologizing to us for whatever noise Georgie might have been making.
The thing is, Georgie made almost no noise at all. Sure, he cried now and again; that's what babies do. And there was the occasional mad dash across the living room, once he started to walk. Outside of those small things, however, we heard almost nothing from him. We honestly felt that sometimes they waited to hear us grinding our coffee in the morning before they'd even allow Georgie out of bed.
All in all, they were the perfect neighbors. They were also great landlords. Every time we came to them with a problem, it was fixed immediately. Of course, we're damned good tenants, too.
I'll give you an idea of our landlord/tenant relationship. One day last winter, our heat stopped functioning. MY WIFE and I considered not telling them about it until the morning. It was somewhat late at night - perhaps 10:00 or so - and we knew we wouldn't be terribly uncomfortable if we waited until morning to tell them. The apartment wasn't cold and we had plenty of blankets. If worse came to worse, we could always turn on the stove. However, we knew we might not catch them in the morning, so when we definitely heard someone walking around upstairs, we decided this would be a better time to inform them of the situation.
I went up the back steps and knocked on their kitchen door. Vassilios answered. When I told him about the furnace not functioning, I also told him not to worry about it immediately. I suggested he get someone to come out in the morning and everything would be fine when we got home tomorrow night. He said no, that wouldn't do, and he called someone to come work on it immediately, at what were probably exorbitant overtime rates. The furnace was back in working order before we went to sleep that night.
Now they're gone and we have new upstairs neighbors. They seem nice from the brief meeting we had while they were moving in. They may turn out to be one of the sweetest couples on the face of God's green earth, but how can they possibly beat ultra-quiet super-conscientious landlords with a cute son?
The Pantazopouloses (dope that I am, I had to refer to Vassilios's business card every month, when I made out the rent check, to be sure I was spelling his name correctly - and I just looked at it again now, to be sure) had originally purchased the house with help from Vassilios's father, George. As I understand it, he actually helped both Vassilios and Vassilios's brother, Nick, to purchase the place, although Vassilios and Tatiana were going to take residence.
George, the father - a very nice fellow with a ready smile - is about the same age as MY WIFE and me. He's a good man with his hands, adept at all sorts of minor repairs, and if there were a small problem, such as a leaky faucet, he would be on-hand to fix it as soon as possible. Since the birth of Georgie, he is now known as "Big George". And Big George is the final arbiter on all matters concerning our house.
There was never any question concerning our staying on as tenants when the Pantazopouloses purchased the house. We had been here for about two years already and the previous landlord made it an unwritten condition of the sale that we would be allowed to stay. I'm sure if someone had made an offer of a million dollars over the asking price, we would have been out on the street quicker than you could have said "eviction notice", but any reasonable offer came with that proviso.
Of course, for a couple like Vassilios and Tatiana, it was a good deal. We were a ready source of income. They didn't have to advertise for tenants and keep the apartment empty and non-revenue-generating for a few months while finding some people they liked.
And now, Vassilios and Tatiana have decided that they would like to have a larger family. The upstairs apartment was really only barely big enough for a couple with one child; it would have been far too small for two children. So, they started looking for a new house back in March. They found one and moved. Our house now has passed into Nick's hands and the upstairs apartment was rented almost immediately.
We have been assured that the downstairs apartment is ours for as long as we want it. Big George says that even if neither of his sons is involved in the house in any way, he will keep it himself. He likes us and we like him. And he loves the house. It is solid, built in the 1940's of brick, and has the feel of absolute safety once you're inside. It would take five or six big bombs to knock it down - or at least that's the feeling you have when you live here.
(My friend and former fellow band member, Sean Flaherty, used to say the same thing about my old house at Caddy Road in Dorchester. When we were teenagers, he'd come over to my house to listen to Deep Purple or Black Sabbath records. The shades were always drawn in the living room as the records played. Sean told me - more than once - that he felt as safe there as anywhere on the planet. A nuclear holocaust could have occurred outside - bombs raining down, people screaming and running around on fire - but we wouldn't have known about it until he got up to go home, opened the front door, and found the rest of the world was destroyed. At which point, presumably, he would have closed the door and sat back down on the couch while I put on some Grand Funk.)
(He also liked my stereo a lot. He swears that, on that stereo only, there was one point during the record Live Album by Grand Funk [there was an imaginative title...] wherein he expected Mark Farner's hand to burst through the speaker holding the broken neck of a guitar in bloody fingers, strings dangling.)
(And I was the one doing drugs, not Sean. I guess Sean didn't need them. Or maybe he did. However, I digress.)
That's about all I've got for now, except to tell you one more short story concerning our new neighbors and why I think everything's going to be swell with them.
Our trash day is Thursday. Now, while Vassilios and Tatiana lived here, whichever of us would get home from work first would bring in not only their own empty trash barrel, but that of the other couple, too. Same for recycling bins when they went out. And we never said anything to each other about it. It was just something nice that two couples did for each other to make life easier. I have no idea which one of us did it first.
The first week our new neighbors were here, I put out our trash barrel and recycling bin on Thursday. When I got home, the empty barrel was put away in the backyard and our recycling bin was next to it. And they didn't even have a barrel of their own to put out yet.
They're going to work out just fine.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
There's a nice cryptic title. No, it has nothing to do with George Bernard Golf Club Leans To One Side. Well, almost nothing.
See, there's this charity called The Jimmy Fund. If you're from Boston, I don't have to explain anything about it. It's been associated with the Red Sox for well over 50 years and is a beloved local institution. However, if you're from, say, Walla Walla, you might not know what it is. I'll explain.
The Jimmy Fund raises money to combat childhood cancer and to conduct research into cures. It is called The "Jimmy" Fund in honor of one of the earlier patients at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the overseer of the charity. Stories of the love former patients have for the people associated with the clinic, and the charity, are numerous, as are the advances made in fighting the diseases. They do great work. It has long been one of my favorite charities.
The Boston Red Sox have raised many millions of dollars for The Jimmy Fund. In Boston, you cannot mention one without thinking of the other.
Ted Williams devoted thousands of hours to the cause, almost all of that time - under his direct orders - with no cameras around, any publicity for himself. He allowed his face and voice to be used in ads raising funds for the kids, but his hundreds and hundreds of visits with cancer-stricken children were his private business and he refused to capitalize on them for personal glory in any way. That is, of course, one of the reasons Ted Williams was a true hero.
For many years, Tom Yawkey - the now-deceased owner of the Red Sox - allowed no advertising at Fenway Park except for a lone billboard for The Jimmy Fund that sat atop the right field grandstand. Even now, when advertising revenues are so necessary in the age of free agency and every square inch of available space at the ballpark is rented out to advertisers, the most visible and prime location in the park - the middle of the green monster, the left-field wall - is donated as a space to advertise The Jimmy Fund.
Another way in which monies are raised for The Jimmy Fund? Via a partnership with Stop & Shop supermarkets, there is the Triple Winner Game. It is a lottery of sorts, but every ticket sold is a winner - and not just because by buying one you donate to a great charity. It is, by far, the best bargain in the store. I can't even imagine why every person who comes through the checkout wouldn't buy some of these tickets.
For one dollar, donated to The Jimmy Fund at the checkout counter, you receive a scratch ticket. There are three ways to win a prize through this ticket, thus the "Triple Winner" name. First, there is a chance to win a cash prize. On the right side of the ticket, there are three dollar amounts to scratch. If they all match, you win that dollar amount. Second, on the back of that half of the ticket there is a place to write your name, address, etc., and mail in your losing tickets for a second-chance drawing, in which all prizes not claimed are given away. The best part of the ticket, though, is the left-hand side. It is the "instant win" side.
When you scratch the "instant win" side of your ticket, you are guaranteed to win a prize. These prizes are sometimes cash or gift cards, but the majority of the time grocery items. For your one-dollar donation - all of which goes directly to The Jimmy Fund - you are guaranteed to win at least whatever grocery item shows up on this part of the ticket when you scratch it. And the grocery items are always worth at least the dollar you spent for the ticket. Often, the prize is an item worth much more - four or five dollars.
The tickets are sold at Stop & Shop for about a ten-week period each year. I do the majority of the grocery shopping for us, so when the tickets go on sale I buy a few each week. Usually, I see what my bill totals and then round up to the nearest ten-dollar level. Thus, I end up with an average of four or five tickets a week for the duration of their distribution each year. When I return home, and after we put away the groceries, MY WIFE and I divvy up the scratch tickets. We then see what prizes we've won.
First off, in the spirit of truth in advertising, I'll tell you that we've never won anything from the right-hand side of the ticket, the cash prize side. That's OK. That side of the ticket is just for dreaming and we weren't expecting to win $10,000. If we did, that would be swell, but we buy the tickets to be charitable and to get the grocery goodies.
What we do is save up the many tickets we buy over the ten-week period. We then designate the next Saturday as "Jimmy Fund Shopping Day". For that week, our shopping list contains only those staple items we must have and which are not covered by prizes won on the tickets - things like milk or coffee, perhaps. We then allow ourselves to buy nothing else that week except those things won via the tickets.
It makes for a fun shopping trip, as many of the items are things we'd never regularly buy. For instance, Mt. Olive Pepper Rings. Or, since we don't own a cat, Meow Mix Cat Treats - we'll give those to my Mom, for her cat. And we get some things we usually don't buy because they're not the most healthy things for us, but we figure since it's for charity, we'll be brave and eat them - such as Carando Pillow-Pack Pepperoni, which I'm chewing on even as I type this and damn, it's yummy.
Another fun part of this is that it's like a treasure hunt. Since so many of the items are things we don't regularly buy, we have to search them out on the shelves. Thus, we end up going back-and-forth from aisle to aisle, looking for such cryptic-sounding items as Pepetti Foods All Whites and Mama Rosie's Cavatelle.
(The game is a boon to the manufacturers of the foods and household items given away, of course. Out of the many people who would never buy the products, but who try them because it is a prize, some will continue to be consumers of that product. For instance, last year one of our prizes was Polar Springs Vanilla Seltzer Water. MY WIFE tried it, liked it, and we've been regularly purchasing flavored seltzer ever since.)
So, this Saturday we went to the local Stop & Shop, armed with some forty-five Jimmy Fund Triple Winner Game scratch tickets, and collected our booty. I won't bore you with the entire shopping trip, but I'll give you a few highlights.
The thing you should understand is that, as I mentioned earlier, I do almost all of the weekly shopping. I enjoy it, as long as I don't have to fight any crowds or stand in line too long. Since our Stop & Shop is open 7 days, and 24 hours on six of those days, no problem. I go shopping at 6:30 or 7:00 on Saturday morning and the store is relatively empty.
MY WIFE, unlike many women, doesn't enjoy shopping. Well, for the most part, anyway. I mean, she seems to enjoy clothes shopping but, generally speaking, large stores are not someplace she'd prefer to be. She's usually OK, but on a rare occasion or two she has suffered major panic attacks while in them. So, grocery stores are not her favorite places. Since she rarely enters one, this makes for a very interesting trip whenever she comes along. She sees things she doesn't normally see and stops to wonder and marvel at them.
MY WIFE is not an idiot. However, when she accompanies me to a grocery store, it's not unlike having a ten-year-old with ADD along. I enjoy it, actually. I find it cute and lovely that someone can find so many things to be fascinated with in, for instance, the tea aisle. We spent a good five minutes there while she wondered aloud about such things as white tea, and why it was such a big deal all of a sudden, and oooh, look, Lavender Earl Grey! And Plum Tea? Huh! What do you know about that?
When we hit the cereal aisle, she saw a package of Lucky Charms and said, "Wait a minute. Look at this. Come here." And then she held the box up to my face and regarded me and Lucky The Leprechaun side-by-side, as though I looked just like him.
(This became the recurring joke of the day. We often have one. In this case, she kept picking up various boxes with human or humanoid icons on them, holding them up to my face, and going, "Hmmmmmm..." She finally decided that I most-closely resembled the Scrubbing Bubbles thing, I suppose because he's bald and his bristles look somewhat like my goatee. It takes one hell of a strong ego to survive being told that you look like the Scrubbing Bubbles thing. Luckily, I have one.)
(By the way, just so you'll know she's not an insensitive jerk, MY WIFE invited me to try and find someone on a package that looked like her, too. Knowing that women tend to have many more problems with body image than men, I was sensitive enough to NOT grab a box of Quaker Oats and say, "No, your hair is much darker. Looks like one of your hats, though.")
(Actually, had I thought of it, I would have picked up a box of Powerpuff Girls cereal and pointed at Buttercup.)
(Meanwhile, in another digression, she wondered if there are more male than female advertising icons on packages or vice-versa. Good question. If you know, let us know.)
There are always one or two items we can't find, but we hold those tickets and I cash them in the next week when I have time to devote to a more thorough search for them. For instance, this year I couldn't find those Mt. Olive Pepper Rings. I really wanted them, too. Oh, well, next week, I hope.
Cashing in your Jimmy Fund tickets makes the checkout process slightly long, while the cashier scans all of the tickets. A couple got in line behind us and they had only seven or eight items. We apologized to them and said it might take a little while. They were OK with it, for the first three minutes. Then they picked up their items and moved to another checker. However, the next fellow in line was fascinated by the whole thing.
You see, first the checker scanned all of our groceries and the total was somewhere around $165. She then began passing the tickets over the scanner and the total went down by one, two, three or four dollars with each scan. By the time she was done, our bill was about $70. The guy was amazed and asked how much we saved in total. When I told him it was a bit more than $90, he went, "Wow!" and we knew he had a story to tell his wife when he got home.
Of course, we hope he'll buy many of the tickets himself the next time they're available. As I said, this is the best bargain in the store. It's a painless way to contribute to a great charity. The bottom line, for those of you interested in such things, is that I spent about $45 - all of which goes directly to fighting childhood cancer - and we received over $90 worth of interesting groceries in return. In addition, there was always the possibility of winning an additional big cash prize (the top prize is $10,000 and there are also smaller prizes of $100, $500, etc.) and it's just plain fun to scratch the tickets and find out what esoteric items you'll be eating in the future.
Or right now. A Giant Slim Jim (which is something of a contradiction in terms) was one of our prizes. I haven't had a Slim Jim in about ten years. If I survive, I'll see you tomorrow. If I don't, rest assured that I went out happy.
If you're one of my regular readers, you may have been wondering why there was no new post on Monday. It's because there was no TV at our house on Friday night. That doesn't sound like a logical progression, but it is.
I came home from work on Friday, grabbed the remote control and turned on the television. Nothing but static. I flipped through the channels and it was the same everywhere. I shut off the TV and cooked some dinner for myself, thinking that perhaps there was an outage in the Watertown area and it might be repaired by the time I had finished eating. Nope. So, I called the cable company.
Cable companies have sometimes been notorious for poor customer service, but the person who handled my call was great. She didn't accomplish anything outside of setting up a service appointment, but for the fifteen minutes or so we were on the phone together trying to solve whatever problem there was, she was friendly, polite, good-natured and apologetic. That's about all you can ask from a customer service agent, if you can't actually fix anything.
Anyway, the upshot was that we would have no cable for the weekend and a service technician was scheduled to come to the house between 8am and noon on Monday. If the service restored itself before then, I'd call and cancel the appointment.
I don't have the slightest idea how the service might have restored itself - the friendly customer service agent had ruled out any possibility of an area-wide disruption, so it was definitely just my service - but I waited to see if it might resolve itself, anyway. When Sunday afternoon rolled around, I decided it would be a good thing for me to call my employer and let him know that I'd be out on Monday while I waited for the service tech at home. And so I did, and here I sit, typing and waiting.
And since I have no internet connection at home (and even if I did, it would have been out) that's why I posted nothing on Monday.
It was interesting having no cable for three days. MY WIFE and I spent a great deal of the time reading, which I suppose could be seen as a good thing. When we got sick of that, we popped in a video or DVD.
We watched Bend It Like Beckham, which was a fun movie - albeit slightly hard to understand on occasion, since the characters were all speaking English rather than American. We also watched Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey, which concerned the baseball wanderings of pitcher Bill Lee, formerly of the Red Sox and Expos, now of The World.
Lee still plays ball. Anywhere he can find a game, he'll suit up. And he plays for (as he says concerning the Cuban ballplayers he meets while barnstorming in Havana) all the right reasons. He plays because he loves the game, not for money. Most ballplayers, having been dealt Lee's hand (basically blackballed from the major leagues because of his defense of teammates such as Rodney Scott and Bernie Carbo, as well as comments concerning his marijuana usage) would have hung up their spikes and become embittered. Lee just kept playing, albeit not in the bigs. As a fellow who has never been paid to play ball - who pays to play ball and has done so for more than forty years - I wanted to reach into the screen and shake his hand.
Aside from the pre-recorded entertainment, we had our Jimmy Fund shopping to do. I'll be telling you about that tomorrow.
So, here I am waiting for the tech to show up.
It's now 8:47. When they tell you that your service appointment is from 8am to noon, you know damned well that it won't be 8am. If it was, they'd tell you 8am, right? So what you hope for is 9am; you hope the first call he made turned out to be something simple and dopey, like an unplugged TV.
You also hope that your own case isn't something quite so simple and dopey, because you don't want to have wasted your morning and missed a day at work because you were too dumb to, say, check the connections from the cable to the TV. So, even though that was the first thing you did before you even called the cable company on Friday, you get up from your typing and do it again, which is what I just did.
And it's now 9:00. If you're really bored, like me, you could figure out how long it took me to write the last two paragraphs. Well, the total time was thirteen minutes. Subtract the minute I spent checking the wires again. Subtract four minutes for the two phone calls I received from work - one from my boss telling me that he got my message and it's no problem to take the day off, and the other from the jolly joker who called one minute later and told me there was an emergency and I had to come in, ha ha - and that leaves 8 minutes to have typed two paragraphs, or four minutes each.
Exciting stuff, eh?
Score: Cable Tech - 0 Jim - 3 cups of coffee.
At least I'm getting wired.
What else can I tell you about while I'm waiting? Softball, I suppose.
(A collective groan goes up from the readership, but it does them no good.)
Lately, when I've been asked by MY WIFE or a co-worker about how my game went, my stock answer has been, "I had a decent game, but we lost." I've been getting a few hits and not making errors, but the teams have been consistently losing. Well, Sunday I had two crummy games and we lost both, so at least it was slightly different.
I went 0-for-4 with a walk in the two games. Made a couple of decent plays in the field, diving to grab short pop-ups from behind the plate, but my hitting was horrible. Two flies to right, one to left, and a fielder's choice grounder to the second baseman. I left three or four men in scoring position. I suppose, what with the good luck I've been hitting in, I should have expected things to start evening out and now they have. But I didn't hit the ball well once all day and that bothers me. I'm still hitting over .500 for the season, between both leagues, but I know in my heart of hearts that I can count on my fingers the number of really well-hit balls that figure into that average.
And the Sunday team is just dead. I've never seen a team that, overall, is having less fun playing ball. It's like we're expecting to lose - and so we do, of course.
We gave up 10 runs in the first inning of game one and that was it for the day. Three or four errors and our pitcher gets the ball back and mutters under his breath, "Let's see if we can give them another 10 outs this inning..." and who can blame him? The thing is, we end up losing the game 11 to 9, but I never felt as though the team really thought they could win it, even when we had come back to within a couple of runs. Just totally flat. The second game was a foregone conclusion after that. We dropped it, 10 - 3.
So now we have to win at least 7 of our last 8 to make the playoffs; possibly run the table. If it happens, I'll be one of the happiest men on earth. I'm not giving up - I never give up - but I'm surely not counting on it, either.
I mentioned that we did a lot of reading this weekend. One of the books I've been reading is called Subway Lives, by Jim Dwyer. It follows a bunch of people through 24 hours in the New York subway system.
I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I'm a subway junkie. I love riding them, reading about them, looking at maps, photos, historical documents, whatever. I'll bore you in detail about it some other day. For now, I'll just tell you that Dwyer is a good writer and the book is a joy.
He begins at midnight, introducing us to the varied cast of characters - a conductor who sings Elvis songs, a pregnant welfare mother, an iron worker, the head of the transit authority, some people who ride the trains every day, a token booth worker, and others - and then follows these people at varying intervals of time, recounting their travels and travails while weaving in the history of the biggest subway system in the world.
The book was written in 1991, so it's slightly dated - as is anything concerning New York City prior to 9/11/2001 - but not so much so that it makes the book any less interesting. Even if you're not a big fan of public transit systems, like me, you'll probably enjoy it. It's just a good read.
And it's now 9:54, no repairman, and I'm going to read a bit of that book. Back soon.
The tech just arrived and he's checking the connections outside the house. Seems like a nice guy. I was so engrossed in the book, I jumped when he rang the bell.
And now the cable is back on. He tells me that our new neighbors (another post for later this week) seem to have had cable installed and, when it was, ours was mistakenly disconnected. He says he has to do a few minutes work outside and then he'll be back.
Off again. I guess he's doing the work. What I don't know about electronics would fill quite a few books.
I bought MY WIFE a ceiling fan for the bedroom, for her birthday six or seven years ago. She had said that she wanted one, so it was a nice gift. Problem is, I never installed it because I was never quite sure enough of what I was doing to be certain that I wouldn't fry myself. We've moved since then and the fan sits in its box, in our basement storage area, gathering mold.
I was the same way when I was a semi-working musician. Every other guitar player knew stuff about how his amplifier worked - how to replace a blown speaker, say, or how to make minor repairs to effects pedals and such - but all I knew was that you plugged in the amplifier and then you plugged the guitar into it and music came out. I sometimes didn't even know just how many speakers there were inside my amp. I remember being surprised as all hell when I took the cover off of a Marshall I had and discovering eight speakers where I thought there were six. And three of them had holes blown in them, thus the funky sound I had been getting.
Back on. The tech tells me he has to talk to the people upstairs for a minute. I hope everything is on the up-and-up there. I assume it is.
And no problem. They just had the service put in and ours was pulled mistakenly at the same time. Alls well that ends well, I guess. Now I have the rest of the day to myself, to catch up on all of the TV I missed over the weekend.
Nah, just kidding. I'm going to finish the book. See you tomorrow for a shopping adventure!
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Yesterday morning, I opened an e-mail that amazed me. It came from a fellow named Richard Kropas. I went to grade school with Richard and it's been more than thirty-five years since I last saw him.
I'm not sure how, but Richard came across this blog. On the off chance that I might be the same Jim Sullivan he went to school with - lo, these many years ago - he dropped me a line. In the e-mail, he gave me enough info to let me know he wasn't someone pulling my leg or trying to scam me. He named a few other kids from our classes, a teacher; stuff like that.
I wrote back to him and gave him a small bit of my history since those days in Dorchester. I'm awaiting his reply. In the meantime, I dug up a school photo that included both of us and then memories started kicking down long-closed doors in my head. I decided to turn on the ancient computer (no internet connection) at home and now I'm just going to go from person to person in the photo and see what comes to mind. I'll post it in the morning when I get to an actual on-line computer.
(Disclaimer: I'll probably misspell names and I'm bound to get some things wrong concerning personal histories. After all, I was either 8 or 9 when this photo was shot, so I've had forty years worth of time to fry some synapses since then. If I insult anyone, it's wholly unintentional and I apologize beforehand. However, if you're reading this and you ARE insulted, you should get in touch with me, too. I'd love to hear from you.)
(Second Disclaimer: I suck at Photoshop, at scanning, and at anything else I could have done to make the following photo nicer. If you need more detail, click onto it and you should see an enlargement. I hope.)
Here's our fourth grade photo.
Let's start with the bottom row, since that's the one I'm in. The first person on the left is Johnny DuPass (and his last name is probably the first misspelling.) Johnny was sort of a tough kid and in later years he was a member of the Red Emeralds, a local motorcycle gang from Mattapan. Now, if my recollection is incorrect on this, I'm going to look like an idiot, but I recall that Johnny lost a leg in an accident and he passed away a few years later; that would have been maybe twenty years ago now.
When I was very young, I wasn't comfortable around Johnny. Oh, fuck it - I was afraid of him. But as the years passed, I saw that Johnny had a nice side to him. I recall a couple of minor incidents where he made things more comfortable for me when he didn't have to do so. Nothing worth going into detail about, but the sort of kindness you don't readily forget. Wherever you are, Johnny - I hope my memory of hearing of your death is incorrect - I surely did appreciate that.
Beside Johnny is Tony Cefalu. Tony was a real nice kid and we graduated from the same high school class, Boston Tech 1974. An odd memory pops to mind.
Stephen Murphy and I once visited Tony's house after school. Tony lived quite a few blocks from our house, so we rarely got to his neighborhood for anything other than school or church. Anyway, Stephen and I were both white-bread Irish boys and Tony's home smelled so strange! Well, of course, it was just garlic and rosemary and oregano and whatever other wonderful things a more adventurous family might have used to cook dinner. The most daring seasoning either of us had ever seen used in our homes was pepper. We got used to the smell and had a fine time.
Tony had a younger brother; I think Nicky was his name. Nicky had a small physical deformity. As I remember, he was missing some muscle on one side of his neck, so his head always leaned off to that side. It wasn't anything we thought much about; just interesting to us as kids is all. He also had an older brother, Jimmy, and I seem to remember that he was a pretty good athlete.
Now we come to the first person (of quite a few) whose name I can't recall. I remember he was a pretty nice kid - good-natured sort and fairly bright, I think - but no other outstanding memories.
(I'm sure that if everybody in that class looked at this picture, there'd be quite a few who might have the exact same commentary regarding me.)
And that brings us to the redheaded kid. Good-natured sort and fairly bright, I think. Other than that? His pants are too short and what's up with that tie? Definitely a goon.
The last kid in the row was named Miles and although I thought there were others, he appears to have been the only black boy in the class. Maybe my friend Phillip Stiles and Freddie and some others came the next year. I wonder how Miles felt about being one of a kind? I know that there were an awful lot of n-words thrown around in those days and not so subtly sometimes, either.
This was the first year there were any black children in the Gilbert Stuart. My father followed Stephen Murphy and me to school on the first day that year, at a distance of about a block behind, because he thought there might be troubles. There weren't, I'm happy to say, but it was still a somewhat awkward time for both the white kids and the black kids. We had hardly had any exposure at all to black people, so they were a curiosity - sometimes built up as a threat through ignorance from some of our parents - and I'm sure the black kids didn't especially enjoy traveling from their own neighborhood into a foreign environment where they might have been told they would meet unfriendliness.
(My parents weren't the worst, by any stretch, even though my father tagged after me. My mother has never been one to consider a person's skin tone a qualification or disqualification for anything. And my father, despite his very constant use of group epithets, was never one to deny an individual his due. I always found it intriguing that a man who said "niggers" and "jew bastards" on a regular basis, when referring to groups of people, had so many true and good friends who were black or Jewish, and whom he would have gone to the wall for if you said anything bad about them.)
In the next row, we start with the girls. This being the fourth grade, as well as medieval 1965, I don't have as many memories of them as I probably should. I've got some, though, so here goes.
First on the left is Eva. She was nice enough, as I recall, but that's about all I recall, which is more than I can say about the next two girls, whose names I can't recall at all. Such nice smiles and open faces. I feel truly bad not being able to call to mind a single salient fact about either of them. I feel as though I'm hurting their feelings from forty years in the future.
The fourth girl from the left was Geraldine Donahue. I remember the names of all the redheads, male or female, I suppose because we're the same species. She was a nice kid with a few extra pounds and teased because of it, of course.
Next to Geraldine is (I hope my memory is correct and it is her, because it's a great name) Allison Angel. My mother says that when I went to kindergarten, and Allison was in my class, I came home all excited because I thought she was Allison Wonderland, since that was the only Allison I had ever heard of before.
Ahhhhhhhhhh! The recipient of my first kiss. She appears none the worse for wear, but I'm not sure if this was before or after it. The other female in that story, Lorraine, is the first one on the left in the third row. My buddy, Stephen Murphy, whose birthday it was and who knew the rules, is the second boy from the right in the top row.
Is that MaryAnn Arsenault next in the second row? I should know, but I don't. If it is, I should be ashamed for not being sure because I had a major crush on her in first grade. Next to the possible MaryAnn is Mitzi McCall. No, actually I'm not sure who she is. Another damned nice smile, though.
You've already met Lorraine, so let's go on to the second girl in the third row. Nope - no clue.
(You have no idea how much this bothers me. I can picture one of these people coming across my blog, same as Richard did, reading this and getting pissed that I don't remember them. Or, worse, getting sad. If you see yourself, get in touch with me, please. I want to know you - again.)
The next redhead is the very pretty Sheila. Next to her is a wonderful girl named Rosemarie Espinosa. It never struck me until this very moment that she was probably of Hispanic descent. Of course, she almost certainly never knew that I was one-quarter so, also. Whatever else she was, she was always nice to me. She was one of the brightest kids in the class, too. I was a very good speller and Rosemarie and I were often as not the last two remaining in class spelling bees. She was one of two girls in the class I can honestly say I was completely comfortable around. I'll get to the other in a moment.
(No, oddly enough, it wasn't Julie, the girl I kissed. She was just my kissee and we didn't spend much time talking or otherwise palling around at school.)
Well, the girl after Rosemarie is drawing a blank and again many apologies. Deborah Williams is after her. Then another blank for me, insofar as the name is concerned, but I do remember her dancing ballet during an assembly once. Then another nice smile, but still another non-recall moment for Jim.
OK. Now we come to the other girl whom I very fondly recall and whose company I always enjoyed. Her name was (and is, I hope) Susan Lawlor. Well, I mean I hope it's still Susan Lawlor if she wants it to still be Susan Lawlor. I mean... ah, hell, she's the type who knows what I mean and that's why I liked her so much. Look at her standing there in that plaid jumper. What impresses me now is the look of intelligence combined with a very pretty set of eyes and a sweet smile.
Jesus, don't get me wrong. I think I might be coming across like I had some kind of major crush on Susan. I honestly didn't. I really had no feelings of that nature at all for her. More's the pity on my part, of course. Susan was the easiest girl to talk to in the entire class. I mean the following in the most sincerely nice and unsuggestive way imaginable - she was like one of the guys to me. You could tell her the type of mild dirty joke prevalent among fourth-graders and it wasn't because you were going to shock her like with the other girls. You told her the joke because she'd appreciate it and you wanted to make her laugh. Or, maybe she told you a joke. Really good girl and one I'd love to talk to again.
I did have somewhat of an opportunity to see Susan again a few years ago, due to her participation in one of the more fun things MY WIFE and I enjoy in Boston, The Museum Of Bad Art (MOBA), but I never followed through on it in a timely fashion and we never met up. I regret that.
(By the way, if you click on the link above, the first "art" you'll see is a portrait of Susan's grandmother. The story behind it is there on the site somewhere, also.)
And the next three girls? They may have been just as nice, but my sieve... excuse me... my memory totally fails me again.
Not to give anyone else shorter shrift than I've already given some folks here, but I'm getting tired and need to hit the hay. Quick, then, through the top row.
First on the left is the assistant teacher, whose name I (surprise!) can't remember. The only girl in the back row, poking her head up as though she were a prairie dog (but with a much prettier smile) was, I believe, Trixie. I want to say that the boy next to her is Robert Buhl, but I may be mistaken. I remember Robert as having worn glasses, but it still may be him. Maybe he didn't wear glasses at all. Maybe I just need glasses.
The final redhead in our class, standing next to the probably Robert Buhl without glasses, is Donald Henderson. The fellow with the extremely good posture next to Donald is Eddie Reavey. I became pretty fair friends with Eddie (and his brother) during high school, at least during school hours. We didn't hang a lot outside of school, but we seemed to sit next to each other a lot (probably alphabetical - Reavey, Sullivan) so we talked a bunch.
The fellow who started me on this stumble down a Memory Lane filled with potholes is in the very center of the top row, as he was in every class picture I still have, due to his height. He is Richard Kropas. He was always the biggest kid in class, at least during our time at the Gilbert Stuart. As a result, he'd play Santa Claus in our Christmas pageants. Always a smile. Good kid. I look forward to getting another e-mail from him.
One of the class clowns, Robert Gallagher, is the kid with the glasses. He was a funny guy. Oddly, I remember everyone calling him "Gallagher" rather than "Robert", the only one in the class not generally referred to by his first name. No, he didn't smash watermelons with a sledgehammer - different Gallagher.
Another cipher to the right of Gallagher. Maybe a Ronald? I don't know.
My best friend of early childhood was Stephen Murphy. I've mentioned him other times here and in one or two other stories. He would be the one I most recently saw, although it was still too long ago. I saw him at the wake of his older brother, Jimmy, almost four years back now. At the time, we exchanged phone numbers but never called. I've since lost his.
It's so sad that you can be truly intimate with someone when you're younger, but not feel comfortable enough to call him as an adult. He was at my wedding. He was my little league teammate. He was in the same cub scout den. We walked to school together, every day, from Kindergarten through 6th grade, and for the better part of the years after that we rode to school together. He was my actual next-door-neighbor for almost thirty years, since we both stayed in our Dorchester duplex after we had been married and both of our parents were long gone from that scene. I enjoyed playing catch in the backyard with his son, just as I had played catch in the backyard with him when we were both kids.
He and his family moved to Quincy about a year before MY WIFE and I moved to Watertown and since then, the wake was it. Too bad.
Well, Billy Shea (?) next and then my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Welch. Mrs. Welch was a decent sort and I liked her. I really can't remember a teacher at that school who wasn't at least decent. Many were very nice. I especially have fond memories of a Mrs. Hickey from fifth grade.
Enough meandering nostalgia for one day. See you soon.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
First, the good news: Last night, I was on the winning side of a softball game. The Linwood Flames won, 10 - 7, behind the crafty pitching of 78-year-old Bobby Ridley.
The way I treat my body in general, I don't expect to even be alive by the time I should be 78. Bobby went out and threw a decent game, drove in at least one run (I don't have the scoresheet in front of me, but I know he drew a bases-loaded walk at one point - I was coaching first at the time, so I remember that) and generally made the rest of us ashamed to ever complain about age-related crap.
The team we beat was the one directly behind us in the standings. So, as bad as our record to this point has been, we put some cushion between us and them. We now have a two game lead for the last playoff position in my weekday league.
And there was much rejoicing.
OK, this morning I'm watching Fox 25 news. That was my first mistake.
Understand that I almost never watch the news. I used to watch the news a lot, when I was more heavily involved in politics, but since then I've assiduously avoided it. MY WIFE and I were watching the news one time and I started griping about something they just reported, as was (and is) my wont. She said, "You know, you really shouldn't watch the news if all it does is make you mad."
She was absolutely right. I was becoming less-and-less involved in politics (a conscious decision on my part) so I probably wasn't going to be doing anything to affect whatever I was griping about, so why gripe? All it would do was piss off whoever I was with and maybe give me an ulcer to boot. So, I stopped watching the news unless I caught wind of some huge story - such as yesterday's tunnel incident.
This morning, I had only turned on the TV to set up the VCR to tape something tonight. However, there was the news and sitting there discussing the tunnel were two political analysts (read: partisan bags of shit) and the anchor (read: somewhat vapid, but nice to look at and can read a sentence without stumbling.)
I (read: opinionated and prone to snap judgments, just covering my ass in case she actually isn't vapid, but the other two are still bags of shit) was mortified to hear these two... what's the phrase I'm looking for? Oh, yes... bags of shit... were discussing whether or not Governor Mitt Romney had handled the situation correctly.
It might have been a legitimate question, but it was being asked of the wrong people. As is often the case on news shows these days, the people giving opinions were partisan political analysts; one a democrat and the other a republican. As is always the case when that is the case, one crucified the republican and the other thought the republican was God's gift to humanity.
What the fuck do we ever learn by listening to these people, aside from the fact that they are partisan spin doctors who would take Hitler's side if he were from their political party?
You want real opinions? Go to someone utterly unconnected to the situation and who doesn't stand to profit in any way. Don't give airtime to two gasbags looking to perpetuate the status quo.
(Republican or democrat, it doesn't matter. They are both looking to perpetuate the status quo, because the status quo is either a republican or democrat administration and legislature. There are differences in their approaches to social problems, but the bottom line is the same: government can handle it best and we want to be the government.)
Try bringing in a Libertarian analyst, a Green analyst, or - better yet - someone with no ties whatsoever to any political party. You'll get a fresh perspective and some truth, instead of spin.
Well, that's enough, I suppose. The rest of the stuff that pisses me off is so minor in comparison that I'm not going to bother with it now. I'll save it for tomorrow or the next day.
Now you have something to look forward to...
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
PLEASE SEE UPDATE AT END OF COLUMN.
So, someone has died as the result of the criminal negligence involved in the biggest boondoggle in Massachusetts' political history (which covers one hell of a lot of ground.)
I heard someone connected with the state say, following the incident, that the tunnel was "structurally sound".
LIE. LIE. LIE.
A multi-ton piece of it fell and killed a woman. The state has work crews dismantling the roof of the tunnel even as I write. It is, therefore, not "structurally sound".
I'm ashamed to be from this state.
UPDATE: I just read the piece referenced by Friday18 in the comments section. You should, too. Here it is.
Monday, July 10, 2006
Feast or famine. So often, for a guy like myself who loves sports, it's either a full plate or starvation. Let's start with some games I didn't compete in - the televised sports for the weekend.
The Red Sox, champions from 2004, are playing a three game set against the Chicago White Sox, last year's champions. Through Saturday's game, the Carmine Hose (as one or two florid sportswriters from past years described them) have taken two. David Ortiz and Jim Thome have been having their own battle within a battle, with Ortiz barely hanging on to his league lead in home runs. Great stuff.
Of course, the World Cup final goes on Sunday. I really enjoy the World Cup, but have no feeling whatsoever for MLS soccer - or soccer in general, really. I sort of follow the Aston Villa team from England - I have a scarf that I picked up over there many moons ago - but you barely have any opportunities over here to actually see them play, unless you buy pay-per-view of Premier League Soccer, and I don't.
As much as I enjoy the World Cup, I've come to the conclusion that I'm a jinx. Every country I've rooted for has gone down. I started off being very jingoistic, rooting for the United States, and that didn't turn out to be much fun. After they went home, I adopted Trinidad & Tobago. Their goaltender has one of the great names in all of sports - Shaka Hislop. How can you not like someone named Shaka Hislop? Well, maybe you can't, but I do. Anyway, he played a good net, but Trinidad & Tobago didn't score a single goal, so back to the islands for them. Then I cheered for England. Nope. Then Portugal. Same story. Now I'm rooting for Italy in the final, so that means France is a lock.
(By the way, I've figured out why soccer will never be big in the United States. Americans are only interested in watching the best athletes perform. Football [gridiron], baseball, basketball, hockey - we are conditioned to believe [and for the most part it's true] that we have the best athletes in the world, in these sports, competing on American soil. Our soccer league isn't even in the top three or four. Until that changes, it's strictly a secondary sport here.)
Lots of golf this weekend. The Senior U. S. Open is interesting. The whole idea of any sport having a successful senior division, wherein the athletes don't come across as totally washed up relics, is interesting. The only sport where this could happen is golf, really, since the participants aren't called upon to do anything much more physically challenging than take a three-mile walk in the countryside, while swinging a stick some 70 or 72 times, over the course of four or five hours.
(I say such derogatory things about golfers knowing full well that my own skills at the game were almost totally non-existent. That game was much more strenuous for me than it is for them, though. I used to swing a stick 100 times, and I'd walk an extra mile or so more looking for my ball - and occasionally get in some jogging when I found a snake where I thought my ball was.)
I do enjoy watching golf on TV. It's very relaxing, what with the announcers whispering half the time, and there are the occasional opportunities for unintended high humor, such as at this weekend's Cialis Open. Whenever a spectator would say, "In the hole!" or one of the golfers, urging on his shot to the green, would opine, "Come on! Get up! Get up!", it was hilarious.
All in all, though, I think I enjoy watching golf so much because it makes my own participation in fast-pitch softball appear Herculean in comparison.
Ah, yes - softball! After so many rainouts this year, the make-up games are backing up on the schedule. So, whereas previously I was playing too little to get into - and stay in - shape, this weekend I'm playing back-to-back doubleheaders. These are a good workout for me, but just a touch too much ball for my 49-year-old bones to completely handle comfortably. I'm thankful that I'm not the only catcher this year, as was the case in a couple of other years. I'm playing some first base - hell, I actually pitched an inning-and-a-third today.
(That came about because we only had one real pitcher. He expects to throw both games tomorrow, too, so I mopped up for him in one game today to give him a break. I gave up four runs on a grand slam and lowered my career ERA, so that will give you some idea of my effectiveness as a pitcher. I had previously pitched once before in this league, walking both batters I faced. They subsequently scored, so my ERA had been infinite. With today's stellar performance, I lowered it to about 45.00, I think.)
Of course, I'd rather have the extra workout than none at all. No complaints. And I think I'm finally getting into a small hitting groove this season. Small consolation, when the team itself is 1 and 5, but we have the other two games to play tomorrow. We can move into fifth place with a sweep. Top six (of ten) make the playoffs at season's end, so not too bad if we can take a couple.
Canadian Football is on now. Three downs instead of four, no fair catches, and the wonderful rouge. Those wacky Canucks!
So, feast or famine. In the entire month of June, I was on the winning side of one softball game. Thus far, July has been worse.
You may remember me bemoaning my own execrable performance sometime back in the middle of June. In another outstanding proof that softball is a team game, I've gone 21 for 32 (.656) since that time - which is about as good an average as it's humanly possible to have in these leagues - but the team results have been 1 win and 10 losses. I'd rather have batted .000 and had the won-loss reversed. It's maddening to be only about halfway through the seasons of my two teams and know that my streak of not being on a championship team is probably destined to stretch out to 42 years.
Don't get me wrong - I love the playing for its own sake and I love the camaraderie with my teammates. And I haven't been the reincarnation of Ted Williams - 19 of those 21 hits I've piled up have been singles, with a fair amount of bloopers and seeing-eye grounders. Every guy on both teams is a good fellow and it isn't that anyone is dogging it. Everybody is giving it whatever he has to give and you can't ask for more than that. However, I suspect that some of the guys are getting into the habit of looking for excuses - blaming umpiring, bad hops, whatever. Those things almost always even out over the course of a season and it does little good to dwell on them. I've found that teams that start believing in their own bad luck tend to perpetuate it. Once that starts happening, there's never any recovering from it.
And enough whining. I'm 49-years-old and still able to run around in the sunshine playing a kid's game. Win or lose the games, just being out there is a personal victory and I've got no right to complain about whatever else happens on the field. There are many thousands of folks who would trade places with me in a heartbeat. Hurray for me!
And hurray for Italy. The team I was rooting for in the final actually won. Amazing. Of course, they won on a penalty kick shootout. I hate that rule. Just keep playing the damn game until someone scores a real goal. Penalty kicks are mostly just an exercise in luck; may as well flip a coin.
See you Tuesday, when I have another game; another opportunity to prolong my childhood a few days more. Another day to count my blessings.