Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What I Did On My Vacation, Part Two

I would refer you to part one, but this hasn't exactly been scintillating stuff so far. If you want to read it, go ahead, but you won't be lost here if you don't. Blame CatPants. She suggested I write about this, in response to my asking folks to tell me what to write about. I'm sure it seemed like a perfectly reasonable request when she made it, but how was she to know I'd take such a boring vacation?


Wednesday the 23rd

Day before the big gathering of relatives and friends, so time to take care of whatever needs to be taken care of around the house. I dust all around, clean the floors, take stuff from the living room and stuff it wherever it will fit in the bedroom, etc.

Also, I prep whatever foods I can beforehand. I peel and chop the turnips, same with the squash, lay out some orderve trays, make sure all of the pots and pans are clean, check one last time to see that everything I need is here and that I don't have to go to the store again.

(Doesn't sound like a vacation, does it? Well, if I didn't take the time off, I'd have to do all of this stuff between the time I woke up on Thursday and 1pm, when I expect folks to start showing up, so it's a vacation from that...)

Really, all I wanted was time off from work so that Thanksgiving wouldn't be a hurried pain-in-the-ass, and so that I could just nap, watch sports, read a book, or do whatever else I wanted to, when I wanted to, and that alone would be enough to let me relax and get rid of the tensions I'd built up from work. I hadn't had a real vacation in over a year, so this really did the trick. I am, despite the work involved in hosting Thanksgiving, very relaxed. And I just love Thanksgiving, and I love cooking for groups, so that's a treat, as long as I have plenty of time to accomplish it in the manner I wish.

Here I will mention how invaluable MY WIFE is as an ally in this endeavor. She remembers things that need to be done that I would have missed entirely and then swore a blue streak about. For instance, every year I totally forget about putting the rolls in the oven. She makes sure they get done in time. She keeps everybody amused while I go about finishing everything. She makes sure everybody is happy and comfortable while I'm struggling to get the potatoes mashed, while making the gravy and carving the bird and re-heating everything at two minute intervals in the microwave. She sets the table and arranges the seating and gets everybody's drink orders and a hundred other details I just wouldn't have time for. She thinks she doesn't do enough, and she'll even think this paragraph makes her look bad, but it doesn't and I couldn't do it without her.

Not much else to tell about today. Gassed up Roddy (our car) and watched the Celtics. In between those two things and the cleaning and food prep, I read a few chapters of Let Me Tell You A Story, a book about Red Auerbach by John Feinstein, which I recommend highly if you're a Celtics' fan or a basketball nut or both.

Thursday the 24th, Thanksgiving

Up early to stuff the bird and get it into the oven. I don't have a recipe for stuffing, but it comes out OK every year. I just keep throwing bread, pearl onions, celery and Bell's Seasoning together, with a little water, until the consistency and smell seem right. It works.

Bird in the oven, so time to start on the turnip and squash, which I prepped last night. I have enough turnip to feed about 30, but it's one of my favorite leftovers, so no problem. I prepare the squash with maple syrup and it's really, really good. Now I can lay out the cranberry sauce, and make a tray with roasted red peppers, pickled banana peppers, celery and dill pickle quarters (for folks to nibble while waiting), and a basket of shelled mixed nuts, for those who don't want any vegetables before the meal. After that, I get to work on the yams, the carrots, the green beans (french cut), the potatoes, and everything else. MY WIFE ably assists. Meanwhile, the bird needs basting every twenty minutes or so.

Man! I absolutely loooooooove the smell of Thanksgiving dinner cooking! Somebody should make an air freshener of it.

That's enough detail about the cooking. If you've done it yourself, you know it already, and if you don't do the cooking, it probably bores hell out of you to hear about it.

First to arrive are my Mom, Step-Dad Bill, and good friend Tom Starr. Mom brings the desserts every year. This year it's apple pie, pumpkin pie, peach pie, whipped topping, and hard sauce. Hard Sauce may be unique to my family; I don't know. It's a concoction of butter, powdered sugar and vanilla, and it really goes grrrrreat
with pumpkin or squash pie. Tom makes a very good dish with parsnips each year and he has that with him.

Next up are my Uncle Rick and Grandma. Uncle Rick comes bearing chocolates. Excellent! My Grandma will be 100 on December 1st. She's an amazing lady. You'll see what I mean tomorrow when I write about her.

Finally, when I'm just about to give up on them and start serving, my cousin Scott and his wife, Andrea, arrive. Usually, they're the first ones to arrive each year, but for some reason they had the idea that we might not be doing Thanksgiving this year and had made no plans to stop by. I found out that this might be the case when I called my Mom just this morning and she mentioned that she hadn't spoken to them about coming. Knowing how uber-polite they are, I figured I'd better call them and make sure they knew they were welcome. So, I called them and told them, "Well, of course we're having Thanksgiving! And we love you and expect you to be here every year unless told otherwise!" Anyway, they came with a cheese ball, crackers, and more egg nog. Now we can get this show on the road!

I planned everything to be ready to serve at 2pm. This is because that's halftime of the Detroit Lions game. Bill and I are the big pro football fans, so this is to accommodate us. By the time everything is finished and the desserts come out, it will be a short bit into the third quarter.

Everything goes very well. I receive many compliments, which I appreciate, but I wonder - does anybody ever tell the host that the food sucks?

Desserts! And coffee, mints, football, good conversation - everything that caps a fine meal. This is my favorite time of the whole day. Everything is done, everybody is well-fed and happy, there's football on the TV, I've got some pie and coffee... Life Is Good. Thanks, God!

The rest of the afternoon is spent watching football, burping, packing up some take-home meals for everyone, and enjoying some conversation with my Grandma (and everybody else, of course, but she's a bit [a lot] deaf, so she rarely gets the ebb and flow in a conversation involving lots of folks, so I sort of stick by her side for much of the time and just enjoy listening to her.)

Around halftime of the second football game, everybody has gone home. MY WIFE and I do a quick clean-up and then just sit back and enjoy each other's company (and I also enjoy a small turkey sandwich on one of the leftover rolls, along with some stuffing.)

Not much else to say about this, except that it is easily my favorite holiday. Christmas used to be, and it is still tremendous and meaningful, but as I grow older the Thanksgiving celebration has overtaken it. I'm not sure I could put into words why, but I suspect it has something to do with just getting older. I mean, I was never one of those greedy kids who looked forward to Christmas with unbridled avarice - I've never gotten a gift I didn't like, so anything was appreciated - but I think it might have a bit to do with that end of things. I enjoy the giving and receiving, and the religious aspects of the holiday are important to me, but it just doesn't give me that frisson it used to when I was younger.

To bed, to dream of leftovers. Yum!

Friday the 25th, Saturday the 26th, Sunday the 27th

I'm going to wrap things up quickly, as nothing of much import happened on these days. More football and more Celtics. Did you see the new uniforms? Not as bad as I expected they might be. I would rather they never change the uniforms, on any team, but especially so with a franchise that embodies so much tradition and past success that they shouldn't need to resort to cheap marketing ploys, but the new uniforms really aren't too bad. And they won, so maybe it's a good thing.

I read some more of the Auerbach book, took another long walk, ate gigantic amounts of leftover turkey and fixings, took more naps, and generally enjoyed the leisure time. That's about it, folks.

Tomorrow is my Grandma's 100th birthday, so please come back to read all about her. Until then...

Monday, November 28, 2005

What I Did On My Vacation

Ask (as did CatPants) and ye shall receive. Blame her if this is tres boring.

Saturday the 19th

Arose early, at 6am, as I usually do on Saturdays. MY WIFE says I'm crazy, and that I don't know the difference between a day off and a work day, but my thinking is different. Why should I sleep away the morning of a perfectly good day off? If I want to sleep, I can take a nap later. That's something you can't do at work.

(Unless you're a security guard on the midnight to 8am shift, which is why I didn't mind having that shift when I was one. However, I digress.)

Got dressed and put together my coupons for the weekly grocery shopping. Yes, I do the shopping. I enjoy it, actually, as long as I don't have to fight my way through a crowded supermarket. And, since I'm usually at the store by 7am, that's not a problem.

(By the way, I'm not obsessive about the coupons. I usually buy a Sunday paper and there are pullout sections with coupons. I figure the coupons pay for the paper. However, I digress again. You should probably get used to it, because it will be a continuing theme.)

This is the big shopping day, of course, as Thanksgiving is coming up. We have Thanksgiving at our place and I cook Thanksgiving dinner for 9 relatives and friends.

(Yes, I do the cooking. Damned good at it, too. As a matter of fact, much of the cooking in my family [at least on the Sullivan side] has been done by the men. We beat hell out of the women as cooks, for the most part. Trivia: one of my paternal ancestors was the chef who invented the Parker House Roll. However, again...)

So, I get to the store and start looking for a turkey with a thyroid problem. I want one that weighs in at about 24 or 25 pounds, if possible. I want enough leftover turkey to send home a good meal with everybody and still have 5 or 6 pounds for myself to make sandwiches.

No such luck. The biggest bird I can find is a tad less than 21. He'll have to do. Turnip, potatoes, carrots, green beans, yams, bread for stuffing, cranberry sauce, nuts, mints, pickles, peppers, squash, onions, celery, milk, cream, coffee, sugar, eggnog. Nobody ever leaves my Thanksgiving dinner hungry. Mom will bring desserts.

Get the big bird home and start re-arranging our fridge to make room. Take out a shelf here, double-stack a few cans and containers there. If I eat this last bit of pudding, that should just about make enough room. Perfect!

OK, I'm not going to give you every minute of every day, mostly because it would be mind-numbingly boring. I watched some football, took that nap, watched some more football, read a bit of a book, watched some non-football tv with MY WIFE, watched the Celtics, etc.

Sunday the 20th

Another way that I'm odd (you should be making a list for future reference) is that I tend to get into shape during vacations, as opposed to most folks, who just let themselves go.

So, this morning I arise early and take a good long walk. I don't do exercise on days that I work, unless it's a softball game after work, because I have trouble enough just getting to work on time without exercising beforehand, and I'm too tired to do any afterwards, unless it's something I really like, for instance softball or sex. I walk around the neighborhood, up and down different streets, for a bit less than two miles, ending up at a little store that sells cigarettes, newspapers, and lottery tickets. I buy the Sunday Globe, four packs of Kools for the price of two (which is why I go to this store - they always have some sort of two for one and I refuse to pay full price to kill myself), and a lottery scratch ticket.

(A few months ago, MY WIFE and I decided to buy one scratch ticket a week. If we hit for $100 or better, we are giving 10% to charity. Anything under $100 all goes to charity. Thus far, we have spent about $40 to make $18 for charity. If things keep going the way they have been, though, charity may begin at home. However, there I go again. I told you.)

I get home in time to watch "CBS Sunday Morning" which both MY WIFE and I consider one of the best shows on TV. Always interesting stories, just the right mix of news, whimsy, and light humor. During commercial breaks I switch over to "The Three Stooges" on another channel, because sometimes you can only take so much whimsy before you need to see someone have a crosscut saw raked across his skull.

The rest of the day is just like Saturday - football, nap, football - with the exception of The Simpsons, which is like watching a car wreck involving a whole bunch of your good friends. It used to be the best show on TV, ever. Now it has a couple of good lines a week, so you can't give up on it totally, but the rest of the time you kind of wish they'd put it out of its misery and salvage what little dignity there is left.

(OK, digression time again. The Simpsons started to go downhill dating from the "Mary Bobbins" episode. That wasn't a horrible episode, but it was around that time that the writing staff absorbed much of the staff of "The Critic". That show had an entirely different sensibility. It wasn't built on characterization so much as it was on broad jokes, mostly at the expense of celebrities. From that point, there were more and more disconnected-to-any-plotline "outrageous" jokes showing up in The Simpsons, and what had been inviolable rules concerning characterization were just tossed whenever an expedient solution or a "shocking" joke was needed. I am thankful for the writers' ability to sometimes see how much they've fucked up this show ("Worst episode ever!"), but instead of referencing their inability to keep the level of the writing where it should have been, I'd prefer that they had just done so - or let someone who could do the job, do it.)

Monday the 21st

Ahhhhh. The first actual day when I should be at work but I'm not. So, of course, I'm awake almost an hour earlier so that I can savor all of it at length.

Again, a two-mile or so walk, but this time heading into parts of the general neighborhood I've never visited before, at least on foot. It's funny - you can know in your head that you can't possibly be too far from someplace you'll recognize, but if you've been walking some streets that you're unfamiliar with, for 10 or 15 minutes, you still begin to question your sense of direction and you even begin to wonder just how lost you might be. Certainly not any sort of full-blown panic attack, but more the thought of "Shit. I've gone about two miles already. How far am I going to have to go to get home?"

I got home.

Spent much of the day cleaning this and that, in preparation for the great influx of company on Thursday. Not much entertaining in that, so on to...

Tuesday the 22nd

This is the day of the haircut.

I'd been putting off getting a haircut for a couple of weeks now, although I've been getting pretty shaggy. Or, at least as shaggy as a bald guy gets. Anyway, I just never dragged my ass down to the guy who usually does my hair. I know his shop opens at 7:30 on Tuesdays, so I figured I'd go today, early.

First, though, I took another longish walk, this time heading in the direction of Belmont. Did another 2+ miles. After getting home and driving MY WIFE to the T (Ha-Ha! You have to work!) I head to the barber.

Problem is, he's not open. It looks like he's taken Thanksgiving week off. How dare he! What sort of irresponsible buttwad would do that? I... Uh...


Anyway, I have my mind set on getting my hair cut TODAY. So, I decide to investigate another local barber. I mean, I'm almost completely bald on top. How much can anyone screw up my head?


My first clue should have come when I was waiting for one of the two barbers to become free. There was one fellow in front of me. When the older barber finished his previous customer, he called out, "Next!", and I deferred to this guy who had been waiting. He said, "No, you go ahead. I'll wait for Angelo."

I end up with the shortest haircut I've had in at least 35 years. I mean, almost a buzz cut. And I'm afraid it does NOT flatter me. Not that it looks totally hideous - I don't need to start wearing some sort of Elephant Man getup - and I did tell the guy I wanted it short all around, but this is just not the best look I've ever had. The drastically short hair on the sides makes my hair appear even whiter than it already has become, what with my pasty skin showing through. And he totally hacked the tiny bit of hair I had on top, so that now I can't even pretend to comb it over. Eh. It's alright, I was no matinee idol to begin with and it'll grow back.

More sports watching, then "House" (which is easily the best show on TV these days) and a bit more cleaning and so forth. I find that I am slowly relaxing from the tension I'd built up over the past year or so at work without any sort of a real extended vacation.

Wednesday the 23rd

Will be forthcoming. Right now, I have to get back to work. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Streetwalking Cheetah With A Heart Full Of Napalm

Driving to and from work for the last four days, I've been listening to one CD. I've always liked this recording - I bought the record in 1974 - but I've now come to the conclusion that it is the best rock recording ever made. It is Raw Power, by Iggy and The Stooges.

I realize that anytime you say, "This is the best [whatever] ever!", you're bound to get an argument. That's why I usually say, "This is my favorite [whatever] ever!", since nobody can really argue with that. I mean, how can anyone else decide what your tastes are? Sure, you'll still get some folks who will say, "How can you pick that piece of crap as your favorite? Are you sick, demented, a moron, from another planet, deaf, dumb, blind, retarded, totally lacking a social conscience and a Yankees fan?" However, those people are just looking to validate their personal favorite as the best ever whatever, so give them a kick in the yarbles and move on.

Before I go about explaining to you why Raw Power is the best rock recording ever, let's make sure we're on the same page. If your idea of a rockin' good time is a glass of chablis and an evening listening to Seals & Crofts Greatest Hits, this probably isn't a record you're going to like. Similarly, if your main kick is in figuring out whether the bassist is playing in a normal major scale or a mixolydian, this record might drive you to drink (and not chablis - possibly arsenic.) I'm talking about rock here, not music.

Rock has never been primarily about musicianship. While there have been many fine musicians playing rock, there have also been many great records made by barely competent players. What rock music is most about, at its core, is emotion. The best rock recordings are almost completely about emotion and if the guitarist hits a real clam in the middle of his solo, it won't necessarily destroy whatever buzz you're getting from the song. As a matter of fact, it sometimes enhances it. A guitarist playing out on the extreme edges of his limited abilities is sometimes much more interesting than a guitarist who really knows his stuff, but who plays it safe. Rock at its best is not about playing it safe. And Raw Power is the most emotional and most unsafe record, from beginning to end, that I've ever heard.

Please note that, when I say "emotional", I do not mean love. Love is a swell emotion, but songs about love are generally either subdued to the point of catatonia or embarrassingly saccharine. Even when a song about love is lively and full of good hooks, it's usually still safe. Anyway, you have to be in love to fully appreciate the emotional impact of a love song. Raw Power contains an overload of emotion, but none of it is about love - although love is mentioned. It is mostly about two emotions that everybody can identify with and which tend to lead to very unsafe actions - angst and lust.

(By the way, please don't get up on your soapbox and start telling me that you've never felt lust. You have. Everybody has. And angst? If you like rock at all, you've certainly been there, too. Love? That's in short supply. The reason we have a nation [a world, really] obsessed with drugs [prescription, religious, and otherwise] is because everybody has felt angst and lust, but not everybody has felt love. And even most of those folks who have felt love - and I'm in that category - haven't felt as much of it as they have angst and lust. However, I digress. The point is you've been there, you've done that, so now we've established the playing field.)

This record has no emotional letdown. It goes from sizzling beginning (Search And Destroy) to crushing end (Death Trip) without once letting up on the stranglehold that Iggy wants to put on your psyche. Whether he's spitting venom (Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell) or telling you about his need for companionship (be it good, bad or indifferent, in I Need Somebody), there is never anything less than a full-frontal emotional assault going on here.

This is not to say that musically the record is only balls-to-the-wall flying buzzsaw noise. It is a good deal of that, but it also contains some lyrical musical passages. Some are pretty (briefly) while others are dark and dangerous-sounding. It isn't all speedfreak metal. However, it is all exposed, bleeding, scraped-to-the-bone, and frayed. There is nothing here that will make you shrug your shoulders.

And, unsafe? The band, aside from Iggy Pop on vocals, is comprised of James Williamson on guitar, Ron Asheton on bass, and Scott Asheton on drums. There are odd bits of keyboard strewn about (probably Iggy's doing, and they work) but the main band is guitar, bass and drums, played by three guys who barely have a handle on what they're doing. Am I saying they don't play well? No. I'm only saying that nobody ever taught them how to play well (or, if someone tried to, they ignored the lesson) and there's a huge difference between that and incompetence. It's the very fact that these guys aren't aware of their limitations that makes this record such a shotgun blast to the gut.

James Williamson is one of my favorite guitar players and it is strictly on the basis of this one recording. The only other existing recordings of him are basically bootlegs and outtakes - and that's it. More on him in a minute.

Both of the Asheton brothers played on the two previous Stooges albums (Ron handling guitar on those, rather than bass) and they also did a few more records after this one, but this is definitely their high point. Their contribution is generally violent and minimalist. Scott's drumming relies heavily on the snare, little on the kick, and has almost no subtlety. Ron, as a bass player, is miles ahead of what he was as a guitarist, but his sound is extremely muddy. That's fine. That's what was needed here and it works well to support the vocals of Pop and the guitar work by Williamson.

Since Iggy Pop is fairly well-known now, I don't have to explain much about him, right? Wrong. If you've only heard such later vehicles as Lust For Life or you know him as a bit player in movies, then you need to know what Iggy Pop used to be. He was a force of nature. Back in the day, if you went to an Iggy Pop show, you never knew what you might see. Sometimes he'd smear his body with peanut butter before body surfing across the audience. Other times he'd dive, chest first, into broken glass on the stage. His physical involvement with the music was total. He'd twist and contort his body, visually matching the twisted and contorted emotions in his vocals, and there was always the very real possibility (at least in the audience's mind, if not Iggy's) that this might be the night he'd kill himself right in front of your eyes.

(That thought may have been in Iggy's mind, too, but I'm no mindreader.)

Anyway, his vocals since The Stoogeslast saw the light of day have been much more in the baritone range. He still occasionally climbs into a scream here or there, but mostly he remains under control much more than he once did. On this record, he cries, growls, yelps, screams, whines, and runs the full gamut from that latter-day baritone on up to dog whistle highs. And he does one thing that no other vocalist does, at least that I'm aware of. Much as a jazz singer might use his voice as a lead instrument, not singing words but just making sound - scatting - Iggy uses his voice in a manner befitting his idiom, rock. His voice is used as a rhythm instrument. He will repeat a phrase over and over, making it a backing track to whatever else is going on. This is especially seen to good light on Gimme Danger, the two words "little stranger" being laid down as pure sound through the final minute or so of the song.

All in all, it's a masterful vocal performance on these 8 cuts. There may be one or two spots where you might have done without, but the overall effect is stunning. You can almost hear him clawing at the inside of your speakers trying to bust out.

And now, let us dissect one Mr. James Williamson.

Learning to play an instrument is a life-long process of evolution. Musicians, even masters, continuously reach plateaus from which they look back and attempt to consolidate their gains, while looking forward to see if there's new real estate they can explore. However, except in the cases of prodigies and savants, there is one time in every decent musician's life when he goes from just playing notes to discovering (to his delight) that he has begun to know his instrument on an almost instinctual level. This is when style begins to develop and take root.

At this point, the player (if he's of a certain age or state of mind untainted by other's expectations) will experiment profusely. He will be tremendously pleased by his ability to come up with new and (to him) unique riffs, progressions, runs, etc., and he will try to incorporate as many of these shiny new tricks into his playing as often as possible. He may, if you're lucky, do this while you're listening, and he may, if you're luckier still, try to expand his repetoire right in front of your ears, by trying to do things that he's never attempted before. When this happens, it's the most exciting thing (for me) in music. It's the confluence of developing talent and untamped emotion, and it's rarely heard on record. I believe that this is where we find James Williamson here.

The truly extraordinary thing about this recording is that it is a recording. Unless you have either a massive ego or a total unselfconsciousness, the studio tends to make even the most accomplished musicians play it safe. However, this recording is an amazing example of a guitarist going out to the end of his known universe, wondering if there's more, and taking a leap of faith that there is. You take Williamson out of this situation and put in a Joe Pass, a Charlie Christian, an Eric Clapton (post-Cream), a Les Paul, or any other recognized guitar master and this record wouldn't be one-fifth as interesting as it is. And none of those guys would have made this record, even if they had notation of every note Williamson plays here, because they wouldn't have allowed it to be released with their name on it. The playing is too open, too sore, too raw, for those guys to even imagine - or, as they'd probably express it, upon hearing something like this, have nightmares about.

One other thing about this album: it couldn't possibly have been recorded at any time other than when it was. Prior to, as well as after, that time, there wouldn't have been the artistic license granted by the recording company. Iggy and his boys were pretty much allowed free reign in the studio, something which would never happen with such an unknown, untamed, uncommercial group now. And the recording technology and techniques now employed would have cleaned up (read: made more boring) every tiny off note and slip of a finger. It was the willingness to let an artist be an artist that produced this, and that's rare.

Enough. I don't mean to make this sound like the second coming of Christ committed to vinyl, but it's such a great and cathartic recording that I've struggled to come up with just the right words to convey what I feel about it. I hope I've succeeded, and I hope that, if you like hard rock at all and you have never heard this, I've convinced you to buy it. It might fill that empty spot in your rock and roll soul.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Lost Cat, Lost Man

Two things to talk about today, both important for different reasons. The first is first only because something might still be done to make that situation better.


This is Myles. He was lost by a friend of a friend, in Wilmington, Massachusetts.

If you've seen him, his people would dearly love to have him back. There is a reward. He was last seen on Saturday, the 12th, at 4pm, on Grand Street.

Please call (978) 658-0026 or (617) 778-4088, if you have any information. Thank you.


Eddie Guerrero is dead

Some of you haven't the slightest clue who or what Eddie Guerrero was. That's OK, I guess, though it's somewhat of a shame. Eddie Guerrero was a magnificent professional wrestler.

Professional wrestling is an art form. At its best, it combines the precision of ballet, the athleticism of a fine acrobatic team, the strength exhibited only by those in the upper echelons of professional sport, the theatricality of Broadway, and the humor of the best slapstick and/or pantomime. The moves, the speed, the agility, a sense of humor, great timing, the acting - the sense of drama (not melodrama) that a really good wrestler can build in a crowd, without saying a word - these are the skillset that very few of the performers have in total. Curiously, those most often in the public eye - a Hulk Hogan, for instance - do not always have the full complement. They make their fortune from a selected one or two of these attributes. Eddie Guerrero was one of the few in the business who had them all, and who used them consistently well.

Some wrestlers are just lumbering lummoxes. Others have no more going for them than their grotesquery; the only reason they have found gainful employment is because of some freakishness in their physical nature. They may be giants or dwarves; butterball fat or hideously ugly; they may be nothing more than a package of steroided muscle, unable to utter more than a sentence without stammering or stuttering, and moving with all of the grace of an elephant on qualudes. Or they may possess a glib tongue, but no noticeable physical gifts to speak of with that tongue. Another may be a gifted acrobat, but unable to work in concert with some less talented wrestler, in order to make him appear better than he is (known as "carrying" someone.)

Eddie was quick, humorous, inventive, knew the moves inside out, could make a match against a mannequin look as though the mannequin had a real chance to win, consistently made moves that put even his outstanding physicality at risk, and was able to make the most boring match interesting to watch if only for his own magnificent athleticism. It didn't matter who he was wrestling - it was worth watching. When he wrestled someone else really good (a Chris Benoit, a Dean Malenko, a Kurt Angle) it was as good as the American version of wrestling ever got.

I know I'm boring hell out of some of you. You couldn't give a damn less about such a freak show as wrestling. To me, wrestling is to athletics as heavy metal is to music. It is, I'll readily admit, a somewhat bizarre subset of the main endeavor. That doesn't mean, however, that there isn't value to be found there and that there isn't talent being displayed. You just sometimes have to look past the common conceptions concerning the form and the mundanities being foisted upon the public by those who hype but don't otherwise participate.

You sift through a hundred poodle-haired speed freaks substituting volume for talent and you find the occasional Ritchie Blackmore or perhaps even a Jimi Hendrix. And for every hundred roided-out goofballs with a hideously corny act and little athletic and/or verbal ability to speak of, you find an Eddie Guerrero - someone who cared about his craft, was admired by his peers, and who always gave his best performance for whatever audience was there on a given night. In other words, the sometimes clown-like nature of a form does not negate the transcendent performances of a select and gifted few participating within that form. Eddie was one of those few. I will miss him.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Mary Ann From Gilligan's Island, With A Caption That Says, "Ooooh, Suldog, Lick Me Again!", Please

ATTENTION: In case the title alone wasn't enough to tell you, I'm giving you fair warning that this should be rated R - at the very least. It contains enough offensive material to guarantee that nobody will like the whole thing. So, send the kids to the store for a pack of smokes. By the time they get back, you will have finished this ode to obscenity and then you can leave your screen on this and nobody will be any the wiser concerning your fall from grace. Thank you.


I just found out about a very interesting option now being offered by the United States Postal Service. It is called PhotoStamps. The idea is that you can design your own postage. Really. You give the Post Office a picture and they'll put it on a stamp for you.

It seems like a nifty concept, with all sorts of entertaining possibilities, but all of the ideas that immediately occur to me seem to be forbidden. Of course, most ideas that immediately occur to me in any situation are illegal and immoral (or otherwise fun) so why should this be any different?

Here's part of the agreement you have to, uh, agree to:

You agree not to use the PhotoStamps website or service:

A. To upload, order for print, or otherwise transmit or communicate any material for any unlawful purpose or that is obscene, offensive, blasphemous, pornographic, sexually suggestive, deceptive, threatening, menacing, abusive, harmful, an invasion of privacy, supportive of unlawful action, defamatory, libelous, vulgar, violent, or otherwise objectionable.

Well, that pretty much takes all the fun out of it right there. I can't have a naked slut giving the finger to Asa Hutchinson while she sports a "Legalize It" tattoo? What's the use?

But wait! There's even more you have to agree not to do:

B. To upload, order for print, or otherwise transmit or communicate any material that depicts celebrities or celebrity likenesses, regional, national or international leaders or politicians, current or former world leaders, convicted criminals, newsworthy, notorious or infamous images and individuals, or any material that is vintage in appearance or depicts images from an older era.

So I can't photoshop an image of Tipper Gore kissing Frank Zappa's ass, either? This is no fun at all.

By the way, what's the bit about "any material that is vintage in appearance or depicts images from an older era"? How much of an older era? The 12th century? Last week? Pretty nebulous stuff, if you ask me. "Vintage in appearance"? What the hell does that mean? Something that looks old, but actually isn't? That leaves me off the stamps. And, better question, why? What exactly is it that they're worried about? Somebody suing for copyright infringement if you decide you want cave etchings on your stamps? And just what in the name of Satan's ballbag is it that constitutes a "notorious or infamous" image? My dictionary defines "notorious" as "known widely and usually unfavorably", so I guess that eliminates any pictures of the Post Office itself.

Next bunch of buzzkill...

C. To upload, order for print, or otherwise transmit or communicate any material that is to be used for business advertising or notices.

So you can't try to make a buck with your stamps. The PO has a monopoly on that and they do not want you interfering. I think the government is missing a good bet here. You don't think Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo wouldn't pay a good chunk of change to have their name on most of the snail mail, too?


You agree that if Stamps.com, in its sole discretion, determines that any material you upload may not meet these content requirements, Stamps.com may reject your order without explanation. Stamps.com reserves the right to charge a processing fee of $10.00 for each image, graphic or photograph that you submit as an order in the PhotoStamps service which violates our content restrictions.

So, if you decide to try this out, but some anal-retentive clerk decrees that a picture of your pet dog humping an army helmet doesn't meet the criteria, then not only will you not get your stamps - you'll be charged ten bucks for the privilege of not being told why.

Actually, this last bit presents an interesting possibility. Got someone you really hate? Place an order under their name and include a couple hundred images that you know the Post Office will reject. Dick Cheney clubbing baby seals, while George W. sucks a crack pipe in the background - that sort of thing. Bingo! At ten bucks a pop, you can financially cripple anyone you choose! Happy hunting!

And, finally...

In addition, in the event you violate these Content Restrictions and you intentionally publicize such violation, you acknowledge that Stamps.com will suffer substantial damage to its reputation and goodwill and that you can be liable for causing such substantial damage.

So, if you dare to talk about your stamps that they refused to make (and for which they charged you a ten dollar penalty) they'll sue you for damages. Damn! It's a good thing I didn't order my "Barbara Streisand, Hillary Clinton, and a huge double-headed rubber dick" stamps before I wrote this. It appears I may have saved myself a whole bunch of trouble.

Of course, now I have to think up something totally different to put on my Christmas cards...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Fleeting Meetings With Famous Folk

We all have a story or two to tell regarding the famous folk we've either met or caught a glimpse of in some otherwise mundane locale. Here are mine.


Some of you may be too young to remember Phyllis Diller, or you may have heard the name but not seen a performance. She was one of the first (if not the first) female stand-up comedians to gain nationwide acclaim. Every woman plying the trade nowadays owes her a debt of gratitude for opening the door.

Diller's trademarks were fright-wig hair, garish clothes and make-up, and a wholly self-deprecating brand of humor. She played on her trumped-up bad looks, supposedly horrendous housekeeping skills, and total inadequacies as a wife and mother. In reality, she was (and is, I'm sure) a very kind and genteel lady. So much so that, when I met her, it was not readily obvious to me who she was.

I was traveling with my father. He was employed by an airline at the time, so we had first-class tickets and were in the VIP lounge in Hong Kong, waiting for our flight to be called. In walked this very petite and demure older woman. She was extremely well-dressed and when she spoke to one of the attendants in the room, she was so soft-spoken that I didn't hear a word of what she said. Not that I was paying strict attention, mind you. To me, she was just another traveler; nothing out of the ordinary. My father, however, recognized her. And, since he was never the shrinking violet type, he immediately went up to her and introduced himself. He called me over and introduced me, as well.

Another of Phyllis Diller's trademarks was a loud cackling laugh, funny in itself but used more as a placeholder in her act, as she timed the audience laughter and readied her next joke. This woman, though, was nothing like her stage persona. Some comedians are always "on", and their stage presence isn't far removed from their everyday demeanor. Phyllis Diller was sweet, charming, listened to both of us attentively, threw in a mild joke or two (but just normal conversational humor - nothing like what she did on stage) and meeting her in that setting made me realize what a tremendously talented individual she actually was. Truth be told, I wasn't much of a fan before that meeting. I found her act a bit grating. However, after meeting her, I had a whole new appreciation for what she did on stage. She utterly transformed herself when working and this aspect of her career has fascinated me ever since.

I'm delighted to be able to tell you that she is still working. I wish she was working more, as I'd love to see her in person again, but this time doing her act. Unfortunately, I've never had the pleasure of seeing her live on stage.


I didn't really meet Ms. Gayle, but I did share a blackjack table with her one time in Las Vegas. That's about all there is to it. I was too busy with my own fortunes to notice her much.

Well, OK, it was hard to miss her, what with that hair, but I had money on the line.


Bob was big stuff in Boston at one time. He was the lead sportscaster for Channel 7 news, as well as host of the improbably popular Candlepins For Cash. I was on a church softball team and we played Channel 7 on the field on the Boston Common, to raise money for charity. The thing I most remember concerning Bob was that not one single hair on his head ever got out of place during the entire game. And he wasn't trying to keep it in place, especially. He played the game as one would, running the bases and swinging the bat hard, etc., but his hair never knew it was in an athletic contest. Obviously, as the photo at left shows, he didn't keep up his hairspray payments.


Attending broadcasting school as I did, I had the pleasure of meeting quite a few local newscasters, DJs, and others from the Boston area associated with the media. Many were my teachers during that time.

Probably the most educational part of my school experience, and not something that most of my instructors directly taught, was coming to the realization that the job market I was trying to enter was so competitive and tight that folks whom I had imagined as being at the top of their chosen profession, and making very big bucks, were in reality teaching on the side to make a decent living.

Probably the most famous of my instructors was Johnny Most, the radio voice of the Boston Celtics. Johnny was at a crossroads at the time. He was no longer the lead broadcaster for the Celtics. And, while it was a distinct pleasure to learn from the man, he was nearing a tragic circumstance in his personal life (though none of us knew it at that time.) Johnny was a very heavy smoker - multiple packs of non-filtereds a day. It was probably a major contributing factor to what he had to endure not long after I had him as a teacher, which was that he had to have both of his legs amputated. I certainly wasn't privy to his private life, in any way whatsoever, but publicly he handled this setback with as much grace as anyone might muster under the circumstances.

Others local luminaries who taught me (or tried to, anyway) were Larry Miller, Jerry Goodwin, and John Rodman.


This wasn't so much a meeting as it is a regret.

I was about seven years old. My Mom worked downtown, at the Prudential Center, and I was with her at work this day. I'm not sure why. In any case, her workplace abutted the Sheraton Hotel. We were going through the lobby of the hotel, either to or from her work, and there at the bottom of an escalator stood the heavyweight champion of the world, engaged in conversation with someone else.

At the time, he had recently made known his wish to be called Muhammad Ali, but most people were still calling him Cassius Clay. This was between the first Liston fight and the rematch. Some may remember that the second match was scheduled to be held in Boston, but was later moved to Lewiston, Maine, because of concerns in Boston about racial unrest.

Anyway, there he was. And my Mom urged me to go up to him and ask him for an autograph. Understand, I was this real skinny little red-headed very white boy. And I had recently heard nothing about Ali-Clay except that he had decided to become a Black Muslim. I knew almost nothing about what this meant, except I had heard that this meant he hated white people. And he was, to my little eyes, a huge and scary man. So I never did go ask him for his autograph, despite my mother urging me to do so. I've regretted it ever since.

And, last but by no means least...


Best-selling author and noted drug war casualty. I met Peter when he was the main banquet speaker at a Libertarian Party convention in Washington, DC, to which I had been sent as a delegate from Massachusetts. Peter had recently joined the Libertarians, as he had come to the realization that we were the only party in total agreement with his own philosophies concerning consensual (aka victimless) crime.

He was a kind and gentle man, generous enough to give every person attending the banquet a free copy of his marvelous book, Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do. This must have cost him a decent buck, as it amounted to several hundreds of copies. He also stayed after the dinner long enough to autograph the copies for everyone who asked, doing so for perhaps two hours. He engaged every person in conversation and kept a cheerful countenance throughout - no small feat for a man who was quite sick, and unable (due to being outside of his home state of California) to legally use the marijuana which had been so helpful in keeping his nausea, from other meds, at bay.

I won't detail Peter's long struggle with AIDS and cancer, nor his resultant legal battles concerning his use of cannabis as medication. Suffice to say that his death may be almost directly linked to the government's drug war. It is as good a reason as there is to oppose that vile waste of both resources and human life.

Here is something written by William F. Buckley, Jr., noted conservative columnist. I don't believe I'm breaking any copyright by re-printing it. If I am, I apologize and will remove it upon notification. In any case, it expresses my feelings perfectly.

Eulogy - June 2000

By William F. Buckley, Jr.

Peter McWilliams is dead. Age? Fifty. Profession? Author, poet, publisher.

Particular focus of interest? The federal judge in California (George King) would decide in a few weeks how long a sentence to hand down, and whether to send McWilliams to prison or let him serve his sentence at home.

What was his offense? He collaborated in growing marijuana plants.

What was his defense? Well, the judge wouldn't allow him to plead his defense to the jury. If given a chance, the defense would have argued that under Proposition 215, passed into California constitutional law in 1996, infirm Californians who got medical relief from marijuana were permitted to use it. The judge also forbade any mention that McWilliams suffered from AIDS and cancer, and got relief from the marijuana.

What was he doing when he died? Vomiting. The vomiting hit him while in his bathtub, and he choked to death.

Was there nothing he might have done to still the impulse to vomit? Yes, he could have taken marijuana; but the judge's bail terms forbade him to do so, and he submitted to weekly urine tests to confirm that he was living up to the terms of his bail.

Did anybody take note of the risk he was undergoing? He took Marinol-a proffered, legal substitute, but reported after using it that it worked for him only about one-third of the time. When it didn't work, he vomited.

Was there no public protest against the judge's ruling? Yes. On June 9, the television program "20/20" devoted a segment to the McWilliams plight. Commentator John Stossel summarized:

"McWilliams is out of prison on the condition that he not smoke marijuana, but it was the marijuana that kept him from vomiting up his medication. I can understand that the federal drug police don't agree with what some states have decided to do about medical marijuana, but does that give them the right to just end-run those laws and lock people up?"

Shortly after the trial last year, Charles Levendosky, writing in the Ventura County (CA) Star, summarized: "The cancer treatment resulted in complete remission." But only the marijuana gave him sustained relief from the vomiting that proved mortal.

Is it being said, in plain language, that the judge's obstinacy resulted in killing McWilliams? Yes. The Libertarian Party press release has made exactly that charge. "McWilliams was prohibited from using medical marijuana - and being denied access to the drug's anti-nausea properties almost certainly caused his death."

Reflecting on the judge's refusal to let the jury know that there was understandable reason for McWilliams to believe he was acting legally, I ended a column in this space in November by writing, "So, the fate of Peter McWilliams is in the hands of Judge King. Perhaps the cool thing for him to do is delay a ruling for a few months, and just let Peter McWilliams die." Well, that happened last week, on June 14.

The struggle against a fanatical imposition of federal laws on marijuana will continue, as also on the question whether federal laws can stifle state initiatives. Those who believe the marijuana laws are insanely misdirected have a martyr.

Peter was a wry, mythogenic guy, humorous, affectionate, articulate, shrewd, sassy. He courted anarchy at the moral level. His most recent book (his final book) was called "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do." We were old friends, and I owe my early conversion to word processing to his guidebook on how to do it. Over the years we corresponded, and he would amiably twit my conservative opinions. When I judged him to have gone rampant on his own individualistic views in his book, I wrote him to that effect. I cherish his reply - nice acerbic deference, the supreme put-down.

"Please remember the Law of Relativity as applied to politics: In order for you to be right, at least someone else must be wrong. Your rightness is only shown in relation to the other's wrongness. Conversely, your rightness is necessary for people like me to look truly wrong. Before Bach, people said of bad organ music, 'That's not quite right.' After Bach, people said flatly, 'That's wrong.' This allowed dedicated composers to grow, and cast the neophytes back to writing how-to-be-happy music. So, thank me for my wrongness, as so many reviews of my book will doubtless say, 'People should read more of a truly great political commentator: William F. Buckley Jr.'"

Imagine such a spirit ending its life at 50, just because they wouldn't let him have a toke. We have to console ourselves with the comment of the two prosecutors. They said they were "saddened" by Peter McWilliams' death. Many of us are - by his death and the causes of it.

Note: Write to William Buckley at Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111. His column appears in many newspapers.

If you would like to read any of Peter's own works, they are all available for free online. Please go to:


He was an excellent writer and a very nice man, dead before he should have been.

In my own life, I've used many illegal drugs, almost wholly for recreation, yet I was lucky enough to never do time or otherwise feel the wrath of the establishment. Peter used Marijuana, as a medication and strictly within the laws of his home state, and he lost his life as a result.

Sometimes life has little to do with reality.

Friday, November 04, 2005

5 Things I'd Like To Do Before I Die

This is the sort of list that lends itself to instant criticism. This is because it's so easy to think of someone as a no-good selfish bastard just because "cure cancer" isn't at the top of his list. Well, the cure for cancer probably won't be found by somebody lounging in his recliner eating fried chicken while watching a ball game, so I'm probably not going to be the guy who does it. I know my limitations.

(Well, sure, it's possible that some brilliant renegade scientist - on the run from the hired gunmen of a major pharmaceutical company, because he found that eating at least four pieces of Extra Crispy during a Patriots game cures lymphoma - may have hidden his notes in my KFC bucket. However, it's highly improbable. Anyway, the notes would be all greasy and stuff. Yuck!)

You also don't want to set the bar too high. For instance, what if I did say "cure cancer"? Then whatever followed (for instance, winning a lottery so humongous that I'd be able to spend the rest of my life blowing my nose on hundred dollar bills) would seem frivolous in comparison.

So, having said all of the above for no apparent reason other than to fill space, here are 5 things I'd like to do before I die.

1 - Become Emperor Of The Known Universe

This has been a goal of mine for many years, actually. And I've done little or nothing to make it become a reality, so I don't know why you'd believe that this might change in the near future. Maybe you don't believe it will change. And that's why I'm a miserable failure - you have no faith in me! You've ruined my life, you domineering bitch! You suck! You suck! You suck!

Whoa! Freudian slip! I meant to say, "Pass the gravy, please."

(That's the punch line to a really good joke and now I've ruined it for you. That's what you get. Why? I don't know, but that's what you get.)

Anyway, that's enough of that, whatever that is. Am I making any sense whatsoever? I sure hope not, because if I am, then I won't be able to use this as evidence at my trial.

Now, where was I? More importantly, who was I? And, while we're at it, why are there gophers in my shorts? And why am I enjoying it?

2 - Become Emperor Of The Known Universe

This has been a goal of mine for many years, actually. First, though, I want to win a championship in softball. What sort of emperor plays ball for forty years and can't win one friggin' championship? Do I want people going around saying, "Emperor Suldog? Oh, don't even talk to me about that bum! Yeah, sure, he cured cancer his first day on the job, but did he ever win a championship in softball? Please! Hey, pass the Extra Crispy, will you?"

3 - Become Emperor Of The Known Universe

This has been a goal of mine for many years, actually. First, though, I'd like to buy a house. What kind of emperor doesn't own his own house? Do you know any emperors who rent? Of course you don't! Hey, what the hell is this greasy piece of paper at the bottom of my KFC bucket? Yuck!

4 - Become Emperor Of The Known Universe

This has been a goal of mine for many years, although I'd like to own a waffle house first. Who wouldn't want a house made of waffles, with butter and syrup melting down over the roof? Yum! But no gophers - they get in my shorts. Excuse me - I have to blow my nose. *BLAT* Sorry about that. Hey, do you want a hundred bucks? No? Hey! Who put this piece of chicken in my bucket full of greasy notes?

5 - Become Emperor Of The Known Universe

Actually, I am, but I have to keep it a secret until the Extra Crispy gophers eat their waffles. You sure you don't want a hundred bucks? How about a piece of chicken? It cures softball, you know.

Uh-oh. Here comes the nurse with my meds. Shhhh! Don't say anything. See you Monday.