Thursday, January 31, 2008

Best all-time Super Bowl ad for EDS

Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday, a big day for the ad industry. There have been some gems over the years--the Apple ad introducing the Mac, Homer Simpson for MasterCard, even the Budweiser frogs--but one of the all-time most entertaining in my book was one for EDS that showed a bunch of tough cowboys herding cats.

So much of today's advertising depends on very slick (and stupid and expensive) effects, and less on the old tried and true elements of messaging and strong story-telling and characterization with a heavy dose of satire.

This little thirty-second sucker in my mind has it all.

Back in the office

I'm upright, and that's the best I can say about myself right now. After five days with the flu, I'm standing up and I'm' dressed and I'm getting to the office. It's a kind of relief to actually be here. There's something a bit comforting about the office, the rituals and familiarity of it all. My computer and being surrounded by the walls of my cube and the pictures and grimple that I've got pinned up on my bulletin board. Even the rather mind-numbing project I'll be working on the the next week or so is fine: I can just sit here with headphones on and put my mind on auto-pilot.

This works for now. The comfort of the office is also the danger, though. You can get awfully lazy. One day can slip into the next for weeks on end, until you realize a whole season has passed.

And the hours, well, I don't mind
How they creep on by like an old love of mine
It's the years that simply disappear that are doing me in

I've spent more of my life in an office than I care to admit. I see so many of the people here at work, and they remind me so much of me twenty years ago. Wanting the dream. The career. The family. The white picket fence. They're keyed in on major trends and they are as focused on the goal as the dogs are on that rabbit over at the racetrack. It's a good life, if that's what you want. But you have to be so sure that it really is what you want, because so much of society is shouting at us that this is the way to go, it's easy to overlook that really important quiet voice inside us. Just yesterday I was sitting in a meeting, and I swear the look on one of the young woman's face in that meeting told me that she didn't have any clue why she was sitting there. Maybe she is like I was twenty-five years ago, not really knowing but thinking it was the right thing to do because that's what everyone else was doing. I just wanted to be part of the things. Be part of the crowd. Finally be one of the popular people. Well, that didn't pan out, did it?

My God, I stand next to one of these kids in the men's room and look at their faces then at mine, and I see Keith Richards staring back at me.

A dog's life

Most of the time I eat a lunch that I make at home at my desk. It saves a lot of money. Before I moved I'd have to make lunch for my daughter before taking her to school. Then I'd always shoot for a something kind of fun--a Newbury Comics bag or something like that.

Today I'm eating out of a Petco bag. Geez, just strap on the feedback, Wilbur.

Comin' through on the MBTA

One quick way to clear the doors of the subway of all those jerks who plant their big butts right in path of people getting on and off is to get up right behind them and let loose with the kind of tuberculosis-like cough I can pull off right now since I've had the flu.

It's the funniest thing in the world to see one of these big, tough Boston louts jump like a nancy, then scamper. Yeah, you're so tough, and so afraid of a little bug.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Partly cloudy with a chance of rain....

I continue to dig through boxes, and I'm almost done. It's not easy going from a big house to living alone in a small apartment to an apartment living with Sue. All the stuff I've accumulated. Yes, I am a packrat. I keep everything. But we have to change sometimes. That's life. What's the point, where would the excitement be, if over the course of our lives we didn't change, and sometimes change dramatically? I'm learning to do it more and more, and I'm getting better and better at it. Yes, maybe it comes with age. I'm not so rigid anymore, and have always realized that if something doesn't matter twenty years from now, it's not that important today.

So, it becomes easy to just glance at a card and with a slight twist of the wrist, send it sailing into the garbage, just like we'd sail our baseball cards against the wall on the grade school playground. Still, every so often something stops me cold. Not a lot. When you look at a life like I'm looking at mine, you start to realize just how much of it is pretty constant, and unchanging. That includes what people write you in cards.

This one stopped me, though. It was a birthday card. Asian motif. First one of its kind. Before that it was all sailing motifs, lighthouses, sunsets, that kind of shit. And if anyone can get a bead on me, you know my affinity for the Asian world and Asian culture.

Funny, ironically, it's actually a Hallmark card, which, again anyone who knows me will tell you, I loathe...

The message inside reads:

courage uncovers strength,
grace reveals beauty,
time strips away the frivolous,
life layers on experience,
and you have become magnificent.

Pretty lame. It's what the sender wrote that is so beautiful, because for once it wasn't just more pages of childish fantasies or musings or wide-eyed, little school girl wishes written like a Harlequin novel. The beauty is in the truth.

It reads:

John, There's just something about this card that I like. I know things haven't been ideal lately, but hopefully it will straighten out very soon. I hope you have a wonderful birthday. I love you.

I'll leave the sender's name off. That's no one's business. Obviously this person missed my birthday. I actually remember her leaving this card and some presents at my door, sneaking away like a thief. It looks like life was getting serious, and people have such a hard time with that. Not sure why. And unfortunately, things--birthdays and things--didn't work out the way she hoped. They rarely do.

I love every aspect of life, the good, the bad, the messy, the grey area. But there are people for whom every day has to be sunny, real life scares the bejesus out of them....I guess I've seen enough stormy weather in my life that I'll take a good old partly cloudy day with a forty percent chance of afternoon thundershowers. You're assured a little sunshine, and the chance of no rain is in your favor.

But that's really about it. I was stopped for a second this afternoon, on this day when I'm sick and decided to tackle one more box.

Closing off that exit

And now we have cable. Well, we have a wire that comes into the apartment that brings in something like 20 basic channels, in case we really need to see some late-breaking news. People are amazed that I've never had HBO or any of that stuff. Never had time for it. I don't watch all. We rent a movie from time to time, but I'm woefully deficient in poplular culture.

Here's one for you: I've never seen The Sopranos.

But come Saturday we had the Internet and I'm not so sure I'm happy about it. I mean, right now I should have my pitiful butt in bed, resting, but here I am blogging and IMing and emailing people at work and actually feeling guilty that I am so sick (trust me, you don't want to hear the noise that warrants a cough coming out of me right now) that I'm not in the office.

I mean, the Internet is no differnt than any other scene, and it keeps us conencted, but at what cost? Sometimes, like now, I need some real downtime. I need to be unconnected. But there's something in us that impels us to be connected. That' s why I like remote places. Mountaintops. Deserts. Out on the ocean. I love that instant when the jet's wheels leave the runway. Oh well, if I left the iron on, ther'es nothing I can do about it now. Because society and technology, whether we like it or not, has a grip on us. Even us who try to check out and fight it as much as we can. In the end, you can't fight it. You can only remove yourself by degrees, that's all.

You can never move far enough away. You can't run from your problems. And there are very few places on the planet, thanks to satallites, that you can't stay connected. Men would join the French Foreign Legion to forget, because the FFL would take them to the most remote, God-forsaken spots on earth. The microchip sealed that deal.

In sickness...

I haven't been this sick in ages. Simply pole-axed. It started on Friday, and I thought I was getting a simple cold. By Sunday night I was spiking a fever and just plain out of it. Last night when Sue came home from work I realized I slept all day, only I thought I was awake. I just laid in bed with my brain spinning--you know how things get when you're feverish and you just don't have a handle on things.

It hit me Saturday night that this was no normal cold.I was prepared for a stuffy head, stopped up nose, maybe a few body aches and a sore throat. Nothing that a few aspirin wouldn't handle. That's pretty much what Sue went through. But then it just kept getting worse, like that summer squall that keeps rising and the next thing you know you're in the middle of a full-blown hurricane. My thoughts and voices and sounds and images all ripped apart and swriling in a will I ever put it all together again? You're just lying there, helpless, with nothing to do but ride out chills and the fever and the aches.

And I wonder why I got it so bad and Sue, while she was sick, didn't. I worry about my age sometimes. I worry that this is a sign of getting older, that sickness hits you harder and it takes longer to bounce back. Like at one time in your life you--well, I--could eat an entire large anchovy pizza and not gain any weight or feel like a bloated seal the next day. We're constantly changing, and all my life, because of certain circumstances, I've been aware of the Grim Reaper standing nearby. I just wonder if this is just feeling the coldness of his breath because he just took another step closer.

And I'm the kind of patient that just wants to be left alone to crawl in a hole and lick his wounds. Sue's not used to that. Or rather, we're in that point in our relationship where we're learning the nitty-gritty about each other. Sickness is one good way to see the other person. You don't look hot and sexy. You look pretty miserable and disgusting, truth be told. This is one time when you know they love you. I guess that's why they say , in sickness and in health.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Pearl

Friday afternoon, and I think I'm heading home. My head hurts and my bones ache and the glands in my neck are sore. What the heck, I have sick time. What a concept. When you're working for yourself, the idea of getting paid while you're sick or on vacation and not working and still making money just isn't a concept that's in your world. This office life sure can be cushy at times.

And a big project that was supposed to start on Tuesday still hasn't appeared. It's going to come down all next week, when I'll still be sick. So, better to just take care of myself. The train's right outside my door, both here at work and at home now. Nicest thing in the world, to be able to sleep in. I used to get up at 5:30 when I had to get Kathryn off to school and then get a train. When she wasn't there I got a whole extra half hour in bed. Whoo-hoo!

The world has changed so much for me. About 180 degree. (People always say 360 degrees, but if you turned 360 degrees you'd be facing the same way you started. It's like people say, I could care less, when they mean they couldn't care less.) Every day I feel like a kid in a candy store. I feel like Kino, in The Pearl. I have this beautiful pearl and I'm afraid people will take it away from me. Take it away from me again. People are like that. They see someone has something nice, they either want it, or they want to destroy it. I like to share, but some people just take. They don't respect boundaries, or they're just plain greedy. Or just mean. I told Sue if anyone asks her how we like to the new neighborhood, to tell them there are hookers and heroin addicts on every corner. Let the world stay away, and let Sue and me be by ourselves.

Sicker'n a dog

I hardly ever get sick but there's a nasty cold going around and I've finally succumbed. Sue has it, but there were plenty of people around work who had it before she did.

Working in an office, spending time crammed into a train with all these other humans, we're no different than a bunch of beef cattle in a cattle truck. One person has a germ, a virus, and it spreads like wildfire. Next thing you know we've all got snot running out our muzzles, and we're bellowing from body aches. And the pharmaceutical companies making a, ahem, killing on it. I hate taking medicine, don't if I don't have to. I'd just as soon crawl in bed and let nature take over. Fluids and rest. Fluids to flush you out, rest to let your body concentrate on healing itself.

I hardly ever got sick as a kid, and for the longest time, mostly when I was on my own, I, thankfully, never got sick either. I had a lot of other torments, but sickness, thank God, wasn't one thing I had to deal with.

Now, since working in an office for a little over a year, I've been sick I think twice. I just hope I'm working on some new immunity to a new strain of virus that is about to wipe out the population. Maybe then I'll get a seat on the train.

Sweet Surrender

It doesn’t mean much
It doesn’t mean anything at all
The life I’ve left behind me
Is a cold room
I’ve crossed the last line
From where I can’t return
Where every step I took in faith
Betrayed me
And led me from my home
And sweet
Sweet surrender
Is all that I have to give
You take me in
No questions asked
You strip away the ugliness
That surrounds me
Are you an angel
Am I already that gone
I only hope
That I won’t disappoint you
When I’m down here
On my knees
And sweet
Sweet surrender
Is all that I have to give
Sweet surrender
Is all that I have to give
And I don’t understand
By the touch of your hand
I would be the one to fall
I miss the little things
I miss everything (about you)
It doesn’t mean much
It doesn’t mean anything at all
The life I left behind me
Is a cold room
And sweet
Sweet surrender
Is all that I have to give

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Eat Pray Love

Just when you thought it was safe to go in the literary blog waters.

I finished No Country for Old Men and commented pretty heavily (for me and this blog.) I want to see the movie, but not until it comes out in DVD. I can't imagine any movie ever being better than a book, and with the prices of the cinema, I'd much rather sit at home on the couch with my honey and a bowl of homemade popcorn, and our goofy dog scrounging for the stray piece of popcorn.

Then, at the urging of my oldest, I went out and bought Eat Pray Love. I was reluctant. I mean, this is an unabashed chick read. But she said she wasn't going to stop hounding me until I read it (though she wouldn't lend me her copy.) She said that I reminded her of the heroine. She keeps referring to me as a "free spirit." She also says the heroine is like her, too. Of course, I've known my oldest and I were two peas in a pod since she was little, but I'm only her dad, so what did I know?

I also bought a New York Times and the latest issue of No Depression, plus asked the clerk to put the stuff in a bag. This is like buying tampons for your girlfriend.

But I did crack the book quick, and here's where I opened it:

"When I was growing up, my family kept chickens. We always had about a dozen of them at any given time and whenever one died off--taken away by a hawk or fox or some obscure chicken illness--my father would replace the lost hen. He'd drive to the nearby poultry farm and return with a new chicken in a sack. The thing is, you must be very careful when introducing a new chicken to the general flock. You can't just toss it in there with the old chickens, or else they'll see it as an invader. What you must do instead is to slip the new bird inot the chicken coop in the middle of the night while the others are asleep. Place her on the roost beside the flock and tiptoe away. In the morning, when the chickens wake up, they don't notice the newcomer, thinking only, "She must have been here all the time since I didn't see her arrive." The clincher of it is, awaking within the flock, the newcomer herself doesn't even remember that shs's a newcomer, thinking only, "I must have been here the whole time...."

This is exactly how I arrived in India."

Well, that's not exactly true about chickens, since I do know what I'm talking about since I did raise chickens for a long while, but I can see why Al might identify with this free-spirited heroine. The heroine's father raised chickens; her father raised chickens.

Okay. This is going to be an interesting read. Sue says I'm adorable. Al says I'm like a heroine in a popular novel. It's everything I can do to hang onto my manhood. Sue also says I'm hot, so I guess I'm okay on that point.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Good question

Here at work we have these white boards on every floor at the elevators. People draw and write all over them. That's kind of the problem with being around so many creative people...they constantly have to prove how clever they are.

But yesterday, on this floor, someone wrote, if you knew you couldn't fail, what would you do?

That is a really good question. That is one wish from the genie. That is the one thing you want the most in the world.

So...if you knew you couldn't fail...

A life's work

Okay, maybe you've had your fill of No Country for Old Men. This is the last quote I'll blog from the book.

"I tried to put things in perspective but sometimes you're just too close to it. It's a life's work to see yourself for what you really are and even then you might be wrong. And that's something I dont want to be wrong about."

Psychotherapy is the best thing we got here in the Western world to help us in self-actualization. I've used it in the past, and it helped. I know I'm not going to reach Nirvana this time around, but I want to be a helluva lot closer to it when I leave this life than when I got here. Like the old sheriff says, it's a life's work, and it's a helluva thing to think that you could spend your entire life doing something and be wrong in the end. But what are you going to do? Just sit in a hole?

Picking a sore

"It was like a ballplayer told me one time he said that if he had some slight injury and it bothered him a little bit, nagged at him, he generally played better. It kept his mind focused on one thing instead of a hundred. I can understand that. Not that it changes anything."

I don't know why this struck me the way it did. It's just that so much of what Cormac McCarthy writes I get. Even his sentence structure. Did you get that? That cadence? That ordering of the words? That uniquely American construct?

And he's so good at putting the intangibles of life into words. When something's eating at us, most of us, we tend to pick the sore until we figure it out. And then we move on. A ballplayer plays better. The rest of us just live a bit better.

The power of literature

"Most people dont believe that there can be such a person. You can see what a problem that must be for them. How to prevail over that which you refuse to acknowledge the existence of. Do you understand? When I came into your life your life was over. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is the end. You can say that things could have turned out differently. That they could have been some other way. But what does that mean? They are not some other way. They are this way. You're asking me that I second say the world. Do you see?

Yes, she said, sobbing. I do. I truly do.

Good, he said. That's good. Then he shot her."

I know exactly how that woman felt. In some ways, I've experienced exactly what she experienced. How for the longest time I refused to believe that there was such a person. And when you do finally acknowledge it, it's the end of a life. But then you can prevail. It's a very spiritual thought when you realize it. Death and rebirth. Good and evil. It's at the heart of Christianity.

Maybe it's being an actor. Or a writer. I don't know. I don't know if others experience movies and literature and paintings the way I do. I don't care. I just know how I do, and I love it. I love a good writer who can just miraculously choose words out of the thousands of words and put them in a certain order, the right order, to elicit an emotion like I felt when I read those words. That emotion that said, yes, yes, I know.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The hardest thing I've ever done

"The man that shot you died in prison.

In Angola. Yes.

What would you have done if he'd been released?

I dont know. Nothin. There wouldnt be no point to it. There aint no point to it. Not to any of it.

I'm kindly surprised to hear you say that.

You wear out, Ed Tom. All the time you spend tryin to get back what's been took from you there's more going out the door. After a while you just try and get a tourniquet on it."

It's hard. It's hard to get past the anger and the injustice and the unfairness when someone gets away with something big and mean. When someone gets away with murder. But the anger just feeds on you, not on the person who caused it. They couldn't care less how you feel. They wouldn't have done what they did if they cared about you. And the anger will never go away completely. It eventually will go down deep inside you, and surface occasionally, in funny ways. But it's best to be like the old man, who was shot and couldn't walk anymore, and just rebuild a new life. But like I said, it's hard. It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life so far.

Regrets and happiness

"What's your biggest regret in life.

The old man looked at him, gauging the question. I dont know, he said. I aint got all that many regrets. I could imagine lots of things that you might think would make a man happier. I reckon bein able to walk around might be one. You can make up your own list. You might even have one. I think by the time you're grown you're as happy as you're gonna be. You'll have good times and bad times, but in the end you'll be as happy as you was before. Or as unhappy. I've known people who never did get the hang of it."

I've been happy and I've been unhappy. The worst was in between, when I didn't feel anything at all. Happy, of course, is the best, but it can make a person afraid, and cautious, so they don't do anything...they don't act or decide anything because they're afraid to lose the happiness...they try to keep the status quo by not doing anything, but it almost seems that happiness is independent of everything and anything. Happy people just seem to be like that, don't they? They're just naturally cheerful, and they don't let anything get in the way of it.

What's all this noise?

It's just that the whole blogging thing is so loud. And there are days, more and more lately it seems, when it's like I'm at a party and I suddenly find the need for a quiet corner. The Internet, with its passion for hits and click rates, just starts to seem like the trading floor of the NYSE.

My life is extraordinary right now, particularly in light of what it was like a year ago. And a year before that, and a year before that and so on. I just want to enjoy it, and for some reason my writer's inclination to share just isn't kicking in. Maybe it's because I'm afraid if I shout it out, someone or something will take notice and take it away from me again. People are like that. They see something good that someone has and either they want it or a piece of it, or they want to destroy it.

Nor do I want to do anything stupid, either.

So, yeah, blogging...there are things I'd like to say and tell about, but...

Somewhere over the Rainbow

C wanted to know if I was in a bad mood because of Friday's post...

No, and here's proof:

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday night

To all the world...I wish you the best. And that's really all I can do on a Friday night.

I have hopes and dreams and doubts and cares, and as much as I share here, I still don't trust.

Boston weather

Sue says it to me all the time. She was born here. What's my excuse? She says this every time I say how much I hate the weather around here. Weather-wise Boston sucks, especially the winters. They're long, going well into May. And a day like today, when it's just cold and rainy, is doubly miserable because everything is just plain ugly. Cold and dreary and flat and colorless. Any snow that's left or ice is just nasty because there's something about it that let it stick around this long. It's like ice and snow from some deep, dank, lifeless hole in the earth.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Newspapers: Anachronisms in the digital world

That funny crinkling noise you hear coming out of my cube is an anachronism here in the digital world. It's a newspaper, and I get the same kinds of looks from my gen-xer co-workers when they see me carrying one that they'd give me if I suddenly exchanged my Cisco IP phone for a rotary one. And I get the sense (or maybe it's just paranoia on my part) that they look at me, discern my generation, my demo, and figure, ah, he's old, just one more prop for the old guy, and they move on. I mean, you should have seen some of the looks when I told people I don't have cable TV or a microwave.

But, the venerable old newspaper has really lost its value. The amount of space and time frame that it takes to produce them really limits not only the amount but also the value of the information they dispense. I like to read them, still, but especially the Globe is so limited and therefore limiting. The Boston Globe has never really been more than just a really good local paper, anyway. So, I read them fast. Scan the stories, more for ideas and to spark my imagination and also to give me ideas to look for on the Web.

I used to read religiously three newspapers every day: the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the MetroWest Daily News. Now, it's lucky if I read a paper a month. I don't write for one anymore; I blog, and I quit blogging for a newspaper to concentrate on this one, and I'm thinking of shutting this one down. It's just that the less you read papers, then suddenly pick up one, you realize just how much it's always just the same. Or maybe it's just a characteristic of my demo. You get to be a certain age, or feel it like I have been lately, and you get the sense you've pretty much seen it all, that the names may change, but humans really don't.

Life's lesson

She put her cigarettes in her purse and looked at him. I'll tell you somethin, Sheriff. Nineteen is old enough to know that if you have got somethin that means the world to you it's all that more likely it'll get took away. Sixteen was, for that matter. I think about that.

Bell nodded. I ain't a stranger to them thoughts, Carla Jean. Them thoughts is very familiar to me.

--No Country for Old Men

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

MLB drug scandal: Why does Congress care?

Maybe I am the most clueless member of the human race, but why is Congress conducting hearings on drug abuse in baseball? What is Congress's interest in all this? I mean, if anyone should be looking into it on the Federal level, shouldn't it be something like the FBI?

Or does this have something to do with Homeland Security, too? Is the morale (and morals) of the country necessary to put up a good fight against terrorism?

Everyone I've asked doesn't know either, so I'm not the only one.

The MBTA commute from heck

Today's commute wasn't like yesterday's, but still, I'll be glad to be rid of the commuter rail, and start riding the T. I know the T has its problems, too, but not like the commuter rail. The commuter has terrible service, and the scheduling makes it pretty much useless except during rush hour. You can pretty much toss it on weekends, holidays, and midday and late night.

Thanks to the blizzard on Monday, yesterday the parking lot in Framingham was snowed in. I can't tell if more people ride the T when the weather's bad nor not, not wanting to stand out in the cold and wet. Anyway there are less parking spots because the city just piles up the snow in huge mounds without carrying it away.

And you have to deal with antiquated payment system where each day you put in four dollars into this big box-matrix, matching the number of your parking spot with a little slot into which you have to slip in money (any combination of paper and coins) with cold fingers while standing in a puddle and getting splashed by passing cars whose drivers are driving too fast because they're in a hurry to get a non-existent spot. Plus, the numbers painted in each parking slot are painted with white paint, and not some more visible color like red or yellow, so after a snow you can't always quite tell the number of your slot. 21? Or is it 27?

So, yesterday, the first thing I had to contend with is the normal traffic tie-up through downtown Framingham. I come in from behind MCI Framingham, so the road I come up backs up, like all the other roads, when a train crosses Rte. 126. Most mornings I scoot up the wrong side of the street since cars don't come at you, because they're tied up just like I am.

And I've always wondered if the horrendous traffic problem in downtown Framingham is left that way because it's just brown people that live over there.

Yesterday, there were no more parking spots in the lot, so quick I drove over to the gas station where you can hand the guy five bucks and park there for the day. But yesterday, again because of the snow, people where parked willy-nilly. Chasing down, then trying to talk to a guy fluent in Portuguese but not English took up too much time, and I watched the last train for a half hour slip out of the station. So, yesterday, I drove into Boston, and paid 19 bucks to park under the Common.

And while I drove and crept through one suburb after another, I thought of the billions of dollars that were spent on the Big Dig, and thought of the lack of visionaries in this state who could have taken that money, knocked down the Central Artery, built parking garages north and south of the city, and built a way cool public transportation system throughout the outer regions of the city that ran all the all day and night.

Today, after negotiating the traffic snarl, I got the last spot on the lot. I can't believe my life is reduced to the point where getting a parking spot constitutes reason to celebrate.

A little fish in a big pond

When I interviewed for this job, the creative director told me that he came to this agency because he was tired of being the most talented person in the shop. Some people, but not all, like to be pushed. They like to stretch. They like to be challenged and put out of their comfort zone. To be a big fish in a little pond is an embarrassment to them. Some people's ego needs that big stroking. Being stroked is more important than the what's being learned or done.

I was always on the young side. My birthday's at the end of September, so when I started first grade I was still five while the rest of the kids were six. So all my life I've had to reach and stretch. Luckily that worked fine for me, though it's not for every kid. I'm used to challenges and being the little guy and the underdog. I've had to fight and scrap a lot.

I bring this up because I started music lessons last night with Janet Feld. I was a bit worried about going into Cambridge and dealing with the hippies at Club Passim, but I have to say I was kind of laughing inside. Everybody was so nice and friendly, I swear once or twice I thought they were going to give me the peace sign.

One of the students, one of them that seems to have quite a bit of musical experience, said he was there because he's always loved music and what it does for him. Janet smiled and said, well, you've found your tribe. And I wondered if that included me, too.

And I got a long way to go, this pretty much self-taught guitar picker, and Janet in her funny, smart way starting straightening me out from the get-go, from how I hold my pick to how I play G. She said I play bluegrass G, because the pattern I play is so easy to go to C or G, and she's right, all those country songs I've been playing are CF&G. She said play big girl's G, the only reason she called it that is because one of her girlfriends called it that.

And she passed out sheet music, and what do you know, I looked down and saw the chord chart for Nanci Griffith's Trouble in the Field, one of my all-time favorites and I always wanted to play it but couldn't master that darn barre chord.

So, I'm stretching. And reaching. And hopefully, that means growing.

And here's one of the most beautiful love songs anyone's ever written.

Baby I know that we've got trouble in the fields
When the bankers swarm like locust out there turning away our yield
The trains roll by our silos, silver in the rain
They leave our pockets full of nothing
But our dreams and the golden grain

Have you seen the folks in line downtown at the station
They're all buying their ticket out and talking the great depression
Our parents had their hard times fifty years ago
When they stood out in these empty fields in dust as deep as snow

And all this trouble in our fields
If this rain can fall, these wounds can heal
They'll never take our native soil
But if we sell that new John Deere
And then we'll work these crops with sweat and tears
You'll be the mule I'll be the plow
Come harvest time we'll work it out
There's still a lotta love, here in these troubled fields

There's a book up on the shelf about the dust bowl days
And there's a little bit of you and a little bit of me
In the photos on every page
Now our children live in the city and they rest upon our shoulders
They never want the rain to fall or the weather to get colder


You'll be the mule I'll be the plow
Come harvest time we'll work it out
There's still a lotta love, here in these troubled field

Why we need less laws

It takes very little to govern good people. Very little. And bad people cant be governed at all. Or if they could I never heard of it.

--No Country for Old Men

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bill Withers says...

"I worry about the direction of the world. I worry about a culture where only the physically or materially dominant have the right to speak. Each generation needs an art form to license male vulnerability. If maleness comes to symbolize raw competition, how do males learn to offer love, brotherly support and simple humanity? You could call me a serious person. A serious guy. I'm serious about tweaking myself. I've always been serious that way, trying to evolve to a more conscious state. Funny thing about that, though. You tweak yourself, looking for more love, less lust, more compassion, less jealousy. You keep tweaking, keep adjusting those knobs until you can no longer find the original settings. In some sense, the original settings are exactly what I'm looking for--a return to the easy-going guy I was before my world got complicated, the nice guy who took things as they came and laughed so hard the blues would blow away in the summer wind."

--from the liner notes on The Best of Bill Withers, Lean on Me

Johnny Depp is over exposed

Okay, it's official: Johnny Depp has become overkill. Now he's singing in Sweeney Todd and he's on all the magazine covers with his shirt undone and that James Dean kind of look happening and he is so perfectly cool and hip in everything he does and wears and says and sings and tattoos on his body and the jewelry he wears and yes, he's cool, but not that cool, so enough is enough.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Running, but not hiding

All this flowing water
has got my mind wandering
Do you ever finally reach
a point of knowing
or do you just wake up one day
and say I am going?

The only thing is, you can go, or rather, you can run, but you can't hide. And at some point you just got to turn and face things and fight and work things through. Because everyone knows the shit just comes along with you. That's what shit does. It sticks.

No matter where you run to, no matter how much distance you put between yourself and your demons, they always find you, and they find you when you least expect it.

Faith in humanity restored

There are good people out there.

T, who I work with and who is, by the way, a very cool person, left her wallet on the Amtrak train last night on her very long commute home from Boston to Providence. Of course, everything was in there, including one very important piece of documentation: her business card that had her email address on it.

But before she even got home, she had a message from someone's Blackberry that he had found the wallet and was overnighting it to her here at the office so she could have it back today.

Hurray. A bit of good news in an otherwise blighted world.

There are a few elements here, though, that I think are interesting. Blackberrys. Wireless communication. Overnight mail. It all speaks of money and people in a certain part of our society (dare I use the word, demographics?) who still aren't too jaded, are still comfortable, who still can afford to be nice to one another. Who are still refined and cultured and believes in doing good in the world.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

One Nation Under Many Grooves

Started reading the November issue of Songlines on the train last night. A great resource for new music from around the world. Again, I think it’s so funny that the genre is called world music, as in, anything that’s non-American. Well, the U.S. has the World Series, I guess it’s all along the same lines. People with grandiose ideas about themselves.

In that light, I also was excited (and amused) to read the following. It was a “special report” entitled One Nation Under Many Grooves written by Nigel Williamson about world music coming from the United States.

Here’s his lede:

“In recent issues of Songlines, we’ve increasingly found ourselves writing about world music coming out of the US. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon—but suddenly it seem that American world music acts are everywhere.”

Williamson goes on to say, “In a way, this burst of multicultural, pluralist creativity should hardly come as a surprise, for the US is a nation of people who originally came from somewhere else. Yet, paradoxically, it has long behaved like the most parochial country in the world, where only a tiny percentage of the population even has a passport. At best it has appeared indifferent and isolationist and at worst openly hostile to cultures other than its own. This has been particularly evident in music, where American audiences have proved strongly resistant toward sound emanating from beyond the English-speaking world. Forty years ago Marshall McCluhan defined the modern world as a ‘global village,’ a concept [that] it’s not hard to conclude that the US interpreted as an opportunity to impose its own narrowly defined cultural hegemony on the rest of the planet, rather than an opportunity to embrace other cultures.

“The pressures upon immigrants to conform to a homogeneous notion of what constitutes being ‘all-American’ are powerful and intense. For generations it has seemed that new arrivals are institutionally encouraged to forget the “primitive” culture they left behind and proven themselves as “true Americans” by embracing the values of the land of Coca-Cola without question.”

Wow. That’s really good U.S.-bashing. I particularly liked the line about ..”the land of Coca-Cola.” That is kind of funny.

And, sadly so much of it is true. To a point.

Like so many opinions like this one, you have to take it with a grain of salt. After all, I’m American and I found Songlines because I was interested and excited about growing as a musician, artist, and just generally finding new music to enjoy and to enrich my life, and the lives of those close to me. Just this morning I sent Sue off to work, putting a Songlines’ CD in her hand to check out on her commute.

Nor do I support the current administration, and I deplore what it has done not just in Iraq but throughout the world and to the U.S.’s position in the world. There are others like me in the United States. Not a lot, I hate to say. While there is little support for the war, there is a tendency for Americans not to understand how the rest of the world feels about them and their country. I, most times, feel like a stranger in a strange land here, but that has more to do with me. I’d probably feel different and on the fringe even at a “World Music” event. It’s just the quirky nature of my life and my personality.

I didn’t know that only a tiny percentage of the population has a passport, nor do I know if it’s even true. If it is true that’s an interesting fact. Yes, I’ve heard Americans say, why go to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower if you can see it in Disney World. Yes, statements like that make me cringe, too. But, both my kids have had passports since they were little. My oldest had one when she was six months old. But just to be fair, your typical American hasn’t really had the need for a passport like a person would in Europe, where countries are as small and close together as our states. Until 9/11, you didn’t need one to go to a lot of the nearby places Americans traveled, from Canada to the Caribbean islands.

A lot of Americans do tend to embrace the shallow pop culture, and not just in music. Their tastes run the gamut of low-brow movies, television shows, and books, But percentage-wise, how many intelligent, intellectual people are there in any country? The thing so many non-American don’t get is just how big this country really is. England is roughly the same size as the state of Louisiana, the U.S’s 31st largest state. Everything about the U.S. is big, and sadly, the negatives get enlarged as much as the positives.

And please show me the country that readily assimilates any outside culture. Good Lord, exactly how many civil wars are going on right at this moment? Personally, I love to learn about new cultures—everything from their food to their music. But I think the tendency not to embrace new cultures is more human than American.

A long, long time ago, I was one of those American backpackers who descended on the European continent, only then I hated being American at the time. I was embarrassed. If you think this was during George Bush’s father’s regime, guess again. Ford was in the White House, and the U.S. had just been floored by Vietnam and Watergate.

Since then I’ve grown to be proud of being an American. As of late, I’ve discovered and dove into American country music, not the corporate product out of Nashville, but the stuff coming out of East Texas and Louisiana. That’s how I came to have Songlines in my lap on the train ride home last night. You know, World Music ain’t nothing more than country music, without the twang, that is. As I blogged yesterday, it’s just music that celebrates what happens between the time we are born and the time we die.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Hillary cries. Obama surges. Huckabee strums, or rather, plucks. Hillary surges. Obama pledges to continue. Oh, and Britney shows her private bits again. Surf your favorite news site and it’s all the same. Year after year after year. The names may change, but humans got a way of just doing the same old same old. Politicians crash and burn. Voters defy all logic and common sense and elect a complete moron. Pop stars continue to disprove Darwinian law, living their weak-kneed lives long after some stronger species should have put them—and us—out of their misery. You can thank liberals and lawyers for that.

I’ve long given up on the traditional heroes. Professional athletes, politicians, movie stars are nothing but groveling toadies jonesing for power and attention, worse than any decrepit needle addict. When I get like this I beat the bushes, I zig when everyone else is zagging, I head out on the fringe, away from the maddening crowd.

I started casting around for new music. Music is such a wonderful diversion for me. It takes me away from wherever I am, and it’s not that I don’t like where I am, I simply love to travel, whether it’s physically or in my mind. And I love my music collection, but I do get bored listening to the same stuff.

It’s probably not news to a lot of the visitors to this site, but I’ve been meaning to pick up a copy of Songlines of a while now. Actually have skimmed one once or twice but tossed it back on the shelf. This time I bought one and found a gold mine of new music, at least for me. A nice distraction from the world of politics and current events.

It’s called world music, but I think that’s a funny name for it. Kind of like people calling anything not from the U.S. “foreign.” Well, it’s only foreign to you, dude. I keep saying country music, good country music, not that sugary crap manufactured in Nashville with all its empty calories, is all about what happens between birth and sleeping in the dirt. And that’s what a lot of this music is about. Hey, when you get down to it, isn’t that really what all good artistic endeavors are about—life between birth and a dirt nap?

The November issue that I bought (well, it is printed in the UK; don’t expect the most up-to-date issues here on “foreign” ground) came with two compilation CDs. I love hearing all kinds of music from all countries sung in all different languages. But obviously I’m a product of my own environment, and right off the bat I was drawn to Linda Thompson and Kate Rusby, both British folk singers.

Thompson sings Katy Cruel, a traditional song dating back to colonial times (American colonial times, that is) in a lilting voice accompanied by a guitar and the beat of the hand on a drum, backed by female vocalists reminding you that Celtic ghosts are what make those lace curtains sway:

When I first came to town,
They called me the roving jewel;
Now they've changed their tune,
They call me Katy Cruel,
Oh, diddle, lully day,
Oh, de little lioday.

High on the Hill, which is on Kate Rusby’s newest album, Awkward Annie, is a beautiful English song in the folk tradition that opens with a plucked banjo (or is it a mandolin?) and Rusby’s sweet voice accompanying. The song picks up with more instrumentation, lilting lyrics (that’s really the only way to describe Irish/British folk music, isn’t it?) and Rusby harmonizes with Chris Thile from Nickel Creek.

oh, darling, let’s go over now, the devil’s here….

I can’t find the album in stores. It’s an import, so ships it in one to three months.

There’s a ton more. More that will keep me preoccupied from the rest of the madness.

Oh, darling, let’s go over now, the devil’s here…

Monday, January 7, 2008

Are you catching?

Standing in line at Borders waiting to buy a copy of Songlines. The woman behind me is on the phone and talking very loudly in my ear. So I moved forward, especially when she says, "I don't know, I've had it for a while, but it's gotten worse." I turn and look to see what I'm dealing with. It's a very pretty young woman, outfitted expensively and I guess the term is stylishly, which to me means very unhip and staid and conservative and just oh-so-Boston proper.

I move away from her, she continues talking loudly into her phone, this time about how she just signed up to take her GMATs in the spring, and steps forward again. I move again, she moves.

Darlin', what do you have, and how worse has it gotten? And can I catch it from you breathing down my neck like this?

Pickin' up the pieces

When a life is ruined the only thing to do is pick up the pieces and start over.

I'm cleaning my apartment of years and years of my life. I'm ridding my life of all the empty I love yous and I can't live without yous and the Johns with the brackets around my name to mean a hug and the Ks and old Christmas cards and ticket stubs and all the wonderful things people said or wrote about me and all the flotsam of my life that I put in a drawer, not knowing what else to do with it at the time. It's been great. Hope to work with you again. And then you never saw them again.

In the end, my life, anyone's life, can be held in a couple of garbage bags.

I kept one letter, though.

It was from an aunt who, at the time she wrote the letter, was dying of cancer. There were trivial news items. "Bud and Norma called. They didn't have any news." It was advised that she get a bone scan because her hip hurt. "I don't know if I want to find out anything else that's wrong with me," she wrote. She was about to begin radiation treatment, and side effects included diarrhea. "Hope it doesn't happen on the freeway," she wrote, typical of the fatalistic humor that pervades my family.

She's the aunt who, when her diagnosis came through and I asked her who was going to take care of her, retorted, "I will. I'm no pantie-waist, you know."

Every so often I have to remind myself that I come from a long line of people who weren't pantie-waists. The farm she lived on her entire life was handed down through the family from my great-grandfather on my mother's side. He fought Indians and disease and the weather. My grandmother, a tiny German lady who had 11 children that survived birth, outlived more than half of them. My ancestors settled a bit of this country. Not a lot. Maybe only 80 acres of it. But that 80 acres is now listed as a homestead in the state of Indiana. There are still bits and pieces of that land that still bear my great-grandfather's mark. A line of locust wood fence posts. A foundation. A cleared field.

My father was orphaned at three years, and raised us all the only way he knew: to be orphans. There's a sister from his first marriage I haven't seen since I was about twelve years old, and my other sister I haven't talked to in about five or six years. He taught us to be self-sufficient, to not depend on others. He taught us how to get by.

I think the spirit to get up and make a better life is quintessentially American. Not many nationalities just get up and move the way we do, and completely rebuild our lives. Americans have a lot of faults. But we have our good side, too. We're builders. And some of us aren't pantie-waists.


I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.

--Kurt Vonnegut

Thanks, Dede

Shotgun Down the Avalanche

I'm riding shotgun down the avalanche
Tumbling and falling down the avalanche

So be quiet tonight the stars
Shine bright
On this mountain of new fallen snow
But I will raise up my voice into
The void
You have left me nowhere to go

I love you so much and it's so bizarre
A mystery that goes on and on and on
This is the best thing and the very
Most hard
And we don't get along

After countless appeals we keep
Spinning our wheels
On this mountain of new fallen snow
So I let go the catch and we are
Over the edge
You have left me nowhere to go

I'm riding shotgun down the avalanche

Sometimes you make me lose my will
To live
And just become a beacon for your soul
But the past is stronger than my will
To forgive
Forgive you or myself, I don't know

I'm riding shotgun down the avalanche
Tumbling and falling down the avalanche

So be quiet tonight be sure to
Step lightly
On this mountain of new fallen snow
But I will raise up my voice into
The void
You have left me nowhere to go

I'm riding shotgun down the avalanche

Friday, January 4, 2008

Happy Birthday ABM

This blog's been active for about a year. I guess I should say something about that, except I don't know what. Yesterday something like fifty people logged on, mostly from across the United States but it's not unusual at all to have visitors from around the world.

I've tried to be as honest as I could, but I've learned total honesty isn't always the best policy. I don't mean just on this blog; I mean in life in general. Some things are just nobody's business. (Now there's good subject for a country song, dontcha think?) But I've written about stuff on this blog that was to the bone, or my bones at least, and that's a risk. Every time you put yourself out there, there's always someone who's waiting and wanting to hammer you.

Some people, though, have told me I'm too honest and personal. I guess actually being myself on this blog, like putting a tattoo on my hand, could reduce my chances of employment or advancement. So be it, I guess.

Still, after a year, I'm thinking of shutting down. It was a nice experiment. Just like Facebook and all those social networking sites and Radiohead selling its latest CD online, the Web is just one big revolving experiement. No one knows what to do with the Web yet, except the retailers and pornographers, and they're mining the 'net for all it's worth. But even they won't last. Someday soon--and I'll give it three years--the Web will look like a flea market fifteen minutes before closing. What's needed is a really huge technological advancement--moving data with light instead of electrons--and some real visionaries.

And as much as some people may be interested in my personal life, you got to admit there's something sort of creepy knowing people are logging in daily to find out what I'm up to. I mean, I know I'm throwing it out there, but stop me before I hurt myself. That's a joke.

I dig the sharing. I dig that there are some out there who are still interested in a simple human being's existence. But I miss, in the parlance of the digital world, the interactivity. This isn't a blog; it's a monoblog. Get it?--monologue? Monoblog? What's needed is a dialogue-blog.

But until I can actually wrap my index finger across a fret board to make a bar chord, I'll probably be hacking this blog out. Time is running out though. I can hear clocks ticking wherever I go. We all end up in the same place. It's how we get there that matters. It's how we live our lives that makes all the difference. And in case you haven't gotten it, that's what most of country music--good country music--is all about.

Crazy weather...even crazier computer

When I woke up this morning it was 7 degrees. I knew it was darn cold because I had the heat turned as far down as it would go and it still was coming on in the nght.

When I got to work this morning, after my usual 2-hour slog of truck to train to subway, I don't know what the temperature was, but it wasn't what my computer said it was.

I have a little application that at a touch of a button will tell me, among other things, the temperature. Yesterday when I was leaving work people were complaining about the temperature, and at the time I said, what's the big deal, it's 26 degrees?

No, it isn't, I was told, again it was 7 degrees.

Right now this is what the widget says:

And this is what it says at

Forty-eight degrees vs. feels like 20. Hmmm...

Somehow my computer got reset for some other Boston. Boston, Virginia, maybe, since the clock reads EST.

Just shows you can't believe a thing you read. And if you can't trust your own computer...well, just who can you trust, I ask you.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Near to You

From Al.

Dang, these kids grow up a lot faster than I ever did. I guess I was just slow.

He and I had something beautiful
But so dysfunctional, it couldn't last
I loved him so but I let him go
'Cause I knew he'd never love me back

Such pain as this
Shouldn't have to be experienced
I'm still reeling from the loss,
Still a little bit delirious

Near to you, I am healing
But it's taking so long
'Cause though he's gone
And you are wonderful
It's hard to move on
Yet, I'm better near to you.

You and I have something different
And I'm enjoying it cautiously
I'm battle scarred, I am working oh so hard
To get back to who I used to be

He's disappearing
Fading suddelly
I'm so close to being yours
Won't you stay with me

Near to you, I am healing
But it's taking so long
'Cause though he's gone
And you are wonderful
It's hard to move on
Yet, I'm better near to you.

I only know that I am
Better where you are
I only know that I am
Better where you are
I only know that I belong
Where you are

Near to you, I am healing
But it's taking so long
Though he's gone
And you are wonderful
It's hard to move on

Near to you, I am healing
But it's taking so long
'Cause though he's gone
And you are wonderful
It's hard to move on
Yet, I'm better near to you.

Yet, I'm better near to you.

A cowboy in the city

I'll be drinking city whiskey and chasin' it with country wine. (Apologies to The Low Anthem.)

So you're moving to the city? You're so country. I can't imagine you living in the city. How many people have said that to me now? Are you keeping your truck? I can't imagine John without his truck. What about Bob?

Yeah, I'm asking myself the same questions. Yes, keeping the truck. And the dog, too. But wondering about moving where I can, in my own father's words, hear it when the neighbor flushes the toilet.

Won't be sitting on a rock in the orchard on a hot summer's night, sipping a cold one, pondering life, and looking for shooting stars. Or going out my back door in the winter wearing a pair of snow shoes.

It's going to be a different life, all right, but hopefully a better one. That's what I'm telling the kids, at least, and I'm sticking to my story. Life changes, hopefully for the better, and one chapter closes while another one opens up.

Sue and I will wake up together every day, doing the day-to-day, for better or for worse.

There's a cheaper and shorter commute. Right now it's at least three hours a day and $300 a month with the train pass and parking. In the city I'll walk five minutes to the T for a 30 minute ride to my office. All for $72.

The rent and bills will be less, because Sue and I will be splitting the bill.

There's more to do in the city. I start music lessons in Harvard Square the same day we move in. Museums, concerts, schools, and stores are all closer, and urban life in general is richer than suburban life. This isn't just for me, but for the kids, too. Al is looking forward to a place where she and her friends can drive up from school to stay while in Boston. The other one is growing and maturing faster than you can imagine. She needs more stimulation than that mall to keep that brain of hers in gear.

There will a different, but just as strong, family life. Sue likes the kids and vice versa. There might be some stability in our lives that's been lacking. And Sue and I have different values than what the girls have been used to. Al calls us free spirits. There might not be cable. Instead lots of books and music. The ocean will be nearby. Well, Quincy Bay, if you want to get technical, but it's salty.

So, yeah, if Steve Earle can leave Guitar Town for Greenwich Village, I guess I can have some concrete under my boots for a while. It's not forever. Nothing's forever, that much I know.

Still, I'd like to hear those coyotes a few more times, and that hoot owl, before I load up the truck one last time.

Stayin' warm is a luxury

It was four freakin' degrees when I woke up this morning. You can imagine what it was like standing on that train platform. Or maybe you can't, I have no idea how vivid your imagination is. Oh, and thank God for small favors: the train was actually pretty much on time today. A minute or two either way is cool.

I wear a leather bomber jacket in the fall, winter, and spring. Cut the wind, and you've done 80 percent of the work keeping warm. And as any motorcycle rider knows, leather does that in spades. The coat cost me a pretty penny, but I hang on to clothes for a good long while. I'm still wearing shirts that are fifteen years old.

And jeans that are over twenty.

There's a Korean woman in my neighborhood who patches them for me. They have the look of jeans that cost hundreds at the mall. But they're the real deal.

So I figured since I'll either be buried in that jacket or it will be bequeathed to either one of my kids or Sue for continued service on the planet, that leather jacket actually will end up costing me something like 50 cents a year over its lifetime. Still, when I bought it, I was shocked when I was charged tax for it. (In Massachusetts, clothes are normally purchased tax-free.) It was a luxury tax, it was explained to me.

Imagine that. Only in Taxachusetts is something that keeps you warm during it's four degree winters considered a luxury.

It was the first luxury item I've ever bought, too. Probably will be the last. Luxurious is not a word that typically describes my lifestyle.

Dreams still can come true

Weird, that yesterday when I tried to make an edit to the previous post that some glitch wouldn't let me repost it, right when Sue and I experienced a little glitch in the move. the digital world and the physical world really connected?

No, it isn't, but it did give me time to wonder if dreams can come true. Are dreams possible? What about soul mates?

Or do they rank right up there with Santa Claus and world peace, nice things to wish for, but really just reside in the realm of the naive and idealist?

Dreams can come true

The 8:15 MBTA Commuter out of Framingham

Nope, the conductor didn't collect fares this morning. That's $6.25 I could have kept in my pocket if I didn't have the monthly pass.

No stations were called out, either, which made for a quiet ride. Most people probably know where they're going, but if there was someone making the ride for the first time, they were SOL...
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