Monday, August 31, 2009

Z-A Monday: Seafaring!

This rock star showbiz stuff was scraping the bottom, the whole "girlfriend" thing was stirring his stomach, and Xavier had to get out. He didn't get the sedan he was promised, but settled for an '02 Saturn S-Series that seemed to scoot around ok. With that, he said a sheepish goodbye to the boys in the band, stuck his sack of selected belongings on the back seat, and shot down Highway seventy-seven toward his fate, whatever it may be.

Around sunset he made it to the shore, stored the Saturn, and while shlepping around the docks he came upon a sign soliciting short-term sailors, stevedores, and other seafaring jobs. Xavier figured, heck, he could swim, he liked the sea, studied its various species in school (he fondly recalled the stingray, starfish, squid, shrimp, scallop, shad, salmon, spearfish, sharks...and he liked sushi!), and even knew a little semafore. So he marched into the shack that served as the corporate office and signed on for a week aboard the S.S. Schmidlapp, a sordid-looking, sagging, but seemingly seaworthy ship. He'd be swabbing the deck, sweeping the cabins, serving chow; whatever was needed. Salary was minimal, but just escaping was satisfying enough.

Boarding the Schmidlapp, he served up a salute as the swarthy Captain, Steve Striker, stuck out a hand to shake his, stating "we don't salute here, son; we're not in the service."

"Aye aye, sir", Xavier stated, regretting his use of stupid semi-military cliches.

"Son, it's getting dark. Go stow your gear, find a bunk in steerage and get some shut-eye." He scanned the sky. "Looks like a storm, maybe some swells. Southeaster, I s'pose. Tomorrow we'll square you away, make you a skipper, teach you a square knot, a sheep-shank to secure the ship, and go over the Schmidlapp from stem to stern. For now, hit the sack."

Xavier descended the steps to the bunks with a smug swagger. The seduction of the sea! The smell of saltwater! Scrimshaw, skulls and crossbones, scurvy dogs, the whole shot! What serendipity had brought him here? He knew he would sleep soundly...though he wasn't even sure what was stored in the ship, or who it was serving...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

T is for..Toledo Botanical Gardens, Again!!!

So this is what's bloomin' (and honkin' and quackin', etc.) in August. Couldn't figure out the lone baby duck.
All of 'em were taken at the Botanical Gardens, except the grand-dog, back at Em's apartment.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Z-A: A Troublesome Triangle

Break time over, the band returned to the stage for a final set. They mixed traditional with today's sound. Some Tom Petty, trashy Twisted Sister and Tin Lizzy, a crazy Tom Waits tune, a Tammy Wynette tear-jerker, some Turtles, a twangy Randy Travis/Travis Tritt medley, some Tool, and even backup for an audience member who did a passable Tina Turner. Set over, the band took a bow, high-fived and, tension relieved, took off.

After the trauma of making it through the tunes and their tablature, Xavier threaded his way through the throng to order a tequila from the bar. While passing through the thrashing, turbulent, some tumbling, some teetering, teeming thousands (or so it seemed), Xavier spotted a solitary woman, a face in the crowd. An unforgettable face, a blast from his past, quite a throwback. Actually, quite a tease, a tantalizing thrill! He approached her with some trepidation.

She looked up at him.
"Xavier, you were terrific."
"Thanks. What brings you...?"
"Oh, things have been...troublesome, sorta tense. I needed a night out, some tranquility, just, y'know, therapy."
This was too tempting, worth taking a shot. Was he thinking, or reacting to a tidal wave of testosterone?
"You wanna go, I don't know, get a cup of tea somewhere?"
Forget the tequila. This was "teetotaling Tiffany".
"Sure, I'd love to take you up on that."

They trekked over to her parked Toyota Tercel. She knew a place, a glorified truckstop, where they could talk over old times.
Then, the unmistakable trill of the telephone. Xavier opened it, saw the caller ID (Wendy), grimaced, and said "Ah, hi there."
"Xavier, I've been thinking about what I said. I wanted to apologize. I was way too...terse. Can we...?"
"Who's that?", Tiffany interrupted.
"Who's THAT?", Wendy asked.
"Well, isn't this thorny?" thought Xavier. A tragic triangle, a tinderbox. Any response will take its tortuous toll.
He just needed time. He felt on trial, and for now, he'd "take the fifth".
Without a word, he touched the button that terminated the call.
"Just a telemarketer", he answered Tiffany.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Z-A Monday : U

There was an uneven sound as the VW bus struggled into the parking space at the ragtag band's venue, the Monkey's Uncle Club, then an unbearable crunch as it undulated to a halt.

Vic said "Not to worry; My Uncle Uli has a beat up Chevy Uplander he'll be glad to sell for next to nothing."

Noting the urgency of his need for wheels, Xavier nodded ok. The four members of the Verdict, gear already loaded on stage, proceeded to sound check.

Xavier labored through the unscripted practice, unveiling a decent command of the fretboard, though certainly not upstaging Vince on lead. Vic gave him his single order:
"Dude, you're the utility man; don't upstage us, just let the music unfold."

They moved through a varied first set: a little UB40 reggae, an unmistakable U2 cover, an unorthodox tribute to the 80's with some Ultravox, an understated attempt at a sprawling Umphree's Magee jam, some unassuming roots-like, Uncle Tupelo stuff, an "awesome" but unpolished classic rock tribute to Vince's favorite, Uriah Heep, and then, thanks to a couple requests from the floor, a country cover of a Keith Urban tune and an uneven R&B attempt at an Usher hit. There was even a nod to Don Ho with a cover of "Tiny Bubbles", an unexplainable crowd fave, where Vince broke out his uelele.

Xavier played in an understated, unassuming way, strumming softly during unfamiliar tunes. He got by.

During the break, Xavier and his new bandmates proceeded to the bar for a quick brew.
"How'm I doing?, Xavier asked.
"Unbelievable!", Vic responded over the din of the crowd.
Vince agreed, as did Ulf, the nearly uncommunicative drummer. The four joined in some spirited "high fives" and back slaps, feeling that upbeat unity experienced among musicians, urged on by the alcohol.

Xavier heard his cell phone and lifted it to answer. The number he had seen umpteen times flashed on the screen - Wendy's number.
"Hey, Xavier, what's going on? Sounds loud."

Uncertain how to respond, uninhibited by the beer, he proceeded: "Wendy, you wouldn't believe it. I'm in a band tonight. It's unbelievable"

Wendy was unimpressed. "Unbelievable, all right. You know, at the University, you were all about your future. So you go off you're doing this silly useless stuff."

"Useless? This could be unlocking my future for all I know!"

"Don't come unhinged", Xavier thought. "Don't let it get ugly".

"Well, you just took off and...I'm just kind of upset."

"I understand. And it's untrue, I'm not, like, running off and joining the circus."

"But if you keep following every crazy urge, it's just...I'm unable to..."

Xavier saw this was an uphill battle. Wendy was unwilling to understand, and the band was motioning him back to the stage.

"Look, Wendy, I've gotta go. We'll talk later."

"OK, fine, but you'd better 'find yourself'' soon or I'll have to find someone else."

Earlier Xavier had felt so "up", and now he felt nearly useless in light of his unforgiving girlfriend. Playing in the band was unforgettable, but losing Wendy would be unbearable.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Weird Object Friday: The Log on the Blog

Les Paul, a pioneer among musicians and inventors, died this past week. The picture is of "the log", his first (and the first ever) solid-body electric guitar. This "Log" was fashioned from guitar parts and a 4 by 4 fencepost.

Les Paul perfected the solid body guitar (they had formerly been hollow bodied), and then played the heck out of 'em, charting a few hits along with his wife, Mary Ford. To this day, the Gibson Les Paul is a leading guitar; my son plays a non-Gibson version of a Les Paul.

Les also came up with the whole concept of multi-tracking by using tape heads. His wife could harmonize with herself thanks to his invention. we think nothing of this today, of course, as musicians go into the studio and add all the tracks they want now, digitally. But back in the day, it was a big deal.

Just to keep things interesting, I hope there are more people out there with minds like Mr. Paul's. Rest in peace, Les, or may your peace be occasionally broken by strains sound from the product of your mind.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I did, pretty much, Charlie; Thanks for asking!

Several nights a week we watch the ABC news after or during dinner, depending on how late we're running. I'm not sure why we are brand loyal to ABC news, but it may be because of Charlie Gibson. He has an affable style. We need more affability in the world. Too many people hollering. (That's not a political comment; it's a cultural one. I have some questions about the health care tome now on the table, but I don't see the need to holler about it.)

I sort of like it when Charlie ends with his trademark "I'm Charles Gibson and I hope you had a good day." Charlie says it with such sincerity, in my view, that I feel he would not mind if I emailed him back and said, "Yeah, Charlie, I did. I had a good one", and this would actually make Charlie perk up a little bit and maybe walk with his head just a little higher.

Charlie's sign-off always makes me pause and reflect. Did I have a good day? Like most people, I suspect, on a scale of 1 (miserable) to 10 (ecstasy; utopia is achieved), most days run in that 4-6 range. Nothing great, but no huge loss, either.

Then, lately, I mix in a sub-theme from a recent sermon I heard, to the effect that we should all be expecting blessings every day. In other words, the attitude should be that good things are expected. I suppose that's called "optimism", something I need to work on. I am certain that on more than a few days the "blessings" pass me by, unannounced, unnoticed, and unappreciated. My bad.

Sometimes, if you stick to the ABC news all the way to the end, and get past the day's casualties in far-off countries, the tsunamis and earthquakes (usually in the other order), and the rest of the bad stuff, they are careful to tack on a positive human interest story at the end that helps you feel good again about the whole sordid state of affairs. Tonight, there was a feature on a guy stuck in a wheelchair who goes hiking, often pushing himself up mountains, backwards, in his wheelchair. And that guy is ecstatic about getting out there and scaling some heights. That's pretty inspiring.

On the other hand, it gets fairly depressing when you realize that you are in this glaringly obvious target demographic that actually watches network news. In other words, you are over the hill. I would reckon that about three-fourths of the advertisements supporting the network news are courtesy of pharmaceutical companies pushing pills. Pills for cholesterol, pills for blood pressure, pills to adjust attitudes, and that still-perky Sally Field pushing "Boniva" (I want a job just coming up with drug names). Yeah, the news ain't MTV.

So we end up, at the end of the news, after seeing how the day has gone for the world, after the pill pushers have tailed off, with Charlie asking us about our day, and I sit through the next few ads pondering how things have gone since the sun (and, presumably, I) rose this morning. And I have to say that, really, most days, I had a pretty good day and I am glad that someone is asking. And then, before I know it, Pat Sajac is walking out on a glittery set holding Vanna White's arm, the wheel's a-spinning, and a bunch of hyperactive contestants are hollering for "big money". I hope those contestants have a good day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Z-A: V

This was no vacation; more like a Vision Quest. Xavier's first step was to trade in the newly acquired but somehow inappropriate Jeep for a Volkswagen Camper. The VW felt more viable, more valid.

Then off he ventured, a carefree vagabond, enjoying the view from under the visors of the VW.

Fifty miles on, in the vicinity of nothing, the VW ground to a halt. "Probably the valves", Xavier muttered as kicked the tires of the vexing Volks.
Not ten minutes later, a brightly painted Volvo wagon braked to a halt beside Xavier. The Volvo discharged its passengers, three long-haired, variously dressed guys looking like vagrants, checking Xavier out with limited visibility. One finally spoke:

"Dude. Sweet ride, there. What's happening?"
"Not sure what's happening, but I guess my VW is NOT."

More stony silence, and finally a plan for these rather vapid chaps to push the vee-dub downhill until Xavier could try to pop the clutch and get the thing started, a process in which all VW owners are well-versed. Once it attained speed, the VW lurched to life with renewed vigor. Sweet victory!

However, now the Volvo failed to show any vital signs, not a single vibration; Xaviers three new buds piled into the VW for a ride to town.

Along the way, the apparent leader, Vic, explained they were band mates on the way to a gig in the Valley:

"Yeah, we're the Verdict, kinda a goth-country-folk-hard rock, varied kinda thing. We're not exactly virtuoso performers, but you pump up the volume, man, we sound awesome."

Another voice from the back seat: "Hey, dude, you musical at all? You play anything?"

Xavier recalled his various stabs at guitar, his elementary school failure at violin.

"A little guitar. You know, some Van Halen riffs. I'm no Stevie Ray Vaughn or Steve Vai or anything."

"Hey, Van Halen's good enough. You wanna gig, y'know, sit in with us tonight?" The back seat voice had noticed his old acoustic he'd stashed in the back, and evidently the Verdict was pretty vague vis-a-vis auditioning.

"I suppose I could keep up with rhythm. You have a lead?"

"Yeah, Vince here has your back. Plays an awesome Flying V. Not to worry."
How to verbalize the vivid excitement he felt? A gig! What a vibe!

"Sure. I'm in."

A valuable experience nowhere in the vicinity of his comfort zone! The VW nearly veered off the road as he thought about it.

And while we are on "V", feel free to scroll down to see some pix from our recent VACATION...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Weird Objects in the Water

Continuing the "weird object Friday" tradition, our son and I toured the Ripley's Aquarium while in Gatlinburg last week. It is a great aquarium; it rivals the one in Baltimore. The jewel in its crown is the series of glass tunnels with a conveyor belt-like contraption under the huge tank full of sharks and other fish and a tortoise or two. You get the feeling you are in there "swimmin' with de fishes". Anyhow, here is a review of some of the denizens of the deep and other fishy friends that are weird enough for this Friday's installment.
People were amazed at how "patriotic" this guy looked. stars and stripes all over the thing.
Hangin' with the school.
Pretty and all, but probably really poisonous.
This guy's cousins were the bane of my existence growing up. Lots of jellyfish in the water meant no swimming at grandma's.
"There's gotta be some way outta here.."
I have no idea what the deal is with these things.
I always thought these guys looked like something out of "Yellow Submarine".
Here's the thing: If you're in the water and you come upon these things,
I should have taken notes. I have no idea. I believe it is bad to humans. Speaking of whom...
The trained eye should be able to spot a human in this picture.
Finally, this guy cracked us up. Looks like a shark fitted with a hedge trimmer. His thing was hanging out, just lying on the top of the glass tunnel, giving us all a somewhat uneasy feeling as we passed by under him.

Anyhow, the aquarium is highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mountains 'n' Varmints

There is something about mountains. Maybe it's because we live in flat-as-a-pancake northwest Ohio. Whatever it is, we had a wonderful time among the Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains last week. Here is a sample of what we saw.

And a quick summary of the critters we saw along the way...

The lady at the gift shop said that deer comes around every afternoon. We needed to see a bear, and finally did in Virginia. And the chicken? Pecking around a historic farm exhibit. (Haven't had reason to include a chick pic in some time).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Z-A: W

Xavier woke up and pondered his new world. No work. Wobbly woman/wedding issues. Wow.

So Wendy waffled and now Xave was playing the waiting game. This was worrisome, but he decided not to wallow in it. No need to be a wimp or a wailing weasel about it. Sure, it made him wince, (and perhaps some readers as well! -ed.) but the world went on.

Xavier finally decided that for his own well-being, to emerge a winner, he needed a good whack on the head, a change of scenery. He packed a few things, and headed for his wheels, a used Jeep Wrangler (he'd traded in the more costly XTerra, which he now couldn't afford without some windfall).
He just needed some time....Perhaps this was not wise, maybe dead wrong, but he felt pretty wistful about just withdrawing from his worsening world for a while - what'd the Aussies call it? A walkabout...whereabouts unknown!

He always had more than a whit of wanderlust about him. This could be a most worthwhile time, just him and the whole wide, welcoming wilderness out there. The Wrangler whirred to life, and away he went...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

return from the road

we are back home after eight days on the road, visiting Gatlinburg, the Smokey Mountains, Cherokee, the Blue Ridge parkway (nearly all of it), and the old stomping grounds back east. Good to be away; good to get home. Our son turns around and packs now for his new destination down in Columbus. Meanwhile, we make order out of all the chaos that came with unpacking, and get back to the ol' routine that involves unseemly things like clock radios going off at 6 a.m., etc.

I will feature highlights from the trip later, but just to leave one impression, here is my slightly early Sunday Photo. As we were about to pull off the Blue Ridge onto U.S. 211, we watched as the clouds and the mountains interacted on the east side of the range. It became quite other-worldly as we kept watching. Here is just one example (another being the latest header picture, above, taken from the same overlook):