Saturday, January 31, 2009

New Republican National Committee Chairman


The Republican National Committee, after six rounds of bitter infighting and voting, has chosen Maryland's Lt. Governor Michael Steele as its new chairman.

Because, you know, that whole "picking someone from a group you've traditionally screwed over" thing worked out so well for them in the Presidential election.

This display of tokenism bold initiative is sure to convince droves of African-American voters to defect en masse to the Republican Party.

Just to calm the far right of the party, according to CNN, Steele stated:

"I'm proud to say I'm a conservative, have been, always will be, So this notion that I'm a moderate is slightly overblown and, quite frankly, a lie."

In other news, Republican governors, including Alaska governor Sarah Palin, are begging Republican Senators and House members, who voted nearly unanimously (and unsuccessfully) against the economic stimulus package that President Obama is touting, to support it.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Help With The Gadgets

A couple of months ago, my mother sent me this video, about an elderly lady who was trying to make the switch to digital television. Yesterday, the lady in the video (or her Chicago equivelent) was in front of me in line at my local library.



She'd heard that there was a video she could check out there that explained how to make the switch. As she talked to the patient lady at the desk, I noticed that all of the videos she was returning were VHS's. As the nice lady at the desk talked to her, it turned out that the video was only available in DVD format. The elderly lady told her that she did not own a DVD player, only a VHS player. The nice library lady kindly told her that they did not have the video in that format.

I had two thoughts: One, that I should have suggested to her that she should have her grandkids help her out with the switch (and I assumed that she had some grown children who might help her pick out, or even purchase an inexpensive DVD player for her). My second thought was thank god I've got my two beautiful kids to help me with Wii, Rock Band and other gadgets that I enjoy playing with them with.

Almost Done With January Friday Random Ten

The other day, my stepdaughter made the astute observation that January is both the longest and shortest month. Since it's usually the coldest month of the year and has 31 days, it seems the longest. Yet, you turn around and it's February all of a sudden.

School has started again, and I've been picking up extra shifts at work, so the posts have been scarce lately. I've got a couple I'm working on, including one about a delightful time the Yen clan had having dinner with the Bubses.


1. Let Him Run Wild- The Beach Boys
2. Wouldn't It Be Good?- Nik Kershaw
3. American Garage- Pat Metheny Group
4. Washington Square- The Village Stompers
5. Ain't Talkin'- Bob Dylan
6. Come Running- Van Morrison
7. Phenomenal Cat- The Kinks
8. Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?- Bruce Springsteen
9. Younger Girl- The Lovin' Spoonful
10. Everything That Touches You- The Asssociation


Notes:
1. I know a lot of folks don't think the Beach Boys are real hip, but I love them. I think that Brian Wilson was an American songwriting genius.
2. A little 80's nugget.
3. This is the title track of the one and only jazz record I own. Bonus that there's a picture of Airstreams on the cover.
4. This Greenwich Village-based group had a number of instrumental hits in the sixties.
5. From the Modern Times album.
6. From Morrison's great Moondance record.
7, The Kinks at their quirkiest on the The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.
8. Springsteen's first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, had a lot of critics predicting he'd be the next Dylan. Ha!
9. Man, John Sebastian was a great songwriter, wasn't he?
10. The first record I ever owned was a "Best of the Association" record, a gift from my grandmother.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, Tommy!

Happy 57th birthday to Tommy Ramone!

If you've ever seen the movie This Is Spinal Tap, one of the running gags through the movie is that all of Spinal Tap's drummers come to untimely ends. Oddly, it's been the opposite for the Ramones. Original drummer Tommy, who was born Erdélyi Tamás in Budapest, Hungary in 1952, is still around, performing bluegrass music. He served as the Ramones' drummer from their beginning in 1974 until 1978. He tired of touring, and left the band, but continued being their producer. He was replaced by Marky Ramone.

Joey Ramone died of lymphoma on April 15, 2001. Dee Dee died of a heroin overdose on June 5, 2002, just a couple of months after the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Johnny Ramone died of prostate cancer on September 15, 2004.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Breathing Easy Friday Random Ten

The meds I got for my newly-diagnosed asthma are kicking in quick. It's funny how you don't know how bad you felt until you're feeling better again.

I got my nursing school application in on time, and will probably have to wait until May to hear whether I got in or not. My chances are pretty good-- my grades and test scores in reading and math are good, but in the end, there's a lottery. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

1. Medicine Show- Big Audio Dynamite
2. Mansion On the Hill- Bruce Springsteen
3. Self Control- Raf
4. Teenage Depression- Eddie and the Hot Rods
5. World Party- The Waterboys
6. White Wedding- Billy Idol
7. Cowboy Song- Thin Lizzy
8. Rock Me On the Water- Jackson Browne
9. Stop the Clock- The Blasters
10. Broadway Hotel- Al Stewart


1. I used to hear this one a lot in the punk clubs back in the day. BAD was headed up by former Clash member Mick Jones.
2. I love this haunting little number from Nebraska.
3. I've got over 5,000 songs on my ipod and this one repeated from last week. As I mentioned, it's the dark original of a song later blanded out by Laura Brannigan.
4. One of my favorites-- you'll find it on the "No Thanks" collection of '70's punk.
5. From the great "Fisherman's Blues" album, one of my favorites of the nineties.
6. I love the scene in "The Wedding Singer" with Billy Idol.
7. I loves me some Thin Lizzy.
8. Jackson Browne getting spiritual.
9. The closing track on The Blasters' first self-titled album. It's available these days on Testament, the complete collection of all the recordings The Blasters did for Slash records.
10. Al Stewart's Year of the Cat was one of the first records I ever bought when I was a teenager. I still love it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

DVD Report

One of the consequences of that the digitization of music and movies in the last twenty-five years is that music and movies that were long out of print or hard to find have become available again after years or even decades. I like to report occasionally on the movies and television shows that have become newly available.

Years ago, in 1991, when my youngest brother was still living in Chicago, we went to the Music Box theater to see a remarkable movie, Taxi Blues. The event that sets the movie off is a passenger stiffing a cab fare. The passenger is a half-crazy hard-living Jewish jazz musician. The cabbie is a blue collar Russian. The Russian sets out to get his fare or revenge from the musician. They end up in a strange mix of enmity and friendship. All the while, the story is set in a backdrop of a Soviet Union about to implode. Highly recommended.

Another one that was available overseas for a while and finally got released in Region 1 is The Anderson Tapes. This Sidney Lumet movie, released in 1971, was amazingly prescient about the role tapes would play in the Watergate Scandal that would break a year later. Sean Connery, trying to break out of his James Bond roles, plays "Duke" Anderson, a tough Irish con who is released from an American prison after ten years. He takes up with an old girlfriend, played by Dyan Cannon, who lives in a posh Fifth Avenue apartment. He concocts a scheme to burglarize the entire building, which is filled with rich people. Unbeknowest to him, a bunch of federal agencies are keeping wiretaps and hidden microphones everywhere, keeping dibs on the mob-related people he's in the caper with. There are a bunch of great performances, included Garret Morris, who later was a founding Saturday Night Live member, and a very young Christopher Walken.

A series that I never thought would be released on DVD, Nash Bridges, has had the first two seasons issued. File this one under "guilty pleasure." Don Johnson portrays San Francisco detective Nash Bridges. His partner Joe Dominquez is played by Cheech Marin. Bridges lives with his irascable father, played by the great character actor James Gammon (you may remember him as the manager in "Major League."). Nash has problems all around-- a couple of ex-wives, a daughter who's now on the police force, old enemies with scores to settle and a motley crew of fellow cops, including Steppenwolf Theater co-founder Jeff Perry.

Movies still on my wish list:

Sammy and Rosie Get Laid
Flight To Ashiya
Fate Is the Hunter
The Crowded Sky

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Easier Way


I started my Anatomy class this morning. A friend of mine took the teacher before and highly recommended him. I can see why; he's easy-going, clear and has a sense of humor.

Like most college classes, we spent the first class going through the syllabus, textbook requirements, class rules, procedures, etc. He also covered cheating. As a former teacher, I certainly could relate: he told stories of students cheating in the past-- primarily writing "cheat sheets," including one creative student who had a retractable cheat sheet that he could slip up his sleeve when he waved his hand over his hair. Obviously, the teacher caught him.

I noted that as a teacher, I'd observed the same thing that he observed-- that most students who cheat end up putting more effort into it than if they had simply studied.

I was reminded of a story I read years ago involving the great actor Sir Lawrence Olivier, who was making the less-than-great movie Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman had to film a scene with Olivier in which Olivier tortures him with dental instruments. Hoffman showed up for that day's filming haggard and exhausted-looking. Olivier was concerned, and asked him what was wrong. Method actor Hoffman replied that anticipating a scene in which he was required to appear beaten up and exhausted, he had stayed up all night. Olivier, incredulous, replied "My dear boy-- wouldn't it have been easier to simply act?"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

One More Time


Back about a year and a half ago, in July of 2007, I posted about this bumper sticker, which I spotted near my home, and saw a lot for the last couple of years.

A lot of people had those "countdown" things on their blogs, counting down the days until the end of George W. Bush's administration. Back then, the counters had about 500 days on them. It was, at times, a little disheartening. 1/20/09 seemed years away.

Today, I missed Barack Obama's inauguration; I had a doctor's appointment at 11:30, and had to leave just before Yomo Ma, Perlman and company began the performance that preceded the ceremony. I was content, though; the CNN commentator mentioned that the ceremony was only for show. As per the constitution, at noon Eastern time (11 am local time) Senator Barack Obama became President Barack Obama, regardless as to whether the the swearing-in had occurred.

I drove over to my doctor's office. It was a combination of a follow-up to my visit last week and a routine physical.

After checking my vital signs and asking a few questions, the doctor made the diagnosis of asthma official. She told me that she was going to prescribe Advair and see how I did with that. She ran me through the physical and we discussed my blood pressure, which had improved a lot, but was still high. She sent me to the lab in her office for a tetanus shot and a flu shot-- the latter is highly recommended for people with asthma.

As I walked to my car, I recalled a conversation last night with a young (20's) co-worker about my memories of Martin Luther King's murder, over 40 years ago. My family lived in pre-gentrification Lincoln Park. The little mixed island my family lived in was surrounded by African-American and Puerto Rican neighborhoods. I recalled to her how the teachers at Lincoln Elementary School had had to walk us home the next day; there was rioting and shooting a few blocks away. That day seemed at once a million years ago and just yesterday.

I got in my car and stopped at Trader Joe's to pick up something quick to prepare for lunch; I was ravenously hungry. Since my doctor wanted to test my cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar, I hadn't been able to eat since last night. When I walked back to my car, I noticed that the minivan parked next to my car had an Obama sticker, and also the same sticker pictured at the top of this post. It suddenly sunk in right then: "Hot damn! That's today!"

Today seemed so far off a year and a half ago. I couldn't wait to get Bush and his truly evil cabal out of office. I would have taken just about anybody other than him, including a lot of Republicans.

Since then, things have gotten even worse here in the United States and the rest of the world.

We had our primaries, then our election. In the end, not only did we get a Democrat, as I had hoped, but we got, I believe, the brightest, most creative and compassionate one of the bunch. Godspeed, President Obama. Let's see what you and we can do to get this country back on track.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Saturday, January 17, 2009

My Old School


"Well I did not think the girl
Could be so cruel
And I'm never going back
To My Old School
"
-My Old School, Steely Dan

I mentioned the other day that I had to drive out to LaGrange, Illinois to get my high school transcripts in order to complete my nursing school application.

It was all a little strange. First, I had trouble remembering the geography of the area. I hadn't driven around there much in the last thirty years.

I remembered that there were "No Parking" zones around the school to keep students from clogging up the neighborhood around the school with their cars. I parked a couple of blocks away in a two-hour parking zone.

I chuckled as I walked to the school; my senior year, 1978-1979, we'd had two record snowstorms within a month, resulting in massive amounts of snow, and eventually political changes in Chicago, as Michael Bilandic, the mayor who'd succeeded Richard J. Daley, failed to get snow removed. 30 years later, we're having a record amount of snow here in Chicago, and the several feet of snow on the ground echoed that time three decades ago.

I had to walk to the front entrance of the building (pictured above), something I rarely used when I attended the school. In the relatively carefree seventies, we were able to use side entrances to get in. I imagine they don't do this anymore.

I checked in with the security guard, who scanned my driver's license picture in, and handed me a picture name tag that indicated where I was headed.

I had to have very precise directions; it's amazing how much you can forget in 30 years.

As I approached the records office, I stopped at a display they had with famous graduates of Lyons Township High School. I knew of one of them-- actor Michael Hitchcock, Class of 1976, who has appeared in a couple of Christopher Guest's "mockumentaries." In Best In Show, he portrayed the awful yuppie who was married to Parker Posey. In A Mighty Wind, he plays a beleagered stage manager.

Another famous (at least locally) graduate I didn't know of before I saw the display is Chicago Transit Authority Ron Huberman.

I was puzzled why they didn't have LT's most famous graduate: David Hasslehof, Class of 1970.

I walked around the corner and entered the records office. I thanked the lady running the office for expediting my transcript request. I turned, exited the office and steeled myself to go back out into the cold.

As I walked back to my car, I stopped to take a couple of snapshots of my old school. I mused how strange it was-- I had changed so much. Since leaving that school, I'd gotten three college degrees, become a father, been married and divorced twice and married again, become a stepfather and started work on one more college degree. Nearly all, if not all, of the teachers and administrators I dealt with back then are gone-- retired, some passed away. The kids inhabiting that building were born years after I'd finished college. I noted that other than having new windows, the building was the same as I'd left it.

Sometime this year, there's going to be a 30th Year Reunion for the Lyons Township High School Class of 1979. I've gotten notices about it. I'm still on the fence as to whether I'll go. If I do, I think it'll be more out of curiosity than nostalgia, for I truly believe that my best times are ahead of me, not behind.

My Favorite Bumper Sticker So Far This Year

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Below-Zero Friday Random Ten

It's 17 below zero here in Chicago-- and that's without the wind chill. We've had more snow already than we usually have in an entire winter. I'm officially tired of winter.

1. Someday Baby- Bob Dylan
2. Take Me Down To Lover's Row- Robert Mitchum
3. Ringo- Lorne Greene
4. Self Control- Raf
5. William Butler Yeats Visits Lincoln Park and Escapes Unscathed- Phil Ochs
6. Dime Store Mystery- Lou Reed and John Cale
7. It's a Family Affair- Sly and the Family Stone
8. I Generate A Feeling- Pete Shelley
9. X-Ray Style- Joe Strummer and the Mescaleroes
10. Crawling King Snake- The Doors


Notes:
1. From "Modern Times."
2. Yes, that Robert Mitchum
3. Yes, that Lorne Greene. He had a hit single with this one.
4. The darker original version of the song later covered by an American singer.
5. Phil Ochs' cryptic and bitter song about the 1968 Democratic Convention demonstrations.
6. Lou Reed and John Cale musing about their friend Andy Warhol's last moments.
7. Man, I love this band.
8. From Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley's 1981 solo album
9. Man, I still miss Joe Strummer. I think I always will.
10. The Doors covering John Lee Hooker. From the great "LA Woman" album.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dear Norm...


Note to Norm Coleman:
Norm-- don't be a douchebag. Don't drag this through the courts for months, making Minnesota go without a Senator until you've exhausted your pathetic, futile legal maneuvers. Concede. Al Franken won.

Love and Kisses,
Johnny Yen

P.S.
Woo hoo hoo! Al Franken won! Al Franken won! Al Franken's gonna be a Senator!

Can you tell I'm feeling my feisty old self again?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Breathing A Sigh Of Relief.

A couple of weeks ago, I started feeling a tightness in my chest that i thought was a cold brewing or an upper respiratory infection. I waited a couple of days for it to pass. I even went out and dug parking spaces for my and Kim's cars, and in true Chicago fashion, marked them off with folding chairs. I worked, played with my kids, ran errands-- and continued to feel worse and worse. I had zero energy. Though I'm still on break from school and was hoping to read, blog and do all the things I enjoy, I had no energy to do anything I wanted to do. I rested every spare moment. Finally, I came home from work Sunday night and ended up having to spend the night sleeping in another room so that Kim, who had to work in the morning, could sleep. I was coughing and coughing, though it was not a "productive cough," the term that the doctors and nurses would use. I propped myself up with pillows, coughing and gasping for breath, until I finally fell asleep for a couple of hours at a time. I conceded; I asked Kim to make an appointment with the doctor for me.

Fortunately, she was able to get me in the next day. I had to run to school to check on the progress of my nursing school application in the morning. I discovered, to my aggravation, that they had neglected to mention that they needed a high school transcript, in addition to the college transcripts I'd already provided for them. In fact, I'd had a high school transcript sent to them in 1989, when I first attended the school (Spanish classes) but they discard them after seven years.

I went home in a furor and called the records office at my high school. The woman who runs the records department, bless her heart, emailed me the request form, so that I could fill it out and Kim could fax it from work, and they could have the transcripts ready for me to pick when I came in the next day.

That left the doctor's visit. Fortunately, I was able to get a parking spot across the street from the building-- miraculous, if you know how bad parking is in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. I went upstairs, provided my insurance card and other information, and was very quickly in the doctor's office.

A nurse came in and took the usual beginning measurements--temperature (normal) and blood pressure-- not normal. High. Dangerously high.

The nurse, and then the doctor asked me some screening questions. How long had I been short of breath and coughing? Over a week. Had this happened before?

Yes.

As i thought about it, I realized that this had happened many, many times over the years. It had happened since I was little. I had never given it much thought since it had been happening pretty much as long as I could remember.

I think that the doctor and I thought of it at the same time: Asthma.

My son was diagnosed with it when he was very young, and about two years ago, it took an uptick for the worse. Days of coughing, without an accompanying cold or flu. I have to stay on him to use his inhaler, and once in a while, he gets prednisone tablets or a treatment with an albuterol nebulizer. It had never occurred to me that I had the same symptoms.

After a bunch of questions, my doctor said that she strongly suspected that it was asthma. She decided to put me on an albuterol nebulizer for about ten minutes and see the results.

The results were dramatic. Half way through the treatment, my breathing eased markedly. By the end of it, I was no longer gasping for breath.

She wanted, however, to run a couple of other blood tests just to rule out two other things it could be. She wrote me out a prescription for asthma meds-- a week-long regimen of prednisone, and of course, an albuterol inhaler.

I was directed to a chair and a nurse drew two blood samples from my arm. My doctor told me that one of the possibilities, very remote, was that I had a blood clot in one of my lungs. Since that could potentially be fatal, she was rushing that and the other test. She would call me, she told me, in a few hours, with the results.

I stopped at CVS and filled my prescriptions and called my boss just to warn him that I might be a few minutes late because of having to stop at the pharmacy. I got my prescriptions, went home, grabbed a quick bite to eat and walked to work.

I'd been there for about an hour when my doctor called. The "D-Dimer" test, the test for the presence of a protein that sometimes indicates the presence of a blood clot, was slightly elevated. She'd arranged for me to be admitted immediately into Northwestern Hospital's emergency room,

I was a little stunned. i told her that i was at work and that it might be a couple of hours before I could make it in. She said that a couple of hours would be okay, but no longer.

I talked to my boss, a guy I've worked for for ten years, and told him what had happened. I asked if it was okay to be cut early if it weren't busy. He looked at me incredulously and said "You go now. I'll help out Oscar (the other guy working last night) You need to go to the hospital."

He's a good guy, you might have guessed.

I called Kim, who was just picking Mel up at our friend Wendy's home. She made arrangements for Mel to stay there, and met me at home (I had wanted to change out of my work clothes). She made me pack stuff in case I was there overnight, and we took off for Northwestern Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago.

My doctor had made arrangements ahead of time. They got my information and I was in there inside of ten minutes.

Over the course of the next couple of hours, I talked to three doctors (two were residents-- Northwestern is a teaching hospital) and two nurses. They took blood samples-- they needed to make sure my kidneys were working all right before giving me the dye for the CT scan they planned on giving me. They gave me an EKG (normal, like the one I'd had in the doctor's office) and a chest x-ray. Finally, I was wheeled in for my CT scan. This gave Kim a chance to run to the cafeteria and grab a sandwich for dinner.

We waited another half hour. I'd fortunately thought to bring a book ("Dream Brother", a great dual biography of father and son musicians Tim and Jeff Buckley). Finally came the news: no blood clot. I was quite relieved, as was Kim.

I got dressed, we stopped by the checkout area, got in the car and went home.

Yesterday, I got up, had breakfast, took the first dose of the prednisone I'll be taking for a week, took the first hit off the albuterol inhaler I'll apparently be using the rest of my life, and drove out to my old high school for my 30 year old transcripts (that's grist for another post).

I got home, took care of some things around the house and picked my stepdaughter up from school. We went to the library, like we do every Tuesday, where I got a call from my doctor. She thanked me for going to the emergency room and confirmed what they'd told me at the hospital.

That was not all, though. She said that through the CT, they'd spotted a hiatal hernia and a cyst on one of my kidneys. I hadn't had any symptoms from either of these (most people don't). Neither of these should pose a problem.

In the meantime, my doctor transferred me to her receptionist, who scheduled me for a follow-up/full physical for next Tuesday (Inauguration Day!).

I'm thankful today for a lot of things. First, that I have a wife who badgered me into going to the doctor-- I'm not sure I would have if she weren't around. Second, that I have medical insurance. This is going to cost plenty even with it. And third, that I finally solved a medical problem that I've had for years. I can finally breath a sigh of relief. Or just breath.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Transitional Friday Random Ten

Some work changes coming up. I parted amicably with my Evanston employer in order to be able to shift my schedule at my main job. I was only working one shift a week there, and frequently not even that. Thanks again to my friends Lulu and Ten-S for helping me get that job when I needed it.

I don't go back to school until the 20th. My friend Leslie has lent me the textbook for Anatomy, which she's taken already. This will save me a nice chunk of change. Another nice turn someone did me this week was the woman who deals with the transcripts at North Central College. I discovered that my school hadn't recieved (or had lost) the transcripts I'd sent from North Central. I need to prove that I've had a college math class, and I took Calculus there 30 years ago. Despite the fact that they normally charge $15 for expedited requests and the fact that it was a hectic time, the beginning of the term, she sent it right out. I had her send it to me. It arrived Thursday. On Monday, I'll put it in the hands of the people at the registrar's office and my application to nursing school will be complete.

1. Harborcoat- REM
2. Starry Eyes- The Records
3. We Will Not Be Lovers- The Waterboys
4. Send In the Clowns- Judy Collins
5. Shakin'- Eddie Money
6. I Ain't Got No Home- Bruce Springsteen
7. Rattlesnakes- Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
8. The Great Defender (Down At The Arcade)- Lou Reed
9. The Righteous and the Wicked- Red Hot Chili Peppers
10. Donna- David Johansen


Notes:
1. From Reckoning, my favorite REM album.
2. A great one-hit wonder from the late seventies.
3. Do yourself a favor and get "Fisherman's Blues."
4. Actually, on January 20th, we're sending out the clowns.
5. I must admit, I loved most of Eddie Money's hits.
6. Springsteen doing a powerful Woody Guthrie song about a man broken by the Great Depression.
7. Title track to my favorite Lloyd Cole album.
8. Lou Reed's homage to video games from his great 1984 album "New Sensations."
9. I still love "Bloodsugarsexmagic."
10. Thought that Elvis and David Bowie were the only great rockers who had a birthday today? Guess again: Happy 59th to New York Doll David Johansen!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Home At Last

I know this super highway
This bright familiar sun
I guess that I'm the lucky one
Who wrote that tired sea song
Set on this peaceful shore
You think you've heard this one before

Well the danger on the rocks is surely past
Still I remain tied to the mast
Could it be that I have found my home at last
Home at last


--"Home At Last", Steely Dan

Sorry to have been MIA for most of the last couple of weeks. I needed to do Christmas, work a lot, travel a lot and generally decompress from a big year.

Let's start with Christmas. Christmas was great. The kids were lamenting the fact that all of their friends had a Wii game system and they didn't. Ha. I set out to buy one at the end of the summer; I knew how difficult they'd become to procure. In August, I found one at the Toys 'R Us store near us, in the strip mall where Riverview Amusement Park used to be. Since then, Kim and I have taken turns buying the various games we knew they'd like. We got the Wii Sports pack, which has tennis, baseball and other things, a World War II Fighter game for Adam, and Mario Carts.

Our real coup though was when I was shopping for Rock Band. I nearly bought Rock Band 1, but fortunately did a little research first and discovered that Rock Band for the Wii was missing some of the functions that the Rock Band for other systems had, such as the ability to play other teams online, and most importantly, the ability to download new songs. I found out that this was going to be remedied in the November release of Rock Band 2. I preordered Rock Band 2 for Wii on Amazon.

A couple of weeks before the scheduled release of Rock Band 2, I got an email from Amazon that the Wii version of Rock Band 2 had been postponed until the end of January. I was bummed, but figured a late Rock Band 2 was better than none at all. I got another email telling me that it had been moved up a little, to the week after Christmas. It wouldn't be there for Christmas, but at least soon afterward.

Then, a few days before Christmas, I got another email from Amazon. Miraculously, the release for Rock Band 2 for Wii had been moved up; it had been shipped. It was there two days later, on December 22. I wrapped it and hid it.

When Adam's mother and I had our epic custody battle, we settled on Christmas Eve at my home and Christmas at hers. My family started opening presents on Christmas Eve when I started working my first job; I always worked on Christmas at Walgreen's. I got time-and-a-half holiday pay. I went and picked up Adam on Christmas Eve, and we unwrapped presents.

Full disclosure here: I'm the guy you hate. I start Christmas shopping in July.

Kim loved the pink Canon digital camera I got her, plus the case, extra battery and 2 Gig SD card that the "kids got her" (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Mel enjoyed the new Karaoke discs she got; they had some of her favorites, like the Turtles' "Happy Together" and the Monkees' "Daydream Believer." And Adam enjoyed not only the Wii World War II fighter game, but also the Star Trek: The Next Generation box sets we got him (Seasons 2, 3, 4, and 6).

Oh, and Mr. Political Junkie loved the vintage Spiro Agnew watch I managed to cadge on Ebay.

Oh, and a couple of other little things. My kids love that Christopher Walken/Will Ferrell "More Cowbell" bit from Saturday Night Live, and "More Cowbell!" is a family punchline. I got them both cowbells. Plus I got Kim a Tamborine. The deal is that we won't always play Rock Band 2; we'll do real family hootenannies, with me on guitar, one kid on cowbell, the other on the bongo drum we picked up at a garage sale a while back and Kim as the pretty girl on the tamborine. And I got both kids "travel" versions of Yahtzee.

And what about Johnny Yen, you're asking?

I scored the Trifecta of great gifts.

One of the benefits of being able to listen to Little Steven's Underground Garage on satellite radio (a birthday gift from Kim a couple of years ago) is that I've discovered a bunch of old Dion songs beyond "The Wanderer," "Ruby Baby" and "Abraham, Martin and John," songs I've loved for years. She got me the Dion: Greatest Hits cd. It has marvels like "King of the New York Streets," "This Little Girl," "Drip Drop," and the Bruce Springsteen-penned "If I Should Fall Behind."

I also got a book I'd wanted for years, but never got because of the cost: The Encyclopedia of Chicago. It's an amazing book. It's got articles on every neighborhood, every ethnic group, every major historical event, every major political figure-- in short, just about anything you'd want to know about my hometown, and some things you'd never have imagined.

The third part of the trifecta was another indulgence I would never had justified, with two kids to provide for: Season Two of Rod Serling's Night Gallery show. I loved Serling's "Twilight Zone," but as an 11 and 12 year old in the early '70's, dealing (not too well) with his family's move to the suburbs, the show gave me a lot of pleasure. It was a mix of the macabre, the mysterious, horror, and sometimes an improbably happy ending.

Oh, and on top of that was a great Christmas Eve meal, thanks, in part, to my friend and co-worker Karol. She'd gotten a 12 pound frozen turkey from her other job. She lives alone and could never have cooked and eaten the thing. I cooked that up, with my fabled mashed potatoes (I'll post about how to make those soon) and my also wicked-good broccoli and cheese casserole. (I'll post about that one too).

We had a marvelous Christmas Eve. The kids traded off on games they played together and individually, and then we put together our Rock Band 2 profiles. We named our band after a mercifully long-gone neighbor: "Psycho Neighbor." We practiced and played songs by Beck, the Smashing Pumpkins and others and once I got the hang of Wii guitar, we started winning accolades, and even more importantly, some money and a shitty used van with which we could start touring.

I dug my car out of the ice and snow and I dropped Adam off at the agreed-upon 10 PM.

Chirstmas day, we hung around here and then went, at night, to our lovely friends Greg and Christina's home (Kim and I got married there three years ago). for drinks that night. We had, of course, a lovely time with them and their friends and family.

I'd asked my ex if I could pick Adam up on December 26th, a day early, and head down my folks' place with him. She demurred, knowing that he'd be up late on Christmas with her family. It turned out that there was an ice storm and all of the expressways and interstates in northern Illinois and Indiana (all of the ones we would have taken) were closed that morning. I was, however, able to pick him up that night and the next morning we headed off for our twice-yearly trek to Eastern Tennessee to see my folks.

The trip down there was smooth. The Skyway and Indiana Toll Road now take the "Ipass," so we didn't have to wait in a line to pay a toll. They've finally finished the junction between the Indiana Toll Road and I-65, so that went smoothly. We had clear weather once we got out of the Chicago area.

Our visit was great. I had good talks with both of my folks. My father was in much better shape than I've seen him in a couple of years. He seems to finally be gaining strength back from his cancer surgery two and a half years ago. Since a good portion of his digestive system was removed, there were a lot of things he couldn't eat. As he's healed, he's able to eat again.

We left December 30. Adam woke me up at 6 am (5 am Chicago time). We ate, got the car loaded up, said goodbye and took off. Within 20 minutes or so, he dozed off. The rat.

About 200 miles into our trip, on I-64 in Kentucky, I heard a big "boom" and the car started wobbling. I realized right away that I'd had a tire blowout. Fortunately, I was able to get the car over. More good luck in with the bad; not only was the tire on the passenger side, but I was able to get my Toyota onto a double shoulder. That was good, because there were dozens of semis running down the interstate.

After a little frustration finding part of the jack, I was able to put the "doughnut" spare on. And there's where the trip turned frustrating. I stopped at a half dozen places in Indiana trying to get the tire fixed to no avail. Every place I went wanted me to wait an hour to two hours. No dice. I wanted to get back to Chicago for an important reason: December 30 is my and Kim's anniversary. We have never, ever been able to be together on our anniversary in the three years we've been married. We usually split to see our families around the holidays, hers in Minnesota and my parents in Tennessee. For once, we had a one-day overlap when I'd be back from my trip, before she took off for hers.

Luck was with us. From the looks of it, the "doughnut" spare had never been used. I needed to add air, but other than that, we were able to make it to Chicago on it. It may have been just as well. When I took it to my guy here in Chicago, he told me the tire was irreperable. I would probably had to have had a brand new (expensive) tire put on if I'd been able to get anybody in Indiana to service my car. My tire guy, whose shop is on Western and Lawrence, was able to put a good used tire on for $35.

In any event, I made it back home. Adam played his World War II combat game; Mel was at Greg and Christina's place-- they'd kindly offered to have Mel overnight so that we could, for the first time, be together for our anniversary. Kim and I were able to go out and have a drink on our anniversary.

A few months into our marriage, Kim only half jokingly pointed out that our marriage was now my second-longest marriage (Wife #1 and I split at 3 months) Cynthia and I had split at 3 years. As of the day after December 30th, this was now my longest marriage.

Kim and Mel took off on New Year's Eve for Minnesota. I dropped Adam off at my ex's house and went in to work a rockin' New Year's Eve. It was a great night-- I had a lot of fun with many of our regulars and made the most money I've made in one night ever as a waiter. The next day was good too-- made an almost equal amount. I was relieved; I'd taken a big gamble in taking a weekend off to go on my trip. It turns out that it was okay. I Made nearly as much in two days as I normally make in a week.

I spent the next couple of days relaxing and reading. Between travel and work, I was beat. Turns out I had an upper respiratory infection brewing, as well, so it was just as well I lay low.

I've got a couple of more weeks before class resumes, giving me time to tie off some loose ends. It turned out that one of my transcripts never arrived-- they can't process my application for nursing school without it. I re-ordered those.

In the meantime, I'm getting ready for what looks like a busy year, with some changes possible. My life is quite different from what it was just a few years ago. There have been tough times to be sure, but mostly great times. I believe I have found my home at last.

RIP Ron Asheton, 1948-2009

The New York Times Online is reporting that Ron Asheton, the guitarist for Iggy Pop's pioneering punk band The Stooges was found dead in his Ann Arborn, Michigan home, apparently of natural causes.

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/06/arts/AP-Obit-Ron-Asheton.html

Asheton's incredible guitar was a key component of Stooges' sound, particularly in a couple of my favorites of theirs, 1969 and Now I Wanna Be Your Dog. When I went with my old friend Dan to see the reconstituted Stooges (with ex-Minuteman, ex-Firehose bassist Mike Watt filling in for their long-deceased bass player) at the Congress Theater here in Chicago, they played both of those, and sounded great.

I've embedded several Youtube clips. The first is from that same tour, at a show in Europe, performing 1969 and Down In the Streets. The second one is the studio take of 1969. The third is the studio version of Now I Wanna Be Your Dog. In Ron Asheton's memory, I want you to crank one of them up as loud as you can and dance around to it. It's okay if you're at work-- tell the boss I said it was okay.





Friday, January 02, 2009

Friday Random Ten For A New Year

I worked New Year's Eve and New Year's Day back to back. They were both great shifts; my coffers are filled and my back is sore. I've been taking it easy today.

1. Darlin' Companion- Johnny Cash and June Carter
2. Patience- Lloyd Cole
3. Cleaning Windows- Van Morrison
4. Is It A Crime- Sade
5. Hayday- The Replacements
6. Jet Boy, Jet Girl- The Damned
7. Handbags and Gladrags- Rod Stewart
8. Come And Get It- Badfinger
9. Georgia- Boz Scaggs
10. Modern Love- Peter Gabriel


Notes:
1. From the "Live At San Quentin" album. Cash and his wife Carter cover a John Sebastian song.
2. From the great "Rattlesnakes" album.
3. My favorite Sade song.
4. A beautiful little number about the joys of a simple life.
5. From "Hootenanny."
6. The Damned's cover of Plastic Bertrand's classic "Ca Plane Pour Moi."
7. Chris Farlowe also did a nice version of this one (thanks Samurai Frog!)
8. Badfinger was the first group signed to the Beatles' Apple Records label. This song was written by Paul McCartney.
9. One of my favorite songs. From the "Silk Degrees" album.
10. From Peter Gabriel's first solo album, which came out in 1977.