Friday, October 26, 2018

Master of None

This morning while driving to work the song “Butterfly” by The Choir came up on shuffle play and I immediately broke down in tears. This is one of the songs I consider to be a classic example of Tim Chandler’s style, with groaning swells and playful sliding in the instrumental section. The reason for the tears is that Tim Chandler passed away about two weeks ago and he will never again grace the world with new and exotic (yet still melodic) bass lines. But this post isn’t really about Tim’s passing, although it is related.

One of my daughters used to say that she wished she was really, really good at just one thing. My wife and I would argue that she is extremely talented at makeup (her own and friends who ask her to do their makeup for proms and photo shoots) but she denies it. Tim was an incredibly gifted musician, a man whose unique style should have elevated his name to that of Flea and Claypool (that is, if the world even knew what a bass player does, which in this case Tim often colored waaaaay outside of the lines). If there was one thing that Tim did well, it was music related.

In the past couple of days this started me thinking about myself. Is there anything I do really well? It would be fantastic if I could say that yes, I Kickapoo at my job but in reality, I’m a solid B player. There are a couple of A players on my team, including one guy who just received an employee of the quarter award for the second time in three years… out of a company of thousands. He’s now my arch-nemesis. My strength comes in creative solutions and while I started at this company when it was quite young, it’s since been bought out and most of the problems have been solved. And so I maintain data instead.

In mentioning this to my wife she stated that I’m good at woodworking and music, but I disagree. I’m capable at both (well, capable at woodworking and merely mediocre at music) but excel in neither. I can “get the job done” in both but I wouldn’t say that either of them is elevated to a level of fine craftsmanship. Which is pretty much my problem… the stereotypical “jack of all trades and master of none.” Perhaps hundreds of years ago I would have been a tinker, that guy driving from town to town in his wagon full of junk, fixing things just well enough so that there would be work for me again the next time I came to town. Or in the 1950s I think I would have been an excellent special effects guy, in a time when there were no rulebooks and you had to mix art with science and one guy had to do a little bit of everything. Or maybe I should have been a Jim Henson muppeteer. I’ve often found myself drawn to the world of puppets, although maybe this thought is because I just finished reading a book on the creation and history of Sesame Street.

My wife also mentioned writing and this is a tough one to gauge. Like music, I write because I have to*. I’ve been “coming up with content” ever since I learned to read and write. But how would I know if I’m decent at it? I’ve submitted a few of my stories for publication and all have been rejected. Sure, tales abound of some famous author who had a now classic novel rejected by thirty publishers before it found a home but my skin is not that thick. Maybe it should be. Maybe 2019 is the year I take the small trove of stories that I’ve written and shop them around in earnest. The problem is that no one gets rich on short stories and I really need to get rich by the summer of 2019. Seriously.

I don't mean for all of this to sound like a downer. I've had worse times in my life by far. It's just something ruminating in the back of my mind as I get closer to age 50 and come to terms with "Yeah, this is probably it. I shouldn't expect any kind of massive upswings." To quote another dead musician, "It is what it is what it is."

* If I don’t have something that I’m working on, like writing or a song or a home project, then I feel unconnected and of low worth. Yes, I know I should probably see a professional and get this fixed.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

My Kids Need Friends

Within the past couple of years I've come to terms with the fact that God doesn't want me to have any Christian friends, or any friends* for that matter. I'm 47 and I've been praying and trying for a very long time and now I've given up. And I guess I'm okay with that. Really, what choice do I have?

The hard part is seeing your kids face rejection on the same front. Sure, I know I'm some kind of freak that causes normal people to feel uncomfortable**, but you want more for your kids. Thankfully God has blessed me with a wife from the same planet as me, though apparently from a different continent. My kids don't even have that. Many are the times that my wife and I have said that we wished we could just be "normal" and blend in with the people who spend all day golfing on Saturdays or hang out at tailgate parties or "get sports" or binge watch whatever is the latest hot show on Netflix. But it's not to be. And so we hope with each child that they may somehow break the curse and be blessed with friends.

But those apples fall close to the trees and such a genetic mutation is something Darwin could only dare dream about. Our kids are like us. Dorks. That don't fit in. The way I figure it, you've got the 40% of "normals" who all follow the same trends and do the same things, Christian or otherwise. I'm not knocking them. Like I said, many times I've wished I could just not care about things and just blend in. But even though there are more nerd/dorks/dweebs than normals they are fractured. There are the Star Wars geeks and the Star Trek geeks and the Dr. Who geeks. There are the music nerds who like jam bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead. And then there are the people who like Dave Matthews band, but I really think these are just normals. There are the Rush prog-rock fans and the (name your poison) prog rock fan. And ne'ver the two shall meet. Good luck finding someone similar in THAT mess!

We've been praying for years that God would give each of our children one good Christian friend. Just one. It's not like we're asking for them to have expensive sports cars or great hair. Just one Christian friend to encourage them and help them grow. Iron sharpens iron and that kind of thing. I mean, it's ultimately for HIS glory! All I'm asking is for another coal to be next to theirs so their passion isn't extinguished. But apparently God has so far reviewed our requests, flipped us the bird and said "Request denied, you dork. I only grant the prayers of normals." It's a bitter pill to swallow but I see no evidence to the contrary. This doesn't give me much hope that God's listening to our prayers for their future spouses.

* Meaning friends that I can call up and/or hang out with. I guess I'm pretty sucky at hanging out. I'm more of a "project" relationship person. I have a couple of cyber friends but no one closer than 100+ miles away.***

** And when I try to be normal I just become boring instead, mostly to myself.

*** As if this needed a punctuation mark, yesterday Tim Chandler, one of my very best long-distance friends, passed away. Tim or I would call each other every few months and he always made me laugh and feel loved. Now he's gone too.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

This Too Didn't Pass Two

If you read this bloggy post and the updates you'll know that I bought the lavender Danelectro DC 59 but that it had a slight neck bend. After my original fix I had to lower two of the nut slots even more to make it in tune, which made one of the strings quite low. Playing it in my usual position (sitting on the floor of my basement, as is my want), the top horn would poke into my less-than manly chest. It still sounded great, though.

And then...

This past summer there was a Craigslist ad for a plum Mod 6 for $450. It ran for a good long while and I considered calling the guy up to see if I could come play it but I didn't want to waste his time. When it comes to electric guitar, I'm not even close to being qualified to play a $450 guitar, especially one that often goes for $600 on eBay due to it's rarity. Then the Craigslist ad went away and I settled for the $150 DC 59. And the boy was happy.

But not really.

Okay, I really was happy. I liked the DC59 plenty but it wasn't exactly a great player. And then a co-worker told me that the Craigslist ad came back. FOR $300!!! I am EXACTLY a $300 guitar player! The very next day, over my lunch, I met with the guy, gave the guitar an all-too quick look over, and handed over a wad of twenties.

Here it is! It's like a piece of modern art! After I spent an hour carefully cleaning everything (and spraying copious amounts of electronic contact cleaner into the switches to make them work reliably) it looks even better than in the picture (less dark, more sparkly). Even better, it plays like a dream and doesn't poke me in the chest!

So there I was with two Danelectro guitars in the house and only money for one. Fortunately Guitar Center has a 45 day return policy, even on used guitars! I couldn't believe it! It went back in a flash. The crazy thing is that if the guitar had been shipped on time I would have just missed the 45 day window. I'd say that was God giving me a tickle, which I need because right now I'm spiritually in cruise control. It just seems like nothing is happening and any prayers I toss up hit a lead ceiling. So this was a nice touch that He didn't have to do, a kind of "Hey kid, I'm watching out for you." Thanks, generous Diety!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Biscuits and Gravy Review : The Dash-In

The Dash-In has been around for at least twenty years. They sell over-priced sammiches at lunch and host live music in the evenings. You're almost guaranteed to see a hipster or two inside wearing flannel*. A full order of biscuits and gravy is a whopping eight bucks so I broke my own rule and just ordered a halfsie for a still whopping $4. And then I waited.

And waited.

And waited some more. It took twelve minutes before my food arrived and that place was NOT busy. There were other patrons, sure, but the place was far from capacity. I suppose one could Dash-In but you aren't going to be Dashing-Out any time soon.

When they finally brought my vittles this is what I got. Pretty, yes? The green onions are a nice touch, giving a nice zing of flavor when you chance upon one. That's about the only positive thing I can say. The biscuit, while large and homemade, had not been warmed. It tasted okay, though, and had a good non-gummy consistency. Slap some butter on it and throw it on the grill and it might have been the bomb-diggity.

As for the gravy, well, maybe my order had sat for a while waiting to be delivered to my table but it was barely past the warm stage. I think I had one bite that could be characterized as "hot." The meat was of a decent amount but it was pink/grey and had a strange texture. Maybe, being a hipster place, it was free-range goat meat. For as cold as it was I'm surprised that the gravy was not gelatinous, but it had an okay flavor with just a hint of spice. It was skimpy in volume, although I was able to make it stretch for the whole meal. Overall it was a disappointing experience and I'm glad I didn't throw away eight hard-earned dollars.

Biscuits - 4
Gravy - 4
Value - 3
Service - 2

As far as I know this will be the last Biscuits and Gravy review, unless some other place downtown adds them to their menu. It's been a good, albeit brief, run.

So how are they ranked?

Arbys : 7.25
Comfort Food Cafe : 7.0
Cindy's Diner : 6.75
Revitalize Health Bar : 5.25
City View Cafe : 4.75
Dash-In : 3.25

That's a little embarrassing... a fast food place won. Keep in mind that this ranking includes service and value. But what if I was rich and had ample time and ranked them based on just the food?

Cindy's Diner : 6.5
City View Cafe : 6.0
Arbys : 6.0
Comfort Food Cafe : 5.5
Revitalize Health Bar : 4.5
Dash-In : 4.0

That's a bit better. I've actually had a hankerin' for more B&G from City View and Comfort Food Cafe**, which in my mind speaks volumes for the quality of their food.

* Back in the late 90s, before there were hipsters, you would see guys wearing flannel shirts and whatever else was trendy with grunge fans. I guess they were hipsters before hipsters became hip.

** Until I went back and looked a the vomitous picture of Comfort Foods Barfcuits and Gravy. It really is somewhat off-putting.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Biscuits and Gravy Review : Revitalize Health Bar

The Revitalize Health Bar is a very small cafe located on the ground floor of an office building. There's no seating in the cafe but you can sit at a table in the building lobby or outside, if you so desire. They normally serve smoothies and gluten free toast with almond butter but in the morning one can also get an order of biscuits and gravy*. I wasn't sure what to expect from a place that uses wheat grass in their food... Healthy biscuits and gravy?!?

The services was very quick! I placed my order, two biscuits were popped into the microwave for what seemed like ten seconds, and then they were topped with what looked like too little gravy. They were done preparing my food before the credit card machine approved my purchase! The cost was $4.95... no tax?

I'll start by saying that this isn't health food. There was no sprinkling of bean sprouts, no gluten free biscuits, no soy-based meat alternative. Nope. This is your basic, standard, no-frills biscuits and gravy. I have no idea why they serve them except there must be in demand**.

The biscuits were not homemade and were gummy. Definitely sub-par. The gravy, however, was good. It had a nice consistency, didn't gum up before I was done eating, and was actually just plentiful enough to last (although there could have always been more). There was an adequate amount of non-crisped sausage and it was in small enough pieces as to be non-obtrusive, adding a nice flavor. I wouldn't say the gravy was packed with flavor, though. It was just, well, adequate. I doubt it was made from scratch but it didn't have a goopy "I'M FROM A CAN" consistency.

Biscuits - 3
Gravy - 6
Value - 5
Service - 7

All in all, these are an amazingly average serving. Nothing stands out, nothing really detracts.

* Except in the summer months. Apparently healthy eaters don't eat B&G during the summer.

** Except in the summer months. Apparently healthy eaters don't eat B&G during the summer.

Friday, August 17, 2018

This Too Didn't Pass

Well, I made the plunge.

It's probably been a full year that I've been yearning for a twangy guitar. I thought about building a telecaster for $110 (plus another $200 in parts to make it a killer guitar). I looked and looked but didn't find any seafoam green paint, which is the color I really want. None at the hardware stores, none at the craft stores, none anywhere. But the thing is, I find the telecaster shape, while classic, to be boring.

Then an ad server served up a Talman 302PM, which has the telecaster pickup configuration but an updated but retro body shape. Nice. But I've already covered this. The ad server also served up the Peavy Riptide guitar which also has the telecaster pickup configuration. To me it looks too gumby, but it's growing on me. Especially the price of under $200 used.

In the end, though, I decided on a Danelectro. Not only are they twangy but people consider them quirky, a little bit off the beaten path. And although my job/life has beaten me into a boring shadow of the potentially interesting person I once was, I still feel a bit different from most of humanity. Plus some reviewers said that Danelectro guitars lend themselves to open chords and have a nice glassy tone. Since I'm more of a folk-open chord-strummer than I am a two or three string rock guitarist, it seems like the Danelectros were made for me.

But which model? They have some far out designs! The Wild Thing is truly a crazy thing. But it's just strange for strange sake. They have some other models that are boxy but I don't like boxy. So I decided on the classic DC 59. They started remaking these in 1998 or 1999 and the latest versions have a recessed bridge (for greater sustain) and New Old Stock pickups. New they go for $400 and if you're lucky you can find a used one for $250, although they normally sell for about $300. Plus they come in seafoam green!

Just when I thought I had things settled I was reminded about their Mod guitar, the first guitar shape that ever caught my eye. While I like the DC 59 it's a bit too, er, normal for me. It's too symmetrical. And DUDE, like, Jimmy Page played one on Kashmir. The Mod guitar, however, is asymmetrical and to me it's perfection. The problem is that they only made these for a couple of years and they are quite rare to find, especially the six string version. This is where I kick myself because for weeks there was a plum Mod 6 for sale on Craigslist just thirty minutes from home. However they wanted $450 for it. If I was only going to have one electric guitar in my life I could justify $450, given my current skill level. But not for guitar #3 so I never even drove over to play it and now it's gone. So I started checking the interwebs to see if a Mod would show up and their current price. It seems $400-$500 is the range, which is a bit too much.

And then it appeared on the Guitar Center site: a lavender DC 59 from 1999. For only $149! I called the store to ask a few questions about the guitar.

"Is the neck straight?"
"It's good."
"Are the frets worn?"
"They're good."

It went on like this. I really don't think they knew what they had and priced it too low. There was another lavender DC 59 on the same site from another store for $250. Now lavender isn't my top choice of color but it's better than black, white, or red. And this model was made in Korea, which is better than China. And the cord jack is on the face of the guitar instead of the side, which I don't care for. But hey, for $150 it's almost priced like a garage sale! How can I pass it up? So I called that store and it was a snafu getting it ordered. So I called the companies 800 number and they too had problems with their "draft" system. So I called the local store and they had problems but they took my information and said they would work on it and call me when the order went through. Which they did.

It's now been four business days since those calls and the site said three to five business days. Honestly I'm a bit skeptical that the guitar actually exists and that it's going to show up at my local Guitar Center. Will I get called today? Tomorrow? Who knows! Maybe never! Patience... who needs it?

Oh, and of course I found a clearance can of Pistachio paint at Walmart the day after I placed the order. Yes, I picked it up for $2. Who knows... maybe I'll need a project in a few years.

UPDATE It's now ten days since I ordered a guitar that was supposed to ship in 3-5 days. And still no guitar. Two days ago I called the local Guitar Center and they found something in their computers but still hadn't received the guitar and didn't have a tracking number for me. I was told that they would call the Laurel store in the morning when the manager was in and would call me back. They didn't call me back. So the next day I called them around 2:00 PM and after the usual story telling by me and they said that they would call the Laurel store and let me know what they found out. I said, "Nope. I'll call 'em myself."

I called and asked for a manager, told 'em my tale and he offered to look into it and call me back. I said I'd wait on hold. So I was on hold for about ten minutes and he came back on the line. "The guitar still shows as being in our inventory and I don't show that it was shipped out. Let me look at the security tapes and see what I can find out. You can wait on hold or I can call you back in about thirty minutes." This time I took him up on the offer.

True to his word, he called me back. Apparently on Monday when I ordered the guitar, the twin doofus team working the shift packed up the guitar into a Fender box but didn't label it or finish the job. The next morning an employee put this Fender box back into inventory/storage. The manager guy said that he would expedite the guitar to me and that I should have it on Friday. He also gave me a tracking number. I'm a bit more hopeful but I'll still believe it when I have the guitar in my hands.

UPDATE #2 I know you're all loosing sleep, wondering if I got the guitar. And yes, I did. There's a reason why it was $150. First off, Danelectro uses wide white tape for their decorative stripe and it was coming off the guitar at the neck joint. No biggie. I can replace it for around $10 if I'm so inclined. The guitar was covered with grime so the first thing I did was to clean it all down, using a toothbrush to get it all squeaky clean. Then I found that there was a problem with the intonation. I would tune the open strings but when I fretted a note it would be sharp. The culprit was the neck, a slight bow near the headstock. Just tighten the truss rod, right? Um... no truss rod. It turns out all I had to do was take a hack saw blade to the aluminum nut and lower the string Now it stays in tune and has that lovely Danelectro chime! My only problem is that the pickguard is an eighth-inch thick and since none of my guitars have pick guard I'm used to digging the pick in really deep so I keep finding myself knocking up against the pick guard. I'm learning to modify my playing technique, which is probably something I should be doing anyway.

Friday, August 3, 2018

I Can't Believe I'm Writing This

I'm reading a Donald Westlake book that I might not finish.

There. I said it. I've read almost all of his books that were published before his death and enjoyed all of them. The only ones left are those published after his death, the ones written when he was just getting started, The Blackbird, Comfort Station, Transylvania Station and High Jinx. Oh, and the political thriller Ex Officio, the book I'm reading now. At almost 500 pages it's much longer than his usual books. It's also written by a single-use alias, Timothy J. Culver, and it's boring.

Yes, a Westlake book that is boring. From interviews I glean that Westlake wrote this book mostly for the money and it seems like even he is bored. I'm about halfway through and found two things that made me laugh... the man couldn't resist! At a bar where two of the main characters go the bathrooms bear the titles "Pointers" and "Setters." No, Rollo isn't the bartender. The other chuckle came from a reference to a production company named Coe-Stark. I hope this continues to at least give some redeeming quality to the text. Otherwise I'm sure I'll skim it just so I can be a completest.

UPDATE: No surprise, I read it. Yes, I skimmed a bit in the middle. I was bored and I suspect that so was Westlake. It got a little bit better near the end where there was a kind of "caper", and you could sense Westlake getting into writing these parts, but overall it was the first mediocre Westlake book I've read. He was probably young and he needed the money.