Monday, November 29, 2004

Hey...I Gots Pitchers!

Been doin' some scannin'...
One my goals for the few days off I took for Thanksgiving was to finish off a couple rolls of film in both my regular camera and the disposable one I bought in Dallas a few weeks ago during the whirlwind three-day excursion accompanying my brother (who lives in Dallas) to Indanapolis. I naturally wanted to capture the festivities of the big TurkeyDay dinner that Michelle loves to put on, but also to get some good, updated pics of my kids, as some of you here in Blogland have requested to see.

So I snapped away all week and got 'em all developed, then I spent the better part of my Sunday scanning (in between watching football) several that I wanted to share. Many of them are germane to previous blog stories and I will actually be retro-posting them into those older stories later this week, but I'll give you a preview here.

I thought it would be a good idea to do this now before I continue with my current series, to sort of ease back into things, which I will be doing in earnest this week. I've stayed away for long enough. I'm eager to write and to once again make this community, my friends, a part of my daily life.

Remember...every picture tells a story...

Hope you enjoy 'em...


From my trip to California in August, with my friend Cindy at an Anaheim Angels game. GOTS'TA wear red at an Angels game. Great seats...great time!


The primary reason for that SoCal trip was of course to attend my 30th High School Reunion. Here are a few shots with some of my former classmates. Most of these guys I've really only gotten to know well *after* high school and when I started attending the reunions. Here the two folks to my right are now among my best ex-high school friends, Steve and his wife Shirley; the football god and his cheerleader girlfriend who got married right out of high school and have been going strong ever since — sort of an oddity for SoCal, but two of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet.

The fellow on the far left, Ted, was the most talented illustrator in my class. He was someone I was always envious of because I figured he would actually be the one who would go forth and make a living out of what *I* wanted to do. Today he has a successful construction company and I’m a web designer. Go figure.

And if the guy in the middle looks familiar, his twin brother is second from the left in the previous photo. They were both a couple of crazy mo-fo football players, and a helluva lot of fun to hang out with. That much at least hasn't changed about them.

This is rugged-looking dood is Phil, an erstwhile local rocker who I’ve known since Junior High. He would later come on to help me coach our sons’ Little League baseball team back in 1991. We had a great season, finishing 2nd out of 25 teams in the city. Another really good guy.

Right to Left, one of my former gymnastics teammates, Tim, yours truly, my good friend Laurie and her new hubby Fritz.

Blithely we go…

A quick FamPortrait from earlier this month in the lobby of the campus theater at UT Chattanooga. It was following my daughter Amy’s latest thesbian effort in the Theater Department’s performance of the Noel Coward comedy, Blithe Spirit. This time she was onstage instead of up in the booth, playing one of the lead roles as the not-so-dearly-departed “Elvira.” She did her usual faboo job, and is gaining in confidence with each new project.

Thanksgiving Week @ AJ Manor

My lovely wife doing what she loves to do but now only really gets to do on the big holidays: cook an incredible meal for a lot of people. Of course Mom-in-law helped a lot, adding her melt-in-your-mouth yams and real cornbread stuffing to the menu. We had seventeen mouths to feed, and they all ate extremely well.

Everyone wants to see more pics of the progeny, so here you go. While the adults were cavorting in the living room Wednesday night, the big kids hung out in Michelle’s cozy kitchen. Here’s a GREAT shot of Shawn & Amy…

…and a wonderful group shot featuring (left to right) Shawn, Joe, Amy, Daniel, and his new bride Rachael. You may remember the story I wrote last June about attending a wedding in Mississippi? Well Daniel and Rachael were the happy couple. Joe is Daniel’s fraternal twin brother. Their family, the Franklins have been our close friends for well over twenty years and moved to Memphis from SoCal two years after we relocated to Nashville. A third family, the Smiths, moved here a year ago finally reuniting what I lovingly refer to as “The Three Musketeers” — the three matriarchs, Michelle, Carol and Marilyn — because of their longstanding and close friendship. The husbands are all good friends as well, but the real bond is among the women-folk. It’s really a very special thing, and I love to see the joy that flows from their friendship.

Even a CouchShark needs to grab a catnap from time-to-time.

Our kitty Teeva, when she wasn't plotting to ambush the in-law's dog, she was patroling the house from atop any number of high perches. Not shown here was the inlaw's dog sleeping on the couch directly below her.

And finally, one of the better photos the wife and I have taken together in a few years…

Hope you enjoyed these, and I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!


Thursday, November 25, 2004

Giving Thanks

I particularly love Thanksgiving because it gives me a real excuse to do something I love to do: reflect.

As I consider the things that have changed my life in a positive way this past year, Blogland most certainly has to be at the very top of the list. Learning to express myself through writing; talking about my childhood and family; relating my hopes and fears to complete strangers, only to see them almost immediately become fast friends, has been one of the most profoundly satisfying experiences of my lifetime. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

So to Inanna, Brighton, Queenie, Michael, Lovisa, Leese, Snick, Aimee, Esther, Gooch, Phoebe, Slothress, Fleece, Todd, Jennifer, Victoria, Jamie, Kate, Sidara, Kim, Vgrrl, Burner, Celti, Ang, and ALL of my Blogland friends (please forgive me if I've left anyone out)...

I am very thankful for you all.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone...

Monday, November 22, 2004

In from the cold

To everyone who has been wondering about me...
First of all, thank you. Second of all, I'm sorry to have left you all hanging. Unfortunately I've hit a dry spot creatively at the same time as a very busy time at both my job and personal/family life.

I'll talk about it at length later, but just know that I do appreciate all of the concern. I'm fine -- just a little frazzled and unsure of what my priorities should acually be right now. Perhaps it's an aberration, perhaps its the real me raising my ugly head, but I'm really sort of lacking in ambition right at the moment.

Sorry to be so vague, but if I could more easily put it into words, chances are I would have already written about it. *lol*

But don't worry, someone has already stuck a mirror up in front of my face and given me the same advise that I once gave to them: push yourself -- keep going -- regardless of how you feel. And I think I'm ready to go and try to practice what I've preached. So hopefully by tomorrow there will be a new post. But certainly by later this week I will be back in the saddle.

Of course if I'm behind on my own blog, I am also impossibly so in reading the rest of yours, so please forgive me if it takes me awhile to catch up.

It has been an interesting leave of absense for me. I've realized a lot about myself during this time -- a lot that I like, and a lot that I don't. But one thing has become abundantly clear over the past seven days in which I have not visited my own blog even once: I like myself a lot more when I'm writing.

It's time to get back to it. Thanks again for your patience. I hope I haven't lost anyone...

Friday, November 12, 2004


Answers to your questions
Well, I’m back. I returned back home from Dallas Tuesday evening after a truly life-altering two days with my younger brother in Indianapolis. So much happened in such a short period of time, it’s a little difficult to wrap my mind around right off the bat, but I’ll try, beginning tonight. I’ll be writing what will most likely be a fairly long series about both the trip itself as well as the circumstances around it.

I’m at home on Wednesday morning as I write this. I decided to take the first half-day off after my return because I knew that I would want some time to think before diving right back into work. And that is indeed what I’ll have to do, as we’re entering a very busy part of the year and I still have four days of vacation time I must use or lose before the end of November. So in other words, the month and my workload is already compressed, so I’ll have to make the most of my time.

That being said, I’m going to turn my attention here to answering the questions I offered you all to ask in my absence. Obviously, a few of them involve my trip and the nature of Alzheimer’s disease. I’m going to defer answering those to my story, where they will be addressed individually and in context. So Inanna, and Jennifer, I’ll be referencing your questions directly a little bit later. I hope you don’t mind, but they are germane to the story as a whole and the details will be better served in that context.

So here we go…

Michael had two requests: One for a picture of my kids. Here’s one that many of you have seen before, but is the only recent good photo I currently have scanned. I’ll definitely be taking more pictures when the kids are home from school for Thanksgiving, so I’ll be sure to get a good one to share with you later.

Amy (20) and Shawn (22), taken this past June.

Mike also asked a very thought-provoking question: “Who would you have play you in the movie version of your life -- and could give a semi-accurate portrayal?”
Wow! Now that’s a great question. And a tough one too, simply because there just aren’t all that many vertically challenged actors that I know of who are as good-looking as me.

Rimshot, please…

But seriously folks…I know it sounds crazy, but not so much from the looks standpoint (and good god, certainly not by virtue of his height), but more from the aspect of his personality, I’ve always liked Tom Selleck as an actor because of how he brings his emotions into the roles he plays. I’d like to think that he could portray me fairly well because of that. I think that from what I’ve known of his characterizations of the people he’s played onscreen and the person he’s displayed himself to be in interviews, on talk shows, etc., that he and I are a lot alike.

Jamie asked, “Who is the blogger you most want to meet. Besides me of course. No seriously! Ok, just tell us WHO!? And why?”
Hmmm…besides YOU? Geeze that’s a tough one! I really hope it doesn’t sound like a cop-out, but there are so many of you that I someday hope to meet, it really wouldn’t be fair of me to pick just one. I will say that the experience of meeting the one blogger whom I have met, Michael, was thoroughly enjoyable. I think I’d like to duplicate that about a dozen or more times with a number of you.

Brighton asked for…“ Ok, pics... something beautiful in your state. Pets.”
I’ll have to take a raincheck on that one, but I’ll post something on that soon.
“Questions, favorite colour, interior style of your home, how many bonds occur between hydrogen and oxygen when making water?”
— Blue
— “Eclectic traditional with a shabby-chic twist” (according to Michelle). I just like to call it “comfortably arty.”
— 10 (um…was I right, teach?)

el sid asked, “have you ever had deja vu, and if you have, was it because you'd had a dream about it before?”
Does it count if I’ve dreamed about going to the Déjà Vu? Heh heh… Seriously though, I don’t remember ever having anything that powerful, but as I talked about in my last post, and like most everyone else, certain smells really trigger memories for me that are nearly as potent.

• And finally, Jennifer asked, what does “AJ” stand for?”
The “A” is for “Anaheim” and “J” is the initial of my first name. Sorry for the mystery folks, but I really don’t ever intend to put my real name out on this blog for a number of reasons, one of which I’ll talk about in the following story about my little brother.

The nickname was actually an attempt by a former manager of the Papa John’s I worked at several years ago, to playfully deride me for my affinity for the Anaheim Angels baseball team, who were perennial underachievers at the time. I, however, wore it as a badge of honor. And as I’ve mentioned on a few occasions in this blog, I adopted “AJ in Nashville” as my e-mail signature name when I began e-mailing The Tony Kornheiser Show on ESPN Radio a few years ago. I’ve used it as my primary online ID ever since.

Well thanks for your interest everyone, this was fun. I’ll try to get the pics that Brighton requested as well as some newer ones of my children up within a week or so.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Just flew in from Dallas —
and boy are my arms tired!

...Not to mention my head, my heart, and everything else.
I am so sorry to have left everyone who has been looking for a new post hanging, but I got back in from Dallas Tuesday evening and was so overwhelmed by the previous two days that I just couldn't do anything but crash. Wednesday I had taken the first half of the day off, so I tried to, and did write a little on my next post, which will be to answer the "ask me anything" deal that I included on my previous blog entry before I left. I still have some more to do on that before I get into the major story of my just-concluded trip accompanying my younger brother to IU Medical Center in Indianapolis.

Unfortunately, this was not a good time for me to take off because of my current workload, and when I got back to work yesterday afternoon I was slammed from the get-go. My brain and emotions have been in overdrive for the past four days and I'm really having difficulty wrapping my mind around all that has gone on.

This is nothing more than a preliminary post to say that I am back, alive, and under the circumstances, functioning fairly well. The news was not good however, and I know that a time is coming very soon when I will hit the wall emotionally. It hasn't happened quite yet, but I anticipate it may happen as I'm writing the story. I suppose that subconsciously, that's one thing that has kept me from getting started on it. I will, however, get into it very soon, but not today. I have to deal with my job responsibilities first, and may or may not write much at night. I'm really not sure right now, and I apologize for the ambiguity. It's just that my whole world has been turned upside down in a way that I've never experienced before.

Even the shock fifteen years ago of learning that my big brother David had Alzheimer's disease wasn't so devastating as that of learning that the same fate has now befallen my younger brother, Lbro, my closest friend in the entire world.

That's all I can say right now. I can't deal with anything more at this point. Gotta get back to work. Thanks for all of the support and kind words, everyone. I love and appreciate you all.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Just a blog before I go…

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…
This afternoon I’ll be leavin’ on a jet plane, embarking on one of the more important trips of my lifetime. I’ll be out-of-pocket blog-wise until probably Wednesday. I’ll briefly (as I can) explain the whys and wherefores here so that hopefully I can count on some good vibes from all my Blogland neighbors for the next 36-48 hours or so.

A few weeks ago I posted a somewhat cryptic entry about something that had shaken me personally. It involves a family member, my little brother, or Lbro as I have always referred to him in my blog stories.

About a year and a half ago, maybe longer, he began developing difficulties being able to perform in his career as an attorney. He began forgetting things, falling asleep at his desk, and all the symptoms associated with the sleep disorder, sleep apnea. Although he got treatment for it, he was still unable to perform in keeping with his former excellence as a brilliant corporate attorney for more than 18 years. He went through three law firm jobs in less than two years. This obviously had a devastating effect on his self-confidence, and he was diagnosed with clinical depression.

Moreover, his doctor recommended that he go on permanent disability because he had such a difficult time coping with the collapse of his career and his self-image. Yet there was still no clear reason why all of this was happening to him. It was unofficially assumed to be the cumulative effects of the sleep apnea, exacerbated by the depression. One thing fed upon the other the doctors said, and it was just a matter of time and treatment before he would be able to once again cope and return to a normal, productive life.

In the meantime, his wife was suddenly thrust into the role of provider, and had to go out and get multiple part-time jobs (no one would hire her full-time for more than minimum wage) in order to support their three children ranging in age from 16 through 10. My brother became a Mr. Mom and took care of the kids, and it seemed like a tolerable situation for awhile.

However his symptoms didn’t change, and the doctors working with he and his wife to determine the actual cause — and thereby the treatment for his condition — were noncommittal. They needed nearly a year to make their diagnosis, all the time proffering the preliminary opinion that his problem was borne out of severe depression.

Until two weeks ago.

I had indicated that the rest of the family and myself feared the worst, Alzheimer’s disease. All the symptoms and the age of my brother (he’s 44) lined up perfectly with the M.O. of the disease’s early-onset course throughout my family’s history.

Of course my brother refused to acknowledge that AD could be a possibility, as well as my sister-in-law, who politely dashed my suggestion when I spoke to her on the phone, that we get Lbro checked out by the doctors at IU Medical Center in Indianapolis. This is where my older brother David, as well as all of the other members of my Mother’s family who has the disease had been researched. Dr. Farlow, our contact to the AD research team since 1986 had spoken to my Dad and said that he would very much like to see Lbro to treat him if indeed he had fallen victim to the family curse.

Sis-in-law told me that she would consider allowing Lbro to go to Indy, but not until she had gotten the final word from her doctors, who, to be fair, she had been working with for over a year. It only made sense.

About ten days ago she got the results back and unfortunately, her doctors confirmed the presence of dementia with my brother. She called me and said she was now interested in taking IU Medical Center up on their offer.

What that offer entails is a full psychological and physiological evaluation of my brother at absolutely no charge. They’re paying for everything including travel and lodging for the two days we’ll be there. I’m going because I love my brother, and also because someone has to be with him at all times now. His wife has to work and care for the kids. I’m going because I am the only one in our family she really trusts.

However there’s one other aspect of my joining my brother in Indianapolis that will make this an interesting trip. They asked me if I would serve as a “control” specimen to provide a basis of comparison for my brother’s test results. So that means that for over eight hours tomorrow (Monday) I will be poked, prodded, psych-tested, MRI/PET-scanned, spinal-tapped and blood-tested right alongside my Lbro.

Wish me luck. I’ll certainly be writing a lot about it when I return on Wednesday. I covet all of your prayers and good thoughts. There still is actually a possibility that Lbro does not have Alzheimer’s, and this will tell us for sure one way or another.

The good news is that if he does indeed have the disease, they are working with a so far very successful new drug that slows significantly the progress of the disease, and that will also be provided to him free of charge for as long as he needs it.

Thanks, you guys, for all of your support. I can feel it already

In the Meantime
Since I won’t be blogging for at least three days, I don’t wasn’t Snick to get bored, so I’ll steal a page out of Lovisa, Gooch and a few other’s book and offer you to "ASK AJ ANYTHING (WITHIN REASON)." It’s been a lot of fun when I’ve seen others do it, so I though I’d give it a whirl. Ask me anything you want to know that I haven’t already talked about. Picture requests, whatever, and I’ll answer them all upon my return.

Be kind to me, and to each other until I talk to you all again on Wednesday, okay? I love my Blogville friends. You have no idea how much.

Thanks again, all…

Friday, November 05, 2004

Stupid Things That Make Me Happy (Vol 2, No 1):
It’s Like Deja Pew, All Over Again

Gettin’ nose-stalgic
I’ve really have tons of work that I have to get done today, but I just had to write about this. Here’s hoping for some rare AJ brevity…

You’ve seen the commercial. The two guys in the background in the other room going apeshit over a ballgame on TV, while their girlfriends, at a table in the foreground sit bored out of their minds and disgusted, rolling their eyes at the commotion going on in the other room.

Suddenly the hometeam apparently ties the game and you hear the announcer exclaim, “This game is going into OVERtime!” and one of the guys bursts into the room to hug his girlfriend in celebration of his excitement. We see her sprout a huge grin as the smell of his Old Spice High Endurance Body Wash sends her down memory lane, flashing back to all the wonderful things times they’ve had together, reminding her of what a wonderful guy he apparently is.

As we step back into the present, we see the guy return to the TV room and resume hooping and hollering with his friend. Meanwhile the girlfriend sighs and exclaims dreamily to her friend at the table, “He’s so great…”

In the midst of all the flashbacks, the gist of the commercial’s message is laid out for the viewer as the announcer reminds us that, “Scent is the sense most strongly tied to memory.” This obviously is to indicate that we associate scents with people, places and events in our past, reliving that moment when we are re-introduced to that particular scent. This seems to be particularly true of positive smells and/or memories. And the moral of the story is, "Guys, if you always smell good your girlfriend will only remember the good things about you," or something like that.

However far-fetched the sales pitch of that Old Spice ad, it is true that good smells, usually do invoke good memories. I can't remember, for example, the last time the smell of my answering the call of nature reminded me of a really good dump from years past. But I'm sure there are some exceptions along those lines...

The reason I bring this up is that I’ve been having Deja Pew flashbacks all morning.

I like to wear cologne, but I’m wildly inconsistent about it. Besides that, when I do wear it I’m always concerned about how much to put on. There’s nothing more pathetic to me than a guy wearing so much after-shave that you can smell him across the room. I feel the same way about a woman’s perfume. On the other hand, it is nice to catch the wafting scent of either a man or woman’s fragrance as you pass by them in a room or hallway. But that is provided that the scent is a subtle and pleasant one. Some perfumes are just too strong or too flowery, while a lot of men’s colognes can be equally offensive, being either too bold or too sweet.

In recent years I’ve worn cologne a lot more often, mostly because of the fact that I’ve worked in an office and for obvious reasons have had to dress a helluva lot nicer than I did when I was a freelancer, working at home. So I’ve just gotten used to wearing it.

I’ve gone through maybe half a dozen different colognes over the past 20 years or so, but the one that I remember the most and that which brings back the best memories for me is probably the most offensive of all the ones I’ve ever used. I’m not gonna mention its name, because it’s so old and trite that I’m embarrassed to say.

It is sufficient to say that it’s strong, but when used in responsible amounts it still smells good — to me anyway. How do I know this? Well you know that I’ve talked ad nauseum about what a sentimental fool I am. Back in the early to mid-80s, I was still wearing said fragrance, and had been since around 1977 or so. Michelle decided it was time for a change. She got me a Lagerfeld gift set for Christmas, because a lot of guys were wearing it at the time (it’s popularity in the 80s became almost cliche in fact), and so I tried it, liked it and began using it for the next ten years or so.

But I just couldn’t bear to throw out my old standby, particularly since the bottle I had at the time Michelle got me the Lagerfeld was practically new. So I just stuffed it in the back of the bathroom cabinet and figured I’d hold onto it as an emergency backup. I even brought it with me when we moved from SoCal to Tennessee, why I have no idea, because it has literally sat untouched in the back of my cabinet for years — until this morning.

After a few years meandering through various Ralph Lauren fragrances and more recently Hugo Boss, Michelle again asked me to try one that she had become aware of that she liked (do we see a pattern developing here?) She brought a sample of Curve home to me last Fall and I liked it, so guess what I got for Christmas? Well last week I finally ran out. So this morning when I was getting ready for work, I was thinking, “Hmmm…don’t I still have…yep…it’s still there.”

I splashed on a small amount of my old cologne and was almost literally taken aback by the flood of memories that immediately passed through my mind. I honestly had forgotten what it smelled like. It was strong, and considerably heavier than anything I’ve worn over the past several years. I immediately hoped that I hadn’t used too much. But oh what a great feeling. I’ve had a smile on my face ever since, because every time I forget that it’s there, I’ll turn my head or stand up to walk somewhere, and suddenly I’ll smell it again. I’m then immediately transported back to the time when my kids were babies, I was driving my first new car, or I was spending great times with great friends. Funny how that works, huh?

It’s just another stupid thing that makes me happy.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Surfin’ with the Aliens

Rock ‘N Roll’s Mister Clean
Joe Satriani. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it could be for a number of reasons:
a.) You're a not a man.
b.) You don't play electric guitar.
c.) You’ve never played air guitar.
d.) You were born after 1987.
e.) All of the above.

If those five items don't describe you and you're still at a loss, perhaps the title of his breakthrough 1987 release, Surfing With the Alien will roust your memory. Perhaps now I've got your attention, if for no other reason than because you're wondering, "What the hell could a song with a title like that be about?" And of course, the answer to that is, "It doesn't matter," because the song has no lyrics, like nearly all of Satriani's body of work, covering 18 albums and spanning 18 years.

Without getting into an unnecessarily involved history of the term, “heavy metal” as a definition of big-sounding genre of guitar music was first coined in 1969 by John Kay and Steppenwolf with the term, “heavy metal thunder” in their classic hit, Born to be Wild. Since then artists from Alice Cooper to Lamb of God have etched their mark on a genre that has ambiguously flowed in and out of the pop mainstream.

Despite hitting its pop stride in a big way during the mid-to-late 1980s and early 90s, Heavy Metal has typically existed on the outskirts of the establishment; a rebel without a cause; rife with testosterone-driven power and élan. Metal can be liberating, but can also be dark and tedious. A stalwart of rebellion from the 1960s on in one form or another, it’s the kind of music that teenage boys feed upon; and that which typically drives their parents up the wall.

Metal can be gritty; raunchy; nasty even — and that’s not always a bad thing. It’s
also not always a good thing either.

Joe Satriani’s sound, on the other hand is “clean” Metal — in nearly every respect — from his shaved head to the seemingly endless procession of gleaming guitars he pulls out to play onstage. He is, quite rightfully known as "the guitarist's guitarist." He actually used to teach guitar in San Francisco, attracting the likes of Metallica's Kirk Hammett, Larry LaLonde of Primus and the acclaimed Steve Vai as students. He is in my opinion the preeminent Rock ‘N Roll guitarist of his generation, bar none. Eddie Van Halen? Puh-LEEZE. Joe has both the improvisational and melodic chops to carry his music without vocalist in his act. His guitar does the singing. His albums are 99.5% instrumental. And they rock!

Joe Satriani is different. Some Metal digs ditches. Joe’s Metal soars above the clouds.

Rock ‘N Roll Heaven in the Mother Church
Last week I saw Joe Satriani in concert for the first time after loving his music for 17 years. It was a decidedly different crowd than I was used to seeing at the Ryman Auditorium on a Thursday night. The gender ratio was about 20-1, male-to-female. There was a decided tinge of male essence in the air; and for the first time in the ten years that I’ve been attending concerts at The Ryman, the lines into the men’s restrooms far exceeded those of the women’s.

It was an older and largely blue-collar crowd. I’ve probably not seen that many work shirts all in one auditorium since the union strike vote meetings I attended back in the 1970s as a member of the AFL-CIO. It was almost comical to see all these pudgy, graying, middle-aged guys standing and pumping their fists after nearly every song. You could just about guess that it was all they could do to resist the urge to break out their air guitars and play along with ‘Satch.’

And just as the crowd had a blue-collar makeup, so did Joe Satriani’s work ethic onstage. He played from 7:30pm sharp until 11:00pm with only a 15-minute break in-between. This dude is no glam-rocker. His look was understated and cool, with his signature wraparound shades, a plain black t-shirt, blue jeans and black boots. His backup band featured drums, bass, and rhythm electric & acoustic guitars, but they were clearly in the background.

Not really knowing what to expect, I was sort of expecting a little more in the histrionics department from Satriani, but to his credit, he’s not a very ‘showy’ performer. He does however really step into his music; the deep emotion and joy of his instrumental intercourse is readily apparent in his body language and the incessant smile on his face. The only thing that’s ‘bigtime’ about Joe is the quality of the sound emanating from his axe. Whenever he graciously addressed the crowd, he almost seemed embarrassed by the cheers, which on this night were more than raucous.

I couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable experience, unless it were possible for me to be close enough to catch the dozen or more guitar picks he showered the first few rows with throughout the night. Nevertheless, my vantage point was more than adequate to see the man and capture the experience.

As I had hoped, Satriani borrowed most heavily from his still most commercially successful album, Surfing With the Alien, performing five of the album’s ten songs and finishing the show’s final encore with the classic title track .

A week later that concert is still ringing in my ears. I had always wondered whether or not Satriani would be able to match the output of the recording studio in a live setting, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Much has been made of the fact that a number of Satriani’s former students have now gone on to greater fame than he has. For all of his acclaim in guitar player circles, due to the lack of marketability of all-instrumental rock albums, Joe, while often nominated, has never won that elusive Grammy Award. He has long since been given the playful title of the ‘Susan Lucci of Rock Music.’

Yet the oversight hasn’t bothered him enough to consider combining his efforts with a vocalist (à la Carlos Santana), to produce an effort that the general public would more readily embrace. I really respect him for that. He has said that doing so would detract too much from the music in the way he conceptualizes it. He really does write his music with the idea that his guitar has a voice.

And I’ll always love to hear it sing.


Monday, November 01, 2004

Yosemite Psalm (Epilogue)

Day Seven: The trail home
The next morning we broke camp around 10 o’clock. We still had a little more than four miles to hike to reach Yosemite Valley and wrap up our weeklong Yosemite adventure. Rejoining the John Muir Trail out of Little Yosemite, we all looked around us as we proceeded down the so-called ‘Mist Trail,’ still mesmerized by the beauty we had taken in over the previous seven days.

The four miles back to back where we started from would be rather easy by comparison to what we’d been used to for the lion’s share of the trip. The Mist Trail is so-named for its proximity to two of Yosemite’s most celebrated waterfalls, the mighty Nevada Falls and the equally beautiful, but more lilting Vernal Falls. This late in the season and in conjunction with the fact that we were in the midst of a drought, neither of the two water features were providing a lot of “mist” that day however. The falls were indeed beautiful, but I had seen them displacing twice the water than this in past visits to this trail.

We were actually going opposite the flow of traffic on this final leg of our backpacking journey. The Mist Trail is the beginning of the famous and much-traveled Happy Isles Trail Loop, which begins in Yosemite Valley. From this starting point, you can pick up trails to nearly any point in the Park. It is a popular jumping-off point for most visitors to the Park, who will typically hike the Mist Trail to see the falls, and often to go the extra three miles to climb Half Dome. Going up from the Valley, the trail is steep, and when the falls are full, the rocky way can be slippery. Consequently it’s somewhat of a slow go if there is much in the way of traffic. But coming down, especially under these drier conditions, it was a pleasant, fast jaunt. We made the 4.3 miles in record time.

It’s a far cry from Sloth-quality, but the mountain flowers were beautiful. This is the only one of about five that I took that turned out reasonably decent.

Nevada Falls, which in the springtime, puts out an unbelievable amount of water, is at this point less than spectacular, but beautiful nonetheless. That’s Ron’s wife Ellie in the foreground.

Approaching Vernal Falls, one of my favorite photographs from this trip. This is where the “Mist Trail” lives up to its name under normal conditions.

There are signs all over Yosemite that pretty much tell it like it is (although once again I never thought to take a picture of one of ‘em). Near to this point, which is actually beyond the point that you’re supposed to be standing (I had Ron holding on to my backpack as I leaned in to take the shot), is a sign which basically says, “Stay out of the water. If you go over the falls, you will die.”

Showers — the gift of the gods
It’s just my opinion, but never let it be said, despite all it’s wonderful benefits and soul-stirring revelations of oneness with nature, that the ‘back country naturalist’ existence is superior to modern life. I wouldn’t trade what few true wilderness experiences I’ve had for anything, but it doesn’t take more than a couple of times having to dig a freaking hole just to make poopy, to make one realize how ill-equipped we are to live such a life today.

Yosemite was incredible, but after this longest backpacking trip of my life, getting back to the Valley and a hot shower was nearly as gratifying. Going for a whole week without such a taken-or-granted convenience really causes you to become aware of how urbanized we have become. I’m not saying that’s good or bad — it just is. That’s why it’s so important, in my opinion, to make a trip such as this at some point in your lifetime; to experience life in the wilderness, placing yourself in a circumstance where not only your days require pre-planning, but a heightened awareness of your surroundings at all times is a prerequisite for survival.

After that welcome shower and change of clothes, we piled the gear back in our cars and bade a fond farewell to our old friend, Yosemite. She was a most gracious host.

On the road again
As we headed back toward SoCal, I remember my body feeling nearly numb. I’m not sure if it was from the physical fatigue of a week of backpacking or the delirium of having such an uplifting dance with nature. I only know that there was an indelible grin plastered on my face. I felt good.

My sense of satisfaction got an even greater shot in the arm as I flipped through the dial of my car radio. You see, our excursion had taken place during the time of the Major League Baseball player’s strike of 1981. To my delight I learned that the two sides had come to a resolution during the week, and were in the midst of a few days of exhibition games as a warm-up to resuming play, sort of a second mini-Spring Training. We were out of normal radio range for most stations, however I was successful in picking up what sounded like play-by-play. The faint signal turned out to be a game between the Angels and the Cincinnati Reds. Wow! Baseball was back! And with two of my favorite teams to boot!

Then it hit me. I thought about the contrast of the two experiences that were arm-wrestling for domination of my mind at that moment. Simultaneously I was feeling the high of being surrounded by so much natural beauty, but also the exhilaration of knowing that my favorite sport was back in business after seven weeks of torturous absence. At first I felt repulsed by my own feelings. How dare I be so fickle as to allow my wilderness experience to be tainted by something so frivolous and mundane as professional sports. How shallow is that?

But then I stepped back a bit and really thought about it. Isn’t it really all about enjoying life? Isn’t it about appreciating every aspect of the time we have here on this planet? Baseball and back country are apples and oranges in more ways than one. They’re both good, and they’re both legitimate, because they’re both a part of my life and they both make me happy. I’ve always tried to embrace everything in life; not just the grand things, but the mundane, the man-made and simple aspects of what makes me, ‘me.’ I believe that to do anything less is to do myself a disservice.

The first day of the rest of our lives
When we got home late that night, we knew that we’d had a great time, but also knew we’d been through the ringer. There would be no unpacking this night. I think we just hit the hay as soon as we got home.

One of the aspects of this trip as being a ‘life-changing’ endeavor was the fact that it was by intention, our last fling as a childless couple. We both turned 25 that year and were ready to start a family. Michelle, following her doctor’s advice had gone off birth control a couple weeks before the trip. He said that it would take up to a month for her body to re-adjust to a normal ovulation schedule, making it possible for her to become pregnant. So as scheduled, as soon as we came back from Yosemite, I took on that daunting task of trying to get my wife pregnant. Yeah, it was a tough job, but somehow I mustered the strength to get it done. *grin*

About a month later Michelle walked through the front door after a visit to her gynecologist. I’ll never forget the look on her face until the day I die. She wasn’t even through the door yet, but was still in mid-stride across the threshold when she looked up at me, sitting on the living room sofa, and said those magic words.

“You’re gonna be a Daddy.”

If that doesn’t bring tears to the eyes of even the most macho of men, then they’re not really a man in my opinion. I was completely overjoyed. As I sprang to my feet to embrace the new Mommy-to-be, one of the first things running through my mind was, “Wow…that didn’t take long!”

It turned out that Michelle’s due date was May 8th, although our son Shawn liked things so well inside Mommy’s Baby Garage that he decided to hang out for an extra two weeks before making his entrance into the real world. So it’s more likely than not that we actually did get pregnant immediately after coming back from Yosemite, just like we planned.

I still don’t know the exact dates that we were actually on the trip, but I can estimate it accurately to within a few days. Once again, thank goodness for the Internet! As it turns out, I can extrapolate the dates from just one event — that baseball game I tuned in to on the drive home from Yosemite.

Remember my mentioning that I was surprised to find that the Baseball Strike of 1981 had ended when I found that the Angels and Reds were playing an exhibition game? Well I found in researching this, that the strike was officially resolved on July 31st. Given the fact that I never heard about it I can only assume this means that we were already gone and out of out of communication with the sports world on that day. There’s no other way, given my passion for sports that I could have missed a story so big as that. It would have dominated the newspapers and TV. I surely would have heard about it somehow.

Okay, the next thing to consider was the exhibition game I heard on the radio that evening as we were driving home. In my research on the Web, I could only find a single reference to it on a Cincinnati Reds-related web page, which said that two such games were played between the Reds and Angels at that time, and that they occurred just prior to the Major League Baseball All Star Game, which officially ushered in the resumption of the season.

So taking those two items as the front and back ends respectively of our trip, I’m reasonably sure that our seven-day trip went from Friday July 31st through Thursday August 6th. The All Star Game was played on Sunday August 9th, and the 8th would have been necessary for use as a travel day for the players participating in it, meaning that the two exhibition games were played on the 6th and 7th. I distinctly remember them saying that the game I was listening to was the first game played since the strike was declared to be over, logically meaning that the date was August 6th.

So again, given the due date, and further, the date of his actual birth, chances are that Michelle became pregnant with Shawn after we got home, rather than my more romantic notion that his conception was in Yosemite Valley, which I alluded to earlier.

Of course nobody really knows about these things, right? I mean it’s possible that our first baby was actually conceived that first night in the backpacker’s campground, isn’t it? A big part of me will always believe that. And it makes perfect sense, given the way Shawn has turned out; he is an outdoorsman in every sense of the word; he was an Eagle Scout, he’s an avid rock climber, and his major in college is Forestry. It only seems right that his life was conceived in the wilderness, forged partly of the beauty surrounding us and that I could honestly feel penetrating every part of me.

But one thing surely was conceived that wonderful week in Yosemite — the life of my memories there. They took firm root in my mind and are still flourishing now, 23 years later. They sing that familiar song that I still hear clearly whenever I stop long enough to listen. It’s a song of exhilaration; a psalm of peace. I hope I’ll get another chance to hear it again in person, but if not, I know that it will always be with me.

Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme.

— Shakespeare, Sonnets, LV