Sunday, January 29, 2006

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part IV)

Day Two — Saturday (continued):
Can’t Breathe (8pm): The Anna Nalick Debacle

Before even touching the subject at hand, there’s so much more I could relate here regarding this next sub-plot of my trip to California. It’s a side-story that touches not only on this series, but upon my previous, autobiographical series as well. In fact, I had desperately attempted to somehow make it work as a part of A Long Strange Trip, but it was just too cumbersome to fit in smoothly.

So when that didn’t work, I tried to weave it into this story, but met with the same results — it was too long, too complicated, too convoluted. I just couldn’t get away from the fact that while definitely related, it just was too unwieldy to have any real anecdotal value. So after a few weeks of paralysis by analysis, I’ve decided to step away from the shoehorn. Instead of attempting to force it into the story here, I will instead wait and tag it on as a separate addendum at the conclusion of this series.


Anna•mato•poe•ia: Let’s just say, it sounded like a good idea…
There were two reasons I wanted to take Cindy to see the up-and-coming young singer-songwriter, Anna Nalick that first Saturday night I was in town. I had been impressed with the first single Breathe (2am), from her recently-released debut album, and had hoped at some point previously to see her play here in Nashville. Unfortunately so far she seemed to hit just about every place but Music City on her initial tour. Now this first leg of her first tour was coming to an end, but as luck would have it, she would be finishing up near her home, in Southern California, at the same time I was there.

She was playing the House of Blues in Anaheim that Saturday night, which was the other reason I wanted to go. I had never been to a HOB and was anxious to experience what this now-famous franchise of Rock ‘N Roll clubs was all about. I had obtained tickets for the show before I left Nashville, when I learned that her date at the HOB fortuitously coinciding with my trip.

Cindy was happy to accompany me. Although she wasn’t familiar with the name, she said she had heard Breathe on the radio and liked it. I really liked it — maybe too much. In fact, I had only heard one other cut besides Breathe off of her album. Looking back now, perhaps that should have been my first clue that this evening would end up being such a bad memory. Going on a blind first impression gained from that song, I foolishly assumed that I would like everything about her. There’s actually an explanation for that, which is what I’ll explain later, in a separate post.

But for now, let’s just say that I projected a little too much maturity into this young girl, who reminded me so much of my daughter Amy.

Oh…wait. Maybe THAT was my problem.

You see, along with the aggravations of a viewer-unfriendly venue and a huge crowd, what made this night the disaster it turned out to be was the fact that this young girl simply decided to act her age. She had just turned 20, the same age as my Amy. The difference is, I was expecting a wise, mature-beyond her-years young woman, like my daughter is most of the time. I expected to see the same person I’d heard on the radio, delivering poignant lyrics with that smooth, soulful voice. Instead, what I got was someone who reminded me of Amy alright — like when she was twelve!

It was the last night of the tour, and Anna was giddy and obviously relieved to be back home. I guess the girl just wanted to have fun and figured everyone would play along.

Nearly the entire set was a goof-fest, with Nalick cracking up in the middle of songs and cracking wise with her band members in between them. She made the band all wear assorted, goofy-looking hats, while she donned a black fedora, which she futzed and fiddled with during each and every song. Twice, she broke into laughter in the middle of a song and had to start again from the beginning. Another time she screwed up the lyrics, stopped cold for a few seconds, and then picked it back up from that point. Her playfulness was cute in a way, but the lack of professionalism was just flat annoying. It seemed more like a practice session than a performance before paying customers.

And if Anna’s performance wasn’t enough of a downer, the venue was one of the worst I’d ever experienced from a sightlines perspective. The House of Blues has locations in major cities across the country. It has become synonymous with major act concerts in Rock ‘N Roll, Jazz and all varieties of Pop music. And given the fact that there isn’t a HOB in Nashville, I had always wanted to visit one and was excited for this opportunity. I’ll just say it now, if they’re all based on the same floor plan as the one in Anaheim, I’ll be thinking long and hard before I consider darkening the doors of one again.

From the outset the HOB in Anaheim has two strikes against it if you have the least bit of reticence about dealing with crowds: One, it’s on the grounds of Disneyland — more specifically — Disney’s California Adventure, which is a relatively new (it opened in 2001) ancillary portion of the Disneyland complex. Its primary purpose was to create a part of Disneyland where the adults are the focal point, more so than the kids. The rides are faster and scarier, and there are more shops and restaurants — which not so coincidentally, serve alcohol (a no-no in the main park).

So on any given night, the HOB Anaheim is already surrounded by mobs of people, most of whom are already be there on the grounds having dinner or perusing the shops. Add in the draw of an up-and-coming act such as Anna, who was merely opening for an even more popular young star, Howie Day — on a Saturday night — and you’ve simply got one mess of people.

But I’ve dealt with crowds, believe me. I’m not claustrophobic, and I’m not impatient, but I to want to see more than the backs of people’s heads when I go to a show. And therein lies the kicker to this bummer-of-an-event was the layout of the HOB, which is, I personally think it safe to say, is the most viewer-unfriendly concert venue I’ve ever been to.

The room is square, with two levels, and the stage at one end. The ground level is recessed in the center (about 6-8 feet), offering some slight concession to those on the perimeter, enabling them to see over everyone on the main floor, which is standing room only. And on this night the entire place was packed, shoulder-to-shoulder with kids, most of whom were at least twenty years my junior.

When we arrived, we wedged our way into a corner, gaining a foothold on the inner edge of the perimeter. We had just enough headroom to see over (most) everyone and get a clear view of the stage, some 40-50 feet away. It was Sardine City, itellya. And it certainly wasn’t the place to be if you were vertically challenged, as Cindy and I both are.

While I had never been to the HOB before, I had seen a concert or three televised from one on MTV or VH1 on a few occasions. So I did have an idea of what we’d be in for. Besides that, I’ve been to a lot of standing-room clubs anyway, so for me, it wasn’t that big a deal.

However that wasn’t the case for my friend, Cindy, who doubtless at this point was feeling more like my hostage than my guest.

She had no idea the circumstances were destined to be quite so uncomfortable. It was hot, it was incredibly crowded, and she was miserable. Nonetheless she didn’t say anything until after Anna’s set was finished, so we made our way back out into the lobby where thankfully we spotted a couple of empty chairs. I went to the bar to get us a coke and we cooled our heels for the twenty minutes or so we had to wait until Howie Day was scheduled to come on.

I felt terrible on a number of fronts. Most notably I was frustrated with what was a mediocre-at-best performance by Anna. But I felt almost as bad for dragging Cindy into this mess. I was torn between hoping that Howie Day (who I’d never seen live, but had it on excellent authority that puts on a top-notch show) would redeem my evening, and just deciding to pack it in and get the heck out of there. I knew I wouldn’t get any argument from Cindy on the latter option.

Then again there was another reason I felt pressured to stay. I had purchased the tickets in advance of my trip but I didn’t get them through TicketMaster or the HOB box office. The show was already sold out when I found out about it a couple of weeks after it was originally announced.

So I went onto Anna’s official fan Web site and made a blind request on her message board asking for two tickets if anyone had extras to sell for that particular show. To my surprise, the next morning I had an e-mail from Anna’s older sister who actually lives in Anaheim and would also be attending the show that night.

Anna’s sister and I exchanged e-mails. She even offered to make arrangements to meet me after the show and see to it that I had the opportunity to have my CD signed. At that point I was thinking this was just too cool to be true. However by the time Anna’s performance was finished, needless to say I was considerably less enthused, and none of those extracurricular activities ever materialized.

So I asked Cindy to hang with me for at least a few songs into Howie’s set, since I really did have an interest in hearing him too, to which my friend willingly agreed. Unfortunately, hearing him was all we would be able to do.

If you thought my night couldn’t get any more frustrating, well, as Detective Goren would say, “think again.” During the time Cindy and I had stepped out to get a drink and some air, even more people had streamed into the building to see the main act, filling the ground level to even greater proportions than before. You couldn’t have slid a piece of notebook paper in between that mass of adolescent humanity. There was no way we were gonna try and get back in there now.

So we decided we’d try and watch the show from the balcony level. This is where the architectural genius of the numbnutz who designed this room really shined through.

Without supplying a schematic drawing, the best way to describe the balcony area was that it itself was two levels. The lower (inner) balcony looked directly onto the floor and stage below. This was also the VIP section, in which you basically had to "be with the band" to be allowed to sit. These were obviously the best seats in the house because they were in fact, seats, they were reserved, and the stage was right before your eyes below. Entrance to this section was from the upper (outer) balcony, some five feet higher and to the extreme outer edge of the entire loft area.

But here is where the ridiculousness of the sightlines in this loft area became pronounced. Simply put, if you didn't havea seat in the VIP section — OR — weren’t the height of an NBA Basketball player, sorry pal, you were just shit-out-‘o-luck. You simply weren’t going to see the stage. The balcony level was so high above the floor and stage that the sight lines necessary to obtain a reasonable view were nearly impossible to acquire unless you were right on the rail or tall enough to see over someone who was.

Needless to say, I was incensed. But I tried. I listened. I watched the video screens instead of the live performance.

We stayed for four songs. Howie Day was great, but he wasn’t worth dealing with the frustration of not being able to see. Cindy was obviously more ready to go than I was, so we did.

If you’ve been wondering what it was that I found so enrapturing about Anna Nalick in the first place, well it’s a long story. As I said at the beginning, it’s a story that I’ve already tried to tell in each of these last two series. But tell it I will, immediately following LA Stories 2005.

Being the great sport that she is, Cindy never uttered a discouraging word about my dragging her through such a horrendously unfulfilling evening. But I certainly had plenty to gripe about. I was kickin’ my own can non-stop all the way back to her place.

When we got home, we chilled, watched the news, talked for awhile and then retired for the night. It had been a busy, fun, and frustrating day.

But tomorrow was destined to be fabulous.

Next: Day Three — Sunday: Getting to the Meet of the Matter

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Drinkin' & Thinkin' — A Mini Series (2 of 2)

Kentucky Thunder
Anytime I entertain guests in Nashville who are of a similar taste in music to my own, there’s one place that I always love to take them: my favorite music spot and watering hole in all of Music City, 3rd & Lindsley Bar and Grill. And on the Saturday night that Alex was in town, it just so happened that my number one favorite Rock ‘n Country diva was playing there: Jonell Mosser and her band, Enuff’ Rope.

If you’ve never heard of Jonell, don’t feel bad; you can just save all those bad feelings for the record label bastards who are responsible for it. She is the quintessential example of a supreme talent who became a victim of corporate politics, quashing what could very well have been a superstar career in the opinion of the more than a few Music City inteligencia.

Unfortunately back then, the only time you most likely would have heard Jonell’s soulful voice outside of Nashville would have been on the soundtrack of the 1995 movie, Boys on The Side, in her dynamic cover of Robert Johnson’s Crossroads.

Her voice and energy has long been compared to that of Janis Joplin, with the notable exception that she, unlike Janis, she’s a stoned fox.

I guess that the crush I sort of have for her was cemented by a previous time I’d seen her play at 3rd some months earlier. I moved around the room a bit that night, but towards the end of Jonell’s performance I found myself standing about two-thirds of the way between the stage and the dressing room door in back, enjoying the show.

As she finished her final song, she made a beeline for the dressing room, which had her heading straight for me. I assure you, my positioning was not planned. However being the shamelessly gregarious type that I am, I just couldn’t help but reach out to shake her hand as she approached.

I couldn’t possibly have been more surprised when instead of shaking my hand, she threw her arms around my shoulders and gave me a big hug!

“Wow!” I said instinctively, “Great job tonight!”

“Thank you!” she beamed. Jonell then suddenly realized that she was soaked with perspiration after her high-energy 90-minute show. “Ohmigosh, I’m sorry, I’m really sweaty!” she whispered apologetically.

“Oh, no problem,” I smiled, as she then proceeded on toward the dressing room door, and everyone began staring at me as if I was someone important…or maybe it was that big, stupid grin that was plastered all over my face as I began heading back towards the front.

To this day I have no idea why she hugged me. I certainly didn’t initiate it. I’ve been told many times that I have a “familiar-looking” face. Perhaps in the dim light of the club she mistakenly thought I was someone else; I’ll never know for sure. But what I do know, is that she enlisted a fan for life that night.

A portend of bad days to come.
As happy a memory as this story is, it nevertheless ushered in a time that would create some not-so-happy ones down the road. This was the period in late ’94, following my return from California and my 20th High School Reunion. It was the time in my life that I actively, although innocently, flirted whenever I had the opportunity. Nothing was going to happen at that point, but it definitely paved the way for future bad decisions that would indeed be devastating.

Alex too, was a bit of a flirt.

There was already a big crowd when we arrived and we could only secure a pair of stools at the end of the bar furthest from the stage; much farther away than I wanted to be. We sat and pounded down a few beers and just had a great time talking. Alex had his eye on a cute, little blonde with short hair, sitting a few feet away at a nearby table. He wasn’t going to try and do anything stupid. We were just both enjoying the view.

As it drew nearer toward showtime, I started getting antsy. The place was already full and becoming more packed by the minute. Our position at the end of the bar was problematic because now, with standing room only, people began to come and stand in the aisle in front of us, obscuring my view of the stage, about twenty-five feet away.

Then I decided to act upon a hunch that I thought just might be the solution to our problem. Directly to the left of the stage was a four-person table, but with only two people sitting there. I had been watching to see if perhaps the couple was waiting for friends to join them but so far no one had shown up. I knew there was more than a good chance I’d get an angry stare in return, but that also that I’d regret it for the rest of the night if I didn’t ask.

“I’ll be right back,” I said to Alex as I slid off my stool.

I walked up to the couple sitting at the table, leaned in like I owned the place and said casually, “May I be so nervy to ask if my brother and I could join you at this table?” The man and his attractive blonde female companion both stared back at me blankly for a split second, until apparently my words sank in. Then their eyes lit up. and said, “Sure, we don’t mind!” they said, smiling.

Can you say, Southern Hospitality?

I thanked them profusely and moved toward one of the two empty chairs immediately in front of the stage. It was the best seat in the house. Once settled, I looked back over toward the bar to wave Alex on over to join us.

He was already chatting up the little blonde, now sitting in my barstool.

Once I got his attention, he came over to the table and we all introduced ourselves. Before long he again excused himself to go back over and talk to this gal, now joined by a friend in our former seats; an upgrade over their previous position.

While they were talking, I was busy making small talk with the attractive lady at the table. Her husband just smiled and didn’t say more than a sentence or two the entire night as I recall. Apparently this wasn’t much his scene. The woman, who appeared to be around the same age as I was (late thirties at the time), leaned over and told me in a discreet voice that he hates coming to clubs, and does so only at her behest. She was a huge Jonell fan, so she insisted they come that night.

A few minutes later, Jonell herself emerged from the crowd to make her way to the stage for a last-minute equipment check prior to the start of the show. The way the tables were arranged, the space between ours and the table to our right created the pathway she used to step up to the three-foot raised platform.

Have I mentioned that I’d been drinking all night? I was on probably my forth beer at that point, still a good sheet shy of three sheets to the wind, but definitely at a point where my inhibitions were not complete working order.

I suddenly decided that I had something to say, and I wasn’t gonna miss my opportunity to say it.

As Jonell began to pass directly to the right of my chair, I called out her name, just loud enough for her to hear me above the increasing din of conversation echoing about the packed little bar.

She stopped, turned to me and smiled. I crooked my finger, motioning for her to come closer. She stepped toward me, to my left, bent down and leaned in.

“Do you have any idea how wonderful you are?” I whispered in her ear.

Not even in my semi-drunken state could I believe myself to be so ballzy as to say to this to a woman who didn’t know me from Adam.

“No,” she replied, “But you can tell me that anytime you want!” And she kissed me on the cheek as she smiled and proceeded to step up onto the stage.

I was completely embarrassed and completely thrilled at the same time. I felt like I’d scored the biggest coup since Castro. The blonde woman at the table was aghast. “Do you know her?” she demanded, her eyes as big as saucers.

“Nope” I replied, smiling.

A few minutes later, Alex returned. He said he and the little shorthaired blonde had had a nice conversation. As it turned out she lived not too far away from us in Franklin. He said that she was a part-time instructor at a gymnastic school there, although it wasn’t the same place I myself worked out occasionally. And if that was the last time the little shorthaired blonde was a part of this story, it would have been more than fine with me.

More on that later.

Soon Jonell was on the stage, and her show was fantastic! Her position onstage was no more than five feet from where we were sitting. Alex had never been all that much of a concertgoer, so this was an especially cool experience for him. He kept giving me these “I can’t believe how great this is” glances. I would just nod back and smile. A goodly portion of the fun I had that night was just witnessing my brother having a great time.

I had another couple beers…which brings me back to the subject of drinking.

My longstanding habit when attending a show at 3rd & Lindsley, is to have a couple cups of coffee at the bar before leaving the premises. They don’t charge you for it and by the end of the night it’s usually strong enough to de-grease engine parts. So it’s a good pick-me-up for the drive home. And yeah, yeah I know. You shouldn’t drink and drive, but sometimes it’s just impossible to avoid.

I mentioned earlier that I know my limits, and I do. But on this night, more than ten years ago, I unfortunately hadn’t quite yet figured it out. I had eight beers that night, which is, given my stature, at least three more than I should ever have if I’m out away from home. I was drunk and I knew it. No amount of coffee, regardless of its strength was going to lift that hundred-pound anvil off of my brow.

So as the crowd slowly filed out into the crisp, late autumn night, I sat at the bar, struggling with what I should do. Then Alex reappeared with, you guessed it, the little shorthaired blonde girl.


I don’t know about you, but to me, one of the worst possible things I can imagine is to be out of control. And buddy, at that point steering my mouth was about as easy as corraling a herd of wild elephants.

So Alex is introducing me to this very nice, and apparently sober young woman, and when I tried to speak it was as if I’d just finished bobbing for ball bearings. It was horrible! I could not make the words come out of my mouth un-slurred.

I honestly don’t remember exactly what it was I tried to say, but I do remember them laughing at me, albeit good-naturedly. I’m pretty sure I took it all in stride, because I clearly remember thinking to myself that it was my own damned fault. I’m sure I just smiled and said as little as possible.


At any rate, soon it was time to head back home, and after my little Foster Brooks impersonation, it didn’t take a lot of deep thought to conclude that I was in no shape to drive. Problem was, Alex was a little tanked himself, but much, much less so than me.

And then things really became comical…or maybe they just seemed funny to me. Whichever the case, the drive home was probably as funny a memory I have as an adult.

First off, my car, which we drove up there was an old Datsun 510. Great little car, but not much to look at. Its 1978 body style was pretty funky by mid-90s standards, and the half-dozen parking lot dings, oxidized and/or peeling paint, and dented bumper (from-that-thing-that-happened-during-the-ice-storm-that-one-time), all completed the look.

When he was in high school, my son Shawn affectionately dubbed that car, The Turd.

But all that is neither here nor there, what really made gave el Turdo it’s unique charm was it's stick shift. Some of Datsun’s early 5-speed manual transmissions featured a shift pattern that was very different from the one that nearly all such cars follow today. First gear, instead of being to the left and up, was to the left and down, where second gear is on most cars. In turn, third gear was where fourth usually is, and fifth, was in the position normally occupied by reverse. If you were used to a conventional 5-speed, it definitely took some getting used to.

And why, you ask, is all that important? Well, it wasn’t gonna be me behind the wheel driving home, and Brother Alex had never driven my car before. He sure as hell hadn’t seen a gear shift like this one. And leave us also not forget that Alex had been drinking as well, although again, he was certainly in better shape than I was.

Nonetheless it made for an interesting drive home. Alex was going crazy trying to figure out that shift pattern, and I was just howling. But what really made it comical was that there we were, both sauced, Alex trying to figure this thing out while I’m trying to explain it to him, even though I’m so drunk that I can’t even say my own damned name.

With gears ‘a grinding, we laughed the entire way home.

Funny, but for some reason the wives never heard about the flirting or how much we drank that night. All they heard was how great a time we had together. And now as I look back, it was indeed one of the best ever. Not necessarily because of our excess, but much more so because of our togetherness.

We promised each other there would be more of those times to come, but my optimism was tempered. It was an all too familiar theme. You see, largely due to the fact that we both got married the same year, our families along with his career-related changes of venue had never allowed us to spend nearly the amount of one-on-one time we’d always talked about. And now with him pulling up stakes and moving to the East Coast, I knew that the prospects of seeing each other with any kind of frequency were even less promising. And as it turned out, Alex and I didn't see each other at all during the more than three years he lived in Connecticut. Even after they moved back to Dallas in 1998, we saw each other only a handful of times before learning that Alex had fallen victim to the family curse.

I always thought we’d have more time. I always assumed that someday, perhaps after we’d retired, we would finally have the time to hang out; maybe go on an occasional road trip together; enjoy our grandchildren together. But now of course I know those things aren’t going to happen. And that makes me incredibly sad.

Alex’s condition is slowly degrading, however the medication he’s been on since late 2004 has done much to put the brakes to the ravaging effects that Alzheimer’s is inflicting upon his brain. And although he’s still able to live at home, no one can say for how much longer that will be the case.

My life has been full of great times with Alex, both individually and collectively with our families. But of all those memories, despite the fact that our behavior was a little on the unsavory side, I think that evening at 3rd is my favorite.

I’ve never had more fun, I’ve never had more laughs, and I’ve never felt closer to my little (big) brother.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Drinkin' & Thinkin' — A Mini Series (1 of 2)

Speakin of drinkin, how do I say this without sounding like a lush?
I really don’t drink much, but when I do I have to admit, I kinda like it. I guess most people like it for the same reason I do. Being lightly under the influence makes me feel creative; confident; free. Usually I only drink when I go out to a club to hear music, or to the local sports bar to watch football. A six-pack of beer in my fridge will usually last me a month or more. I guess I prefer drinking around people rather than by myself.

I started drinking relatively late in life; hardly ever in my twenties, and not a whole lot more than that in my thirties. I’ve probably done it more often over the past ten years than ever, but I’ve still never really gotten used to it. And fortunately I’ve only gotten sick from it once, and that was one time too many. I know my limits now, but it took awhile to get a handle on them.

This little story is not just about drinking, but drinking is what spawned it. Accordingly, you might find it a tad disjointed, but then again, so am I.

Often for me, one of the products of a good buzz is a nearly uncontrollable urge to write; why that is I really don’t know, but it’s been that way for a long time, even before I began blogging. I always wrote my best e-mails (or so I thought) after coming home from a night out. It’s not something I’ve ever felt I needed, necessarily, but given the fact that it happens so seldom, I can really appreciate the notable difference in my personality it brings to the surface.

Last Wednesday night I found myself somewhat well-lubricated and once again at the keyboard, doing my best to churn out an alcohol-inspired story that has actually been in the back of my mind for quite awhile, just waiting for the right time to emerge. Unfortunately though, Bacchus and the Sandman were taking turns tag-teaming me into oblivion and they prevailed before I could finish writing. Bastards.

So while it’s still fresh in my mind I decided to go ahead and finish it up now. I’ll return to my current series in a few days. I just feel the need to get this one out there.

Once again, I’ve been mostly Blog-AWOL for a couple of weeks — but not because I’ve been lazy — just busier than a one-armed paperhanger with fleas.

Last week was my company’s annual sales meeting and the Marketing Department, in which I work, is responsible for putting it all on. It’s a pretty big production for a company of around a thousand employees, and thankfully, not one that I’m that solely responsible for. Nevertheless I do have a lot of things to do to make it happen and because of that, the month of December and the first couple weeks of January are always my busiest time of the year.

Wednesday was the opening session of the three-day event, bringing associates from our branch offices across the country here to Nashville for meetings, training sessions and rah-rah-let’s-feel-good-about-our-success vibes. That first day, our General Session, is the biggest one for me, and is the only day of the three that I actually have to be in attendance from start to finish; from helping to set up registration at 9AM, to the comedian’s last after-dinner joke at 9PM. It’s a lot of work, but the perks are great too.

It’s normally my only opportunity to rub elbows with some of the company’s top brass in a casual setting, not to mention enjoying the fun of seeing people who work across the country that I would never have opportunity to socialize with at any other time during the year.

Our company is a fun-loving bunch. This annual sales meeting always promises a fun, relaxed atmosphere. And especially these past few years, while we’ve been breaking all-time records for success and profits, people just can’t help but be in a good mood.

This year was no different. Everyone had a great time. And oh…did I mention the open bar? Obviously that’s something that just about everyone likes. And while I’m not much of a boozehound, if it’s free, why not enjoy it.

So I did.

There was cocktail hour before dinner, and of course, wine with dinner that followed. So with about four and a half glasses of wine (total) in me, I was feeling pretty good. And as I said, when buzzed, I feel like writing — always.

So when I got home I immediately went to the computer and the following is what came out. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it (or at least getting ready to)...

Funny the things one thinks about while inebriated…
Oh yeah, I could talk about a lot of things. I could talk about the transition I’m poised to go through at work. I just met my new boss for the first time this afternoon at our annual sales meeting.

I could talk about how this could be a make-or-break next six months for me, professionally, to be determined by whether this woman (who is just a few years shy of being young enough to be my freakin’ daughter) and I mesh. Will she view me as an asset, or will the other completely possible reality prevail, in which she, like others of her GenX ilk, sees fit to throw me and my baby boomer-aged ass out like yesterday’s trash?

It’s all possible and it’s all completely unlikely at the same time. But right now I’m just too inebriated to decide which one I choose to expect as my short or long-term fate.

You see I’m a little sauced, but not quite drunk, hence the aforementioned term, inebriated. This is my term of choice for describing the state of being that lies between sober and I’m-really-gonna-hate-myself-tomorrow.

However I’m reasonably sure that I’ll still be lovin’ me some me when I wake up to greet the morning sun, since I’ve already administered my brother Alex’s fool-proof secret recipe for going to battle with a hangover before it even starts. It’s an after-drinking regimen that features a 16-ounce tumbler of H2O and at least three extra-strength Tylenol, to ward off the evil spirits of over-imbibivication (heh…I just made up a word.).

Interestingly, every time I’m in this situation I think about my beloved little bro. But this time in particular, I’m thinking about possibly the most embarrassing, yet sentimental memory that Alex and I ever shared.

I may be four years Alex’s senior, but by the time we were adults, it was I who looked up to him, and not just because he was taller. Alex was so much more confident in social situations and so much worldlier than I ever imagined being back when we were younger. He never had any trouble meeting girls. He had the charisma of a presidential candidate. Alex was always a nice guy, with a wonderful heart, but his personality really had an edge to it, socially. Dude knew how to work a room. Hanging around with him made me feel a bit dangerous.

I liked that. I liked it a lot.

The year was 1994, and Alex and his young family were in the midst of an impromptu move from Dallas to Connecticut, where he had just taken a job with GTE (General Telephone) to become a senior associate in their in-house legal department. He would work there for a little more than three years before returning to Dallas in 1998. His boss was the controversial former U.S. Attorney General, Ramsey Clark.

Alex had decided to leave his position as a respected young attorney in a renowned Big D law firm and relocate to Stamford, CT to live the good life. Apparently he was promised a slower pace in Connecticut, fewer hours would be required of him than in Dallas, where he had become one of his firm’s chief research attorneys.

For years Alex burned the midnight oil researching and writing the background material his firm used to argue major cases, including his heavy contribution to the defense of one client, a major U.S. airline, in a landmark case that could have literally put them out of business had they lost. However the verdict was indeed for the defendant and Alex was heavily praised for his hard work and expertise. We were all incredibly proud of him.

But while the recognition was great, it still didn’t seem to push him closer to the partner track of that very talented and competitive law firm in Dallas. His kids were growing up without him, and his 80-100 hour workweeks weren’t bringing him any closer to his wife either. So he put out a few feelers amongst his many contacts from previous clerkship stints he did in Washington D.C. in his post-law school days.

Connections were made, and soon he had an offer he couldn’t refuse.

I don’t know if or how much more money he got, but it was certainly more than enough, along with shorter work hours, a timeshare in the country, and a better life for his three young children. It was a somewhat of a step back career-wise, but a step forward in quality of life.

It would also be his among his last steps, professionally, before the initial effects of early-onset Alzheimer’s would begin to rob him of the ability to do the work he so loved and performed at a high level.

But in 1994 no one envisioned, even in their worse nightmares that such an ultimate reality would befall this man, so vibrant, so brilliant, so precious to everyone who has known him. The only thing we knew was that he had a gotten this great opportunity back east and that he was going to take it. And we were excited for him and his family.

So en route to the East Coast from Dallas, Alex and family stopped off in Nashville to visit for a weekend. How could we have known that this first visit, in all likelihood would be his last in my home? I certainly couldn’t have imagined, after the great time we had together, that it would be one of only a handful of such opportunities we would have remaining.

Alex had blown briefly through Nashville once before during a two-day legal conference at a local Music City hotel. I went up there to meet him one afternoon. He only had about an hour to spend with me, but it was great to see him nonetheless.

However this time would be different. Alex, Seraph and the kids stayed with us for three days, and the one evening that my brother and I spent alone together was one of the more memorable of my entire life. We would talk about that night at least a half dozen times over the years to come.

Next: Kentucky Thunder

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I'm Done.

God I wish I was drunk right now.
Ever heard of the old phrase, “No good deed goes unpunished?” Well I’m living proof of its truth.

And I’m done.

I’m done trying to be something that people claim they need but really don’t want when it comes right down to it. I’m done with sticking my nose into people’s lives with the obviously deluded notion that I can be a friend and listen; that I can help them through their pain with no strings attached.

I’m tired of realizing that people don’t really want to address anything but their own wants and I am fucking sick and tired of being misunderstood.

I’m done with continually placing myself in the position to have my heart stepped upon.

I’m done with the drama, the immaturity, the narcissism.

What has happened to us folks?

What has happened to trust? What has happened to being real? When are we going to stop being such fucking cowards?

For those of you who read this and have no clue where I’m coming from, chill. This isn’t for you. For those of you reading this, who actually know me and are wondering what you did wrong, relax. You didn’t do a thing.

Those who know, know.

And to them I say good luck. I’m letting you go whatever direction you wish to choose. Nevertheless, should you still want to talk, I’ll always be here because I still believe in you.

Go figure.

I still choose to love. I still choose to trust. I still choose to respect.

And now I choose to stop being played with.


Monday, January 02, 2006

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part III)

Day Two — Saturday: Re-Wheeled
Well as you might have surmised, my transportation problems weren’t alleviated by Jay coming to my rescue and giving me a lift from the rental car agency near LAX to Cindy’s house. I obviously was still without a car and that circumstance just wasn’t gonna fly if I was to make good on my plans for the week.

The good news was that the agency offered to hold my reservation for an additional day so that I could come back and pick up the car the next day after the necessary funds showed up in my checking account. Once again I was indebted to my friends for their gracious indulgence. Cindy said she’d be happy to drive me back up to Los Angeles.

So Saturday morning after bagels, coffee and a little bit more catching up, we headed back up to the agency and I was able to acquire my rental car with no problems. Call me cheap, but I always go for basic transportation in a rental car to save money, usually a compact, so long as it’s not a tin can on wheels. I decided to go with the Hyundai they offered which seemed to be a pretty decent little car.

XMplary Entertainment
I finally had my car, now what about some tunes? Since my Discman CD player mysteriously disappeared several months earlier, I decided to try an alternative means of musical entertainment for this trip.

I haven’t talked all that much about it here before, but I’ve been a proud member of the XM Generation for three years now. I jumped on the XM Satellite Radio bandwagon right from the get-go and I absolutely love it. I have the XM MyFi, which is an MP3 player-sized, self-contained, portable unit you can take with you anywhere in the continental U.S. and pretty much be guaranteed a great signal to access over 200 channels of programming. Every kind of music, news, sports, special interest stuff — everything. However my original reason for wanting it was to have a reliable source for listening to The Tony Kornheiser Show.

Tony’s radio sports talk show, of which I have been a fan and e-mail participant since 2002, used to be on ESPN Radio, but now is broadcast locally from Washington DC, streamed live on the Internet, and rebroadcast on delay by XM. I normally listen to the live Internet feed each day at work. So even though I wouldn’t be in a position to listen live, at least I’d be able to hear the delayed XM broadcast while I was in SoCal on vacation.

But to be honest, my XM addiction doesn’t stop at the TK Show. I’ve now grown so accustomed to my XM that I very rarely ever listen to broadcast radio anymore, especially in my car. I just love the variety, not to mention basically knowing what I’m gonna get every time I listen. Oh, did I mention that all the music channels are commercial-free? I’m totally hooked. I honestly experience a bit of separation anxiety when I don’t have access to my XM for any length of time.

I already had an extra car kit (the one from my original unit also works with the MyFi) so after a quick temporary installation (I mean, where would the world be without black electrical tape?), with a tuck of a few wires underneath the dashboard console, I was all set. I flipped it on and I was ready. Besides, I think it’s against the law to drive the streets of L.A. without totally bitchin’ tunes blaring from your vehicle, so I was just doing my part to comply with local ordinances.

I followed Cindy back to the 405 Freeway, happily reacquainting myself with the feeling of being behind the wheel on the World’s Longest Parking Lot. But I didn’t care about the traffic. I was just happy to finally have my wheels for the week, and especially content to once again be on the freeway.

My love is in league with the Freeway
I believe I’ve mentioned it before, maybe more than once, but to me there’s just something special about the smog ‘n steel slam dance ballet that is freeway driving in Southern California. In fact, it was the very thing that became my first true inspiration to drive a car. It was probably my first conscious romantic connection to that wondrous place I first called home in 1969, when my family moved there from the Midwest.

Now if you think that notion sounds crazy, you’re probably right. But believe me, I’d gladly opt for sharing overpopulated arteries of transportation with people who actually know how to drive, as they do in L.A., over their nimrod counterparts here in Nashville any day. Driving in L.A. certainly can be frustrating, but it’s rarely scary (to me anyway). By and large, people do what you expect them to do there, unlike the psychobillies here in Music City, who will go out of their way to let you merge into a lane one minute, and then cut you off blind the next.

Nashville drivers apparently haven’t learned that when you’re schizophrenic in your approach to highway driving, bad things are bound to happen. You can’t drive defensively and aggressively at the same time. That’s how accidents occur; and they happen a lot more often, proportionately, here on the Interstates of Nashville than they ever do on L.A. Freeways. Not coincidentally, Tennessee is routinely one of the top states in the nation for traffic deaths per capita of population.

In L.A., everyone drives fast; everyone drives aggressively. You just accept that as a given and it works. I can’t speak for everyone, but to me, that fact has always helped me to relax and enjoy my time behind the wheel when I’m there. Nevertheless I hate traffic, but somehow it just seems to me it’s more bearable in L.A. than it is in Nashville. Call me weird, but that’s the honest truth.

I guess it’s possible that I tolerate L.A. traffic better because when I was a kid, driving on the freeway was the number one thing looked forward to doing once I got my license.

It’s a little embarrassing to admit it, but I’ll find myself welling up with tears if I think about it long enough; that warm feeling of wonder I used to experience as a thirteen year-old, riding in the back seat of my parent’s car whenever we traveled on freeways at night. I would stare out my window, hypnotized by the rolling blanket of lights that filled the horizon. Lights everywhere, as far as I could see, whose only interruption was the inky black, starless sky. I used to squint so that my eyes would go out of focus, and the lights would bounce and merge, dancing like carousel horses as my head swayed from side to side.

Yeah, I was a weird kid…

Now thirty-six years later I still have this kind of wistful, love/hate notion about driving the freeways in SoCal. So when we set out from the rental agency, even though it wasn’t at night, as in my childhood fantasy, I was excited to be back into the mix.

When we got back to Cindy’s neighborhood, I followed her to a nearby Kinkos, as per our pre-arrangement, so that I could check my e-mail and tie up some work-related loose ends I realized that I’d forgotten to do twenty four hours earlier.

Yeah, I hate when that happens, but it’s oh-so-typical of yours truly.

But within about 30 minutes I was finished and back on my way over to Cindy’s. By this time it was early afternoon and I needed to hurry before a special guest she had invited over to see me was scueduled to arrive.

Cindy had mentioned on the phone in the weeks leading up to the trip that she was going to have a surprise for me; someone whom I hadn’t seen in a long time who’d been unable to make it to a gathering of a few of our old group Michelle and I attended when we were in town (during my first trip in 2004) the summer before. After a few missed guesses I finally figured out who it was: Cocoa.

Cocoa was really a blast from the past. I probably hadn’t seen her in close to 30 years. We weren’t really all that tight as friends, but I always felt a very comfortable vibe between us. And actually that was the case with practically everyone in that group of ours.

We were all part of the college-age class at our church in Long Beach during the mid-to-late 70s. Looking back on it now, I doubt that many of us realized what a truly special place in time it was. Many of the friendships that were forged during those 3-4 years have remained to this day. And even those that waned due to life changes, job relocations, and even personality conflicts at the time, many have been revived in recent years, as if the time in between never even happened.

Such as was the case with Cocoa and me. She was a few years older, but was dating one of my best friends in the group at the time she was there, so we spoke often. Now in recent years she has returned to the Long Beach area after spending most of the past 30 years living in Kansas, and for awhile, Scotland of all places. She is wonderfully gifted musician, and played with a band in pubs all across the country while she lived there. She still returns as often as she can, to see her old friends and play a few pub gigs where she’s still much in demand.

The plan was that Cocoa would stop by around 2:00 and we’d hang out for awhile and then throw some streaks on the grill for an early dinner. I had made arrangements to take Cindy to a concert at the House of Blues in Anaheim later that evening as my way of showing my appreciation for her putting me up for the week.

When Cocoa arrived, it truly was just like old times. We talked, had a few beers, as she caught me up on her many travels and the changes in her life over the years. We compared notes on the ever-challenging job of parenthood, as she with her three now nearly grown daughters could attest. Cindy had asked her to bring along her guitar so that she could sing me a couple of her new songs, which were great. It was just fantastic to see her again.

I don’t remember exactly when we had broached the subject in conversation, but I want to say it was on the phone at some point before my trip out. But somehow Cindy and I got on the subject of The Beatles. Now if you’ve been with me for awhile, you know that one of my first blog posts and absolutely one of my proudest story subjects is of the time I saw The Beatles in concert.

I have been saying for years that I was the only person, aside from my eldest brother Jack and his buddy who came with us, who had ever actually seen The Beatles live. And considering that they only toured America twice, in 1964 and briefly in ’65, it’s really not all that likely that you’re going to run into a lot of people who’ve shared that experience now 40 years later.

Well guess what? Turns out I’ve known one of them without realizing it for more than 30 years! I saw The Fab Four at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on September 3, 1964 when I was eight years old. What I discovered was that Cindy, just nine days earlier had been witness to what is generally considered The Beatles’ greatest American concert performance on August 23rd at the Hollywood Bowl.

AND…she still has the ticket stub!

So having already insisting repeatedly that she let me see it, Cindy proudly brought forth her treasure and paraded it in front of our noses; this little piece of card stock, still in mint condition, which would certainly fetch thousands on the open collectables market. If only I had been a little older and had the presence of mind to have saved my ticket stub. Needless to say, Cocoa and I fawned all over it. What a cool keepsake to have!

Soon it was time to eat, and snap a few pictures. Speaking of cool things, Cocoa had the nicest Nikon digital SLR camera, you know, the totally professional model with the interchangeable lenses and megapixels up the wazoo. She let me take a few shots with it and I knew that some day I must possess this camera!

I also snapped a few with the little 35MM film camera I brought, but mysteriously, the roll I was shooting at the time turned out blank. Hense I have no pictures of Cindy and none of Cocoa. I don’t know whether I put the film in wrong or the x-ray machines at the airport got it, but it was the first roll I’ve ever lost that way. Needless to say I was well bummed later when I went to get it developed, which further strengthens my resolve to get a decent digital camera and never have to worry about the hassle of film again.

We ate and talked yet some more until the time was getting close for Cindy and I to head off to the House of Blues for the evening. So we said our so-longs to Cocoa, whom we were going to see again a week later, with some other friends for breakfast, just before I left to return home.

I gave my old friend a big hug and then rushed off to get ready to go.

Next: Day Two — Saturday (continued):
Can’t Breathe (8pm): The Anna Nalick Debacle