Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Now I has jazz

Stacey and I went down to the Southern Theater last week to see the Columbus Jazz Orchestra play some Cole Porter tunes. It was righteous. The last time I went to that style of theater was over 10 years ago to see Tori Amos, of all people. The Southern Theater is pretty and well restored, and cozy, fitting possibly 1000 people on 3 levels. We got hooked up with two orchestra-level seats by one of the band members, which was a great out of the blue present. Thanks, Bob.

I didn't keep a program, so as best my memory serves me, they played arrangements of the following:

All Of You
Begin the Beguine
Don't Fence Me In
I've Got You Under My Skin
Just One of Those Things
Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love
My Heart Belongs to Daddy
Now You Has Jazz
The Physician
Too Darn Hot

"So what," you ask? So they played 10 complex arrangements flawlessly (to my ears), and some of the orchestra members have other jobs. It's noteworthy. And when you consider that last month they performed Miles Davis, and in February it was Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, it's damned impressive.

Stacey had a great time, and made me happy when she snuggled up to me during "My Heart Belongs to Daddy". Now that she's getting older, she'll want to go out and see live music more, as cartoon movies and Disney start to become less important. I'm looking forward to it.

The last two weeks have been busy, and zipped by quickly. I finally found a free day to fix up my neglected yard for Spring, on a day that Stacey was at a camp riding horses with her Scouts troop. Other than that, it's been soccer games, dance class, rehearsal for an upcoming singing performance, and in the middle of it all I managed to make good on my promise to take my mentee to see a Reds game down in Cincinnati.

My running around schedule lately has been analogous to playing a fast song on Dance Dance Revolution, frantically stomping on the buttons, trying to keep time with the arrows as they fly up the screen. I'd give myself an AA over the last few weeks, with many Perfects, a couple Greats, and exactly one Marvelous: When it was our turn to bring snacks to the Soccer game, our homemade brownies and Rice Krispies treats were a hit with the girls.

Now, if I could only sleep more than 6 hours a night, and not wake up panicking that I'm forgetting something. Fortunately, the busy season will wrap up soon, as the extracurriculars wind down for the season, and the end of the school year draws near.

Stacey's soccer team is playing well this year, and the coach, Henry, is a good morale booster and technical instructor for them. Even though we haven't won any games yet, we have steadily improved, never had our butts handed to us, and just yesterday tied a very good team. The girls were very positive yesterday after our 2-2 tie.

The coach was short on help this season, and asked me if I would come and manage substitutions for the team, which I gladly said yes to. Being on the sidelines during the games, I've learned a little about coaching, reading a simple position/sub chart, and managing bouncy 9 and 10 year olds (a score of prior sleepovers and outings with Stacey's friends was good practice). Among the softer benefits, I finished learning the names of the girls I left out a couple posts ago: Carly, Caroline, Malorie, Vickie, and Grace. I feel good being out there with the team, and Stacey loves to see me participate in her world, so it's good all around.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Goodbye, Randy

My best friend's father, Randy Pees, died over the weekend. He had a rough life, but, as I see it, a nice enough ending: He played with his grandchildren fulltime, and died in his sleep. Personally, I couldn't ask for anything better.

He and I didn't get along, due to my brazen jackassery as a teen, but later in life made amends, if not friends. On one occasion, he, Bill (his son, my aforementioned best friend), I, and my daughter, met for lunch at a nice Italian restaurant, and had a swell time. I never saw him after that meal, and compared to how things could have been between us, I consider us well quit.

He was a lawyer, and debated as such with damn near anyone who crossed him. Despite our passive-agressive antagonism to each other, I payed attention to some of the things he said. He was not fond of telephone harassment, getting billed by service providers who failed to provide their service, working for The Man, or restaurant staff who dropped the ball.

Here are two anecdotes of Randy in prime form, one I witnessed, one recounted to me:


I was at the Pees house, probably playing Super NES with the gang, and Randy was talking to a Sears bill collector on the phone, and they appeared to me to be calling to demand money for a disputed charge. I only heard one side of the conversation, and it progressed thusly:

"I told you guys not to call any more, and here you are calling again. That's harassment."
"It isn't?! Are you a lawyer?"
"Well I am a lawyer, and I know what harassment is."
"Your supervisor? Sure, let me talk to more assholes from Sears!"

Bringing the veiled threat of a lawsuit against a $5/hour telephone flunky always brings out the best in people. A question worth asking here is: Why do retail companies employ people whose job it is to break the law?

Tee Jays

This one was recounted to me by Bill.

Randy takes his son, Bill, out to eat late one night to the local 24-hour Tee Jays. They were unexpectedly busy, had a minimal staff, but for some reason kept seating people that they wouldn't be able to serve any time soon. The restaurant had plenty of chairs, but only one waitress, Martha. The waitress was clearly in over her head, and no executive decision was made to stop the madness by getting more help in the store, or refusing service, or even suggesting that it may be an hour after you're seated before your meal comes.

Randy and Bill walked in, and were cheerfully greeted and seated, and no mention was made of the current staff/customer ratio problem. They chatted for a while, and even though it seemed a good long while before their order was taken, they didn't think much of it. After a substantial wait after placing the order, their food finally came. Among other issues with the food, Randy's water had a sizeable piece of trash in it, clearly visible. A casual observer would have no difficulty spotting this, much less an experienced waitress, part of whose job it is to declare product fit to consume before delivering it.

Randy ate his food and avoided his water. The waitress never returned to check on them, another standard job function of serving staff. Eventually she returned to place the bill on the table, and scoot away hurriedly. Randy went up to the register to pay, and Martha was there to take his money.

R "Busy night?"
M "Oh, yeah, it was terrible.."
[Other chitchat, putting Martha at ease.]
R "Do you have any kids, Martha?"
M "Why yes, I have..."
R "Well that's a shame, cause people like you oughtn't have the right to breed!"
[Stunned silence, followed by pitiful, mousy reply]
M "..but, sir,... I was the only one on the floor."

Shock and awe indeed. The argument can be made that Martha was not at fault, being too overwhelmed trying to help too many people. I counter that she should have put her foot down and demanded a manager take corrective action when things started to get out of control. It may have been greed at a potential wealth of tips, an inexperienced manager who didn't know what to do in an emergency, or, likely, no manager in the store since it was so late at night. I know at least one restaurant, Denny's, that runs this way -- which is an anecdote of it's own, but I'll save that until later. No matter what else, nothing excuses bringing someone contaminated food; you could kill someone that way.

There was more than self-righteous rage to Randy. He loved his kids and grandkids, he overcame an alcohol addiction, he found it in his heart to make amends with me, the troublemaking teen. I have no complaints.

So long, Randy, we hardly knew ye.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Spring Break, Taxes, Vonnegut, Baby Eaton

Horror movies are never as frightening as their literary counterparts. The imagination, however rusty, still outperforms an SGI. -- Liza Daly

Stacey went with her mom for Spring break, for the first time that I can recall. Spring break is a time that Stacey and I usually travel, to the beach, to Washington D.C., to visit relatives, to amusement parks, museums, etc. This year, Stacey and her mom went to Las Vegas, and apparently had a really good time. I did nothing but clean my house, play with my dog, and eat TV dinners (more on that later, as the astute reader will know that this goes contrary to some statements I've made before).

This year Westerville's Spring break was also during Easter week, rolling into Eater Sunday. Stacey has long since given up belief in various supernatural gift-givers, such as a certain pagan deliverer of eggs, but she still likes to get Eater baskets. I put together a basket for her as a surprise when she got back, with some dyed eggs, a couple nice chocolates, peeps (of course), gummy rings, and some generic jelly beans. My recent purchase of a double boiler came in handy, the bottom pot easily boiling a dozen eggs at the same time for dying.

[--Curtis' simple rules for egg boiling: Let the eggs sit at room temperature while the water heats up. Get water to rolling boil. Add eggs for exactly 13 minutes for a nice yellow yolk. Plunge eggs directly into icewater to pull the albumen away from the shell. Easy setup, perfect eggs every time.]

Stacey liked the basket, and was happy to get something, since she and mom had (understandably) spent Eater Sunday recuperating from the trip. The gummies went fast, as did half the chocolate, but the jelly beans, peeps, and eggs were mostly uneaten. I had 8 of the eggs as a lunch additive the following week, Stacey only being able to get through 4 hard boiled eggs before getting tired of them.

My tax returns netted me a whopping $119 dollars, which is great. I've been adjusting my W-4s over the last couple of years to try to maximize my paycheck, and get my tax returns as close to 0 as possible. The reason is simple, and I've gone over it here before: I want more control of my money. I want to get all I'm owed, owe nothing, and not have a big check once a year to go nuts with. I want to correctly spend my money, save for retirement, save for my kid's college, and pay off my last two remaining debts, my car and my house. Once-a-year mad money is counterproductive to all those goals. So this year I came real close to hitting the mark, off by a scant C note.

Kurt Vonnegut died. If you've ever been a literate rebel, this isn't news to you. The man's writing, and some films based on his writing, have evoked great emotion in me. Mother Night, for instance, caused in me a great sense of hopelessness for mankind. It was beautiful.

Most of my reading of his work was done when I was too young, and I found it "cool", but somewhat incomprehensible. The good news of his death, is that I'm spurred into picking up his books again, and this time around I'll better enjoy the bitter vitriol.

A man's death spawns in me anticipation to read things that will make me miserable. So it goes.

In better news, Stacey's second cousin Brian and his wife Tabitha are going to have a baby, making Stacey an "aunt" at 11 years old. Actually, they will be second cousins once removed, as shown in the (abbreviated) chart below:

She's due in November, so hopefully when Stacey and I head down for Thanksgiving, there'll be a new baby to play with, and a new great-great-grandmother in the family.