Thursday, August 31, 2006

Weird Stuff

Yes, weird stuff. I have a home-made CD titled "Weird Shit," and it's full of songs that have absolutely no relation to each other (AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and Weird Al's "The Biggest Ball of Twine In Minnesota" spring to mind), but this isn't about that. Though it certainly could be. This is just about weird stuff.

Now, sometimes weird stuff is not good. It's stuff that sneaks up behind you and hits you in the back of the head, giving you a bad headache and ruining your day. And sometimes it is good. I had a good variety weird thing happen to me when I came home for lunch today.

I'd hung around for about an hour, doing my normal lunchtime routine of things, and as I was getting ready to go back to work I was washing out a cup and looking out of my wonderful and treasured kitchen window. It was raining outside. "Ah, I knew it would rain before I got back to work, " I said, not thinking much more about it. I then picked up my keys and headed out the door, which leads to the front of my house, whereas the window overlooks the back of my house, and guess what. It wasn't raining.

Now, I know you don't believe me when I say this, but I swear to you this is true. And to prove it to myself, I went back in the house and looked out my kitchen window one more time, and it was indeed raining in my back yard. I left the house again through the front and, though it would rain on me in the car a few minutes down the road, it was not raining as I was standing in the driveway.

I started to walk around to the back of the house before getting in the car, just to see this amazing phenomenon up close. Two things kept me from it: 1) I was late for getting back to work, and 2) I was actually kind of afraid. I thought maybe if I experienced, in the flesh, that cosmic point between where it rains and where it stops I might get sucked up into some strange vortex, some time-space continuum from which I could never escape.

I guess I shouldn't be so surprised that this happened, weird though it was. I can remember many times in my childhood looking out the window with excitement as snow began to pepper down around our house. I'd look out the back window, I'd look out the front window. And it often seemed to be snowing more either in the front or back. I'd just never seen it with rain before. Or never seen it snowing in the back yard and not snowing in the front.

The reason I was late getting back to work after lunch is because I spent 10 minutes trying to open the sealed box my deli ham comes in. I never made it. I finally gave up, picked out something else, and called it a day.

I read on the internet,, an interesting news story. Now, here's a guy who had some weird stuff happen to him. A.N. Wilson, who I've never heard of, wrote a biography about the poet John Betjeman, who I've also never heard of, so there's one less book Mr Wilson's going to sell. Anyway, Betjeman was a poet who apparently groused a lot about his lack of a lovelife, and Mr Wilson was ready to publish a never-before seen letter written by Betjeman to a mistress, thus blowing Betjeman's "I never have any fun" claims right out of the water. What he failed to realize was that this letter was a hoax, and one of the more discernible clues as to this is that in one paragraph of the letter, the first letters of each sentence, when taken in order, spell out "A.N. Wilson Is A Shit."

I guess that's the kind of weird stuff that sneaks up behind you and hits you in the back of the head.

I saw the nephew today, and, thank God, he's letting his hair grow out since he cut it to the nubs over summer. It's getting quite long and thick. Upon first seeing him I exclaimed, "You have a combover!" because he seems to have started taking to parting it on the side, but not just on the side, mainly around the ear. Well, not the ear, but close.

I think I hurt his feelings, and he immediately started touching his hair and asking if I didn't like it, and so I assured him it was fine, although he did look a bit like Marv Albert. He didn't know who Marv Albert was. Weird for him, the combover remark (bang! on the head), weird for me, the not knowing Marv Albert (bang! you're old!). This remark, though, was from the 17-year old who said once, at the mention of Paul Newman, "Oh. The salad dressing guy."

And that, my friends, is weird stuff.

Betland's Olympic Update:
* The Hucklebug is now legal. Go here and listen to week 21, where Stennie and I hoist a few and talk about all sorts of things. You can also subscribe through itunes, if they'll let you. No, they'll let you now. Stennie fixed it.
* My house is clean. I spent two hours on it tonight. Well, not on it, it's raining, at least in the back yard, but in it, cleaning and cleaning.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I Can't Open This Damn Thing!

We all have our pet peeves. I know Stennie and I do, anyway, because we discussed them on the Hucklebug podcast not too long ago. And why this one didn't crop up in my list, I've no idea. Because, well, peeves? Yes, it's a peeve, but it's so much more. I guess it just hadn't happened to me in a particularly violent way recently at that time. But it has now, thrice in the past week, and so I'm ready to vent.

I hate the way everything in this country is so fucking overpackaged!

I can remember the first time I encountered this then-new phenomenon. It was round about the time of the Tylenol poisonings, but it wasn't the bottle of red and white pills that ease headache pain. It was something much more innocent. It was a bottle of Crisco cooking oil.

And I laughed. I laughed! Yes, I unscrewed the blue plastic cap off my bottle of Crisco only to find - well, not a gaping hole into which I could stick my eye and see miles of artery-clogging oil, but a little white plastic thing with a loop attached to the opening of the bottle. "Well, what is this?" I asked myself, then pulled on the loop and out popped the little white plastic thing, which was conical shaped.

"Hey! It's a baby coolie hat!" I exclaimed, and put it on my index finger, singing "Chinatown, My Chinatown" and doing my own puppet show.

I certainly didn't know what was to come.

Now, the whole Tylenol thing. What a horrible person, that guy who put cyanide into bottles of Tylenol, thus killing several people and making the world realize how easy it was to tamper with everyday products right on our grocery shelves. On a personal level, the very weekend that happened, it was circa 1982 I believe, I was spending a particularly drunken weekend with some friends in Atlanta, and we basically lived on Tylenol and Alka-Seltzer for three days, so I know I should consider myself lucky that I'm even here.

And OK, maybe it's not such a bad idea to put a piece of aluminum foil on the bottle of aspirin, or encase the top of a bottle with a clear plastic dotted-line tearaway thing that seals up a product for safe keeping. It's sad, but the way things are in these terrible times, well, I guess I can live with that.

But damn. Hasn't it gone overboard.

I wear contact lenses. And goody for me. And as a contact lens wearer, I of course have to buy bottle after bottle after bottle of contact lens solution, sold at ridiculously inflated prices at grocery and department stores. I buy them in two-bottle packs. They come in a box. This box is hermetically sealed on all sides, and top and bottom. So I get the box home, slide my finger underneath the box's seal, sometimes slicing my precious finger, open the box, and pull out a bottle of solution, only to find that - the bottle has also been sealed, with a tight plastic wrapper around its spout.

The first thing that bothers me is that this plastic wrapper is nigh-on impossible to remove. It has no tearaway perforations, and I tug and pull, breaking fingernails and resorting to using my pointy canine teeth (yes, my canines are pointy, just like a dog's or vampire's) which still doesn't do the trick, and so I go to the old standby. The black fine-point pen that sits by my bed. I start poking holes in the plastic with the pen point until it gets to a stage where I can tear the plastic away and begin the business of contact lens cleaning. Which takes some of the wind from the sails of "packaged for your protection," because now the spout of my once-sanitary solution is covered with black pen marks.

And the second thing is that the box is sealed, on all sides, and that's good enough for me. But apparently only me.

At least they're trying to save me from poisoned eyes. But it gets better, friends.

I'm also a Barbie collector. And goody for me on that as well. I will on occasion, though I haven't lately, buy a Barbie in a store and bring her home to rape for her neat shoes or start tearing out her hair and pulling off her head so I can remake her into someone I like better. I open her sealed box, and what do I find? That Barbie has been tied into her box like no dominatrix ever knew how. She has plastic ties around her waist, wrists, and feet. Then, as if that weren't enough, her hair - her sacred Barbie hair! - has been sewn, actually sewn with plastic thread, into another piece of plastic that's affixed to the box. Was it that easy to steal Barbie before? And is she less easy to steal now? Hell, if a Barbie will fit under your shirt or in your handbag, so will her box. I don't think sewing her hair, which after the unpackaging takes on the resemblance of Barbie In A Tornado, is going to help.

Speaking of hair, over the weekend I bought a set of hair thingies. Headbands, I guess you call them. My hair curls like nobody's business, and the heat and humidity of the summer has made it hard to manage. And not-so-goody for me on that one. My four headbands came with a sealed cardboard hanger around them. I got them home and tore open the cardboard to try one on to see if it would in fact tame my hair, or at least tie it up to the point where I could forget about it and get on with the business of living a life. I discarded the cardboard and still couldn't try on a headband. Because underneath the cardboard, the bands were welded together with a piece of sealed plastic wire so hard neither hands nor teeth could unlock them. I had to go for the kitchen knives.

Now, I have an hour for lunch, and goody for me on that, because some people have less, but not-so-goody for me because I wish I had more, for no one can come home, hang at the computer, fix and eat lunch, and drink a horrid Orange Crapius comfortably in one hour. That sentence was long, and I apologize. Last week I received in the mail two brand new big honking jugs of Crapius, of the orange and lemon varieties, and when I arrived home for lunch I set about the task of combining the two flavors together in a jar, as I do, for mixing into another liquid to drink. (It's a strange life I lead, you know.) When I opened my two caps on the two jugs I said, "Shit," because I generally forget about the thick paper affixed to the tops of the jugs.

Paper affixed to a jug top sounds so benign. But you don't understand. This paper is so thick, and is sealed so hard, with nary a tab to pull on, that I don't even try. I go right for the knives again and jab around the circular top until my paper is cut away. And me, being a little anal, you know, I don't want to cut badly and leave paper bits jagging around the jug top, and well, it takes time, you know?

So I did this twice, combined my two Crapii together, and mixed up a drink. Then, I had to decide on something to fix for lunch, which of course I wouldn't have time to eat, but I'd take it back to work and munch on it at my desk. There's a rotating bullpen of three general lunches in Betland: chicken strips you throw into the oven, a skinless chicken breast you throw into the oven, and lunchmeat rolled together like a big meaty cigar and eaten. For this particular day I chose the chicken strips. I opened a new bag of them, tore the tearaway top right off, got out a pan, and prepared to hoist a couple of strips onto it. But I couldn't. Because that new bag I'd just torn the top away from - contained a second bag inside, the one the chicken was in, and it didn't have a tearaway top! It had no opening apparatus at all! Those chicken strips were suffocating in that bag! Thank God for the kitchen knife. Once again, it let those chickens run free, at least till they got to my pan, where they were baked and eaten.

And, folks, this wasn't a random bad day. I didn't just pick the wrong lunch. Because the boneless chicken breasts are also sealed in a bag that's sealed within a bag which needs a knife to open. And the lunchmeat is in a sealed plastic box that, when opened, contains a sealed plastic bag (knife, please!) that holds the meat.

It's a good thing I didn't want a second coffee that day. Because while my coffee has a nice and easy aluminum foil tearaway top, the coffee creamer uses those thick plastic tabless stick-ons just like the Orange Crapius people endorse (knife, please!). Or wanted a mid-day toothbrushing. (Ever squeeze the hell out of your toothpaste tube only to realize that the reason nothing's coming out is because there's a plastic sticky underneath the spout?) Or to touch up my coif with some hair goop. (Same deal.) Or to take a vitamin. (Same deal as with the coffee creamer, only with the added feature of digging past a fist-sized ball of cotton, a practice I've pondered for 40 some-odd years and have yet to understand. Maybe pill companies don't like the sound of pills rattling in a bottle as they pack them into boxes, even though they do that anyway, cotton or not. I know, I've checked.)

I guess what I'm going for here is that if you want to protect me once, fine. Have at it. But please, don't overprotect me. Glue one box, seal one bag, and call it a day. I'm having a nervous breakdown here trying to use your products, Corporate America.

And also, while we're at it, you might want to know that I'm in the 98% majority of folks who don't want to steal your products. Barbies are welded to their boxes, headbands are put in bondage. And how about those products (computer accessories are big for this, and other electronics) that are encased in a clear flat plastic container that - doesn't open! There's no pull tab, no dot to press that releases the package open, no tiny combination lock that you have to go online, set up an account and password, then wait for an e-mail to get the combination to. Nothing. They're unopenable, even with scissiors, because the clear plastic is too hard to be cut by even the sharpest pair. Knife, please! (It's a wonder I still have 10 fingers with all this knife use.)

Then. Then! How about the products that are overpackaged - for no fucking reason whatsoever! They're not theft-proof, and they're not capable of being poisoned and hurting our persons. Who's bought a CD or DVD in the last, oh, 10 years? You've got your plastic shrinkwrap around the item, and if you've lost your little E-Z Slide CD opener for, oh, say, the 436th time, you're left trying to peel it open at one of its corners (knife, please!). And once you've finally done that, you've got what I feel is about the most annoying invention of the last 100 years, besides Viagra, the thick sticky label they put at the top of the CD or DVD case. And in what to me is just plain cruelty, it even has a pull tab on it. It's a tab, and it says "pull!" And it doesn't work! If you can get the tab de-affixed from the case, which of course you can't, it pulls off the tab only, and you're left scratching the rest of that sticky label with your fingernails, having it come off in eight or nine pieces and scratching the hell out of your case. Well, your DVD case. Your CD case just breaks, but it was bound to do that within the first 20 minutes after its purchase anyway, but it still always seems to come as a surprise.

Cookies nowadays come in a sealed bag inside a sealed box. As do the cheese sticks I like. The Fake Bacon I sometimes eat is in a sealed box inside a sealed box. Salad dressings are sealed by paper on their caps, and a good deal of them have the top of the bottle sealed with paper (knife, please!). And the item that started it all for me, the cooking oil, still has the little pull-out coolie hat. However, the blue plastic cap on top is now sealed as well.

Is the general public so dumb that they'll buy something off the shelves that looks like it's already been opened? I mean, if you go out to buy a bottle of aspirin or box of cookies and the box it's in isn't sealed, wouldn't you just look for another one? Would you buy a bottle someone's opened and torn the plastic seal on? Well, I know you wouldn't. You're good people. However - well, I guess sometimes it's just not good to ask a question that begins, "Is the general public so dumb...."

I know what you're thinking. Well, I know what I'm thinking, anyway.

What about shoes?

Isn't it strange indeed that shoes are completely non-tamper-proof? They're just sitting there, in boxes, not tied in, not sealed up. Someone could come up with a powder that could rot the feet of America, and a network of foot terrorists could take one single day in the right stores and render half our nation footless. They could shove little traps in the toes - imagine the pain of losing your big toe simply because you just had to try on that brown suede pump. All I need to do is point out that not too long ago we had a shoe-bomber on our hands. It can be done, people. It could be the downfall of The Security of America.

Either that, or they could come up with an idea that would put knives in stores in that clear plastic packaging that it takes a knife to get into. I really don't see how the country could rebound from that.

I couldn't.

Betland's Olympic Update:
* Acrowinners, we have acrowinners! So, what' going to be the new "Law & Order" this season?
- Honorable Mention goes to Flipsycab, with her "Law & Order: Investigative Physical Education." (And thanks, Flipsy, for the L & O creedo, it was a nice sentimental touch.)
- Runner-Up goes to Stennie, with her "Law & Order: Indigents, Perps, & Embezzlers."
- And this week's winner goes to DeepFatFriar, with his "Law & Order: International Pedophile Escapades." Boy, talk about a season premiere "ripped from today's headlines." That's an episode waiting to happen.
- Thanks to all who played. You've all done very well indeed!

Monday, August 28, 2006


Hello, my acroees. And welcome to yet another round in the neverending brain-bending that is acromania.

We're going to try something slightly different this week. You know, I like "Law & Order," and I watch it a lot. And as we all know, "Law & Order" has sprung many different incarnations, "Special Victims Unit," "Criminal Intent," there was even one about lawyers I can't remember the name of.

In tonight's acrochallenge, you're going to be a network programmer. NBC wants yet another incarnation of "Law & Order," and it's up to you to give them what they want. So the letters below will come after "Law & Order: _______"

All the other rules are the same. Everyone gets three entries to come up with the best acronym they can that not only matches the topic above, but also the letters below which are randomly drawn from the acrobasket. The acrobasket was on an episode of "Law & Order" once. He was, "Evidence." Then at 10pm est tomorrow night I shall be reading the entries and naming the winners, who get to appear on the "Law & Order" of their choice, and the non-winners, who will be murdered by a random stranger. However, your murderer will be found by that smug asshole Vincent D'Onofrio from "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," so it'll all work out in the end.

This week's topic? "Law & Order: _______." The letters:


Now, acro - do it for Lenny!

Betland's Olympic Update:
* I had podmobile2 serviced today, because it was way too humid to walk. Not much of an update, but there you go.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Picture Sunday

Hello, end of weekenders.

It was a non-exciting weekend for me here at the Poderosa. Didn't travel, didn't do much of anything, other than play the clarinet and sit around a lot. And I don't stand when I play the clarinet, so, people, it was a lot of sitting.

Anyway, I still have a few pictures for you all, so let's get right to it - Picture Sunday: The Low Camera Batteries Edition.

OK, so I mentioned last week I'd done a job on my hedges. All that work, it really deserved a picture. Here's one.

See that one on the far end? He was the stinker. He was the one with a second bush growing out of him.

And how could I give those hedges a spotlight and forget about the other side of my house?

There they are. Oh, and everybody say "hi" to podmobile2, there gleaming in the sun.

OK, picture of my work, now how about a picture of my latest purchase?

I saw a girl at Clarinetfest with the coolest clarinet case ever. So when I got home I put out an All Points Bulletin till I finally found it online. I have a new clarinet case. And it's pink!

Now, how could a case that cool not make me a better clarinet player? I mean, after all, it's pink! And just to show you it will indeed hold my clarinet....

And look - even the inside fuzzy is pink!

And as for the pictures, friends, I'm afraid that's about it. I guess I could have taken one of myself sitting around, but I'm sure you've all seen that quite enough.

So let's get right to it, the recipe du jour. This one's fun for the whole family. It comes from the "Lunch Portraits" file at cardland, and say hello it it now, The Girl On My Plate.

Well, isn't she just lovely. She's a Deli Boticelli. She's a Lunchmeat Mona Lisa. And she's easy. Well, I mean, you can tell that by looking at her, and we don't morally judge here at Betland, but she's easy to plate as well. She has porcelain deli honey-roasted ham skin, with green bean eyes and chive eyebrows. Her mysterious half-smile is a pimiento. She's wearing a frock of lovely baby spinach organza, and her flaxen mane is cheese in a can. Top it all off with a strawberry bow for dessert, and you have a lunch you can fall in love with.

After I finished my Plate Girl, though, I got to looking at her. She looks a little masculine, doesn't she? I believe she might be a cross-dresser. Yes, I'm caught in my own version of "The Crying Game."

Happy week.

Betland's Olympic Update:
* CD Mix Exchange Alert! Yes, you remember the last one, well, there's a new one on the horizon. Why don't you participate this time around? The rules and song listing are on Stennie's blog - go here and scroll to the August 25th entry to read all about it. Come on, join up. You know you want to.
* And - Hucklebugsters, not that I'm shilling for comments, I'd never do that, but we're recording on Monday this week instead of Tuesday. So if you have comments, get them to the Hucklebug right away. You might win something!
* And it's pink!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sometimes I Feel My Life Is Page Eight, or K and P and T and Me

As you all know, because it seems to be all I've talked about lately, I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago. I was gone, away from my computer, which was a hard separation, but I made it OK and neither of us forgot each other while I was in the Big City.

When I got back home and threw the first load of laundry into the washer, and Mr M and The Teenagers were safely on the road back to B'burg, of course the first thing I did was to sit down at the desk here to check my e-mails, my blog, your blogs, various sites, and, well, get reacquainted, just like one would get reacquainted with that loved one left behind.

And while I hadn't blogged in those five or so days, I noticed that I had a couple of new comments on various blogs I'd written before the trip, so I went in to give them a read. And became quite proud. For my abundant readership of 10 or 11 people seemed to have grown by one. One brand-new commenter.

I looked and read the first comment and didn't think too much about it. "Hmm. Some new person seems to have found the ol' blog." Then I went and read the second one and became very perplexed indeed. Because, while this person was (by name and profile picture) completely unbeknownst to me, that second comment contained a cryptic message.

It mentioned that this new person thought they knew me from some former incarnation, gave a street address, and used the line, and I may be paraphrasing here, "I was a brat who twirled baton."

The address was that of the house across the street from where my sister and I spent our growing-up years, so that narrowed things down quite a bit. During those Wonder Years, there were three families who lived at that address. An older couple with no children, a family with three girls, two of whom were bratty little twins, and the Family Y. The Family Y had two girls, K and T.

So I looked at that picture again, and tried to imagine what the bratty twins might look like all grown up. And also tried to imagine how either of them would ever remember me, as they were some years younger and we didn't play much. I ruled them out. One more look at the picture, and I ruled out both K and T.

Who in the fiery bowels of hell was this person leaving me a comment?!

I clicked the link to the commenter's profile and read a little. Lives in the "Deep, Deep South," four children, and the one that really caught my attention, "Former Trophy Wife." I went and read her blog. Great writing, to be sure, but no clues as to who this person was.

And I couldn't stand it any longer. I have the memory of, well, of whoever has the greatest memory in the world, and I was flummoxed on this one. So I clicked the e-mail link in the profile and sent a missive. "I give. Now, tell me, tell me, tell me!"

I got a reply the next day. And though it began, "Nope. Not gonna tell," she couldn't help herself and let it all out. It was in fact T. T of the Family Y.

It's hard to explain what receiving this e-mail was like. I have no qualms about telling you my reaction to all this, I was home for lunch, sitting there catching up on things and not eating, as I do, and when I read this e-mail, my hands started to shake and tears welled in my eyes. I was about an inch away from a major boo-hoo. And having to go back to work soon was about the only thing that kept me from it.

Because during those Wonder Years, ages 7 to 13 or so, K and P (my sister) and T and me were as thick as thieves. No, wait. We were thicker than thieves. We were interwoven together like no friends nor family ever were. One rarely saw any one of us without the other. Sure, there were other neighborhood kids roaming everywhere through those five or six streets, but the four of us, well, we were a notch above that. K and my sister were a year apart in age, and T and I were a year apart, and there were not one but two sets of sisters, and well, you get the idea.

So think of it this way, friends. Imagine having a long-lost family member, one you'd grown up with that, over time, vanished into thin air, and then *whap!* you look at an e-mail one day and there she is, alive, all grown up, and saying hello. Yeah, I was emotional about it all.

Seems T's discovery of me was, though sudden, a longer and more drawn-out process. She found Betland through that greatest of features, the "Next Blog" button, and something about it just seemed familiar. I mentioned B'field. And B'burg. And clarinets. She e-mailed her sister K and dared to inquire, "You don't possibly think...." Then she went and had a listen to the Hucklebug, and realized she'd found me.

One e-mail later, and the memories came flooding back.

Memories of roller skating, riding bikes, going to the neighborhood park. Of sleepovers, talking late into the night, and listening to the AM radio. Barbies, board games, and, yes, even batons. And more.

Chez Y had the wonderful feature of a porch that ran along the entire front of the house. Perfect for setting up a day-long Barbie session, or Farm Animals, a version of play in very limited edition wherein one basically played Barbies, but instead of dolls the toys were little plastic animals, bought in bags, about an inch or so high. Horses, cows, doggies, kitties, they all lived together in kingdoms (a kingdom being the group of animals any one person owned), and we had names for them and personalities and entire life stories for these little plastic guys.

Barbies, well, they were Barbies just like everyone else played, but we all liked to go to K's Barbie City, because she had one of the coolest Barbie items in history. Not made by Mattel, no, thank you very much, but something a family friend had made her that was a real-live green flowered upholstered couch made out of a Tide box. Everyone in Barbieland went to K's so they could visit and sit on the couch. (You know, in what might have been a massive unnoticed case of foreshadowing, about 2 months ago I started seeing a jewelry case at Wal-Mart that was made like a sofa and reminded me so much of K's setee I almost bought it on the spot. I thought better of it, but still go down that aisle every single time I'm in the Wally World. I'm waiting for the price to come down. I want it for Sherman. Sherman would have looked magnificent on K's Tide Couch.)

K and T had the board game Aggravation, and a cool Monopoly set that had better tokens than P's and mine (it had a horse! ours didn't have a horse!), and we had Life and Operation. One of us (which? which??) also had Mystery Date, where you paired Barbie up with her date for the evening and prayed it wasn't the horrid "booby prize" of boys, Poindexter. Between us, we had Parcheesi, Mastermind, Battleship, and probably a hundred more I can't remember. We learned the card game Afghan Rummy, and though I couldn't remember the rules now if you held a gun to my head, we played it over and over, inside and out, at the Y House or the B House. And spades. Lots of games of spades.

We packed lunches and rode our bikes to faraway (well, the end of the neighborhood) places to picnic, and used to pick wild strawberries in the vacant lot up the street that's now long been house-occupied. Both family houses had great back yards, just perfect for pools, but only rich people had pools back in those days. Who cared, though? At our house we'd get out the garden hose and squirt each other, and if we got bored of that, we'd go over to K and T's back yard, where there was a water sprinkler to run through. I think at one time they even had a Slip 'N Slide.

There were always dogs in our families. Our beagle Ringo gave way to Jeff the basset hound. The Y's were Poodle People, and their brown curly ball of fur Cocoa gave way to the black curly ball of fur Fifi. Fifi had the added attraction of going to anyone who yelled to her, "Here, Fi!" and once all four of us huddled in the Y living room and yelled simultaneously, (one - two - three!) "Here, Fi!" and watched her looking around confused, trying to decide who to go to. That was, up to that point in our lives, the funniest thing we'd ever seen or done, funnier than anything anyone had ever done, and we laughed out loud an entire day over it.

But there was one activity the four of us indulged in that was unique. It probably took up more of our time than anything else, because it was fun, it was something we could all do together, and it was both a sunny day outside and rainy day inside activity.

We had our own teen magazine.

Now, to appreciate this (and there's a lot to appreciate, folks, believe you me), you have to understand that our Wonder Years were the big booming years of Tiger Beat, 16 Magazine, and Flip. Filled with pictures of The Monkees, Bobby Sherman, Paul Revere and the Raiders (who we hated), and whatever hot actors and actresses were currently on TV.

And so one (I'm sure) very innocent day we decided we'd get out paper, pencils, and crayons, and just, by damn, make our own magazine. K and T's dad was an engineer, and used to bring them home the best colored pencils in the history of art. They were Prismacolors, with nice, soft leads, in as many colors as there are in one's imagination. And we got started in the Publishing World. We called our magazine "Animal Beat." But mostly, we just called it "The Mag." ("Hey, what are we going to do today?" "Well, come over, and we can work on The Mag.") ("OK, when we get home from school today, everybody meet up to work on The Mag!")

Animal Beat, as its name might suggest to you if you're very keen, was filled with animal celebrities. Why? Well, I have no idea, really, except that maybe men were harder to draw than women. Because while (and this is from memory here) all of our famous folk were animals, some of the women were drawn as, well, women. But all of the men were drawn as horses or dogs or, well.... We'll get to that later.

Our teen dreams became Roan Pony (K could draw a horse like nobody's business, and taught us all how), and Jinky Jee, who was a dog, there was a dog named Bobby something or other whose girlfriend was a flea. Her name was Maria. She was a Spanish flea. There were more, many more of those created celebrities lost in my once-perfect memory, we had a rotating stable (sorry, no pun intended) of regular favorites, then every once in a while a doodle would become a good drawing and we'd introduce a brand-new celebrity into the fold.

There were certain facets of The Mag I remember vividly. Like, "My Life," where we'd take an animal and let him tell his (or her) life story, with pictures of course, over a few episodes. Or "My School Pics" (I think it was called), where we'd carefully rule our notebook paper into twelve even squares and draw a celebrity from childhood through graduation. Or "Premiere," where we'd give one of our Animal Heart-throbs a new movie, then draw the other celebs attending its premiere. That was always fun because we got to pair up new celebrity couples and draw mod and groovy fashions.

And while most of our famous came right out of our imaginations, I'm sure some were modeled after our own favorite famous. If I'm not mistaken, The Beatles made at least one appearance, of course, they were beetles, and though I can't specifically remember it, I'd find it hard to believe that The Monkees didn't show up somewhere or other. Our favorite TV show at the time was "Bracken's World" (Showing My Age Alert!), and there were a few buxom beauties on that show that we had to have tried to draw for The Mag, I'm sure. And Dennis Cole. We loved Dennis Cole on "Bracken's World."

However, sometimes our celebrities were, well, real celebrities. Fred Bassett lept right off the comic book pages to be a star in Animal Beat, and.... And....

Hmmm. Now how do I put this.

So did Mickey Mouse. And that brings us, my friends, to a phrase that, after reading this, I hope you'll never forget.

It was K's doing. God love her. She was doing an "Introduction" article, which we always did when we drew some new character and wanted it to join the Celebrity Roundup. And she was introducing the newest Teen Sensation, Mickey Mouse. She drew, on her paper, a huge head of Mickey Mouse that took up about 2/3 of the page, then gave a little introduction of Mr Mouse underneath.

I don't know what it was about Mickey. He looked like Mickey. He had a fine introduction. But when the page was complete, all we could do was laugh. It was about the ugliest thing any of us had ever seen. A massive disembodied Mickey head, there floating about the page. It was a giant failure. It was the Hindenburg. It was the Edsel.

It was also, however, a completed page, and those were hard to come by, and so it became a part of our issue. As The Mag was going to press - we actually put these things together, people, used a hole punch on the covers and tied them, with our notebook paper pages, together with yarn - we were placing our articles where we wanted them and numbering the pages, and "Introducing Mickey Mouse" became Page Eight.

Page Eight.

Sounds simple now, but you have no idea what the phrase Page Eight came to be in our lives. It suddenly became the euphemism for everything stinko, from bad days to boys we didn't like to ugly clothes to anything else that made you want to hold your nose and retch.

And, well, where The Mag was concerned, it was something of a barometer of fear. "Geez, look at how I drew Jinky Jee. This'll be Page Eight for sure." "Oh, please don't let my Roan Pony School Years be Page Eight!"

When I got that e-mail from T last week, she actually introduced herself as "of The Mag fame." I hadn't thought about The Mag for probably 30 years. And when I did, laughing through those welling tears, two things exploded in my brain. One was Jinky Jee Love Beads, a special mail-in offer we'd drawn ("Send in this coupon to get your own Jinky Jee Love Beads!"), and the other was Page Eight.

You know, I don't know how many issues of The Mag were ever completed. I know how much of our time it took up, how much we all loved doing it, and how it was such a central part of our lives. In T's mail she did say that K to this very day still has "every issue" of The Mag, so there had to have been a few. And it also has to be, as T said, "A slumber party in the making." And let me be the first to accept that invitation. I've already packed my pajamas.

And so K and P and T and me are all grown up. K and T moved away when I was going into the 8th grade, to a town about two hours away. When you don't drive, that may as well be Africa. We'd go see them sometimes, visit for a weekend, but we all drifted apart, as happens in the sad world of Becoming Adults. But for my sister or me, after the move, no one replaced K and T in the Friend Department. That was something that could never be re-created. We all have our own lives now, and it was great catching up on about 35 years in the couple of e-mails we've bounced back and forth. All four of us still have both our parents, and our own homes, three of us have husbands, two of us have kids. And we all have a million memories of each other, secrets shared, and experiences, good and bad.

One of the first things T said to me in her e-mail was that there was something she could never forget about me. It was a time we were twirling batons together and she kept telling me I was doing something wrong. Over and over, until finally I threw my baton down into the dirt and stomped away home. She'd had too much pride to say, "Wait! Come back! I was wrong, I was being a bitch! [though of course neither of us used that word] Please, come back and play!" It had bothered her all these years, and she couldn't wait to set it right.

Funny thing is, I have absolutely no memory of this event whatsoever. And maybe that's because my years had been shaded by the guilty memory of my getting mad one twilight on the Y's front porch and upending the Aggravation game we were playing, and losing one of their marble pieces in the grass forever. I had to apologize and present them with a brand new version of the game.

Yeah, we fought. Just like sisters would. But it was all good.

This past Christmas, I only asked for one present from my parents. And on Christmas morning, there it was, a 120-piece set of Prismacolor pencils, in soft leads, in all the colors one could imagine. If that slumber party ever happens, I'm bringing my pencils. It's time for one more issue of The Mag.

Or at least one final Page Eight.

Betland's Olympic Update:
* Acrowinners, we have acrowinners! So, give me your odes to yardwork.
- Honorable Mention goes to Flipsycab with her, "Leveled a treacherous zinnia. Laughed over remains."
- Runner-Up goes to Kellie (with an ie) with her, "Lizard Atop Tiny Zinnas. Leaves Orange. Requiem."
- And this week's winner, the first acro of the week and my favorite, goes to LilyG with her, "Let a tiny zinnia live, o rake!"
- The beloved zinnia.
- Thanks to all who played! You've all done very well!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

*Twongggg!* Message For You, Sir

Hello, my bloggies. Message from Betland Central, where all rides are up and operational:

There will be no blog tonight. Just too damn much to do.

Now, I hear those heavy-hearted sighs of disappointment. And yes, I know most of them were of a sarcastic nature, and I forgive you for that and still love you.

However! This means you all have 24 more hours to go below and think up a great yardwork acro! Chances like these come along but once in a blue moon, so I'd suggest you get your brains in gear and give it a shot.

Now, go try the Emotional Roller Coaster. Get your picture made with Mr Snake. And for God's sake, please go to the concession stand and buy a Fish Stick On A Stick and an Orange Crapius. We need the funds.

Betland's Olympic Update:
* I'm home for lunch. I'm not eating it, I'm just home for it.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Hello, letterers, letterees, and letterites. And the odd tilist out there. And welcome to another "holy crap I walked instead of swam today and boy am I tired" round of acromania.

So, what did I do Friday? Did we study our blog? Yes, that's right, I clipped my hedges on Friday. I also apparently got caught doing this, because one of our clients came in and laughed at me today at work. Well, it was laughing in a good way, he said he passed by and I was treating the hedges so gingerly he thought, "She's gotta be new at this," and when he came back by later I was lopping off and pulling and chopping, and he said he ended up very proud of me. So there.

This week's acrotopic? "An Ode To Yardwork." What are your thoughts?

All the other rules are the same. Everyone gets three entries to come up with the best acronym they can that not only matches the topic above, but also the letters below which are randomly drawn from the acrobasket. The acrobasket grew a rose once, Acrobasket's Pink Ecstasy, but Opie broke it with a football. No, wait, that was Aunt Bee. Then tomorrow night at 10pm est I shall be reading the entries and naming the winners, who'll get their "Yard of the Month" certificate, and the non-winners, who, well, who'll just get left out in the yard.

This week's topic - "An Ode To Yardwork." The letters:


OK, OK, stop frollicking in the yard now - acro!

Betland's Olympic Update:
* I really did go walk too early. Damn, it was hot.
* I'm trying to back into the swing of things since vacation's over. Tonight - dinner and a movie. I like dinner and a movie.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Picture Sunday

Hello, end of weekenders. And welcome to another "one more time and I promise you won't have to see any more of my vacation" round of Picture Sunday.

Nothing much went on with me this weekend that was picture-worthy, except that Friday night I headed out straight from work, bought a pair of hedge clippers, and went to work in my yard. I clipped hedges till afterwards I couldn't hold a cup of coffee because of my shaking arms and shoulders. And you know, I'm really proud of those things. I'd never clipped a hedge in my life, and one of them was in serious need because it had an actual second bush growing out of it, with leaves and berries, that was on its way to climbing up to my bedroom window. And now I have normal, homeowner-looking hedges. But since I don't have a picture of their former disarray, I figured it wouldn't be of much use to see one now that they're looking like they're supposed to.

So, since I have a few vacation pictures still trailing along, tonight's episode of PS will be Picture Sunday - The Nerd Edition.

First of all, I'm sure you're wondering - did Sherman play "Waldo" the whole time, hiding in his photos, or did I get any good ones of my boy? Well, wonder no more. Here's Sherman on the way down, having his picture made with the Giant Peach in Gaffney, South Carolina.

We love the Giant Peach. The car was moving so fast I didn't have time to focus, and cut off the boy's little cowlick.

Here's one of Sherman and I outside the Georgia World Congress Center. Of course, being me, I took this completely the wrong way and wondered what must be going on behind those darkened windows.

Now, I have an important statement to make about this photo. I swear I was not wearing that much green eye shadow. I promise you, not once did someone come up to me and ask me if I'd fallen eye-first into a bowl of peas. Must have been the sunlight or something.

Inside the Omni, the lobby area had a piano, and well, ever the performer....

Boy plays very well with his butt. You wouldn't think that, but he does.

Hey, here's the only other decent photo I got of Alessandro Carbonare. And wouldn't you just know, it's after his duet with Larry Combs! My future husband and former nemesis together in the same shot. Incredible.

Repeat after me. Ciao!

Here's my purchase of Clarinetfest. Well, besides some bitchin' Australian clarinet reeds, which I've been grooving on all week, and some duet music that I loved until Mr M and I played it this week and I realized that my clarinet purchases did not make me a better clarinet player. Remember the $300 barrel I mentioned on Thursday? Well, that was out, but I did get another at a cool 1/3 the price.

It's pretty, though, isn't it? But I never did find that box of practice at the exhibit hall.

And finally, on our way out of Atlanta, the four of us decided to adorn my rear view mirror with our nametags, just to make sure we were identified as nerds all the way home.

No, it didn't get us into any handicapped parking spaces, so don't even make the joke, OK?

And a good time was had by all. Well, except maybe Larry Combs.

But wait! We still have a recipe du jour for you. And how could it not be a clarinet-themed dish?

To end our salute to Nerd Week and all things clarinet, today's recipe du jour is from the "Fiber-Filled and Musical!" section of cardland, say hello to it now if you will, Clarinet Pie.

This recipe is ultra simple. It's as easy, well, as easy as pie. Just take a graham cracker pie crust, load it to the gills with whipped cream, and start adding your clarinet reeds. Decorate the top of it with your very own licorice stick. One actually made out of licorice, no less. Then add a few more decorative reeds to the top and you have a dessert fit for Alessandro Carbonare.

If you are not interested in that much fiber, or have an aversion to eating cane, the consumption of the reeds is not required. However, dip them in the whipped cream before your next practice session. Yummy clarinet playing!

A special thanks to Mr M for parting with a good deal of reeds for the making of the recipe du jour.

Happy week.

Betland's Olympic Update:
* Oh, why not. Just one more.

Aaaaaaieeee! Clarinets! (And someone's abandoned coffee cup on the display table.) (No, it wasn't mine. I'm not rude.)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Nerd Thursday, or European Theater

Now, my babies, when last I left you I was in Atlanta for that nerd's paradise known as Clarinetfest 2006. So it might come as a bit of a shock to you that I spent a fair amount of time there listening to people - playing the clarinet. Yes, I know, it's decadent, it's sinful, and it should probably be illegal, but there they were right in front of God and everybody playing clarinets in a semi-public place.

I should have known I was in for some fun times when, right there at the first night's ceremonies, a guy named William Blayney played a solo so volatile that at the end of the piece his head exploded and blew right off his body.

Well, OK, that was a bit of exaggeration, but I promise you, only a little bit. His face got all red and puffy, and I swear I saw a small trail of smoke leaving the top of his head as he ended with a flourish and immediately began gasping for breath. The audience erupted in massive applause, and he deserved it. It was some fine playing, but that's not the point. He deserved it for staying alive and in one piece till the end.

But other than Mr Blayney - and Mr Combs, but he's probably better left for a rest tonight - that very first klatch of klarinetters brought me to a stunning realization. All the biggies nowadays in the Licorice World seem to be from, well, from somewhere else.

This all started, for me, anyway, very innocently. A couple of years ago, the hot new name springing up in the world of reedism was a dude named Ricardo Morales. Who, of course, I always called and will continue to call till my dying breath Ricardo Montalban, and I suppose it's a good thing I didn't meet him at the 'fest, because surely I'd have shaken his hand and asked him where Tattoo was, or if his clarinet case was made of rich, Corinthian leather.

Ricardo is probably the closest thing the clarinet has to a superstar, and he played several times throughout the festival. He also has his own brand of Backun barrel. If you don't know, well, it won't interest you to know, but I'll tell you anyway, a barrel is a joint of the horn, and Backun is a company that hand-makes these items, they're beautiful, sound great, and are ridiculously overpriced. I tried out a Morales Backun in the exhibit hall and fell somewhat in love with it, but the affair went sour when I learned the price was $300. Backun also gives us the Morales mouthpiece, which is $500, and the Morales clarinet bell, which is $750. I don't know why they just don't come out with the Morales-endorsed Whole Clarinet for $30,000, the keys to your home, or your first born child.

So, Morales played at the opening ceremonies, and Mr Blayney and his exploding dome, and then so did a fellow named Philippe Cuper. Who I spent the rest of the trip calling Philippe "Two Door" Cuper, and it's a good thing I didn't meet him either because his English was more than a little suspect. But he was of very good humor, and he endeared himself to me on that very first night (and I'd see him play again in later days) when he did an unaccompanied Klezmer number that knocked my socks off. Yes, they went flying into the air like Mr Blayney's head, but thankfully they didn't fall to earth upon someone's reed.

Mr M went to a lecture by Mr Two Door Cuper, and loved it, but it must have been a very hard listen with that broken English.

Thursday morning there was a performance by the Caracas Clarinet Quartet, which I didn't see because it began at 10am and I'm a lazy schlub, but I have to let you know that, according to the Clarinetfest guidebook, "The Caracas Quartet's appearance is supported in part by 'Embajada de la Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela en los Estados Unidas de Norteamerica' and CITGO."

Another guy I gave a pass to - no, not made a pass at, gave a pass to - was a guy The Teenagers (our boys in tow) had rave reviews for, a Sr Joaquin Valdepeñas. I couldn't tell you a thing about him other than he has a great name, and every time the boys talked about something Joaquin Valdepeñas did, I couldn't help but smile and say to myself, "Joaquin Valdepeñas!"

On Friday morning I attended a recital by a fellow Mr M and his clarinet buddy/teacher, David N (hey, piss off, David!) think is one of the better clarinet dudes out there. His name is Sergio Bosi. I went along to see Sergio, only partly for the former statement, but mainly because he was to play "Adagio e Tarantella" by Cavallini (in an alfredo sauce), and that's one of my Three Pieces. See, I have a rotating bullpen of three solo clarinet pieces I work on over and over and over. I play none of them particularly well, nor up to tempo, and could never perform any of them for anyone other than Mr M, but I like them all well enough to keep at it and hope one day to get to the end of just one of them and say, "Well, that didn't suck."

So, Sr Bosi took the stage and I got ready for the A e T, and while I was waiting, this whole European thing started weighing on my mind. Sergio was there with his pianist, a fellow that looked like, and I'm not kidding here, Lurch from the Addams Family might have looked like if he was 20 years old and Latin. Lurchio. They were dressed alike, in black suits with Nehru-type jackets, black turtlenecks, black shoes. And Sergio was - man, he was the Rudolph Valentino of clarinet players. He made facial expressions, he dipped, he turned, he gave side glances to the accompanist, he all but acted out his pieces right there on the stage. All that was missing was the black eyeliner. It would come to pass that nearly all the Spanish/Italian clarinet players would be this way, but it started, for me, with Sergio. And being able to imagine what "Joaquin Valdepeñas!" would have been like.

Later on Friday we took in a performance by the Rubio-Benavides Duo, featuring no less a person than Pedro Rubio himself on clarinet. (Benavides was a lady piano player.) Señor Rubio was a dead ringer for Andy Garcia, and was working the black Nehru jacket/black undershirt thing as well, and raised his eyebrows a lot when he played. Which is fine, I might do that too without realizing it, but Pedro's second piece is what (along with his heritage and Nehru Jacket) gets him a mention in the blog. It featured random piano-banging, Sr Rubio himself going, "Psssssssssst - pssssssssssst" at various points in the number, then blowing hard and moving his fingers all over the place, and every once in a while he'd stop and, as the piano banged away, he'd look skyward and repeat, "Por favor, por favor." I felt like I needed to duck out to the coffee shop a few floors below for espresso, and re-enter the hall with a beret.

After the finger-snapping good time of Sr Rubio, we headed to another session where we saw a Bruno Martinez honking away on the bass clarinet, we saw Two Door again, and we saw this guy over here. His name is Milko Pravdic, and everyone seemed to think he was the cat's pajamas, but I couldn't get past the fact that the guy was the living embodiment of Pee Wee Herman. He was tall and lanky, and wore an ill-fitting suit complete with bowtie. And it certainly didn't help that his instrument of choice was the D clarinet, which is about 1/3 the size of a regular clarinet and looks and sounds like it came right out of the minds of Looney Tunes. Mr Hermanavdic was followed by a legend in the clarinet world, Guy Deplus, pronounced "Gieee DuhPLOO" unless you're me, then it's "Guy DeePLUS," and this was both the saddest and funniest thing I've ever seen.

Mr Deplus is, as I said, a legend, and I'm sure that's why he was up there playing, but Lord Have Mercy, the guy was past his sell-by date. He was about a half-tone off-key, and, well, I can't describe it, but i can describe the pain to my ribs after Mr M's constant elbowing of me there as I giggled.

And Friday night I spent a blissful night at the movies.

Saturday we got to go to the Atlanta Symphony, which was a blast, especially since I got drunk on a huge martini, but there are no pictures because those Symphony Nazis wouldn't let us take any. Which is a shame, because we saw Australian clarinetist Andy Firth (a fun, fun guy, and the fastest fingers in Clarinetdom), and Paulo Sergio Santos, who Mr M liked better than Firth (I didn't), but Sr Santos had the added attraction of an incredibly beautiful young man with him playing the tambourine. I found out the next day this beautiful young man was staying at our hotel, and I almost went up and said hello until I realized that really all I could say was, "Hey, hell of a tambourine player, you are." And so I thought better of it.

But then. Oh, my friends and blogees.

Then there's the story of Alessandro.

Thursday was something of a trying day for me. Still recovering from the trip, and the onslaught of clarinet sounds ringing from my ears, and the confrontation and subsequent beating of Larry Combs. When it was time for the evening concerts and Mr M asked what the plans were, my answer was, "You go and do whatever makes you happy, I'm staying in the hotel room and doing absolutely nothing." Which turned out to be a blatant lie, as I sat and watched approximately 27 episodes of "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit," and also watched an incredibly beautiful lightning storm from the hotel window.

When Mr M got back to the room, he announced that I had "really missed it." And while I was thinking, "No I didn't, I saw all 27 episodes," he went on to tell me he'd just heard one of the most incredible clarinetists of his life. "Oh. And who would that be?" I uninterestedly inquired, and he replied, "Alessandro Carbonare." And so of course I spent most of the rest of the evening making spaghetti carbonara jokes and didn't give it much more thought.

Friday morning, as we were standing outside waiting to get into the Bosi concert, Mr M and I were having conversational back-and-forths, but something caught my eye to the left, and I couldn't stop glancing. Then I couldn't stop staring. It was a guy talking to a few other people, in worn jeans and blue t-shirt, and - well, this man was a looker. This man was a "can't keep your eyes off" little fellow. He looked like a shorter, more muscular Benjamin Bratt, and, well, I don't think I need to say more. I asked Mr M, as I do at these things, "Do you know that guy? Is he anybody?" And Mr M replied that he was indeed Alessandro Carbonare.

And I started feeling just a little bit sorry about those 27 episodes of "Law & Order."

And also, so began my making a total fool of myself chasing Sr Carbonare around Clarinetfest.

It became quite the joke with The Teenagers. They thought it was funny that a woman of my age and ilk would melt like a bobby-soxer at a Frank Sinatra concert over some Italian clarinet player. Mr M did his share of eye-rolling, but I got out my Clarinetfest guidebook and actually read it this time, mapping out every performance Alessandro would be giving from here on. And by damn, when they came, I was there. As close to the front as I could get. With my camera. But friends, Lady Luck was not on my side.

When he played a duet with Larry Combs (!), I had bad lighting and low camera batteries. When he played at the closing day concert, I had bad lighting and bad seating. However, during my time at the 'fest I was always on the lookout for him, and The Teenagers endeared themselves to me completely (they really were such lovely boys) by finding me having a coffee in the lobby area and running up to me saying, "You missed it! You missed it! Alessandro was in the exhibit hall signing autographs for everybody!" And after my, "You're kidding - you're just saying that" spiel, they assured me he in fact was. Then they said, "You did actually miss it. However - you're lucky you know people like us." And they handed me this, an autographed (to Elizabeth!) poster of the man. See, I told you they were fine boys.

Anyway, the closing day concert came, and Alessandro was playing a solo backed by the festival clarinet chorus, then it was off to the airport and back to Italy for him. Without me. So after the concert, Mr M was ready to hotfoot it back to the car and head home, but I just kept hanging around. And he gave in. "Listen, if I were you I'd turn my camera on, have it ready, and just stand outside the door of the hall." Then he went on ahead and left me to it.

And after standing around like a dork - or a streetwalker - or a dorky streetwalker - for about 10 mintues, out of the hall doors came scurrying my future husband and clarinet teacher, Alessandro Carbonare. I walked up to him, said I knew he was in a hurry, but could I just have one quick picture. And he stopped and smiled. While I was snapping, I made some remark about him renewing my enthusiasm for the clarinet, and how much I enjoyed his playing, then - as I was looking at him through the viewfinder, I realized the man had no fucking idea what I was saying. He is Italian, you know. So finally I just said, "Thank you thank you!" and he said, and I quote, "Ciao!" He said, "Ciao!"

And so I had my picture of Alessandro. Sometimes you just have to be a stage-door johnny, you know?

Betland's Olympic Update:
* And that shall be all of Nerd Week until Picture Sunday.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Nerd Wednesday, or Hot Child In The City

And I was hot in the city, though not the kind of hot Nick Gilder sang about back in the 70s. When we arrived in Atlanta it was around 6:30pm, and it was still 102 degrees. And the first night, we had no air conditioning in our hotel room; it wasn't until the next day we discovered that to get the cold air flowing we had to turn the thermostat down to about 40 degrees.

While I was in Atlanta, there were two things, well, no, three things.... Actually, there were four things. There were five things.... Wait, I'll come in again.

While I was in Atlanta, there were two things that made me realize it had been a very long time since my last visit to the city I used to hang out in on a regular basis. The first was simple. As we were on I-85 nearing our exit into downtown, I couldn't find Uniblab. Uniblab is actually the blue and white Saturn-shaped bar atop the Hyatt Regency hotel. I have no idea what its name is. We in our little circle always called it Uniblab because it looks just like the sneaky computer Mr Spacely hired on "The Jetsons" to spy on his office workers. Uniblab would tape their conversations about what a lousy boss Mr Spacely was, or join them in a poker game during work hours, filming the lazy bums as they loafed. Uniblab the bar used to be a great place, it rotated to show its patrons a panoramic view of the city while they guzzled.

The Downtown Atlanta skyline is now so built-up and convoluted, you can't even see poor little Uniblab there welcoming you into town.

The other thing, well, it was less simple, but no less depressing. But I'll get to that later.

In our old downtown experiences, we used to stay around the Peachtree St hub of activity. I'm assuming it's all still there, but this trip was centered more around what I call the Ted Turner hub. The Omni hotel and the CNN Center. Phillips Arena. Centennial Park, built for the Olympics and shown here, which wasn't even in existence the last time I was Atlanta-bound.

It's a nice expanse of concrete, the park. Has the Olympic Rings in the middle, and water squirts out of the rings and children stand in the squirting water. It's also lined with brick after brick sporting the names of people who've contributed to the building of the park, or to the Olympic effort, or something. The first day we were walking through Centennial, Mr M asked a vague question along the lines of "This is where the Olympics were, isn't it?" And I had to reply that, yes the Olympics were held in this very park, and the bricks were holding the names of where each person stood while watching the events. "See? Mr & Mrs Schull stood right on this brick, and the Pro Ski Shop stood right here. And the memory of Richard Harper stood here." Well, it was funny at the time.

As I said earlier in the week, Clarinetfest was held at the Omni hotel, which is pictured there at the top of the page. It connects up with the CNN Center, home of all things news. It's a shame about that Israel-Lebanon thing, because I was hoping to get me a good glance at Anderson Cooper, but he had to wing it to the crisis. However, I did get to see a lot of Anderson on the marquis at the CNN Center. The marquis flashed from Paula Zahn to the Atlanta Braves to "The Closer" to "Saved" to the Atlanta Falcons to Mr News himself, Anderson.

But imagine my surprise - after Anderson's seriously newsy face graced the marquis, I got to see an even better face. It's Muttley! Tseeee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee.

We found a great eating and hanging out place only one street away from our hotel. The Landmark Diner, a happy little place that's open 24 hours a day and serves not only burgers and sandwiches, but hot meals just like mom makes. It's comfy, cheap, has a good staff, and not one single time did I hear a bad song coming out of the stereo speakers. We ate lunches there, a dinner, and even, on Friday night, went there after midnight and got take-out burgers to munch on back in the room. Mr M looks happy (well, that's as happy as he looks, folks, get used to it), and in another "Waldo" moment, Sherman's there looking out of the Landmark's window, though the reflection of a white station wagon seems to be the focus of that particular photo. If I lived in Downtown Atlanta, well, I'd probably kill myself because living there would be a little like being a caged bird, but right up until the time I looped the rope around a ceiling beam, I'd eat every single meal at the Landmark Diner. At various numbers of the 24 hours.

OK, here's the more depressing side of how I knew it'd been way too long since I'd been to the Big City. Call it lost youth, call it urban growth, call it what you will. But back in the old days, I used to get in my car and drive all over that damn city. I knew how to get around downtown, then loop my way out and head to the Fox Theatre, where all the best concerts were, then off to Buckhead for the great shopping and eating. I knew my Peachtree Streets from my Peachtree Circles from my Peachtree Battles from my Peachtree Promenades from my Peachtree Roads. Which is not to say I never got lost driving around down there. Oh, my friends, I've been lost in areas of Atlanta that, well, if my mother knew even now she'd probably cry. But it never bothered me. I knew I'd find my way back to where I was going, spot my own personal landmarks, the great liquor store or the Varsity Jr or the kid's store with the great jewelry. And the traffic didn't bother me, I'd zip right along the city in those three very slim lanes of fast-moving traffic, going into this lane and that, and I was a pretty adventurous thing.

Now, the continuation of this story all revolves around a very exciting event for me. I've been waiting for over a year for the release of the latest movie starring no less a person than Alan F Arkin himself, "Little Miss Sunshine." I've heard rave reviews and news stories and have been sitting on pins and needles until it came out of "limited release" and headed to a city even remotely near me. But I'd found out that "Sunshine" had its Atlanta premiere the Friday we were in town. And Mr M had promised me he'd take me to see it, and was true to his word, and so we decided we'd take in the late showing on Friday.

I was, well, of course I was looking forward to the movie, but I was dreading the trip to see it. Because I couldn't remember where the damn theatre was! It was on Cheshire Bridge Rd, a thoroughfare I'd been on many, many times in the past, but I couldn't for the life of me think of how to get there. I'd forgotten all my landmarks, which road was which, and well, I felt just like the rube I am. The old rube. I didn't even volunteer to drive, I was so worried about zipping in and out of those slim lanes of city traffic.

(By the way, I'd taken over the driving duties when we were heading into Atlanta on Wednesday. God, how I used to love zipping down the multi-laned I-85 into the city, finding my exit, and heading to the hotel. This time, I was a nervous wreck. As any of the three other people in the car with me can testify to.)

Anyway, we took the "getting back on the interstate" route to get to Cheshire Bridge, and with only one missed exit, we found the place without too many headaches or heartaches. But in the old days I'd have stayed on Peachtree St out of the city and darted this way and that till I found my destination. The end result was the same, but it's a little crummy thinking I've lost my City Street Cred, what little I ever had, anyway.

And just how big of an Alan Arkin nerd would take a picture of the marquis of his latest film? Well, that's me, you know. And I was getting in touch with my Inner Nerd, so why not go whole hog? (The movie, by the way, was great, and I urge you all to go see it when it comes your way, not only for Mr Arkin. There are so many reasons to rave I won't go into all of them here, but I will say this movie has perhaps the greatest casting job ever done on a movie.)

We made it back to the hotel with ease, and that's when we walked over the Landmark for takeout.

And I'll end today's blog with this. I really enjoyed my walks around the city. Even with the heat, even with carrying a backpack loaded with a clarinet case and a pocketbook loaded with cameras, personal effects, too much loose change, and Sherman and Peabody. Maybe it was the decreased poundage from my frame, but every morning, mid-day, and evening, the trek from our hotel to the Omni was fun.

You know, people are always, here in this little town, saying, "I don't know how you do that! You'd better be awful careful, or take a can of mace with you!" I've walked around Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland - and never once have I ever been accosted by anyone wanting anything more than a bit of spare change. Right before I left on this trip, a friend of mine was telling me the dangers of walking around Downtown Atlanta. "Oh, I've done it before, I've never had a problem," I replied. "You haven't been there lately!" she said excitedly. "I wouldn't walk a half a block there by myself now!"

I've stayed in a hotel in DC where there was gunplay in the lobby. The next morning the desk clerk had a black eye and a gauze bandage on his head. (I guess he was only grazed by the bullet, or was a very dedicated desk clerk indeed.) But on the street? Well, maybe I've just been very lucky, but I think people are too wary.

Except Larry Combs. He should have been a little more wary. Of me, anyway.

Betland's Olympic Update:
* A very interesting story about the night we went to the movies. We got to our destination very early, so Mr M went looking for pipe tobacco, and I went looking for a good cup of coffee. I found a little coffee shop near the theatre, Caribou Coffee. I noticed something rather odd as I was walking in, out on the shop's porch were a crowd of people, all doing sign language to each other. When I walked in, the whole coffee shop was filled with people doing sign language! It was a deaf coffee shop! The strangest thing, a place full to the rafters with people, and it was totally silent. The staff were apparently hearing, because I ordered and got what I asked for, but it was just an odd, odd thing.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Nerd Tuesday, or Vengeance Is Mine, Sayeth Bet

It all started with this blog (Feb 7, '06). I encourage you to go back and read over it right now if you don't remember the story.

Well, as the blog says, it started long before that. It started with my induction (thanks to Peabody and his Crack Team of Lawyers) into the Chicago Symphony as second chair clarinetist, with "room for advancement." And it continued on to my year of bliss with those guys, my wonderful contract (no weird key or time signatures, no playing the alto clarinet, and telecommuting my practices), and the happiest day of my life, when I was presented with my very own Chicago Symphony windbreaker. ("I loved that thing. It was blue. And had a hood.")

But as the blog said, my year of bliss turned into nothing but heartache when I was let go of by the Chicagoans. They didn't renew me, and not only that, they took my windbreaker away from me when they kicked me out. And I became convinced that the reason for my dismissal all centered around the obstacle standing in the way of my "room for advancement," the Chicago Symphony's principal clarinetist, one Mr Larry Combs.

I'd decided that since Mr Combs was to be performing at Clarinetfest 2006 in Atlanta, that's where I was going to get my revenge. Sure, I can't play my horn, I hate to practice, and I did things like trying to sneak fruit onto his head when the Symphony played "Carmen," but what right did he have to influence my bouncing from that band? Well, none, I say, and I was ready to have a showdown with him, set things right, and, most importantly, take his damn windbreaker. It was only fair.

And so I began setting about the task of getting into top fighting shape for last week's vacation. I've been swimming, walking, shadowboxing, and doing "grabbing" lunges for months now. I know Atlanta's a very hot city, so I trained hard. And when last week arrived, I was ready.

We arrived in Atlanta on Wednesday, the opening day of the festival. We registered, had a walk around, and spent the evening listening to welcoming speeches and clarinetists giving it their all. I listened, sure, but with only one ear. I was too busy checking the room for my nemesis, Larry Combs. Of course, I never found him that first night. I never expected him to show. Not because he's one of the most famous clarinetists in the world and didn't want to sit in the audience like everyone else, but because he was afraid. Because he knew I'd be there, gunning for him.

But he couldn't hide forever. For the very next day at 11 am, Mr Combs was performing in a concert of the Louisiana Philharmonic Clarinets. See, Larry used to play in New Orleans before his heavenly ascent to Chicago. (I wonder what color the New Orleans windbreakers are.) So I broke my "screw the morning stuff, I'm sleeping in" rule and climbed out of bed Thursday, showered, dressed, did a final few punches at the air, and hit the pavement for the walk to the Omni, where the festival was going on.

The four of us got there early enough to be among the first in the hall, and we - and tell me this isn't brave - took seats on the first row. We listened to clarinet solos and ensembles, and finally the moment came. Mr Combs took the stage for his part of the performance.

I know he had to have seen me, but he wouldn't look at me directly. He played, a dixieland number, no less - dixieland! that's the style of solo I played in the esteemed Blacksburg Community Band! - then left the stage and returned with the other clarinetists to throw Mardi Gras beads into the audience. Did he throw any our way? Well, what do you think? He wouldn't even come over to where I was. But I knew. I knew I was on his mind.

The concert over, Mr M and I walked back to our hotel to hang out and decide our next move, and I took a small smoke break (sorry, Captain) on the hotel's carport. I would have never believed it, sure didn't imagine it happening this way, so fast, so unexpectedly, but while I was enjoying the fresh air and quiet, who should come walking down Luckie St but Larry Combs. Sure, Luckie Street is no Peachtree, and there was no crowd of onlookers cheering either of us on, but, well, one has to take advantage of the opportunities one gets. And I came to the conclusion that Luckie St was going to be very lucky for me indeed.

I walked up to him with a look of sheer dogged determination on my face... say simply, "Hey, Combs. Remember me?" But I didn't have to do this, for he recognized me immediately. And let out with a startled (and frankly, I thought, frightened), "Oh-Ohhhhhhhh!"

And there it was. The moment I'd been training for for months, and dreaming of for over a year. It happened quickly - all the working out I'd done for one single blow to the tummy.

Actually, I thought it was rather nice of me to go to the stomach instead of the face. I could have ruined that man's career with a well-timed punch to the mouth, but no, I wanted him to play again. To think of me every time he blew a note on his clarinet.

And so I gave at it with my mighty punch, and he doubled over, a large, "Whoof!" exploding from him.

And without so much as a slap back at me, out from his clarinet case he pulled, yes, wait for it, his very own blue Chicago Symphony windbreaker. Which I yanked from his fast-moving little fingers and took for myself.

Victory! Victory at last. I don't care how hot it gets now, I'm just hoping it rains. Or is windy. As windy as a roomful of clarinet players....

Oh, by the way, I just couldn't help but show Mr M the exact spot there on Luckie Street where it all happened.

Ahhhh, but you think that's the end of the story, don't you? Well, think again, my friends and blogees. Because the very next day, not 24 hours after my defeat of the Mighty Combs, who do you think Mr M and I should run into, face-to-face, at the Omni? Yes, right there at the escalator. We were coming from the North Tower and he was coming from the South Tower, and it was my second confrontation with no less a person than Larry Combs himself.

Lord, it was an odd moment. Meeting face-to-face like that. He looked at me, and I thought, "Why not? I've won, I have the windbreaker, I got the moment I drove all this way for," and I said, "Hello!" He looked at me, now get this, if you will - he looked at me like he'd never seen me before in his life! And he stuck out his hand for a shake, and, well, I'm a good winner and all, so I shook it and pulled out my camera and asked if we could have our picture taken together. You know, when I'm 90, I might want to have something to look back on to remember all this. He said OK, and now, here's where things get weird.

As I was handing the camera to Mr M, he started up a conversation with Larry Combs about his Chicago Symphony windbreaker! Pointing to me knowingly and saying there was talk around town that his had been stolen. Mr Combs acted completely nonplussed over this whole matter and said, "I wasn't aware that we got windbreakers in the Chicago Symphony." Mmmm, yeah, Larry. Then Mr M snapped the photo, and we were both off down the escalator, and I think it's a tribute to the man himself that he was brave enough to stand in front of me on a down escalator with his back to me.

Mr M, ever the psychologist, thinks Larry has already blocked the entire incident out of his memory banks and is suffering some sort of post-beating amnesia. I think it was all just a cover-up. Pretending like he didn't know who I was - pretending he didn't have a windbreaker to start with! It's all rather sad when you ponder it.

Anyway, the picture of a post-beaten Larry and me is right up there at the top of the blog for all of you to see. He's trying his best to put on a happy face, but, boy, I didn't have to try, did I? Jesus, look at the evil coming out of me. It's a little scary.

I'm thinking of heading back into the symphony world. Wonder if the New York Philharmonic needs a second chair clarinetist, looking for advancement? Who telecommutes....

Betland's Olympic Update:
* Acrowinners, we have acrowinners! So, what is your favorite instrument, and why?
- Honorable Mentions go to Stennie, with her, "Digeridoo, my digeridoo: eerie nasal ululations," and Kellie (with an ie), with her, "Dan. Man did Eb. Numbed Underthings." (No, Kellie, that's Mr M, master of the Eb clarinet.)
- Runner-Up goes to newbie Liane, with her, "Damn! My Drums Evoke Notes Unintended." (btw, stayed tuned - this woman is going to be a future blog.)
- And this week's winner goes to LilyG, with her, "Delights me? Darling euphonium -- new, used." (My buddy Seth will love you forever, Lily.)
- (And a mention to Michelle and Flipsy, who used instruments I wasn't even imagining!)
- Thanks to all who played! You've done very well again!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Nerd Week Acrochallenge!

Greetings, nerds! OK, so you out there are not nerds. That I know of. I'm a nerd, though, and on my vacation last week I got in touch with my Inner Nerd while I attended Clarinetfest 2006 in Atlanta. It was fun. Mr M and I and the boys (that would be two teenagers Mr M teaches and/or musically mentors, although Sherman and Peabody were along as well) hit the fest running and heard clarinets till they were coming out our collective wazoos. It was fun, and so I'm dedicating this week of blogs to my trip. Yes, it's Nerd Week, whether you like it or not.

See this thing here? Over there. Yes, look at it. It's a clarinet. It's my instrument, you know. I mean, yes, that one there is literally my instrument, but the clarinet is also, well, "my instrument." I have a complete love/hate relationship with that black piece of wood, it's brought me many years of happiness and torture.

And that brings us to this week's acrotopic. "What Instrument Do You Love, And Why?" Now, of course, if a "C" comes up in the draw and you don't say you love the clarinet, well, there's no reason for you to play, really. You'll lose even if you come up with the acronym of all time. But "C" is pretty hard to come by in the acroworld, so I'd say you're safe.

All the other rules are the same. Everyone gets three entries to come up with the best acronym they can that not only matches the topic above, but also the letters below which are randomly drawn from the acrobasket. The acrobasket loves the sitar, but unfortunately someone broke his while he was onstage playing it. Then tomorrow night at 10pm est I shall be reading the entries and naming the winners, who will play us all a recital on their instrument of choice, and the non-winners, who will be page-turners.

So the topic, "What Instrument Do You Love, And Why?" The letters:


So quit fiddling around - acro. (God, that was bad, even for me.)

Betland's Olympic Update:
* Stay tuned for Nerd Week, btw. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll...well, you'll probably be bored. But humor me, OK?
* Did anybody spot Sherman in the Clarinetfest picture? He's playing Waldo.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My Little Wheaty Friend

I don't like TV commercials as a rule, in fact, as a rule, I hate their guts, and I've told you so several times right here in this very blog. So when I do see one that strikes my fancy, I'm all warm inside.

There's one I saw last night for the first time. It was, may I just say, a great commercial, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to give its writers only 9 out of 10, because it was so good and I spent so much time enjoying it, I couldn't possibly tell you the product it was advertising. See, I guess there actually is such a thing as "too good."

It was for a beer, I can tell you that much. Which was a surprise, because the world of beer commercials is generally a very nasty place indeed, but this one made me laugh right out loud in my living room. It starts with a voiceover saying, "I knew it was a bad idea to invite my new roommate to dinner with us." Turns out, this voice guy's roommate is some sort of African Tribesman, wearing only a loincloth and the dinner jacket the restaurant has (I guess) provided, and he does things like jump into the aquarium to catch a fish with his bare hands, paint his entire face with a woman's lipstick, pop an arrow into a woman's back, and throw a knife at a waiter. And yes, it may have been influenced by, if not stolen outright from, the Monty Python skit where the English explorers have dinner in the jungle (Mr SpareButtonsSuppliedWithHisShirt), but I liked it.

There are a couple of other commercials out there on the old TeeVee, and while they're not funny nor clever nor wacky, nor anything really, I always get that same warm feeling when I see them. They're for Frosted Mini-Wheats.

I once had a torrid love affair with Frosted Mini-Wheats. I'm not big on cereals, not since childhood anyway, and since I hate milk, a cereal has to be really special for me to eat it. It has to be good right out of the box, and by damn, Frosted Mini-Wheats are that very thing. You can just open the box and start chewing, and happiness comes only a short time later. You must understand, though, that this is coming from the girl who as a child ate Shredded Wheat with no milk or sugar on it, proving that I must be in some way related to the horse or cow family, but cut that Shredded Wheat down into little squares and slather it with frosting, and you have a cereal fit for a king, I say.

A while back, though, Frosted Mini-Wheats and I broke up, but it was amicable, and I still remember only the good times.

So imagine my warm fuzzy memories when I started seeing the first of the Mini-Wheats commercials. It, on the logical side, is a horrible commercial. It's a little girl at a spelling bee, and she's given the word "aardvark" to spell. She begins, "A....R....," and that right there is what makes it a horrible commercial, because we all know that in the world of the spelling bee, the first wrong letter you give, it's sit-down time for you. Right to the audience to pout and watch someone else win.

But in this commercial, after the, "A....R.....," up on the little girl's microphone sits - a Frosted Mini-Wheat! And he gives her some spelling words of wisdom, and she corrects herself and spells "aardvark" correctly and is oh-so-happy, even though in reality it would have made no difference and she'd be in Pouters' Corner, and we learn that, well, we learn nothing, really. We don't learn that Frosted Mini-Wheats make you smarter, because she began the word incorrectly, and we don't learn that they make you remember your spelling rules, because she had to be prompted by a little Mini-Wheat right there on her microphone.

I guess what we do learn is just how damn cute a Frosted Mini-Wheat is. Because this little guy that pops up on her microphone, a Mini-Wheat with cartoon eyes and mouth and little stick-figure arms and legs, is just about the cutest thing I've ever seen in my life.

Now there's a new commercial out for Strawberry Frosted Mini-Wheats, a proposition that almost makes me want to forget the "all that sugar and wheat will make me blow up like the Hindenburg and pass out in a puddle of my own sweat" rule and run right out and get a box. I mean, Strawberry Frosted Mini-Wheats. I could just die. And probably would if I ate one, for surely if I ate one I'd have to eat the whole box. But what a way to go, really.

The new commercial features a little girl at ballet class, and I don't even know what her problem is, maybe she can't remember her routine, and out to the rescue comes Mr Frosted Mini-Wheat, and he helps her through her lesson. Proving, of course, that Frosted Mini-Wheats don't make you talented, nor will they help you remember your seven basic ballet positions, but that it's sure fun to have a cute little Mini-Wheat there dancing around with you.

And I've got to tell you, folks, that right there is enough for me. Because in this commercial, our Mini-Wheat dances ballet all over the place and makes me wish our torrid love affair was still going on. And he's strawberry now to boot.

I want me a little Frosted Mini-Wheat. Imagine the fun we could have. I'd be sitting there with Mr M playing clarinets, whining that the tempo's too fast, or that the music's in 9/8 time. And up on my music stand would pop Mr Mini-Wheat, Frosty, I'd call him since we were such good buddies, and he'd say, "Remember, 9/8 time is just the same as 3/4 time!" And of course, I'd say, "It is not! Mr M tells me that every time and it hasn't worked yet!" And undeterred, Frosty would say, "Well, OK, then. I'll just count the nine beats for you so you don't have to do it yourself and can concentrate on the notes." And I'd play beautifully, beautifully enough to bring tears to Mr M's eyes.

And then we'd drive back to my house, where my Frosted Mini-Wheat would dance a jig on the dashboard while I played a Hackensaw Boys CD, and when we got to my house he'd remind me that Sunday night is Garbage Night, not to forget the wastepaper baskets in the bedroom and dennette, and then he'd remind me to drink my protein drinks, and on Friday Chill Nights he could even help me hoist olives into my martini and sit on the arm of the Comfy Chair while we watched a movie together.

And if he was a Strawberry Frosted Mini-Wheat, though it would be hard, I would try and resist the urge to eat him. Or does he want that? After all, he is part cartoon, if I eat him and enjoy his strawberry crunchy wheaty goodness, would he just pop back up at another time to be my friend?

That's the theory I'm going with. After all, what's the fun of having an imaginary cereal friend if you can't eat him, then have him live to play again?

Betland's Olympic Update:
* Acrowinners, we have acrowinners! So, what did you say when you got pulled over for speeding?
- Honorable Mention goes to the lovely, the vivacious, the very sbk, with her "Testing Velocity-Driven Yankee Racing Order." I don't know, it just sounded really intelligent for some reason.
- Runner-Up goes to Kellie (with an ie) with her, "Took Vicadin. Drove Yelling 'Round Orlando." As I'm sure she actually has.
- And this week's winner goes to the dishy Michelle, with her, "Try vrooming, damn you! Rude officer." I've tried vrooming. It's fun, but I don't do it anymore, since I was pulled over for speeding.
-Thanks to all who played! You've all done very well!