Archive for September, 2008

Vacation: relaxing respite or evacuation plan?

September 19, 2008

My wife and I recently spent a week at a condo in Daytona Beach, FL.  We both grew up on the Atlantic coast of Florida, me in Jacksonville and she in Hialeah, and it was nice to get back close to our roots.  The first afternoon of walking the beach, bouncing in the surf, and avoiding being dragged to death by a rip current, brought back many fond memories of life on the coast.  Speaking of life on the coast, it should be noted that on the home front, we were just brushed by Hurricane Gustav the week before vacation. We boarded up the windows and lost power for 34 hours which, compared to Katrina was very minor.  We then watched the TV closely to see if Hurricane Hanna would clear the Florida coast in time for us to visit Daytona Beach, and if they still had a beach worth visiting.  No matter, we were locked into our reservation and, short of a forced evacuation, were committed to keeping.  On top of all that, Hurricane Ike was barreling through the Florida Straits toward our home, so we left the boards up while we were gone lest we come home to a hurricane ravaged home with broken windows, full of raccoons using our abode as a shelter of last resort.

But as it turned out, it was beautiful in Daytona Beach.  We were at a time share which, being the second week of September, was largely inhabited by retirees.  There were not many people there as it was the off season so we had no problem identifying each of them.  By day two we had assigned names to each of them.  There was Sunscreen, the old guy with skin the color and texture of beef jerky.  He would be at the pool or in the ocean by 7 am and spend most of the day in the sun.  He would put a layer of sunscreen on his head so thick I thought, looking from our balcony, it was white hair.  But no, it was several ounces of SPF-45.  Then he would oil the rest of his body so it would simmer without actually turning to leather.  One afternoon he swam past my wife with what looked like a cigarette in his mouth.  But when he submerged he removed it and held it aloft like a periscope.  That’s when she noticed it was a Tootsie Pop.  So we had to change his name to Kojak.

Then there was Bar-B-Q, who was at the grill for lunch and dinner every day we were there.  And Mullet, the middle-aged guy with the long braid hanging halfway down his back.  And Cutie Pie, the very pretty young lady who was with Bald Spot.  And here would come Ms. Cellulite, flapping in through the gate to the beach.  The coolest person there was the one we could barely see, Wind Surfer.  All we saw of him was his kite careening through the air and his dim silhouette flying over the waves.

Being on the coast one would naturally think, seafood.  Yes, there were plenty of seafood restaurants throughout the area and we did eat at a couple. But I have to tell you, NO one anywhere cooks seafood as good as anyone in Louisiana.  Not even a 4-star Florida restaurant can serve anything close to what any and every Louisiana cook puts on the table day to day.  It’s all in the spice.  Louisiana uses it, others don’t.  And Louisiana has a take on presentation.  Sure, Floridians can serve a fillet of fish with a side of garlic potatoes and a sprig of parsley, but it can’t hold a candle to dumping a load of hot crawfish, potatoes, corn and sausage on a table covered with newspaper.  And never wear a white shirt to a crawfish boil, it won’t be white when you’re done.

Seafood aside, it was a delightful week.  I was able to cook some excellent steaks, made easier because Bar-B-Q already had the grill hot.  And the rip tide lessened as Hanna made her way up the coast so we were able to spend some quality time in the surf.  We even were able to relax as Ike bypassed our home town, choosing Houston as his primary target.  As Ike turned north, my brother in Cincinatti got more damage from it than we did.  He lost a tree and was without power for 15 hours.  Welcome to our world.  I need to e-mail him to say that I know a great place to evacuate if he needs to get away.  And no need to bring sunscreen, Kojak has plenty.

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Classical Music is NOT Easy Listening Music

September 17, 2008

Okay, I am a different kind of guy, especially compared to most of my friends.  My friends are normal people; an associate pastor, a construction superintendent, an alarm system installer.  I, on the other hand, am a magician/comedian/evangelist.  That in and of itself is enough to keep normal people from even associating with me.   I know now why Jerry Seinfeld hung out with George, he was glad to have company of any kind.

I like classic rock, but I have heard it for years and there are only so many times you can listen to a station “get the Led out.”  I listen to quite a bit of jazz.  I especially like older jazz, big band swing music.  Maybe I was born 30 years too late, but the tightness and quality arrangements of big band music is fantastic!  I actually sat and watched “The Glenn Miller Story” the other day for at least the 9th time.  Truth is, it never comes on that I don’t sit and watch it.  I own Glenn Miller CDs, as well as Bennie Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Harry James and many more.  I also like fusion, which is a cross between rock and jazz in both instrumentation and style.  It has a lyrical quality that is easier to follow than the manic wanderings of Charlie Parker, although Charlie was a legend.  My favorite jazz fusion artist is Billy Cobham, one of the best drummers of all time, but he also wrote and arranged.  Of his library of work, two albums stand far above all else, “Total Eclipse” and “A Funky Thide of Sings,” both produced in the 70s.

I have been a musician since the age of four and have picked up and played about a dozen different instruments, if only to learn one song.  I prefer instrumental music because it doesn’t have to lay low in the background while the singer tells some story.  Let the singer go perform at a poetry reading and let the band play!

If you were to catch me in my car any given day I can almost guarantee you I will be listening to classical music.  My love of classical goes back to college when I took a class in music appreciation.  Not because I wanted to expand my horizons, but because it got me out of taking another written humanities class.  I, like many others, did not like classical music at the time because it was slow and boring.  But at that time I had never heard Igor Stravinsky.  Stravinsky has literally changed my life.  This is NOT easy listening music, in fact my wife refers to it as hard listening music.  It is so complex with atonality and varying rhythms, many people uneducated in music just don’t get it.  If you just got lost in the previous sentence, you know what I mean.

Classical music is not meant to fill the void in the background while you drive or eat or read.  It is best enjoyed in a very quiet, dimly lit room with no distractions and your eyes closed.  To really enjoy it you have to let the music consume you, become one with it.  I taught music appreciation for one year in a private school and, as an experiment, had the class move all the desks to the edge of the room and lie down on the floor with all of the lights off.  I then played Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”  You should have seen their faces when it was over and the lights went back on.  “I didn’t know there was music like that!”  Exactly.  We had a party at the end of the year and they asked me, “Are you going to play any more of that Russian psycho music?”

All of this is to say, don’t disdain a friend or aquaintance because you happen to catch him listening to “Petrushka.”  Ask to borrow his CD, go off to a quiet place and give it a try.  Because you might, just might, find that classical music is worth the effort.

Sudoku: Puzzle from Hell

September 3, 2008

sudokuI have been playing Sudoku for about 6 months now and all I know for sure is this, it is from the devil himself!  If you are not familiar with the beast, look at the example on the right.  A sudoku puzzle consists of a 9×9 grid, divided into 9 grids which are each 3×3.  A few numbers are provided to get you started.  The object is to fill in the blanks so that each 3×3 grid will contain numbers 1-9 with no repeats.  But additionally each row and each column of 9 boxes will also contain numbers 1-9 with no repeats.

Sudoku has several levels of play from beginner to pure evil.  I was on the beginner level for months, having finally moved up to the simple level.  I cannot even fathom moving further to the easy level.  The absolute worst part of this game is, it is highly addictive.  If it were a pill it would be a controlled substance.

I am not sure what part of the human psyche is responsible for this urge toward self-abuse.  Why is it that humans not only have the ability to solve problems, apparently they have a deep-rooted need to do so?  I prefer problems that have more satisfying conclusions like how to open the double seal on a bag full of brownies, how to stretch the salsa with ketchup without being too obvious, or how to buy a $398 Easton high-tech composite softball bat without my wife catching me.

Puzzles have been around as long as man has walked the planet.  Early puzzles were fundamental; things like, “How do I stick my spear into the heart of this gigantic lizard before he turns me into a prehistoric hors d’oeuvre?”  As time went on, puzzles became increasingly complex.  “How can I catapult this flaming ball of pitch over the castle wall without it breaking up and raining death on my Imperial Guard?”  But now that man has solved every single mystery in the universe, the need to solve problems has moved on to senseless, mind-numbing games.

Riddles are an early form of problem solving games.  I like riddles, for the most part.  Here are a couple of examples of typical riddles.  (Answers will appear at the bottom of the page.)

  • 1.  How far can a horse run into the woods?
  • 2.  Is it legal in North Carolina for a man to marry his widow’s sister?
  • 3.  If a man and a half can dig a hole and a half in a day and a half, how long does it take a monkey with a wooden leg to kick all the seeds out of a medium size dill pickle?

Crossword puzzles have been around a long time, and they are the puzzle of choice for my wife and her father.  The problem is, crosswords require a long-term investment to get good since clues tend to be repetitive.  However, doing crosswords is great for developing vocabulary, which is one reason I have trouble understanding my wife.

  • “Jimbeaux, I bought a firkin of ghee last night.  Have you seen it?
  • “Huh?”
  • “The firkin of ghee I bought.  What did you do with it?”
  • “I throwed it in the truck.”

Obviously I lack the vocabulary to attempt crossword puzzles.  But Soduku, according to the author of “Sudoku for Dummies,” is a puzzle anyone can do; anyone with months of time on their hands and a propensity toward masochism.  So, if you have more spare time than sense, give it a try.  All you have to lose is several hours a day of otherwise productive time and your sanity.

Riddle Answers:

  • 1.  Halfway, after that the horse is running OUT of the woods.
  • 2.  No.  If the woman is a widow, then the man is dead.
  • 3.  I don’t know.  My dad told me that one and I have yet to figure it out.

Vocabulary:

  • firkin: a small cask for butter equal to a fourth of a barrel or, in the case of butter, 56 lbs.
  • ghee: clarified semifluid butter made from water buffalo’s milk.
  • throwed: past tense of throw