Saturday, September 30, 2006

He Said, She Said ...

Online pal Ethan, often a thinker of big thoughts, recently made a Netflix recommendation. Ethan and I have some rather interesting conversations, so I took his recommendation to heart and put it at the top of my queue.

Ethan wrote about the topic here and I will write about it here.

The discs contained a series from the Sundance Channel: "Transgeneration." An examination of the lives of four college-age transgenders: Raci (nee Raymond), T.J. (nee Tamar), Gabbie (nee Andrew), and Lucas (nee Leah). Raci and Gabbie were born male and are now presenting female. T.J. and Lucas were born female and are now presenting male.

I don't have a lot of experience with transgender situations. When I worked at the Tribune, one of the security guards was transitioning from male to female. I've seen (and loved) "Transamerica." Point is, most of the transgender cases I have any knowledge of are male to female ("M to F" to use the lingo). I've never much contemplated the F to M, so watching two F to M students made me think.

Of course, I can never understand what these people are going through. I've never had the experience of feeling as though I'm living in the wrong body. But I am astonished by their bravery. I suppose they could go through life denying their true selves, but instead they have all chosen to face their realities and brave the reactions of their friends and families.

As Ethan writes about, one of the aspects of transitioning from male to female or female to male is learning the behaviors of the other sex. Some take to their new "roles" well. Others are much more awkward. Of course, I would think that part of what makes them question their gender to begin with are feelings of not belonging to the gender to which they were born. (At one point, I believe it was Gabbie who said that "sex" is the physical aspect and "gender" is mental, which means that I'm using the word "gender" incorrectly.) Still, it must be a very different experience to observe the other sex than to present as the other sex.

T.J. is from Cyprus and his mother is having a very difficult time accepting his decision. When he returns home from Michigan State, he looks like T.J. but identifies as Tamar, out of respect for his mother. As Aremenians, they are very focused on community, and Tamar was valedictorian of her boarding school before attending MSU on a scholarship. In America, away from the close-knit Armenian community on Cyprus, T.J. is freer to explore his identity as a man. He meets Staci and they eventually move in together. He befriends other F to M students and finds understanding. But under the terms of his scholarship, he must return to Cyprus for two years when he finishes his master's degree, and he's unsure how he'll be able to walk the tightrope that traverses what he must do to be true to himself and how he must behave out of respect for his mother.

Gabbie is the only one of the four students during the course of the series who undergoes sex-reassignment surgery. Lucas begins testosterone treatments. And Raci fluctuates between taking estrogen and not. Cash-strapped, she buys her hormones illegally and her source dries up.

But while she's on them, they really, really work. Raci, who's hearing-impaired and whose mother moves from Los Angeles to San Francisco, has an infuriatingly hot body: thin waist, curvy hips, perfect breasts. With her full lips and long, dark hair, she looks the least like the opposite sex. Gabbie still has a gawky, boyish quality about her. T.J. as Tamar looked slightly masculine. Lucas looks androgynous. But Raci looks all woman.

It's a fascinating series, well worth the rental. Lots of food for thought.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Television News Question ...

For any of my TV pals who might be reading:

I was just watching a segment on "World News with Charles Gibson" where I saw the ubiquitous b-roll shot of a person walking. What's up with that? Why do producers think that they need that coverage? It's not part of a shot, with the subject walking into the frame and sitting down for an interview. It's just b-roll of them walking to supply video for the voiceover. But why? Why walking? What's it supposed to convey? And if it's not meant to convey anything, why not find another shot?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Seriously? ...

I don't watch a lot of TV. I don't think most of it is worth my time. And invariably, the stuff I dig is scuttled by the networks. Not every show, but enough of them to make me wonder what all those skirts and suits in Tinseltown are thinking.

Some shows are phenomenal enough to make the cut year after year ("Lost") while others are axed unmercifully without resolution ("Invasion").

And then there are the shows that are ripped off, either indirectly ("Trading Spaces") or blatantly ("The Office"). Or they're translated from another language ("Ugly Betty").

Salma Hayek is the genius behind translating this telenovella from its Spanish-language berth to the big wide world of ABC. I have a ton of respect for her as both an actress and producer. She's committed to her ideals, and she does the work she wants to do. And "Ugly Betty" has a lot of potential.

But what the hell is it doing on at 7 p.m.?

Those who know me know I'm no prude. My language is often peppered with its share of salty phrases. I watch porn. Hell, I own porn. I believe I've even had sex in my lifetime, and - gasp! - I'm not married.

But I'm also not programming television at 7 p.m. when freshly scrubbed little kiddles might be plopped down in front of the television in their footie pajamas. Now, some might argue that the days of there being anything appropriate on television at 7 p.m. for kids are long, long gone. If it's not from the Disney vault, all bets are off (though let's not get started on the whole "If it's a Disney film, at least one of the parents has to be dead" thing).

I'm pretty sure, though, that there's a happy medium.

During commercial breaks, I was firing off notes to L.A. Dave, who makes his living writing about television, when he's not writing about snakes on a plane.

"7:05 p.m.," I wrote. "We have the word 'man-whore.' "

"7:12 p.m.," I wrote, seven minutes later. "We have 'son of a bitch.' What's going on?"

Dave replied (I'm sure he won't mind if I quote him), "Is it more the fact that 'Ugly Betty' is on in what is still referred to commonly as the 'family hour'? (The same family hour, by the way, where I saw two escaped convicts violently shot to death on CBS' 'Jericho' last night?)"

To which I replied, "Yeah, this is insane. Kids are still watching TV at this hour, and we have women in bed with a 'man-whore,' barely clothed, we have profanity, we have models in a 'car-wreck' photo shoot. What the fuck? I'm no prude, but Jesus."

Dave suggested that shows like "Friends" and "Gilmore girls" were and are their own brand of "racy," but "Ugly Betty" crosses that line. Yes, yes, "Gilmore girls" alludes to premarital sex, "Friends" put Jennifer Aniston in her high-school cheerleader outfit and showed her taking off her bra under her shirt. But I'm sure that no child ever watching either of those shows ever turned to their parent and said, "Mommy, what's a man-whore?"

And get this: Hollywood is full of ... liberals! It's crawling with 'em! And so my little condemnation/rant here might be viewed as ... CONSERVATIVE!

Yep, I'm conservative, all right, when it comes to stuff like this. When I see T-shirts that would fit six-year-olds with "Hottie" in rhinestones across the chest, when I'm flipping through a sales circular for Halloween costumes and I see little girls dressed up as go-go dancers in really skimpy outfits, when I see little girls making their first holy communion wearing strapless dresses, I go a little nuts.

Earlier today, I was reading a story about a newspaper employee, an HR manager, who went to meet a 13-year-old girl he'd been chatting with online and was met instead by the undercover cop he'd been talking to the whole time. Gee, I'm sure that nice man just wanted to take his new friend out to the mall for some shopping and ice cream, right? There are a lot of sick fucks out there. I don't think we need to be making things any easier for them by dressing up grade-schoolers like two-bit whores.

And I don't think we need early-evening television glorifying a "man-whore" who kicks one lingerie-clad woman out of his bed (who pulls on a trenchcoat and then flashes him on her way out the door) to make way for the next lingerie-clad woman of the night.

Yes, I recognize that parents can control what their kids see, but really, can't it wait until 8 o'clock?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sports (For Mike) ...

Mike, one of my 3-Day pals, wrote today to ask when I'm going to start commenting on sports.

Sports.

Hmm.

Sports.

Sports, sports, sports.

That's a fun word.

Thing is, I don't know much about sports. My first gig at the Chicago Tribune was in sports. When I told people I was interviewing for the job, they asked me, "Uh, Beth? Do you know anything about sports?"

"There are three periods in hockey and four quarters in football," I'd say. "I'll figure out the rest as I go."

Well, the job I had in sports had very little to do with understanding sports and a lot to do with answering the phones on Friday and Saturday nights and compiling preps agate, or coding box scores, or inputting horse racing results which we actually got off a wire printer. On paper. In the wire room. Which we then keyed into our hulking Edit Vs.

Actual sports knowledge was not a requirement for the job, though I was always amazed that guys, when there was a lull, would crack open the big-ass baseball encyclopedia and read statistics.

Huh?

I've always believed that there is a place in a woman's brain where we store important information like people's birthdays and anniversaries. (If you're a man and you're thinking that this does not qualify as important information, I invite you to remember back to the last time you missed such a day in the life of your significant other. See what I mean?) This same cranial location in men, I've always believed, is crammed full of sports stats. That's why women are always flitting through Hallmark to pick up cards to send for holidays, and men are sitting in bars talking about who was the right-fielder for the '63 Mets. (Raise your hand if you just said the answer out loud. Yeah, I thought so. Now look down. You have a penis, don't you?)

So I can't really write about sports. I used to have a pretty good serve in tennis. I was never much of a fan of basketball despite my height. Football is just brutal. Boxing is worse. Hockey is somewhere in between. I don't run unless chased. I like the idea of volleyball but I never perfected my serve. Walking is pretty much my thing. (Pat is freaked out by the fact that I once walked an 11-minute mile.) Or luge, maybe. Because you get to lie down.

As for watching sports, I catch the occasional baseball game. Tennis from time to time. I think televised golf is silly. Bowling doesn't qualify as a sport in my book. Some would say NASCAR doesn't either, but those drivers endure a lot in those cars. More than bowlers.

Mike specifically mentioned writing about fantasy football. Sorry, darlin'. I ain't your fantasy-football gal. But thanks for bein' my pimp daddy.

Love,
Your Bitch

Glowerer Addendum ...

In my post about Hugh Laurie, I asked the rhetorical question, "Who can glower like this guy?"

I just realized at least one answer: Ciaran Hinds. I was on IMDb earlier and thought, "Let's see what Ciaran's up to today." In the past, he hasn't had a main photo posted, but now he does. This is it. Wow. And, as usual, he has a bazillion projects in the works. He's one of those actors who works all the time but has managed to elude the limelight to a great degree, just the way he likes it.

New Music Wednesday ...

Last month, at my work reunion, Warwick told about his latest web venture, amazing-tunes.com. When he returned to his part of the world, we traded e-mails and he suggested that I should start reviewing music for the site. I was flattered, and told him I'd be happy to, if he thought I had any business reviewing artists. I mean, I know what I like, but I'm not a trained musician. I don't think the lessons I took when I was in grade school really count for much these days.

This morning, I fired up e-mail and I had a note from Woody, a guitar player for the band Circuit. Turns out, he's been reading my blog for a while and sent me a link to their online press kit with mp3s. He asked me to let him know what I thought.

Well, that's awfully nice, isn't it? I suppose on the heels of yesterday's gush-fest over Iva, he thought it might be the right time to step out of the shadows and introduce himself.

I'm glad he did.

It amazes me when I hear from someone who reads my blog. Honestly, it doesn't really dawn on me that anyone beyond my little group of known readers is checking it out, but it's out there for anyone to read, and apparently, some people do.

The first thing I thought was, "Don't I already know about this band?" Circuit sounded familiar to me. I checked Amazon.com. Nope, not the band I'm thinking of. I surfed on over to Circuit's site and clicked on the audio button to start streaming tunes.

First up, "Deficiency." Wow. That's some in-your-face guitar first thing in the morning! And as I was listening, I thought, "They remind me of Nickelback." When I went back to the band's audio page to click the next track, I laughed. In the mini-bio, it says, "The record was produced by Dale Penner (Nickelback)." Well, there you go.

If you're currently saying to yourself, "Yeah, I don't like Nickelback," and you're therefore discinclined to check out this band, I say to you, "Whoa, grab some chair there, bub." Because next up was "Helen of Troy," a plaintive ballad that starts out with an acoustic guitar backed with strings. Pretty. The tune gets going, but it's a nice vocal showcase, too.

"Better Part of Me" surprised me with its strings and prominent piano. "Just Like Heaven" has a deceptively subtle intro, but it's not a subtle song. "Broken Window" took me back to the Nickelback-inspired sound. And "Complicated," the last track, had me wondering again just who Michael James sounds like. (I'm listening to the Nickelback I have in my iTunes and James and Chad Kroeger share some similarities, but that's not who I'm thinking of. James' voice reminds me of someone else.)

Which made me start thinking about rock and what a challenge it must be for artists to put their own stamp on that sound. When I first heard Creed, I thought I was hearing Pearl Jam. Now, when I heard Creed, I know I'm hearing Creed, but at first blush, they didn't sound distinctly different. And in this day and age of 30-second sound samples on iTunes or Amazon, bands don't have a lot of time to hook a listener. (Which is why the site Circuit is hooked up with is groovy.)

Circuit's album, ""Eau De Humanity," was released earlier this year. I like it. It's not a thrashy guitar album. There's a sophistication about it, both from the production values (it sounds fabulous) and the range of songs. Check 'em out. The album is available on iTunes and cdUniverse (and elsewhere, I'm guessing).

I'm not planning on making this a blog about music reviews, but this opportunity presented itself, and I dig this band. And even more, I admire the hell out of anyone out there livin' the dream. There are countless would-be bands out there with their dreams of rock-star glory, but how many of them ever get beyond their basements and wishing? Circuit's making it happen. And I'm happy, in my very small way, to help.

So, Woody? This is what I think. All the best to you guys.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

New Music Tuesday ...

I used to edit the music and books sections of an entertainment publication. Editors aren't supposed to be self-serving. We're supposed to serve readers. But one day, I was driving to work, listening to a tape - yes, a cassette - a well-worn, much-beloved copy of Icehouse's "Man of Colours."

A long time ago, when music videos were new and novel, I fell in love with the man in the "Crazy" video. Well, that man was Iva Davies, lead singer of Icehouse. Creator of Icehouse, really. Writer and singer of songs. Men with long hair make me swoon. This isn't a shot from the video, but it's definitely the hair!


And so, that day in my car, I thought, "I wonder whatever happened to Iva Davies." Being the music editor, I decided that the time was nigh to find out - and write a story about him.

I got some misinformation from Amazon.com, but that piqued the curiosity of the Davies camp. I can't remember now if I wrote to Iva's webmaster or manager, but Gino, his manager, got back in touch with me and told me that Iva wanted to communicate directly to set up the interview. And so I fired off an e-mail to the long-maned man I'd seen so many times in the video.

After some calculating (Sydney is 16 hours ahead of Chicago), we set up a time to talk, and when we did, I made my video confession. He laughed and said, "I don't look like that anymore."

He had written a song that was being used by the Sydney Olympics that year (hey, a timely hook for the story!). He offered to send me a copy, which arrived, signed, "To Beth, With Love, Iva Davies."

Happily, he liked the story I wrote and we've stayed in touch. We don't write often, but from time to time, something will pop into my mind and I'll jot it down to him, and his replies are always charming. He once sent me a disc that Amazon told me would take 8 weeks to get. When I finally bought the CD of "Man of Colours," I asked him if he'd sign the liner notes for me and sent them off to Australia. They arrived back in my mailbox not many days later. I love that I bought the tape all those years ago, and all these years hence, I'm lucky enough to be able to ask him to sign the CD version.

During a recent recording session, I covered his cover of Sinatra's "All the Way." There are certain artists I just can't cover. It's as though their songs are sacred, and I don't allow myself to sing them. But I love Iva's voice, and I've always loved singing along with him, so I it seemed fair to cover a cover.

He's been on my mind lately. A thought of him popped into my head the other night, driving home after "King Lear." And this morning, I fired up iTunes and "Circles in the Sky" was the first tune, out of 4,081. Which made me think, "I wonder if Iva's released anything on his site recently?"

When I interviewed him all those years ago, he was working on a new album. He's still working on the new album. At this point, I don't know if it will ever be commercially available, but he releases tracks from it from time to time. So I surfed on over and sure enough, a new tune has been posted, "Your God (not mine)." You can listen to it by going here, and clicking the download link at the end of the lyrics.

Of course, I'm totally biased, and I like everything the man records. But this tune, truly, is a knockout. He slams the chorus. Outstanding.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

As The Bard Would Say ...

I wrote to Pat to let him know about the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, since seeing "King Lear" has made him decide that he wants to see more Shakespeare.

His reply: "Methinks the Pier is in the offing. Dost not its spiny spoked wheel portend happier plays than that which good friend Goodman didst display?

Later, babycakes"

I decided that from now on, we should write all our notes in Shakespearese, and so I replied:

"If thou doth believe that the Pier doth host much gladness, we shall with haste dispatch together to be entertained by such merriment. Though you must with such a plan prepare.

Until morrow (or, you know, like, whenever), my good sir."

And now to sleep, perchance to dream.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

'Akeelah and the Bee' ...

Ohmygosh, this movie is the reason why the phrase "Feel-good Movie of the Year" was invented.

You think you already know the ending, but there's a twist.

B.A.P.E.: Second Date Edition ...

I still haven't recovered from "King Lear." Whew, that production kicked my ass. Chris Jones, the theater critic for the Chicago Tribune, wrote a very solid review of this staging. I don't read the Tribune anymore, generally, but I make exceptions. I'm glad to have gotten Jones' take.

But that's not where our story begins.

Pat and I didn't have a plan firmed up until yesterday afternoon, and, as you might guess, pre-theater dinner reservations aren't the easiest thing to get at any of the restaurants very near the theaters. I made a few phone calls before remembering the Grillroom Chophouse. Still in the theater district, but a restaurant that's always struck me as lesser-known. A reservation was no problem. I asked for 6 p.m. The hostess recommended 5:45. All righty, then.

I arrived early. Sidled up to the bar and found myself sitting next to the woman I was behind when I checked in at the host stand. She had the wine-by-the-glass list, which she offered to me. She was drinking a pinot noir. I found what I wanted. The bartender, a man with a European accent, was running a check. "What can I get you?" he said, staring at the screen.

"Are you talking to me?" I said, laughing.

"Yep."

"A glass of zinfandel, please," I said.

"Red zinfandel or white zinfandel?" he asked.

"Red," I said, wanting to ask why white zinfandel is even still produced.

The woman and I chatted. She was waiting for her boyfriend. They were having dinner and then going to see "Wicked." We chatted about New York and Europe and just as I checked my phone to notice that it was 5:47, Pat appeared over my shoulder.

We all introduced ourselves and Pat and I headed out of the bar (where smoking is still allowed - gack) and into the restaurant to check in with the hostess. She gave us the option of a table or booth. Pat said he had no preference, then quickly pronounced a preference for a booth.

Looking at the menu, he announced, "I want you to order for me."

Huh?

"You're supposed to be a food expert. I want you to order for me," he said.

Well, I'm happy to order for people, but I need a little guidance. Pat ended up ordering his own food, but I helped him make his decisions. Close enough.

Our server passed the table. "Another glass of wine, darling?"

"No, I'm fine. Thank you," I said to him. I turned to Pat. "What did he just call me?"

"Darling."

"Are you jealous?"

"He didn't call me 'darling,' " he said, feigning hurt. "But I guess you're more darling than me."

"Maybe with you, he sees it as the love that dares not speak its name."

Ah, we do amuse each other.

He was noshing on a bit of bread. "This isn't very good," he said. I tried a piece. He was right. It wasn't very good.

Dinner itself was fine. There were pleasant food moments, but it wasn't an unforgettable meal. Then again, we were in a restaurant renowned for its steaks and neither of us ordered red meat.

We left the restaurant and headed out into the post-rain streets. Pat walked along with his hands in his pockets. I tucked my arm through his then reached into his pocket to take his hand. He seemed half-hearted about hand-holding.

We made our way to the theater with plenty of time to spare. Our seats - my seats, for the season - are at the end of a very long row, so we spent a lot of time standing up so others could get by. The play, as I mentioned briefly in my previous post, was a trip. Stacy Keach stripping completely nude will get anyone's attention, but the entire production was just enormous sensory overload. Throughout the production, all 3 hours and 15 minutes of it, Pat kept his hands to himself. "Huh," I thought. "OK, he doesn't do the 'holding hands' thing."

When we got in my car later, he took my hand. Well, just when I think I have something figured out about him, he goes and proves me wrong.

He wrote this morning to say he had a great time.

"Me, too," I said. "As much as possible with that play. Next time, let's hit a comedy club or something. Sheesh."

He wrote tonight to mention that he really liked the play and wants to see more Shakespeare now. I checked the Chicago Shakespeare Theater's web site.

Now on stage?

"Hamlet."

Hardly a yuk-fest.

We'll see.

But I dig that he's up for more Shakespeare.

'King Lear' ...

So, a little lighthearted fare for Date Numero Due.

I'm way too tired to write at length right now, but as I just wrote to English Teacher Dave:

Went to see "King Lear" tonight at The Goodman, starring Stacy Keach.
HOLY CRAP.
It's SO flippin' modern, this production. There's nudity, there's simulated sex, there are guns, there are knives, there are blighted urban landscapes, there are gourmet kitchens and a Mercedes Benz. Hip hop, bling. CRAZY.
I'm in total sensory overload.

Friday, September 22, 2006

'The Corrections' ...

I've been interested in reading Jonathan Franzen's doorstop ever since the blowout he had with Oprah when she chose his work for her book club.

Franzen got in a snit, not wanting a logo on the cover of his book, saying that while Oprah had picked some good titles, she'd also picked some that were "schmaltzy" and "one-dimensional." I got the feeling that Franzen felt his book was just too darn literary for the masses.

And then it went on to win a National Book Award. Yeah? Well, "The Shipping News" won a National Book Award and I couldn't stand it.

I was an English major. I pride myself on the fact that I've only ever read one John Grisham book ("The Firm," to see what all the fuss was about). I'm not a book snob. I don't purposely steer clear of pop fiction, but I like to tackle "serious" books with "meanings."

So, a couple of months ago - July, maybe? - I headed to the library, which I underutilize, and checked out "The Corrections" for two weeks. Two weeks later, I renewed it for another two weeks. I returned it, after a month, having read about 150 pages - it weighs in at 568 - and figured I'd check it out again in a day or two. And then I went to the bookstore and happened to see a hardcover copy (replete with Oprah logo!) for around 7 bucks. Sold. Now I could slog through it at my leisure.

And slog I did. I finished it this morning, having woken up annoyingly early, and not being in any hurry to get a jump on this overcast day. I actually exhaled when I finished reading it, as though I'd just finished a long, taxing journey.

My cousin Patty, who reads books for a living, being a marketing director for a publisher, revealed to me that she'd stopped reading the book after a couple of chapters. "You never told me THAT!" I said. She replied that she didn't want to sway my opinion, wanting to know what I thought of it when I was done.

My short review to her this morning was "self-congratulatory bloat."

It's a long book, and I'm not sure why. Each of the characters could be drawn with many fewer strokes. And I could have done with a lot less exposition about one of the character's incontinence issues. And I really could have done with a lot less exposition about the hallucinations of one of the character's incontinence issues. Yeah, you heard me.

Franzen recently released "The Discomfort Zone," of which the New York Times says, "In his new memoir, 'The Discomfort Zone,' Mr. Franzen turns his unforgiving eye on himself and succeeds in giving us an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed." Which could be seen as praise, as success: If you set out to write an odious self-portrait and the New York Times calls your book an odious self-portrait, you've done good, right?

But the Times goes on to say, "While some readers will want to give Mr. Franzen points for being so revealing about himself, there is something oddly preening about his self-inventory of sins, as though he actually reveled in being so disagreeable. And while it doubtless takes a degree of self-absorption for anyone to write a memoir, in the case of this book the author’s self-involvement not only makes for an incredibly annoying portrait, but also funnels the narrative into a dismayingly narrow channel."

"Incredibly annoying portrait." Bingo.

"Self-congratulatory bloat."

Yup, sounds like two books from the same pen.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Oh, That's Kind Of Harsh ...

So, yesterday, my pal Marc was feeding me URLs via IM. One, for the Muppet Matrix, amused me, but another, Blender's The 50 Worst Things Ever to Happen to Music, made me say, "Hey! Nuh uh!"

From the Anne Geddes-esque image at the top of the page, I knew I would be displeased, but there it was, at No. 38 on the 50 Worst Things list: "Sting." Just "Sting." With no explanation. I protested to Marc. "Sting minus The Police needs no explanation," he said. Wow. Harsh.

I've been a fan of Sting since high school. Yes, then he was part of The Police, but let's face it: The Police were only The Police because of Sting. He wrote the songs. He sang the songs. Where are Stuart Copeland and Andy Summers these days, huh? Yeah, they're doing some composing, but neither of them have had a post-Police career like Sting.

I didn't save the IM session with Marc, but I believe he made some crack to the effect of Sting's music being suitable for listening to in elevators if it weren't for his whiny voice. Sheesh. Where's the love, Marc? Where's the love?

I have a lot of Sting albums. Some of them are his commercial biggies and some of them are relatively obscure. "Last Session" with Sting and Gil Evans is an amazing album. It was recorded live in 1987 in Italy. And he also released "Bring On the Night," a live two-disc set.

Seeing Sting live is a big part of appreciating him. His arrangements of tunes during gigs differ from the recorded tracks. Maybe he plans for some improvisation, but I've never been to a Sting concert - and I've been to my fair share of Sting concerts - that sounded like a series of album cuts. He brings a lot to a live performance.

And speaking of which, you have to hand it to the guy: There doesn't seem to be an instrument he can't play. On the 2004 Oscar telecast, performing his Oscar-nominated song from "Cold Mountain," the man played a hurdy-gurdy. No one even knew what the hell is was, but he could play it. If it has strings, he can play it. His album of lute music - that's right, lute music - will be released October 10. I have no idea if I'll like Sting playing lute music, but the point is this: as a musician, he challenges himself.

Yes, he can write a pop song in his sleep and he knows it. When "Sacred Love" was released a couple years ago and he was using "Send Your Love" in the commercial he made, shilling for Jaguar and AOL at the same time, he cheekily wrote in his AIM window, "I smell Grammy!" Turned out, he won one for his duet with Mary J. Blige off that album instead.

But that just proves my point: I don't suspect he partnered up with Blige to score a "Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals" Grammy. I think he did it because he liked her voice and he thought they'd sound interesting together. And they do.

On "Mercury Falling" he does an entire song, with a rapper, in French. Sting singing "My Funny Valentine" with Chris Botti will break your heart it's so beautiful, especially when you see him singing it to Trudie. The love between them is palpable.

Can the man get formulaic and predictable with some of his releases? Yep. He knows what works, he knows what will land him on the charts, and he delivers. But like an actor known for indie flicks who takes on a high-profile project for the payday, I grant him that license. Because he doesn't rest on his pop laurels. He makes his regular contribution to the lackluster world of radio that we live in today, and then he makes the music that really interests him. And he doesn't seem to care if it sells or not. Because while he shares it with the rest of us, it's really just his.

So if Blender wants to include Sting on its list, well, that's its right. But I think a little qualification is in order.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hugh Laurie ...

In a word: Woof.

Wow. What is it about this guy? I mean, sure, I have a thing for Brits, but in "House," he is a very grumpy American. And a little lewd. I can't wait to see what the writers do with the storyline that was introduced tonight between him and and nearly legal pop tart.

The show is fabulous. I didn't discover it until this summer in reruns, but now I'm hooked. Partly because it's just smartly written, but mostly because Laurie is just so flippin' entrancing. EW did a cover story on him a few weeks ago and made some comment about him not being handsome. What man were they looking at? Who can glower like this guy?

Starsailor And Cheap Trick And Dave ...

Earlier tonight, I went to see Starsailor at The Double Door.

How in the name of God is this band not huge? There was a good turnout tonight, but there couldn't have been more than a couple hundred people. KT Tunstall played to a much bigger house at the Park West back in March.

Dave is the one who turned me on to this band. I am completely hooked. I listened to "Love Is Here" on the way to the gig. It's a great album. It was released in 2001, and the band has released two more albums since then. But you've never heard of them, have you? It's a damn shame. Someday, they're gonna play big venues. They have to. There is no musical justice in the world if this band doesn't break into the big time. You'd think that opening for the Rolling Stones this summer would have added some weight to their name, but I don't get the sense that they're reaping any real benefit from their Stones connection. Not yet, at least. Though their second album went platinum, so someone's listening to them. I suspect they're much bigger across the pond.

Physically, James, the lead singer, reminds me of Joaquin Phoenix sometimes, Ashton Kutcher other times, then both of them and then neither of them. But musically, the band is grouped with Keane and Coldplay. Maybe. But I was hearing moments of U2 tonight in the encore tune.

Tonight's show was a 21+ so Dave, sadly, couldn't bring his daughter along. ("You need to get her a fake ID," I said tonight, after the show. Dave 'fessed up to having one when he was younger. Dave? The most honest person on the face of the planet, had a fake ID? I love that!) So this turned out to be our first concert together. We didn't go together. We each went and met up there. But this was the first time we were at a gig where we could hang together, alone. In nearly 12 years of knowing each other.

It felt strange.

We ended up in the balcony where we could sit and chat about the songs without yelling at each other as we were doing on the main floor at the beginning of the set. And then, after I pulled a promotional poster off the wall for him to take home to Nat (he couldn't score a set list), we headed outside to find a quiet place to catch up, but wouldn't you know it? Bars and the like don't stay open past midnight on a Monday. So we walked to his SUV and he drove me to my car. He pulled up behind a car and put his in park, letting the engine idle. He continued his tale of the past few weeks and I reached over and turned off the ignition. "Who are you kidding?" I said. Dave and I are incapable of a goodbye that doesn't last at least 30 minutes. We always think of more things to say.

He finished his story and turned things over to me. I caught him up on my life: work, the walk, recording, my family, Pat.

"He's a lot like you," I said. "Which is saying a lot, as you set the bar. You're the standard by which all other men in my life are judged. Which isn't really fair to them."

Dave, who is a very accomplished blusher most of the time, was unexpectedly even-keeled. "Well, thanks, Beth," he said. "That's very kind."

But it's true. I told him I've thought it would be cool if I could just clone him, but I'd have to clone him present-day. I couldn't clone him as a baby and then wait for him to get to this age. Or maybe I could wait 30 years, and then I'd be a woman in my 60s with a hot younger guy. "Like Cher!," I said. He laughed.

He didn't have his iPod with him, so he was Starsailor-less for the drive home. I told him to wait, and I ran across the street to my car where I popped my copy of the album out of my CD player and grabbed the rest of the dark chocolate-covered espresso beans that we had just been noshing on which I'd produced from the inside pocket of my jean jacket. I walked up to his window and handed him the bag of beans and the tunes. I figured it was more important for him to listen on the way home than me. He popped a CD out of his player and said, "Well, here, then you should take this. It's the new Cheap Trick."

I didn't know there was a new Cheap Trick. But there is. And it's fabulous. Dave used to open for them, back in his earlier rocker days. He said I'd dig Track 3 ("If It Takes A Lifetime") and he's right. It's fab. I called him moments after we got on the road to tell him so. Wow. And Track 4 is good, as promised. But when he told me that there were some Beatles-sounding tunes, I wasn't prepared for Track 5, "O Claire." It's totally like listening to Paul and the boys. Seriously. It's uncanny. It's almost unsettling. But very cool.

So, Starsailor, a new band that's not new, and Cheap Trick, an old band that just keeps reinventing itself yet retaining its trademark sound. "Rockford" is their latest. Check it out.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Relativity ...

Family dynamics. Go figure.

Does Norman Rockwell's vision of the world exist outside of his paintings? In my mind's eye, I'm seeing a father at the head of a dining table, carving knife and fork poised over a perfectly browned bird, family looking at him with anticipation and appreciation. But what do you want to bet that there's a drunk uncle passed out beyond the frame in the living room?

No matter how idyllic a family might appear, there are always machinations behind closed doors: jealousies, estrangements, anger. A smorgasbord of dysfunction.

Some offenses are easily smoothed over, some are much harder to heal.

My mother and I had a discussion recently about parents and whether they're entitled to take credit for the success of their children. Someone once told her that she can lay no claim to our accomplishments. I disagreed. On a micro level, no, she can't, but on a macro level, she absolutely can. She raised me. From an early age, she began shaping the person I would become. Which isn't to say that parents are entirely responsible for the way a kid turns out. Kids make choices, some good, some bad. But generally speaking, parents are either a good influence and rear children who make good choices, or parents are a bad - or perhaps worse, indifferent - influence and rear children who find themselves without much of a moral compass to point them in the right direction.

In the nature-versus-nurture argument, I think a lot has to do with how you're raised. I believe that we're born essentially neutral and we're taught good behavior or we're not. And we learn by example.

Yesterday, walking through a store with my mom, I came upon something on the floor. I stooped to pick it up and put it with the others on the shelf. "I raised you right," mom said.

Yup, she did. I've gotten a lot of good behaviors from my mother, behaviors that seem to baffle many people. Which is sad, that kindness often takes people by surprise.

Pat has an interesting theory about our ever-increasingly insular lives and the preponderance of anti-anxiety drugs and anti-depressants. I relish small, neighborly moments because they're so rare. When's the last time you and a neighbor got together for a spontaneous cup of coffee? Do you even know who your neighbors are?

When my mom was younger, the entire congregation of her church would get together on Sunday afternoons. When I was younger, my extended family would come over on Christmas Eve. Every year. It was a tradition. Mom would busy herself for days in advance, preparing ridiculous amounts of food. Dad would busy himself the day of the party in the basement, cleaning and stocking the bar. I loved those moments right before people were due to arrive. Mom would be putting the finishing touches on something. Dad would turn on one of the Christmas albums on the downstairs stereo and an anticipation hung in the quiet air until the doorbell rang. And slowly the house would fill with people and the quiet gave way to a pleasant din, the buzz of so many people and so much cheer. And the night would wear on, and slowly people would leave, and the house would return to its low pre-party hum, and we'd gather in the living room and look at the tree, quiet, until mom and dad would shoo us off to bed so they could put out the presents and finally get to sleep.

I've lost many members of my family over the years, but there have been marriages and births in the meantime. So the actual number of people in the family has stayed rather constant. What's changed is the sociability. I used to see my cousin Lora constantly when I was younger, at my house or her house or an aunt's house. I haven't seen her in more than a year. The last time I saw her was at her brother's wedding. And I have no idea when I'll see her again. Morbidly, it'll probably be at a wake. That seems to be when most families see each other anymore.

So what happened, I wonder, in the past 40 or so years? Is technology to blame? Is it now so effortless to keep in touch that we somehow don't bother? Do we delude ourselves into thinking that we're simply too busy? Why? What can we possibly be doing that's more important?

I had plenty of stuff I could have done around the house today. But I spent the afternoon watching my niece and nephew play in their soccer games.

The grass can get cut another day.

Friday, September 15, 2006

B.A.P.E.: First Date Edition ...

We had a plan.

Well, we had the beginnings of a plan. Pat was, I dare say, fretting a bit about what the first date should be. I suggested a restaurant. He hasn't been in Chicago for very long, so I can cut him some date-planning slack.

Then the walk really took things out of me this weekend, and he offered to come to me instead of me heading downtown. Aw. Points for Pat.

So it seemed only fair that I should make dinner. I like to throw little dinner parties. It sates the would-be chef in me. I wasn't quite in a menu-planning mindset yesterday, what with wondering if my basement was going to flood, but I pulled together some ideas today.

For John's benefit (because he likes it when I write about food), we started with a platter of noshables: my garlic olives, some Irish cheese, assorted "biscuits for cheese" (they're from England, where they have funny words for things), toasted walnuts, the most perfect pear, and, as Pat declared, the best grapes he'd ever eaten: They were big and red and just the right texture. Not too hard, not too soft.

The entree was linguini with white clam sauce, an old standby. I'd prepped all the components beforehand (ah, I love a mise en place) so the sauce was ready just after the pasta'd finished cooking. Lots of freshly grated Parmesan. Perrier and lime to drink. The salad was simple, but not simple enough for Pat: turns out, he doesn't eat anything in the cucumber family. He lined up his small cucumber slices along the side of his salad plate. I ate 'em.

Dessert, to be cute, was oatmeal raisin cookies. They're his favorite, and if I haven't mentioned, mine are fan-frickin'-tastic. And decaf coffee. Because it was late. And because I drink decaf coffee.

We had a good time. He makes me laugh. He was suitably impressed with my culinary skills. He seems taller than he says he is. He's terribly handsome.

King Lear, next week.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Out Of Control ...

Yesterday, I woke up to rain. More rain. The fourth day of rain. What the hell? Did continental drift shift my house to the spot on the globe where Seattle should be?

I went downstairs to empty my dehumidifier and noticed water coming in my secondary sump pit. Oh, that's not good. That means the primary sump pump - in the crawl space, where more things that just me crawl - wasn't working. Oh, shit.

So I grabbed a flashlight and shone it through the opening. There was water. There has never been water in my crawlspace. I hauled myself inside and duck-walked to the sump pit and manually engaged the float to turn on the pump. And it pumped. And the float did the wonky thing it does in which it doesn't fall directly down but falls at wonky angles and gets stuck in the sump pit under the drain tile. So I stayed in there awhile, babysitting. The situation seemed well enough in control.

But it kept raining, and I soon had to do the same thing again. This time, though, I tried twisting the sump pump a bit so the float wouldn't fall under the drain tile. Except that in doing that, the PVC pipe that's connected to the sump pump itself became disconnected. Shit.

I came upstairs and called the plumber.

"OK," said the friendly plumber lady on the phone. "We'll get someone out."

"Do you know about when?"

"No, but we'll get it fixed today."

No problem. I work from home. I wasn't going anywhere in the rain.

I popped downstairs from time to time. Water was still coming in my secondary pit. But that was to be expected. I had standing water in my back yard. I never have standing water in my back yard. And the soil around here is mostly clay. Drainage? What drainage?

So I was on the phone, always keeping an ear on the sound of the water downstairs, when something started sounding different. I hung up. I went downstairs.

Water was coming through a crack in a wall. Shit, shit, shit.

I ran upstairs and called the plumber.

"Hi, the situation is getting worse," I said, trying not to sound too panicky.

She told me I was next on the list.

Literally pacing, I called my mom. Not that she could do anything, but I couldn't just be in my house, with water coming in my basement, with me unable to do anything about it. We were on the phone about 20 minutes, trying to talk about everyday things when the plumber pulled up my driveway.

"The plumber's here," I said.

"Bye."

I went outside to meet him. He opened the door to his truck and I saw sump pump boxes everywhere, like he was the FedEx version of overnight sump pump delivery.

I told him what the problem was. He grabbed what he thought he'd need. "Should I bring my boots?" he asked.

"Yeah, probably," I said.

He assessed the situation, having crawled into the icky space, and determined what happened and what I'd really need. Made another trip out to his truck, but not before asking if I had something he could wipe his feet on, so as not to mess up the carpet on my stairs. Nice guy.

On his second trip back downstairs, I asked his name. I wanted to know who was saving my house from its watery threat.

"Oh, sorry," he said, sticking out his hand. "I have a lot on my mind today. Dave."

Dave. Of course, Dave. Apparently, 95 percent of all new men in my life are named Dave.

He got to work. I was his helper, as much as I could help. His radio went off several times while he was in my crawlspace. Yesterday was a bad day for homeowners, a good day for the plumbing trade.

I told him that I call them for everthing, about the bad early experience I had when I moved in with another plumber and how his company ended up solving the problem and that I've come to them ever since. Dave, being the owner, was glad to hear that.

We joked back and forth, as much as we could, given the day. "Yeah, people like me only call when we need something, huh?" I said. "We never just call to say 'hi.' "

Dave made everything all better, made sure everything was working as it should, gathered his tools and headed up the stairs after thoroughly wiping his shoes.

"I'll just have the office send you a bill," he said.

"Oh, OK," I said. "Dave, you're getting a Christmas card this year. And cookies. And a gift. And my first-born child." We laughed. He hopped in his truck and headed to the next house in need.

And a very palpable sense of relief washed over me. I realized just how much I hated that there was absolutely nothing I could do in my earlier situation. I didn't have the know-how to fix the problem and I couldn't summon help any earlier than it could arrive. All I could do was wait.

I am clearly not a good waiter.

But the rains stopped. For the most part. Today, it's just a little drizzly. But it's supposed to stop. And then, we're supposed to see the sun.

Monday, September 11, 2006

My 3-Day Family ...

These three people made my experience exponentially more fun on Saturday and made my life bearable on Sunday. I adore them.

Left to right, Shelly, Erin, and Mike.

Breast Cancer 3-Day 2006, The Long Version ...

Every year, I write a letter to send to my contributors about my 3-Day experience. I actually print it out on paper and address envelopes and put stamps on those envelopes and mail them. Remember mail?

But I also post the account here. So, without further ado:


September 11, 2006

Family and friends:

September always seems so far away. March has become my month to sign up for the 3-Day. Maybe it’s the winter doldrums and my desire to get outside. Maybe it’s the long-faded memory of any 3-Day-related pain. In March, I make the commitment, but September always seems so far away.

Then time passes, as time does, and the next thing I know, the 3-Day arrives. Thanks go out to my brother Brian and my friend Jay for helping me get to the Marriott in Lincolnshire, where I got my requested early check-in and took a nap. Taking a nap on a Thursday morning is a lovely thing.

Friday morning came quickly. My shuttle to opening ceremonies left at 5:30 a.m. In the darkness, we arrived, hauled our gear to the gear trucks, and made our way to the stage. For Composer Dave’s benefit, I’ll mention that the 3-Day uses outstanding P.A. equipment and that that morning, they were playing U2, KT Tunstall, and Coldplay. A good omen. Three of my favorite artists.

Opening ceremonies were typically moving. It was mere moments before I was crying. The 3-Day is just so overwhelming. It’s a microcosm of the way life should be. Kindness everywhere.

On my first 3-Day, in Atlanta, my dear friend Adam, who was working crew, gave me a care package. He used the back of an event flyer to write a note to me. I carry it with me on every 3-Day and read it before each event. An invocation.

I chatted with a couple women who happened to live not far from me. Kassy and I ended up walking together. It was her first 3-Day and she said she had a migraine two days before. She was really nervous about the event, about not knowing anyone, about all the unknowns.

Early on the route, I saw one of the guys who last year I dubbed The Men Who Clap. I told Kassy about them. His fellow clapper was older. I hoped he was OK. Frankly, I hoped he was still with us. As we neared The Man Who Clapped, I asked, “Where’s your partner?”

“My dad,” he said. “He couldn’t make it to this one.” Phew.

Kassy and I kept a good pace on Friday. We had lots to chat about and the day was going along fine. Until just after lunch.

As we walked down a residential street, I asked her if she was feeling OK. She said she was. Well, I wasn’t. I was feeling decidedly nauseous. Maybe I ate something that didn’t agree with me. Maybe I wasn’t drinking enough. Maybe I wasn’t getting enough salt. We stepped off the route for a moment and, feeling a little lightheaded, I decided that I should sweep to camp. Kassy was going to stay on the route. I popped a few peppermint tic tacs into my mouth and sat down on the grass to wait for the sweep van. Sweeping at any point during the 3-Day is a huge personal disappointment for me. When I take the first step onto the route, I fully intend to take the last step on the route and every step in between.

People walked by and asked if I was OK. “Just resting for a minute,” I told them. Because I had decided that I’d wait for the nausea to pass, get back on the route, and see how far I could get.

I walked into camp a couple hours, and 23 total miles, later.

This year, unlike in years past, the camp didn’t move. Which meant that on Day 2, we effectively walked in a circle. On the one hand, this is a good thing: It’s a huge logistical challenge to move the camp and it costs a lot of money. By setting up camp once, more money can be given to the research effort. On the other hand, though, it’s not such a good thing: As a walker, one of the thing that drives you is the knowledge that you’re gaining ground. At the end of the day, knowing that you’ve walked from Point A to Point B is a reward. You can literally plot your success on a map. So it’s harder to be motivated, knowing that you’re just walking for the sake of racking up mileage.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In camp Friday night, I got my gear from the truck, and headed to my tent location where my tent sat in its little tent tote bag. Sigh. After you’ve walked all day, all you really want to do is collapse for a few minutes in your tent. Sometimes, crew members have time to set some up. Sometimes, local Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts are on hand to do the set up. I started unrolling my tent components and a couple of crew guys walked up and offered to set it up for me. Hooray for the crew guys! I blew up my self-inflating air mattress. (I was impatient.) When the tent was up, I started covering it in plastic sheeting. The weather forecast for the weekend was for rain, starting Friday night. Swell.

After resting for a bit, I got dinner. As always, the food was surprisingly edible. In line, the woman in charge of dessert asked if I’d like an eclair. “I hear they’re to die for,” she said.

“Oh, no thanks,” I said.

“Oh, come on!” she said. And she was right. When is my metabolism ever so stoked? I’d just walked 23 miles. I took an eclair.

It was pretty fabulous.

On the way back to my tent, I stopped to help a couple people set up theirs. One woman commented on it being a nice thing to do. I said that the crew guys set up mine for me, and I was just paying it forward. She hugged me. Ah, the 3-Day. Hugs from total strangers are perfectly normal.

I arrived back at my tent to find my tentmate inside. “Hi,” I said. “I’m Beth. I’ll be sleeping two feet from you tonight.” The tents are six feet square. I am 6’3”. Erin is 5’10”. And we had luggage. Cozy.

When Erin was only 7, her mom died of breast cancer. As it was for me, this was her third 3-Day. She was a team captain. Some of her cousins were joining her, as well as some fellow training partners. But not everyone on her team made it to the event, so there was an extra reserved tent that was going to go unused. In the end, Erin and her cousin Michele (who goes by Shelly, if that’s the spelling she uses) shared a tent, and her cousin Mike and I each got our own. Heaven.

I headed off for a much-needed shower. Friday was hot and sunny, in the mid-80s. Tentmate or no, I couldn’t remain so offensive. This year, I waited for the individual showers. The large shower trucks have individual stalls, but there’s a common area that’s a bit too, uh, revealing. But this truck had tiny shower suites, if you will. An actual door for each shower stall. A place to hang up your clothes and a tiny shower area.

Tiny. Shower. Area. I felt like Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation” crouching under the shower head or Will Ferrell in “Elf,” flipping water toward himself. Actually, it wasn’t quite that bad. And it felt so fantastic. So with a quick brush of my teeth at the sinks outside and dressed in clean, comfy clothes, I headed back to my tent to sleep.

Sleep is a challenge on the 3-Day, but this year, with my nifty air mattress and ear plugs, I was actually able to sleep for a couple hours at a stretch. I dreamt that I was hanging out with Bill Kurtis and Jack Nicholson. Put that on your couch and analyze it.

Given that you drink like a fish on the 3-Day, you invariably have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. At 2 a.m., you feel like you’re the only one awake. Until you emerge from your tent and see the camp teeming with other like-bladdered campers.

On Day 2, my almost-tentmate Erin and her cousins invited me to walk with them. I had looked for Kassy when I got to camp on Friday and again Saturday morning, but once you lose someone on the 3-Day, it’s hard to find them again. There are just too many people. So I happily became an adopted member of Erin’s family.

They’re all amazing people. On the back of Erin’s shirt was pinned a picture of her and her mom, as well as a picture of Erin’s aunt and her grandmother, who are survivors. Genetically, Erin is at great risk for breast cancer. Her participation in the walk does indeed raise money for research that may one day be very necessary for her own health, but she walks to honor the women in her life. She and her cousins are all very funny. Remember in “Monsters, Inc.” when Sulley and Mike discover that a child’s laughter holds much more power than its screams? Laughter on the 3-Day is fuel. We laughed a lot.

We encountered the half of The Men Who Clap on the path just before lunch. He was sporting bunny ears now. As we neared him, I asked, “What’s your name?”

“Dan.”

“Hi, Dan. I’m Beth.” We were on a first-name basis from then on.

More of Erin’s family, including her husband, Steve, met us at lunch. I was touched to be further embraced by all of them. I offered to take pictures. Everyone hauled out a camera and set it in front of me on the ground. I laughed. “What am I, the press corp?”

“Well,” one of them said, “we all live in different states,” as if to explain why they each needed their own shots.

“Uh, they’re digital pictures,” I said in a mock-conspiratorial tone. “You can e-mail them to each other.”

We got back on the route and the family went ahead to a cheering station. The day’s weather was overcast and cool. Perfect walking weather. The rain held off. But our resolve waned. Erin was on the brink of tears but hell bent on finishing the day. Shelly and Erin fell back. Mike walked ahead. I approached camp on my own. I crossed my last intersection. One of the crew, a woman who made it safe for us to cross streets all weekend, said, “We’re proud of you.” I smiled at her. A few steps later, I tried hard not to break down. My emotions run close to the surface every day, but on the walk, the smallest gesture or kind word threatens to upset the delicate balance I maintain between proper comportment and puddle.

People – some walkers, some civilians – cheered the walkers on their way into camp. I made a flourishy, dramatic bow to thank them. After 22.5 miles – 45.5 cumulative – a little flair seemed in order.

We had dinner, our little family of four. As on every 3-Day, walkers and other speakers share their stories. As on every 3-Day, we cry and cheer with them. The night before, Alan Manifold, the top fundraiser for the event, told the story of his wife who had died 8 months earlier, to the day. She was 47. His goal was to raise $47,000. To date, he’s raised $38,315.00. He was a bit of a celebrity on the walk. He’s tall and handsome. As he’d walk, people would point and whisper to their walkmates. We’d smile at each other whenever we’d pass each other on the route or see each other in camp. On his contribution web site, he wrote, in part, “We don't want to lose any more people to this disease, so please give sacrificially on her behalf.” I love the word “sacrificially.”

Very early Sunday morning, the rain came. It stayed with us for the entire day. There were a few puddles in my tent, but most of my stuff was dry. Except for, sadly, the notebook I’d been jotting notes in all weekend. (It’s here now, on my desk, soggy but readable.) I packed up my gear, donned my fetching red disposable rain poncho, and hauled myself out of my tent. I schlepped my gear to the gear truck first, so it wouldn’t sit in the rain while I struck my tent. As I walked back to begin dismantling it, I heard a woman ask her tentmate, “Do they call it off if it’s raining?” I couldn’t help answering: “No, we walk in the rain.”

Well, personally, “walk” may have been overstating it a bit. Last year, I had one small blister late on Day 3. This year, I wasn’t nearly so lucky. But I couldn’t sweep right to lunch. Partly because I had to at least try to walk. And partly because it was 7:20 a.m. and I’d just finished breakfast and what would I do for several hours until my fellow walkers arrived at the lunch stop?

So we all got on the route and my feet behaved well enough. But where did the pain at the back of my right knee come from? At the first pit stop, I sat on a curb and stretched while Erin waited in line for the bathroom. She looked at me and gave me a thumbs up and a thumbs down, to see how I was doing. I held my thumb horizontally. We kept walking.

By the halfway-point pit stop, I was nearly in tears. It was full-out raining, it was cold, it was windy. My knee, thanks to Aleve, had stopped aching, but my feet were a nightmare. Logically, I should have ducked into the medical tent to see what was going on, but my shoes were wet, and my socks were wet, and I didn’t think I could get them off, let alone back on (even with the dry socks I had with me). A motor coach was waiting to take walkers to lunch. I looked at it, then at Erin. “Don’t be a hero,” she said. “Sweep if you need to.”

“No,” I said. I’m stubborn. “I’m going to keep going.” As we got back on the route, I said, “You know what it is? I can’t just sweep from a stop. If I’m going to sweep, it has to be on the route. I have to at least be trying.”

We walked on. At that point, we had about 7 miles left. Shelly and I slowed considerably. We were in no hurry to get to the holding area, but we vowed to finish. Once we left lunch, there was no turning back. There was no way, after everything I’d gone through, that I was going to sweep to closing ceremonies. A walker passed me. “How you doing?” she asked. “I’m OK,” I said. “I might start walking on my hands. They don’t hurt.” A walker behind me laughed and said she’d hold my ankles for me for balance.

Throughout the days, I checked my phone. I kept it off most of the time to conserve the battery, but Pat, a new person in my life, called regularly to leave encouraging messages. I came to rely on them. As I’d sit on the grass and stretch and choke down some Gatorade, his messages made me smile. They were especially important on Sunday. Pat competes in Ironman triathlons. (That’s a 2.5-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon. In one day.) On this walk, I decided that I am more of an Aluminumwoman. For the way I felt, a frat boy could’ve crushed me against his forehead.

Erin and Mike ducked into a corner bar for a shot of tequila. Shelly and I kept walking, figuring we were moving slow enough that they could catch up with us. We made it to the lakeshore path. The wind was whipping. The waves crashed hard against the breakwall. It was really beautiful. It would have been more beautiful if I was wearing more than a long-sleeve T-shirt and yoga pants and a rain poncho effectively made out of Saran Wrap. It was September 10, but it felt like November. We turned back often, looking for Erin and Mike. We eventually saw them, booking toward us. We laughed, wondering how much they’d had to drink. Pain was clearly no longer an issue.

Dan the Clapping Man was there toward the end. We stopped for pictures with him. Lots of walkers stopped for pictures with him. Dan, turns out, is from California. He and his dad (when he’s able) travel to 3-Day events all over the country to clap. Amazing.

The four of us approached the end of the route together, so many people cheering along the way. Erin’s family was waiting for us, a larger group than from lunch the day before. They were my surrogate family once again. Everyone hugged me. I didn’t even try to keep it together.

We walked to the “finish line,” as it were, and entered the holding area where we waited until closing ceremonies began. My mom and dad found me. Dad was holding three pink roses, one pale, two vibrant. I introduced them to my walkmates and the rest of the family. “Do you mind?” I asked mom. “No, I don’t mind,” she said, and I handed one vibrant pink rose to Shelly and one to Erin. I smiled at Mike and said, “You’re a guy. You don’t get a flower.” They’d kept me going that day. There was no way I would have made it without them. And the color of the roses matched their spirits.

The four of us, arms linked, walked into closing ceremonies together. As in years past, we cheered wildly when the crew made their entrance, and, as in years past, we each held one shoe aloft in salute as the survivors filled the center of our enormous circle of friends and family and walkers and crew. On Friday, at opening ceremonies, five women made their way to the stage, holding hands to form a circle that held the memories of all those who have been lost. On Sunday, they made their way to the center of the circle holding hope. And they raised a flag of gossamer aqua, blank, on which for us to write the future.

A day when we will no longer need to walk.

My most heartfelt love and thanks to you all,

Beth

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Breast Cancer 3-Day 2006, Wrap-Up ...

... I'll write it and post it just as soon as I get out of the shower. And have dinner. And sleep in an actual bed. For more than an hour at a crack. And without waking up in puddles of rain.

But it was amazing.

It's always amazing.

More to come ...

What Up, Bitches?! ...

Thank you so, so much for a most amazing 3-Day. I couldn't have made it through the day without you three.

My love to each of you.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Walkin', Walkin', Walkin' ...

I signed up for the Breast Cancer 3-Day in March. In March, September seemed a long way away. And yet, here we are. Tomorrow, I head to the hotel where I'll spend the night in an oh-so-comfy bed, and then get up stupidly early (my shuttle from the hotel to opening ceremonies leaves at 5:30 a.m.) and begin my latest 3-Day journey.

In anticipation of walks past, I was nervous. This year, I'm just kinda frazzled. There's been a lot to do for these couple days leading up to tomorrow, but tomorrow, once I check into the hotel, is wide open. I plan to spend the day loafing, reading, and, when dinnertime comes, eating pasta. Ah, the joy of walking 60 miles in three days: you actually *need* carbs. And plenty of 'em.

So today, in between doing work and running errands and sifting through the piles of crap that materialize on my desk, I started throwing things onto the living-room floor around my big duffel on wheels. Sleeping bag, sleeping mat, hat (I almost never wear hats; the 3-Day is my one exception), pocket packs of Kleenex (much-needed on the walk and oft-forgotten by many walkers), mylar blanket, rain poncho, tarp (it's supposed to rain this weekend; it wasn't supposed to rain this weekend when I was checking the weather over the past couple days, but now the weather geniuses have decided there will be showers and thunderstorms Saturday and Sunday; swell), Wash 'n' Dri's, my extra pair of shoes ... You get the idea. I need a lot of stuff, and I need to cram it all into one piece of luggage. And that one piece of luggage isn't supposed to weigh more than 35 pounds. We'll see.

Last night, while I was on the phone with Pat, I received a message from a woman in Michigan. She's done the walk in years past and has been on the crew. This year, she just raised money. And since the Michigan event is over, she was calling people who were shy of their minimum and offering them extra checks that she had collected.

I called her back this morning, and she rescinded her offer. Turns out, last night, she just kept calling until she found someone at home who could use the money. Which was fine, I told her, as I had friends who promised to contribute, and I still had time after the walk to collect their funds.

But Pat, the lovely man that he is, ponied up with a very generous donation that got me very close to my minimum, and L.A. Dave, swell pal that he is, donated - again - to tip me over the limit to $2,201. My goal is still $5,000, but my obligation, the minimum I had to raise in order to participate in the event, has been met.

And while I've thanked everyone individually, a collective thank-you is in order to all my contributors for their incredible generosity.

I stashed a reporter's notebook and a pen in my waistpack so I can take notes along the way. I've never done that before, and we'll see if I end up using them, but one of the best parts of the 3-Day is writing the account that I send to all my contributors once the walk is done. The memories are usually plenty vivid, and notes aren't really necessary.

I get a little thrill out of the fact that I can write things that make people cry.

So I won't be posting for a couple of days, because laptops have no place in a campsite, and I'd probably be deprived of wireless in the middle of a field. But I'll be back when it's over, and I'll have plenty to share.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

B.A.P.E.: Revelation Edition...

I wonder how well we ever really know anyone. What about couples who have been married for 50 years? Do they know everything there is to know about their mate? Is the span of a relationship, however long, long enough to tell the other everything about you? Every experience? Every memory? Every dream?

Are there some things that we simply choose to never share?

So I called Pat tonight, and got his voicemail. "Are you really not there?" I asked. "Or do you just want me on your voicemail?"

He called back seconds later. "Are you screening your calls?" I asked.

"It didn't ring," he said. "But it made the sound to tell me I had a message."

Uh huh.

Tonight's call - the bloom must be off the rose already : o ) - was only about three hours.

There were moments that were true-to-form funny but there were moments that were seriously serious. I learned about a lot Pat tonight. At one point he asked if all I had learned made me want to know him more or know him less.

"More," I said.

"Really?"

It was about that time I decided to tell him that I'm one of the sappiest people ever.

"Are you crying?" he said.

"Yeah, a little."

"Why?"

And I realized that I was sad for him and all that he endured, but also so overwhelmingly, enormously grateful for the life I've led. So many people grow up despite such desperate circumstances, and I really led a nearly incident-free life. There were small bumps in the road, sure, but no obstacles to speak of. My mother paved a very smooth road for her children to travel.

I've been unfathomably blessed. And I don't remember that. I take too much for granted. So I'm grateful to Pat and tonight's conversation for the realization, for the reminder.

Nine days and counting.

Monday, September 04, 2006

B.A.P.E.: Schmooped Edition...

Gretchen is the one who introduced me to the word "schmooped." I love that word. It's so cute. It's so ... schmoopy. It's one of those words that seems so self-explanatory. Onomatopoeia.

Pat sent the sweetest good-night e-mail last night. This morning, I replied, "That's one of the sweetest things anyone's ever said to me."

And then I didn't hear from him.

For nearly six hours.

And I was struck by how odd it felt *not* to hear from him.

Which, of course, is ridiculous. We don't even know each other yet. There should be no expectations. There have been no promises made, and so there should be no promises kept.

He called this afternoon and we chatted for a bit until a crisis seemed to be erupting between the kids. But before he hung up, he wanted to know if I wanted him to call on his way home, or was I getting sick of talking to him already?

Hardly. So he called me on his way home. I was watching "World News with Charles Gibson." It was 5:40. We hung up at 9:40. I don't think I've ever talked to anyone for four hours.

Some of it was serious, some of it was goofy, but never, at any time, did we want for material. He wanted to know if I've had any fantasies about the two of us. Well, of course I have. He wanted to know what they were. I declined. He pressed, good-naturedly. "No," I said. "It's too easy. It's like givin' you a map!"

We made a plan, a date, some might call it, for next week Thursday. Why not Monday, he wanted to know. Because that will be the day after the walk, I was hoping to take it off to be in a coma, but I have five meetings that day, and so I'll be in a coma after work. I would not, I told him, be on top of my game. "You don't have to be on top of your game," he said.

"Well, I need to be *in* the game," I said. And Tuesday and Wednesday just don't feel like date nights. Thursday feels like a date night. So Thursday it is.

He was trying to formulate a date plan on the phone and he was clearly obsessing over just the right thing. I suggested a restaurant. We'll see how the evening shapes up.

He asked if I was nervous. No, I said. Not right now. The day of, I'll probably be convulsing with nerves, but for now, I'm fine.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

B.A.P.E. ...

This is the first entry of B.A.P.E., the Beth and Pat Encounters. What are those, you ask? I'm not entirely sure myself.

When I was on Match for those five days, Pat was one of the photoless guys who winked at me. (Some of you know that I once dated a guy named Pat. This is not him.) I can't remember what I wrote back. I forgot to click the cc: button. But Pat replied, "I think you are beautiful and brilliant" (aw!) and sent along two pictures, one of him and two of his kids and a dog, and one of him finishing his second Ironman triathalon. Oh, hello! The man competes in triathalons.

So we e-mailed back and forth and he asked, "May I call you sometime?" May I? Very nice. Grammar points for Pat! Pat's good instincts prevented him from calling that night because it was kinda late. But he called the next night. That was the 83-minute laugh fest I referenced in my last post. He read it the next day, and was good-naturedly miffed that that's all the mention he warranted. I told him that I didn't sense he was very keen on being flaunted in my blog. But then, male egos being what they are, I realized that was silly. Of course he wants me to write about him. Boys like attention as much as the next person.

Only he's not a boy. Pat, in keeping with my attraction trend, is 50. Or is he 52? In one of his notes, he mentioned that he's going to be 51, which would make him 50. But the link to his wink, his opening salvo, says he's 52. Hmm.

So in trading e-mails on Friday, addressing the blog issue, he suggested that I chronicle our goings-on under the title "the Beth and Pat Encounters."

"B.A.P.E.," I replied.

And here we are.

For as much as a yuk-a-thon as Thursday's call was, last night's call, while I drove home from dinner and he drove to another state to see his kids, was much more grown up. This morning, he wrote and said, "I can't tell you how nice it is to meet someone with whom I can have an intelligent conversation. OK... I CAN tell you how nice it is to meet someone with whom I can have an intelligent conversation. It's nice."

We traded more e-mails today. He's a Blackberry addict. "Guilty as charged," he wrote, briefly, as Blackberry users do.

"Are you thinking about me?" he asked at the end of one missive. "I'm thinking about you."

Turns out, I was thinking about him. But his note set me to thinking that there's a dangerous aspect to online dating: You can start to feel things for someone before you even meet them. Not that that's a bad thing, but the corporeal dating realm forces you to assess reality. The virtual world is very much different. Even though we've already moved into phone calls, and phone calls reveal a lot about the other person (Do they have a nice voice? Can they hold up their end of the conversation? Are they funny? Are they profane? Do they like to use 50-cent words? Does their mother keep interrupting them?), the theoretical nature of the relationship makes us vulnerable. We can too easily let our imaginations run away with us.

So it's important to shore up the virtual fantasy with a concrete encounter.

Home from running many errands today, I discovered my season tickets to The Goodman Theater in my mailbox. The first performance is September 22. I invited Pat. He accepted. That's nearly three weeks from now.

I wonder what will happen in the meantime.