Sunday, August 31, 2008

'The Guy Not Taken' ...

At the beginning of the year, Mercurie challenged me to read one book of fiction per month in 2008 because he thinks we just don't read for pleasure enough anymore.

So far this year, I have not batted 1.000. This month, I started one novel and really loved the first chapter and then got to the second chapter and thought, "Meh." So that's still sitting on my bedside table.

And I tried starting a couple other books, but nothing caught my fancy.

So this month, I pulled Jennifer Weiner's "The Guy Not Taken" off the shelf, a collection of short stories. It felt like less of a commitment.

And that turned out to be true.

Because I only read one of them. I'll read the rest of them eventually. It's nice to read a short story every now and again.

The one I did read, though, reminded me yet again of how much I love Jen's writing because it reads so effortlessly, reads as though the stories just fly out of her head and on to the page.

If you're not familiar with her books, "The Guy Not Taken" is a good introduction. A tasting menu, as it were. The appetizer sampler of her canon.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Biological Clock ...

I am very much my mother's daughter. She has given me, wittingly and unwittingly, biologically and socially, many, many gifts. Many people comment on how much we look alike. Many people comment on how much we sound alike.

When she was a baby, my mother used to tell me, her mother told her that she cried like a foghorn.

It wasn't until I was born and my mother heard me cry for the first time that she understood what her mother had meant.

There is, however, one fundamental feature that sets us apart: My mother is a morning person.

I have never been a morning person.

I'm a bit of a night owl. I don't stay up until all hours, but I prefer the night. As a child, my bedroom was just off the kitchen. I would wake up to the pull-and-tear sound of the waxed paper as my mom made our lunches and shuffle groggily out of my room. (Mom wrapped everything in perfect waxed-paper packages. She still does, when it's called for, though she no longer makes my lunch. Well, not every day, anyway. But sometimes she calls me and says, "I'm hungry. Do you want a sandwich?" and she'll pop by. No right-thinking person turns down my mother's sandwiches. They're sensational, no matter what's on them. [She could probably put mud and gravel between two slices of bread and I'd love it.] I may have said this here before but I'll say it here again: I'm convinced that they taste so much better than any other sandwich because of her hands.)

So, as I was saying, I'd shuffle groggily out of my room and there she'd be, chipper as a Disney mouse, and I'd greet her with an utterance that approximated this: "Uuunh."

"Good morning," she'd trill. Well, OK, she didn't trill. My mom's voice is too low for trilling – we share timbre, too – but there was an unmistakable lilt.

Lilt, at that hour of the morning. Hmph. Lilt. Indeed.

But, in an effort to force myself into walking every day these days, mom has been coming by dutifully at 6 a.m., five days a week, which means that I set my alarms for 5:25 a.m. and 5:40 a.m.

The first alarm sets my CD player spinning and the mellow sounds of David Sanborn slowly rouse me. The second alarm does this: "ENH! ENH! ENH! ENH!" And I turn over and glare at my alarm clock and turn off both alarms and swing my legs over the side of the bed and stand up.

My body does not like being vertical at 5:40 in the morning. But I don't like the idea of my ass getting big enough to qualify as a shelf. So I get up and I get ready to walk.

Mom is there like clockwork. Smiling, handing me my newspaper from my front stoop as I open the door.

I have, however, evolved. Now, as I careen swiftly toward 40, I'm able to utter a "Hi" or even a "Good morning" on a really good day. But what I'm thinking, still, is "Uuunh."

The first day of this fitness madness, we walked right to Starbucks. If I was going to be up at that hour, by God, I was going to rekindle my love affair with caffeine. I'd been a decaf girl for years – I know, I know, you're saying, "What's the point?" – but when you feel as though your heart might come through your chest, it's best to make some changes. But I now realize that there is a time and a place for caffeine.

We don't walk to Starbucks every day. It's not lost on me that I'm not reaping the maximum benefits of exercise if I'm consuming calories in the process, kind of like running on a treadmill while wearing a lei of Krispy Kremes.

But the coffee, it's nice to know it's there.

Turns out, the trouble with getting up at 5:40 a.m. most mornings is that I am now prone to getting up at 5:40 a.m. all mornings.

Like this morning.

Despite the fact that I was up late. Despite the fact that I've been operating on a bit of a sleep deficit. Despite the fact that I'm in a floofy hotel room in a comfy, king-size bed.

I woke up and tried to peer at the clock. (Ha! Good luck, Beth. Maybe you'd like to insert your teenage eyes and try that again.) So I grabbed my cellphone (lying face down, lest the display cast light into the room and mess with my slumber) and winced at the window: 5:41 a.m.

Oof.

I should have ordered my room service for 6:30., not 9:30. How naive and hopeful of me, thinking I'd be asleep until 9.

So it is early. And I am awake. But the furthest I am walking is to the bathroom and back to bed. Until I need to get up to answer the door when breakfast arrives.

In nearly three hours.

(Hey! I just heard what sounded like a room-service cart or table wheeling through the hall. Maybe I can hijack someone's coffee.)

I'm sure none of this late-night, early-morning insanity has anything to do with the espresso I had after dinner last night. Jay, my pusher for the evening, said, "It's only 7 o'clock." And so I sipped. And it was good.

Damn, I wish I had one right now.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Under The Summer Wire ...

I know that summer doesn't technically end until late September, but once Labor Day rolls around, I'm ready for fall.

So today, with just a couple of days to spare, I found myself in Jay's hot little Fiat, top down, sunglasses on, listening to The Boss's "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" blaring out of his top-notch stereo, stopped at a stoplight and I turned to him and smiled and said, "Life does not suck!"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barack Obama ...






















Now is the time ...

Yes we can.

Ice Cream For A Cause ...

I didn't realize, until tonight, that Ben & Jerry's created a flavor to benefit One, the campaign to fight poverty and preventable diseases.

Cheesecake-flavored ice cream with cheesecake brownie chunks. Delicious!

Just a few dollars can help make a difference.

Playing By The Rules ...

I've never been a rebel.

I've always towed the line.

Early on, my mom did a really good job of keeping me (and my brothers) on the straight and narrow.

Even today, I behave. I can't even ignore the flight attendants when they give their safety demonstrations. Not because I'm ordered to watch them but more because I feel bad that so many people ignore them (if I was up there, I'd want someone to pay attention).

I am, in a word, a sap. An obedient sap.

But I don't understand why some people think that they're above the rules.

I'm not talking about hard-core criminals. They're another collective animal entirely.

But little everyday infractions bug me. Like littering. I came home yesterday and saw an aluminum can on my parkway lawn near the street. Why? Couldn't the person who tossed it out their window have just left it their car until they got home and – gasp! – put it in a recycling bin?

Or people who refuse to use directionals while driving. Or who roll through stop signs. Or who blow through stop signs. Red lights are red for a reason, you morons. Why do you think that the laws don't apply to you?

Laws are laws for a reason.

And some rules and regulations annoy me – I could do without taking off my shoes in an airport – but I abide by them. Not just because I fear the repercussions if I don't, but because my comportment contributes to making the world a more pleasant place in which to live.

And nothing I'm expected to do restrains me. Well, the seat-belt law restrains me, because it's meant to restrain. But I've worn a seatbelt voluntarily for almost as long as I've driven a car. It's amazing what one bad accident will do to make you want to buckle up. At this point, putting it on is involuntary. I get in the car, I put the key in the ignition, I reach over my shoulder and pull the belt around.

Of course, there are instances of arcane laws that are still on the books that need to be removed. There are instances of laws that serve to constrict my behavior in my own home that I might find objectionable.

But basic rules and laws that govern public behavior? They're not so hard to follow. And when one person shrugs and tosses their trash out their window, that opens the door for the next person to do it. Not everyone follows suit, of course. But wouldn't it be lovely if everyone played by the same social rules? If no one thought themselves above them?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

'Hot Fuzz' ...

I don't like horror movies but I loved "Shaun of the Dead," precisely because it's not a horror movie, it's a send-up of the zombie genre.

So, I had high hopes for "Hot Fuzz," the next Simon Pegg effort.

And I have to say, it wasn't the movie I thought it would be.

It was much, much better.

Those folks across the pond are a clever lot. And Simon is like David Caruso, but British and capable of acting.

It's an outstanding film, a who's who of British actors: Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, and many, many more that I'm sure you'll recognize if you're British or better versed than me on British actors.

Monday, August 25, 2008

'Songs From The Last Century' ...

I love George Michael's voice.

Love it. Adore it. Swoon at the sound of it. From back in the days of Wham! and George's Donald Trump-esque hair and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go!" all the way through today, I've been a fan. (I've never seen him live. I wanted to catch him in Chicago this summer, but the tix I drew for his show were $250 and I found that very off-putting. I didn't pay that much for McCartney tickets a few years back. And while I love George, he is no Sir Paul McCartney.)

But I own most of Michael's discs (some best-of collections start getting redundant) and I love to sing his songs.

I'm always looking for material to record when Brian and I have our play dates in the studio, so imagine my pleasure when I read my pal Steff's post about George's concert and his performance of "Roxanne" from "Songs from the Last Century." (She wrote about the album another time, too, but damn if I can find the post.)

Somehow, this album had managed to fly under my radar all these years.

So I ordered it from Amazon as part of my quarterly box of fun. (I allow myself to spend $100 of my quarterly commission on books, CDs, and DVDs.)

And it arrived. And I nearly fainted.

It's so fantastic. It's amazing.

It makes no sense for a woman to record "Roxanne" (well, a straight woman, anyway; I guess it might make sense for a lesbian to sing) but I think I'm going to have to anyway.

Likewise, it makes no sense for a woman to record "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?" but the arrangement is so amazing and his vocals are so stunning that I think I'm going to have to record that one, too.

He's truly an amazing vocalist. And this isn't an album of standards. It's a quirky compilation, actually. But so, so worth your time if you appreciate his voice.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jim Gaffigan ...

For the next installment of this week's Socialpalooza (or, more accurately, Getthehelloutofthehouseforachangepalooza), I went to see Jim Gaffigan tonight at the Star Plaza in Merrillville, Indiana.

The Star Plaza is an interesting venue, rather perfect for a comedy show because of its size – not too big, not too small – but I'm always a bit bemused by the musical acts that play there. I'm pretty sure the Oak Ridge Boys live backstage.

Anyhoo, I bought my ticket a few days ago and based on the seating diagram, it seemed like it would be pretty close to the stage. Um, yup. This was the view from my seat:



Taken, obviously, before the show began. Second row, on the aisle, just to the left of center stage.

Jim had an opening comic to warm us up who was delightfully funny, Richard, um, Richard ... well, let's just call him Richard Muttonchops. If he happens across this blog, he can leave his last name in the comments! (Hi, Richard! I'm the one in the second row you stared at at the top of your set.) Shut up, yes, I'm sure he was staring at me. How could he not? Tonight, I was wearing lipstick and gloss.

The thing I love about Jim is that he's uproariously funny yet completely clean. His material, that is. Not that I have anything against profanity. Profanity and I go way back. But Jim doesn't go there. Not in his act, anyway. He has no need to.

He scored lots of points right off the bat by pointing out that tickets to his show were about $40, but after Ticketmaster added the fees, they were $90. Sheesh, no kidding. I don't call it Ticketbastard for nothing. My $37.50 ticket ended up costing me more than $52. Really? I mean, $15 in fees? What's a "Building Fee"? Is that the money they use to buy food for the Oak Ridge Boys?

Speaking of food, Jim did a very funny riff on ketchup. (See? He works clean.) And he pointed out (this is for you, Mike) that salsa is Mexican ketchup and marinara is Italian ketchup and that British food is just bad. "No, no," he said. "Vinegar is British ketchup. But how bad does your food have to be that you put vinegar on it to make it taste better?"

He also had a lot to say about bacon:



His set clocked in at just about an hour, which I figure is reasonable in Comic Hours. If a band played for one hour, you'd be pissed. But a comic who keeps you laughing for a solid hour has earned his keep.

Catch him when you can. Or piece together a show with YouTube clips.

He's known for his riff on Hot Pockets. Enjoy:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Eddie Vedder II: Coherent Edition ...

So then, where was I?

I tried for tickets for Eddie's shows when they first went on sale. There I was, at my computer, hitting "refresh" on my browser as the clock ticked up toward the top of the hour. And then I was in. And then I drew nothing. For either day. Shut out, seconds into the sale.

Which made me sad, because I love Eddie, and I really love "Into the Wild," but I put the shows out of my mind, vowing to check for tickets as the shows drew more near.

But I succeeded in putting the idea so far out of my mind that I forgot about it, until yesterday morning when I received an e-mail from Jam Productions, letting me know about upcoming shows and reminding me that Eddie's were sold out.

Or were they? In the past, I've scored some pretty amazing seats at the last minute, so I headed over to Ticketbastard and went fishing for Thursday night. And I drew a seat.

And do you know what I did next? I let it go. And went fishing for Friday's show. Tonight's show. And I got bupkus.

UH OH.

So I went back to Thursday and dipped again (and was frustrated by the words you have to enter to complete the search process; I understand why they're necessary, but hey, Ticketbastard, howsabout makin' 'em, oh, I dunno, decipherable?!) and phew, I drew the same seat.

Click, clickety-click. PRINT.

Ta-da! One ticket for Eddie Vedder in my hot little hands.

After suffering through Bears traffic on my way to where I thought I wanted to park last night, I changed my mind and parked in River North. I needed to go to Whole Foods anyway to procure lip balm. (Seriously, it's the best lip balm ever. It also costs a king's ransom. Five tubes – shut up, my lips are really soft – and three protein bars set me back exactly $40. And the protein bars were on sale for $1 each.)

From there, I walked to the Auditorium Theater (which, for those of you unfamiliar with Chicago, is probably a couple of miles away; I have a thing about walking to concerts), and as I walked under the stone loggia (for lack of a better word), I thought about the last time I was there for a concert. And the best my memory would offer was Howard Jones, when I was 15. That seems both impossible and entirely probable.

I walked up to a security person who proceeded to root around my purse with a flashlight. I don't typically take purses to concerts. I grab money and ID and a car key and an insurance card and whatever else I think I'll need, so long as it fits in my pockets, and call it a day. But this time, I had my purse.

Ms. Power-Trippy Flashlight-Wielder spied my protein bars. "You can't take those in there."

"I'm not going to eat them. I just stopped at the store on my way here."

"But I can't let you take them in there."

Seriously, people. Like I don't have to go through enough crap to get through security at the airport? But I put up with that intrusion because I'd prefer it for the airlines to catch someone booked on my flight before they got on board in their boom-boom shoes. But really? My protein bars pose a threat to national security?

Of course, I get that I'm supposed to buy overpriced concessions there, but I'm pretty sure the Auditorium Theater isn't concerned about my need for protein. And while we're on the subject of concessions, could someone please cut off the liquor sales in the 7th inning of the show, as it were?

Happily, Mr. Not-Power-Trippy Flashlight-Wielder at the next door stepped over to see what was going on. "She has protein bars," said Ms. P-T F-W. He scoffed. "Do you have a camera?" he asked.

"No."

"Go ahead."

Of course, my phone has a camera. Everyone's phone has a camera these days. And people smuggled in real cameras, too, because flashes were flashing all night long.

I made my way to my seat, which was reasonably good, and a baseball cap-bedecked dude struck up a conversation with me, telling me about the time he was in the front row at a Pearl Jam show and he called out a song and Eddie brought him up on stage to sing it with the band. Supposedly, bootlegs of this event exist. He said he gave them out as Christmas gifts one year.

He took to asking everyone in our area when they bought their tickets after I offered that I'd just bought mine that morning. Most of the people around us were last-minute buyers like me.

The lights went down and Liam Finn took the stage. My friend Mike is a big fan of Liam's dad (and fellow Crowded House front man) Neil Finn – likes to perform his music – but Liam was new to me.

Holy mother of God! Liam Finn rocks! Liam Finn (and his duo partner, E.J.) make a lot of sound between the two of them through the use of looping pedals. And Liam, while a fantastic guitarist, is also an exceptional drummer. His set was entirely trippy, almost performance-arty. Loved it. Usually, opening acts are something to be suffered through, but every so often – Brandi Carlile opening for Shawn Colvin, Liam opening for Eddie – you discover someone entirely worth following.

Part way through Liam's set, I spied a guy with a drink in his hand looking around for his seat.

"I have no idea where I'm going," he said.

"I'm GG, 108," I said.

"I'm 107," he said, so I stood up (I was, miraculously, on an aisle) so he could get to his perch.

When Liam had left the stage, I said, "OK, so when did you buy your ticket?"

"This morning."

He introduced himself: Chris. From Dallas. In town on business, tried for a ticket Wednesday night, came up empty-handed, called a friend on his way to LaGuardia Thursday morning, and asked him to check, and voila! My seatmate. He asked what I do for a living. "Well," I said, "I edit for an IT consulting company and I sing." (I'm trying to be more concrete about the fact that I'm a singer. Telling people I sing seems like a good place to start.) Turns out, he's in IT, too. (We IT geeks must emit some sort of specific frequency that allows us to find each other in crowds.) But he was more interested in the singing, as he's been known to belt out a few karaoke tunes from time to time and was wondering if voice coaches can really teach you to sing or just enhance whatever ability you have. I gave him the copy of my CD. If I'm gonna tell people I'm a singer, I figure I should be able to back it up.

Eddie eventually took the stage amid massive cheers and a standing ovation. You know you're beloved when people stand up for you just for walking onto the stage.

His set was simple, with the feeling of a living room, almost. Reminiscent of Springsteen's pared-down set-up for the Devils & Dust tour.

I was too happy to see him to pay great attention to the set list. But he touched on some Pearl Jam tunes, of course, and lots of tracks from "Into the Wild," in addition to some songs I hadn't heard before, like the Cubs tune I mentioned in my last post, the refrain of which is, "Someday we'll go all the way. Hey! Someday we'll go all the way."

He told us the story of going to his first-ever concert, how his seat was in the last row of the uppermost balcony there at the Auditorium, and how he vowed that some day he'd sit closer to the stage. And then he gestured to himself sitting on the stage, and thanked us for putting him there.

His first show, by the way, was Mr. Bruce Springsteen. (Eddie performed "My Hometown" during the Chicago date of Bruce's "The Rising" tour. Talk about coming full circle. How many of us end up on stage with the first artist we ever saw in concert?)

He introduced Tomas Young, with whom he worked on the documentary "Body of War," and I was proud that the entire audience rose and gave Tomas an extended standing ovation. I felt like I should salute, like applause could never adequately convey my gratitude for all that he and his fellow soldiers have sacrificed.

If anything marred the evening, it was the collective profusion of idiots in the crowd who insisted on yelling out to Eddie ... while he was speaking. Now, I get that Eddie's fans are an enthusiastic bunch of concert-goers and beer-drinkers and sometimes-pot-smokers, but dudes (and chicks): Eddie is not your best friend. When he is on stage telling a story, he is not hoping that one of his long-lost pals will start screaming at him from the audience. At one point, given that I was in a venue that boasts some of the best acoustics in the country, I wanted to yell, "If you're not Eddie, shut the fuck up!"

But I didn't. I figured, if they were idiots enough to rudely interrupt Eddie, a scolding from me would probably not have a great effect on their behavior.

Still, Concert Etiquette 101, people: If you must scream at the artist on stage, do it when it's quiet, not when he's talking. Duh.

Regardless, though, Eddie blew my mind. Like I said, I love, love, love, love, love his voice. I marvel at how much sound he can produce from one guitar. And I adore his liberal use of profanity.

(A few years ago, when my friend Dave turned 50, Eddie taped a tribute from Hawaii. Dave, you need to know for this story, does not swear. Ever. Well, OK, he swears sometimes, but he has to be really mad, unlike most of us who sprinkle expletives like so much pepper and salt. During the video, Eddie looked into the camera and said to Dave's daughter, "Natty, when you need to learn how to swear, you call your Uncle Eddie." That might not be the direct quote, but that's the spirit of it. I now have first-hand knowledge that the man is indeed a pro.)

Eddie played for a long time, including two encores. Or was it three? E.J. did a song with him. Liam did a song with him. Eddie said they'd play it a little slower to make it last longer. (Chicago is the end of the line for this tour.) And then they did a final song all together. Here's a photo (gasp!) from my phone. Sadly, my phone does not come equipped with a telephoto lens. Eddie is the figure in the middle of the stage, with Liam on drums and E.J. at the mic. In case you're wondering, they're wearing white lab coats. They didn't wear them for the whole show, just this tune. Eddie is not morphing into Thomas Dolby. With this backdrop, the whole thing comes off looking a bit Messianic, but Eddie is sporting a bit of a Jesus look these days anyway, so it all works.














But, easily the most amazing moment of the night – for me, anyway – was Eddie's performance of "The Wolf" from "Into the Wild." It's less of a song and more of a chant. Well, no, actually, it's less of a chant and more of a wail. However you describe it, it's extraordinary. The album cut is only 1:32, but live, Eddie looped each line and created a vocal symphony that left my jaw on the floor.

An astonishing talent, that man.

Eddie Vedder ...

I'll write at length tomorrow (i.e. later on today) but in a word, my first-ever Eddie Vedder experience was magic.

I love, love, love, love, love his voice. I marvel at how much sound he can produce from one guitar. I adore his liberal use of profanity. I applaud his political dissension. I salute the fact that he yielded the stage to Tomas Young – an Iraq veteran, confined to a wheelchair – so the audience could applaud him for well over a minute.

And I cherish the fact that I, and the rest of the crowd, got to sing along with Eddie's song about the home of the Cubs. As Eddie said, "When Ernie Banks requests, on his 82nd birthday, that you write a song about Wrigley Field, you write him a fuckin' song."

More to come, when I'm not teetering on the brink of unconsciousness.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

'Mamma Mia!' ...

The short version of my movie review, if you're crunched for time, is this: Pierce Brosnan should really try not to sing.

I've never been a big ABBA fan. I've never had any inclination to see the stage version of "Mamma Mia!" But mom asked if I wanted to see the movie, and I said "Yes."

Because Colin Firth is in it, and I'll watch Mr./Mark Darcy in anything. (My cousin Patty, watching "Pride and Prejudice" a few months back, took a picture of the television so she could use Mr. Darcy as the wallpaper on her Crackberry.)

So we went.

Greece is at the top of my list of places I want to visit. I want to set up in a taverna overlooking the water and drink Roditis and eat taramasalata and Greek bread until I fall asleep. And then I want to wake up and drink Roditis and eat taramasalata and Greek bread until it's time to go to bed. And then I want to wake up and eat Greek yogurt with fruit and honey and wait until the clock says it's a respectable hour to drink Roditis and eat taramasalata and Greek bread.

As you can see, I have very specific plans for my trek to the birthplace of democracy. Acropolis, schmacropolis, history can wait.

So it was a pretty film to watch, because it's set in Greece, and Greece is Greece, all aged and faded from the sun and comfortable like linen.

I have to be in the mood for a musical – and I wasn't much in the mood yesterday – but what this particular movie musical has going for it is that everyone looks like they were having so much damn fun. Meryl Streep, who should sing more, was glowing and so adorable, dancing around in her overalls and waves of blonde hair, with nary a baby-eating dingo in sight.

I winced at bones jutting out of Christine Baranski's shoulders, but Julie Walters is just about the cutest thing on two feet.

And then there's Pierce, who is redeemed later in the film when Meryl peels a wet shirt off of his still-fine form. But I'd much rather watch him as Thomas Crown. Or his skivvie-strutting self in "The Matador."

Still, if you can't have a good time watching this movie (and the amusing performances at the top of the end credits), you probably need a vacation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

'Smart People' ...

"Smart People" is one of those family-focused movies, like "The Savages" or "The Squid and the Whale" before it, that is full of great performances that hardly anyone has seen.

Clearly, these films are made by these actors for the love of acting, not three percent of a film's back end. Nothing explodes. There are no car chases. The most central moment with a car has it locked in an impound lot. This is an anti-action movie.

But it's fully of really good performances. As the daughter of a college professor, Ellen Page mostly reprises Juno here, trading in her trademark sass for slightly more erudite one-liners, but she's still wise beyond her years and taking on more responsibility than anyone her age should. Thomas Hayden Church is underrated and underused as an actor. His performance here is reminiscent of his turn in "Sideways."

Sarah Jessica Parker actually made me forget about Carrie Bradshaw for a few moments, but Dennis Quaid should be nominated for something for his portrayal of a self-involved, depressed widower who trudges through the tedium of his days, who can't be bothered to learn the names of his students or, for that matter, teach.

Quaid is so far removed from the sly-smiled Det. Remy McSwain of "The Big Easy" in this role that he almost broke my heart.

Rent it. Movies like this are what DVD was made for.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Commitment ...

For anyone who might be compiling a dossier on me (hi, Bush administration!), allow me to reveal the following heretofore-top-secret information:

I like to sleep.

Long ago, in the mists of antiquity (as English Teacher Dave likes to say), I was a super-sleeper. Like my nephews today, I was able to slumber into the double digits: 11 a.m., 12 p.m.

I honestly can't remember what I possibly could have been doing that made me so tired, but I would sleep and sleep and sleep.

These days, now that I am old (seriously, I often have to place my hand on my lower back when I stand up to help me finish the job), I can't sleep past 8 a.m., even if I go to bed at 7:59.

And most days, I'm up by 7, usually much earlier.

Today, though, I was up at 5:20, then dozed until 5:40 and then I was up, dressed, and laced (shoes, not corset) before 6 a.m.

Because mom was coming by to go for a walk.

Mom walks every morning. At 66, she's in the best shape of her life. And she has far more commitment than me.

I have plenty of intention but it's far easier to smack the snooze button than it is to get up and walk.

Mind you, just a couple days after the walk (after giving my body a couple days to rest), I logged six miles. The next day, I logged four and then did legs at the gym. So I can and do walk. I just don't tend to do it really early in the morning.

But finishing the 3-Day was the motivation I needed to recommit to the cardio portion of my fitness plan. Brandon is doing a good job of sculpting my muscles (even if he does make me do those frickin' tricep extensions I so dearly hate), so now it's up to me to melt off the fat that's preventing the world from seeing his handiwork.

Which probably means that I shouldn't be walking to Starbucks to get a hazelnut soy latte at 6 a.m. But did I mention that it was really early? And that I went to bed after midnight? So I needed a jolt.

But I won't jolt every day.

I can't afford it.

(But this is nifty: The chick at Starbucks told me that if you use a registered Starbucks card to pay for your beverages, they deduct the upcharges for soy and syrup. This began a month or two ago, she said. I don't buy coffee that often these days, so it was news to me. And now, perhaps, it's news to you. But for $.70 a cup, perhaps it's worth loading a card, eh?)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Life For One ...

It was just over a year ago, coincidentally (not that I believe in coincidence) that I wrote this post. To quote myself: "... we bloggers, behind our keyboards, are the gatekeepers of our stories. We post what we want you to know. And you have no way of knowing how much is being left unsaid."

Every so often, I delve into the deep, but most of the time, my blog drifts along in the shallows, almost always in sight of the proverbial shore. Safe.

But since Sunday, I've been mulling, anew, this simple yet profound fact: I am alone.

Much of the time, I like being alone. I like having my own living space. I like that I can come and go as I please. But every so often, that affinity for solitude gives way to wondering and worry. What will later life be like? I have no children to leave as my legacy, no husband with which to grow old.

I have brothers, but I rarely see them for reasons too complicated to explain. I have friends, but I can't help but question just how close we really are.

On Sunday, one of the cheering stations for the walk was literally across the street from a high rise a friend of mine calls home. I sent out an e-mail about the times and locations and his response was, "I don't know if I'll be able to, but I may make the Addison lakefront cheering station."

Now, I know that everyone is busy, and he certainly didn't owe me a detailed explanation, but I couldn't help but think, "I'm walking 60 miles and you're not sure if you can make it across the street?"

There weren't a lot of people there anyway, but I didn't see him.

My mom met me at the end of the event. My father was further down the path, waiting to take my picture. They come every year, and I greatly appreciate their presence. But I can't help but wonder, "What if they weren't here?"

Which then leads me to think about what my life will be someday when they're gone. What then? What support system will exist for me in the future?

Lest this seem all too "woe is me," allow me to assure you that I recognize that I can do more to change my fate. I can date. I can very possibly find the person I am meant to marry, if indeed I am meant to marry in this life. I can have children. Or I can adopt. My life at the doorstep of 39 is not a sealed fate.

I am like Ebenezer Scrooge sans the chain-rattling Marley ghosts. My imagination is powerful enough to present my potential future. Perhaps the thoughts of the past few days are akin to my awakening and vowing to change.

My past is my past. My present is my present. Both written in indelible ink. But my future is entirely up to me.

As I wrote in this post, "I live in a quiet world, a solitary place where I sometimes believe I have too much time to think. A fantasy realm, really, where I concoct perfect worlds and perfect words and perfect moments. It's part of being a writer. Sometimes, I just start talking out a scene in my head, holding both sides of the conversation, and occasionally, I am astonished at what comes out of my mouth - a perfect piece of dialogue - and I run to my office and pull out a piece of paper and scrawl it down to put into the screenplay later.

But my life is not a movie. I only get to control everyone's behavior on the page. When my hands leave the keyboard, all bets are off. People will say things - or not say things - and I get riled, because their words are their own, not from the daily script that runs through my head."

What use is disappointment? People will be who they will be. Relationships come and go. The people in my life today won't necessarily be the people in my life tomorrow.

The wall above my desk is home to a vast grid of quotes, one of which, from Agnes de Mille, reads: "Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little."

And Helen Keller said, "Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing."

I admire the spirit of those thoughts. Where's the joy in always knowing? What fun is Christmas morning if you've already shaken all your gifts to discern what's inside?

Still, we are creatures who find comfort in clans. We identify ourselves, in part, by the company we keep, so it's comforting to know that some company will be kept.

And perhaps I underestimate those around me. Maybe, in a time of great need, they'll be there. Perhaps. Maybe. But I'd like to know for sure.

I'd like a tangible attachment to someone. I'd like someone, sometimes, next to me on the couch.

When I dated Tom, lo those many years ago, we would sit on my loveseat in my living room together. He would pore over his legal texts and I would read whatever I chose to read. And we wouldn't speak. But every so often, he'd reach out and cup his hand around the back of my neck. And we would look at each other for a moment and then retreat into our respective pages.

It was a simple way to say, "I'm here."

Mind you, I'm happy with the story of my life so far. Every moment has mounted to make me who I am. But as Part I comes to a close (40 looms and feels like halfway), I am more aware of the words I am using to tell my tale.

And now feels like a good time to introduce some new characters.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

'Tropic Thunder' ...

Crude? Check.

Profane? Check.

Laugh-out-loud funny? Many, many times over? Check.

Most clever opening minutes in a film, maybe ever? Check.

Robert Downey Jr. can do no wrong. (The Academy needs to create new categories just so it can give many statues to this guy.)

Tom Cruise is back.

The reign of "The Dark Knight" is over.

The box office has a new No. 1 movie.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Chicago 2008 3-Day, The Day After ...

Warning: As in years past, what you are about to read is extremely long. And may require the use of a Kleenex.

For those of you who are readers and who contributed to the walk, printed copies will go in the mail this afternoon, if you'd like to save your eyes and read it in letter form. It should be there in a day or two.

Everyone else, settle in.


August 11, 2008

Family and friends:

Every year, I sign up for the 3-Day alone. I'm not part of a team. I'm not even part of a pair. But I know that I'll meet amazing people on the event. You can't be alone when you're walking with more than 2,000 other people.

This year, of course, was no exception.

I camped out at the Renaissance in Northbrook Thursday night. My friends Sue and Gary popped by the hotel for a drink. We hadn't seen each other in far too long and they live in Wheeling which, turns out, is right next door to Northbrook. My geographic knowledge of the suburbs is pathetic. The only reason I realized they were so close is because I forgot a few things and was looking at a map in a phone book, trying to figure out how close I was to a Walgreens or CVS. (I ended up asking the concierge.)

When I checked in, I requested a 4 a.m. wake-up all. The next morning, my phone rang at 3:50 a.m. Ugh. At that hour, 10 minutes makes a difference.

But I got up and got ready and headed downstairs to the shuttle. I sat next to Mary. She had tried to get a group together but she was the only one who ended up signing up for the event, so she decided to do it herself. Good for her. We hung out together, waiting for opening ceremonies to begin. Amy appeared near us and mentioned that she was doing the event by herself, too. So then we were three.

Crewz'n 60, the biggest 3-Day team, was assembling near us. Barry, one of the team, was wearing a Mr. April sash. Like a beauty queen wears. Turns out, there’s a Men of the 3-Day calendar. (To see for yourself, visit www.60milemen.org.) Though in Barry’s case, “60-mile man” is a misnomer. Barry, you see, is walking all 14 events this year. That makes him the 840-mile man. That also makes him awe-inspiring.

And speaking of awe-inspiring, this year the All-Abilities team participated in wheelchairs. How cool is that? If you’re wondering, “Well, wouldn’t that be easier than walking?”, consider the strength and tenacity it must take to wheel your way up one side of a highway overpass and then the control it must take to wheel yourself down the other side.

We kicked off the walk, once again, to U2’s “Beautiful Day.” At the first pit stop, I was walker 275. Later, I was 375. Then 302. Valerie joined our band of three somewhere before lunch. Back on the route, Mary and Valerie pulled ahead of Amy and me. One of the keys to completing the 3-Day is to maintain your natural stride. It’s a bad idea to try to speed up or slow down to match someone else’s pace. So you might start the event with a group, but as everyone walks at their own pace, the group segments accordingly.

Day 1’s route was 21 miles. The weather for this year’s event was perfection. Last year, we slogged through heat indices of more than 100 degrees. This year, all three days were slated to peak in the upper 70s or low 80s. Walking heaven, weather-wise. Still, walking 21 miles in the sun takes its toll. Amy and I completed the route about 3 p.m. We got our gear, some angels set up our tents, we ate dinner in the afternoon, and then we returned to our tents to rest. Amy and I eventually met up in the dining tent to drink weak coffee and nosh on Mint Milano cookies (Pepperidge Farm is a sponsor of the 3-Day) and listen to contestants perform karaoke as part of “3-Day Idol.” When one particularly off-key woman took the stage, we decided to call it a night.

Sleep is elusive on the 3-Day. On the one hand, you’re exhausted. On the other hand, you’re sleeping in a tent. Next year, I am bringing one of those mondo inflatable mattresses. (I get my own tent every year, not because I’m a veteran walker but because I’m 6’3”. Though this year, my coach said she had to clear my single-tent request through medical, which made me think, “I don’t have a medical condition. I’m just tall.”)

There’s no need for an alarm clock. Once a few people start moving about, getting their days started, the slow-motion bustle spreads. (Nobody moves too fast on the morning of Day 2.) We had breakfast and started the 20-mile day, walking a similar route to last year’s Day 2. The Mt. Prospect police helped us cross at major intersections while wearing pink shirts. Awesome. Seriously, real men wear pink.

But our pace was slowing. At one point, I believe I used the word trudging. Which led into a riff about zombies. Amy and I stuck our arms out in front of us, our wrists limp, and cracked ourselves up. Later, whenever we were feeling draggy, we’d break out our zombie walk. Laughter is fuel on the 3-Day.

As are cheers. The 3-Day coordinates with local communities not only to secure the rights to walk but also to set up cheering stations. Of course, some people just break out lawnchairs in front of their homes along the route, but on the afternoon of Day 2, we came upon the best cheering station I’ve ever encountered. (This was my fifth 3-Day.) Both sides of the sidewalk all along Woodland Trails Park in Prospect Heights were packed. The Mix 101.9, another event sponsor, was there, handing out packets of sunscreen. But the throngs of community members who turned out to cheer blew my mind. And when we got to the corner to cross, I realized that the cheering continued on the other side of the street.

I always make it a point to take candy or other treats from the kids along the route. They’re so excited to offer them. So at the end of the extended cheering section, I reached down to take a piece of candy out of a very big basket being held by the cutest little blonde girl in a summer dress. As I straightened up to keep going, she said, “HERE!” and waved a little piece of paper at me. I took it and thanked her then looked down. She gave me a Barbie dollar. I turned to continue walking and started crying. It’s pink, of course, with pink flowers on it and the famous Barbie B in the middle with 1s at all the corners. I have no idea what a Barbie dollar buys, but it is one of the priceless memories from those three days.

Somehow, Amy and I made it back to camp. After we scanned in (every walker’s credential contains a barcode that is scanned every time a walker leaves or enters camp), we found the nearest chairs in the dining tent and sat. We didn’t speak. We just sat. Eventually, we hobbled over to the dining lines to get dinner and hobbled back to our table to eat. A handful of the dining crew put on a performance to us outside the dining tent, starting off with a little choreographed number, complete with top hats, to “All That Jazz” which segued into the Electric Slide. At least 20 walkers got up to join them. Somehow, on the 3-Day, no matter how much your feet hurt, you manage to find the energy to dance.

After dinner, Amy and I hobbled to our tents to rest. Later, I made my way to the showers. There is no better shower than a shower on the 3-Day. It’s as though we’re all dehydrated plants and the water immediately restores us. I stopped by Amy’s tent. She had showered, too. We made a plan to meet up in the dining tent later.

I returned to my tent intending to rest but I heard honking on the road that bordered our tent city. (Like last year, Oakton Community College was our host.) The last walker was almost back to camp.

Being the last walker (or walkers) is a very big deal. The last walker into camp raises the flag that signifies that everyone is home.

Many people need to sweep (i.e. hop a van to camp), especially on Day 2. But for those who can persevere, when they’re spotted on the last stretch of the route, walkers and crew start clapping. I made my way toward the flagpole just outside the dining tent to cheer. More and more people collected in a large circle around the flagpole and everyone in the dining tent stopped eating to stand up and cheer. By the time the two walkers arrived, at least 1,000 of us were clapping in unison along with, once again, U2’s “Beautiful Day.” Tears streamed down my face as they walked up to the pole, both crying. And after they raised the flag, walkers and crew from the crowd gathered around to hug them. The ceremony surrounding the last walker is a 3-Day microcosm, all the spirit and emotion that defines the event compressed into a handful of minutes. Imagine what life would be like if we all took a few minutes now and then to zealously cheer for a friend. Or a stranger.

Later, in the dining tent, Amy, Mary, and I watched the finals of “3-Day Idol.” In the end, all three were declared the winners. The 3-Day is very egalitarian.

I called L.A. Dave from my tent for a weather report. It had rained a bit during the day, but I wanted to know if I was in for any precip overnight. He reported that weather.com showed a 20 percent chance of rain overnight in Des Plaines. Which I decided to view as an 80 percent chance of no rain. Last year, we were evacuated into the school in the middle of a storm. This year, the only moisture we had to contend with was dew.

My Day 3 started at 4 a.m. That’s when my bladder decided to rouse me. And once I got back to my tent, there was no real point in going back to sleep. As the camp came to life, I packed my gear, broke down my tent, and hauled it all to the gear truck. After helping Amy with her tent, we grabbed breakfast and hopped on a bus to the beginning of the 16.5-mile route for the day.

After we’d been walking for a while, I checked the signs at an intersection. Foster and Francisco. We were in Chicago. We made our way east on Foster to the lakefront and walked along the lake and through Lincoln Park and made our way to Michigan Avenue at Oak Street and proceeded down Michigan until we were almost to the museum campus. On the one hand, it was very cool to walk down Michigan Avenue. It certainly served to raise awareness – lots of people noticed us and asked why we were walking – and for those walkers who were in from out of town, it was nice for them to see such a storied part of Chicago, but Michigan Avenue is typically crowded with people and on a lovely weekend day it is downright clogged. Late on Day 3, all you want to do is keep moving. Dodging tourists and stopping at stoplights isn’t conducive to that end.

Amy’s knee was causing her a lot of pain, so I was focused on helping her finish the event. It was her first 3-Day. I wanted her to make it to the end if she could. My biggest “injury” was sunburn. Turns out, you have to actually apply sunscreen for it to be effective, not just carry it in your waist pack. Oops. My mom met us right at the front of the cheering section. My dad waited further down the stretch with his camera to get a shot of us walking in. Amy and I walked through a chute of cheering walkers and crew and scanned in at the end of the route. But not before hugging each other for a long time.

Mom and Dad went to retrieve my luggage – a huge help – and to secure a spot for closing ceremonies. Amy and I hung out in the holding area where she met up with her dad and brother and sister-in-law. When they headed off to wait for closing ceremonies, Amy and I cheered for the remaining walkers.

When we had all arrived, we lined up for closing ceremonies and walked in, hands held, arms aloft, victorious. And, as in years past, we cheered the crew as they took their place inside our circle, and then we all cheered for the survivors, holding our shoes aloft in salute, as they made their way into our collective embrace.

On Day 1, as we walked, Amy told me about her brother’s sister-in-law, Judith, who is gravely ill yet who continues to valiantly battle this pervasive disease. At one of our stops, as we sat under a tree to rest, Amy produced a piece of paper out of her backpack, two poems Judith had written. With Amy’s permission, I am including one here:

Thank You by Judith Schlesinger

Thank you, sisters, for the slow, laborious detangling on a new year’s day
The careful pulling and sometimes breaking
And the tedious unraveling
that let loose the strands of sadness wound tightly around my heart

Thank you, sisters, for the comfort that lay in both of your hands
and for the trust I have in you in knowing that

I will not disappear



That is why I walk.

All my love and thanks and gratitude to everyone who supports me every year. I truly could not do this without you.

Update, Friday, August 15, 2008: Moments ago, I received an e-mail from Amy who wrote to let me know that Judith passed away tonight. As Amy wrote, "There are no words."

Labels:

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Too Tired To Type ...

Work is finally behind me for a few days (after shutting down my PC sometime after 10 p.m.).

Is it weird that my idea of relaxation is walking 60 miles in three days?

My 3-Day gear is piled on the ottoman in the living room. Naturally, I lack a few items, so I'll be making an early-morning Target run. And miraculously, I'll be able to cram all my stuff into my rolling duffel.

I'll spend tomorrow night in a fluffy hotel bed, and then, as I camp out for the next two nights, I'll dream of returning to my own bed on Sunday night.

Until Monday, when I plan on lingering in bed for as long as I like.

Updates on my Twitter page over the next few days.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Flashback ...

Tonight, chatting with my friend Brian, who hails from Peoria, Illinois, I mentioned that my most-fond memory of Peoria is of the small cinnamon rolls at Jumer's Castle Lodge, where my high-school speech team used to stay when we'd compete at Bradley University.

Tracy, this is for you:

"Jumer's Castle Lodge. What a castle lodge!"

Monday, August 04, 2008

3-Day Cheering Stations ...

Below is the official info from the 3-Day about cheering stations on this year's route.

Lemme tell ya, kids, every word below is true. You know how Mike and Sully and the others in Monsters, Inc. eventually realized that there was far more power in a child's laugh than a child's scream? Cheering stations honestly, truly, 100 percent (and then some!) keep walkers motivated.

So, all my Chicagoland pals, if you're going to be around this weekend, allow me to encourage you to pop up at a cheering station at some point. And while you certainly don't have to bring anything but your smiling face and clapping hands, I'll share this secret with you: The person who showed up last year with a cooler full of Push-Ups was hailed as a rock star. Cool treats on the route are always welcome, though this year (knock something), the weather promises to be far more favorable than last year. Last year, we walked in heat indices of more than 100 degrees. This year, the forecast calls for upper 70s/low 80s. Weather-wise, that is walking heaven!

So, then, the 411 on:

Cheering Stations
Cheering Stations are a great way to show your support along the route to encourage walkers and let them know that you are with them every step of the way. Seeing familiar faces cheering them on can provide that extra burst of energy that gets them to take that next step or go the next mile. Create banners, hold up signs, bring some music and make some noise - anything to make them smile, get energized and keep walking.

Friday, August 8:

7:45 am - 9:15 am
Cook County Forest Preserve
Forest Way Grove
From Dundee Rd., head south on Forest Way Drive about 0.6 miles. Pavilion is on west
side of street. (Limited street parking)
For a map of the grove, visit http://www.fpdcc.com/

10:30 am - 2:00 pm
Centennial Park
2300 Old Glenview Road, Wilmette, IL
Corner of Glenview Rd. & Crawford Ave.
Parking is limited. Walk to the north side of park along Glenview Rd.

Saturday, August 9:

7:30 am - 9:30 am
Evangelical Free Church of Des Plaines
55 W Golf Rd., Des Plaines, IL 60016

11:30 am - 4:00 pm
Woodland Trails Park
1500 E. Euclid Ave., Mt. Prospect, IL 60056
(across from Sycamore Lane stoplight, in front of River Trails Community Center )

Sunday, August 10:

9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Lincoln Park just north of Belmont Harbor at W. Addison St.
(Limited Parking)
Directions: Take Irving Park Rd. East to cross under Lake Shore Dr. This becomes Recreation Dr. after crossing under Lake Shore Dr. Follow Recreation Dr. south and turn left on W. Addison Dr. Enter parking lot at end of W. Addison Dr. Walkers will be heading Southeast, coming from behind building.

11:30 am - 2:00 pm
Lincoln Park just south of Lincoln Park Zoo along Stockton Dr.
Directions: From Fullerton Pkwy, head south on Stockton Dr. (Stockton is approx. 0.25 miles west of Lake Shore Drive). Follow Stockton south to Lincoln Park Zoo. Walkers will be along Stockton from Petting Zoo to LaSalle.

Live From The 3-Day (Starting Friday) ...

Yesterday, as I was cutting my grass, I got to wishing that I had an iPhone so I could file blog posts from the route and from camp whilst on the 3-Day. (That's right: whilst!)

Then I thought, "Hey, if I sign up for Twitter, I can file updates from my RAZR!"

So I created a Twitter page for those of you might ask yourselves, over the course of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, "What Beth is doing right now?"

Most of the time, the answer to that question will be "Walking."

But if something special happens, now I can tell you about it in real time instead of waiting until I get home and writing a blog post/letter for everyone.

Not that Twitter will take the place of the annual letter, but, well, let's face it: The Twitter account is for me. I've become a communication junkie. The thought of going several days without posting anything anywhere was about to give hives.

But now I feel much better.

So y'all come back to this post in a few days and click the link up there (and here it is again) and participate with me virtually.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

All Together Now ...

Well, it took a while but it finally dawned on me that it made sense to compile all my songs in one place instead of making people navigate to separate posts for each song. Actually, I'm creating this post so I can create a link under Covers in Progress in my sidebar. But a post must be a post before it can be a link. So here they are, complete with the album art from which the tracks are borrowed. (Some have been having compatibility issues with the player and their browsers, so direct links to all the tracks are at the bottom of this post.)

Just The Way You Are








Outside Myself








Makin' Whoopee








Who's Minding The Store?


Gotta Be This Or That

Roxanne







Our Love Is Easy
Your Heart Is As Black ...



Direct links to all the tracks here, if you're having compatibility issues with your browser and media players:

Just The Way You Are

Outside Myself

Makin' Whoopee

Who's Minding The Store?

Gotta Be This Or That

Roxanne

Our Love Is Easy

Your Heart Is As Black As Night

'Angel Heart' ...

Add this to the list of movies that draw me in for nearly two hours with the acting and the story and the cinematography only to lose me in the last few minutes or frames. (I HATED the very last shot of The Departed.)

The thing I remembered about this movie going in was that Lisa Bonet caused quite a ruckus in her wholesome Denise Huxtable days by appearing in a graphic sex scene with Mickey Rourke. (This movie, amazingly, is 21 years old.) Yup, it's there, all right.

And DeNiro sports a creepy man manicure.

And the cinematography is very cool.

But two shots at the end made me groan.

'Mad Money' ...

If ever you're looking for a movie to watch when your brain just refuses to fully function and your butt just refuses to get up off the couch, this is it.

The premise is interesting, I grant you – stealing worn-out money from the Federal Reserve, because hey, the money is just going to be destroyed anyway – but the most exciting thing about this film for me was Diane Keaton and Ted Danson's house. It's a lovely, stately house on a lush, sprawling lawn, and it's painted the most soothing shade of green.

And Diane Keaton manages to wear gloves for part of the film, although they're latex and purple, not her usual leather and black.