Saturday, January 26, 2008

Surgeversary II

Amid all the fun of recovering from last night's drunken poker session and preparing for tomorrow's awesome flight to Europe, I need to take just one minute to mark Surgeversary II -- the first anniversary of my second brain surgery, which was a year ago today.

I've written here before about the first surgery, in November, boasting about how I was Mr. Cool even in the prep room before going under. The second time, not so much.

The docs had determined I needed a second surgery because, two months after the needle biopsy and the seizures that prompted it, they still hadn't been able to determine what was causing the problems ... even whether the masses showing up in MRI scans were in fact tumors. So the plan was to operate in the same area -- cutting along the existing scar on my scalp, in fact -- only this time instead of pushing a needle through a small "burr hole," they would saw through and lift out a triangle of cranium, do another biopsy and, assuming it appeared cancerous, remove as much of the tumor as possible.

As chill and optimistic as I try to be, this didn't sound good to me. I don't know whether it was the reading I had been doing about brain operations, or the not-so-fun experience of recovering from the first one, or just dumb superstition, but I had a bad feeling about the upcoming surgery. That's not like me. Michelle even said just the other day it was the only time she's ever seen me seem superstitious. But I really didn't like my chances all that much.

When we got to Swedish Hospital at the ungodly hour of 4:30 or 5 a.m., whatever it was, we were placed in a small, curtained surgery-prep waiting area, along with a bunch of other people including, I remember, a guy who had been in some kind of horrific logging accident.

While we were waiting, an ancient nun (this was a Catholic hospital) came in and asked if she could pray with me. She was dressed in white, with a deep-wrinkled face and knobby little hands; she looked like she might have been Mother Teresa's mom. I remembered her name for a long time but can't recall it now ... something that fit her looks, like Sister Carlotta. I know a lot of people would take comfort from this. It had the opposite effect on me. I'm already freaked out enough, I thought, without Mother Teresa giving me my last rites.

The good thing about the surgery was that my doctor, Marc Mayberg, inspired much more confidence than the University of Washington dude who did the first one. They determined that the mass was in fact cancerous -- oligodendroglioma -- and removed a large chunk, about the size of a Ping Pong ball, I think, from my right frontal lobe. (I can now testify, firsthand, that the old joke is true: I would rather have a bottle in front of me.) A second, larger tumor in my left temporal lobe -- about the size of a lemon -- was deemed to be inoperable, and that's what we're treating now with chemotherapy.

So, a year ago today at about this time I was out of surgery and in intensive care. The recovery was hard. Although I was pretty out of it, I remember one horrible, painful night in the hospital when I threw up on Michelle (sorry, baby) and really wasn't sure I was going to make it. (The above photo was taken at home, a few days later.)

All of which gruesome details serve, for me, to inspire appreciation for the long way that I've come in the last year and, as I've said before, the incredible love and support of so many people, notably the readers of this dumb blog.

It's hard to believe that exactly a year after my low point of fear and pain I'm packing my bag, along with the amazing partner of a lifetime, for a high point of joy and pleasure.

We'll be thinking of you all in Rome and Paris.

Friday, January 25, 2008

No senior discount

Yesterday, hot to press my 2008-long winning streak at the tables, I drove down to the Muck for some afternoon poker action. I've been building big chip stacks lately and so playing with a lot of confidence -- the winning and the confidence can multiply each other -- and this looked like a juicy game: a couple of tight old farts (usually a sign they can be pushed off a pot) and a bunch of overeager youngsters, including several I've played with before and knew to be beatable (wait for a hand and let them overplay their cards).

But from the beginning my session didn't go well. The kids were hitting their unlikely draws, the old guys were standing firm to notch me with a better kicker, and my cards were going dead when I needed help. Losing, like winning, can build on itself, and it wasn't long before I needed to rebuy. It was a good game, I still thought, but it was slowly dawning on me that I was the player making it good ... for everyone else.

In one hand I flopped four cards to a flush. Normally I might bet out, hoping to pick up the pot right then or, even if I were called, expecting to collect even more when my strong draw came through on the turn or river. I was feeling cautious, though, afraid my bet might be raised by one of the young aggressives, so I just checked, hoping to get a free card.

"No way," said the punk in Seat 8, flipping out four white chips, "no senior discount."

Ouch. Ow.

So I'm not a young gun, or even a savvy middle-aged player to be reckoned with. I'm another pathetic pensioner bleeding off chips.

The old guys at the table looked at me with ... not sympathy exactly, more like camaraderie. Yeah, it's annoying, isn't it, they seemed to be saying. Not bad enough that we're old guys, but these damn whippersnappers have to dangle it right here in our wrinkled old faces. Welcome to our world.

Needless to say, my draw failed to come in, again, and I had to put two more bets into Seat 8's pot.

Here's where a wise old man might have sussed out the situation with its dwindling prospects and called it a day. Me, stubborn beyond my years, I ran through another rack of chips looking for a chance to wipe the smirks off all that peach fuzz. Never happened. No senior discount, or comeback either.

All the major food groups

Tonight we get another chance, and with like-aged pals and the friendly setting of a reporter's home game. Michelle and I are invited to play at Jack Broom's house with a couple of old Times colleagues, including my friend Jim Simon, and Michelle's boss from the P-I, David McCumber. It's a reprise of a game we had a few months back at Simon's house, and I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone and trading stories over a deck of cards.

Jack's a great guy and was the first member of Team Mark, my financial backers and rooting section last summer for the World Series of Poker. We've been playing cards together, off and on, for 20 years.

I asked him what we could bring tonight and he said he's already covered on cards, poker chips and drinks. So I walked up to the Junction just now and bought a can of nuts and a bag of chips. Then, as I was walking past the donut case I noticed a chocolate raised calling out to me. I decided to break my weeks-long donut fast, what the heck, and take it home to have with a cup of coffee.

When I got to the counter the checkout lady rang up my order and half-smiled at me: "This is a healthy-looking meal if I've ever seen one."

Man, you'd think they'd train the employees not to mock the customers. Yeah, I said, you gotta take care of yourself.

When she asked for my Safeway Club Card I half expected her to offer a senior discount too. But no. Healthy eating is its own reward, I guess.

"Have a nice day, sir," she said. Close enough.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

American Idol again

"They call me the black Clay Aiken," says contestant 1. Janice, that's a guy from Idol Season II. Black Clay, no way.

Deanna, the bitter waitress: nope

A gross couple who met on the Idol message boards. No.

Jeffrey and Michelle. Brother and sister. Very flamboyant. Very funny. I mean, the man wears a tie around his head. They're in. That'll be fun.

Montage, ridiculing contestants.

Next: "I'm Amy, Amy Catherine, AC, whatev." ERrrr!
Simon says: "It was a bit like annoying girl singing in the bedroom. There are a lot of people who are going to find you very very annoying."

Mark bets me a dollar she's not getting in. I WIN! Pay up sucker.

"I'm shocked," Mark says.

Pay up, sucker!

Cheesy story line weaving in and out about contestant #1 (was supposed to be) whose wife goes into labor before he can step up. He looked so pissed that he had to go have a baby instead of singing for Simon.

Next: A blond wiggly voiced breathy singer singing Good Morning Heartache. We hate her. Randy/Dawg likes the tone. Paula's going for it. The blondness is working again. She's in. "Based on your vocals" Dawg says.

"Right," Mark says. "Based on your ass!"

Next: A chick who flies big planes. But she cain't sing. Pitchy, Dawg says. Simon says she's a good cabaret singer. "It's a no, sweetheart," Simon says.

Yow, now a chick with GIANT breasts in a bright turquoise dress that says "lookit my titties!"

"Oh my," Paula says.

Ouch. Close the mouth. Stop the sounds.

"The funny blue dress, the huge belt ... doesn't work," Simon says.

"I have an amazing voice," Aretha says. "I stop crowds."

"You seriously murdered the ... song," Simon says.

"I think I really did good with that song."

"You can't sing!"

"I really can sing! I heard a lot of people you let through here. They weren't even that ... some of them was not up to par. ... I don't even believe this. Can I get one more chance?"


"Honestly, I think I'm great," Aretha says in the hallway. Dang.

Next up: Joshua sings horribly, then claims "This show is faked and rigged. ... I am a good person and you're not."

Next: A montage of people who have heard no, no, no. Wiping tears, hand to the camera. "I am not going to cry," one says. "Because, why?"

The guy who had a baby -- Emma Grace -- sings with too much vibratto. Gets three NOs. I lose my dollar in a bet that he'll make it in anyways. It's an Idol Baby, Dawg declares.

"Emma Gross," Mark says. At least he's even money.

PS: The Idol Blogger at the LA Times is a genius:

"But at the end of an "Idol" audition episode, what the two hours really bring to light is just how fine a line our society walks every day. How often in each of our days do we stand beside people who wrongly consider themselves intelligent, beautiful, witty, brave? Often it seems just about everyone we know (certainly everyone I know) is deeply, horribly deluded in some way or another. And in real life, Simon Cowell never shows up with their glass of cold water. ..."

Have you found your passport yet?

That's been Michelle's daily refrain now for a couple of weeks, almost ever since Christmas when she sprang on me the all-time amazing surprise gift -- tickets for Rome and Paris, timed for the end of this month when I'm between chemo rounds and most likely to be feeling up to traveling. Awesome.

It didn't occur to me until last night, when Michelle posted about booking our Paris hotel, that our plans have gone otherwise unremarked here, except for a stray hint or two in the comments. My bad. Of course we're totally psyched for the trip, and I can't believe it's coming up so fast.

I've been to Italy several times, including once with Michelle, but never to Paris, and I'm really excited. We leave Sunday.

(Note to burglars: Don't even think about it. We've got the guard guppies, plus people looking in on the place, and the security system thoughtfully installed by the previous owners. Not much worth stealing anyway.)

We've been getting some great trip-preparation help. First, Kaye sent us a couple of cool books -- "The Secrets of Rome: Love & Death in the Eternal City," by Corrado Augias; and "Pudlo Paris 2007-2008," the Paris restaurant guidebook, by Gilles Pudlowski -- and put together an awesome post on NiteNote with all her favorite Paris spots. Very nice.

Then yesterday Mom sent another good-looking book, "Paris to the Moon," by Adam Gopnik, who is The New Yorker's correspondent. Thank you everyone.

But anyway, as I said, Michelle has been nagging me to put fingers on my passport. I get that; it would be a total drag to head off to the airport on Sunday and have to just wave goodbye as Michelle traipses through security. And if you're Michelle, you think that way. I've never seen her go anywhere without searching for her wallet and keys for 20 or 30 minutes. When you don't know where anything is it makes sense to start looking right away.

Me, I've got systems. I know where stuff is. Even so, knowing that Michelle would interrogate me again soon, I decided this morning to get the passport out of its spot in my dresser drawer.

... What? Not there? What?

After a few minutes of panic, including looking in the other couple of places it must be if it wasn't in the place it was supposed to be, I looked in the dresser drawer again and, yes, there it was. Whew. The last thing I need, on top of blowing the trip, would be listening to I-told-you-sos for the rest of my life.

Just now, Michelle called from work to say hi and give me an update on a couple little things. "Have you found your passport yet," she said.

Sheesh. Of course, dude. It's right here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Paris, Mais Oui

The deed is done -- I've booked our Paris hotel after spending a good 4 or 5 hours on, among other recommendation sites. This one's cheap, clean, in the Latin Quarter.

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American Idol

Today, I'm doing a short version of Idol coverage to minimize the pain for Janice.
1. Blond. She's in.
2. Single dad, wife's dead. He's not that good. He's in.
3. Australian dude. He's in.

Man, they're sending so many suck people to Hollywood, I find myself wondering again if Idol is rigged. Is it? I can't find anything but speculation on last year so far, but I am finding this huge rash of criticism aimed at Idol producers for the way they're running the show. The gist is this:

"When American Idol debuted in 2002, its supposed goal was to find the best undiscovered talent in America. Singers like Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken, who had dreams of stardom but never had the connections, were catapulted to megastardom. The producers found diamonds in the rough and launched their careers," writes Vote for the Worst, the web site that famously encourages people to vote for people like Sanjaya.

"But a disturbing trend has surfaced with the spoiled contestants of American Idol 7 – they’re no longer even remotely undiscovered talent. A large percentage of them are failed singers and entertainers who have already had their shot at fame. Yet Idol thinks that repackaging these failures is a good idea to make us watch their show. Gone are the days where you or your friends could try out for Idol and make it big. Now you have to already have connections. ...this year’s show will just be a boring hash of recycled pseudo-celebrities who weren’t good enough to make it the first time around.

..."So what’s wrong with this? Well, it’s forcing Idol to expose its hand as the premiere marketing tool for struggling artists. Instead of discovering the next big superstar, music executives are deciding who should be popular and getting them on to Idol. Many people watch American Idol because they think they can help make the next big music star out of an Everyday Joe or Jane. But Carly and her large number of has-been companions are merely failed artists who are being planted on the show by their sources to promote themselves. Would the hundreds of thousands of people who auditioned this year be happy to learn that their spot was given to someone who already had connections?"

Then follows an amazing list of all the people on the show so far and the details behind how the record labels have tried and failed to launch their lame ass careers. What a rip. Worth reading past the jump.

Next: Three losers. They're not in.

4. A chick who thinks she's Mariah Carey. Wow. She really sucks. "It was actually terrible," Dawg says. Not in.
5. Guy in a sombrero with a mime. No.
6. Monique, singing Whitney. NOOOO. She cries. "Maybe I picked the wrong song." No, that's not it.
7. Her friend Destiny, or whatever his name is, sings horribly too. "Does that sound good to you, Christopher?" Simon says. "There wasn't a single note in tune." He won't stop singing. The guards take him away.
8. Some chick who is in love with Simon and can actually sing. She's going.
9. A guy who has tried out 10 times. Once in a statue of liberty outfit. Not in.

Bunch of losers. No, no, no. No, and no.

10. A guy named David. He's in.
11. Here comes Carly, one of the planted chicks, according to Vote for the Worst. According to VFTW: "Carly Smithson is the epitome of a record industry failure. She was brought to America by MCA Records and recorded a bland pop album that sold only 300 copies (that’s not a typo)." So what, she's in.

And ... it's a wrap.

LA Times & the Balmore Sun

" was ironic that the axing of L.A. Times editor Jim O'Shea (allegedly over his resistance to budget cuts) came to light the same day as job cutbacks were to be announced at The Sun in Baltimore -- in HBO's The Wire,'" E&P Editor Greg Mitchell writes on his personal blog Pressing Issues -- which is, by the way, a pretty good overall read.

"On the TV show last night, a very familiar scene showed the paper's publisher calling everyone together in the newsroom ... to announce that because of revenue shortfalls and that damn free Internet, heads would have to roll, or at least buyouts ordered. ..." See more up in here.

I'm going to add Pressing Issues to our favorite links list so I can easily check in to see if he has any new newspaper biz/Wire observations after each episode of The Wire, my second favorite TV show. Speaking of which, what are your favorite TV shows right now? Mine are:

1. Hoooouse
2. The Wire
3. 30 Rock
4. The Closer
5. American Idol
6. The Office

As if there's not enough to worry about

Just when you thought it was safe to raise your head and look around at the sorry state of the devastation -- global warming, identity theft, online sex predators, tailspinning global stock markets, bickering presidential candidates, tone-deaf "American Idol" contestants -- here comes another big problem:

"Our dirt is disappearing," screams the Seattle P-I headline this morning.

Seems, according to the story, that the Earth's thin layer of topsoil is slowly eroding due to ... farming, really? ... and nobody's doing anything about it. Well, except for the P-I, that is, and some guy who wrote a book.

It's "another global crisis quietly taking place under our feet," the reporter tells us.

Barf. I'm so sick of these alarmist reports masquerading as journalism. They might be even worse than the poor-Gloria hearts and flowers pieces that I hate so much.

We wonder why the news business is in trouble. Wake me up when the last paper folds.

I don't know where we're headed with the topsoil crisis -- I had to stop reading after four paragraphs -- but I know that you could solve the problem, no matter how much dirt we're missing, by tilling all this wasted newsprint into the ground and letting it mulch.

"In the Precepts of Jesus Christ"

Those words came out of B. Obama's mouth in the debate tonite.

I just don't think I can vote for him.

Also, he's seeming a little slippery, just in general.

I hate that religiousity is such a big part of electing our President. I wonder how much of an issue God is in elections in England, Germany, France, etc. I mean really. What did happen to the seperation of c & state?


Monday, January 21, 2008

'OK,' Gina said ...

"... I'm now officially sick of Martin Luther King."

We were eating dinner the other night, and what prompted this politically incorrect outburst, apparently, was yet another -- one too many -- lectures at school that day about King. By the ninth grade now, Gina was saying, how many times can you hear the same thing?

On cross-examination she conceded that she wasn't so sick of him that she'd insist on going to school today, but I kind of get what she was saying. Sainthood gets boring. Even the stupid presidential candidates can't agree on whether MLK or LBJ should get credit for the big 1960s civil rights reforms -- and those are the Democrats!

When I was working for a living I always appreciated the paid day off but I also felt, especially as a manager, that it was best to work on MLK Day. That way you could get a bunch of stuff done in a relatively quiet office and save the paid holiday to take another time. Sweet. That's what Michelle's doing today.

Me, I'm planning to celebrate in my own fashion. I have a dream of pocket kings, or of flopping a pair with an open-end straight-flush draw -- something like holding the king and queen of spades on a board of 10 and jack of spades and queen of diamonds -- so I'm going to drive down to the Muck and see how many degenerates are there blowing their day off.

Unlike Gina, I'm officially not sick of Martin Luther King. As King himself surely must have said sometime, "Deal me in."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Reason 5 billion and something ...

... that Michelle's an awesome girlfriend.

Last night we've got the TV on, the laptops open -- a typical M&M tableau -- and apropos of nothing Michelle blurts out, "I'm afraid Bernanke might be too big of a pussy."

I didn't even know yet exactly what she was talking about, but the fact that she would have formed an opinion about Ben Bernanke, who succeeded Alan Greenspan a year ago as chairman of the Federal Reserve, and that this was how she would choose to express it, well, my heart grew three sizes that day.

"Do tell," I said, wishing I sounded like Samuel L. Jackson in "Pulp Fiction."

Turns out she was reading a New York Times profile of Bernanke, and her opinion wasn't so much about his Fed policy -- interest rates, the supply of money and whatnot -- as his apparently over-accommodating tone with Congress. "Greenspan wouldn't waffle like that," she said.

All this while liveblogging "American Idol."

Tell me it's not a small universe of women who had all that going on last night. Nice looker too.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ryan's Such a Whore

So says Mark, after Ryan Seacrest introduced Day 2 of season seven of American Idol, with his signature phrase "ThIssss ... is American Idol."

And so it goes.

Idol seven episode 2 is in Dallas, a big-haired town full of stay-at-home moms and drawls the size of ... wait. The first contestant is a blond hooker looking hottie who just admitted she used to do meth every day. Hot. Idol is turning into like, MTV Real Life, Jerry Springer and Donahue all in one. Idol is upping the ante.

"I want her to lose and become a meth addict all over again," Mark says.

She sings I'll Stand By You, by the Pretenders. She sounds pretty good. She's a serious contendor. She's going to Hollywood.

Now comes a dumb looking dude who loves rollercoasters. He is scary lame.

Next: Another blond chick. She's in.

Next: A sick story. Bruce is up. He has never kissed a girl. He's 19. He wears a key on his necklace. His dad wears the heart that it fits. Bruce leans over to his dad and his dad leans into him, and they slide the key in to the heart, slow mo, to show how it fits. When he marries, dad will give her the necklace. Eww.

He's not going to Hollywood.

Next, a black chick with an orange mohawk. She's in.

Next: A truly gross guy who has saved every toenail and fingernail he's ever peeled off his body since like seventh grade. He keeps them in a baggie in his back pocket. He whips them out to show them to Ryan. Man. They are gross. Nevertheless, he's going to Hollywood. Ryan says "He 'nailed' his audition and Hollywood is 'in the bag.'"


Oh my God. Simon just okayed a weird chick who can't sing at ALL. This feels like a Sanjaya moment to me. There's no way he thinks she sings good. Lame.

Up Next: A blond chick. Let me guess: She's going to Hollywood.

Simon: "Of all the people we've seen so far this year, you are the best ... you are super super talented."

She's in. She does this weird hopping thing that makes her breasts bounce the very maximum amount possible.

Number 11 search on Google right now: "half man half tree."

"I was worried I was going to screw up like this," contestant Douglas says.

"Well you did," Simon says.

The guy keeps singing and singing Living on a Prayer. He won't stop. Simon keeps saying Douglas, Douglas. Stop singing. He won't stop. The guards come out and take him away.

"It's a very weird city, Dallas," Dawg says.

Now, a blond. Angela Riley. She's really, really awful. Finally a blond is not going to Hollywood.

"You weren't as bad as I thought you were going to be," Simon tells a nerdy looking kids from Oklahoma.

"Thank you!" he says.

Dawg tells him he was "academic."

"Thanks -- I think," the kid says.

Paula asks him how bad he wants this.

"I want this so bad!" the kid says. Simon makes him promise not to wear red leather jackets like Clay Aiken. He promises.

"What the heck," Paula says. The unlikely Kyle is in.

After he's gone, Paula says "Something came over me."

You can predict the future by watching Google Hot Trends. Half an hour ago I spotted the search "boondocks lyrics" on the top 100 searches. I figured someone singing a song called Boondocks would be up soon, and that person would be going to Hollywood -- else why would there be enough buzz on him to generate that many searches?

Now some blond kid trying his hardest to look like Blake Lewis comes out singing the song Boondocks. He's in. Natch.

Next up: A hick in Wranglers and a camo hat.

I like the "simple guy, farmer" thing, Dawg says. Paula agrees. Drew's in.

#17 Google search right now: Paula Abdul. On the results page, I'm offered the related searches: paula abdul naked, paula abdul age, simon cowell, randy jackson, american idol.

Commercials. Our TIVO has caught up with reality. So during the break I cruise the Wash Post for their review of last night's show:

"This year, as promised, the producers introduced us immediately to more people with actual talent. They felt that last season, the first in which "Idol" experienced a ratings decline, viewers were not invested in the finalists because they knew so little about them owing to the fact producers treated them to so many lousy auditions in the early days of the competition. The result? Sanjaya Malakar.

Sadly, last night's result was a kinder, gentler "Idol" season debut we're not sure we altogether approve of."

I'm not worried. They're warming up to the meanness. Don't want to spend it all in one place.

Next up, a stunning Asian guy all in white, with a wide, white fur collar, a white feather pimp hat and a long silver cape. There's something fantastic and majestic about him. He has a nice smile. I wish Fox would let me use his picture, but the TOS on their site says its a violation. Bastards.

Oh my God. He is singing an original composition, We are Brothers Forever. This was also all over Google Hot Trends. That can't mean this wacky guy is going to Hollywood?

I am your brother
Your best friend forever
Singing the Songs
The music that you love

Brothers to the end of time,
Together or not,
You're always in my heart

He sings this like eight times. The judges get on the stage and sing an dance with him.

"I have a horrible feeling," Simon says. "I'm going to make a prediction. That's going to be a hit record."

Update: I am your brother is the number six search on Google Hot Trends.

Then comes the genius oh my god moment of the night. They do these after interviews with some of the contestants. The man in white tells the camera Simon, you are great, a great man, who gives everyone who wants it a chance at fame, free of charge. Many people do not like you but many people do like you and I am one. Simon, you are wonderful. You are great. (Paraphrase). The producers cut in some video snippets of Simon smiling and looking pleased with himself, and they cut in some angel lighting and some choirs of angels music. Man, it was art.

"Wow man," Mark says. "Too good to be true."

And now, a special, special treat, for all the true believers who made it to the bottom of this post. The video of Renaldo singing I am your brother, we are brothers forever. Watch to the end. It's so worth it.

Happy Birthday, Gina!

Today is Gina's birthday. Man, hard to believe she's 15. Before long she'll be wanting to learn to drive and maybe thinking about colleges ... 10 minutes ago she was a tiny little kid.

I just exchanged notes with her; she's home sick today with the flu, which she's had for a few days, and had to postpone a birthday party with her friends until next week. Poor Ginabean. We'll have our own little celebration here this weekend.

"Live it up," as Grandma Rita would say.

I can sure remember the day Gina was born. Greta and I were living in a cool old Craftsman house by Green Lake here in Seattle, and we left for the hospital in a nervous hurry in the middle of the night. No need for the rush, as it turned out. Greta was in labor for an astonishing 30 hours before the doctors gave up and proclaimed that Bean was never going to "make the turn" in the birth canal. They went for a cesarean instead, which was trouble-free. She was a healthy baby, with a big ol' Matassa head: I forget the measurement now but they told us it was the largest head ever recorded at that particular hospital. Sheesh, no wonder she wouldn't come out.

As all this was going on, someone broke into our house. As I related here once before, my former boss and friend Dave Boardman went to secure the place and kept me posted by phone. Some things were missing, but it looked like the burglars had been interrupted mid-crime. In fact, our TV and some other stuff were out at the curb awaiting pickup. If memory serves I somehow got in trouble for going home to clean up while Greta was still recovering from surgery, but the details are starting to fade. All was fine in the end.

At 15, Gina is a good kid, with a lot of promise. She's smart, funny, pretty and, best of all, an independent thinker. She reads and writes a little and draws, all well. She has a strong sense of style, currently tilting toward flapper-era fashion. She has a lot of friends but doesn't strike me as a crowd-follower. She's a huge movie fan with strong opinions about film styles and scores (which she collects). With her sister and some of her friends she can quote movie dialog at length. She's obsessed with Johnny Depp -- and not, she insists, just because he's beautiful.

She wants to be a director someday, and I won't be at all surprised when she is.

So, happy birthday, Gina. You'll feel better soon, we'll live it up this weekend. I'm proud of you.


(The above picture, a couple of months old, was lifted from Gina's myspace page.)

How popular is American Idol?

Google's most searched terms gives a hint. It's amazing how many Idol related terms are on the list tonite -- and you KNOW that unfathomable billions of people are using Google every minute of every day, so being at the top of the list is saying something.

So coming in at number three is Retts Syndrome, the disease one of the contestant's kid's has. Number 4 is kristy lee cook, another contestant. Number five is Selma Oregon, which is where Kristy Lee is from. Funny, the term American Idol isn't in the top ten -- it's number 22.

Scrolling down the list, Paula Abdul is #77. American Idol season 7 and Idol Age limit are the number 79 and 94 searches. And coming in at #98: I love rock and roll lyrics.

Honorable mention goes to "truck nuts," #84.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Amercan idol 7 i love rock and roll joan jett

Tell me this isn't genius. I double dog dare you.

American Idol Returns at Last!!!

And so it begins. American Idol is back. It's time for season seven, and as usual all the critics say that the season will suck, but people will still watch. Okay, whatever. You're way too smart and cool to watch trash TV. Good for you. Not me, and 2.8 billion other people.

Thank God for the LA Times, which is one of the few large media outlets that recognizes Idol as the coverage-worthy freak show that it is. (Here's some photos from the tryouts.)

So, down to business.

First episode, tryouts in Philly.

Contestant 1:
He's some guy in cool glasses who lost 200 pounds. He's a terrible singer, but Paula tells him he's good, SIMON says he's good, and Dawg says he's good.

"You're kidding," Mark says. "That's just because they like the story line. Man, I didn't think he could sing at all."

Truly, this wiggly voiced dude sucked. But he's going to Hollywood.

Contestant 2:
"I can't stop say, I love America." He loves the Bee Gees. And also, "I love American girls." He tells the story of how some girl told him "you have sexy face." Oh hell. Also, he says "I save myself" (sexually) till he finds the right girl. Did I mention oh hell? Is this the new Sanjaya? Please no.

This guy has to be fake. He sounds like Borat. He sings a miserable version of the Bee Gees "How Deep is Your Love."

Paula's "impressed with how you phonetically learned the song. ... I appreciate you so much. But ..." Paula has such a hard time saying no. Dawg does it for her. "Singing's not your thing dawg," he says.

"Keep it real," he says.

What an American moment. And as we know, he love America.

Contestant 3:
Melanie. Sang back up with former Idol singer Taylor Hicks. Paula likes her. Simon is "completely neither there or there." Dawg likes her. She's in.

Contestant 4:
What? This guy sings like he has 12 marbles in his mouth. "He sounds like a retard," Mark says. Really, he sounds like he's making fun of someone with Down's Syndrome. Dawg laughs into a sheaf of papers. Even Paula's laughing.

"I'm sorry James," Simon says.
"Would you like me to sing something else?" James says.
"James, seriously," Paula says.
"This is not your thing, dawg," Dawg says.

Ryan Seacrest says it "could just be the worst audition ever."

The guy looks pissed. He could come back with a gun.

"Wow," Mark says. "Wow."

Next up, Juneau, singing The Blues, by Elton John. Looks like The Fresh Prince's cousin. Simon tells him he has a good voice. Simon winks at him. He's in.

Next: Some guys singing in Spanish. Paula says "Absolutely, yes."

Next: Some country dude. Simon tells him, "you're going to Hollywood." Much squealing.

Next: A large 16-year-old chick who is a high school middle linebacker. Her mom is so large she's in a wheelchair and on an oxygen tube. Man, how sad.

She says she's here "for myself and for my mother."

Wow, can she ever not damn sing. Ouch. Please stop.

"Stick to football," Mark says.

"You are a sweetheart, and I like you and you're a nice person," Simon says. But, he lowers the boom. You can't sing, he says. She starts crying. The tears flow down her face. Paula and Dawg get up and give her a hug. Not Simon though. That's not how he rolls.

Next: Some tone deaf dude sings White Christmas. How can anyone fuck up this song? Damn.

"Wow," Mark says.

The guy finishes singing, and the judges just stare at him. The producer dudes patch in some crickets chirping in the field sound. Hilarous.

Next onto some guy who "looks like he's from The Office all set to do some kind of M.C. Hammer thing. His name's Oodie. He does "financial work."

He claims to sound like Barry Manilow and Frank Sinatra. He "sings" I Did it My Way. He sounds like ... I can't think of anything.

"Did you honestly think that you had any chance of getting through and winning?" Simon says.

"Yes, I did," Oodie says.

"Well then you're nuts. It was completely tuneless."

"Okay, well," Oodie says. "I can accept constructive criticism."

What a guy.

NEXT UP: A genius montage of like 30 people singing "I Love Rock and Roll." AWESOME. Look for this on YouTube.

Next Candidate:

She says of herself that she loves shiny things, she loves to dress up. "I am a pirate."

She lives in a studio apartment with her mom. "I have two cats, because I'm studying to be a vet. Besides being a singer, I am also an artist." She looks crazy. This show is about delusions. It makes you feel so bad for some people. Also, you get to laugh at them and thank your lucky stars that you aren't that fucked up.

She says she's been compared to Janis Joplin, Grace Slick and Pat Benatar. She's doing "Somebody to Love."

Scree! She doesn't really sound all that much like Pat Benatar.

Dawg tosses to Simon. "It was a little bit possessed, for me," he says.

"Really?" she says. She's stunned. She thanks them quietly, walks out quietly, and starts screaming once she's in front of the camera out in the hall.

"You sir, suck," she says, gesturing back to Simon. She goes on a long rant about Simon. Then declares she's going to be an actress. "Simon, kiss my ***," she says. She hams it up for another three or four minutes, flips the bird, gives a big long speech. "I will be victorious ... I hope to hear from you. I really do. I'll be waiting."

Exit stage right.

Now comes Angela, teen mom of a daughter with Rett Syndrome. "We had to get a operation on her," she says. They got the word that "her brain wasn't growing."

Angela's whole family is here to support her Idol effort, which she is doing "for her."

"It's not about fame for me," Angela says. It never is. Except for sometimes.

"You're very cute," Simon tells her. I think he had his teeth whitened in the off season. She does some Stevie Wonder. Signed, Sealed, Delivered. Paula nods, enthusiastically. Simon chews his pen. He tells her she's got a good voice, but she's picked up some bad habits as a wedding singer. She get's three yesses. Angela, you are going to Hollywood, baby.

"Day 1 ended on a high," Ryan Seacrest voiceovers. The family squeals and squeals out in the hallways. On the other side of the door Simon says something obtuse about how amazing it is that "in this country" people get so happy for people they know when something good happens to them.

Dawg shakes his head. And so, it ends. Hour 1 that is. Oh boy, it's a two-hour opening kick off!

Hour 2:
Alice, in bright, bright pink, screeches something. "It's exactly identical to a nightmare I had last week," Simon says.

Next: a montage of screechy chicks.

Next: Milo. He's 39. He sings his own songs. This one's called No Sex Allowed.

"I don't need that, there's a better way," he sings. "Sex is weak and love is strong. No Sex Allowed, I don't want to be part of your crowd."

The judges sing along, but decline to hear the second and third verses.

Next: Christy Lee Cook, from Oregon. She wears red, rides horses, trains for cage fighting. She sings Amazing Grace. She's cute, and has pipes. She's a little country, an All American Girl. That guy who likes American girls probably was talking to her outside. PREDICTION: She will be in the final 10. Lucky thing, because she had to sell one of her really good barrel horses to pay for her trip to Idol.

Next Up. Some dude in a cape. Simon rolls his eyes. "All right, let's have a look," Simon says.

He swings open the cape.

Ouch. It's some kind of Star Wars outfit, involving a weird chest ornament, but not much coverage. And lots and lots of hair.

"I can't get past the chest hair," Paula says.

"Can I wax it and come back?"

Sure, they say. So he leaves. Err?

Next, a montage of crappy singers who don't get far. Including Paul.

"This is a love song I wrote for Paula Abdul," he says. "There is this girl I know, I follow her around. She hasn't noticed me, it really gets me down. ... I'm not much of a talker, so I think I'll just stalk her. If she were a doggy, I would walk her. If I were Columbo, I'd Peter Falk her. If she were a bathtub, I would caulk her." Something like that.

"I think you should leave," Simon says. "Something about that was really creepy."


"That guys was crazy," Dawg says.

Next up: A Christian Chick. Singing Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered. Simon, strokes his nose. He says no, but Paula and Dawg give her a thumbs up, and she's going to Hollywood.

Hairy guy is back. He's completely hairless. Dang, but they don't even let him sing after all that. He turns to leave, and you get a taste of butt crack. Is this country great, or what?

"This show is painful," Mark says.

Next: Some sick clips of the cape guy getting his chest hair ripped off. "AAugh," Mark says. "Oh! Ow! It's painful!" And gross looking.

These people know how to make a show. It's got a little of everything. Crack addicts, hairy guys, crazy people. What's not to love?

Next up: Milli Vanilli/Chris.
Wiggly voice guy with dreads. Mark Predicts: He's going all the way. "He could be the whole season winner."

Simon says: "You look like a star."
Dawg: "Dude I like you."
Three yesses. Welcome to Hollywood.

Whew. Fifteen minutes and two girls left: A blond and a Star Wars freak dressed up as Princes Leah, with the Leah hair buns and a big Star Wars buckle. "I'm a fan and proud of it ... I'm a goofball."

"Men love me," she says. "I do have a genuine talent." She's a little bit cross eyed, and a lot wacko. She sings "the Roger Daltry version" of Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me. Oy, yikes.

Simon is at his most disguisted.

"That was a strange audition," Dawg says.

"Give my love to the Wookie," Simon mutters as she stalks out.

Out in the hallway, she cries with her grandparents, and yanks off her Leah hairbud wigs. "So be it," she says bitterly. "They need something different for this show, and they're not allowing it ... They don't want anything different. They don't want true diversity."

And so the blond. Size 2. Brook. She's a nanny. Some gross clips of her baby talking with her wards. "I've never seen a rated R movie," she says. Jeez. "It was always my own choice," she says. Also, no drinking, no smoking. She's married. He doesn't watch R rated moves either, she says.

"I'll be up in a minute, honey," Simon says. "Just need to check something on the Internet. Check the Share prices." Ho ho.

She sings pretty good.

"I like you," Dawg says. "Something sort of pure."

I would think so, Paula says. Three thumbs up. She is going to the land of the Devil.

Onward: Tomorrow Simon does Dallas. Sweet.

"It is like the end of society," Mark says. "You know, like the Romans?" Like, at the end of the empire, when they had to keep themselves distracted with lions eating slaves and gladiators. That's what Idol is, Mark says. "It's almost over."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Boots for Europe

Sweet! Yesterday I got me some thermal and waterproof boots on deep discout sale at Nordstrom Rack -- paid $20 a pair. I'm breaking them in now for the walking of Rome and Paris.

I guess I went on a bit of a spending spree this weekend. Yesterday I bought a sweet sounding acoustic/electric Epiphone guitar so me and Mark can jam together to the cool new learn guitar cd he got. He plays pretty good already, which is kind of amazing, considering he hasn't played for years. Yesterday he showed me how to play Blowing in the Wind. He just figured it out. He's a natural.

Then I spotted an awesome Granny rocker chair on Craigslist for $50. I've been needing my own chair for a while -- the girls sprawl on the sofa and kind of take it over. I've been sitting in a bean bag for a while. My sweet granny chair is much better.

In other reports, I've been spending the past few weeks fixing up a few little house problems. A corner of our concrete slab in the basement was crumbling, so I patched it up with some concrete patch. On more little piece to go before I'm done.

Also, there were two holes in the wall where windows used to be. The previous owners just nailed some boards over them. I installed some high-grade insulation, so now it's less chilly down there. I'm going to wallboard over this next week probably. I'm trying to decide between your basic drywall, or putting up blueboard and plastering over that. I've been intrigued by plaster, and have wanted to try working with it for a while... thoughts?

Also, I've been regrading the bottom of the driveway, which has about 3 inches of topsoil grown over it. The runoff from the driveway is spilling into the garage. So far all my regrading hasn't worked. Might have to install a French drain.

I hear Mich got Guitar Hero for her birthday

I just happened to run across this at my favorite webcomic, xkcd:

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I still went out too fast

I must've been over-excited by my cool new slow-jam workout mix. Still, as the easygoing music kicked in this afternoon I took my pace down and wound up feeling pretty good -- remarkably good, really, considering that I'm two days into my latest round of chemo.

The first few songs that came on -- shuffled randomly from the 85 or so I copied into the playlist -- were "Talking Old Soldiers," by Bettye LaVette; "There We Are," by James Taylor; "Don't Give Up," by Peter Gabriel; and "Body and Soul," by Billie Holiday, the one that gave me the idea.

Everything on the list isn't jazz or easy listening, though there's plenty of that. There's also some down-tempo Springsteen, Dylan, Angie Stone, Tom Waits, Pink Floyd and more. My only rules in picking the music were that they had to be songs I like but not so fast or rockin' that they might show up on "Guitar Hero."

I don't want to inadvertently get into shape.

Opening kickoff!

I'm not a huge football fan like I am for baseball, but I do follow the Seattle Seahawks a little bit and I've been looking forward to today's playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.

Classic story line: Mike Holmgren, the Seahawks' coach, returns to the icy field where he led the Packers to a championship in the 1996 season. Matt Hasselbeck, the Hawks' quarterback, was once understudy to the Packers' genius quarterback Brett Favre, who is still playing and racking up career records.

Plus the Pack is the legendary team of Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr: Playing in a cold, small town in Wisconsin, they were winners of the first two Super Bowls and still more than hold their own against big-market superpowers. As even the Seattle papers have pointed out this week, it's hard to root against them.

Today's game is in the snow, just right.

The local coverage, by the way, has been predictably boosterish and over the top, but what the heck. Everyone's having fun, and I'm sure it's selling papers and generating clicks.

Speaking of which, I thought the Times made good use of a Google Maps feature, plotting Hawks fans around the world, with clickable plot points in which the rooters say a few words about where they'll be watching today.

View Larger Map

Says Sam Foley, Wanouchi-cho, Gifu-Ken, Japan, for example: "I'll be watching and cheering the Hawks in Japan starting at 6:30 am! Go Hawks!"

Kinda cool.

(Public-use photo above is by Flickr user occecid)

Man, in the few minutes I've been typing this, the Seahawks, who are 8-point underdogs -- have recovered two fumbles and scored two touchdowns to take a 14-0 lead. Shocker.

Postgame update: Whoa! After that great start, the Hawks fell apart or the Pack got it together, or something. Final score: Green Bay 42, Seattle 20. Season over. Damn.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Happy Birthday Michy!

Tomorrow, the 12th, is Michele's birthday ... man, 44 -- that's pretty old for a baby sister. Then again, it's not as old as I thought she was last year.

As we recalled this afternoon when she fit me into her schedule for lunch, I was in the hospital on Mich's birthday last year. In fact I went in a year ago today, following another seizure, and was still there the next morning when Mich came to visit. I was a bit out of it, but I remembered what day it was and wished her a happy birthday. That made her happy, I think, but then, confused, I said something about her turning 45. Ouch!

I had a moment of confusion today too, but at least it didn't include making my sister out to be two years older than she is.

I suggested we go for a sushi lunch. Unfortunately, my first choice, the wonderful Mashiko in West Seattle, is open only for dinner, so I recommended a place Michelle and I used to visit from work sometimes: Sam's Sushi, in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood.

I picked Mich up at the Times and drove us to Fremont; it wasn't until we got there that I realized Sam's isn't in Fremont, but Ballard! Sheesh, I'm absolutely losing it. No biggie, except it's a slightly longer drive and I think I returned her to work a few minutes late for an afternoon budget meeting. Sorry, dude.

In between we had a fab lunch, chatting about movies and music and work and family, as we always do, and enjoying Sam's very good sushi. For dessert, in lieu of birthday cake, we walked across the street to Starbucks and split a birthday old-fashioned donut with our coffee. Yum.

I love sushi. Everything I needed to know about it I learned from Mom, whose motto when we were kids was, "You'll never know whether you like something unless you try it." Interestingly, that's also all I needed to know about Brussels sprouts, and also corned beef and cabbage.

Anyway, lunch was great. Mich seems really good, and I feel really lucky to have such a cool sister. I think we'd be great friends even if we weren't related.

Here's a sample of Sam's fine fare:

Just keep me out of the last two categories

... and I'll be happy.

Today's xkcd webcomic. What can I say, the guy's a genius.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Come here you little bitch

Don't ask me why, but that was the internal dialog in my brain as I picked up my long abandoned guitar in its stand and pulled it over next to my chair.

Mr. Cool got me a little gift that arrived today -- an awesome dvd that teaches you how to play guitar. I just did the first lesson, and it rocks. Now, I'm going to practice my new power cords, A5, E5 and D5. (How many times have I wondered what that 5 was for. It indicates a power chord!)

How cool is it that the teacher has exactly the same guitar as me?

It's all about the sausage

Tonight I'm making gumbo, which reminds me that my friend Josh wrote to me three or four months ago asking for my red beans recipe, and bitch that I am, I have yet to write back.

So finally, while the gumbo berls, I'm going to write down the slapdash way I make red beans. Janice, K, V and Libby, I'm sure you all make better red beans than me. It'd be great to see your recipes too, so I can try your signature riffs.

I. Get you some kidney beans or red beans, whatever your local store is calling them.
II. Soak them over night. Do not salt them.
III. Next day, rinse them off and kick out the floaters.
IV. Cover with water, put them on the stove. Bring to a berl, then turn it down to simmer. Chop an onion in to fourths and toss it in. Break a celery stick into thirds and toss it in. If you have a green pepper, quarter it and toss it in. Fine chop two or three Roma tomatoes and toss em in. Toss in a three or four shakes of red pepper flakes. Shake some black pepper in. Don't salt!
V. Faggedabout it.
VI. An hour or so later Mark will say "you want me to stir this or what?" Tell him sure. Then he'll say "water's getting kind of low, want me to put some in? Say sure.
VII. The beans start smelling good. Go in and fish all your veggies out of the pot except the tomatoes, and stick them in the cuisinart with two tablespoons of beans and some of the water. Grind it to a thick liquid. Toss it back in the pot. Taste a bean. Still kind of crunchy? Cover it. Faggedabout it. (The water should always cover the beans, so if it's low, fill it up to just past the bean line, but don't overfill or else your beans will be watery. Eww.) Toss in six or eight hot Louisiana sausages. Safeway carries this brand. Get a spicy sausage, or it won't be right. You can toss these in frozen right out of the freezer.
VIII. Every so often, repeat step VI. Stir regularly to make sure the beans aren't sticking to the bottom, and to check the water line.
X. Repeat the crunchy bean test until the bean is no longer crunchy at all. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over steaming white rice, with french bread and a sliver of frozen butter. MMM!

Workout music

I noticed a couple things lately on the subject of listening to music while exercising, including this popular story in the New York Times and a new iTunes page devoted to workout mixes. The point always seems to be about what you'd expect: If you want to run faster, lift heavier or treadmill longer, crank some heartbeat-bumping rock or techno or hip-hop; doesn't much matter as long as it's fast. The idea is that your body will naturally tend to keep pace with the beat.

A typical quote from the NYT story:

Allison Goldberg, a 39-year-old life coach and amateur runner who lives in Texas and who is training for the Houston Marathon on Sunday, has been running to the Green Day CD “American Idiot” because, she said, “There’s no way you can run slow to Green Day.”

The "Lance Armstrong: Run Longer" mix at iTunes, with an average customer rating of four and a half stars, is full of headbangy stuff you might find on "Guitar Hero": Wolfmother, Audioslave, Weezer, Queens of the Stone Age ...

Rock on and everything, but I noticed on my short run just now that I may be better off going the other way.

I don't run very far or very fast these days, only a mile or so every other day at a pace I'm too mortified to write down. But I've been a regular runner for a long time, and until a year ago or so I went much faster and often farther. One of my biggest problems now is that out of habit or muscle memory or just plain stubbornness I start out running too fast and then poop out before I finish even my pathetic little course.

Today, though, halfway through my run, Billie Holiday's "Body and Soul" came onto my Shuffle and I found that it really helped. The previous random tunes had been something by Prince and some up-tempo Sheryl Crow song, just the kind of stuff the experts would recommend. But I almost involuntarily slowed down to match Billie's languor and -- wow! -- my breathing evened out, I felt better, and I finished the run stronger than I have lately or than I likely would have otherwise.

I'm thinking about experimenting with an all-slow mix. Maybe I'm in shape enough to get through one entire Pink Floyd song.

(Photo Credit: © Herman Leonard)

Science, bitches!

Brilliant as they are, I don't often steal and repost items from Kaye's great NiteNote blog. But yesterday's entry about the terrific online comic strip xkcd is just too good.

As Kaye and the artist Randall Munroe himself describe xkcd, it's a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language. Being that some of the language is programming language, there are references that sail over my head -- but I still get the idea well enough to find funny.


It's a strip that may sometimes send you scrambling for your Periodic Table or Perl reference or just Wikipedia, but it's worth the trouble. In fact that's the beauty of it. Dude's funny.

Here's one last existential space-time continuum joke (you can click on any of these to see them full size):

Thanks Kaye!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Blurry vision?

The next time my trusty nurse practitioner Jennifer asks at our monthly appointment whether I'm having blurry vision maybe I should say yes. At least that's the excuse I'm trying to allow myself for a huge blunder in my afternoon poker session at the Muck. I misread the board -- a rookie mistake that I haven't made in a very long time -- and it cost me a lot of chips.

I was playing with the hole cards K-Q, a pretty good starting hand that, at this loose table, stood to drag a good pot if it hit. The flop brought scary but potentially lucrative cards -- 10, 9, 3, but with two clubs. That meant I had an inside straight draw but was vulnerable if someone else were drawing to a flush.

Six people were in the pot and somehow it checked around without a bet on the flop. This was doubly good, I thought -- a free card for me, and diminishing pot odds for the flush-drawers if I wanted to bet or raise to go for a steal on the next street.

Beautifully, the turn brought the jack of diamonds, completing my straight and missing the flush-drawers. A tough, aggressive player in Seat 7, two seats to my right, bet out in early position, which again was perfect for me. Now I was able to raise, forcing the players behind me to fold or call $16 for one chance at catching their flush card in what was now a $48 pot. That would be an error if they did so, and if they were calling with one pair they were probably drawing dead, unable to catch a card that would win them the pot.

Predictably, and happily, everyone laid down until it got back to the original bettor, who just called. Any non-club on the river, I figured, and I was good. The final card was a red queen, which I took as probably good news with an asterisk. It wasn't a club -- nice! -- but now the board included 9-10-J-Q. If Seat 7 had any king I'd split the pot with him instead of hogging it, and on the off chance that he had ace-king I'd be toast. Otherwise, though, I was golden.

Again he bet! What? A-K, really?

That holding didn't make sense to me, though, given the way he'd played the hand. I thought it was much more likely he had K-J, which would have explained the turn bet and call and would have made him think he'd pulled ahead with a straight on the end. My thinking at this point was that unless he has the unlikely A-K, I had no worse than a tie for the pot. So I raised, only to be reraised (!) for my last eight chips.

My opponent turned over A-Q for top pair with top kicker, but nothing close to my straight.

"That's a good hand," Dave the dealer said.

Me, snarkily: "Not good enough," and I flipped over my king-queen and started reaching for the chips.

Nope, Dave said. Nut flush.

I looked again. Yike! The flop -- the original three common cards -- included three clubs, not two, and Seat 7's hand was the ace and queen of clubs. He'd flopped it -- the nuts, the best possible hand -- and then played me for a chump, extracting the maximum possible from my dwindling stack.

Argh, how could I have overlooked that? It happens, but it hasn't happened to me in a long time.

Embarrassed, I bought another rack of chips, refocused, and resolved to study the board -- twice -- before raising again.

Luckily, the patience and resolve paid off, or I just caught a little lucky streak, and by the time I got up to leave a couple hours later I had recovered the hundred bucks I lost and added another $130 to boot. Nice comeback to cash out a winner, but I know that my bankroll's about $40 lighter than it should have been if I were paying attention.

Tomorrow, I'm planning on playing again with my friend David. Since there won't be time to get fitted for glasses between now and then, I'm going to have to sit up close and squint.

Boy, will there ever!

Last night Michelle and I went to see "There Will Be Blood," the new movie by director Paul Thomas Anderson and a favorite on critics' year-end lists and among awards-season pundits. Nothing like a huge, gritty, vengeful tragedy to pull you out of your doldrums!

Anderson has made a few M&M-favorite movies, including "Magnolia," "Punch-Drunk Love" and "Boogie Nights." In some ways, but not all, this one fits right in, and I see why it's getting so much attention. Set against the backdrop of oil exploration and speculation in Southern California around the turn of the 20th century, it's a big, big movie with big themes: ambition, greed, family, religion, revenge and (not quite) redemption.

The setting alone gives it the feel of an epic (this is one that's worth seeing on the big screen). And Anderson -- adapting the screenplay from the Upton Sinclair novel "Oil!" -- knows how to weave the characters and ideas together with epic grandness. A couple of critics, notably Salon's Stephanie Zacharek -- have panned the picture for overreaching on that front, but it totally worked for me. It's a period of American history that you don't see portrayed in the movies much, at least not recently, and I thought it was interesting even apart from the appeal of the story. (A family note: My grandfather, Richard Maher, worked in the California oil fields at about this time -- in fact I think that's what took him to California from Colorado, where he was born -- but I don't know any details. Mom?)

I was thinking as we watched last night that "There Will Be Blood" seemed pretty different from Anderson's other movies, which are very modern in subject matter and technique, while this one is as old-fashioned-ly linear as its topic is old. But Michelle pointed out afterward that it was like Anderson's other work in that it focused on a larger-than-life character who is simultaneously removed from society and representative of it. That's exactly right, I think, and Daniel Day-Lewis is terrific, as usual, as the scary oil speculator Daniel Plainview. His nemesis in the movie is an equally larger-than-life preacher, Eli Sunday, who is every bit the avaricious salesman and speculator that Plainview is.

A word about the title: I read or heard somewhere someone describe this as the most portentous title imaginable, and that is true. It also delivers, in both senses of the word. There is the arrival of blood, as in family and as in violence. This is a movie in which fortunes, relationships and revenge all come both quickly and slowly. The blood is thick and sticky and pools like the runoff oil of a tapped well. Highly recommended. 4 gliomas.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Not Everything's a Lesson, Ryan

Sometimes you just fail.

Words of wisdom from The Office.

Promises, unrealized

Last week, in my blog tease after a couple of postless weeks, I said I felt refreshed and ready to return in the new year to the M&M fold. It hasn't exactly turned out that way.

Not only haven't I been blogging but, I'll confess, I haven't really been feeling refreshed either. After my monthly oncology appointment yesterday I drove to University Village to meet Michelle for lunch and ran into a guy from work. He asked me how I was doing. I gave him my pat answer, usually true, about how I always know it's time for another round of chemo because I notice I'm feeling so good. But when Mich e-mailed me this morning asking how I'm doing I gave her the more honest answer: up and down -- not so great, really -- especially emotionally.

Part of that is cyclical; although I usually feel good physically at this point in my monthly treatment, I always get crabby and anxious about the start of a new chemo round. But I feel more down and irritable lately than usual. I hear myself snapping at the girls or Michelle, which embarrasses me and bums me out, to say nothing of the effect on them. Also I can't seem to get up for anything. I sit around, accomplishing nothing.

This surprises me. It shouldn't maybe, being that I'm sick and everything, but so far throughout this ordeal I've mostly managed to be Mr. Cool. I like that; I don't want or expect to morph into Mr. Malaise. Even as the new year approached, without resolving to run more, as Michelle did, or freeze the butter like Kaye, I felt optimistic about the future. The past year, I figured, was all about physically recovering from surgery and dealing with chemo, which I've mostly done pretty well; now I could focus on relighting my creative pilot.

Weirdly, though, as the holidays passed and Michelle went back to work and the girls returned to school, I've felt less energetic or optimistic than I can remember.

At the doctor's appointment yesterday, Jennifer ticked through her checklist of symptoms, part of our monthly ritual, halfway paying attention as I answered: seizures, no; nausea, some; blurry vision, no; depression, yeah ... kinda.

Michelle asks me about depression once in a while too, and I'm never quite sure how to answer. It sounds like a question about direct cancer-related depression, and I never sit around thinking: man, I have cancer, what a drag. But I also know that these symptoms and feelings I'm describing add up to something that sounds a lot like depression. And I do in fact have cancer, and so maybe, yeah, all this stuff is related.

I hesitate to write about this here. It feels maudlin and like a total buzzkill on the awesome M&M vibe. But, you know, I've written about other aspects of the illness experience, like fond memories of surgery or the funny and inappropriate feelings of superiority while observing the health profession's idiocy, or even the thrill of a good blood draw. And I gather from comments and conversations that one of the things people like about this stupid blog is its occasional, unexpected moments of honesty amid all the goofy banter.

So there you have it. Plus it's another excuse for my failure to post lately. Sorry to be such a drag. I'll snap out of it one of these days; maybe a good movie or afternoon poker session would help.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

What we're watching

The Simpsons: The Movie.

I cooked up a tasty batch of popcorn earlier. I heated up the oil, dropped in the three test kernels, and then, alas, forgot it for 15 minutes. Now the house is stinky as hell. Smells like twice cooked tires.

So we're all up now at 1 a.m. watching the Simpsons, because who can sleep with this smell?

Spoiler: Bart shows his doodle.

Friday, January 4, 2008

One day I stopped blogging

This stupid blog began five months ago yesterday, when Michelle noted that something seemed to be missing in the weeks after our excellent World Series of Poker trip and she offered the first post: One day I couldn't stop blogging.

In the months since, Incremental Updates has been a little miracle of fun and community, a kind of gravity center for our awesome friends and family and a running account of the insignificance that makes up our lives. I've loved it. But as a few regulars have pointed out, I've stopped contributing much in the past week or two.

No, Kaye and Ronelle and Michelle, it's not just because I've deluded myself into thinking I truly am a guitar hero (although I just read that Slash was bragging about beating "Guitar Hero" on the medium level; hell, dude, I did that, and without the benefit of being the lead guitarist with Guns N' Roses or Velvet Revolver). But as I was telling Mom the other day on our drive down to Eugene, I felt like a I needed a little break from blogging. Even though I enjoy it, I was spending a lot of time in front of the computer and neglecting other important things, like my poker game.

But now it's a new year. I feel refreshed and ready to rejoin M&M.

That's it; I don't have anything else to say just yet. I just thought I'd issue fair warning that I'll be back around from time to time.

So Happy New Year everyone, and thanks for the nudge.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Where the M&M Readers Are

I came across this nifty new tool, which is supposed to show you where your readers are coming from. I set it up for M&M to see how well it works.

Locations of visitors to this page

Slow day at the PI

I decided to go to work today since I'm burning up a couple weeks' vaca at the end of the month. Pretty slow day so far. Only about five or six people here, and they're all standing around telling Norwegian jokes.

Do you know the difference between a Norwegian extrovert and a Norwegian introvert?

When he's talking, the extrovert looks at YOUR shoes.

Ba Doom Ching.