Monday, March 31, 2008

Seattle Bunion Newsletter #4

Little known fact from The Baltimore Sun: The term "bunion" is derived from the Latin bunio, which translates into "turnip."

Seattle Bunion Newsletter, Issue #3

Who is Mike Pelfrey and what in the name of El Duque does he have to do with Michelle's bunion?

Simple, my friends. In a baseball Opening Day edition of the SBN, we come with news that Mike Pelfrey has been named the fifth starter in the New York Mets' pitching rotation, beating out Orlando Hernandez. And why? Because Hernandez, better known as El Duque, needs time on the disabled list to deal with guess what foot malady.

As the New York Times put it today:

Pelfrey said he understood that Hernández would be joining the rotation at some point, barring more trouble with his painful left foot bunion. Hernández lowered his signature high leg kick to help with the pain but found out that it has hurt his results. In his last game, he returned to a higher leg kick and held Baltimore to a run and four hits in five innings.

Whale Watching on Friday


Okay mom, here's the instructions for your whale watching adventure on Friday:

What to Wear/Bring:
The temperature is always a bit cooler on the water than on land because our water temperature is about 48 degrees. Wind off the water can produce a wind chill factor and acts as an instant air conditioning. Having said that, the Island Explorer 3 is very comfortable with plenty of room to get out of the weather. Layered clothing is recommended with comfortable shoes and a wind-breaker jacket. There are a few days in July and August where you could get away with shorts, but not on most days. Generally speaking, we are fortunate to have good weather here in the islands and if you are dressed well and prepared, you’ll be able to enjoy the outside decks a lot more than those who are not prepared.

Check out the rest here.

And this is where we're having lunch on Sunday.

Wackiest Self Portrait Ever

You may recall my Dogs of Greenlake slide show from a few weeks ago ...



Well, we're launching a new Pets section at Seattlepi.com, and my designer said she'd like to use one of the pix from that gallery for the business card. Here it is:



As I was checking out the gigantic file on this dog, I noticed something wild: I'm perfectly reflected in this pup's shiny little eye.



Click the photo to see the larger version. Makes for a pretty funny self portrait.

Opening Day for a fair-weather fan


It was unseasonably warm and sunny here a couple of weeks ago when I noticed the Mariners would be hosting Opening Day baseball with an afternoon game, so I went online and bought a ticket. Michelle would be working, I figured, and being able to catch a day game has to be one of the joys of a debilitating illness. My calendar was open ... Play ball!

When I told Michelle of my plan though she protested that she could have scored a half-day off and joined me. I tried to change my single ticket for a pair, but by that time the game was sold out and the Craigslist scalpers wanted way more than I was willing to pay.

Besides, I thought to myself, there are some times when Mich's Springsteen philosophy applies to baseball: that is, when it's best to go alone. In this case, by buying only one ticket I was able to score a good lower-level seat down the third-base line. Also, while I'm often happy to chit-chat through a game and focus much of my attention on my hot dog and peanuts, as Michelle and I like to do, once in a while the baseball geek in me asserts itself and I feel like really concentrating on the game.

Opening Day, although it's usually as much about pomp as baseball, struck me that way this year. I'm a huge baseball fan, but I don't live and die with one team, the way second- or third-generation Cubs and Red Sox fans do, or even the way I felt as a kid about the Willie Mays-era San Francisco Giants. Still, the Ms are my home team and I root for them and watch most of their games. This year the Mariners have a new pitcher, southpaw whiz kid Erik Bedard, whom they traded half the franchise for over the winter and who would be making his debut today. The word on Bedard: many strikeouts, few home runs, a lot of innings pitched. It was a controversial trade but one I supported, and I wanted to see how he did.

So Michelle went off to work and, an hour or so before game time, I donned my Ichiro jersey -- over a sweatshirt, and under my winter coat -- and walked up to the Junction to catch the bus to Safeco Field. Immediately I felt overdressed and too warm. I stopped twice and pondered walking back home to shed the ski jacket for a windbreaker, but I didn't want to miss the opening pitch.

At Safeco, the modern/retro home of the Mariners, I was surprised and disappointed to see the retractable roof was extended over the playing field. After the opening ceremonies and introduction of the players, though, the PA announcer said in his booming voice that Opening Day baseball was "meant to be played on real grass and under blue skies, so let's open the roof!"

And to great fanfare -- the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey," in fact -- the roof rolled back.

Immediately it was obvious that the blue-skies line was wishful thinking. It had cooled off and clouded up, and even before the roof was all the way open I felt raindrops. By the first pitch the roof was closed again, though without fanfare, or even a clip of Gilda Radner's "Never mind."

Bedard fired the first pitch for strike one and the crowd went crazy. Two more pitches, strike two and strike three, and the cheers were even louder. What a great trade!

He got a called first strike against the Texas Rangers' second batter too, before missing with two balls and then watching as the hitter, shortstop Michael Young, deposited one over the WaMu sign in right field for a home run. Texas 1, Mariners nothing. Suddenly I heard murmurs around me in Section 147 of "Adam Jones," the can't-miss outfield prospect who the Ms traded, with four other guys, to Baltimore for Bedard.

He struggled through the rest of the first inning, though without giving up any more runs, then the Mariners went down 1-2-3, and it was back to another slow, rough (though scoreless) inning for Bedard.

About this time the wind started whipping through the stadium and I decided that my seat, close to the concourse and near an outside breezeway, wasn't as sweet as I'd imagined. An hour into the game it was still only the second inning, and getting yet colder -- I was glad I'd stuck with the jacket -- and beginning to feel like a long afternoon.

After three innings I was really cold and weirdly not that into it and decided to bail. The earliest I've ever left a Major League Baseball game.

Not a great decision, weather-wise. Outside, waiting for the bus back to West Seattle, a driving rain turned to snow -- snow! on Opening Day! -- and I bailed yet again, choosing to wait out the storm at the Starbucks across the street and phoning Michelle for a ride home. What a wuss.

When we got home I turned on the TV to find the Mariners had rallied to win 5-2, though Bedard left before the scoring flurry and didn't figure in the decision. Anyway, the Ms have a winning record, which isn't always to be expected around here.

Tomorrow, Michelle and I are going back for Game 2. She scored us free tickets from the P-I in the snooty (and warmer) Terrace Club.

Here are a few pics from my short day at the park.

Crowds arriving, with downtown Seattle beyond Qwest Field, where the football Seahawks play:


You can almost see our house from here. This is the view from Safeco's upper deck. That peninsula is West Seattle, where we live. On a sunny day you can see the beautiful Olympic Mountains beyond.


The view from my windy seat today. Tomorrow Michelle and I will be just above the scoreboard visible to the left of home plate.


Waiting for a bus in the snow.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Meet my new buddy: The Plunge Router

Yesterday I was over at my friend Susan's for a dish of her kick ass linguini and clams (perhaps she'll read this, and post the excellent recipe?), and I told her I was planning on building a bookcase.

"Cool!" she says. "Do you want to borrow my router?"

No, actually, I bought a cool new plunge router at the HD yesterday. Today, I whipped it out and built a new 8-foot bookcase for the backroom.

Here it is, the before & after:



Bruce, the real American idol

The last time I saw Bruce Springsteen was on the last M&M visit to the New Orleans Jazz & Hertiage Festival, in 2006, the first Jazzfest following Hurricane Katrina. That was also Bruce's first concert with his Seeger Sessions Band, the rootsy big band he put together to play the folk-blues-gospel music of his new album at the time. Combined with the fresh horror of Katrina, there was something about the sound of that music, plaintive yet uplifting, filled out with horns to give it a New Orleans feel, that was overwhelming. By the time he got to the encore on that sunny late-April day -- as I remember it, "My City of Ruins," "We Shall Overcome" and a dirge-like "When the Saints Go Marching In" -- the show had become a giant emotional release, another levee breaking. I looked around and literally couldn't see one person who wasn't crying.

Hard to top a concert like that, and so when tickets went on sale for a Springsteen show here I wasn't all that surprised that Michelle passed: No huge fan in the first place, she said she felt like she'd already seen him at his best.

But this Seattle gig figured to be no ordinary show; it was the reunion tour of the E Street Band, the hard-rocking group that helped put Springsteen on the map back in the 1970s. I wanted to go, and I knew that my sister Michele, who would happily renounce country, career and family for an evening with Bruce, would be hovering over her keyboard the minute Ticketmaster opened the lines.

"Screen door slams, I'm there," was her line last night.

So I ended up tagging along with Mich and Manuel last night to KeyArena. On the way into town Mich recounted her many previous Springsteen concerts, including one she attended alone a couple of years ago. Going solo "is my favorite way to go," she said, because you can score a ticket up close to the stage. Manuel and I looked at each other. I guess I wasn't the tag-along after all. We were co-third wheels.

Although the concert was supposed to start at 7:30 Bruce and the band didn't take the stage until about 8:40. But they had the audience enthralled from the start. The second song, "Radio Nowhere," the hit of last year's "Magic" CD, has a chorus that seemed to announce the return of the E Streeters and the theme of the night: "I just want to feel some rhythm."

There was plenty of it, too, rocking through much of "Magic," "The Rising" album and several older hits over the next two and a half hours, with three or four down-tempo tunes just to let everyone catch their breath. Except for once or twice, when Bruce introduced a song with a quasi-political speech, most of the songs segued immediately into the next, without so much as a space between chords. They're a hard-working crew, for sure. No need for the fake sweat that Springsteen has been caught applying in years past.

At 58, Springsteen looked great in a black t-shirt, black suit vest and jeans. It's weird to see the aging of the E Street Band though, and as strange as it is fun to see them back together. I mean, drummer Max Weinberg spends most nights these days supplying rim shots for Conan O'Brien. You can't look at guitarist "Little Steven" Van Zandt without seeing his "Sopranos" character, Silvio. And Clarence "The Big Man" Clemons, is more like "The Old Man"; 66 years old now, he had trouble walking to the center of the stage, didn't have much energy for his signature sax lines and sat in a big chair onstage between abbreviated solos.

A lot of the audience at any Springsteen concert are Bruce fanatics (Mich comes pretty close) who can cite set lists from their favorite shows and quote lyrics from any recording. I'm nowhere near that level of fandom, although I own and enjoy several Springsteen albums.

What struck me last night was how reciprocal the relationship was. The fans love him, sure, but he seemed to feel the same. You could fake that, I suppose, as easily as you could spray on a layer of sweat, but if you're as rich and successful and accomplished as Bruce, why would you bother? He doesn't need to tour, or even to make records, if he doesn't want to. He likes it.

Unlike a lot of great artists -- my favorite, Dylan, comes to mind -- Bruce doesn't reinterpret his music for his own enjoyment or to make his audience listen anew. No, he plays the songs like his fans expect to hear them, with every grunt or sax line or tambourine clang coming in exactly on cue. The joy of attending an E Street Band show is in appreciating the power of Springsteen's voice, or seeing Bruce and Little Steven share a mic on a familiar chorus, or listening to Nils Lofgren tear through a guitar solo, as he did on "Because the Night," or just waiting to see which favorite songs will make the set and which won't.

Last night's song choices were interesting to me too, because while it was clearly a big arena show (the Key holds about 17,000 people), Bruce stayed away from the big, arena anthems of his pandering "Born in the USA" era. But what happened was that darker, more personal songs of longing, like "Lonesome Day" or "Your Own Worst Enemy," grew to fill the space. They became anthems of yearning.

Our seats, hobbled by coming in a group of three, weren't the best. Maybe the worst, in fact -- behind the rear-left corner of the stage, and four rows from the top of the arena -- but big video screens pointed in our direction helped, and in a way it was an interesting view of the show. Too far away, we agreed, for any realistic hope that Bruce would call Michele onto the stage for a dance, Courtney Cox-style from that long-ago music video. But we could see the girls leaning on the stage from the front row who shared her dream. When Bruce danced downstage close enough for them to grab his legs and even stroke his guitar, Mich struggled to stifle a swoon.

From our vantage point too you could see the entire arena pumping or waving their arms in time with the music, singing along with every chorus. Everyone in the place, I thought, wanted to be Bruce or be with him. No wonder he looks like he's having so much fun.

The yearning was palpable, I thought, and maybe that's why Springsteen's concerts work so well.

It may be that we're all longing for a different thing -- love, or the old days, a good party, great friends like Bruce has in his band, a government we could respect, or maybe merely people we'd enjoy working with as much as Bruce seems to -- but there's something in these anthems that feels like it fits whichever strain we have.

When it came time for an encore, Bruce came back onstage and grabbed a sign from the audience calling for "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out," a fave from the "Born to Run" days.

"Sing, sing, sing, sing, sing it again," he sang. And everyone did.

---

Bonus Bruce clips and links

Patrick MacDonald's Seattle Times review
Gene Stout's Seattle P-I review
Backstreets.com review

A few minutes of "My City of Ruins" at the 2006 Jazzfest:




Mich's fantasy:




When the Saints Go Marching In:

Friday, March 28, 2008

Seattle Bunion Newsletter, Issue #2

Here's my favorite Bunion News so far:

Paris Hilton has big feet, and Vikki Beckham has bunions!

Seattle Bunion Newsletter

As you may or may not know, the latest thing we've been trying to drive more traffic to Seattlepi.com is "channels," online mini-magazines about various topics, designed to attract niche audiences interested in those topics. So far, we've launched momseattle.com, dadseattle.com and gardenseattle.com. We also have myseattlepix and will soon be launching myseattlepets.com

When I was most disturbingly diagnosed this week with the old lady condition known in the local vernacular as "a bunion," Mark joked that he was going to start a myseattlebunion.com newsletter.

And so, here is the first installment of my seattle bunion.

First of all, what gives with the horrendous looking shoes you are supposed to buy when you have a bunion? Dang dudes. About half of all women and less than 1/4 of men have bunions. With as many people as are out there shopping for buinion friendly shoes, you'd think they'd be putting some effort into making them look good.

Think again.


WTF?

According to one helpful site "Bunions are also more common in older people." Thanks. This from the 1999 study "Trends in hospital admissions and surgical procedures for acquired toe deformities in the West Midlands." Thanks again.

Just think of me your deformed older friend. That'll work.

Poop. My toe hurts.

Freak snow shower










It rarely snows in Seattle, even in the middle of winter. Spring snow, at the end of March, is unheard of. Yet this morning it started coming down in big, fat flakes and kept coming for several hours.

Weird. Just last week I was walking around the neighborhood in short sleeves, taking pics of early blossoms and daffodils.










Eventually, by early afternoon today, a little dusting stuck to the lawns and the cars. It didn't last long, but it was a fun spring surprise.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Maw

Check out this giant hole in the basement floor. I was going to patch it tonite, but it's supposed to snow. For reasons I don't quite understand, you're not supposed to pour concrete during freezing temps.


El Capitan Awesomeness



Today I booked a room -- make that a parking spot -- at the El Capitan State Beach just north of Santa Barbara. Cost for one of the best addresses in the universe: $35 bucks. We'll be staying there April 21, sleeping in the tricked out Tripmobile. Sweet!

Thanks to isotaupe for the pic. She also has some cool pics of national pillowfight day, which took place last weekend ...

Good News, Blues Fans

It turns out that the gaping maw (otherwise known as "the hole" or "the cavern") in the basement floor is not a big structural problem. The basement dude came by yesterday to take a look and his verdict was "jam some concrete down in there." You could see he was sorry that he couldn't find some big problem he could fix and bill me for. I wish I'd taken his picture for posterity.

So today I excavated the hole a bit as recommended, and tomorrow I'll be filling it with some concrete. Here's another nearby hole I already patched -- it was nowhere near as big as The Maw.

(Photos of The Maw tk).

Monday, March 24, 2008

Does it get better than this?

Mark's favorite singer, playing his favorite song by her, all translated for you in Italian subtitles. Pure Markie heaven. If only it also was taking place in Vegas.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Don't ask why. Ask, why not?

Seriously.



Thanks to Catsandbeer.com for the pic.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Been this way too long to change now!

The first thing that happened at last night's Bettye LaVette concert was that we were seated next to an incredibly obnoxious guy, one table over, talking very loudly into his cell phone while his date sat cooling his heels. After a minute or two of this, Michelle got up and walked off. She returned with the manager, who politely offered to move us to a nicer table, two rows from the stage.

"She can be very persuasive," the manager said to me. Yeah, tell me about it.

Good move, though. Out of earshot of the jerk, we had an excellent up-close view when the (almost all-white) band came on: a fedora-wearing pianist and keyboardist who seemed steeped in New Orleans music; a young virtuosic guitarist who seemed to be going for a Dave Matthews look and a Mark Knopfler sound; a huge guy, who reminded us a little of Hurley on "Lost," playing bass; and a dreadlocked cat on drums who was probably older than he looked. They all rocked. From what I've read they're a new touring group with LaVette, but they were as tight as her shiny black slacks and they seemed to enjoy the gig.

Bettye got a huge hand when she took the stage. At 62 she looks great -- she can't weigh much more than a hundred pounds -- and she was stylish and playful. She looked like fun.

In fact, I thought almost immediately of something I recently read or heard about her. She said in an interview that her grandson and his friends thought she looked "hot" in her publicity photos, and she talked about what a huge kick she got out of that. Watching her moves onstage, I thought maybe the kids' talk had gone to her head. Yeah, we should all be so vibrant at 62, but I thought she was working it pretty hard. It's OK to leave a little to our imagination, grandma.

She can sing though. Her voice in person was as strong and affecting as I find it on her recordings, and she and the band weren't afraid of vamping and ad-libbing -- the concert was much more than a live performance of the CD.

She also seemed loose and self-deprecating with the audience. She said it was wonderful to be back at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley after a long time away and pointed out a bald dude in the front. "Without him and his friends," she said, "we wouldn't have had the seven people we had here last time."

As advertised, LaVette puts a lot of emotion into her performances. Too much, almost. A little cry in your voice can go a long way over two hours; there were times I thought she just about tilted into having some voice in her cry. Still, the apparent closing number, "Heaven" -- the tune I posted yesterday as a YouTube clip -- worked very well, and it led to an encore of "Before the Money Came," which I also quoted in yesterday's post.

That seemed like the perfect close to the show, which we enjoyed with a pair of excellent dinners -- steak for Michelle and salmon for me. But then Bettye sang two more songs; fine, but just beyond the emotional high of the evening.

On the way back to the car we agreed we both liked the concert, but Michelle said it's too bad LaVette felt the need to work everything so hard. We speculated that maybe it's a residual effect of struggling for 40 years to find an audience.

This afternoon, replaying her record and thinking about the show, I thought the tune "I Still Want to Be Your Baby" had a pretty apt line:

"I've been this way too long to change now. You're gonna have to take me as I am."

...

Tonight, we're off to see kd lang at the Moore Theater. I'll admit I'm not as thrilled about this one. I like some of lang's music, but her new album, "Watershed," bores me. You never know though. We'll see; report to come.

Challenging, bargaining, or avoiding?

What did you think of Barack Obama's big speech on race yesterday?

It took me a while clicking around to find anything but news stories, transcripts or short video excerpts of the speech (newspaper sites are missing a bet here), so if you haven't seen the complete version and would like to, here it is:



I was impressed as I watched it. On purely a political level, Obama seemed to pull off the unlikely trick of using the first real negative press of his campaign -- his association with the fiery and voter-unfriendly Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- as an invitation to deliver an important and defining address about himself, his campaign and the nation.

Watching him talk, you see why so many people like him. He comes across as relaxed, thoughtful, nuanced, intelligent and engaging. Not a lot of politicians of the past, oh, eight years or so could make such an impression, especially on such a difficult subject.

I also thought, wow, this is just good campaigning. His willingness to take on his own political base while also defending it reminded me of Bill Clinton's critical Sister Souljah moment in the 1992 campaign, which might have been the turning point in that election. And in its personal tone and the weightiness of its subject, it made me think of John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 speech on religion in politics. (Compare the Kennedy speech and Obama's self-reflection with Mitt Romney's lame attempt last December to stick up for his Mormonism.)

If Obama wins this election, I thought, this speech might deserve a lot of the credit. How lucky for him that Rev. Wright's hateful sermons cropped up and bitch-slapped him. If Wright didn't exist, I thought, Obama might have to invent him, just to be able to talk about him.

But then as I looked over some of the coverage this morning I began to wonder.

Most of the analysis was full of praise for Obama and the address. See this New York Times story, for example. But Mickey Kaus, writing in Slate, dissects the speech to find a lot of avoidance and doublespeak. And Shelby Steele, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that appeared yesterday before the speech, wrote provocatively and insightfully, I thought, about Obama and race, about the inherent bargain that he has struck with white voters. The dare-you-to-look-away hook for Steele's piece was that Geraldine Ferraro was right: Obama wouldn't be where he is today if he weren't black.

For a political junkie, it has all been great fun to watch and think about, with more twists and turns to come.

M&M-ville, I wonder what you think about all of this. Is "the race issue" helping or hurting Obama? Or is it the other way around?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bettye!

Tonight's the beginning of an all-out M&M entertainment sprint before we leave next month for the big road trip: concerts by Bettye LaVette, kd lang, Bruce Springsteen, the opening of the Mariners baseball season and, I think, a whale-watching tour when Michelle's mom Freda visits early next month. And that's not to mention the occasional movie and poker game. We have fun.

Of all we've got going on though, nothing on this side of the Pie in the Sky Tour sounds as good to me as tonight's Bettye LaVette show at Jazz Alley.

Like so many other good things, I "discovered" LaVette thanks to Fresh Air's Terry Gross, who interviewed her in December. Then again, that's kind of like Europeans thinking they discovered America: LaVette's been here all along, totally slaying audiences with her soulful, joyful and heart-wrenching performances. As I learned on the NPR show, LaVette had her first hit in 1962, at the age of 16, and a big Atlantic recording contract and promising career ahead ... except it never really took off. Remarkably, she kept bitterness to a minimum and kept singing, and finally in the last few years has begun getting attention again.

I went right out and bought the CD they were talking about on the radio, "Scene of the Crime," and it immediately became one of my favorites. Now 62 years old, LaVette has a voice that sounds a bit like Tina Turner's, but I think she's got more range, musically and emotionally. She also doesn't fit neatly into a genre like soul or R&B; there are hints of country in some of her stuff, and of old '50s and '60s rock riffs. That's probably one reason she didn't immediately "make it" in the record business.

On "Scene of the Crime," in addition to some original songs, she covers and reinvents tunes by artists as far apart on the spectrum as Elton John and Willie Nelson. On the record as well as on the interview, she seems delighted by her late success. In one song she sings:

"All these years I kept my style. I wouldn't cross over so it took me a while before the money came. ... Some folks didn't see my worth, didn't know where I fit in. Forty years I kept singing before the money started rolling in."

Thanks to my friend Misha Berson's preview of tonight's concert in the Seattle Times, I also found LaVette's last CD, "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise," from 2005. This features excellent covers of songs by female writers, including Lucinda Williams, Joan Armatrading and Sinead O'Connor. It's amazing.

I'm expecting this concert to totally rock. We'll provide a full review later. Meantime, listen to Terry Gross's excellent interview here, if you'd like, and thanks to YouTube you can see a clip of Bettye in concert.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mother knows best

I just got a St. Paddy's Day email from my mom: "This is the-luck-of-the-Irish-day so wear green and go play poker."

Now that's some good advice. I found my lucky green shirt I wore at the World Series of Poker and now I'm off to the Muck.



Lucky for me Mom didn't suggest I celebrate by having some corned beef and cabbage.

Update, 6 p.m.: The luck o' the Irish held up. I won a $500 jackpot for having the highest hand of the hour in the entire cardroom, aces full of eights. When they brought me my bonus money I bought a round of drinks for the other players at the table, and they half-applauded -- grateful for the drink, I think, but envious of my win.

Nobody was else was wearing green, I noticed. "My mom told me to wear a lucky St. Paddy's Day shirt," I said. That got a laugh.

In other cardroom news, Barry was Mr. Popularity today, with other players walking up all afternoon to congratulate him on Saturday's nice write-up in the P-I. A couple of the floor supervisors were even passing around copies for people to read.

"I owe it all to Mark," Barry sorta shouted in his funny way, which I thought was nice but embarrassing, and strictly speaking not true. I didn't really do much.

"I'll buy you a drink," he said to me, "are you ready?"

This was at 2:30 in the afternoon. I looked at him. Thanks, Barry, I said, but it's not 5 o'clock. yet.

Everything else is bookkeeping


I love xkcd. (Click cartoon for larger image.)

The Dogs of Greenlake




For a slideshow with larger images go here.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Don't get the popcorn wet


The 3-D effects of the new IMAX movie "Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk" are so extreme that when a raft slaps through rapids on the Colorado River you're sure the big splash is going to land in your lap. I found myself instinctively guarding the popcorn bag from the spray flying at us.

Thanks to a water-crazy editor at the P-I, the four us went yesterday to an exclusive, pre-opening screening of the new film. I didn't get the details, but it sounded like Editorial Page Editor Mark Trahant won the group screening, with free tickets for all, by finishing first in a quiz about water policy, which happens to be one of his specialties. Despite a couple of shortcomings, the movie offers spectacular, awe-inspiring vistas of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, and it psyched Michelle and me to reprise our visit to the area on our upcoming Pie in the Sky road trip. (The above photo is a publicity still from the movie.)

Beyond its 3D and IMAX effects, "Grand Canyon Adventure" is equal parts nature tour, history lesson and conservation sermon. Robert Redford narrates (giveaway No. 1 that preaching will be involved) as a small group rafts and kayaks down the river, noting the water loss in two big dam-created lakes, exploring the changing features of the canyon riverbed and, of course, thrillingly running the rapids.

Unfortunately, given that this is how they're marketing the film, the 3D aspect is the least impressive part of the experience. As in most 3D movies, the filmmakers overuse the gimmick, and once you've jumped out of the way of a water drop or two, or a kayak oar swinging at your head, the whole thing gets old and distracting. And anyway, the jutting props can't compete with the natural grandeur of the canyon and the river, especially in the giant IMAX format, which truly is impressive.

Based on those "regular" IMAX scenes alone, I'd recommend the movie, although none of us could muster much more than 2 gliomas for the picture as a whole.

Semi-coincidentally, last night after dinner we put on "Into the Wild," last year's Oscar-nominated movie about the college-age kid ("Alexander Supertramp") who drops out of society and heads off to live by his wits in Alaska, with many excellent adventures along the way. Among his journeys is a kayak trip down the same stretch of the Colorado that we experienced in the afternoon. Michelle and I loved this Sean Penn-directed movie when it came out last year -- her review is here -- and the girls both enjoyed it last night.

I don't know if we'll be lucky enough to get in the river on our trip, but we'll surely visit it, with pics and stories to come.

Tricking out the Tripmobile



Here at last are some pix of the platform I built. Yesterday I stained it a lovely mahogany, and today I'll be lacquering it, as it doesn't seem to be losing its funky raw wood smell over time. Also, we won't have to worry about spilling water on it, or about mold (I don't think) if I lacquer it.





Saturday, March 15, 2008

Don't you know who I am?!


One of the regulars at the Muckleshoot Casino, where I like to play cards, is a 60-ish character named Barry, a nice guy and a decent player who through some physical and personality peculiarities stands out even in this large room of outsize degenerates.

Because of some kind of stroke or disease, I've never been sure which, Barry walks with a severe limp and can't fully open his hands (he needs help stacking his chips, which he gathers from the pot just a little too often to suit me), and he talks in a loud, nasally and slurred voice. He's a tireless flirt, often exacting a bonus kiss on the cheek from the cute young chip runners who help him stack his winnings, and his drinking habits are so regular and well known that precisely at 5 p.m. every day, Darla or Cheryl or Anna will wander over to his table and say, "It's 5 o'clock, Barry, are you ready for your martini?"

My kinda guy, in other words.

When Barry's in a pot it can be hard to put him on a hand. He plays a solid game and when he bets or raises it usually means he's got the goods. In fact he milks this image, with an expression that has become a standard Muck joke. If Barry bets or raises and then gets reraised by another player he'll stare down the competitor and then exclaim in his loud, funny-talking voice:

"Don't you know who I am?!"

The thing is, Barry doesn't always have what he's representing. He bluffs just often enough -- probably intimidating some players with his famous speech -- that he gets paid off with his big hands. That's what makes him a winning small-stakes player.

By this point most of us have heard Barry's signature line so often that sometimes we'll use it too. Sometimes you'll hear, from across the room, Barry's booming "Don't you know who I am?" and everyone in the place will laugh. Sometimes when I call Barry's bet I beat him to the punch: "I'm only calling, Barry, because I know who you are."

One day I was sitting next to him and Barry asked me what I was listening to on my iPod. He told me he owns a record store -- Sound Sounds, I thought he said -- and we chatted about music. I took the store's name to be a clever play off the Puget Sound, and Barry's little custom-made card protector, a half-dollar-size piece of coral encased in acrylic, seemed to fit the store's name. (It reminds me of the above photo, although the pic actually is a sea urchin and comes from Picasa user John, a local photographer.)

So, Barry and I became friendly over the months. He told me about growing up in Los Angeles and starting his first record store there; I told him we used to live in Belmont Shore. I told him about working at newspapers up and down the West Coast. When Michelle and I watched "The Godfather" and the Moe Green character gave Pacino the ol' "Do you know who I am?" speech, I mentioned that to Barry and he got a big kick out of it.

Barry and Moe Green, don't mess with either of them.

A couple of weeks ago Barry asked me if I knew anybody in the P-I's business news department; he wanted to gauge interest in a story about his shop for the paper's weekly small-retail column. Yeah, I said, I used to be their stupid boss. Without promising him anything I gave him a couple of numbers and wished him luck.

So this morning I pick up the paper to find Barry staring up at me from the Biz front. It turns out his full name is Barry Reisman, that he has cerebral palsy and that his store is Soundsations, not Sound Sounds (which would be a better name, I think). It's a nice little puff piece. I'm sure it'll help his struggling business.

Meanwhile, in an only marginally related story, I was playing at the Muck one day last week and as I got up to leave a guy I've seen there for years, Rich, asked me if I knew someone named Michelle. Well, yeah, I said, I live with her.

"Oh, you live with her?" he said, kinda nervous-like.

Yeah, why? A lot of people there know Michelle and ask about her since she doesn't play as much as she used to.

Rich muttered something and tried to change the subject but I eventually got him to spill: Um, he said, it must be a different Michelle. The one I was thinking of lives with one guy but is dating another.

"It's not her," I said, trying to sound sure.

He must not know who I am.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Do you consider yourself a Mod or a Rocker?


"I'm a mocker."
--Richard "Ringo Starr" Starkey, in response to a reporter's question, in It's a Hard Day's Night

What I'm not doing

Normally, about this time of year, I'd be cramming through several spring-training magazines and a bunch of geeky websites with names like Rotoworld to figure out which real-life baseball players I wanted to draft onto my pretend team of players, the Humm-Babies.

Like millions of graying wish-they-were athletes and young stat freaks who could be (and often are) their sons, I've been a dedicated fantasy baseball player. For a long time. Our Eugene-based league, the Stathawks, has been going with the same core group of guys since 1987, and a few of us played in an earlier incarnation for five or six years before that. Sick.

But last summer, distracted by illness and not into it (and also with the beloved Humms once again holding down last place), I decided to hang up my pretend cleats. I sold the franchise lock, stock and pretend barrel to a Register-Guard guy I didn't know for the bargain price of nothing. He may have overpaid.

So now, while Stahlberg and Bellamy and Bellamy's kid and Moseley and all those other lovable nerds try to figure out how much Johan Santana will be worth on the open fantasy market, I'm enjoying not sweating it. Just now, I was flipping through the sports section and noticed that Kyle Lohse, pictured above, just signed with the Cardinals, hoping to make their rotation. To which my reaction was ... who cares!

I'm thinking it'll be fun this summer to watch a ballgame on TV and not sweat wondering why "my pitcher" missed a start or fretting that my slugging first baseman pulled a hammy.

I'm still excited for the baseball season. But in a different, fresh way. The Stathawks will have to carry on without me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Happy hour on the half shell

Our nice, new little neighborhood oyster bar, Ama Ama, is trying a new promotion to turn West Seattle residents into customers: Twice daily, from 4 to 6 p.m. and again from 10 p.m. to midnight, they're offering oysters for 50 cents each. That's more like it!

We wrote about this place once before, lamenting that although we liked the decor and the food the prices were a bit steep to make it a regular grog-walk destination. But last night, when the later happy hour rolled around, we walked up the street to check it out.

Double jackpot. Although the place was almost empty, the host confided that they had under-ordered and only had two dozen oysters left.

"Fine," Michelle said, practically interrupting him. "We'll take 'em."

When we sat down we were informed further that about half our order wouldn't be the normal $2 happy-hour oysters, but the top-of-the-line such-and-such variety that usually go for $4 apiece. Sweet! I can never remember the names of the various varieties, but the Puget Sound is known for producing excellent oysters and these were all local and all very good.

In addition to the fine food, we had a nice quiet conversation -- away from the computers, the TV, the kids and the poker table -- about the emotional swings that come with the cancer (it turns out there are some).

I'm not a big believer in psychotherapy, or at least I've never had much interest in trying it, but Michelle's a terrific listener and thinker, and at happy-hour prices our session was quite a bargain: $21, and that included a great late-night dinner of two dozen oysters, a side order of bread and a couple of good beers.

It could turn into a regular appointment. Now if I can get insurance to cover it ...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The TripMobile

Sorry I have posted almost nothing in forever. I have been busy the past two weekends building this sleeping platform into the back of the mighty Element, now christened The TripMobile:



I just finished building the platform today. We hauled the futon I got free off Craiglist in there and tested it out. Works awesome. I tested out my ice chest. Fits like a dream.

I've been too busy sawing and sanding and drilling and such, so haven't taken any pictures yet. The platform above is the one that inspired the TripMobile's mod. You can see the rest of the pictures here.

I'm such a slug

With Franny over at Lacaia's last night for a birthday party and sleepover, Gina, Michelle and I went out to watch "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," one of the big critically acclaimed movies from late last year that we didn't get a chance to see before the Oscars. Man, what an incredible film of determination, art and identity. We all three loved it, and we weren't back in the car yet before Gina declared she wanted to see it again. (And I don't think she even knew Johnny Depp was originally set to play the lead before dropping out to shoot the latest "Pirates" flick.)

The movie tells the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the 43-year-old French editor of Elle magazine, who emerges from a stroke to learn he has a rare condition called "locked-in syndrome": He's almost completely paralyzed, although his sight, hearing, memory and thought process are all working normally; he's able to think but, unable to speak or move, is "locked in" his own body.

Almost completely paralyzed, but not completely. It turns out Bauby can blink his left eye. With that little crumb, along with the patience and love of his therapists and family and his own amazing will, Jean-Do, as his friends call him, learns to communicate.

The terrifically effective insight of the director Julian Schnabel was to open the film and to portray its first act from the point of view of Jean-Do, just coming out of it in the hospital. That is, the audience sees and hears only what Jean-Do does, complete with the frustration of hearing his own thoughts but realizing that no one else does. Eventually, he, and we, catch the first reflected glimpse of Jean-Do's paralyzed, disfigured self, and only after that does the film flash back on his handsome-playboy life and open up to imagine a new, unparalyzed life.

Meanwhile, he determines to shed his initial self-pity and expand his ability to communicate. He starts with a single blink for yes, two blinks for no, but he and his therapist soon improvise a new technique: She slowly recites the alphabet; when Jean-Do hears the letter he wants he blinks, and she writes down the letter and begins again. Amazingly, using that painstaking technique, Bauby recites his story, and an entire book, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," is published.

It makes you wonder. If a guy can write a book with his left eyelid, what's my excuse? In that sense the move is incredibly uplifting, despite its tough and essentially sad subject.

Around these parts "The Diving Bell" never made it to the multiplex. We finally saw it at the Varsity, an art house in the University District, and I think it's about to leave town. Watch for it on DVD, or if it shows up where you live, M&M (&G) recommend it highly. 4 gliomas.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hey Janice ...

How's the shoulder? Long time no update.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

MOMseattle -- SWEET

Dang, we pulled a two day turnaround on a new special section this week, with momseattle.com, which is launching tomorrow after a few more tweaks.

The Houston Chronicle gave us the template they designed, we copied a bunch of their ideas, hooked our forum system, photo upload system and everything else in and shabang! Instant Magazine.

It was a pretty cool project -- cool to see that you can move that fast.

We're announcing the launch tomorrow with this cute photo gallery of art done by the kids of P-I staffers.

Fun.

Here's one of the featured art works, done by the Dylan, my unofficial boyfriend, and the son of my boss David.



Just for kicks, here's a pix of Dylan and his sister. He's a cutie.

Nicolosi: One Writer's Journey

My friend Michelle Vranizen Rafter from way back in the Orange County Register days (1990-1999) asked me a couple of days ago if I'd answer some questions for her cool blog, Word Count.

I did, and she just posted it here.

I can't find the battery charger

... for my camera. That bums me out on several fronts:

-- I like having the little digital camera in my back pocket in case I see something I want to photograph for the blog. It's out of juice.

-- I get anxious when I can't find stuff. Probably a half-repressed childhood fear of getting in trouble for losing things.

-- Connectedly, since I usually know where everything is, if I can't find something that's a pretty good indication that this place is a mess. It means there's stuff to put away, things to clean.

And so, I guess I'll do whatever I do when there's housework to be done: go play cards.

I'll find the charger later.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Chapter One: No Luck


When we leave next month for our "Pie in the Sky II" road trip, part of the plan is to play poker across the country, hoping to qualify somehow for this summer's World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. If all goes well, we've thought, maybe we'll write a book about the experience.

On Sunday, in kind of a pre-trip prep run, we drove down to our favorite local cardroom, the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, to play in one of their monthly World Series "satellite" tournaments. You pay $170 to enter. If you're lucky or skillful enough to win, the prize is a seat in the $10,000 entry-fee World Series main event, the same tournament I played last July with help from Team Mark.

It's a long shot, but hey. Hitting the jackpot before we even hit the road would be a pretty good start.

On the 45-minute drive down to Auburn we talked tournament strategy and quizzed each other with problems from "Harrington on Hold 'Em, Vol. III." You know: You're dealt the ace and queen of clubs in late position and two players before you "limp in" to the pot (calling the blinds without raising); do you fold, call $60, raise to $240 or push all-in? Stuff like that. We had a similar conversation last summer, when Michelle gave me her pre-tourney pop quiz: If you're dealt pocket kings on the first hand and another player goes all-in do you call or fold? We disagreed about that one.

Ever the optimist, Michelle blurted out halfway to the Muck on Sunday: "OK baby, you know this is the first chapter of your book ..."

Well, I don't know about that, but I did see a pretty close approximation of Michelle's pocket-kings pop quiz. I wasn't involved in the hand, unfortunately or fortunately, but it was interesting to watch.

In the second hand of the tournament, a woman who I hadn't seen before and who didn't seem very experienced tossed a $100 chip in front of her before the flop, clearly intending to raise to $100. But the rules of tournament poker state that unless you explicitly announce the amount of your raise, any single chip bet will be assumed to be a call, not a raise. So the Seat 5 woman was forced to merely call the $50 big blind. The action folded around to Bonnie, a Muckleshoot regular and a good tournament player, who might have missed the other lady's bungled raise. Bonnie popped it to $500 and the other woman pushed all-in. Bonnie immediately called.

What disappointment and horror she must have felt when she proudly flipped over her pocket kings -- the second best hand possible before the flop -- only to find that Accidental Caller Lady had inadvertently "limped" with pocket aces. The rockets held up and Bonnie was out on the tourney's second hand.

Me, I didn't have any such close calls, or even difficult decisions. I folded hand after hand for two hours, seeing nothing even to get out of line with. I won one small pot with an offsuit 5-2 in the big blind, when no one raised and I flopped two pair. Eventually the rising blinds nicked away at my chip stack and, in the fourth round, I went out when my best starting hand of the day -- ace-king -- lost an all-in bet to a guy with pocket queens. Ah well.

Michelle, at an adjacent table, lasted about half an hour longer than I did. She said later she didn't get many good cards either. Sometimes it goes like that.

Further evidence of poker's whims: When I busted out I went to join my friend David in a live game. In the first three hands I was dealt I saw better cards than in my entire two hours of the tournament. I cashed out a $180 winner -- enough to cover my tourney entry and buy my standard Muck lunch, seafood fried rice.

Chapter One will have to wait for another day.

The Ricoh 500

Yesterday, while Mark played a little poker with my boss David, I dropped by the Goodwill down in Auburn, where I bought an awesome Ricoh 500 for the steep price of $1.99.

The Ricoh 500, complete with Triggermatic Action Lever, was on the market back in 1957 -- before it had fully been decided where all the functions of a camera should go, and how they should work. The Triggermatic Action Lever -- used to advance the film -- is on the bottom of the camera. (#4). Cool.



"The Triggermatic action lever is an outstanding feature of this miniature camera," the manual says. "The lever-pulling and shutter-releasing action is so rapid and smooth as to as to be a feature unequalled in other cameras."

So you can take bitchin' fast action shots like this:



"The camera is a precision-build instrument that requires the greatest care and attention," the manual warns. It requires all kinds of feeding and special care, including this special caution: "When putting the camera in the case, set the distance at infinity."

Happy Snapping!