Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I Like You Just the Way You Are

I just finished reading a fantastic book: I'm Proud of You: Life Lessons from My Friend Fred Rogers. Actually, I listened to the audiobook on my daily commute, and I loved it.

As long time readers of this sparse blog know, Fred Rogers has been my hero for a long time -- since 1982, in fact, when during my senior year of high school I hosted our class talent show as Mister Rogers. I prepared for weeks. I originally thought I'd be able to get huge laughs making fun of him, he was such an easy target. But after a month of writing my script, listening to records, and watching the program, I walked into the kitchen where Ma Wanders was frying ground beef. I said to her, "Mom, I don't think I can do this. I can't make fun of Mister Rogers. He's too nice. He's too good." My mom looked at me and said very simply, "Don't make fun of him, pay tribute to him." So that's what I tried to do. When I entered the back of the theatre singing the Neighbor Song the audience went crazy. After the song, I talked about what a neighbor is, and asked, "Will you sing the Neighbor Song with me now?" The cheer was deafening. They sang loud and joyously. Everyone knew Mister Rogers and everyone loved him. I think the fact that I tried my best to capture his intimacy and his LOVE made the show a hit... For three nights we packed the house, some people coming every night. It was amazing to see the football team singing along to Mister Rogers, but later I performed the same routine at a prison, and seeing the reaction there touched me even more profoundly.

The only reason it worked was because I was doing my best to honor a man who taught me to be better, and who was willing to affirm the value and worth of everyone he met, even those of us he never met. I've always treasured the memory of trying to walk a mile in his sneakers.

I'm excited that a documentary is being made to celebrate the life and teachings of Fred Rogers. Learn more at Fred Rogers and Me. Or watch the trailer below:

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Folk Singers Palooza

One of the great nights of my life:

I was living in Manhattan the summer of 1991. Through my brother, I’d met a family who lived near Lincoln Center. One of their grown daughters shared a common interest in singer/songwriter John Gorka with my brother and me, and I became pretty good friends with the family. I still sometimes run into the parents when I travel to New York on business, but I can’t remember the daughter’s name. Let’s just call her Whatsername.

One evening, I read in the Village Voice that John Gorka was performing at a club in Greenwich Village (and sadly, I can’t remember the name of the venue either – Let’s just call it Wazzit). I called Whatsername and asked if I could take her to see the show at Wazzit. She was totally up for it, and said she’d meet me there since I lived down on 15th Street and she lived a block from Lincoln Center. It wasn’t that far away from show time, so I walked down to the club and then hung out in front of Wazzit waiting for Whatsername.

As I waited for her to arrive, John Gorka came out and started hanging out on the corner with me... Well, he was about eight feet away from me and we didn’t talk. Which I regret to this day, that I couldn’t just strike up a conversation. But soon, another guy came up and you could tell he was friends with Gorka.

It was actually Cliff Eberhardt (whom I would be a fan of within a week). So, there we were, these two handsome, masculine Jersey/Italian looking folksingers, with lots of dark curly hair and friendship bracelets, and me, this skinny, dweebily-dressed balding guy. Hanging out. I’m sure they didn’t really notice me.

Then these Brooklyn-ish girls showed up and were really friendly with John and Cliff. They seemed like fans. Big fans. Then the girls went in. Then Cliff wished John good luck. And they went in. Then Whatsername arrived. She looked very pretty and seemed very happy to be there, and she was impressed when I told her I’d been hanging out with John Gorka.

We went in and got a table close to the stage on the far right of the room. Julie Gold opened for John. I immediately thought she was one of the coolest female performers I’d ever seen. Her voice? Not great, but gutsy, and her songs were wonderful. Almost exactly a year later, Taco Queen and I would be dancing at our wedding to Nanci Griffith singing Julie Gold’s song, “Heaven.” But I hadn’t met Taco Queen yet (I would in just a couple of weeks, and I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me), but I did like that song.

I can’t remember if it was during Julie Gold’s set or John Gorka’s set (but I think it was Julie Gold’s set), Christine Lavin came on stage to do back up vocals for a song. Now, as you must know, Christine Lavin is a goddess to all folk singers because she’s amazing, and she’s been a remarkable promoter of modern folk music. And she’s hilarious. So the place went pretty crazy (at least for a nerdy folk concert). And then Christine brought Cliff Eberhardt up for the song, and said that if we hadn’t heard Cliff’s debut album we needed to go out and buy it (which I did just a couple of days later, and it is still one of my favorite albums – in fact, this was 1991, and that CD was the first CD I ever bought).

After Julie Gold’s set, John Gorka came up and gave a fantastic performance. One of the things that made the night special was a new song called “Gravyland.” It was so new that he played it out of his spiral notebook. It’s a great song – a gratitude song. A song that simply says, I never thought things would turn out this well, and if it all ended tomorrow, I’d still have more than I ever asked for.

Whatsername and I left Wazzit and walked over to the subway station. I was going to accompany her home, but it was a warm night and neither of us wanted to wait down in the swampy station, so I said, “Let’s catch a cab.”

The cab ride was a treat for me, a poor graduate student. We completely enjoyed talking about the show scrunched down in the massive back seat of the Yellow Cab. There was something tremendously romantic about it all, even though Whatsername and I both knew without saying it that this was simply a platonic summer friendship. I walked her back to the lobby of her family’s apartment building and then headed home on the subway.

The next Saturday I saw that Cliff Eberhardt was performing at a folk festival on a South Street pier, so after helping a friend move into a new apartment, I headed down. I had wrenched my back during the move, and the concert was outdoors and seating was on the planks of the pier, so I found a barrier to lean against since my back was in a lot of pain.

I looked a few yards away, and there was Julie Gold, hanging out with several friends. They were having a wonderful time. I wanted so badly to tell her how much I enjoyed her performance the week before, but I couldn’t get up because of my back. So, another regret: that I didn’t introduce myself and hang with Julie Gold.

Cliff Eberhardt’s concert was fantastic as well.

So, I moved back to Ohio, met Taco Queen, and fell instantly in love. We went to a Nanci Griffith concert where she sang Julie Gold’s “Heaven.” We got married. Danced to “Heaven” at our wedding.

I guess there’s more to the story, since Taco Queen and I have seen several concerts over the years (Most recently, Cliff Eberhardt at a ridiculously little venue in Germantown, Maryland). But this entry has already gone on way too long. Suffice it to say, 1991 in New York City was a wonderful summer for me....

...But the best was yet to come.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

I Guess I Don't Hate Barry Bonds

I’ve lived in the Washington DC area for over seven years. For the first four of those years, there was no major league baseball team here. But in 2005, the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals and for the first time in over 30 years, our nation’s capital enjoyed our national pastime.

I grew up a SF Giants fan. The first Major League game I attended was in 1969, the Giants vs. the Dodgers (one of the great all-time rivalries) and featured Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and (I believe) Bobby Bonds. I’m grateful to Pa Wanders for taking me. I can even remember some of it.

Moving to Washington left me aching for Major League Baseball. I’d try to follow the Giants from the East Coast, especially when Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in a single season. I still wanted to call myself a Giants fan, but they were just too hard to stay up late for. And when they came to play in D.C. they just seemed so darn boring.

This weekend I went to two games at RFK to watch the Giants play the Nationals. The first night, I took the entire family and I wore my SF cap and rooted for the Giants. Barry didn’t play so I didn’t have to put up with all the jeering for Barry Bonds that follows him all over the country. Still, it just wasn’t fun. Even though SF won, it wasn’t fun to cheer for them. They're a pretty dour team these days.

So the second night, I came with Number Two as a Nationals fan. We had a blast. Not to mention it was Teddy Roosevelt Bobblehead day! The Nats have developed some great traditions in just three seasons, and the best is probably the Presidents Race during the fourth inning. All the Mt. Rushmore Presidents race across the field. The costumes are hilarious. And Teddy Roosevelt has never won. Many thought he might win last night judging by the number of “Let Teddy Win” signs I saw. Almost as many as “Barry cheated” signs.

I can’t boo Barry Bonds, though. I’ve liked him for too long. I’ve always felt that of all the players who were cheating and using steroids, he was the best. And if he didn’t use steroids, he’d be even better.

So for me, Barry Bonds has become a nearly irrelevant enigma. I let Barry be Barry. I cheer for him when he comes to bat, and I cheer even louder when he ends the game by flying out to left field and the fireworks go off at RFK stadium, and the kids wave their Teddy Roosevelt bobbleheads, and the Nationals break their seven-game losing streak to move half a game ahead of the last place Florida Marlins.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Speed Racer in the Movies

I know I just blogged about Speed Racer, but here's a fun piece on the movie that's being filmed in Germany. Do you see why I'm so excited? Of course you don't.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Here He Comes, Here Comes Speed Racer!

Last night, Number 2 and I snuck down to the basement to watch our new Speed Racer DVD. When I was Number 2’s age (10) it was my favorite cartoon, although I admit I couldn’t remember it very well so I ordered Speed Racer vol. 1 on DVD at Amazon.com and anxiously waited by the mailbox.

We planned to watch only one episode, but it ended with a cliff hanger, so we just had to watch the second part, despite Taco Queen hollering at us from upstairs that it was getting late.

I’m pleased to announce that I remember now why I loved Speed Racer as a kid. It totally rocked. The best cartoon ever made!

Here’s what I enjoyed the most:

  1. The English dubbing crammed into the mouths of cartoons animated for Japanese dialog. The writing isn’t tight, so the actors have to say their lines very quickly with no pauses between ideas. It’s hilarious and wonderful.
  2. The sinister villains with the bad James Cagney-esque accents: “If you want those plans, it’ll cost you 5,000 clams, see.”
  3. The racing animation, especially the signature crashes through the guardrails. Cars and motorcycles constantly break through guardrails, fly through the air for miles, and then explode in massive flames.

But of course, the greatest thing in the world of Speed Racer is his awesome car, the Mach 5. It’s a very fast car; I saw it take a corner at 300 miles per hour. It has a roomy trunk to hide Spritle and Chim-Chim who constantly stow away. It also features a set of buttons on the steering wheel that activate a lot of cool features like jacks that make the car jump, an air-tight cockpit so the car can drive underwater, and two awesome buzz saws.

I can’t wait to keep watching this wacky, violent, ridiculous cartoon. But, as loyal readers know, I’m even more excited to see the movie to be released May 9, 2008, and directed by the Wachowski brothers, creators of The Matrix. How cool is that?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hairspray/August Rush

Taco Queen and I went to see Hairspray for our 15th wedding anniversary. Granger at work had been telling me for at least a month that I would love the movie, but I didn't believe her. I finally took Taco Queen because it was the only thing that looked halfway interesting, and after The Invasion last week, we had to see something decent to get the taste out of our mouths. (Afterwards we went to the Melting Pot for dinner - thanks to a generous gift from Ma & Pa Wanders - lest you think a movie is insufficient for an anniversary date).

We really loved Hairspray. In fact, the entire movie, we kept saying, "We have to take Number One to see this." So I volunteered the next night to take Number One back to the theater, but when we got there, it had sold out! I was so upset. However, Number One took me to the mall and we had milkshakes and then she got to buy her dream coat at Hollister Co. (we went halvesies). Hollister deserves its own blog entry under my "Getting Older is Getting Funner" label.

But, truth be told, the main reason I was disappointed about missing the second night of Hairspray was because I wanted to see the preview for August Rush one more time. This one took me by complete surprise. I hadn't even heard of the movie yet, but after this preview, will I be there? Yes, on November 21, opening day. And not just because it stars former Mousketeer Keri Russell either (although that's reason enough).

So now, without further ado, the preview for August Rush:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mister Rogers Talks to the U.S. Senate

Wheelhead recently posted about visiting an amusement park in Pennsylvania that featured a Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. That got me thinking about Mr. Rogers. People who know me well, know how much I idolize Mr. Rogers. This clip from 1969 pretty much sums up why.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Do NOT Fall Asleep

Taco Queen and I went out to see The Invasion last night. Despite some remarkable editing, cool car crashes and decent acting, it was so fake! So fake! So, so, SO fake. I'm all for a good sci-fi flick, and I have a pretty decent imagination, but you know there's a problem with a movie when you keep checking your watch, which I did five or twelve times.

- - - Spoiler Alert (if you care (which you shouldn't)) - - -

The ending was outrageously pandering. I don't really recollect the other Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies that well (for some reason, though, I can remember the Donald Sutherland Mad Magazine version very clearly). As I recall, the endings were depressing - the hero can't do anything to stop the pod people. In this version, however, everything ends up just hunky-dory. Everyone (except those who were killed presumably) goes back to normal like nothing ever happened. Listen, if 700 degrees Fahrenheit can't kill the virus, then how did they create an anti-virus from a strain of acute Chicken Pox?

- - - End of Spoilers - - -

And it was ironic that Nicole Kidman's major dramatic question was, "Will she be able to stay awake?" That was pretty much my major dramatic question as well.

But WAIT! I should mention that I did dream about the movie all night. I dreamt that Taco Queen and I were trying to fool all the pod people so they wouldn't kill us. So we disguised ourselves as gorillas. The dream went on and on as we mingled with and fled from the pod people in our costumes. Although we weren't as sexy as Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig (at least not in our gorilla suits), it was a very clever dream and far funnier than any previous version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

One Hobbit out of five. So I've saved you $10. You can thank me later.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

R.I.P. Elvis

Thirty years ago today, Elvis Presley died at the age of 42. Taco Queen (my All-New Really Hilarious Nickname for my Wife) and I commemorated his passing by watching “Elvis Lives” on PBS, a rock concert performed in Memphis by Elvis’s old band mates. During the concert, they projected footage on the big screen of Elvis performing in Hawaii and Las Vegas. But they had taken out all the music and back up vocals in the film so that all that was left were Elvis’s vocals. Then his former band members and back up singers accompanied the film live. It sounds kind of cheesy, but it was a really cool gimmick and it would have been amazing to have been there.

Hundreds of people began to gather in Memphis yesterday, where it was 105 degrees, to mourn Elvis Presley with a candlelight vigil last night. One person died in their trailer because of the heat. One guy who recently lost a lung showed up with his oxygen tank. I can only admire this level of devotion. We went to Graceland last year at Taco Queen’s suggestion, and I was completely converted to the Church of Elvis, but more at the Buy-a-lot-of-Elvis-Hits Novice level, not the One-Lung Fanatic level. And Memphis in general was a great city to visit – very cool. Well, maybe not when it’s 105.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Harry Potter and the Suspension of Disbelief

Yes, I finally finished Harry Potter Installment the Seventh. I know, I’m the slowest reader in the world, but remember, I just got reading glasses, and that helped me speed things up.

I won’t give anything away; however, if you haven’t read it yet, you probably don’t care if I give anything away or not. You probably don’t really care to read my review of the book, either, so I’ll keep this brief. I like the Harry Potter books, but as I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m simply a muggle when it comes to getting into these things. Every time, I really have to force myself through the first half of the book, and then, every time, I’m simply gaga-pants over the ending. What I enjoy about the books are the puzzles that Harry and his friends have to solve, and I always like it if there’s a good violent climax at the end.

Harry Potter books, however, ask me to suspend too much disbelief. It all boils down to page 20 of Installment the First: “He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose.” Okay, I can understand the glasses before he finds out he’s a wizard, but he wears the dang things for thousands of pages! Dumbledore wears them too. They can restore the bones to Harry’s arm, but, what, they can’t make a simple adjustment to his eyes?

My wife says it’s no big deal, but it is. It’s symptomatic of the entire book. The author has created a world that just has so many inconsistencies that it takes me half the book, always, before I can start to buy into it.

But once I do buy into it? Oh, what a return on investment. Thank you J.K. Rowling for showing me Hogwarts, regardless of how long it took me to open my eyes to see it. Maybe I just didn’t have the right pair of glasses.

Now about that cheesy epilogue…

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

No Real Than You Are

A giant Lego man washed ashore in the Netherlands yesterday. This picture ran in today’s New York Times with a short Reuter’s article. Apparently, the Lego man is eight feet tall and was coming from the direction of England.

But the article makes no mention of the mysterious message emblazoned across the Lego man’s chest: “No Real Than You Are.” And yet, this is the most baffling part of the story. What does it mean? He doesn’t sound English to me.

Is the Lego man an emissary from some distant dimension bringing us a message of peace, or is he merely some intergalactic traveler warning us of imminent destruction?

Regardless, be sure to order your own “No Real Than You Are” T-shirt today! (I receive no income from T-Shirt sales. This is simply a public service.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Like Sands Through an Hour Glass…

Am I too old to be bloggin’? Yesterday I was prescribed my first pair of reading glasses. I’ve always prided myself on keen vision, but I have to admit that when I put them on, I was stunned at the difference they made. So, I’m grateful for the improvement, but still embarrassed to be seen wearing them. Especially at work.

Why at work? Because I work with children. I already blogged about Television Shooter being surprised that I knew an Augustana song. But I didn’t tell you about our new receptionist. She’s been with us a couple of months now (and she’s outstanding – let’s call her Granger). But her first week here, we were celebrating someone’s birthday, and Granger started going on about how her mother had just turned 50. Then she turns to me while I sat there just quietly minding my own business, and says in all sincerity, as if it were some sort of complement, “You’re not 50 yet, right?” As if she intended to add, “Because you look younger than 50. I never would have guessed you were 50.”

The entire department erupted in laughter. I’m only 86 percent of the way to 50. Well, actually a little over 87 percent to be honest. My wife told me I shouldn’t worry what 25-year-old receptionists think. And, yesterday, when I told my wife that I was getting reading glasses, she said, “Don’t worry. I won’t think you’re old.” I can tell sarcasm when I hear it.