2011, All Mapped Out and Organized . . .

Map of the inside of JES's brain. This way madness lies.

I happily spent this morning in my office getting my thoughts organized and recorded (on my office whiteboard) for a major work project, on tap for when I return from vacation. It feels good to start 2011 with a plan, even if it’s incomprehensible to anyone except me. This whiteboard hangs directly across my office from my desk, so I look at it all day long. I wipe it clean maybe six times a year, then put a plan up for the next phase of work, and then erase things until I feel that the project has worked its way to completion. It feels good to erase stuff, though my staff gets nervous when they come in and see a blank whiteboard. That means I’m plotting something, and it’s probably nefarious. So here’s wishing you and yours all best in 2011, and here’s hoping that you, too, have a plan for the year. If you don’t have a plan, then may I recommend an approach that served me well through the first decade of my professional life, summarized most eloquently and elegantly as follows:

Complicate.
Obfuscate.
Deny Involvement.
Blame Doug.

Either way, tomorrow comes, things get done, and hopefully people have fun and learn something while they’re doing it. Happy New Year!

Vincent

Vincent lived up the hill beyond our street,
back in the woods in a broken down shed.
He scared us, though we didn’t quite know why.
(Was it something that our parents had said?)

When the leaves fell we could just see his shed,
as we rode by, scared, in mom’s back seat.
We’d see him puttering around his porch,
throwing awful stuff for his hound dogs to eat.

We knew his name but called him “The Old Man.”
He kept an gray donkey with his bunch of hounds.
At night, in our beds, we’d hear barks and brays,
and cover our ears to block out their sounds.

Sometimes we’d hear something scarier still:
the clip-clopping sound of his donkey’s feet.
The Old Man would go out rambling at night,
pulling his donkey behind, down the street.

Where was he going? And what would he do?
Not knowing the answers was the scariest thing.
We’d lie awake after the sounds had stopped,
terrified of what that silence might bring.

The leaves fell and grew back a couple times,
and then we realized the dog sounds were gone.
No more clip-clopping waking us late at night,
no more laying there scared, waiting for dawn.

We never actually asked the grownups about it,
but one day someone’s mom said Vincent had died.
It didn’t occur to them that we’d be interested,
but when we heard that news, most of us cried.

Transcript of the Third Stanley Summit, 1994

The Norris Party: We pledge to always check our opponents into the boards. We will not remove our gloves before we fight. We will refuse to enter the penalty box. We will never play for the tie.

The Smyth Party: We will be the party of fancy stick work and the Lady Byng trophy. We will pull our goalie regularly to set up zippy man-advantage attacks. We will lead the world in assists and fewest penalty minutes.

The Norris Party: We will crush you, Smyth Party, and all of your European-born, tea-sipping, Nancy-boy forwards. We will have no teeth. We will wear black and red.

The Patrick Party: Quit your mewling, Norris and Smyth parties. We will smash you all down with an onslaught of match penalties and slew foots. We will teach you all about goon hockey. We will make you our bitches.

The Norris Party: We will import Red Army Dynamo goons to crush your effete French Canadian croissant eating defensemen. We will not wear helmets. We will slash and stick check at will.

The Patrick Party: We will focus on smashing teeth, hyper-extending knees, and spearing opponents who try to dance around with their effete figure skater moves. Go back to the typing pool, girls. Let the real men play hockey.

The Norris Party: We will train all summer on frozen ponds in  the far north of Canada. We will eat walrus and seal. We will use sticks with illegal blades and tape. We will suit all goons, all the time. All of our victories will be shutouts.

The Smyth Party: Hey, where’s the Adams Party at?

The Adams Party (shouting from offstage): Over here! They said there wasn’t room for us at the podium. And they didn’t turn our microphone on!

The Patrick Party: That’s right, Adams. You have not earned the right to sit at this stage with warrior parties like us. Consider the numbers of Stanley Cup Champions by Division from 1974 to 1992, when our grand parties ruled the NHL: Patrick won seven Stanley Cups, Smyth won six Cups, Norris won five Cups, and you, Adams? You won zero! Oh, the shame! Oh, the emasculation!

The Adams Party (shouting from offstage): We are the lovable losers! The Washington Generals on Ice!

The Norris Party: We will all come from Saskatchewan. We will rule this continent the way we rule our livestock at home. We will get drunk and pee in the Stanley Cup, which we will then leave in the baggage claim area in the Calgary airport.

The Patrick Party: We will bring the foil and the pain and take the glory. We will not be opposed to limited unity with Norris with the purposeful intent of ridding the world of the imposter Smyth and Adams Parties, but after that goal is reached, it will be “sudden death” for Norris.

The Norris Party: Go to hell, Patrick! You are secretly allied with the effete Adams Party. Don’t try to get friendly with us!

The Patrick Party: We are not interested in any friendships, just strategic allegiances. We would have joined up with you to crush Smyth, but then would have crushed you immediately after, as the U.S. should have done to Russia after World War II. But no matter, now we will just plan to crush both of you at the same time. Adams does not matter.

The Norris Party: We will ally ourselves with the NFC Central Party of the NFL and sweep out of the Great Lakes to rid the world of the tea-drinking quiche eaters in their heated sky boxes who have wreaked havoc on our once great game.

The Patrick Party: We make and need no alliances to rid the pond of tea-drinking quiche eaters.

The Adams Party (shouting from offstage): Hey, we like tea! And quiche!

The Patrick Party: Adams, you sicken us.

The Norris Party: At last we agree, Patrick Party. But we will still destroy you like a box of Democratic Presidential ballots in Cleveland. You are soft, and your Stanley Cup numbers are padded. I mean, look at who won four of your Stanley Cups: the girlie Islanders with their teal and orange jerseys, looking like a bunch of Miami Dolphins on Ice! That’s nothing to be proud of!

The Patrick Party: Just as we figured, Norris exposes the source of their hostility: Jealousy! The Islanders of ’78 to ’85 were and remain the greatest team in hockey. They didn’t need tough colors on their jerseys, they showed their strength by kicking ass, scoring goals, and making and breaking every playoff record there was. We laugh at your sad envy. Ha ha ha!

The Norris Party: Feh! Trottier, Gillies, Goring, Bossy and pals were the beneficiaries of a watered down NHL, soft after expansion. What have the Isles done since then? And what the hell kind of a hockey team has a goalie named “Chico”?

The Patrick Party: Soft after expansion? Well maybe you’re on to something there, though we did still beat up a bunch of your teams then. Talk about soft. And you really have to cut our party a break, since we do have to deal with the Rangers, for Christ’s sake.

The Norris Party: The Rangers and the Penguins. Had the Mighty Ducks been around back then, they’d have put them in the Patrick Party for sure. Losers.

The Patrick Party: True. True. Thank God they abolished us real divisions before they committed that crime against our sport. Oh, for our glory days! Oh, for hockey as it is meant to be!

The Norris Party: [Body checks The Patrick Party into the boards and breaks for the blue line]. Huttah!

Top Eleven Random Things of 2010

So, here we are, in the slow week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when everybody and their brother and their sister and their mailman comes out with their Best [Something] of 2010 List. I already did my annual music list, because I’m an eager beaver that way, but here are eleven other things that rocked my world in 2010.

1. Best Dinner of the Year (Out of Town Division): Cafe Marquesa, Key West, Florida. Marcia, Katelin and I all agree this was probably one of, if not the, best meals we’ve ever eaten in a restaurant, food-wise, ambiance-wise, experience-wise. Everything was simply perfect, with flavors unlike any we’ve experienced before, and elegant surroundings, courteous fellow customers and exceptional service capping one of those evenings out when everything just clicks. Truly magnificent, truly memorable, highly recommended if you find yourself down that way in 2011.

2. Best Dinners of the Year (Local Division): A tie between the venerable River Street Cafe in Troy (which has been the scene of so many wonderful meals over the years for our family) and the new Epicurean Bistro and Wine Bar, located in the former Vin Santo’s location at Latham Farms. Marcia and I ate at both places multiple times this year, and appreciate their menus enough to recognize that, while both locations can struggle sometimes in terms of crowd management, room volume, and service time, it’s almost always worth the effort and the risk to hit them if you’re looking for a well-prepared, well-presented meal. At River Street, when they have cod on the menu, and I can get it with Chef George Schroter’s signature sesame scallion brown butter sauce, then (in the immortal words of Metallica) nothing else matters. At Epicurean, the creamed vegetable soups are to die for (except when the vegetables being creamed are cauliflower or broccoli), and their mushroom linguine or cheese-stuffed sachets or steak with creamed pepper latte are all exceptional. Good wine lists at both locations seal the deal.

3. Song of the Year (Released in 2010 Division):Swim Until You Can’t See Land” by Frightened Rabbit. I love the melody, the arrangement, the lyrics, the video, everything. Everything about this song is magnificent. This song improves your quality of life anytime you listen to it. And it will for many years to come.

4. Song of the Year (Rediscovered Division):I Chase the Devil” by Max Romeo. I loved this song three decades ago, and recently grabbed it to share with my nephew, and was reminded about how incredibly awesome reggae could actually be, when it wasn’t be promoted or promulgated by annoying, patchouli-scented young white men with bad dreadlocks. This is some seriously spiritual music, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it.

5. Movie of the Year: Black Swan. Darren Aronofsky has directed five feature films, and I would easily include four of them among my Top 25 films ever. His latest work is stunning, and I’m rooting for Natalie Portman to win a Best Actress Oscar for her jaw-dropping performance in this flick, which finds her on camera for about 98% of its running time. I think 2010 was a truly God-awful year for new major American movies (the affected and episodic The Social Network being touted as historically memorable fare? Uhhhhh . . . ), but I think this film is one for the ages.

6. Best New Blog of the Year: Duh. Indie Albany, right? I keep pinching myself at how quickly and solidly this beast has grown. It’s a true web contender at this point, and I’m glad that my hunch regarding non-commercial blogging hereabouts has proven true. We have an audience, and it’s a sizable one. Our writers are happily producing major volumes of epic writing, just because they want to write. We’re not worrying about producing enough product to keep our profile pictures on the front page, nor about cultivating communities in the comments section, nor about what companies’ products are being presented alongside our words. It’s pure creativity, commercial free. So thank you to everyone writing, reading and morally supporting us here. It’s been good. And it will be even better in 2011.

7. Best New Blog (Not Involving Me) of the Year (Lifestyle Division): Me 2.0 by Mikalee Byerman (Note: Language NSFW). I am totally happily married, and have been for a long, long time, so a blog about a truly catastrophic divorce and its aftermath should have no appeal for me, except for the fact that this one is brilliantly written, by a fellow tall humanoid, and is hilarious to boot. So I’m hooked. Guilty of trainwreck watching as charged.

8. Best New Blog (Not Involving Me) of the Year (Geek Division): The Road to Endeavour by, uh, Stu . . . or, um, Phoenixpics . . . I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I don’t know the author’s full, real name. But he’s doing incredible work processing photographic imagery as the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity wears out its warranty while driving to the large and exciting Endeavour crater, which is way, way, way farther than this little electro-mechanical monster was ever intended to travel. I check this site daily, and am riveted by what I see. But, then, I am a geek.

9. Best Breakfast of the Year (Healthy Division): I was diagnosed with a fairly gnarly peptic ulcer earlier this year (what I learned: when you are doubled over in pain after a workout, your body is trying to tell you something), and as part of the physical work-up done afterward, the doctors noted that my bad cholesterol was a little bit elevated, though my overall blood levels were good. This offended my sensibilities, because I’m actually in very good physical shape, and my blood should obey my wishes at all times, and not go off making bad cholesterol unless I tell it to, dammit. So to curb my precious bodily fluids’ proclivity toward manufacturing unauthorized, vein-clogging goop, I sought out a high fiber, low fat, lower calorie breakfast alternative to my long-time classic of grilled cheese on rye and sausage. Believe it or not, the healthiest, most satisfying option I’ve found is to get two whole wheat pancakes (no butter!) and a cup of coffee at Denny’s on Wolf Road in Colonie. Total price (including tip and a Troy Record to read while I eat): $6.75 per day. It features about 350 calories, with nearly half of a day’s recommended cholesterol-eating fiber content. Take that, bad blood!

10. Best Breakfast of the Year (Cholesterol Nightmare and Closed for Renovation Divisions): Sometimes in 2010, though, I still wanted that grilled cheese on rye and sausage for breakfast, bad cholesterol be damned. And when I did, nobody did it better than the Metro 20 Diner, on the outskirts of the odious Crossgates Mall. But, alas and alack, Metro 20 was recently shuttered for renovation, under new management, so I don’t know if they’re going to continue delivering the goods in 2011 or not. Which makes them worth a mention today, if for no other reason than to preserve their greasy goodness for posterity’s sake.

11. Best Way to Deal With a 2010 Snowpocalypse: Sit in a hot tub. Drink wine. Don’t let winter get you down.

Gun

The only thing he wanted was a gun.
He had other more pressing needs, of course,
but still, in his heart, he just wanted one.

Not for home defense or for show of force,
but just so that he didn’t feel unmanned.
Men owned guns, virility thus endorsed.

He was slow, that was true, but understand
that he was smart enough to feel the sting
when his desires were dismissed, out of hand.

So he wanted a gun, since that would bring
some sense of worth, when he felt sad or mean.
He wasn’t going to hurt anything.

(With a smile on his face, he sits and cleans
that rifle you gave him, until it gleams).

This is a terza rima sonnet that I wrote in 2004. It’s also based on a true story about my uncle, Daniel, who is, shall we say, cognitively disabled. Many years ago, my father bought Daniel a hunting rifle, so he could participate in turkey shoots, even though most folks would think that a gun was the last thing that a man of Daniel’s capabilities could and should have. But dignity comes in odd packages sometimes, and I’ve always admired my Dad for recognizing the symbolic importance of that gun, and giving a gift that meant so much to the recipient, other people’s opinions be damned. Daniel recently began dialysis for chronic kidney failure, so he’s having a tough spell this Christmas season. Here’s wishing him comfort and joy today and in the weeks to come. Likewise to you and yours. Merry Christmas!

Reefer Madness: Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” vs. Prog Superheroes

Scene: Lord MacCormack’s posh, secret, wood-panelled reading room, where Lord MacCormack and his friends — Viscount Mond, Edward Sir Ellington O’Brien, and Stoney Osgood — smoke pipes while reading their newspapers.

Lord MacCormack: Listen to this rot from the health section, gentlemen:

LONDON (Associated Press,Wed May 4, 2005) – Youngsters who use marijuana are more likely to develop serious mental health problems, the government said Tuesday. Past medical studies have linked marijuana with a greater incidence of mental disorders such as depression or schizophrenia. But questions remain about whether people who smoke marijuana at a young age are already predisposed to mental disorders, or whether the drug caused those disorders. Government officials say recent research makes a stronger case that smoking marijuana is itself a causal agent in psychiatric symptoms, particularly schizophrenia.

 

It looks like “Reefer Madness” is back, sirs! Oh, sure, you can wash the Vicodin down with vodka, youngsters, but don’t smoke weed, because that stuff will drive you insane? What kind of position is that for a respectable scientist to take? Poppycock! Gah!

(Lord MacCormack flings his newspaper across the room; his manservant, Roger, arrives soon thereafter with a cart of hemp-fortified snacks for the gentlemen).

Viscount Mond: I hate to say it, MacCormack, but I think I agree with the Government officials on this one conceptually. Weed does make one hinky, there’s no denying that. The problem is, though, that Parliament is never able to offer up an appealing alternative enhancing agent to marijuana, especially when it comes time to watch Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” or listen to a Pink Floyd record. I mean, look at these tasty and stimulating hemp brownies Roger has brought us. Would they appeal as much if they were fortified with crushed up Xanax or topped with crystal meth sprinkles? I think not. So I’ll take the risk of schizophrenia so long as I can get such dank goodness on my snack cart.

Lord MacCormack: Well, personally, I think that people prone to schizophrenia are likely to smoke more marijuana, rather than a case where more marijuana makes you schizophrenic. But I suppose that I may be biased or even addled in my judgment on such matters, having watched so very many enhanced episodes of Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” since the age of twelve.

Edward Sir Ellington O’Brien: Interesting. I never found that Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” needed any hallucinogenic augmentation. Could just be a natural disposition I have. Or maybe just that watching Jim being eaten by a sloth bear was narcotic bliss enough for me!

Viscount Mond: Well, true, I do think schizophrenia is probably a stretch, really. But depression, anxiety, and weird obsessive behavior, not to mention stunted emotional growth, are definitely on the menu for a lot of people if they take up a serious dope habit. Roll that cart on over here, Roger, once Stoney finishes snuffling at it.

Stoney Osgood: Whoh, Roger, dude! That is a serious hemp mega-cookie on your cart! Edible incredible! Nom nom nom! Bring it on, Ed Meese! Show me what you got! Heh! Heh heh! Heh!

Lord MacCormack: I’m all for decriminalization of marijuana, and then regulation of it by the Government. There are few things more asinine than putting the harmless neighborhood dope-head in prison with a bunch of violent offenders. I draw the line at narcotics, though. Those need to remain illegal. As should be concealed weapons, assault rifles, and ponytails on balding, middle-aged men who spend too much time talking to college girls. And also Co-op grocery stores. Sirs, those places get my dander up!

Stoney Osgood: Dudes, you can totally get all that depression, anxiety and OCD stuff legally with alcohol. And you can get lung cancer legally with tobacco, too! Ain’t no need to break the law to make yourself sick! And ain’t no need to blame hemp for all those problems! But I gotta say, I’m totally with Lord MacCormack on those Co-op grocery stores. You like, totally, get man boobs if you shop there from all the soy in the air. Heh! Heh heh! Heh!

(Roger rolls out the cart, and the gentlemen settle into contented soporific hazes, until a klaxon sounds and red lights flash from the eye sockets of the Amur Tiger head mounted above the fireplace).

Commissioner Gordon Haskell (via the Emergency Prog Alert System): Attention Prog Superheroes! Please report immediately to the Topographic Ocean, close to the edge, but not down by the river. I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon! Try to keep the snot from running down your noses, please! That’s just disgusting!

Viscount Mond: Fire up the Tarkus!

Lord MacCormack: I’ll make sure Supper’s Ready, so we don’t get Prog Anemia later!

Edward Sir Ellington O’Brien: I’ll fly over in the Saucerful of Secrets!

Viscount Mond: I’ll take The Relayer!

Lord MacCormack: I’ll bring the Mellotron!

(Exeunt MacCormack, O’Brien and Mond via the secret doorway behind the stuffed Dodo in the southwest corner of the reading room)

Stoney Osgood: You know, that old idea that we can just let the Government handle our weed for us is bullshit, dudes. Man, if that old hippie pipe dream ever materialized, the weak-ass weed the Department of Toke would be dishing out would most assuredly not be of the crushing hydroponic variety that blows around here like the wind. Yo, Roger, pass me another one of those cookies, yo. I haven’t been to the emergency room in a few days. Roger? Dudes? Dudes? Where’d you go? Whoa! I’m totally talking to myself here. Heh! Heh heh! Heh!

Smeagol Osgood: Ssssss! Not trues, precious! Smeagols Osgoods is here’s with yous!!! No need to fears the governments, ssss!! Tricksy governments allows all sorts of tobaccos to be solds today, and boozes of all proofs! Smeagols Osgoods says you surely be able to get a carton of Spliffer Light 100s, and then carton of Helter Skelter Thais, just as precious can do today with smokes. Ssssss! No needs to fear the governments! Governments is heres for to helps us, Precious! Nice governments! Good governments! Yesss, precious. Now gives us the remotes. Smeagols Osgoods wants the remotes, rights now. Needs to see Mutual of Omaha “Wild Kingdom” immediately. Ssssss!

(MacCormack, O’Brien and Mond return with a splash via the Tiffany Water Slide in the northeast corner of the reading room)

Viscount Mond: Avaunt! We’re back! I stopped by the Convenience Store of the Crimson King on the way to get us all a pack of Spliffer Light 100s to share. Spark me!

Lord MacCormack: Oh, Mond, please! Spliffer Light 100s are for girls. Prog Superheroes need to smoke Starless and Bible Browns. Without filters. And, damn, this Mellotron is heavy. Next time, I get dibs on the flute.

Edward Sir Ellington O’Brien: I actually always wished marijuana was legal just so I could buy the weakest strain out there. The stuff they have these days is just too strong for me!

Lord MacCormack: This is what moderation is for, O’Brien. You don’t have to do three power-hitters and six bong hits every time the bag comes out, sir!

Edward Sir Ellington O’Brien: Oh, it’s not about the over-indulgence, MacCormack. It’s just that I’ve always preferred the gentle oblivion of Benadryl and red wine.

Lord MacCormack: For God’s sake, O’Brien. Be a man. Don’t feminize yourself like that for no reason!

Edward Sir Ellington O’Brien: Oh, I meant to say Benadryl and Pabst. And by Benadryl, I meant dancing naked ladies.

Lord MacCormack: Much better.

Stoney Osgood: Uh, dudes? Am I the only one seeing a little skinny green version of me chewing my finger off to get at the remote?

Smeagol Osgood: Sssssssssss, Precious!!!! Let remotes go!!!! Smeagols Osgoods must haves Mutual of Omaha “Wild Kingdoms” rights now!!! Ssssssssssss!!!!! Gnaws!!!! Joneses!!!!!

Everybody: Heh! Heh Heh! Heh!

fowlermarlin

You want to lick this one first, Jim?