Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Remember the good ol' days when there was only three channels on the television?

Yeah, I don't remember it either...

But we've all heard the stories from grandparents who lament the loss of The Shadow one moment, and then turn around and wonder why Jack Benny isn't on TV anymore.

We've lived in a utopia of televised entertainment. It is no long important to worry about when, where, or what you will watch, because you can catch it on another channel an hour later. And if you can't make it at all, then Tivo it and watch it whenever you want! Without commercials!

And yet amidst this wonderland of choices, there is arising a certain "same song, different verse." Even while there has never been so many television choices, a new technology is making itself at home: HDTV.

The HDTVs have been popular for a couple of years now; more people than ever have bought sets for their home use. Sports bars have been forced to buy multiple sets to ensure people come to watch their sporting events in crystal clear definition. Football has enjoyed a renaissance of popularity; not necessarily because of the sport, but because everyone is mezmorized by being able to see the individual beads of sweat on a player's face.

Yet aside from the sports channels, the majority of television programming is still in standard definition, which means that on a widescreen HD television, it looks crummy. This leaves you with two choices: watching your fancy expensive new HD DVD movies, or only watching the HD channels.

In this fancy hotel with its fancy HDTV, I have fallen prey to the desire to only watch HD programming. This does mean that I have spent hours watching television programming that I've never even heard of, let alone care about. Smallville, Enterprise, Arrested Development - the small offering of daytime programming offered in high definition.

It's like crouching in front of the Philco waiting for the Burma Shave hour to begin so you can enjoy the 30 minutes of George & Gracie all over again...


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What Your Rank Says About You...

(This is a joke. We need more like it.)

My observations thus far on what sort of personality you will develop in response to which enlisted rank you are wearing....

E -1 : You are terrified, petrified and mortified. But this is because you are in boot camp.

E-2 : You snicker and point at the E-1s behind their back, joking about the $52.37 a month more you're earning than those stupid E-1s. But you must do so quietly, because you too are still in boot camp.

E-3: You are cocky, stupid and enjoy finally being able out hang out with the real active duty folks, even though they will send you out in the rain for coffee for the entire unit.

E-4: You have given a couple of years to this whole "Air Force" thing by now. You desire to be challenged and seek promotion to a non-commissioned officer. You know your job well, and your only enjoyment comes from making senior ranking members feel stupid for not knowing how to fill out a requisition form. You, of course, fail to realize that you are still filling out requisition forms.

E-5: Finally, a break in the clouds. You have made your big step up into the realm of NCOs! You relax, and, for the first time in years, people enjoy your company. You begin to have a little faith that your years of devotion to the Armed Services has not been in vain. You can begin to see the long term: twenty years and then retirement! Or perhaps, you might become Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force! Why not?

E-6: With this promotion returns the black clouds. You are still doing the same job, and doing it well, but now you are expected to watch over all of the little retards the Air Force put under your watchful eye. That twenty-year mark has never seemed so far away. You begin a slow decline in your general optimism. Some might even consider your "cynical" or "jaded" by this point.

E-7: The happiest time one can expect in the enlisted ranks. You have made it through E-6, and now can be considered a senior non-commissioned officer. Now, no matter if you retire tomorrow, people will regard your career as a success. Something about this single inverted chevron on your sleeve puts you at ease and allows you to joke casually with both junior and senior ranking members around you. Your children like you and you probably go through your mid-life crisis and buy a cool sports car.

E-8: If you've made it this far, the only thing you can think about is finishing the race: an E-8's preoccupation is achieving E-9. E-8s are eager to please and will take on great amounts of household chores (normally doled out by the E-9s) to make them seem like the most qualified troop come stripe-pinning time. While the E-8 has every right and ability to delegate responsibilities to his junior members, most often you horde them, making yourself look terribly important, both to those under, and above you.

E-9: The queen bees of the hive, greeted with "Good day, Chief. How are you?" by all who pass them by, the E-9 has achieved the highest rank an enlisted person could aspire to. Having learned all necessary skills in order to run the Air Force, the Chief does the only think he/she can think of: give away the chores to the E-8s. So the E-9 gets to walk around like the beloved but feared grandparent that you have as sort of a paternal protection/chaperon hanging around. One day, the E-9 decides to retire, and all of the E-8s get together and bake a cake.

...and that's the way it is.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Home Improvement for the Simple-Minded

A step forward for domestic living! Homebodies rejoice!

No longer shall mattresses be hurled on the ground anywhere one feels like sleeping!
No longer shall one feel like falling asleep on the floor because that's where the mattress is!
No longer shall the couch hold as much validity as a sleeping surface as the bathtub!
No longer will I be able to get away without using bed sheets!
No longer will I be able to go three months without washing said bed sheets!
No longer will I be able to tolerate how much I drool in my sleep!

I have purchased a bed.
I do not have to sleep on the floor any more. Impressive, no?
Its sad that my 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe action figures had to come first on the list of priorities, but it's all in the past now...


...and After

See what a little bit of furniture can do to a room?

P.S. Kudos to Washington D.C. being named the second ugliest (people) city in the U.S.!
Single-handedly doing my part...already my impact can be felt.

BMT Chapter 3: Zero Week

Or: My own bald-headed camouflage colored hell.

The fluorescent lights that flickered on, accompanied by the screams of our flight leaders and the far more distant bugle sounding revelle were the most sickening sound I'd ever heard.

A mere 45 minutes ago my head was finally allowed to rest on the pillow. Now, I was being shouted out of bed, staggering to my locker and fumbling to put on my clothes, all of the while thinking that this was undoubtedly the most horrifyingly uncomfortable thing I'd ever done.

"What have we started here, T." The mind asks.

You don't want to know.

Overseeing the rousing of our flight is our T.I., Senior Airman Dumb Dumb (or DD, TI, SrA Idiot - all will be used interchangeably) whose main goal it was, it seemed, to threaten psychological harm to his flight leaders should the rest of us begin to move any slower than top gear.

Arriving three days late immediately had its disadvantages.

The all-important routines for the morning were beginning to congeal when I was thrown into the machine, one gaping wound of tender emotional flesh amongst fifty. The rest of the flight was already accustomed to the orders to "brush your teeth!" or "shave" or "make those beds!" and while I understood what they wanted me to do, I was never told how to do it. Therefore, I quickly developed a reputation as an idiot.

My wingman (of the day) was one of the element leaders. He was responsible for one of the four divisions of the flight who were, in turn, all supervised by the dorm chief.
My wingman was very excited to finally be beginning his military existence and seemed endlessly irritated that I hadn't spent the last couple of months learning how to make a hospital corner on a bed sheet.

(By the end of BMT, it should be pointed out, that this particular airman was regarded as slightly deranged, racist, angry and not very smart.)

If there is one thing worse than being drug to the edge of sanity, it is not knowing what to do once you get there.

I helplessly observed that first day, doing my darndest to look frantically busy, and yet having no idea how the beds were to be made, where the mattresses should be aligned, how the shirts should be hung, which buttons should be fastened, where the broom was located, where the broom was returned to... a seemingly endless list of rules that caused minutia to loom like the Himalayas.

Details and any supervisory positions had been handed out already. I therefore (as one of the older members of the flight) was fortunate to have been skipped over for consideration for dorm chief, element leader, day room chief, latrine queen, house mouse, hanger monitor, chow caller, guide-on bearer, entry control monitor, etc. I was defaulted to the ranks of worker bee. Hallelujiah.

I was assigned to be part of the latrine crew for work detail. This ended up suiting me fine. The bathroom had a door on it that separated you from the rest of the dormitory, allowing you at least a few moments to talk, cry or just quiver in the corner. Initially I would grab a handful of paper towels and re-clean areas someone else had done, but over the course of BMT I graduated to the floor, where I would walk on my haunches, lint roller in hand, trying to gather up any piece of dirt that I could find. Our latrine queen for the first couple of weeks had the intelligence of wet cardboard.

One thing I imagine everyone remembers during zero week is meal time. This is because we got to re-live this experience every time a new baby flight came in. Zero weekers wore their civilian clothes for the first four days or so, so when lined up for chow, they were immediately noticeable.
The theory during BMT is you strip absolutely everything away from your prospective airmen and see how they deal with it. Sleep, food, family, privacy, civility - every aspect of normal life is strategically peeled away leaving shivering nervous children whom they begin to baptize in the fire of BMT.

One of the biggest (most memorable) parts of this training was meal time. During zero week, you were given approximately 30 - 45 seconds (no exaggeration) to cram as much food as possible into your mouth before you were screamed out the door. Since dehydration was always a concern, you were required to drink three 8 oz glasses of liquid with each meal. Since this meant you would spend most of your meal time drinking, it was a good idea if you chose softer foods that could be gummed once or twice and swallowed, or would dissolve when it came in contact with water. Everyone's water glasses looked like a two year-old had been drinking out of them.

Most meals were served at a temperature that was ready for lightning consumption. Every once in a while something would come out too hot, and it was either left behind on the plate or you would take each bite with a gulp of water to help cool things off.

Such a dramatic change in the tempo of eating led to interesting gastrointestinal effects. As our flight became more comfortable around each other, we learned that it was a universal affliction: constipation. Personally, I held out for twelve days of basic training before anything felt a natural desire to remove itself. I expected it to look and feel like a Volkswagen.

These first few days were where they did their best to beat our heads full of all of the protocol, procedure and ritual which would enslave us for the next six weeks. One no longer just 'walked' somewhere. You marched. Your hands went somewhere. Your eyes went somewhere. You didn't turn around, you did a facing movement. We stopped living our lazy rounded-corner existence and learned to love a geometrically superior precision.

Among the chores completed during the first days were receiving an ID card, (I looked like a serial murderer. Should I ever go disappearing, that will be the picture that magically surfaces on the 6 o'clock news.) setting up direct deposit, completing emergency notifications, your first military haircut (bzzzzt!) and then finally we are marched to the clothing depot for initial clothing issue.

Two BDU tops (Summer weight)
Two BDU bottoms (Summer weight)
Two BDU tops (Winter weight)
Two BDU bottoms (Winter weight)
One blue web belt
One pair blousing straps
One BDU cap (Summer weight)
One BDU cap (Winter weight)
One field jacket
Four SI undershirt (brown)
Six pair black wool socks
Six pair black cotton socks
Six pair white cotton socks
Two pair combat boots
One pair PRT shoes
One SI duffel bag
Six pair white underwear
Two white PRT sweatshirts
Two white PRT sweatpants
Three PRT tshirt
Three PRT shorts

Having laden our new duffel bags to the brim with our treasures, we are marched off (now wearing a set of new BDUs,) our bald heads peaking out beneath our caps, sneakers instead of boots on our feet, lest we develop blisters.

Singing about "our glorious" Air Force on the march back to the dorms, over Hydration Bridge ("Everyone drink!!") I began to truly appreciate the time spent marching. If we were marching, it was one of the few times when someone wouldn't pop out of a hole and start yelling at you. We were typically up before the sun, and the early morning march to our first appointment was my favorite. The air was clean and brisk (being February, after all) and I decided that if it weren't for the whole "BMT" thing, this wouldn't be such a bad deal after all.

After all, they did give me army man clothes...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Incredible Adventures of the Short-Sleeved Tuxedo Avenger

(and his incredulous sidekick)

Last week I was called up on short-notice to play a gig at a mansion outside of DC. It turned out to be a private fund raiser for some political candidate, and the house was to be full of wealthy hand shakers. My duty was to play duets in the background, lending a certain aura of sophistication and elegance to the evening's affair. My partner in crime was a violinist that I had never worked with; we made plans to arrive at the house in plenty of time.

The drive through this wealthy neighborhood was gorgeous, the road slipping over the shoulders of wooded hills whose colors were just beginning to hit their peak. Nestled in between these trees were homes that warranted individual zip codes, since their surrounding property was roughly the size of Rhode Island.
I arrived at the house, an equally large (yet surprisingly new) manor which could only be reached by a slow winding driveway. Passing through their gate and finally parking my car next to the front entrance's fountain, I decided this could only be more grandiose if a trained elephant was working the valet.

Unloading his vehicle at the front door was a tuxedo-clad gentlemen. From the back seat came two full-size suitcases and finally, a violin case.
"Aha!" I thought, "I have my man."

We introduce ourselves (his name is Aaron) and park our cars around the back of the house. I then help Aaron with his luggage inside the house where we meet fourteen different people, each person deciding after a few moments of conversation to pass the Musicians off onto the next hapless victim who happened to be walking by.
Finally we are shown to the garage(?) which is where we are instructed to leave our cases and suitcases(??)

Next to the caterers' prepratory and storage space, we Musicians unpack our instruments and
Aaron begins to open up his suitcases. I watch with some interest.
The smaller suitcase turns out to contain (what had to be) Aaron's entire personal music library. Between tattered sheets of music theory homework Aaron began pulling out books of duet music. We could only have selected 15% of the contents of the suitcase. It made me wonder if Aaron always carried every piece of music with him where ever he went.
Aaron started to unzip the larger piece of luggage.

Out of the big suitcase he pulls a music stand. And then another. And another. And another. But not flimsy wire stands. These collapsable stands look like they are designed to be hurled at oncoming battle tanks when your ammunition runs out. These particular stands looked rather war weary. One of them even looked like the tank had won once or twice.

I asked Aaron why we (as two musicians) would possibly need four music stands. Aaron then proceeded to lay out his master plan: rather than dragging our instruments, music and music stand with us around the house when we moved from one room to the next, we could strategically place stands around the house where we wanted to play, and save ourselves the frustration of having to lug one of the poor battle weary stands with us.

Well gee, maybe Aaron is pretty smart about this whole -

My train of thought is derailed as I begin to notice Aaron's clothing. We're both wearing tuxedos, (more or less) but I begin to notice that Aaron's tuxedo is a bit more less than the average suit.
His jacket suits him fine in the shoulders, and the length of the coat is suitable, but I notice that the sleeves of his jacket only come down to about four inches below his elbows.
Perhaps in an effort to prevent further confusion, Aaron is wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt, so there are no white cuffs protruding from the end of his jacket sleeves.
The over-all effect of his clothing was of a 25 year-old crammed into the suit of a 12 year-old.

All musicians know to buy performance clothing that will permit the freedom of movement necessary during a concert. A jacket that is too tight in the shoulders or across the back will make playing uncomfortable. Sleeve length is usually exaggerated as well, since the sleeves normally get hiked up during the course of playing.
Aaron's tuxedo, already having such a dramatic advantage with hiked-up sleeves, went from being a three-quarter length to a genuine short-sleeve during the course of our performance.

For the next three hours we played dull-minded duets which all sounded remarkably similar, moving from one carefully selected corner of the room to the next, doing our best to drown out the conversations taking place near us. The clientle had the advantage of alcohol, steeling them in their efforts to immerge victorious, but we put up a valiant fight.
Every hour we took a short break and were allowed to drink and eat our fill of various hor'dourves.

Whenever our break time was drawing to a close, I would notify Aaron that we were about to begin playing again, and this was the time when he would set off in search of additional sustenance. So, at the appointed time, when we were supposed to begin playing, I had to wander through the house, viola in hand, looking for my counterpart. I would then find him, glass of juice in one hand, crackers in the other and a mouthful of cheese.

"Are you ready?" I ask. "It's time for us to play again."

He nodds and runs off to the garage to retrieve his violin. I set the music down on the stand and flip it open so that we don't have any time to begin a conversation about what to play.

"Do you want to play some Beatles' songs out of my fake book?" Aaron asks (his biceps peeking out from his coat.)


The fake book is a giant volume of every pop/rock song that was popular during the last thirty years. I can imagine countless bar hacks employ such a book when someone asks for "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and in order to not reveal their musical stupidity, flips open the fake book and is able to quickly read melody, words and chord progressions.

When Aaron asks if I want to play Beatles' tunes, it isn't from a organized four-part manuscript. Rather, we have a one-line melody with loosely translated rhythms with little letters symbolizing C, G, F or A minor chords, whichever one is to play along with the melody.
Aaron would dutifully blast through the melody, and I was stuck with improvising some accompaniment that stayed within the boundaries of the key signature.

Hence my reluctance to "play a Beatles' song."

Finally, however, I relinquish.

The fake book comes out and Aaron pulls out a handwritten list selecting his favorite Beatles tunes from the book.

"So which one do you want to do? Ina Goda Davida or Unchained Melody?"

Both of them, I reason, are equally great, well-known Beatles tunes.

We play, and we're horrendous.

Poor John.

I'm still waiting for the check to arrive.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Band(s) of the Day

M.I.A. - Kala
Sri Lankan-born MIA has made a name for her self in Britain's underground hip-hop scene, blending world rhythms and funky flair to create something brand new.
America took notice with MIA's last album (2005's Arular) and it's hit track Bucky Done Gun but MIA has hit a real chord with American audiences with this follow-up album and tracks like Boyz, Bird Flu, Jimmy and Come Around (featuring "it" producer Timbaland.)
With a sonic and visual style that is both loud and irritating, it ultimately becomes both endearing and infectious.

The Bumblebeez - The Printz
Australian Hip Hop Group compiles two Australian-only EPs into the Printz suitable for international release.

A menagerie of hip-hop punk emcees who collectively sound like they honed their musical styles using a Casio drum machine and a broken guitar amplifier come out of down under with tracks that can only be described as loud, obnoxious and poorly crafted.

Could it get any better?

The Detroit Cobras - Tied & True

The Cobras must almost join that tragic category of "best band you've never heard of."

They've been not-so-quietly turning out records for nearly ten years now, and yet really lack any recognition for their rag and bone efforts.
The fault is largely their own: the costume that the Cobras have chosen to wear as a cover band would ordinarily relegate even a great band to obscurity. Where this band really stands out, however, is their choice of material to make their own.
Pulling deep from within the recesses of rock n' roll's history, the Detroit Cobras find obscure and forgotten songs by bands of yesteryear and then re-craft them to suit their own devices (mostly noticeably: frontwoman Rachel Nagy's nicotine-stained vocal chords.)