Spring Cleaning

It is time once again to take a break from my daily editorials and do a little revamping and finish a few neglected projects (my front lawn being one of them).

Wait . . . Dad? Will return on Monday, March 2nd, 2015.

Have a great week folks. :)

TBT: Say . . . You Wanna Revolution?

Today was the day Benedict Arnold was passed up for a promotion.

That went well.

Not too many years later, it's also the day that Aaron Burr was arrested for treason. Shoot Alexander Hamilton . . . fine, but try to lead an army of Mexicans and start your own country . . . well . . . we're gonna have to call your bluff.

How come history gets so much more awesome as you get older?

This is also the day that Copernicus was born. I know you know the name and you're probably remembering something about him and astronomy and you'd be totally right.

Here's how it all worked out:

65,000 years ago, we all just assumed that the earth was the center of the universe. Not a bad assumption considering there was no cable TV. But then after looking up at the sky for a while, some indigenous peoples noticed that there were a few stars up there that didn't behave like they were supposed to. They didn't make a neat pass around the sky like everyone else.

Then Ptolemy does a bit of math and decided that those rebellious little stars, which we now call planets, had their own little spinning system, like little children who know they should be brushing their teeth but are instead running up and down the hallway making cartoon noises.

We all found this to be a perfectly acceptable explanation for another thousand years.

Then Copernicus comes along, and thinks to himself, gee, Ptolemy was a smart dude, but his math was like totally wrong. In fact, none of this makes sense unless you consider a whole new galaxy model, with the sun as the center.

His math was published just before he died.

Procrastination isn't modern.

However, from him and his heliocentric concepts, the flood gates are now open and the world is just waiting for it to rain.

Galileo gets a hold of it, and with his handy-dandy telescope, fixes the math. (Apparently Copernicus was a huge fan of neat little circles, which don't work either, and someone should remind Megan Trainor that it's actually "All About That Ellipse")

So Galileo gives us the solar system, but that, like Benedict Arnold's failure to climb the corporate ladder, did not go so well either.

Eventually though, Isaac Newton comes along, and in the twilight after a full day of trying to turn his pee into gold, we get a gravitational influenced cosmology.

Newton was a life long Alchemist, which must have been very frustrating. So no transubstantiation, but . . . you know . . . calculus.

Also frustrating.

But for vastly different reasons.

Okay, so we've got two revolutionaries revolting after the Revolution and an Earth spinning around the sun . . . but wait . . . there's more!

Guess what Thomas Alva Edison patented on this day?


The Phonograph.

It . . . like Copernicus' neat little circles wasn't perfect. It was actually Alexander Graham Bell that cut the first record. (Alex was to Thomas what Japan is to Detroit).

But the record industry is born.

Which is kinda weird, cause we still call it the Record Industry, but it hasn't made records in a long time.

Yes, I know vinyl is like the coolest thing ever, but I'm actually waiting for the day when a blu-tooth cochlear implant can read the synaptic firings in my frontal lobe and decide which song will produce the most positive emotional effect.

Like . . . if I'm bored, I might get a podcast of This American Life, and if I'm sad, I might get Toni Basil singing "Mickey"

Or . . . you know . . . next year when I'm writing about revolutions I might get a little Dead or Alive . . .

"You spin me right round, baby right round . . . ."

How to Fat Tuesday

There aren't a lot of Tuesday Holidays.

Which is a shame.

Tuesday just doesn't have much celebratory fare. It's kinda of the forgotten middle child of the seven day week. Monday has got it's own comic strip (Garfield), Wednesday is Hump Day (whatever that means) Thursday is named after Thor (and of course Thanksgiving), the rest of the week are essential party days, but Tuesday just isn't all that interesting.

It's a day to vote every few years, and of course, Mardi Gras.

So there's a Super Tuesday and a Fat Tuesday. Starbucks is currently lobbying for a Vente Tuesday.

Mardi Gras, or Carnevale, is a Saturnalian adopted party to usher in the first day of Lent.

Let's go crazy before we have to give something up for forty days.

One last gasp of debauchery before the bishop christens our foreheads with ash.

I won't be partaking in the revelry, sorta, since I'll be performing, but there will be beer and music and happiness. All good things.

But before the five o-clock bell rings, I thought it might be nice to consider the whole "Giving Up" of something before the easter break.

Now . . . I didn't grow up with any formal religious education, so I didn't really learn about Lent until I became almost but not quite Italian. The idea is one of personal sacrifice to honor the gods (plural), or part of the trinity (singular) : )

Originally you were supposed to give up meat (except fish and sometimes poultry) for the entire time. But that makes goat farmers a bit nervous, so it was scaled down until you weren't supposed to eat meat (except fish and sometimes poultry) on Fridays.

That's not much of a sacrifice so a personal twist was added. Now, you should consider something in your life that you may be, ahem, addicted to, that you can drop for just shy of three fortnights.

Taking stock of my own life (not that I am in any conceivable way moral or healthy) I couldn't find anything of visceral value that I am either able or willing to give up.

I mean, I could give up alcohol. Which would be a fantastic thing, but there's an Oscar party on Sunday night that I am not going to miss, nor do I plan to turn down an offer of a glass of wine, so I'd fail miserably after, what . . . like four days.

I could give up mindlessly checking my email. That'd be good. Remove it from all of my mobil devises and stick with checking it once . . . or twice . . . maybe another during lunch . . . and you can see that I've already failed that test.

I could give up flossing.

No, that's a terrible idea.

I could kill my television. But with the season finales of both Justified and The Walking Dead on the near horizon, I feel like I wouldn't be honoring my wife which would be almost but not quite like breaking one of the ten commandments.

The problem here is is that we're supposed to take a long look at our lives and our habits and decide for ourselves what kinds of sacrifices we could make.

Making sacrifices is a good healthy thing, so I'm not gonna knock it.

But what if we flipped the notion?

What if instead of making offerings of sacrifice, what if we made and offering of productivity?

I could spend all day listing the things I need to start doing as opposed to the things I need to stop doing.

What if we spun it so that Fat Tuesday is a celebration more like New Years Eve where we just come to some resolution?

I prefer that idea.

It's more democratic.

But this isn't about Lent . . . its about Fat Tuesday.

So assuming you take my advice and decide to give-up/start-up, here's what you do in the mean time:

First, pick something. Doesn't matter.

Second, tell someone. A priest, your wife, all six of your Twitter followers. Telling someone makes it real, and makes it harder to cheat.

Third, post your progress. Somewhere, anywhere. Go ahead and Facebook it if you need to. I like to keep a running tab on my refrigerator.

Fourth, notice things. Anytime you put a change into your routine, something different is bound to happen. Could be good (loose weight, climb a flight of stairs) Could be bad (cranky, achy, sore). But notice those things. I can't prove that there will be any metaphysical epiphanies, but when you notice things, you start to live 'in the moment' (so to speak) and it's a nice change of pace.

Fifth, cheat. Don't give up . . . just cheat a little. Road bumps are the key dissonance to a positive resolve. Those who cheat, just a little, are actually statistically more likely to continue rocking.

Finally, if you're going to cook pot-roast on a Friday, don't tell your mother-in-law. It's not that she's crazy, it's just that she worries.

Nobody wants to end up in heaven alone.

Freeing Radical

Have you ever had a pet peeve?

That little thing that just nags you when it crosses your path or is whispered on the wind.

Kind of a silly question though . . . isn't it? Of course you have one or two of those. Probably several. Probably many hundreds of those nagging little things, and different ones in different situations.

We can all agree that people who don't use their blinkers while trying to change lanes, or people who write checks at the grocery store are fundamentally hated, so that can't be considered a "Pet" peeve as much as it is a universal hatred for our fellow man.

Nope . . . a pet peeve has to be something almost uniquely personal. It might even be the kind of thing that you keep to yourself in mixed company, heck, it might even be the kind of thing you never express outloud so as to not commit yourself to a fight with the person you're sleeping with.


I've had this one festering for a couple of years now.

It's the term "Radical Islam"

Not the Thing (that's for better writers to tackle) I mean the Term.

Now I write the words "Radical Islam" and immediately what comes to your mind are images of ragged men in deep black beards, women covered from head to toe, AK47's , sand, and a language which is beautiful when spoken poetically, but terrifying when shouted at the stream of conscience.

. . .  and you'd be wrong.

You're actually thinking of the militant wing of Islamic Fundamentalism.

There's no such thing as Radical Islam and I'll tell you why:

Now by the time I was in high school, the word "Rad" was pretty much out of fashion. That didn't stop me from using it both ironically and unironically.

It, to this day, it is one of my favorite words. In fact, I made a bet with a co-worker that I could bring the word back into the common vernacular simply by replacing epic, awesome, cool, wow, and damn, every chance I could.

My dream hasn't come true, but I won't actually lose that bet until I'm dead AND forgotten.

Rad . . . or Radical . . . isn't a synonym for extreme (though you will find them together in any standard thesaurus), it's actually a term to describe a revolutionary shift away from the common understanding and to reimagine the universe with a new set of rules.

The Declaration of Independence was radical. The General Theory of Relativity was radical. A television network that played nothing but music videos was radical.

In terms of political spectrum, radical is the word used to describe the far, far, far left. It is literally the line between revolutionary and . . . well . . . crazy. As in, it is radical to consider animal rights legislation in the constitution, but crazy to suggest that my nephew's guinea pig be issued a social security card.

There is a reason why the word radical is almost always paired up with the word new. 

The reason why I love the word is because it is the exact opposite of strict interpretation.

I don't believe in the strict interpretation of anything. Not the laws of man, not the laws of god, not the laws of math or the laws of the universe.

(Actually . . . that's not entirely true. You should really read Ikea instructions thoroughly or you're gonna have a bad time.)

Fundamentalism is anything BUT radical. In fact, the word you're looking for here is "Reactionary." A term that is used to describe not a step forward, but several steps backward.

And please don't get me wrong here. Reactionary is also NOT crazy. Hippies wandering off into the woods to create a small socialist utopia is a reactionary return to a simpler form of existence. Following Jim Jones into South America is crazy.

A good example is this: The NRA that fights tooth and nail for the succinct rights spelled out in the second amendment is reactionary. The NRA that fights tooth and nail for gun safety is radical. Same organization with extreme views, not opposing views, and in a very real sense, complimentary.

You don't hear about the fight for gun safety, but I promise you, it's in their original charter, in fact it's the reason why the organization began in the first place, and you don't hear anything about all the safety programs/classes that they put in place for any would-be gun-slingers because it just isn't the sexier part of what they do. No sex . . . no headline.

Anyway . . .

Back to my pet peeve.

Somewhere, somehow, the word radical became the go-to word to describe the people whose fundamentalism has relocated them to Crazy Town.

And I can totally see the allure. Just about everything that we can think of that might be described as radical, was once seen as crazy. Only time . . . sometimes . . . can differentiate between crack-pots and genius. So I can see why the term "Radical Islam" can be uttered by the mouths of babes on Facebook, MSNBC, and the Huffington Post.

But I heard it used on NPR the other day, and the BBC right after that.

Now, I don't hold any news organizations to exacting standards, I've met too many people in this world to consider that. But NPR and the BBC are pretty excellent with their lexicography, which means that the word "Radical" is mutating to mean extreme, hard to port, stubborn and probably, most likely, nuts.

Thing is though . . . I want my word back.

I want radical to be adopted by the people who want to blow my mind and not the people who want to blow out my brains.

And I think we need to fight it. We need to rise up and take back, not just radical, but all kinds of words that have mutated from the positive to the negative. I want the word liberal to become generous again, and I want the word conservative to become responsible again. How great would the "Great Debate" be if only we could learn to use our words correctly?

And maybe, just maybe, we can conceive of a world that doesn't need to hurt people in order to make it's point.

Which . . . you know . . . would be totally rad.

How Cool Is That Five?

So I gave myself a heart attack last night.

Not like a real one, but you know the kind where you think a thought just before you go to bed and you wake up every 37 minutes with your heart beating, your feet sweating, and your wife totally oblivious and now you're seething with jealously because she's on a little island of happiness?

Don't panic everyone.

Everything's fine.

Everything's cool.

There is no news to report.

I just hadn't looked at my step-son's student loan information in a while and I did a quick compound interest math in my head and I went to bed thinking that I was going to be 107 years old before I see the last of Sallie Mae.

I don't know what happened, but I decided to calculate the interest monthly instead of yearly.

Don't ever do that. Cause it's wrong, slightly stupid, and will give you a financial figure that is so ungodly improbable you might never get to sleep again.

Anyway, after a really bad night, I went to my desk second thing (coffee being the first) and started making the calculations with the handy dandy compound interest calculator that Sallie Mae provides.

Whew . . . I was much relieved. Turns out his education will be the financial equivalent of a mid-sized luxury sedan and not the swiss bank account of a member of OPEC. Which, even then might seem like a lot, but we're talking four years at one of the highest rated universities in the country.

So that was pretty cool.

What started all this was, of course tax time, which I'd been kind of avoiding this year because our usual tax guy has resigned which means I have to do all the heavy lifting (mathematically) myself. Yet . . . it turns out, even with the music/writing business, it was pretty simple. I even got to add music royalties for the first time this year.

So that was pretty cool too.

And we're getting a refund.

Also, pretty cool.

In other news, the weather report for the next week is a straight 72 degrees, which from a climate change perspective is frightening, but from a personal perspective it means I don't have to wear pants this week.

Not wearing pants is pretty cool.

And finally for my How Cool Is That Five . . .

I got a note from one of my wife's cousins (who teaches english at a catering school in Italy) that she is using my new recipe blogs for part of her comprehension courses.

That makes me a Pop-Quiz on the other side of the planet.

That's not just pretty cool . . .

That's like totally cool.

TBT: Bev, Blume, and Braham

This morning's conversation went some thing like this.

"Hey Babe, whaddaya think . . . Lincoln's birthday or the birthday of Judy Blume for today's Throwback Thursday?

Well . . . Lincoln was president.

Totally . . . he's gonna get enough accolades today.

No . . . I kinda meant he was a bit more important.

But not nearly as funny."

Which is actually a bit wrong. Lincoln was much funnier than Judy Blume. And without Lincoln there would be an entire generation of children who didn't know that a 'Score' is twenty years. Without Blume, well, then we wouldn't know that teenage girls had questions.

So I go to Blume's wikipedia page and I found something interesting. Aside from the alliterative pun of "Lion Eyes", or the dramatic result of Yaweh's punishment to the female form in "Are You There God . . . " and of course the existential Nietzschean brilliance of "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing." I really didn't recognize most of Blume's oeuvre.

And then I realized I had been mistaking her for Beverly Clearly. An author who's books I was intimately more familiar with. And who . . . BTW . . . is still alive and kicking just outside of Portland Oregon.

So now I've got a problem. I wanted to do a whole thing about the birth of young adult fiction back during a time when it was Dick and Jane to Dickinson with very little in between. But that was clearly Cleary's story and not the story of today's birthday girl.

Blume did break the bodily function barrier, so hat's off there. And she did rattle a whole bunch of conservative librarians, a group I'm sure you agree, needs to be rattled at least three or four times per generation. There's far more debauchery in the Judeo-Christian Bible than anything Blume could conceive of. It even makes E.L. James look like a prude.

So I could do something on Mr. Lincoln, who, unlike most conservative librarians, was intimately familiar with the Bible and had memorized most of it as a young child.

He would have known that his first name, Abraham, was taken from one of the Genesis characters. You probably know the story about God making a bet with an angel that he could convince Abraham to kill his son Isaac but the angel chickened out at the last minute cause Abraham was just nuts enough to do it.

If you don't remember that story, well, then you probably know Isaac as the grandfather of Dinah in "The Red Tent."

Statutory rape, genital mutilation, and genocide. That's only the beginning of the fun.

Anyway, back to Lincoln . . . we're all pretty familiar with him. The man who freed the slaves and saved the union. The man who's mother died when he was young, who's children died when they were young, a man who's wife was a little crazy (not Abraham crazy, but you know, off). There's good stuff in there about honesty and rail splitting and stove pipe hats and if you want to read a really good book about him "Team of Rivals" is a must own.

But it always gets me when I read the work of people more familiar with him, that he was almost above all else, a master story teller. Not just tales from the bible, but of history and humor. He collected jokes by the thousands and always had something pithy and engaging for every social situation from entertaining dignitaries to entertaining the troops.

He was humble and self-effacing, he spoke with candor and was very very funny.

A shame that someone like that can't exist in the political arena as it stands today, with so much bread to butter and no time for the main course.

But if there is a theme for today (and it's certainly not politics) it's that story-tellers play a vastly more important role in the defining of humanity than they are normally given credit for. Yeah, maybe Blume wouldn't be the kind of person that pens the "Gettysburg Address" on a dinner napkin, but every girl born after 1970 knows who Margret is and has been grateful ever since for the introduction.

Stories move us, shape us, define us, bring us together and the only time they push us apart is when someone refuses to listen.

So it doesn't matter who's birthday you'd like to consider today, just as long as it isn't Beverly Clearly.

But that's only because today is not her day.

Cast Iron Lasagna

Told you I was gonna do it.

Cast Iron Lasagna

Can of Tomatoes (14oz)
1/2 Onion
Tomato Paste
1lb Ground Beef+
Lasagna Noodles
Parmesan Cheese
Mozzarella (shredded)

Let's start with the WHY?

Why use cast iron for this sorta thing when virtually any other pan all do? Well . . . two insanely important reasons. First, this particular pan was a christmas gift and I have vowed to make it as central part of my kitchen as my chef knife. Two, a lot of people think that cast iron is good because it heats evenly, but they're like stupid and wrong. What actually makes cast iron good is the heat radiation. See a normal pan (or pyrex dish) heats what it is directly in contact with. Think of it like layers (lasagna anyone?) The dish heats the first layer, the first layer heats the second and so on. That' why you get an over cooked bottom and an undercooked top.

Cast iron, however, radiates heat a good inch or two above the surface, cooking the middle and top along with the bottom. Perfect for, oh I don't know, everything.

Alright then:

The Meat:
Lots of recipes call for sausage. Yeah that's good too. Can't go wrong there. But I prefer simple ground beef because it doesn't override the flavor of a simple sauce. I put ground beef+ because you will probably want to add some other meat source for depth (In this dish my wife added some chopped salami, but just a dash, you can also add some ham or turkey or chicken leftovers, no tuna). Fry up the meat, chopping it into little bits, drain the fat and set aside (Pro Tip: Do not drain the fat down any sink, that's death. Instead make a small little bowl out of some tin foil, pour the fat oil into the bowl, wait for it to solidify and toss in the trash. Or set it outside for the bob cats.)

The Sauce:
There are millions of ways to make the sauce. (The simpler the better, just saying). Canned tomatoes work best. If you don't have my mother-in-law (who makes her own every summer), then you'll have to go to the store and get one. DO NOT EVER purchase pre-made sauce. It's nasty and so full of sugar you'll wonder why Starbucks hasn't made it a flavor yet. I know it seems weird to get picky about health in a recipe with so much cheese, but this isn't Nam. There are rules.

Anyway, chop the onion into little bits, chop the carrot into little bits, open the tomato can and throw everything into a blender (or food processor if you're the kind of person who gets greeted by her first name at Bed, Bath, and Beyond) Blend until smoothish. Now, you don't have to blend it all up, especially if you, like me, like 'em a bit chunky, but my son won't eat anything if he thinks it's touched an onion (cause he's effing crazy), so my wife just blends it all up and he is none the wiser. Blend and then heat in a sauce pan over medium low for at least 45 minutes, or until its gets thick.

If it's not getting thick, add a few spoonfuls tomato paste, but you don't gotta.

Add the meat to the sauce and simmer while you cook the noodles.

The Noodles:
You can make your own. It's not hard. But it's time consuming. And it's hard. Store bought is just fine. You can pick up the flat ones, or the ones with little ruffles. I like my dishes to look like a prom date, so ruffles it is. Don't go all Whole Foody and buy some wheat/soy concoction. If you have friends that require any kind of gluten free meals, you have the obligation to stop being their friend. Cause how else are they gonna learn? Now you're gonna read the package and the package is going to tell you that the noodles do not need to be precooked. This is a lie. Actually, it's not a lie, the moisture from the sauce is more than capable of cooking the noodles while it's in the oven, but there are two problems. One, noodles swell. Not a lot, but enough that A) it could push you finely crafted cheese over the edge and onto the bottom of your oven, and B) Enough that it makes the dish all about the noodle and not about the cheese. It should be all about the cheese.

But but but, you like the crunchy bits on the ends and corners. Of course you do, everyone does. That'll happen, but instead of being undercooked, the edgy bits will over cook, ooh boy, yum.

So for this recipe, break the noodles in half and boil them until they're soft-ish.

Shred a bunch of cheese until your wife looks over your shoulder and says that's way too much. Shred a little more out of spite.

Preheat your oven to 385.

The Assembly:
Okay . . .  gather your stuff and surround your pan. I like the cheese on the left, the sauce in the back and the noodles on the right. Ladle a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan, sprinkle parmesan, and add a layer of noodles. Then sauce, parmesan, mozzarella, noodles . . . sauce, parmesan, mozzarella, noodles . . . sauce, parmesan, mozzarella and you're good to go.

The last layer of cheese can be slices rather than shredded, gives it that authentic look. Doesn't matter, it all goes in and out of the same set of holes anyway.

Place the pan in the oven and cook for twenty minutes. Or until the cheese on top looks all golden brown.

Remove pan from oven with two oven mitts and a friend. It's hot and it's heavy. Awe yeah.

Let sit on counter for another ten minutes to cool.

Place in the center of the table and hand everyone a glass of wine and a fork.

If you like your sauce chunky, sauté the onions and carrots until they sweat then add the canned tomatoes and munch it up with a spatula. My favorite addition here is chopped bell pepper, but only a little, like a quarter of one, so good, but not everyone likes pepper. You can try fresh mozzarella if you like, but I find that to be all wet and tasteless rather than stringy and salty. I feel the same way about ricotta, but hey, if you want your lasagna bland and damp, feel free to go nuts. And just about any red-meat combination will do. You can even try some crumbled bacon bits, but caution, you should want your meals to be tasty and not necessarily orgasmic.

It's a lot of dish, so accompany it with a light salad, and something bready to scrub the plate clean of sauce.

Eat what you can and then stash the left-overs quickly before your guest hints that they might want to take some home. You're not running an Olive Garden.

Serves 4 (with leftovers)
Calories: Don't even ask
APGAR Score: 7
Immunization Records: On file.

HTT: How To Positive

So I heard this great line on the radio this morning.

The story was about doctor/patient relationships especially during difficult prognosis interactions. You know . . . like . . . sorry Jane, but you only have twelve months to live, sorta thing.

There were three types of doctors described: The Avoider, the doctor who tries to avoid delivering bad news. The Merchant of Death, the doctor who delivers the full spectrum of terminal outcomes, and then the Optimist, the one who says things like "We'll get through this together :)"

Emoticon implied.

Turns out most doctors are Optimists. And it also turns out that the better the doctor knows the patient the more mistakes they're likely to make when it comes to a diagnosis.

It's as if the more you're loved, the worse your care.

The line referred to this phenomena as "The Tyranny of Positive Thinking."

But . . . you might think to yourself . . . isn't there miracle power in positive thinking? A happy Ju Ju . . . good vibes . . .  that really popular book . . . you know . . . the one that says I can bend the universe to my will if only I insist that things will turn out just they way I want them to?

I mean c'mon . . . how else are Wendy, Peter, and John gonna get to Neverland?

To which a pessimist might mumble something about pixie dust and the fact that well . . . fiction.

But it's true. We are poised to believe that positive thinking is a statistical fact. Aren't we taught that the mere act of smiling will make us happy? Don't happy thoughts make us feel better?

And the answer is yes, yes they do. And don't bad thoughts make us feel sick? And the answer is again, yes, yes they do.

So isn't it reasonable to assume that my Toyota Echo will run forever if I wish it so?

Um . . . no . . . no it isn't . . . and it also reminds me that she needs an oil change.

Which brings us, oddly enough, to Saint Francis of Assisi. Founder of the Franciscan Order of Friars (I know this because I just happen to have spent hours working on Californian Missions with my fourth grader) name-sake of my brother-in-law, patron saint of the current Pope and the twelfth century author of the serenity prayer:

“Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

That's good stuff right there. 

Even heretics like me can see the beauty and value of that statement when applied to the human condition.

Saint Frank was also famous for preaching poverty, chastity, and obedience (all three of which make my bacchanalian blood boil), but he gets top marks for the other stuff.

So for today's "How To Tuesday" I thought it might be fun to tackle the Tyranny of Positive Thinking with a few experiences of my own.

Years ago I learned this story about Laurence Olivier (I've told it before so if you've already heard it, then shush). Anyway, every night he would walk out to the front of the theater's stage, just before the patron doors would open and he would say to the empty house "Tonight you are about to see the greatest show of your theater going lives . . . oh, you lucky people."

Now . . . as a performer . . . I like to think of myself as boringly practical. My best advice to any young actor is this: "Learn your lines, show up on time, check the prop table."

Same thing as a musician. "Learn the songs, show up on time, put your set list in a place you can read it."

But there also happens to be that moment where Id, Ego, and Super-Ego start screaming like crazy because, colloquially speaking, your soul is just about to go under the knife.

If you've never done it then you have no idea of the blackness behind the curtain. So in those moments, when San Fran comes in to play, you know there is nothing you can do to change the fact that your wig doesn't fit right and your duet partner is always flat during the chorus of a song and you feel utterly helpless, Olivier comes swooping in and reminds you that all of this is joy, and that you have permission to be magnificent.

To this day I still mutter those words, strength, courage, wisdom, oh you lucky people.

Totally works.

On the flip side, I'm still waiting on a big piece of news and no amount of crossed finger wood knocking is going to make any difference nor will it shush my knife riding impatience.

Once again, we return to Frank, to remind us that admitting powerlessness is not the same as admitting defeat. And maybe . . . instead of checking my email for the fifth time today . . . I should probably go get the oil changed on my car.

There is power in positive thinking, but that shouldn't keep Mary Martin from checking her props.

Music's Biggest Night!

So the 57th Grammy Awards were on last night.

Who knew?

People I guess.

I was far more interested in a plate of lasagna and the mid-season premier of The Walking Dead.

No spoilers.

But it was tough to avoid the tales of Kanye West and his merry band of nonsense in this morning's news. It would be hard to find a better moment in the Obama Administration than when he called Kanye a jackass.

Now I wasn't surprised that I couldn't recognize most of the winners. I'm old like that. I think at some point I owned more than one Kenny G album.

But I was kinda surprised that there were entire categories that I wasn't aware of. Like, yeah, there's a Rap category, and an R&B category . . . but Best Urban Performance? I don't even know what that means. There wasn't a Best Rural Performance . . . which seems unfair . . . but there was a Best Reissue of a Classic Album Category, so apparently adding more cowbell to "Blonde on Blonde" could conceivably get you a Grammy nod.

I was glad that Beck got Top Album (he's a name I know), but was disappointed to see that  Pharrell won Best Solo Performance for "Happy"

I don't care how infectious your groove is . . . if you rhyme the word 'Truth' with the word 'Roof', I'm of the opinion that you don't get to sit at the big kid's table. It's as simple as that.

Tenacious D got Best Metal Album. Poor Metallica can't catch a break.

(That was a historical reference to when Metallica lost out to Jethro Tull in 1989, the first year that Metal was introduced as a category)

I'm not sure if you get to sit at the big kid's table if you have a flute player in your band either.

I think Beyonce won the We Just Love You So Much But Even Though Your Album Wasn't Very Good We Still Want to See You Make a Speech Award, while her husband JayZ got the Best Placement of a Parental Advisory Sitcker on an Album Cover Award, and, I'm not sure of this one, but I think Kim Kardashian got an award for Least Likely to Be in This Room if God Was Reasonable Lifetime Achievement Award.

Weird Al got another Grammy. So did Joan Rivers . . . post-humorously.

I've waited a lifetime to write that joke.

Feels good. Feels real good.

Anyway, I was thinking that back in my time, I was critical of "Music's Biggest Night" because it was so obviously behind the times. It was a John Denver performance at a Nine Inch Nails Concert. I wonder if that's still the case.

I spent the morning scouring through the YouTube Videos of the winners and their songs and I didn't find anything that mildly turn me on, nor did I finish listening to any of the songs passed the first chorus or so. 

It's funny, now that music is so democratized in the last stages of the Fall of the Label Empire, institutions like the Grammys are in the same boat that pop radio stations are in. There's just so much stuff out there that it's virtually impossible to find a pulse so they keep just throwing the same party for the same people.

And the underground isn't rebelling against it this time. There are no Sex Pistols, Megadeaths, or Rages Against the Machine.

The underground doesn't care.

The underground is just ignoring it because nobody aspires to star in what is virtually an auto-tuned reality TV show. The new music makers are casually indifferent.

It's not so much a train wreck as it is watching a bus running out of gas and slowly coming to a halt on the side of the freeway.

In my day (again with the old man speak), we caught a glimpse of what a revolution might look like when MTV's Music Awards superceded the Grammys as the coveted pop-culture currency, but honest to god, it only lasted two maybe three years after MTV debuted "The Real World" and stopped dilly-dallying with the whole music thing.

You don't have to listen to a Kanye West album to know that he's good television.

In fact. . . you probably shouldn't.

Just like you shouldn't rhyme Truth with Roof.

Sorry Pharrell. But if you want to send me your address I'll be more than happy to pick you up a rhyming dictionary along with a thesaurus, which is a word you can rhyme with adore us, deplore us, not for us, chorus, and porous, but not brontosaurus because that's ridiculous.

Check Check one two FIVE

I gotta show tonight so, you know, my writing schedule is a bit off.

But, then my writing schedule can be thrown off by lots of things; weather, traffic, a perfectly cooked hard boiled egg . . .

. . . Leprechauns.

It's not easy pouring your heart out on an elevated stage to three or four of your closest friends and the drummer of the band who won't be going on for another two hours.

But there's free beer, so you know, god loves you.

So to mentally get yourself into that headspace, here are a few pre-sound check rituals:

Check Check One: Pants
Make sure you are wearing pants.

Check Check Two: Warmed Up
Adrenaline is a crazy cat. Go on stage cold, and adrenaline will kick you in the butt. Make your fingers shakes and your voice quiver.  Jumping jacks and bent knee crunches work to tame those butterflies as does playing a full set in your living room an hour or two before showtime. That free beer you think might work, doesn't, shouldn't, and if there are delays (and there's always delays) will turn into two or three, and trust me, it doesn't make you funnier. Ever.

Check Check Three: Equipment
I bring two of everything. Except me. Only one of me.

Check Check Four: Water
Never go on stage without water. You may never even take a sip, but if you sing that first note and realize it's not there, your throat will go drier than, oh I don't know, like dry stuff. Deserts and things.

Check Check Five: Tip Jar
Cause beer isn't always free.

Just watch out for leprechauns.

TBT: Of Mice and Men

Spoiler alert: If you are fifteen and haven't yet read Of Mice and Men, now is a good time to leave the room.

I don't know exactly how they teach books now in high school. For all I know they just email a Wikipedia link to the student's gmail account and call it a day.

Are Cliff Notes even a thing anymore?

In my parent's generation they probably had to hand-write actual essays.

That must have been weird.

I was raised during the brief time when analogue and digital were still kissing cousins. We had pens and paper for sure, but the lucky spoon-fed suburbanites like myself also had a Mac Plus and an ImageWriter II.

Though, to be fair, I also didn't learn to QWERTY until I was a sophomore, and learned on an electric typewriter, while now, my nine-year old son has finished his online typing courses and will never in his life have to figure out how to hyphenate a long word at the end of a page.

That too must be weird.

But getting back to books, when I was assigned Of Mice and Men, we would read most of it out loud in class, take a brief inconsequential test, and then the Audio/Video Cart was rolled in, and we watched the movie on VHS.

We were also the first generation to make nerds cool. And the Audio/Video crew was the start of it all.

Anyway . . . back to the book.

Of Mice and Men was first published this week back in 1937. The height of the Great Depression. My oldest grandparents were my son's age.

That also . . . weird.

It didn't find my desk until the spring of 1993 and by then, I assumed, it was just another tired outmoded classic that an underfunded education system had a lot of copies of from a previous generation (Looking at you Great Gatsby).

So I was surprised that the actual book dropped on my desk was a fresh un-dog-eared copy.

I can still remember the smell.

That too . . . weird.

While old books, with their plastic dust jackets and musty, earthy undertones, smell distinctly like warmth and comfort, new books smell of adventure.

I'd say it's as heady as sniffing glue, but it is in fact, sniffing glue.

Intrigued . . . I tore through it in a day or two, pointedly creasing the spine and leaving chocolate finger prints on various pages, marking my territory for next years class. Joshua Macrae was here first.

The tale of George and Lenny, I immediately recognized from a Bugs Bunny spoof and found myself ridiculously gleeful that I had made that connection. I understood the plight of migrant farm hands, and all those dirty Farmer's Daughter jokes were made so much funnier in the human context.

I also, oddly enough, realized Steinbeck had adapted Frankenstein, and that it's possible that so many books I've read had layers of meaning.

Gotta be honest, by then I was exhausted by the thought school books. The Scarlett Letter (good god), and it wasn't until my mid-twenties when I read "The Count of Monte Cristo" that I realized The Great Gatsby had any literary value at all.

In fact, I'm ashamed to admit as the Shakespeare nut I am now, the only redeeming quality of Romeo and Juliet was the brief glimpse of Olivia Hussey's naked boob in Zeffirelli's movie adaptation.

I . . . am . . . not . . . alone . . . in . . . this!

The A/V kids knew what was up.

But "Of Mice and Men" was the first book where I suddenly, knowingly . . . got it.

And when the time came, when the Farmer's daughter lay dead, and George realizes there's no escaping the angry mob, and he begins telling Lenny about the rabbits, and then BANG, well . . . I gotta say . . . I got misty.

I was always into books, but "Of Mice and Men" got me INTO books. All caps. A small book for a man, but a giant leap for the evolution of my literary understanding.

It's funny too, because of the curriculum, the way we would read a book and then watch the movie, there's a good chance that we might have been stuck following the Joads out of the dust bowl with their grape-y wrath. But my progressive english teacher at the time knew a brand new movie had come out in October of 1992 and would be available to rent by the late spring of 1993.

So instead of watching Jane Fonda's dad tell it like it is, or was, we get a very youthful Gary Sinise popping a cap in the head of a very youthful John Malkovich.

Hence the brand new books.

Such an odd twist of fate.

or . . . you know . . . weird.

What to Eat Wednesday: Simple Salmon Says

What to Eat Wednesday is a new Wait . . . Dad? Recipe Series . . . cause . . . you know . . . why not? There will be no rhyme or reason other than whatever tasted exceptionally good the previous week, but you may notice I'm a huge fan of quick easy cheap meals that are high in protein, minerals, and fiber, and relatively low on carbs. I say that with the full knowledge that I will be sharing a cast iron lasagna recipe very soon which meets none of the previously mentioned criteria. Since it's new, please send along feedback about either the format or the recipes themselves or share with me your meals that you want me to try. Thanks . . . 

Simple Salmon

Salmon Steaks
Black Beans

Red Pepper Flakes

Fish is supposed to be good for you. I guess . . . whatever. High protein, Omega 3 fatty fat fats, the soul soothing feeling that you haven't killed anything that might have been Wilbur's friend.

At least I don't think there were any fish in "Charlotte's Web." I may have to re-read it just in case.

So yeah, Fish=Good4U.

But . . . c'mon . . . lets face it . . . it's a pain in the ass.

Unless you live on a boat, fresh fish is prohibitively expensive. Unlike chicken, fish has an actual season so it's inconsistent year round. Not everybody likes it. And it stinks.

I should really be a salesman.

Now the easiest way to skip most of that nonsense and still get your Omega 3 fatty fat fats, is to drop a car payment on some pills or eat tuna right out of the can. I don't have that kind of cash, and there's enough mercury in canned tuna to turn your colon into a thermometer. (Twice a week is fine though . . . I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere. Unless you're pregnant or at some point have converted to Celsius)

But my son loves salmon. He'll eat it up like nobody's business. And if ever there was a boy who needed Omega 3 fatty fat fats, and massive amounts of protein, my skeletal progeny is him.

So dauntless I have journeyed far and wide for an acceptable, non-dolphin killing, way of feeding his "Finickiness"

Finding the Fish:
Fresh is best . . . clearly. You go to the fish store, you ask the guy "What's fresh?" he points to something and you buy it and then figure out ways you can justify the purchase for tax reasons. Let's assume none of us can do that. Your next step is the grocery store and you wanna convince yourself that the stuff behind the counter isn't gonna make your house smell like a retirement home. You get it to your kitchen, you open the package and my God why have you forsaken me?

Now you're like . . . frozen is the only way to go. And you're really right. Turns out, because fish has a particular season, but customers like consistency (now now now), so a salmon steak that was caught in January will be frozen first and then thawed in September and then sit for a week or so under the sneeze guard at Safeway, plenty of time for the triethylamine-oxide to convert into ammonia. But . . . if you get the frozen stuff, you skip the rotting on the shelves step. But that's not the end of your problems.

But don't worry, I've done the research. Now the high end supermarkets want to know what your wazoo looks like up close and will charge accordingly. The low end supermarkets, not so much, but are perfectly fine with feeding you shark bait. The best cost to awesome ratio I've found is the frozen salmon steaks at Costco. 6-8 steaks for roughly $22 bucks. Sounds a bit pricey, but at 3-4 bucks per serving you can't beat it. The salmon is fleshy and unstinky, lasts for a good long time, and is hefty enough to go right on the grill. Mmmmm. If you don't have a Costco near you . . . well . . . then it's time to move.

Cooking the Fish:
First, thaw the fish in your fridge. No counter thawing (we're not living in the great depression) A few hours will do the trick. And since it's winter everywhere but here in California, I'm going to wait until spring to roll out the grilled recipe . . . so today we're gonna bake it in the oven. Preheat your oven to 385 and get out a cookie sheet. Place a layer of tin foil on the cookie sheet and then put your salmon steaks on top.

Now here's the important part: Tiethylamine-oxide (the stuff that makes it stinky) is a base (no treble), so if you don't want cats purring at your back door, you need to add some acidity to counteract. Lime juice is my preference for it's subtlety, but lemon works fine too (just don't drench the stuff). Squeeze the citrus, sprinkle some salt, and then cover with another layer tin foil and fold over the edges. This does two things; First, it steams the fish and second, it keeps the smell to a minimum. Cook for around 30 minutes or until you can smell it.

Yes . . . you're gonna smell it. No way around that. But you want it to be pleasant and not make your furniture reek.

Remove the upper tin foil layer carefully, plate it up, sprinkle some salt, red pepper flakes, and parsley. (You don't gotta, obviously, but the parsley freshens the flavor and the pepper flakes give it some heat, and it looks much cooler for your Instagram page.)

You may notice a few things: One the flesh is a much lighter pink than you expected. That's fine. And there might also be some white gooey stuff leaking out of the sides. That's the Fatty fat fat, so scrape it off with a fork (for your persnickety patrons) or eat it.

I personally think steamed broccoli is the way to go here, but green beans or snow peas or a spinach salad with a nice vinaigrette works too. You want everything steamy when the kids hit the table so timing is important. Prep the broccoli just after you put the salmon in the oven, and then wait until the salmon's got just ten minutes left to go, turn on the stove, boil the water and your broccoli should be crisp and bright green when the salmon is ready to go.

I also like to add some earthy meaty-ness to the plate, so my pick is for black beans (canned . . . cause you ain't got all day). But you can also go rice. Neither pasta nor potatoes work here.

Overall Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Days added to your life: 3.7
Cost of a barrel of oil: $57
Omega 3 Fatty Fat Fats: Priceless

HTT: How To Literature

So right now I'm reading two books I picked up from the library. One is the memoir of famed intellectual Christopher Hitchens and the other is a scholarly biography of the Mormon religion. Both are incredibly dense . . . but for different reasons.

This isn't horn tooting because the point is is that while I was taking a moment to consider a complex thought that had just detonated in my lap, I looked up at my book shelf and realized that I hadn't read any Harry Potter books in a while. Any reader will acknowledge that it's fine and all to have some intellectual pursuits, but there's nothing in the world like imagining Voldemort losing for the eighth or ninth time. Books don't have to be receptacles of information . . . they can and they should be childish, voyeuristic, and mind numbingly fun.

My son isn't a reader. Which makes me sad.

In all other respects, he's a virtual autodidact, but it's YouTube and not the Encyclopedia Britannica where he gleans his understanding of the known universe.

And he's not alone.

Two things have happened simultaneously to the Digital Generation that have nudged them away from paper and ink. The first, of course, being instantaneous video tutorials on just about every level of the human experience, and the second being the absolute failure of our education system to deal with subjective mediums.

In my day (damn that hurts), we would be forced to read a book and then forced write about it. The teacher, then, was forced to dredge through our sloppy compositions and try to determine if A) We actually read the book, and if B) We had at least some personal notion of what it was about. It was tedious work for everyone, but it was the only way.

Now that no child is being left behind, we've attached a far more objective way to grade comprehension. Now a child reads a Harry Potter book and then takes an online-multiple-choice quiz with questions like "Were the Dursleys . . . Fat . . . Obese . . . Proud . . . or Quotidian."

The quiz will spit out a percentage of comprehension that will be emailed to the parent and added to their permanent record.

The answer is that the Dursleys were Proud. It says so in the first line of the book.

That may seem like a joke, but having first hand experience with these tests I can assure you that they are all this ambiguously, ridiculously, phrased. All of them.

So at the same time our education system is turning "The Giving Tree" into a technical manual, our kids can go onto any computer and type "Fun Stuff" and get blasted with endless possibilities.

Goodbye Narnia. Thanks for the memories.

But I'm not a fatalist on this subject. Our kids will get around to books eventually. Books are just too damn awesome. But their route is unfortunately going to have to be a bit more circuitous than ours and I thought for today's "How To Tuesday" I would offer a little insight in the best way to begin on  the best journey there is:

First: Start with what you know.
Just about every TV show that's worth watching is based on a book. Same thing with movies. Same thing with history, religion, and sports.

Second: Read what your friends are reading.
It should be the first topic of every conversation after the weather has been exhausted. There isn't a person alive who can't wait to share what they are reading, even if they found the whole thing terrible. "Fifty Shades of Gray" comes to mind. Everyone I know who has read the trilogy, can't say enough terrible things about it and yet when asked why they read all three of the books will say "I felt like I had to."

Third: Read what your idols are reading.
Famous people love to talk about how smart they are and what they are inspired by. If you like a guest on the Daily Show . . . go and get their book. There's a good chance that their work is influenced by hundreds of different books. That's where the real insight begins.

Fourth: Let one book take you to the next.
Salinger wrote more than "Catcher in the Rye" and if you like the work of a writer, there's a good chance you're gonna like other things they wrote.

Fifth: Read what those writers are reading.
Author's reference other books all the time. I found John Irving through Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut through Douglas Adams. Decent authors know where to find the good stuff.

Sixth: Take on a classic.
In a lot of cases, there's a reason why they've become classics. It's because they're that good. Pro-Tip: Feel free to avoid anything taught in high school (The Scarlet Letter comes to mind), as well as avoiding anything really thick or written by an author with a vaguely Russian surname. I'm not anti-russian, it's just that they have a tendency to involve lots of different characters and lots  of different places and aren't usually nice enough to include a map or character index (Thank-you Tolkien)

Seventh: Non-Fiction.
Not all Nonfiction is good. In fact most isn't. And not all non-fiction is carefully researched. If you want to tackle some non-fiction, go back to the first rule and start with what you know. If you liked Band of Brothers, the actual book will blow your mind. But don't feel the pang of regret if you can't get through any particular non-fiction book. If it's not interesting, drop it and move on. And never read the autobiography of a President. Any President or anyone who wants to be president. What a waste of effing time.

last but not least . . .

Eighth: Go ahead and judge book by it's cover.
Artists spend a lot of time and money making a book look inviting. If it looks inviting, take her out for a spin. At worst you get about fifty pages in and go "Meh." At best you can bring it up at your next brunch with the boys and giggle and say "OMG have you read such and such yet?"

So . . . yeah . . . this isn't comprehensive . . . but it's a good start. And you might be thinking to yourself that well . . . maybe you're just not a reader. But think about it this way . . . if you can read . . . then technically . . . you're a reader. You just haven't found the right book.

Quotidian . . BTW . . . means common/everyday/typically mundane. It's a good word to describe the Dursleys, food shopping, laundry, and all of your homework, but it's the antithesis of what happens between "Chapter One" and "The End"

Literature is anything but quotidian. No matter how you get there.


So you may have heard there was a football game on yesterday.

Not really as monumental as Thanksgiving or Oscar night, but for those of us that track the game, kinda a nifty close to the season.

Now even before there was such a thing as fantasy football (until God clearly realized I needed more addictions) I was always a huge fan of Super Bowl Sunday. Big gathering, mounds of gooey food, beer when I was old enough, Coca Cola before I was, these are the things that make life delightful.

I don't know who said it, but:

"Remember . . .  no matter how bad it gets, you are now one day closer to your next plate of nachos."

Anyway, among the group this year were Jets fans, and Cowboys fans, Steelers fans, and the one Niner fan (this guy). However, not a single one of us were Patriot or Seahawk fans.

In fact, since those two teams happen to be the rivals of just about all the other favorited teams, it was a game everyone was watching, not to see who would win, but to root for someone to lose.

Being a west coast boy, I don't have much hate for New England, cause why would I care? And with all the Jet's fans in the room, nobody could care less about the ridiculous twelfth man if it meant that Brady gets sacked lots and lots and lots and lots.

But this isn't a blog about football (persay), it's about the peculiarity of a form of entertainment where one can be just as happy rooting against something. You don't go into a theater hoping that an actor you hate will flub their lines. You don't read a book of an author you don't like, being amused by how pedestrian their character development is and no one goes to a concert to see the opening act tank.

Yet, in sports, it's perfectly reasonable to experience a certain joy when a rival team, oh I don't know, gets the ball intercepted, especially when there was no earthly reason for them to call a passing play on 2nd and goal.

Schadenfreude, the german word for finding pleasure in another's misfortune, has to be a trait that is uniquely human. Evolution isn't exactly a spectator's sport, yet when the word is described to us, we know exactly what is meant. We know that emotion. It's written into all the epic tales from Achilies' heel to Darth Vader throwing the Emperor off the balcony. Hell . . . even Facebook is a thinly veiled platform for seeing how fat our ex-girlfriends got. (or how bald and underemployed the highschool quarter back became.)

Sure it's a negative emotion, but it's also a self-affirming one.  And after all the high fives are doled out, and the last of the beer is carted back to someone's fridge, it's possible to take a small step back, put on a pair of perspective glasses, and maybe learn something about your own fragility.

I kept rolling that last play in my head, the one where the Seahawks were on 2nd and goal and decided to call a passing play.

There didn't see any reason to it, and if not executed cleanly, which it wasn't, could wind up handing the other team the game, which it did.

Why would they do that?

What were they thinking?

Well, the answer is pretty easy. The other team knew there was no reason not to run the ball. And they were prepared for it. They practice that sorta thing hundreds of times, over and over. The only way to throw off their game is to do something unexpected, unprepared for. There's no way anyone would think they were gonna throw the ball, so that's what they did.

And, unfortunately, it wasn't successful, but it sure took a massive set of testicles.

So yeah, I'm probably never going to be a Seahawks fan, but I can't not hold them in high respect for taking chances that few would have the courage or the capacity to execute.

I guess the moral of the story is that we're going to experience morbid glee. Fine . . . whatever . . . and don't apologize for it. But it is possible, afterwards, to adopt your rival's failures as your own, and use that perspective to be a better human.

Your enemy's enemy might be your best friend, but it is your enemy who is your best teacher.