Hoops is Life

So I get this email Friday afternoon.

The tag line, you know, the one that shows just a few of the first lines of the complete text says:

"Your novel "Selfie" has passed . . . "

And I procede to flip (the %#@$) out.

If you've been following along for a while, you probably know that this time last year I got a little fed up with playing bars and nightclubs and I decided to take a radical new direction with whatever time I have left during my mid-life crisis and do . . . well . . . something.

I made a list of all the things I would like to do, which turned out to be very short. I wanted to have a better stage show, and I wanted to write a book.

How hard could that be?

Not hard . . . really . . . I mean . . . digging ditches is hard . . . growing tomatoes in rocky soil when the outside temperature is above 100 degrees from May to October is nigh impossible . . . putting lots of words together . . . hell . . . I do that every time I open my stupid mouth.

I was, however, thoroughly unprepared for how unprepared I was.

Not naive.


See . . . even though my hubris is comfortable in proclaiming itself as a capable writer . . . at best I could describe myself as an essayist . . . not a novelist. I write in short bursts from a singular point of view, most often with ideas that came to me in the shower about fifteen minutes before I sit down to write. My style is all wrong.

Since it's important that one begin with writing what one knows (or at least what one thinks about a lot), I wanted to encapsulate all the things I've been learning about social media, how internet life is contorting actual life, what the internet experience is doing to the psychology of us and our children, what it means for the modern family, and how ridiculous modern mental health has become.

Oh . . . and with all that change . . . how nothing has really changed.

So I dreamt up this character, a millennial (my step-son's age) who gets sort of quashed between her online queen-bee persona and the frailties of actual life.

Sounds kinda cool.

To me anyway.

But I had absolutely no story.

Like none.

So I did what all good artists do . . . I cheated . . . I stole . . . I ran to my Shakespeare library and adapted.

She . . . the millennial . . . wasn't a new character at all. But who is she? Well . . . she just a person trying to deal with parents, friends, lovers, her own self, and of course, the ghost in the machine.

Sound familiar?

Of course it does.

She's Hamlet.

So now I've got it all going. I've got modern character, in a classic story, a scene by scene outline, and a narrative that fits my short bursts creativity, and a whole slew of characters to keep me from being stuck with a single voice.

Now . . . if you think that's cheating . . . go ahead. But I will remind you that Hamlet is actually an adaptation of another play . . . and if a genius like Shakespeare has no compunction with lifting some one else's words . . . that a novice like me shouldn't either. His name is on the title page along with mine. No one is fooled.

Except . . . maybe I fooled myself.

I expected it to be readable on the second draft.

It wasn't.

Neither was the third or fourth.

The fifth was where it became a book.

The seventh is where it's at now.

And where it's at now is sitting on an editor's desk waiting a final decision for the possible go ahead to write and eighth, ninth, and tenth, version before publication actually begins.

Which brings me back to Friday's email and after I preceded to flip out.

The full text of the email said my novel has passed the second round of panel reading, and I will be contacted directly by the editor with rejection or acceptance.

That's great news right?

Of course it is. It's freakin awesome.

Only . . . I didn't even know there was a second round. Again with the being unprepared for how unprepared I am, because it makes perfect sense that there be a lot of screening before a manuscript gets handed to a person who lives day to day with career making/breaking decisions.

They can't have their time wasted with bad novels.

And I am now on the "not a bad novel" short list.

That's the good news.

That bad news is that there are hoops that I am still going to be jumping through that I don't even know about yet . . . which . . . when you think about it . . . isn't bad news at all.

It's just life.

What About the Girls? Five

I'm not immune to click bait.

I just have that curious kind of nature where I sort of want to know which Game of Thrones character I'm most aligned with and the Top Ten Reasons I should vote for Ted Cruz.

I'm not going to, but it's good to know why I should.

Anyway . . . this morning I saw a list of the Top Ten Fastest Growing Restaurants and I simply couldn't help myself. Since I'll probably have to return to a life of retail at some point (don't be sad . . . it's what I'm good at) so . . .  I considered such a click to be market research.

In scrolling through the list I noticed a singular trend.

4 out of 10 were sportswear/barbecue/alehouses with scantily clad girls pouring drinks. Lots of big smiles with shiny white teeth, and of course, boobs.

I honestly can't remember if my decision making has ever been altered by a pair of tits (that didn't belong to my wife, of course), but I see no reason to condemn the practice. As long as everybody is a willing participant and treats each other with a level of respect (LOL), I'm rather indifferent about the whole practice.

Not to say that problems don't occur. As a manager of a "restaurant" I have had to forcibly walk a few men out the door for inappropriate behavior, but after 13 years and about 400 customers per day, I'd say I've dealt with ten times the amount of conflict between two women than with any of the other scenarios combined.

That's not misogynistic, just observational, and I thoroughly invite debate on the subject.

Anyway, the actual point I was trying to make was that it seems to me there is an untapped market for restaurants catering to 53% of the population.

Does that seem right to you?

And I don't think you can just do a reverse Hooters, with Buffalo Mild Wings and shirtless body-builders in bow ties. They have those (I think) and none of them made the Top Ten.

So for today's Friday Five I thought I'd tackle the unthinkable.

What Do Women Want?

1. The Place
Okay . . . when not roaming in the family pack, women travel in three succinct groups. The single, don't touch me, I just wanna drink before I go home. The Duo, besties, who want to talk, and share their feelings. And, of course, the Bridal Shower, who want to get a little rowdy. So the place would have to be big, real restaurant sized, with a seriously long bar on the side of the entrance, intimate tables in the middle with seats for four, but cozy for two, and all along the perimeter would be U-Shaped couches around big square coffee tables.

Lots of napkins.

Lots of coasters.

2. The Food
Finger food and Comfort food. Tapas and Pasta and soups or stews. No salads.

Why no salads? Because all people go out to restaurants to EAT. If one woman orders a salad then they all have to order a salad, when really, what they're there for, is a double order of pulled pork sliders. Take away the salad options and everybody is happy.

However, options must be a thing. Men order food based on the picture and/or whether there is Bacon in the title. Women order food based on how many adjustments they can make to the ingredient list.

Another reason why no salads.

In fact, every ingredient should be available to order on the side.

All meals come with a chocolate desert.

3. The Drinks
Drinks should not come from the bar. Too much of a hassle. Drinks should come from a drink cart on wheels. As soon as you are seated, the drink cart comes to you and sets you up. The drink server should specialize in cocktails and wine. Beer isn't frowned upon, but not advertised.

There needs to be two drink carts per section.

4. The Music.
Classical for lunch, Indie pop for Happy Hour, Country for dinner, smooth jazz for late night.

Don't ask me why. I don't make the rules.

5. The Staff.
All men. Except maybe management and the cleaning crew. Which sounds exactly terrible, I know, I'm sorry. But let's pay the cleaning crew management salaries, cause it's literally the most important part of running a classy establishment.

Okay, for the wait staff, there should be beefcakes in the couch sections, hipsters at the bar, and gentleman serving the tables. The beefcakes should be dressed in tight fitting clothes and have shapely posteriors. The hipsters should have some sort of beard and soulful eyes behind square glasses and at least one tattoo. The gentlemen should be neatly quaffed and remind everyone of someone's grandfather.

Once the drinks have been served the wait staff should pass around the menus and instead of asking if anyone would like to hear about the specials they should ask "Does anyone want to tell me about their day?"

If needed the wait staff is required to sit down and listen, and offer free brownie sundaes.

I think I'll call the place "Cuddles."

TBT: The Point of Indifference

March 26th, 1827.

Beethoven dies.

I was thinking about classical music lately in that I should probably listen to it more. I've never been to a symphony, which seems weird to me now, but it's probably because tickets are outrageous and I wouldn't know a good one from a bad one.

I could tell you a good pop song from a bad one. I could elaborate on a good play versus a not good one, and I know you shouldn't pair beef stew with a white wine. But knowing the difference between the London Symphony and the Vacaville Symphony would be beyond me.

I could tell you which room has better acoustics . . . so at least that's something.

I went to an opera once. La Boheme directed by Baz Lurman. That was pretty cool. But I don't ever have to do that again. With opera I find that the composers spend more of their notes trying to figure out what the voice CAN do and not enough time thinking about what the voice SHOULD do.

I also don't like people screaming at me.

Back to Beethoven, I always put him at the top of my classical music taste. Like . . . Bach invented music. As a music scholar once told me, Bach was "The Man." He is precision.

Mozart, on the other hand, gave music personality. Even without knowing much about anything, you can hear Tom Hulce's giggle behind every bar of Mozart's cannon. He's as easily recognizable as a Danny Elfman score.

Beethoven gave music pain and anger.

Even his "Ode to Joy"

Composers after that get too avant garde for my taste. It's like Beethoven perfected realism and truth and after that . . . well . . . nothing is left but to push the art into eventual abstraction.

Anyway, I was listening to this RadioLab bit on Beethoven's tempo markings. Between his 8th and 9th Symphonies, the metronome came out and so he went back to all of his work and added in the tempo he wanted his pieces to be played at.

And it seems as though Beethoven was more punk than we thought.

He wanted everything faster and louder than is traditionally played.

And in a lot of cases . . . uncomfortably so.  He was probably more likely to hang out with Joey Ramone than Yo Yo Ma.

There's a lot of debate over this. Maybe his metronome was broken. Maybe there was a clerical error. He was deaf by the time the metronome came out so he was hearing the music in his head and not in an actual space.

(In actual space there is reverberation which when notes are played too fast, the tail of one note bleeds into the attack of another, making things all muddy).

Or . . . he wanted his music to push your buttons.

Which makes the most sense to me.

Yet . . . if we have the tempo markings . . . why has his music evolved to be played much slower?

The answer is a cool thing called Vierordt's Law.

See, if we played beats too slow, the natural tendency is to speed it up. And if we play things too fast, the natural tendency is to slow things down.

The tempo at which we feel most comfortable is around 95 beats per minute.

It's called the Point of Indifference.

Beethoven put a lot of songs at 108.

He didn't want you to be indifferent. He wanted you just a little bit on edge.

The Point of Indifference has another meaning as well. It's an economic term for when the rate of investment moves away from (and above) the rate of return.

The Point of Indifference is where spending more doesn't result in making more. It's an important factor in how companies decide on such things as product quality and payroll dollars.

And it doesn't have to be limited to just the financial sector.

An expensive set of clubs ain't gonna make you a better golfer. More salt isn't gonna make your food taste better. A healthy lunch isn't going to help you with those love handles when you still plan on Pot Roast for dinner. You can auto-tune your voice all you want . . . ain't gonna make you a better lyricist.

and so on.

What frustrates me about the indifference point is that it's most commonly and aggressively institutionalized as the ULTIMATE GOAL. (especially, especially in the business world).

I much prefer to think of the indifference point as ROCK BOTTOM.

It's the point at which you've failed.

It's the point at which you've gotten things right and no longer have the strength, nor the courage, to get things good.

In art . . . it's the point of abandonment. Which . . . is okay . . . but only because you have to go on to the next thing, and a good artist will remember the steps that got her/him to the indifference point and try to avoid them in the future.

I hate that moment. Though it does come with certain sense of relief, it always reminds me of the gap between what I meant to do . . . and what I actually did. Sometimes that divide is really like super really painful to experience.

Beethoven felt that way when he could still hear his works being played.

too slow . . . too slow . . . that's not what I meant at all . . . in fact . . . it's not what I did.

So with the invention of the metronome, he goes back to all his works and makes sure his intention is set in stone.

But even his insistence gets eroded by time.

Gravity moves us all to the point of indifference.

Bum Bum Bum, Buuuuuuuum.

Buuum Buuum Buuum, Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum!

Because Pot Roast

3 lbs Beef (Chuck, Brisket or Round)
3 Cups Stock (Beef, Chicken or Vegetable)
Sprig of Rosemary or Thyme
Olive Oil
Gold Potatoes
Sour Cream
Parmesan Cheese

Slow Cooker or
Dutch Oven

Okay, so I feel a little bad about this recipe, not because it's anything but friggin delicious, but because I know some of you are on the diet track, and this is practically anything but.

You can eat the peas.

Sorry about that. Maybe I'll catch you next time. Or maybe we can't be friends anymore.

Remember . . . it's not you . . . it's me.

Anyway, Pot Roast is kinda a new addition to my repertoire which all started when I gave my wife a slow cooker for christmas (or was it her birthday? Can't remember). It's important that when you have a new cooking utensil that you abuse it as much as you can.

Stews and soups are nice too, and there will be a super-low fat shredded salsa chicken recipe coming up real soon, so be cool, but as for the soups and stews, I really need it to rain for those to be comfort foods, and it hasn't rained much like at all.

I'm watering my lawn in March. That's how much it hasn't rained.

But it was kinda chilly, which means that it was in the low 70's, and Pot Roast sounded real good.

All right . . . lets get to it:

The Meat:
Now . . . I don't wanna freak you out . . . but you're gonna need time. Like a lot of time. Like four full hours if you're cooking in the oven, and all day if you're using a slow cooker.

I actually used the oven for this one.

Which . . . I guess . . . negates the whole point about using the slow cooker . . . but hypocrisy is healthy.

Anyway . . . Preheat the oven to 275. (Or turn on your slow cooker)

Heat up some olive oil in your Dutch Oven (or a frying pan if you're going slow). Add some onions. Let 'em get translucent. Add some carrots. Let 'em get just bit soft.

Now the fun part: Remove all the onions and carrots (set aside for later), and throw that big slab of meat on the pan. Sear both sides. That means cook it until the sides are brown and crunchy. Then, remove the meat (set aside). Then add about a half a cup of stock to the pan and scrape up all the good charred bits until you've got a nice brown au-jus.

Mmmmm . . . au-jus.

Okay, if you've done all this in your Dutch Oven, put the meat back into it, add in the set aside onions and carrots, pour the remaining stock until it rises about 3/4 up the side of the meat, toss in a sprig of Thyme or Rosemary, cover it up and put it in the oven.

Wait 4 hours.

Or . . . if you're rocking the slow cooker . . . put the meat in the cooker, add the au-jus, add the carrots and onions, add the sprigs, cover and wait.

Wait forever.

Pro-Tip: I like the smell of meat wafting all over the place, especially after a hard day of whatever it is that I do, but not everyone feels comfortable with smelling like burnt flesh. You can mitigate the pervasiveness of the aroma by closing the doors in your house or apartment and periodically opening a few windows. You'll still get that smell, but it won't stick to your sheets.

Moving On:
Now . . . some purists might say something like "Add Potatoes to the slow cooker for the last hour" like it was a stew, but they're wrong. Nothing goes with pot roast like mashed potatoes.


I think I've had the potato debate here before, but here's another look at the kind of potato you're gonna want to consider for this dish. We all know Russets. They're the big brown ones. They're flaky and have a good thick skin. Yukons are super creamy with very thin tasteless skin. Reds are less creamy but with a nice tangy (and good looking) skin.

I reserve russets for grilling. Especially when charcoal is involved. The thick skin crisps up amazingly with a little olive oil and salt.

The reds I reserve for when I'm not in charge of feeding my son. The itty bitty bits of red skin in mashed potatoes not only give the side dish a colorful look, it also adds to the texture and taste.

He doesn't like those things.

So Yukons it is.

Chop into even sized bits (You do this so that they cook at the same rate.) Boil 'em til they're soft. Drain the water. Add 4 tbsp of butter, a couple of globs of sour cream, sprinkle with parmesan cheese.


(Side note: He didn't eat the Yukons last night either. So now I'm not so much concerned about his health . . . as I am about his paternity.)

Finally . . . the veggie bits.

Now I don't know how you feel about peas. But you do have to admit, they're the perfect vegetable to go with mashed potatoes. I think they come in three categories:

Fresh Peas: Freakin' Delicious, but ridiculously time consuming to shuck.

Frozen Peas: Good, easy, available anywhere, anytime, and inexpensive.

Canned Peas: Vomit.

Guess which ones I prefer?

Now the best recipe is to sauté some onion slivers in some olive oil in a sauce pan, until clear. Add a cup or two of the frozen peas, mix them around until the peas are glistening with oil and then cover with water, bring to a boil and viola. Mmmmm.


Bring water to a boil, add the frozen peas, wait til it starts boiling again. You're done.

(Side Note Two: The peas were eaten.)

You're now ready to serve it up.

There's obviously no getting around the fatty tissue of the meat. So, you know, portion control. But the mashed potatoes you can substitute with mashed cauliflower and the butter for olive oil, and if you add an insignificant amount of the sour cream and cheese (sprinkles not globs) it's actually really like weirdly super tasty. If you wanna get a kinds of crazy you can substitute the potatoes with refried beans and the peas for some kind of crunchy lettuce and you've got a monster burrito bowl just waiting for your love.

Now assuming your family consists of me and my wife, this recipe is a crowd pleaser. Goes well with beer or zesty wines (I'm usually a Merlot proponent, but this one's for the Cabs and Zins).

Heat up the leftover meat in a pan the next morning, add scrambled eggs and mushrooms and hell . . . why not some shredded cheese? You're gonna die anyway.

Wouldn't it be nice to know what heaven tastes like even if you don't believe in such things?

HTT: How To Roadtrip

I really wanna say that the road trip is a uniquely American venture. But that would probably be ignoring about 2.6 million years of migration. Although, to be fair, migration is usually with the intent on never going home, whereas the road trip is almost 50% return.

It would also be ignoring the 18th and 19th century western expansions, but again, return was unlikely.

No, so when I'm talking about road trip, I mean putting full luggage in the back of the car, buckling up the children, filling up the gas tank, and heading for something that's too far to get to in less than a day . . . maybe two.

We didn't take a lot of serious road trips when I was a kid.

Once or twice I went with my Dad while he was touring. That was a blast.

And throughout the spring and summer and fall, my mom would throw us into the pick-up truck or whatever, and with a Coleman stove, a pup-tent and bag of marshmallows, and we would spend the weekends out in the wilderness. And until I discovered sex, drugs and sriracha mayo, I didn't think life could get any better.

As soon as I had a set of keys and a day or two of freedom, I was gone.

I remember vividly every road trip I had ever undertaken.

The nights out on Lake Berryessa with Sean and whoever could come along, where we slept head to toe in the back of my Volkswagen van and told each other Zodiac Killer stories.

The trip to Santa Barbara with Deb in my brother's '64 Comet where we stopped at the general store in San Gregorio and I bought a hat.

The winding Pacific Coast Highway going north from Oxnard where Jon and I spoke in iambic pentameter all afternoon, and I discovered that he couldn't drive a stick shift so I was stuck behind the wheel for nine hours of winding coastal road.

A similar trip coming down the grapevine in a Toyota Corolla and saying to Natalie "Um, hey, did you know that you're going 96 miles per hour? . . . Yeah . . . maybe you oughtta let me drive for a bit."

The long lonely trip to Nevada to see about a girl.

The long lonely trip back home.

The best road trips were in the summer of 2003, Joann and I had just gotten married and we were looking for a place to live in Los Angeles, I was gonna be a songwriter, she was gonna be an actress. We'd gather up in the Echo with a snack bag full of Cokes and Triscuits and Easy Cheese and she would spray the gooey stuff on the crackers and hand feed me so I didn't have to take my eyes off the road. We stayed with friends and family or sometimes really really trashy motels just off the Sunset Strip. We never found a place to live.

Which in hindsight, was probably God watching out for us.

Anyway, so in prepping for another road trip, I thought today's "How To Tuesday" I'd spend sometime pointing out the differences and similarities from the classic days of yore to the now.

First things First: No Kids
My son is actually pretty good on road trips. We've taken him to LA a couple of times for Disneyland and he could practically navigate the trip to Grandpa's house by himself. But a five day excursion might be thoroughly testing the limits of how long any of us could go together without wifi.

Second things Second: Saving up your Podcasts.
Gone is the era of being subjected to the limitations of the local radio. In my youth-day, it was all about the mix-tape (man . . . creating the mix tape was like three days worth of excitement.), but you know . . . we're kind of older now . . . and that doesn't mean we don't like music . . . it's just that the stereos in our cars are kinda crappy.  And then there was the era of the Book on Tape (the staple of the 2003 adventures), but there really is only so much Patricia Cornwell one could listen to without knowing in advance who the killer is. So now it's free podcasts of "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" Fresh Air" and "This American Life"

But you need about twenty of them, and they only come out once a week, so you kinda gotta store up.

Third things Third: The packing gap.
In almost all areas of life, my wife and I have grown together. We watch the same shows, listen to the same music, found a nice meeting place where our domestic strengths and parenting skills compliment one another . . . but never has there been a greater divide in an approach to life than how we like to pack.

When she thinks of going anywhere, it's of the utmost important to consider every possible emergency and to be prepared for it, while I . . . well I like to figure out how I can get away with carrying the least.

There's no right or wrong. It's about comfort and peace of mind. And since we own an SUV, there is no theoretical harm in packing half the closet.

In fact, the only thing that I take umbrage with is that she still likes to ask my opinion about what to bring.

My opinion is important to her . . . as hers is to me.

But the conversation will go like this:

Should I take the high heels?

No . . . we're going to be doing a lot of walking.

What if we go some place nice?

We aren't going to someplace nice.

What if we do?

I doubt "Sizzle Pizza" is going to concern themselves with your footwear.

But just incase, it's not like we don't have the room in the car.

You're absolutely right, put 'em in the bag.

Now, that doesn't seem like much of a problem, but we'll have twenty identical conversations about jackets, pants, socks, umbrellas, toiletries, and food items. And it is always exactly the same.

I'm an ass and I say no, or don't bother, or whatever.

And she doesn't think I'm taking her seriously and argues for yes.

I try to convince her now . . . because I want to win the moral high ground.

Which is stupid.

I will never win the moral high ground.

And she mirrors my lais-sez-faire attitude and reminds me that it doesn't matter.

Yet another reason why we don't bring the children. Try packing for a nine-years old with this method.

Anyway, as you get older, you start to realize the gravity of what you are planning, the bags upon bags of stuff. The hours on the road, the back stiffness alone. The searching for the next place to get some gas or find a double cheese burger. The feeling in your body when those double cheese burgers start to back up because you haven't been to the toilet in three days.

Then you think, road trip might be a bad idea. You're getting older just thinking about it.

Fourth: Consider the Train
I really really really, wanna do a train trip someday. But . . . unfortunately . . . I live in the land of the road trip and the train lines, while still romantic, don't have quite the flexibility I'm looking for.

And it's expensive.

I might do it some day . . . but not this time.

Fifth: Consider Flying.
Flexible, relatively cheap, turns a five day trip into a three day trip, the Sacramento airport is easily the easiest and best airport to fly in and out of (Unless you're looking for public transportation, and, well, why would you?)

Yeah. I'm thinking we're gonna fly.

Only problem.


Effing Packing.

Race Together to Where . . . Exactly?

So the coffee company Starbucks got a little media bump last week.

Good for them.

I may have spent my career working for the competition, and I may have spent more than my fair share of column inches teasing them about the ridiculousness of some of their beverage concoctions, but in truth, I've always had a certain soft spot for any company that produces a quality product and treats their employees with a more than an acceptable level of respect.

The reason they got that little bump is because they rolled out a a weird little program to write "Race Together" on their cups.

Howard Shultz (CEO) thought that it would be cool to create an opportunity to address race relations with some of his 2 million daily customers. I don't know what that means. I don't think anyone knows what that means. But you gotta admit . . . it's perfect.

It's so elegant.

It's undeniably the best way to say something along the lines of "I want you to know . . . that I know . . . that there are problems . . . and I want you to know . . . that I know . . . that we should do something about them . . . but I want you to know . . . that I know . . . that it's important not to offend anyone . . . or spend any money . . . or we could talk about the weather . . . which is fine too."

Let's race together.


Now, obviously it's gotten some eye-brow raising commentary.

Cause . . . again . . . nobody knows what it means.

And it seems a little silly to be doing something that may have an impact on the speed of service.

And it seems a little crazy to expect a twenty year old barista to engage customers about racism.

It's hard enough to get them to engage about coffee.

Trust me.

But to understand it more, you have to understand Howie, and his conception of what a Starbucks is. See, he didn't want to create a place that just sells coffee. No . . . he was already doing that. The modern Starbucks shop was designed to recreate the social gathering spot of 17th century european coffee houses.

It's not about the coffee, it's about the community.

That's why there are comfortable seats and board games on the tables.

And free wifi.

And if you know anything about european history, which I can't expect you to, but hear me out, the european coffee house was the gathering hole for revolution. All the changes in social reform, science, invention, art . . . had their humble beginnings with a few guys (and maybe some girls) over a hot cup of reconstituted french roast.

(Fun Fact: Most people drank beer from morning to night back then because it was safer than water. They actually needed vente sugar free pumpkin spice lattes to clear their heads.)

Anyway, with that perspective "Race Together" makes a bit more sense.

Howie wants you to know . . . that he knows . . . that there are problems . . . and he wants you to know . . . that he knows . . . that he could be doing something about those problems . . . but he wants you to know that he knows . . . he has to do something that doesn't offend anyone . . . or cost anything.

Wink, wink.

Now . . . I'm a gonna be honest here . . . race relations is not something I am particularly qualified or even really comfortable talking about. It's certainly not something you want me satirizing.

But I'm a huge fan of revolution.

And I'm gonna drop a big circuitous bomb that may require a few conceptual leaps . . . but don't worry . . . I'll type slowly.

First, again I know nothing about race relations, but I do know that if there is anything that has proven to at least help level the playing field . . . it's income.

If we're gonna talk about stuff we might as well admit that money talks real good.

And what is the only sure fire path to a higher income?


The greatest historical era of economical growth and income equality was in post-WWII America. Guess what that was fueled by? MmmmHmmm. The G.I. bill.

With me so far?

But education is expensive and getting more so by the second. (oh, boy is it.)

But is it?


What if I said that within my lifetime (and hopefully before my son turns 18) that accredited higher education will be virtually free online for almost any degree you can think of?

Crazy nonsense . . . you say?

Well . . . actually it's already happening. And I'm not talking about the online colleges we have now. That's still very expensive and it gets more expensive the longer you stretch our your courses. I'm talking about the pilot programs where you could take a course from Yale or Harvard and receive a certificate of completion.

And because it doesn't cost any more to have 10,000 enrolled than it does to have 10 enrolled, the economy of scale is is in the favor of the tired huddled masses. They offer a whole bunch of courses for free.

That's right.

For free.

The process exists. You could go online right now and sign up for a Physics class from MIT. The information is out there. There just needs to be more. And someone has to put it all together.

We're still in the youthful days of this idea, but it's gonna happen eventually if not soon. All it would take is a little administrative push by, lets say, a 50 billion dollar company.

One like . . . let's say Starbucks.

What if, using this method, Starbucks offered a free (or nearly free) college education to all of it's employees?

Yeah, there would be a huge set of start-up costs, growing pains, etc. But it's a one time cost and imagine the future savings in retention, not to mention an entire generation of managers with business degrees, IT professionals with hands on experience, graphic designers in marketing, trainers with teaching credentials, all groomed in house. You would have the most amazing workforce that ever existed and any company that wished to be even remotely competitive would have to follow suit.

Except Walmart. They might actually collapse if their teams learned some basic math.

There are 200,000 Starbucks employees, most of whom are kids right out of high school that don't have a clear future in mind nor the resources to do much about it. You get a company like McDonalds to jump on the band wagon and you might create a future middle class ten times the size of what it is now and double that what it was in 1955.

Six or seven years behind the espresso bar, and you're ready to Take the Bar.

Cause, despite what you think, we do need more lawyers too.

The system obviously wouldn't be perfect. Not everyone is cut out for higher learning and it wouldn't address the bigger 21st century deficits in health care and sustainable infrastructure, but it's nowhere near as expensive or as crazy as lets say offering benefits to part time workers (which Starbucks already does).

And yeah . . . it's not without considerable flaws.

But maybe they are flaws worth considering.

Surely couldn't hurt to talk about it.

I mean . . . I like the idea of racing together . . . but it wouldn't hurt to have an idea of where we're going and what we can accomplish when we get there.

Like Riding a Bicycle Five

Resurrected my mountain bike from the garage yesterday.

Something I've been meaning to do since October.

That's the month were the heat around here drops below 98 for the first time and you're allowed to outdoor things other than running from air-conditioned room to an air conditioned car.

Still need sun-screen in January though. Trust that.

So I've been meaning to get my bike out of my garage so I can do exercise-y things. I like going out for bike rides cause it's easy on the knees, you can actually get to places you would like to go, and my town has an incredible network of bike trails where you can almost pretend that you're communing with nature.

Nature loves a good commune.

However, I'm a casual enjoyer, not an enthusiast. The bike I own is made up of garage sale spare parts, a lot of rust, and under no circumstances do I own any lycra clothing, cause . . . you know . . . love handles. So you can probably get what I mean when I say I haven't gone out in over a year.

Anyway, you know the cliche "It's just like riding a bicycle?"

There's truth in that I guess.

Riding a bike is supposed to be easy once you've learned how to do it, but the same can be said about . . . well . . . everything else. Why the bicycle cliche took . . . I have no idea.

However . . . if you . . . like me . . . haven't gone out in a while there's a few safety things you need to check before you begin that three mile ride to the park or to the library.

One: Find your tools.
You're probably gonna need a wrench of some kind and some WD40. A flat tip screw driver might be key as well. If you can't find your tools, or if you don't think you ever had any . . . maybe bicycle ownership is not for you.

If things fall apart while you're going down a hill at forty miles per hour. You could die.

Or scrape your knee.

Which hurts.

Two: Re-inflate Your Tires A Day Before.
Tires are bound to leak. I don't know why that is. I could ride my bike every day for a month without a problem, but if I took like three days off, when I got back to my bike, the tires would be flat. It's part of the same phenomena as when electrical cords tangle or how my wife knows I'm not really paying attention to her.

Since it's been a while, you don't know if your tires are flat because there's a leak, or some magical transference of dark matter, and since you don't want to get stranded anywhere, pump the tires a day before your first excursion. If they're still good the next day, ride on. If not, gotta replace those puppies. I also suggest making that first ride short and circular just in case they go down.

Three: Check those Breaks.
I mentioned that my Franken-bike is made up from the corpses of several other machines. One of them I think was toaster oven. So it should come to no one's surprise that there is only one functioning side of handle breaks, the other being for decoration. And it should also come to no one's surprise that I can never remember which one is which.

I really don't know how I'm still alive sometimes.

Four: Check your Helmut for Spiders.
I forgot to do that yesterday before my ride and I started to get sweaty and my scalp started to get itchy, just as I remembered that black widow I found in the garden last year.

I was negotiating traffic while simultaneously imagining baby black widows crawling all over my head.

Yeah . . . I really should be dead by now.

Five: Wait for the all clear before you mount up.
Riding on a bike might be the easiest thing in the world . . . but getting up on one might be the hardest. Especially since it requires the use of certain muscles that one doesn't use while sitting at a desk. It also requires a certain amount of flexibility and grace. Two words that are listed under my name in the dictionary as antonyms.

So you're probably gonna look an awkward beached whale sort of creature until you get moving, but once you're up with some forward momentum, with the wind in your hair, an NPR podcast playing Terri Gross through your ear buds . . . well . . . the rest is like riding a bike.

TBT: Caligula Gets the Nod

Edward Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (A book I almost sorta read back in 2006, almost sorta because I had a one year old baby and could only read a paragraph per day), anyway, the book starts right around 98-108 A.D., the kind of golden "Marcus Aurelius" era and then ends around 1430, just before Columbus discovered the The Bahamas.

Not America.

The Bahamas.

Anyway, I thought this odd this morning when I looked up 'This Week in History" and saw that yesterday was the 1978th Anniversary of Caligula's appointment as Caesar. His uncle Tiberius had just died of 'natural' causes at the age of 78 and left the seat of the Roman Empire to be split between his nephew, Caligula, and his grandson, Gemellus.

Obviously the first thing Caligula does is declare half of Tiberius's will null and void.

The half which mentions Gemellus.

Like one does.

Followed by thirteen hundred years of Roman style CalvinBall.

What we know know of Caligula is that he opened up republican elections again, which Julius Caesar and Tiberius didn't think was such a good idea. He spent lavishly gaining favors. He reduced taxes. And then eight months into his reign he got really sick (possibly poisoned) and then went a little nuts. He started executing lots of people, raised taxes again, built things he didn't really need to build (though, in a wink to modern senators, at least his bridges went somewhere). He declared himself to be a living God, and then insisted on moving his seat to Alexandria.

It was that last part that got him stabbed about thirty times.

Fine . . . whatever . . . be a god . . . just don't make me have to pack.

What we kinda sorta know is that his insanity was went as far as to include debauchery, rape, incest, homosexuality, and a propensity for throwing spectators (not just christians) into the gladiator arenas to be eaten by lions.

We all get a little bored sometimes.

We only kinda sorta know those things because the contemporary historians conflict and because it was fashionable (still really really is) to make up horrendous stories about unpopular Caesars as long as it was done a few decades after they'd been stabbed thirty times.

Lots of Caesars got stabbed, and then posthumously become incestuous homosexual rapists.

That's how that's done.

Anyway, back to Gibbon, I was surprised to see that he skipped all the fun guys.

Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, John the Baptist, Jesus, Caligula, Nero.

Fun Fact: Pontius Pilot was the Prefect of Roman Judea between 26 and 36 A.D. which means that at the latest, Jesus was crucified just before Caligula came into power.

Jesus was a Tiberius man all the way.

Fun Fact 2: A.D. stands for Anno Domini (the year of our lord) because time should start with the possible birth of Jesus. Though if you want to be taken seriously at your TEDTalk you might want to use C.E. for Common Era. Atheists get all cranky if you don't conform to their version of the truth.

Fun Fact 3: Starting in the 1500's the world started moving from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar because the Julian Calendar didn't have a leap year and was messing up the true date of Easter.

Fun Fact 4: The British colonies didn't adopt the Gregorian Calendar until 1752 and the having to recalculate history drove Thomas Jefferson crazy all the time.

Jefferson also being a former ruler who can later described as a rapist.

Can't have consensual sex with a slave.

That's not how that works.

Can't do it.

Anyway, Edward Gibbon, a devout christian when he began his volumes, slowly descended into a quiet atheism as he started to get a full view of what the roman Catholic church had been up to for so long.

He probably would've nailed his TEDTalk.

Which for some weird reason leads me to this week's TED expo and the debate over Artificial Intelligence.

Google unveiled it's plan to have self driving cars on the road by 2020. Cool. Then the head of Stanford's Artificial Intelligence Lab, Dr. Fei Fei Li, spoke about machines that learn, followed by Philosopher Nick Bostrom's stand that we need to make sure that machines with Artificial Intelligence need to be "motivated to pursue our values."

Our Values?

Exactly what values do you speak of Nick?

Now . . . for the record . . . I'm fascinated by the idea of what the future will hold when it comes to artificial intelligence. I grew up in the era where we can envision C3PO all the way up to the Terminator. I read Asimov as a teen and felt a certain giddy pride that the computer who played tic-tac-toe with Matthew Broderick was named Joshua.

That's my name too.

Asimov was afraid of what robots could become. That's why he gave them the three laws, the ones about obeying and doing no harm through action or inaction. Ray Kurzweil also has misgivings about the future of artificial intelligence, but he's convinced that the era of future robots will be fueled by the baser of man's values, leading back to the Jeffersonian Dilemma of whether or not it's acceptable to have sex with 'property'.

Stephen Hawking addressed his fears recently, making headlines, but you can't blame him for that. There's a guy who really needs computers to act responsibly.

But back to Nick's values, I am hard pressed to find a single human value which isn't adulterated everyday by the kind of people that claim they are moral.

Name a commandment that you don't break every single day.

Name a law that you wouldn't fudge under the right circumstances.

Of course there are lots of things you wouldn't do. But that's your morality, probably my morality, but it's not OUR morality.

We don't have any universal values. We only have a certain amount of acceptable social behaviors that is, frankly, limited to our own particular tribe.

So what's the answer? How do we indoctrinate the new revolution of robots so that we don't accidentally raise to power another Caligula (the one who raised taxes and proclaimed himself a GOD)?

The answer is pretty simple.

Don't worry about it. It's not gonna happen.

It is our complete lack of universal values that will save us.

A lot of people who are a lot smarter than I am disagree.

And they can . . . sure . . . why not?

Yes we can build a machine to compute information faster. Yes we can teach them to learn. Yes, we're probably gonna give them the keys to our Range Rovers . . . and yes . . . they are gonna glitch.

They're gonna glitch hard.

With some disastrous results.

Which his gonna suck.

But in no way are they ever going to be able to glitch harder than us.

We are the glitch masters.

We glitch so hard and so often we can't even see it. No one in their right mind would create a machine that would be programmed to glitch as much as I glitch from one room to the next.

For instance:

A machine could look up in the sky and see a bird. It could tell you what kind of bird it is, it could tell you it's speed and direction and could probably synchronize and rewrite current worldwide understanding of migratory patterns just based on the geolocation and previous years observation.

You know what it's not gonna do?

It's not gonna run into the garage and build a plane out of bicycle parts.

Cause that would be weird.

It's not gonna send pictures of it's junk to interns and it's not gonna build bridges to no where.

It can beat me in Chess, but it sure as hell will never beat me at CalvinBall.

Cause you can't defeat someone who has the power to make up the rules.

Unless you stab him thirty times.

But don't think that will be the end of it cause his nephew Nero is like right in the next room.

Spit Ballin' The Slider

The Slider

1 lb ground meatish substance
Mini buns or dinner roles.

2 tbsp Mayo
1 tbsp Sriracha sauce

Now, I don't know how you were introduced to the Slider. If you were an east coaster as a tot, then in all likelihood you've been indoctrinated since birth. Us west coast kids weren't nearly as fortunate.

I mean we had our burger joints. The golden arches, the flame broiled kings, the square patties being pitched by deaf old ladies in drive throughs. "Where's the beef?"

Where's the beef indeed.

In highschool we had a little place called the Hamburger Stand, which, for $8, you could purchase eight cheese burgers, four orders of fries, and two cokes. They knew their market.

(their market being stoned teenagers.)

Sounds ridiculous now, but you gotta remember, that was when gas out here was ninety-six cents a gallon, and I was a very rich man working part time for $5.75/hour.  A very rich man.

Now the east coasters had White Castle, whose burgers were a bit taller with less of a circumference, but they tasted pretty much the same and you always found that you ate exactly three too many. As Luis C.K. says "The meal's not finished when you're full . . . the meal is finished when you hate yourself."

I'm paraphrasing.

Anyway, I think I was in my thirties when I was formally introduced to the "Gourmet" Slider. It was  love at first sight, even if it wasn't a healthy love, nor was the love reciprocal. I could take a slider home to meet my mother, but I would be warned not to get too involved.

"I just don't want to see you get your heart broken." she would say.

Which she would mean literally.

My love obviously hasn't abated . . . matured maybe . . . an older man's love. Soft, tender, and not driven by urgency. Experienced.

Concerned with good hygiene, maybe.

But it does sort of beg the question, why sliders and not full sized burgers?

The answer is very very simple:


A burger is a wonderful wonderful thing, but you only get one of them. Sometimes you're in the mood for many different things; sautéed onions, or ketchup, or jalapeños, or smoked gouda. Sliders give you the opportunity to experiment with many different partners during the same meal.

A slider is completely noncommittal. You don't gotta put a ring on it.

Anyhoo, here is my mix of recipes for the perfect home made sliders.

The Meat:
I go ground beef cause it's easy, cheap, everybody likes it, even the vegetarians, who have a tendency to come over to my house whenever they have a hankering to break their chastity belts. You can go ground turkey if you want, and if you have the stomach for gloppy red goo, try ground chicken. I did that once, and I'm grateful, for I never will have to do that again. Slow cooked meat works fabulously too, but that's a different recipe all together, which I've got slated for a few weeks from now.

Vegetarian burgers are (oh god how I hate to admit this) not too bad either. But here's the thing: The stuff you buy pre-packed at the grocery store is disgusting and insulting and if you ever serve it to a guest again, you're not allowed to be my friend.

No . . . if you're gonna go veggie-burger . . . make it from scratch . . . you animal. It's not hard, at all. Some mushrooms, some brown quinoa, a little breadcrumb to hold it together. Look it up online. They don't go on the grill well, but they pan fry perfectly. You may even convert yourself . . . if even only for a few bites.

Using the ground beef, cut the package into little squares, and flatten each patty with one little push down. If you remember from last month's blog on ground beef patties, it's a no-no to roll and squish.

When you roll and squish, the proteins and fats will start linking together and that's how you gets swelling and burnt edges and raw middles. Trust me, just a single nice firm push down, sprinkle salt and drop on the heat. The patty won't be uniformly shaped . . . but neither is your mouth.

Cook until you see the edges start to crisp up and then flip. They're done when you start to smell a bit of char.

Which leads us to the next question:

To Cheese or Not to Cheese?
Now I'm a cheese lover. No mistaking that. But lately I've begun to wonder if cheese makes much of a difference (Again, another reason to love sliders is that you can try a burger without cheese and not have to regret it all day long). It certainly adds a creamy gooey texture, and it definitely has curb appeal, but wouldn't even the flavor of a really sharp extra sharp cheddar can get lost under a tiny glob of mustard?

In back to back taste trials, my suspicion was confirmed, though the cheese-less slider felt unfinished. I can't explain it better than that.

Finish your burger.

But don't go all gourmet here, a $20 slice of grass fed locally grown goat cheese ain't gonna do much more than a slice of Kraft's American singles. Bleu Cheese is the exception. If you like Bleu Cheese.

Rule of thumb: You can add many toppings . . . however . . . the more you add . . . the less you gone taste . . . so be reasonable. The height of the slider should never go above your mouth's ability to get a full bite. My perfect stack goes like this; bun, meat, cheese, bacon, sautéed onions, sauce, bun.

Sky's the limit here as long as you obey the first rule. My only suggestion is that you don't put anything on that doesn't add either flavor or texture.

Lettuce is fine if it's really crunchy. Tomatoes are fine if they are home grown and thinly sliced and lightly salted. Mushrooms are fine, jalapeños good, whatever.

What's really important is the sauce.

The Sauce:
Ketchup and/or mayo are fine. Boring . . . but fine. I like mustard, my wife implicitly does not. Barbecue sauce is a thing, but if you go that route, reduce all the other ingredients because you're not gonna taste anything else. Ranch is pretty good, but save that for your tater tots.

Anyway . . . my newest, favoritest thing in the known universe is a simple Spicy Mayo.

It's two parts mayonnaise to one part sriracha sauce. You can make it your self. You should make it yourself.

First the mayo: Now I respect the Miracle Whip crowd. Bologna, Miracle Whip, Wonder Bread and suddenly you're wondering what Eddie Haskel and your brother Wally are up to today.

You have your Miracle Whip . . . I've got my Debbie Gibson albums.

I also respect the DIY perfect mom recipes on Pinterest. My only beef with that is the raw egg, limited shelf life, and having to clean my food processor.

No . . . in my house . . . it's Best Foods REAL Mayonnaise or it's nothing. No knock off brands, nothing with the word "light" in the name or with some thing that says "homestyle"

Joann tried that once and it's literally the only time we've ever had an argument that lasted more than a week. I've since forgiven her, but it took most of a decade.

Anyway, if you don't already have some sriracha sauce in the fridge, my only question to you is how exactly did you get an internet connection in that cave you've been living in since 1987?

What makes sriracha hot sauce the new Ranch Dressing is that it it has a sweet peppery flavor/aroma followed by a good heat. Most sauces are all heat. Trust me. Try it and you'll never go back to anything ever again. Ever.

So two parts mayo, one part sriracha, mix with a spoon, lightly spread on the bun.


Pro Tip: If you make too much, don't fret. It'll fridge up to a week and you can add it to your sandwiches or if you made too too much, it'll make the best tuna/chicken salad you've ever had.

Obviously you can adjust the ratio if it's too hot.


The Bun:
Now pictured above are some sesame seeded slider buns I found at Trader Joes. I was a little worried that the seeds would be enough to turn the stomach of my nine-year-old partial skeleton, but he liked it. Whew. They come in an eight pack and are a little stiff, but toast up well.

My favorite buns to use are actually regular old dinner roles. They're the right size, soft and chewy, and can be used for other meals. You can get slider buns specifically made for sliders, but the specificity of them means you always end up with two to four extra that go bad before you use them again. Dinner roles are the way to go.

Prep your toppings. Cook the meat. Toast the buns. Use the same meat pan to sauté the onions or mushrooms (meld flavors and reduce clean-up). Assemble. I could say that this is a crowd pleaser, but you know that already.

Serve with carrot sticks and tator tots.

Or hot wings. What do I care?

HTT: How To Unlike

It's been a whirling dervish of a morning.

First, I got a note back from a publisher, who my step-mom hooked me up with, that I should hear back from them in about a week.

Only a week?

That's unheard of.

It's taken me longer to cook a potato.

I also found out that I'll be the opening act for Misty Boyce on April 3rd at the Naked Lounge in Sacramento. If you don't know who that is . . . don't feel bad . . . I too had to look her up . . . but she just came off a two year tour with my absolute favorite pop/singer/songwriter/unrequitedcrush, Sara Bareillis.

(Don't worry about the crush thing . . . my wife knows and she's cool with it.)

Wanna small world story? My wife is good friends with Sara's sister, I used to work with her other sister, and now I get to open for her opener. One of these days I'm sure I'll be pouring coffee for her booking agent and we'll all have gone full circle.

Anyway, last but not least, as I was updating all my music websites (of which there are five) with all the cool new changes in my seemingly unchanging life, I found that I have somehow lost 4 likes on my "Wait . . . Dad?" Facebook Page.

Yesterday I had a very loving 104, and today I am down to 100.

What did I say?

What did I do?

Why hath thou forsaken me?

Having "Likes" is different than having "Friends"

Having "Friends" on your home site just means that you have a few casual connections, but having "Likes" on your "Page" means that people are actively interested in what you are doing and what you have to say about the world.

I've lost one or two before, but four in one day?

That's a 3.84% drop.

Mondays must really be hard.

I'm not hurt (necessarily), but it is sort of a call to action, wouldn't you think?

Anyway, I thought for today I'd use this "How To Tuesday" to go over my work and make a mental note of all the things I may be doing that would cause such consternation and or what kind of future changes I may be having to make:

Problem One: Politics
I have been told that my politics can get a little nutty. Especially when it comes to hot button issues. Now . . . in all fairness . . . I do try to keep a lot of balance to my work . . . posting highlights on both sides of the spectrum . . . and shooting for a reasonable middle. (For instance, I'm all for gun rights and I'm all for gay rights and I really think those two should team up . . . party of the millennia). But I can get carried away, and sometime my satire gets a little too close, a little too insane, and most importantly, a little too not funny.

Problem Two: Religion
Yeah . . . I am so very very guilty of poking that lion with a sharp stick. And the older I get and the more I read  . . . well . . . the poison in my pen gets more concentrated. I looked back on about seven different posts and realized not a single one of them is without some kind of jesus/mormon/allah/oldtestament barb. Not even the recipe blogs. Nothing will get you unliked quicker than firing shots into a person's fundamental experience with the universe.

Problem Three: Sex
This is an adult show. But it's not like I'm sharing the contents of my night stand. My mother reads this every day. Don't think I don't keep that in mind.

Problem Four: Pop Culture Snobbery
Now, I will admit that sometimes you might have to google what I'm talking about. Don't worry about it. I usually had to google it before I began typing. It sounds like I'm smart and funny and quick witted and all . . . but most of this stuff I steal . . . and I take really good notes . . . and I remember lots of things . . . and I make a lot of it up.

Problem Five: Child Abuse
This is no laughing matter. Like . . . ever. But I do go out on a limb sometimes when it comes to satirizing my relationships with my children. Like I wrote this one joke that you can hit your son in the face with a baseball if he's crowding the plate, but you can't hit him with a baseball for not eating his broccoli. You'd get that if you've ever participated in coach/parent pitched baseball games, but you might find it rather reprehensible if not. For the record . . . I spoil my children rotten and have never hit them with a baseball and they both eat their broccoli.

Problem Six: No Editorial Staff
See, it's awfully nice to be able to just say anything I want whenever I want to say it with no real repercussions other than it's possible to find my phone number on my website. (For booking purposes only please) Anyway, without a second eye, I end up with quite a few typos and phrasing problems. Like . . . I can hear it in my head and it sounds perfectly funny (I'm sooo guilty of making myself laugh), but taken another way, from another viewpoint, I might come across as stupid and/or downright nasty.

I do have a loving wife who will text me immediately if something reads terribly. Or if I've gone too far. Or if I've given away some personal information that I shouldn't be giving away. I almost always take her advice and take the piece down, or change it, and when I don't I'm always sorry.


Anyway, we (you and I) need to get those "Likes" back. Maybe not the same "Likes." I think those people have made it perfectly clear I'm no longer fun for them, but you know, some new "Likes"

So if you can, do me a favor.

If you smile, hit "Like"

If you laugh out loud, hit "Share"

If wanna comment . . . comment.

The more that comes back to me, the better, funnier, safer place this will be for all of us.

Oh . . . and come to my show : )

Taking It To The Next Level

Taking it to the next level.

I hear that a lot.

What's worse is . . . I think that a lot.

It's one of those key phrases that gets abused, retranslated, colloquialized, and adopted whenever you're trying to describe something bigger than you might have thought possible.

It's also on Forbes Top Ten List of really super annoying business phrases.

"Thinking out of the box" and "Paradigm Shift" being the top two.

Which I always found funny because whenever someone in a job that rates a higher pay than you do says any of those things, it's almost always to describe something stupid. If there's anything your company doesn't want you to do is to think outside of the box. And if a paradigm is going to be shifted, it's most likely going to be shifted right on your foot.

Or possibly up those tight places of your soul where shifting is a no no.

But taking something to the next level can be, at least, for me, kind of exciting.

What does that even mean? Taking something to the next level? For me it's an easy question. My next level is making a living off of words and music. I'm not even particularly ambitious about the height of that level. I don't see rock stardom or NY Times Best Seller lists as a place I would be particularly happy . . . I'm looking more for a pay check big enough that I have to pay taxes.

It's the simple things.

Yet when I hear someone saying that they're taking something to the next level, I smirk a bit, because I don't think they even know what the next level is. Let alone how to get there.

Different is not the next level. More extreme is not the next level. Hair plugs and lip injections . . . not the next level.

I tried to do a little etymological search on where that term came from (I have a suspicion it is a video game reference, but that means it's only been around since the eighties), but I didn't find anything that suggested a starting point.

Anyway, my problem isn't knowing what the next level is . . . it's figuring out how it is. Like . . . let's say I wanna write for a living . . . so I write every day . . . perk up my skills . . . write about different things . . . submit things to the kinds of people that take submissions . . . do a lot of finger crossing.

However . . . it could easily turn out that the next level isn't predicted on any of the things I'm doing. It could be that I need to know the right people . . . could mean I need to go to the right school. Could be I just need some dumb luck.

Not that the things I'm doing are wrong (except maybe the finger crossing) but a sherpa would be really nice at this stage of the climb.

I was watching the movie Whiplash a few days ago, and it's brilliant, but painful. If you're not familiar with the flick, it's about a young drummer who wants to be the best and the extremes by which a clearly psychotic conductor gets him there.

Not a movie to watch if you've ever felt faint about anything, ever.

And I can't claim to have experienced anything but a bit of that during my time as a serious artist. Closest I got was a director who had me in tears for a week and a half.

True Story:
It was my first real stage role and not having any training or experience, I was shy and squeaky, and had no idea what it takes to put a show on in four weeks (A schedule now that seems to me as the only way to do it). But then I was flailing . . . and failing . . . and the director knew it . . . and everyone knew it . . . and I couldn't finish a sentence of lines before all action was stopped.

Problem was was that I couldn't project.

I had no acting voice. Only my speaking voice. And the director (god bless him) was deaf in one ear.

After three days of screaming "I CAN"T HEAR YOU!!!!" he pulled me off the stage and forced me to deliver my lines from the back of the auditorium. If something didn't come out right he would rush up to me and yell in my face the whole motivation of the scene. Make us do it over and over again until I got it right.

And I did.

By opening night . . . I got it right.

Know why?

Because he had taken me to the next level.

Again . . . I didn't have a clue what that meant or that there even was such a thing . . . but he did . . . and he knew he could do it. And he did it. And whatever non-sense that fell after that is moot. In fact, I'm convinced that after that, there was no next level. Not one that could be articulated anyway. All the training and experience that followed only made me worse. Go figure.

I used to be able to do that. Take people to the next level.

My technique wasn't quite so draconian, but I certainly knew how to ride the edge of a person's comfort zone and push them just enough past it to see the possibilities. In fact, I wasn't just able to do it . . . I was really good at it.

At least I think I was.

I had a good record.

Anyway, in thinking about my particular level, I'm starting to realize I've taken myself as far as I can go.

All I've got now is a list a of best practices, which is kind of like weeding your way through LA traffic before the era of GPS. There are a lot of exits and bypasses and there is always some jerk riding the shoulder like it was his own personal lane, but everyone else seems to be at a standstill.

But what if the jerk riding the shoulder has got it right? What if that's the key to the next level?

I honestly don't know how I feel about that.

I had a long conversation with an entrepreneurial business consultant a few months back. He was very wordy, pretty aggressive, and slightly drunk. He seemed to know a ton of insider pool regarding the entrepreneurial spirit and technique, but in listening to him, it suddenly occurred to me that he is the kind of guy that rides the shoulder.

And I didn't like him very much.

And I certainly didn't want to be him.

But I can't get over the fact that I would absolutely hire him. Even if his job is to make me scream out my lines on the other side of the auditorium or throw folding chairs at my head until I matched his tempo.

I pay him to be my sherpa.

But I'm certainly not going to consider hair plugs. So I may just be a lost cause.

A Fraction of a Five

So Molly is a music teacher.

And she just won a whole bunch of money at the race track.

She spent 3/7 of that money on music stands.

Then she spent 2/5 of what she had left over on reeds.

Then she spent $125 on a new hat. Then $100 on books. Then $75 baby wipes.

You can never have enough baby wipes.

How much money did Molly spend on reeds and how much did she win at the race track?

Molly likes the ponies and clarinet players.

Can't have enough of those either.

The point is is that this was my homework last night. Okay, maybe not my homework, but it was definitely the homework of a person who lives in my house.

He's the short one.

And maybe I made that bit up about the race track and the baby wipes. But the word problem is essentially the same.

Now if you're crazy enough, I suggest you try to solve that particular problem. It's like really easy, assuming you know how to add, multiply, divide, and subtract fractions.

Oh, and you know how to draw boxes.

Boxes are really important. Like . . . really important.

The answer, I'll have you know, is $200 on reeds and $875 at the track.

This is the kind of word problem you get to enjoy now that your children are taking Common Core Mathematics.

I've railed about this kind of stuff before, but I caught myself getting just slightly irked again about the whole process. And for parents out there, I think it's time I broke down for you the five steps of dealing with Common Core in your own home without drinking yourself to sleep at night:

Step One:
He/she brings you a sheet of paper because she/he/it is confused. You smile and think to yourself this should be easy, it's fourth grade math after all, I'm not even gonna pause the movie I'm watching.

Step Two:
You read the particular problem and you have absolutely no idea what the hell it's asking for. You have no idea what it's talking about and you're concerned that you've forgotten how to read the english language. You go ahead and pause the movie.

Step Three:
You have to move into another room for better lighting. You read each sentence very carefully while the short one stands over your shoulder looking very anxious. You get a sharp pain in your stomach because of stage fright, and you read it again, but this time, you convince yourself that there's not enough information in the question, and you're about to write a note where the answer goes saying something like "My name is Joshua Macrae and I'm giving my son permission to skip this question." But then you realize that that would be the coward's way out, and you don't want to raise your son to be a coward. Thank god for the internet. The internet is where you discover the boxes.

Remember . . . the boxes are important.

Like really important.

Step Four:
You learn how to diagram (using boxes, example above) because . . . internet . . .  and you isolate all the individual pieces of information in the word problem and then you begin to fill in information that you can solve.

If this takes you less than an entire page of your yellow note pad, you're my hero. But solve it you will . . . I have faith in you . . . your daughter/son/crayon has faith in you . . . there is no turning back now . . . and it's 5:13pm so you're allowed a glass of wine.

But that's not all.

Step Five:
You're the teacher now. I know how good it feels to solve a fourth grade math problem. I've felt less like a hero saving someone from drowning, but you can't send your child to school with six or seven sheets of yellow pad math that is clearly in your hand writing. You could just have your daughter/son/chickfilet copy your work, but how is that helpful? I mean . . . you can get back to your movie later.

No . . . You're the teacher now.

You've got to make sure that you can pass on this learning. So when the teacher asks your daughter/son/bordercollie how they got the answer, they don't have to lie and tell them Jesus presented the answer to them on fifteen golden plates.

So you start by drawing more boxes and making your daughter/son/drummer fill in the blanks (as you see here in my example.) Then, once they get the feel for this kind of questioning, you have them draw their own boxes.

Pro-Tip: You cannot, must not, get up from the table at this point. They still need your strength. They still need your courage. They still need a calm assurance. If you say "Alright . . . now draw your own boxes." and go back to your movie, I swear to God that your child/sockpuppet will panic and forget everything.

You cannot get up from that table until they have solved an entire problem all the way through. Once that is done . . . you are done . . . dinner is served.

And now you get to go to sleep knowing one of two things. Either you are the best parent in the world, or that LSD does have long term side effects.

But I'm betting on the best parent thing.

TBT: The Miserable

There's this little bird that has been chirping outside my writing room window for at least four or five days now. My apologies to those readers that live in my neighborhood, cause once you start to hear it, you can't un-hear it.

It starts every morning with these little single chirps.

Chirp . . . chirp . . . chirp.

And then it makes a succession of chirps like a really high pitched engine struggling to start up. At first it was a little annoying, and then I got kind of interested because . . . you know . . . nature is cool. I would go outside and sit quietly and see if I could hear some kind of far off response hoping to catch some kind of conversation.

But there hasn't been any response.

Nothing at all.

Just a single chirping bird, flying between two trees, endlessly calling out for a lover or a friend, and getting nothing in return.

It's depressing.

And speaking of depressing . . . today is the day back in 1987 that Les Miserable debuted on Broadway and began it's astronomical 4,000 performance run. I'm not saying that it's longevity is depressing, any theater company with that kind of stamina is a triumph in my book, but it's not what one would call a "Feel Good" piece of art.

Aside from the sad story line, Les Miserable ushered in this era of the EPIC stage musical. Massive sets, prerecorded orchestras, intensely amplified sounds, Pink Floyd inspired light shows, bigger, longer, uncut.

Now the way musicals had been presented in the past was with a few easily removable sets, that would be hidden by a painted backdrop, moved on and off while some sort of scene played out on the edge of the stage. That's how you would get from Annie's orphanage to Daddy Warbucks's Mansion and then out to the streets of Manhattan.

The Fosse era (god bless him) stripped a lot of that down, going for a more minimalist look with tighter tunes and all the sex that was missing from the Oscar & Hammerstein Universe.

Then shows got big again, because, you know, theater people.

Not a euphemism for gay necessarily, but definitely with a leaning flair for the dramatic.

Yet with so much attention payed to the bravado, the songs got really bland. Like blander than Disney bland. And with the running times going from 90 minutes to near fortnights, it seemed a lot easier to repeat themes over and over again, rather than making up a whole new melody.

Sondheim is obviously the exception, but entirely in the other direction. He doesn't repeat himself very often at all, which though brilliant, doesn't sell a lot of T-Shirts.

It's important to sell T-Shirts.

Anyway, it stayed like that for almost an entire generation. Shows like the Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Chess, I could go on and on and on, but I don't have to because they already did.

I remember telling my friends in the late 90's that musicals are going to be revolutionized soon and become fun again, quirky, less EPIC.  Had I been a New Yorker at the time I might have seen it first hand, but alas, that particular shipped has sailed.

There's so much more flavor now.

Thank goodness.

But getting back to bland . . . and I don't mean to pick on Les Miserable because a very dear friend of mine is an absolute fanatic when it comes to that show . . . but I've seen it performed on stage several times and was able to even get through the recent movie. Which I do not recommend.

My wife and I were in the movie theater and she leaned over and asked me if we were nearing the end.

My whispered response:

"We haven't even made it to the end of the first act."

Her response to that:


I honestly felt, and still do feel, that the movie would have been perfect if it had ended when (spoiler alert) Anne Hathaway dies.

Short, sad, and very little Russel Crowe. Who . . . by the way . . . actually has a very nice singing voice, but the songs were not in the right key for him and the direction of his scenes were criminally bad. Javert is a tricky role to pull off (Cause his songs suck) and I've never seen it done particularly well. It's a weak piece of material, and anyone attempting it has to know that.

But the underlaying problem is that if Javert is weak, then the whole story is trash. Can't have a hero without a decent bad-guy. You gotta do something about that.

No one is going to . . . because nobody takes my advice . . . chirp . . . but fix Javert and end the show with Fantine's death and you might have something.

Do a sequel if you're itching for Colette. Hell, make it a trilogy.

Get Peter Jackson to direct. He could make it into seven movies.

He can certainly sell T-Shirts.

And making those kinds of moves pays off.

Great story (Fosse again):

During the first production of Pippin, Bob Fosse was incredibly concerned that people were going to leave during intermission, so he cut it.

The original performance ran straight through to the end.

Anyone who mentioned that they might not be able to sell T-Shirts was likely to get bitch slapped by Bob himself. Stephen Schwartz, the creator, and the guy who would eventually write Wicked for the stage, left rehearsals more often than not, in tears.

So cool.

Fosse would have known what to do with Javert.

But alas, that is a thing we shall never see. So it will always be a weak Javert, a Peter Jacksonian running time, and the half bowl of wet porridge that is the second act.

I'll just be up in my tree.

Chirp chirp chirping away.

Hello Mr. Potato . . . Meet Loaf

Well . . . it certainly isn't the prettiest picture . . . but I'm not spending all day in photoshop. I've actually got things to do. If this goes viral, that'll just have to be the cross I'll bare.

Hello Mr. Potato . . . Meet Loaf.

1lb ground meat
1 egg
1/2 roma tomato
1/4 cup diced onions
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup of leafy stuff (spinach/kale)
Italian bread crumb
Olive oil
Garlic salt

Meatloaf has a bit of a bad rap. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's not like it's suddenly good for you or anything, but it's always had sort of a blah reputation. I don't remember having it very much as a kid, if at all, so there's a good chance that my first experience with Meatloaf was "Bat Out of Hell"

That will be the last Meatloaf/meatloaf joke . . . probably.

Anyway, it has always seemed to me to be this doughy, bland, slice of stuff that people would put ketchup on. Is it weird that we would dip our fries in ketchup but not cover our baked potatoes with the stuff? Hmm?

So, I never considered meatloaf to be the kind of thing that I would cook, until my wife magically got pregnant and it was up to me to find foods that I could hide other foods inside of, so as not to gross her out, but still get as many vitamins and minerals to what is supposedly my baby boy.

Key to this plan was finding her favorite foods and then slipping in some heavy doses of protein and folic acid. Or in laymen's terms . . . Chicken and Spinach.

Knowing that she couldn't get enough meatballs in her system, I conned her mom into giving me her meatball recipe. (Actually I just asked, she was glad to hand it over). I don't care what religion you belong to, but if you haven't tried Giulia's meatballs, you will never actually get to experience heaven.

Same goes for her chicken cutlets, and well . . . who am I kidding . . . just about everything else.

The recipe isn't very complicated, but it does require a good supply of stale bread which I never seem to have on hand, so like with all her recipes that I steal and virtually maim, I cheat a little.

And add spinach where I think I can get away with it.

Of course my wife didn't fall for my ruse for one second, she's a smart cookie that one, but on my first attempt at her mom's meatballs, she deemed them worthy, if not outright delicious, and I was given a pass.

And then I got even lazier . . . so rather than rolling out the individual balls . . . I just rolled it into one big ball, popped it in the oven, and claimed that I had invented a new food.

My Meet Loaf was born.

And normally you can't have a side dish for meatloaf other than mashed potatoes, but I was in baked potato mood last night and all worked out fine.

Alrighty then . . . lets get to the how to's:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Fahrenheit.

The Potatoes:
Now if ever you are baking potatoes, you should know that they take a very long time. (Not really, but it feels like that sometimes. Russets are usually the way to go, for they have a thick skin and a flaky texture, but they have severe disadvantage to the weight conscience in that they absolutely require butter and sour cream. White Potatoes, however, have a soft creamy texture and you can get away with jus ta little salt and some olive oil. I've never tried that, cause nixing the sour cream is like betraying Jesus, but you know . . . where there's a will.

Okay, scrub you potatoes, place them on a sheet of aluminum foil, poke a bunch of holes in them with your knife or fork, drizzle a little olive oil, sprinkle some salt, cover 'em up in the foil, and place them on a baking sheet and into the oven they go.

Onto the Loaf . . . 
Spread your ingredients out on the counter, grab a pyrex baking dish (the little 6X4 one) and an over sized bowl.

Put all the ingredients in the bowl except for the Italian bread crumb. Spray a little cooking oil in the bottom of the pyrex dish.

Now you're ready for the fun part.

With one hand holding the breadcrumb tube, take the other hand and begin squeezing all the ingredients together until they make a gooey gloppy mess. Sprinkle the breadcrumb into the dish while still mashing up the goo. Do this until the goo starts to dry out and feel like a soft ball of meat flavored play-dough. Flatten it out a little bit, drop the mass onto the pyrex, and go wash your hand you filthy animal.

Place the dish in the oven an give it about 45 minutes to cook.

Squeeze the potatoes with an oven mitt. If they're soft, they're done. Cut the loaf in the middle, if it ain't pink, it's done.

Slice and serve.

You can adopt more of Giulia's recipe and add the stale bread too. Just cut the bread up into small chunks, rehydrate them with a little water, and then squeeze out the water like squeezing a sponge, chop the wet bread into even smaller chunks and add about 3/4 cup to the bowl before adding the Italian bread crumb. You also don't have to bother with the spinach/kale.

You can add a little more seasoning if you want. I sprinkle a little garlic salt in, but just a hint. Don't use fresh garlic for it will override all of the other flavors.

Also . . . and if you've chosen to go the bad-boy route, you can lay a couple of slices of thick bacon on top while it cooks. You won't regret it, but you'll have to confess to at least four out of the seven deadly sins.

A few cardinal ones too I think.

If you're concerned about the speed of cooking your potatoes, you can cut them in half lengthwise and wrap the halves individually. Quickens it up and makes the side dish a bit less of a gastro bomb.

Probably serves four.
Probably shouldn't concern yourself with the calories
Probably makes for an amazing sandwich the next day.
Probably pair it with a citrusy dry white wine (Viognier or Pinot Grigio)
Probably learn how to pronounce Viognier.

It's Vin-Yay!


HTT: How To Brew Fest

I got the chance to go to my first beer festival this weekend.

That . . . was fun.

Maybe even too much fun.

Two days later and I still have bit of a buzz. Although it could just be my circadian rhythm adjusting to the time change.

Yeah . . . let's blame that.

And actually in hindsight, it wasn't my first beer festival. I used to date tour guide at the Budweiser Plant in Fairfield and they had a microbrew day, but I don't remember much more than getting to meet the clydesdales and tasting my first scotch ale. I weighed about 115 pounds back then and one bottle of that stuff could lead me to waking up on a stranger's kitchen floor.

There are perks to getting older.

I have my own kitchen floor and a wife who is nice enough to drape my lifeless body with a blanket from the couch.

Anyway . . . if you ever get the chance to go to a beer festival, even if you're a wine snob or a recovering alcoholic in remission, you should absolutely go to one.

But there are Rules.

And Guidlines.

And Best Practices.

Probably even a few Pro-Tips.

First and foremost, if you are planning on attending the Sacramento Beer Festival, go to the L Street entrance and not the one on N Street.

We parked on N St. figuring we could waltz right in and was confronted with a line of people nearly a mile long that covered three city blocks. Not knowing that there was another entrance, we almost made the mistake of skipping the day all together and returning home with nothing in our bellies but sadness.

But, as luck would have it, we ran into a girl who was on her phone and she casually mentioned that her friend was on the other side of Capitol Mall and that the line was much much much much shorter.

And it was.


It was still a half hour wait, but I've spent longer queuing up for Mr Toad's Wild Ride, and we played a game called "Guess Which VH1 Hit the Band is Going to Play Next."

Brian Adams, Eddie Money, Journey, Rush, Def Leopard, Queen.

It was like being an awkward 10th grader again.

Anyway, at the end of the line, you're handing a brochure listing all the breweries, and a 4oz plastic cup. Up, Up and Away.

Now at first one might be daunted by the sheer amount of choices, but it's best not to panic and just find the smallest few lines you can find.

10 minutes in and 12oz of beer later, we were ready to start enjoying ourselves.

If you're a purist, you're going to immediately want ignore all the recognizable labels and find some brands that you can't get at Safeway, but this would be a mistake. The major labels aren't going to be pouring the boring stuff, their gonna wanna show off, and because there are a lot of snobs in this world, the lines are shorter and the choices more infinite.

Speaking of snobs, beer people are better than wine people.

They just are.

They're not as well dressed, but they are just so damn happy. Of course there are a lot if interesting facial hair choices, a lot of crooked teeth, but there is a sincere love of craft and not a single vapid bachelorette party.

Okay, now that you've got your toast on, it's time to go exploring.

Each kiosk has two to four beers on tap, you get one per visit, with unlimited return visits.

Look for styles you've never even heard of before.

I got to meet a Dark IPA for the first time. (Lovely). A super hopped lager (Think Coors made by Sierra Nevada, also lovely). Some reds, some browns, some porters, some stouts, mostly very very lovely. And since we had been discussing the new style of Sour Beers, I had to try one of those too.

That was gross.

A sour beer should not be a thing.

My buddy described it as being like a beer with a dissolved SweetTart in it.

To me it was like chewing on an aspirin.

I also did not find the Honeyed Beers to be palatable at all. A few years back, honey was all the rage in espresso drink crafting . . . which I also found to be gross.

 The Dark IPA was clearly my own uniformed winner. Fruity on the nose, tangy hops on the tongue, creamy, buttery, malty finish, with a clean after taste.


Damn yum.

Okay, now that you're warm and full of happiness, it's time to slow down a bit and be choosy.

Go for a little walk.

The weather is perfect.

We found a brewer on the far edge of the mall with this really big line and it looked like they were pouring beer out of champaign bottles.

Long line, had to be good right? But as we were standing there we overheard the conversation of all the people in line around us and they all had the same idea. No one knew what they were waiting for, but it had to be good because look at the line. Right?

Yes . . . and no. See, 4oz doesn't last that long and we gave it a bout five minutes before deciding that our plastic cups were way too empty and skipped over to something else.

Later in the day we did go back . . . and yes . . . the beer was good . . . but a little too carbonated for my taste (hence the champaign bottles).

There is a rule in restaurants that you always want to go to the place that looks busy because the locals know what they are doing, but if everyone knows that rule, then you're back to square one with an empty plastic cup.

At some point, we thought it might be fun to join the cigar smokers, but the line for that wasn't going anywhere and after thirty seconds we realized there wasn't any beer at the end of it and we moved on.

Had we had more time, we may have gone back to retry a few of our favorites, but we're explorers not librarians, and the evening was at a close by the time we had covered about 25% of which was on tap.

Still though . . . that was a whole lot of beer.

We exited the way we came, grateful for the long walk, and made it home safely.

Okay . . . so to recap . . . If you do go to a Brew Fest . . . eat a big brunch . . . go early . . . find the second entrance . . . don't be snobby . . . if your buddy tells you beforehand that something is disgusting, but you still have to try it, you won't hurt his feelings, because telling you he told you so is a basic part of male bonding . . . take note of some of your favorites . . . or take pictures . . . only wait in the long line if you hear people raving about it . . . the beer, not the line . . . drink responsibly . . . drive safe.

Double up on those last bits.