Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Passion For Music

That's my grandfather playing the violin in this picture taken almost 60 years ago in Midland, Michigan. I borrowed the photo this past November from the restaurant that had it so I could make a copy to give to my 94-year-old grandmother for Christmas.

Grandpa's Polish bands entertained at weddings, clubs and parties, playing a variety of waltzes, polkas and other dance favorites of the time. His personal library of music, carried in a large leather bag emblazoned with his initials, was passed on to me when he died some ten years ago. Included were orchestral arrangements of musical pieces from the 30s, 40s and 50s. Many songs were notated by hand. Most of the sheet music was rubber stamped with the name of grandpa's band and his home address.

I can still picture him singing a favorite Polish waltz at my sister's wedding, his voice still stirringly resonant at 84. Amateur musicians we were on my father's side of the family. My grandmother played drums for a time. My father blew saxophone in a polka band that always included at least one of my uncles.

The first time my wife Wendy and I went out socially over a quarter century ago, she was among a group of co-workers that I drove to hear my own brother's rock band play some 100 miles away from Ann Arbor. My youngest brother occasionally sat in there, playing his own saxophone. Although not part of a formal band, my sister played cello. When my brother's band would play weddings, I occasionally would sit in for waltzes or polkas with my accordion.

As the next generation of musicians matures, I believe the spirit of grandpa is with them. I am sure his spirit was there when my son Greg serenaded my folks at their 50th wedding anniversary, accompanying himself on the guitar while he sang, "Forever and Ever, Amen." Maybe grandpa was there too when my nephew played Wipe Out on the drums at his own wedding just over a year ago.

We all have past-times, hobbies and interests as we meander through life. When your avocation becomes so much a part of you, then you become identified with it. It can even become your legacy. So it was with grandpa and his music.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Burgers and Cokes

Last weekend I was waiting for a table at Sidetrack, a pub and grill in Ypsilanti. Ahead of me, someone commented, "We were here a year ago and there was nobody in here."

The joint was jumping now. Why? The magazine GQ recently honored Sidetrack as one of 20 restaurants nationwide that prepare a burger which GQ says we all must have before we die. So now Sidetrack is the chic venue to be seen chowing down a third-pound of cow meat with the complements.

Yes, the burger is tasty. But my favorite remains the double whopper at Burger King. Now there is a burger to die for (in more ways than one according to my worrywart doc).

The double whopper is cheaper too. The "famous" burger at Sidetrack, with a side of fries, retails for $7.25, sans tip. Oh sure, you get ambience with that. We had a huge moose, his head anyway, watching over us while we ate. Can't get that at BK.

Still, having GQ pick a burger joint for me seems akin to having Sports Illustrated select the best French restaurant. Playboy rating the best Hooters restaurants? Now that one makes sense.

Although a burger and a Coke is something you would think you could enjoy most anywhere, not so in Ann Arbor. Or at least at the University of Michigan. The U has banned Coke products, at least temporarily, because the soft drink giant allegedly has been stonewalling investigations into working conditions at its plants outside the U.S.

So when Coke is sold out of the machines on campus, the machines will sit empty for now. I'm a Coke fan. I even chose Coke when I took the "Pepsi challenge" many years ago. Remember that? The gimmick was that the tester poured warm versions of both Coke and Pepsi. Pepsi retains a sweeter taste that way while Coke must be imbibed ice cold or else it quickly goes flat.

Wonder if I could make money smuggling Coke onto the University grounds. Wonder if using the phrase "make money smuggling Coke" might raise some alarms at the NSA, or FBI, or CIA, or whoever is spying on us Americans now?

COUPLE NOTES: Since I have a few regular visitors here from the Seattle area, I should mention that Red Mill Burgers in Seattle also scored one of the top 20 GQ burgers. Also, a little while back I did a blog entitled "Report to Shareholder." Yesterday, the shareholder responded. His comment is the last on that particular blog now.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Next Apprentice?

I felt like some cheap entertainment this week. There was an old dollar-off coupon to the local video store hanging from a magnet on the refrigerator. Oooooh-yeahhhhh. I even decided to hoof it the six blocks or so from my house to save on gas. When I want to be cheap, I'd do Donald Trump proud. Ask my wife.

At the video store, they had a bargain basement bin of VHS movies for a dollar each. Nirvana. But the movies I shuffled there looked like bottom of the barrel B-movies. Bad. Then I spotted it! 28 Days Later--a grade A zombie flick. That didn't belong, I thought. "Excuse me," I said, reaching in front of another gentleman browsing the bin before he could spot it himself.

After picking out another movie to rent, I took both to the check-out. The clerk looked at 28 Days Later, then held it up to the store manager.

"Is this only a dollar?" she asked skeptically.

The store manager answered in the affirmative. I must have been sporting a healthy smirk, thinking, "Yeah missy, face it. You're dealing with the next Trump apprentice right here." She punched my name into her computer.

"You owe a $3.99 late fee from December 1st," she said.

Arrrrrrgggghhhhhh! What was the movie? Mr. and Mrs. Smith??? I hadn't even seen it. Heard it wasn't that good. My older son had rented it. Great! Well, I wasn't going to go away empty-handed. I paid the stupid tax myself. Now I'll just have to collect that four dollars from number one son.

Wonder if the Donald had this problem with his kids.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Visiting The Dead

This past weekend marked the fourth anniversary of my brother-in-law's death. He was just 48, the victim of an untimely heart attack. He was buried near the top of a hill in a small town cemetery that overlooks the Washtenaw County countryside. Peaceful, pastoral, welcoming. Several of the family visited there on Sunday to pay our respects and check on things.

Though some cemeteries strictly limit what can be placed at the gravesite, not so this resting place. Years ago an unknown friend of my brother-in-law had taken a golf club, driven the shaft into the ground and written "Dude We Miss You" onto the club head. It still stands next to the headstone, though the painted lettering is wearing off. Yes, my brother-in-law loved to golf with his friends.

While a few of us tried to fix a set of wind chimes that had fallen, I wandered away a bit. Being a change spotter, I'm always attracted to this one headstone where many pennies and a few other coins lie rusting on its polished granite base. There's also a lone nickel resting atop the monument. I have to wonder why. Was he a collector?

On top of another headstone, someone had placed a small pudding stone. Many Michiganders collect pudding stones, including my mother and my sister. They should see the large pudding stone hauled at no mean effort to a resting place on the hill near the forest's edge. It weighs several hundred pounds easily.

Walking down the hill, I stop at a newer site where a pair of large stone angels stand watch. Nestled in the greenery of the grave blanket is a toy stuffed bear, bits of ice and snow collecting in its fur. The little girl buried here did not live to see her tenth birthday.

Her face has been etched in full color on an oval stonepiece which is attached to the headstone. Many headstones similarly feature such color images of the departed. Just as elaborate are the monuments finely etched with images of farms, tractors, dogs, deer, fish or whatever else might be connected with the deceased.

After our visit, my wife recalled the hardships pioneers endured crossing the Oregon Trail when death was nearly an everyday event. Those poor souls who ended their journey west prematurely were buried hastily with only a few rocks or sticks marking the spot. Nobody to remember them there. Nothing to remember them by. Another reason we're fortunate to live in this day and age, even when life ends.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Superbowl, Hoss And Ebay

Superbowl hype clouded my better judgment. The Jim Beam and cola didn't help either. The big game was a couple hours off when the in-laws arrived. Right away, I showed my teen-aged nephew Mike an Ebay website where they were auctioning off hand-painted plaster footballs autographed by gridiron celebrities.

Mike, who decorates his room with all things sports, was awestruck. Bids ran as high as $400 for a football signed by former Detroit Lion Barry Sanders. Another football, painted maize 'n blue, was signed by ex-Wolverine superstar Dan Dierdorf. Didn't see any Michigan State souvenir balls, but this was an official NFL sanctioned event with proceeds going to charity. They needed big money draws.

There were some footballs where bidding was less than $50. That included a black and gold colored football signed by St. Louis Rams Isaac Bruce. Mike wanted it. He asked his dad, who has an Ebay account. Dad sad no, emphatically.

Uncle Dave to the rescue. What uncle hasn't undermined parental authority at one time or another? I had an Ebay sign-on I had never used. Found it buried in some e-mail as auction time was waning. Mike said he was good for the money.

With less than a half hour to go, adrenaline rushing, Jim Beam urging me on, I bid $41. Bingo! We were high bidder as the auction ended. Instantly, I received an invoice from E-Bay addressed to, uh, oops. I had forgotten that when I set up that E-Bay account, paranoid of theft identity, I was not totally accurate with my information.

No worries. To avoid the E-Bay cops, I e-mailed the seller, stating I would pay cash in person and take the football with me since the seller had a local outlet. No soap. All footballs were being shipped via UPS. Only payment via something called "pay pal" was being accepted.

Pay pal? What the hang is that? It sounds like a drinking buddy that you bring along to the bars because you know he will pick up the tab after he's had a few. What could I do? Mike was counting on me. I couldn't sleep. And when I did sleep I dreamt nervously.

In my dream, they were auctioning a double-hulled, twelve-man racing canoe. Fellow blogger Hoss was nearby and pronounced it a good buy so I bought it. Hoss never lies. While I tried to acquire the money to pay for it, I wondered where I possibly could store it. Never mind that I didn't know twelve people who canoed (and NOBODY that raced canoes).

The morning after that dream I received an e-mail from the seller. He would take a money order afterall. Great! I dropped it off with instructions to deliver it to my nephew. If they would have delivered it to the address I had originally given E-Bay, it looked like it would have ended up at a University of Michigan fraternity.

"Hea, Rich. Look what we just got. Go deep!"

But just in case, I corrected all the information in my E-Bay user account. With all the effort I had invested and with the stress I had endured, I decided to put in half the purchase money and share the SuperBowl souvenir with my nephew. But that didn't fly with Mike. No sharing.

What? I sent an e-mail to his mother. "Could I at least touch it then?"

She responded, "Don't count on being able to touch it. He's
protective of his football stuff ."


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Report to Shareholder

While ego-surfing "Big Dave" on Google recently, I came across a site that assigns blogshares to blogs including mine. Yes, Big Dave's Blog has gone public. Wow! Nobody told me. Isn't the CEO always the last to know? Ask ex-Enron CEO Ken Lay.

I even have a shareholder: Matt Given. Why he bought shares in my blog I don't know. I hope he didn't pay real money because my ambitions have been minimal of late.

Still, I thought I owed something to Matt for his loyalty this past, well, month it looks like. So I convened an executive board meeting (actually, it was just me, but I don't want to shake the faith of potential investors). I thought about composing an agenda but since I've never been to a stockholder's meeting, I don't know if they have agendas. So I decided to wing it.

I considered a proposal to go to the annual Blogcon convention in Las Vegas, but I'm about as likely to get there on a flying pig as I am on a heavier-than-gravity jumbo jet. Yeah, I know it's tough to have your top executive afraid to fly but what are you going to do.

So then I thought about buying a new computer with high-speed internet capability, but I already have two dinosaurs, of which only one is internet capable. And I'm not using that one to type this here. So what does that tell you? I don't embrace new technology particularly well. In fact, I'd trade both my newer computers for a working Commodore-64, since I have oodles of old C-64 games. I'd have so much fun playing those, I probably wouldn't blog at all. (Hmmmmmm, strike this last paragraph from the official minutes)

Okay, how about trying to sell ads and stuff . . . you know, try to make my blog a more commercial enterprise. But then I see that other bloggers aren't making a pile of money either, and they're light years ahead of me in material, technology and fan appeal. So nix the idea of making money for now.

Maybe I could write more blogs than my two-a-week now. However, that would mean I'd run out of material sooner. Also, I couldn't do my share of the household chores, my wife would divorce me, and I'd probably have to move to a trailer park in East Lansing. It'd be like Bill Gates being forced financially to move Microsoft into an abandoned steel mill near Pittsburgh. Wouldn't thrill investors.

I could lay off employees, which usually helps to convince Wall Street you're serious about keeping the wealth with the fat cat shareholders and executives. But there's just me. And I blog for free anyway.

About all I can offer is maybe an annual dividend. I'm willing to go, mmmmmm, one percent of annual earnings. So far the only anticipated earnings are those I'll get from Matt for his purchase of my stock. So as soon as I get that money from you, Matt, I'll return your one percent.

Meeting adjourned for lunch at Carl's Chop House. Matt, do you have credit cards?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Buddaboom, Buddabing!

"Live on stage, let's give it up for the comedy stylings of Big Dave." (Crowd rises with a thunderous ovation)

If you've ever felt guilty about leaving your pet dog home while you and the family go out for dinner, do what we do. Have your dog wear one of those "Leader Dog In Training" jackets. It'll get him in anywhere. He doesn't have to behave--he's in training! We've been taking Fido to the same Chinese restaurant now for three years. He wanders around, eats scraps off the floor, begs from other diners, barks when the food is brought out. So what, he's in training!"

Finally, the manager came up to us and said, "You dog pretty slow to catch on, eh."

I said, "Yeah, there are slow learners in this world."

Crowd laughs. Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Dave Barry are diligently taking notes. Lorne Michaels is asking for my agent.

Ah, fantasy! I did actually compose a stand-up comedy routine once with aspirations of performing during open mike night at the local comedy club. But butterflies talked me out of it long before I could drive downtown Ann Arbor. What happens if nobody gets the jokes?

I better carry a snare drum, so I can do a little drum roll and rim shot every time I throw out a one-liner. Buddaboom, Buddabing! That would have helped the last time I got a haircut from a young lady at a local barbershop. When I commented how busy it was, she mentioned that a fellow haircutter had fallen the day before, breaking her arm.

"Well, you still can cut hair with one arm, can't you?" I joked (I thought).

There was a brief pause, then the young lady responded in all seriousness, "No, you definitely need two hands to cut hair." After another lull, she added emphatically and with a bit of ire, "Definitely!"

'Okay, okay. Sorryyyyyyy,' I thought to myself. This same hair salon had a sign above each mirror stating the company's motto: "Our job is to bring you back." I wanted to say, "I saw that sign above a witch doctor's hut in Haiti."

Think she would have got the joke? Buddaboom, buddabing!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Bloggets Revisited

While driving around this past week, I passed a sign posted outside a business that read, "Official Apathy Supplier for Superbowl XL." Although the big game is just down the road in Detroit, the sign reflects the feelings of many Michiganders.
Oh, we see and hear the super hype everywhere. They even have an NFL channel on our cable TV line-up now. And I have an official list of SuperBowl XL events in front of me here.

Lemme see . . . there's Taste of the NFL featuring chefs and current and former NFL players (ticket $400) . . . an NFL Alumni Super Bowl Home tour of some of the finest homes in the Detroit area (ticket $300) . . . or how about the NFL Bocce Ball Tournament ($6,000 for a team of four participants.) All a bit pricy for an average guy like myself.

Well, there's the Motown winter blast featuring ice skating, music and a snow slide. That is free but a bus ride to downtown Detroit, which they suggest as an alternative to trying to find a parking spot downtown, is $7 one way.

I have to admit that the folks organizing SuperBowl XL have done a great job of marketing and preparing this year's festivities. Still, I'll settle for memories of my own football championship game that took place last month. I blogged earlier about the Bloggets, my entry into my son Scott's fantasy football league. This was my first year at this. And I took it very seriously.

I read more about pro football than I ever had before. I checked scouting reports, injury reports, schedules, statistics, player histories, astrological forecasts . . . I even boned up on our hapless Detroit Lions. At 2 a.m. on Monday I would often wake up and check the final scores and statistics from the weekend on my computer.

Any time I talked with either of my sons, the subject had to include fantasy football. My devotion was not lost upon Scott. For Christmas, he got me a trophy inscribed "The Bloggets. 2005 FF Champions."

Yes, I won. It was a close final between my Bloggets and my older son Greg's Detroiiiiit Football. Although I won by a few points, I lucked out when Greg inexplicably decided to bench Seattle Seahawks Shawn Alexander, the top running back in the NFL this season.

Maybe Greg thought that Alexander was hurt and wouldn't play. Or maybe he thought the Seahawks would rest him going into their own play-offs. Then again, maybe Greg, thinking along the same lines as my other son, gave me a little Christmas present of his own.