Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mission..... Accomplished?

I recently came across a picture that sent me into full-on hindsight mode. I wasn't in it, but an old friend of mine was. His name is Zach Barnhart, and it was a pic of him and another guy I knew from my lost year at Washington State University, Brian Akesson, playing in the drumline of WSU (pronounced as 'wazoo' by Washingtonians and others in the know) marching band. It got me to thinking about that year of my life, what went wrong with it, and what may have actually gone right in the long run.

I'd always known that I'd wanted to go to college. I was far too smart (and smartassed) for a blue-collar existence in Port Angeles, working in a mill, or somebody's shop, and I knew it. But my grades in high school were never good enough because I just didn't give a fuck about class. I was only interested in hiding from bullies and indifferent teachers. Only my final semester of my senior year did I have grades that actually mirrored what everyone but myself thought was capable of. So I knew that going to the University of Washington (U-Dub) or Wazoo was out of the question. Even the smaller state schools like Central or Eastern Washington were beyond my reach. So I applied for Pell Grants and signed on to get my Associates Degree up at Peninsula College instead. I actually enjoyed studying there, because I was among people that were actually there to study instead of enjoy the social cliques of high school that I had always been denied access to. I sang in choir, played dixieland jazz with my music instructor's band, wrote for the college's newspaper, even managed to find a girlfriend or two - sort of. It was a pretty good time for me, and being turned down for university after earning my Associates degree wasn't a total bummer for me - I just took a third year at PC, knocking out some courses that I'd probably need further down the line, and waited for an opening to come my way.

I'd told people that I'd wanted a degree in Music Education, because the only teachers that ever gave a shit about me (in my opinion) were my music teachers, and I wanted to go into that field if only to be able to reach someone like myself somewhere down the road and help them find their way in the world. In hindsight, I know now that I was fooling myself. I just wanted to play, that was all. But I'd lost that urge I'd had in marching band to practice relentlessly, and what skills I had then eroded away after three years at PC. But after my third year, my prospects were still kind of cloudy. By university standards my grade-point average, just a hair below honor-roll level, weren't great. But Central Washington University in Ellensburg was willing to take me on in the winter semester, which meant a six-month wait which could possibly dampen any enthusiasm I'd had to go. Then during the summer I was accepted at WSU, albeit with no real chance at getting any financial aid, because their entire allotment for the year had already been distributed. And my while my parents were barely scraping along, they made too much money for me to qualify for financial assistance set aside for kids from low-income households. But a hastily arranged bank loan got me on the bus to Pullman, just about as far away from Port Angeles as you could be and still be in the state of Washington. How was I to know that this was about as good as it was going to get?

I'd already been to Pullman, though. After my loan was secured, my dad and I took a weekend road trip to get a lay of the land, so I knew the place reasonably well. But that long bus trip was a nightmare. It almost didn't even start. Already in my seat on the bus waiting to leave the Greyhound terminal in Seattle, I was just beginning to get angry about the bus being delayed when I saw police in bomb-squad gear approach the bus' cargo hold, and pull out my luggage box! I practically had to throw the bus driver aside to ask the cops what was going on - they asked me if I'd put a bomb in my box! A porter got nervous when somehow the little boombox in my box got turned on, and called the cops. I told them there was no bomb in my luggage, that I had no interest in going in getting it to turn it off, and since the batteries were rechargeable, did it matter? Let's get the fuck outta here! This delay made us nearly two hours late into Spokane, where I missed my connection to Pullman, and the last bus of the night got me there after the student dormitories had closed for the night. I wound up having to share the last available hotel room in Pullman with a guy I'd never seen before in my life, a student from Ohio who was similarly unable to get into the dorms.

My educational status was pretty odd there. Since I was a transfer from a community college with an Associates Degree, I was considered a Junior. But others in the university's bureaucracy considered me a Senior because of having three years' worth of transferable college credits. But despite my diligent effort at closing any gaps that I might have had in my portfolio, I still had to take sophomore- and even freshman-level classes! That entire year, if anyone asked me what grade I was, I told them 'all of the above'! And the other percussion students I was dealing with were far more talented than I was. My instructor there, a good man by the name of David Jarvis (he's still there at WSU - go look him up), I think I was pretty much a remedial student by his standards. And in retrospect, I wouldn't blame him for feeling that way. I just wasn't up to it. And as the year went on, I came to the realization that my heart wasn't into it. I've always told people that I ran out of everything while I was there - time, money, energy. I need to add enthusiasm to that as well. I had so much on my plate between classes, rehearsals, a part-time job slinging pizza for the local Domino's, and then I discovered that my dorm (Orton Hall) had a radio station within its innards. And since it wasn't a broadcast station (cable-radio?), it was exempt from FCC regulations. I took to it like a duck to water, managing the station under the oversight of my resident-advisor from my dorm's floor, setting up a schedule, and personally running six hours of programming a week - albeit that was just me playing stuff out of my tape collection and talking shit with my friends.

As a result, my grades suffered, I was placed on 'academic probation', and my managership at the radio station was taken away from me. The station's operation was awarded to another RA, but he couldn't be bothered to do anything - once during a meeting, his girlfriend (who had nothing to do with the station) suggested that I just go to another station, and I basically had to put both of them in their place rather abruptly. I ran the radio station for the remainder of the year, and played the weekly delivery of records (!) that played Dr. Demento and America's Top 40 in addition to my regular shifts. By mid-April of that year, I think that was when I came to the realization that I wouldn't be coming back the next year. I wanted so badly to just quit right there and then, but I had to try to keep up the illusion to my parents that I was trying hard and doing my best when in reality I just didn't give a fuck any more.

I still went to classes, still took notes, still answered questions, but I knew my heart wasn't in it. I'd been a part of the university's Percussion Ensemble and performed in several concerts, but now it all seems a blur to me. I wasn't selected for further concerts after I blew off a concert for an intramural basketball tournament. I'm pretty sure that my fellow drummers in the Ensemble just didn't give a shit about me, that I wasn't in their league. Can't say that I blame them if that's how they felt. I beat my head against the wall of Psychology 101, but the skinny puta grad-student that ran the class failed me despite B-plus work because I couldn't get into the required 'experiments' that all Psych 101 students were required to take part in no matter how hard I tried to get into them. By the end of the year, I was glad to just go away and wash my hands of the entire year. I made a few claims to family that I would go back after a year off to get my head right and my chops up to snuff, but I don't think I was even fooling myself, let alone anyone else. I spent more of those last months just wandering the campus more than anything else. At least that's what I remember, or what I choose to remember.

But where am I now? Okay, my financial situation is the shits, but let's look at things from a professional standpoint. In the fifteen years or so that I've been a professional drummer, I've likely logged more hours onstage than all those other, better drummers in the Percussion Ensemble combined. Sure, the gigs that I've played haven't exactly been glamorous, but I've earned the respect of my peers. I've played all over the West, and it looks like I could be going truly nationwide if the cards fall right for me. Perhaps even....... international. Who knows? What I do know is that for as disappointing a failure as that year was, I still survived, and my dream to play was still there. It just wasn't coming in the way I was thinking it would in 1990 and 1991. It'd come in bars and nightclubs instead of concert halls. It would be loose and limber instead of tight and formal. It would be with the love a wonderful, caring wife in my heart rather than a series of confused, uninterested girlfriends always wondering behind my back what I was up to.

It all boils down to that old chestnut, 'what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger'. Well, I am stronger for that year, regardless of the what-ifs and what-could-have-beens. Regardless of the pain and disappointment. I am still here, still playing, still doing what I've always wanted to do most in my heart. So in that case....... mission accomplished. Where do I go from here, who knows? At least now I can enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Joe's Sense Of Snow

If you live anywhere in Western Washington, you've probably been digging yourself out from the freak (by local standards) snowstorm that hit over the last few days. I'm no stranger to the flaky white stuff myself, having driven through ungodly amounts of it from here to breakfast. Surprisingly, sometimes it doesn't even change the way I drive.

It depends on where I am in relation to the Cascades and/or Sierras usually. What makes this most recent storm so unusual is that the snow was powder-dry. Usually, snow in Western Washington is wet, heavy crap the skiers call Cascade Concrete. The name is quite appropriate, because the second it hits the ground it turns into an impenetrable layer of ice that lasts far longer than you'd think it would. I won't be terribly surprised if I have to deal with roads still icy from this storm in two-plus weeks when I have to drive back to Nevada.

On the other hand, the snow in Reno and lake Tahoe is dry, powdery perfection - if you ski or snowboard. For me it's only an annoyance when it comes down really heavy, really fast. When I drove my courier route around Tahoe's eastern shore, the snow only slowed me down marginally. What slowed me down more was state law - In California. Y'see, while California and Nevada both are quite active in notifying travelers of road conditions in snow-prone areas, California actually enforces posted chain requirements while Nevada only advises for the most part, save for the drive west from Reno up Interstate 80, climbing up to Donner Pass. And this can be most annoying.

What the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) does is to actually install crews on either end of a pass to visually inspect each and every traveler's vehicle to see if they comply with the posted requirements. The problem is that sometimes the requirements change and the 'chain chimps' (my term) don't get the message right away - if at all. That can be a real pain in the ass. Sometimes the traffic along these back-road passes is so light, they forget what they're there for and take a little nap on the job, which I can say because I've seen it with my own eyes. Obviously it's a pretty thankless job, and even though I don't necessarily like it, I do appreciate the service they provide, helping keep the roads somewhat safer.

All I know for sure about my next trip is that I've planned to take my Explorer this time around, trading in a 30 - 40% drop in fuel mileage for the safety of better tires and better tire chains. I try not to skimp when it comes to tire chains. I usually by the self-tightening diamond-pattern chains that WalMart sells for anywhere from $60 - $80 depending on the size of the vehicle. But after a rather dramatic case of getting and returning a set of defective chains, I went with cheaper, basic chains that were supposed to fit my truck but didn't really live up to that billing. The best ones I've ever bought were Les Schwab Tires' QuickFit chains, which were pretty similar to the WalMart self-tighteners, just without the self-tightening thing. They weren't cheap either, but those were minor inconveniences as they worked like a motherfucker.

I just hope my back is feeling better by then. Loading and unloading my truck three or four times in the space of 72 hours tweaked it pretty badly, to the point where Joy is basically browbeating me into taking her Vicodin to ease the pain instead of plain old ibuprofen. I'm not looking forward to being in a car for that long with my back on fire.

I guess this part of growing up, right? Y'all can have that shit back.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Longest Drive Home

After Joy's birthday on the 27th, things hummed along as they normally do for me. The final day of our run in Carson coincided with Nevada Day, which celebrates the anniversary of the Silver State's admittance into the Union. And this being an election year, every candidate running for every office, from Senator to town dogcatcher, was out and about in the parade. Sharron "Forty-one To" Angle came within about five feet of me, and reeked of psychosis. Joy had to grab my shirt collar to keep me from asking the now-defeated Republican candidate why she hated America as much she did.

Heading home on Monday, we took our good sweet time going north. Y'see, we had a few side quests. Monday, we stopped in Bend to see Joy's sister Cindi and her family. We'd been charged with dropping off Christmas presents for them by Joy's mother, and they'd been riding behind the driver's seat for the last two weeks and change. My back appreciated dropping off the package. I also stopped by the local Fred Meyer to pick up tickets to see our old friends Ozomatli in Portland at McMenamin's Crystal Ballroom. We spent a quiet night at a cheap hotel, then headed northeast.

With the concert in Portland not until Thursday, we had a little time to kill. So in order to slay the beast, we spent a few days in Umatilla with her older brother Steve and his fiancee Nancy. We rested, played Nancy's Wii, sang karaoke, and marvelled at Steve's bountiful garden. Not to mention the fresh rabbit resting in his fridge. It cost an extra half-tank of fuel, but it was time well spent.

Thursday morning meant a steady cruise along the Columbia River Gorge into Rip City. We did a wee bit of shopping, searched for a convenient place to park, and found one directly across from the Crystal Ballroom. How convenient was it? The parking spot I chose faced the windows on the building's south side, and directly across from us we could see Ozomatli soundchecking! Once on the ground, we satisfied a long-standing and most major craving by visiting Voodoo Doughnuts. How good was it? Three words: Bacon Maple Bar.

I'll let that soak in.

Was it good for you? It was for us.

It was a long push for me with Joy in her wheelchair - ten blocks each way - but being able to get into line with fresh tasty doughnuts with bacon on them! was well worth the effort. Within a few minutes, the members of Ozomatli began to filter out of the Ballroom in search of food. We wisely hid the doughnuts. Joy wore the bass-guitar string she got from last year's show as a necklace, and Wil-dog wanted it back. Okay, he was just joking, but Joy was not about to give it back. Just about every member of the band stopped to say hello as they went past us. It was a long wait outside the hall to get in, and just as long to wait for the show to start. A DJ kicked off the show, then brought out a posse of rappers by the name of Animal Farm. They were pretty good, but I had one suggestion for them - for the love of God, invest in cordless microphones! The Tangled Cord Monster was on the verge of swallowing them all!

Ozomatli gave their usual 1,000%. I won't bore you with the details, but I will throw you one little anecdote. During the show, Asdrubal Sierra (vocals/keyboards/trumpet) did a little call-and-answer passage during a song on his trumpet. I more-or-less knew what was coming, but I like to participate. He played a passage, the crowd sang it back. A second call, a second answer. The third came so fast there was no way anyone could repeat it, and I knew it was coming, so I gave Asdru the finger for being a shit. I don't think he noticed, but Raul Pacheco, the band's guitarist and vocalist, saw me and busted out laughing! I was having a great time.

And that's when things started going downhill.

About an hour into Ozomatli's set, I got a phone call from Mike. Probably just checking in to see if I was okay, he does that a lot with me because of how many more miles I have to drive than anyone else. Well, I couldn't hear him over the roar of about a thousand Ozo-heads, so I yelled into the phone that I'd call him back later. Mikey called a second time, and I yelled that I couldn't hear him over the crowd and the band before ending the call. Then he texted me - to come back to Reno - now!

A band that shall remain nameless simply decided to not show up for a three-day gig at the Nugget in Sparks, and Stew Stewart called Mikey to see if we could fill in. Let's see here a minute - Mike is still in Carson City getting his car repaired, Cliff is back in Sparks, Arthur is back home in Las Vegas, and I'm in fucking Portland, Oregon! I texted Mike back saying that I'd get back to Reno as soon as the show was over. Later, I told him that if I'd been any further north, I would've told him no. I knew that Mike would've taken the gig regardless, and he would've accepted my decision. But it would force him to use one of the guys they use when they play at that place Cockbreath McPothead got me booted from. And while Alan Zukor and Vern Taylor are capable drummers, and Vern's a damn good singer in his own right, neither of them know the material as well as I do, and the show would suffer, and Mike and Arthur's reputation would suffer as a result of that. I couldn't let that happen. And I told him so. Mike appreciated that.

In hindsight, I kinda wish I'd let it happen after all.

Y'see, my truck had been acting funny. It was having trouble starting up, like it needed an extra second or two to get going. And it was beginning to get worse the further we got from home. The gig at the Nugget went well, and Mike gave me an extra $50 to make up for the expense of driving back and forth. The drive home Sunday had to be done in a real hurry because Joy had a very important doctor's appointment the next day, one that she'd been waiting for for nearly six weeks. So we had to go all out, all the way back to Port Angeles. Then my battery indicator came on as we left Chemult, OR. I figured that my battery was giving up the ghost - I knew it was several years old - so I figured that I needed to get to Eugene to get a fresh battery. One fresh battery later, my truck wouldn't start! Even getting a jump start from the reefer-unit of a friendly trucker couldn't get the truck to turn over. But a push-start did. By the time we got back on to I-5, the battery light was off, and we were heading north.

Then it went out again - with the sun going down. I made a command decision, and continued north, with only lights on. No stopping until the battery died. No stereo, no heater, no nothing. Joy took my phone and started making calls to arrange a rescue scenario. 170 miles later, sixty miles into Washington, the battery began to give out, and we coasted into the parking lot of Mrs. Beesley's Burgers, a burger shop on the highway between Toledo and Vader that crosses over the freeway. A deluxe cheeseburger and fries (quite good) eased my stomach, but not my mind. Eventually, I was able to focus on the positive - at least I was only an hour or so from Tacoma. Joy's youngest brother Scott came to our rescue about ninety of the longest minutes of my life later, and tried in vain to jump start my truck. Instead we let the battery charge, and push-started it again. He nursed the battery again in Chehalis, and eventually we pulled into Joy's mother's house in Parkland, sometime close to midnight.

Meanwhile, Joy had called her best friend Delane, then Delane's son Mike, and got him to drive our Exploder down to Parkland to come rescue us. He's a good boy, and does what he's told. Most of the time. He'd just made it there when we arrived. Everything but my drums and foodbox went into the Exploder, and we backed my truck out of the way of other vehicles. My gear went into the garage, to be picked up at a later date - with the truck, preferably. I finally went and got it today with my dad. Now it's in the hands of the Sequim Auto Clinic, where the brother-in-law of my dad's second ex-wife put it into the care of his best mechanic. And Joy made her appointment on time.

The ironic thing here is that I hadn't planned on driving my truck to Reno again any time soon after this trip, regardless of what happened to it. Winter is coming, after all. And that's when my Exploder's better tires, chains, and four-wheel-drive would would more than compensate for it's shitty gas mileage. And while my truck will be up and running long before December 8, my next date of departure, It's not going anywhere right now, or for a while to come. I just hope that I don't hear "it's not really worth fixing." My pickup is a POS, but it's my POS, and I've gone all over the West with it. I'd be pretty bummed out to lose it. Not to mention unable to replace it.

But I've gotta keep my head up, right? I think I shall.

UPDATE: My truck was fixed up a few days after I wrote the original post, and a new alternator and starter were required. Marvin and his mechanic Wong bought top-of-the-line parts for it, and they put a lifetime warranty - including nationwide retrieval in case of breakdown - on the work, for $685.11. That's a steep price to be sure, but Dad paid for it. I just find it hard to put nearly $700 in repairs into a truck worth only about $200 or so. But I won't complain too much. I figure that after my next run to Nevada, I'll be able to put fresh tires on the front end of the truck, or at least gently used ones. My stepfather recommended a local dealer to me, whose name I can't remember right off hand, so I'll give this place a look-see come January.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Checking in from another two-week gig in Carson City. Joy is with me this time, her birthday is coming up this Wednesday, so I had to bring her. That, and this would probably be the last time I'd be able to do so until April or May. Packing for Joy means carry a whole fuck of a lot more than I normally would, and this time around it also included something new - our new Wii.

I'd always wanted one of these things, but our general state of poverty precluded purchasing anything like that. Then out of the blue we get a phone call from our daughter-in-law Melissa in North Carolina. It seems that she's gotten into the business of being an Ebay reseller, buying lots of particular items and reselling them individually. And apparently, she's pretty good at it. And she tells us that she'd been planning on sending us a Wii for Christmas, but she figured she might as well just send it to us right then and there, with a bunch of games and peripherals. She even threw in a coffeemaker for my folks. And sure enough, this giant package of Wii-stuff arrived about a week later. We got Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit, EA Sports Active, a Dance Dance Revolution game, DJ Hero, and even a GameCube 'street' soccer game. Joy and I, along with my little brother Mac, tore into the games with abandon. We golf, bowl, swordfight, play hoops, practice yoga, play balance and coordination games, and otherwise work up a good sweat while getting our game on. The package even included a mat for the DDR game, and a pair of MMA-style gloves with pockets for the Wii's Remote and Nunchuck controllers to be used for boxing and other combat-sports games.

But what I was looking forward to was what Nintendo calls the Wii's Virtual Console. With the Virtual Console, we can download original mini-games, downloadable content for Wii games, and most importantly to me, classic games from all Nintendo's old systems, as well as consoles from Sega, NEC's TurboGrafx 16, SNK's Neo-Geo, even the ancient Commodore 64 computer. With the Wii connected to the Station's free Internet, I downloaded Dr. Mario Online Rx for Joy, and the classic NES chestnuts Mega Man II and River City Ransom for me. And with games for as little as $5, the Wii's hard drive (augmented by an SD flash-memory cardslot - that's where the games actually went), I figure that the Wii will become a treasure trove of old-school games pretty quick.

And as an added bonus, Mac sold me his spare Xbox 360 for $40 and a carton of cigarettes. I can download stuff onto that system as well, and Microsoft's Xbox Live service offers it's fair share of classic games, even Atari 2600 and Mattel Intellivision. And I can get games from them for as little as $3 - bonus! In the long run, it means that there's that much more crap for me to schlep around from gig to gig, but at least it keeps me knee-deep in video games. So much better than gambling in my opinion. I may be spending money, but after the initial expenditure, it's all free!

I can live with that.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Old Familiar

Just got back from Sparks the other day after a weekender at John Ascuaga's Nugget. After Shreveport, then leaving my drums untouched in the basement after coming home, it took a while to get used to playing my own gear again. In fact, it took a lot longer than I expected to get back to old patterns - probably an entire night of playing. But that passed without any real incident. Just like riding a bike, y'know?

But over that weekend, I came to the realization that I actually have it pretty good when it comes to my gear. My drums came to me cheap, and they're not the best drums Tama makes. But they sound great, and I take damn good care of them. I buy my cymbals as cheaply as possible but once again, they sound great and I take damn good care of them. It took years to assemble all the pieces of my rack, but it's been a godsend to me in terms of making it a whole hell of a lot easier to set up and tear down. Now I'm in the slow process of buying the equipment needed to mic my kit so when I play in a band that requires me to mic it, I'll be covered. Over the years I've met a lot of drummers who didn't have what I have, good players for the most part, but unable to do the job because either they didn't have the gear or had other vices that prevented them from having enough money to get that gear.

Now if only it could pay better.....

Friday, September 17, 2010

Recovery Time

After a long time on the road, any sort of recovery time is always appreciated. And when I got home to Port Angeles, I was able to fulfill a promise I made to Joy. We went to the fair.

And not just any old fair, mind you. The Western Washington State Fair, a/k/a "The Puyallup" after the city where the fairgrounds are located (pronounced 'pYOO-all-up' for those of that didn't know) is the largest fair on the West Coast, a two-and-a-half-week-long extravaganza of all things both urban and rural. Rides, food, rodeos, concerts, farm animals, firefighters and State Patrolmen (who demonstrate field-sobriety tests at their booth), all the things that make fairs what they are. Not to mention lots of infomercial-grade crapola being sold. There are probably a dozen or so tents at the fair solely dedicated to selling 'waterless cookware'. Okay stuff, but my All-Clad Emerilware is better quality, not to mention a whole fuck of a lot cheaper. My only problem with The Puyallup is that almost nobody takes plastic there.

Not that I had that much of a problem with that. Y'see, I'd pretty much ruled out eating overpriced fair grub from the jump-off. Here's how the day went for us:

Joy and I left PA about 9:30 or so that morning. I'd also invited my mother and little brother to come along, but Mom backed out at the last minute, which is pretty much what she always does. I guess I only invite her along for trips like this as a pro forma gesture. But little brother Mac was more than happy to get out of Dodge for the day. We hopped the Bainbridge Island ferry over to Seattle, and did some grocery shopping at Uwajimaya, arguably the best Asian market in the Northwest. And we're talking all of Asia here nowadays, instead of when it was more just for the Japanese immigrants that started the place. There's even an apartment complex directly above the store. I'd love to live there. It also doesn't hurt that it's walking distance from Pioneer Square and the stadia that host Seahawks, Mariners, and Sounders FC games. Uwajimaya also sells sundries, has a wonderful bookstore, and a food court that we all took great advantage of. Joy and Mac had udon and tempura, while I satisfied myself with some lovely Korean barbecue.

With a few bags of groceries in tow, we headed east over Lake Washington to go to the local branch of Fry's Electronics. We needed ink for our printers, but after we got what we needed, we came to quite a dilemma - the ink was going to cost over $120! For that much money, we wound up buying a brand new printer that will go a little easier on the ink, and a new Bluetooth for my cellphone, with the money we saved going towards dinner afterwards......

.....only that it wasn't at our final stop on the trip, a wonderful little bar in Tacoma called The Red Hot. After leaving the Puyallup, we went over to visit with Joy's mother in Parkland (Mac wasn't thrilled with that, and just stayed in the truck), then we headed over to The Red Hot. But as we loaded out of the truck, we found that Joy had misplaced the little clutch purse that contained her ID! And even though Joy is approaching........ well, let's just say she's approaching 'a certain age', she refused to go in to the bar because she wouldn't be able to produce ID if asked for it. And they check ID's pretty rigorously there. So I made a command decision and called it a night for all of us. We hit a Jack In The Box on our way out of Tacoma, but I was so looking forward to The Red Hot's totally awesome hot dogs, and washing them down with a Mexican Coke (made with real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup) while Joy and Mac knocked back some of the area's best microbrews. Honestly, I can't recommend the place enough to you. If you've got any reason to go to Tacoma, check out The Red Hot. A disappointing finish to the evening, but the time spent with Joy (and with my little bro) was well worth the time and money spent.

And now I'm just resting up, healing psychological wounds, and this time physical ones as well. The dog-bite marks are healing, fading away. To be totally honest with you, I don't think I'll ever be able to really enjoy playing in Shreveport again, no matter how well the gigs themselves go. Psychological trauma caused by physical trauma, y'know? But we won't be going back there any time all that soon. Next up for me is a weekender at the Nugget in Sparks at the end of the month. I'll be back on the road in less than two weeks, and even though it's for only a weekend, I'll be looking forward to going to a place I know, where things are familiar to me. And then a few weeks after that, it's back to home base in Carson City for two weeks. That one I'll really be looking forward to.

Talk to y'all later!

Monday, September 13, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part Four: Canines, Postscripts, And Even Fred Phelps

The start of my second and final week in Shreveport found me adrift in a haze of Vicodin. How I managed to get through the week just past was pretty much beyond me. But I was beginning to see light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. On Monday I joined the Mike and Arthur on a trip out to a local Wal-Mart to get supplies, for me it was ibuprofen and Slimfast shakes, since the pain from my kidney stone had lessened to the point where the Vicodin wasn't necessary any longer, but the aspirin in my ditty bag dissolved in my mouth before I could swallow it, way too fast for my liking. By Tuesday the Vicodin-induced constipation and nausea had passed enough that I could entertain the thought of eating solid food again, though I wasn't really up to snuff until about Friday.

But we were kept pretty busy regardless of my health. Those minor sound problems that I'd mentioned before were persistent enough that we'd wind up eventually having to go through about six soundchecks to finally nail down a consistent sound. Fortunately for us, we were blessed with having a damn good soundman in Cary Jeter, who gets very high marks from me for his determination to get things right. And the good vibes we were getting from the management and employees were a very encouraging sign. Thursday brought the resumption of the gig proper, and things were moving pretty smoothly.

On Friday, I took a walk to take a picture of a building that I'd seen on my walk back from the hospital the previous Friday. The name of the business inside this building was quite close to that of my good buddy Brian Thrasher, leader of the Tacoma-based hard-rock cover band Just Dirt. I just had to get a picture of the place. Pictures taken, I started back towards the hotel. And that's when all hell broke loose.

Taking corners pretty much at random, I was walking along Lake Street, several blocks south and west of the casinos. There was this long one-story building on the south side of the street, and the businesses in the far end of this building were a tattoo school and adjoining parlor. An iron fence festooned with warning signs ran eastwards along Lake Street away from the building. There seemed to be some sort of residence beyond that fence. Well, if someone's going to put those kind of signs up along a fence like that, I'm not going to be inclined to even approach the fence, let alone hop it.

Something bit my left tricep!

What felt like a shoulder charge hit me from behind and scraped at my back as I went down. years of being bullied as a child came right back to the forefront, and I curled up in a ball as a fang found my right leg. Peeking through my fingers, there was a white and brown pitbull releasing from my leg, barking madly, then slowly walking away, never taking its eyes off me. Pain and blood were everywhere in my senses, and I started screaming like mad, hoping someone would hear. It might have only been three minutes or so, but it felt like an eternity to me. Eventually a man came up to the gate from the residence and called to the dog. This guy claimed to be a maintenance man for the building's owner, and took the dog back to its side of the fence. He then came back to help me up, apologizing profusely. The dog was a guard dog (which explained the attack, and why the dog stopped when I curled up), and had gotten loose from its pen. He told me that the building's owner would be there 'in five minutes', and said he would take care of things from there.

After thirty minutes of waiting out along the curb, I came to the realization that this jackass wasn't going to show, and if that dog could get loose once, it could do it again. So, holding my wounds, I started to walk back to Sam's Town. Along the way I tried to call the police, but my phone's 411 service spun me in so many circles I decided to just call from the hotel. I tried to call Mike, but had to leave a message. Once back at the hotel, the Shreveport Police Department referred the Caddo Parish (in Louisiana, it's parish instead of county) Animal Control Board. An ACB officer came by to take my story, and a supervisor from the SPD came by to listen in. When I told him where the attack happened, the super shook his head and told me that they'd had problems with the resident there before. A report was filed, the Parish would take care of my bills and hand them over to the owner of the dog, and the dog itself would be taken in and quarantined for ten days while they tested it for rabies and any other diseases that might negatively affect me. They'd inform me of anything that I'd need to have taken care of after I left Shreveport. That phone call hasn't come since, so I'd presume that the dog was healthy. I hope now that that the fucking thing is dead.

About this time, Mike finally got back to me and I was able to tell him and Arthur what had happened. At first he claimed that I hadn't called him or left him a message, then he actually checked his phone and found my voicemail waiting for him. Arthur went to the pharmacy again and returned with hydrogen peroxide and bandages, while Mike brought some neosporin from his medicine bag. Nobody could believe my rotten luck. Two Fridays in a row that I was destined for the hospital, though this time I was going to have to wait until after the show was over before I could get my wounds tended to. After much debate, we decided that I should return to Christus Schumpert, though on a Friday night, I might have to wait for the local wildlife (gunshot wounds, stab wounds, motor-vehicle accidents, etc) to be tended to before I could get bandaged up. As it turned out though, the ER was empty when I got there, and I was treated (including a tetanus shot) so quickly, by the time the woman from the admittance office got me to sign the papers saying that they could treat me, the release papers and a script for antibiotics came as soon as she'd left. I was in and out of hospital in a little under an hour, and I fervently hoped that I'd never see the inside of that hospital again. Two ER visits in a week. A week!

Aside from pain and bruising, there was no really extraordinary inconvenience for me in the wake of the attack. Ironically enough, this was when my appetite finally came back to me, the shows got better and better, and the band's mood was about as good as it could get, all things considered. Even my voice being shot from all that screaming wasn't that big of a deal. It all culminated with a killer show on Sunday night, topped off by a pleasantly rowdy batch of airmen and women from nearby Barksdale Air Force Base, whose enthusiastic enjoyment of the show really gave us a good send-off.

Getting home got a little hairy, though. Cliff overslept and made us late starting the trip back to Dallas, but that wound up being the least of our problems. A tropical storm coming ashore from the Gulf of Mexico delayed our flight out of Dallas far beyond any chance of meeting our connecting flight in Houston. Big props go out to Southwest Airlines for recognizing our problem and redirecting our flightpath to get us back to Reno before Reno-Tahoe International closed down for the night. We were stuck in Dallas for over five hours, but we got out okay, flying first to Austin, then on to Las Vegas. When our flight from Las Vegas to Reno was announced as being overbooked, Mike and Arthur were tempted to just give up their seats and fly to Reno the next day with an additional $300 apiece, but by the time they agreed to give up their seats, others had beaten them to it. We got back to Reno a little after 11pm, and came across something I'd completely forgotten about: the Burning Man Festival held in the Black Rock Desert a few hours north of Reno had just concluded, and festival attendees ("Burners") were camped out in the baggage claim, waiting for flights out the next morning. One final oddity: Our luggage actually beat us to Reno, arriving on a flight an hour ahead of us. Cliff and his wife drove me up to Sun Valley, where I picked up my truck. I found damn near the last hotel room left at the Motel 6 in Sparks (where they kept the light on for me), and I managed a heavenly seven hours of sleep before trying in vain to purchase a new headset microphone the following morning. After all I'd been through the last few days, the long drive back to Port Angeles seemed almost inconsequential.

So what did I learn from all this? Well, I learned that Mike and Arthur really do like me after all. Okay, I'm just being a smartass saying that. But the fact that they took as good a care of me as they did speaks volumes. I can put up with them nitpicking about my playing after that. I found that I have a really good friend in Cary Jeter. Soundmen like him don't come along very often. I found that Sam's Town really liked us, even after I went and had such a disaster of a time as I had. I just smiled and told them that the next time I came back to Shreveport, things will go perfectly, because I got all the shitty things that could possibly happen to me out of the way all at once. I found out that Southwest Airlines' reputation for customer service is well-earned. I found that I really don't have that much of a problem with flying. I also found that I really, really wanted to go home and see my wife and family.

And I even have a new winner of the Fred Phelps Award for The Dumbest Humanoid On The Planet: the unnamed owner of the property at 403 Lake Street, Shreveport, Louisiana. I hope your fucking dog mauls you not to death, but to permanent disfigurement and disability, so that you can appreciate the pain I felt as an innocent fucking bystander walking along the street minding my own fucking business before your fucking piece-of-shit dog attacked me and damn near cost me the ability to do my fucking job!

May God have mercy on your soul, even though you don't deserve it, you bastard.

UPDATE: I recently contacted Caddo Parish Animal Services on the status of my case. I was informed that I was not going to be reimbursed for the cost of the antibiotics, and was basically told that the case was closed. Why, you ask? Well, it turns out that the pigfucking bastard owner of that mangy-ass dog refused to turn over his animal when the authorities came for it. Pigfucker had the balls to actually tell them that he had no idea where the dog was! And when I contacted the Shreveport Police about this, they referred me right back to CPAS. Let's just say that when I come back to Shreveport, I think I'm going to consult a lawyer about this. Do the words 'depraved indifference' mean anything to you, needle dick?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part Three: Stoned In Shreveport

Now I was headed into unfamiliar and therefore exciting territory. But I still had to get there. Combine my usual joke of a circadian rhythm with a 5:00am wake-up call and you get a grouchy, sleepless Joe ninety-nine times out of a hundred. But the sheer newness of this trip had me on an adrenaline high that was pretty much unstoppable. I wound up the night before the trip in Sparks, vegging out on Cliff's couch after dropping off my truck with Michelle and her family in Sun Valley. Then his daughter and wife took us to the airport to hook up with Mike and Arthur to get this trip started.

I've never been much for flying. I'm fully aware that commercial aviation in the US is actually the safest way to get around the country, but taking off and landing in Reno can be quite hairy due to the punishing winds, especially if your flightpath takes you in and out of Reno-Tahoe International northwesterly. But our flight out went in the opposite direction and there was nothing but smooth air between us and our first stop in Las Vegas, where we'd change planes and take a flight that would eventually deposit us at Dallas' Love Field in a muggy, sweltering Texas August afternoon.

From here, Mike and Arthur had rented a van to finish the drive. Y'see, there aren't any real direct flights to Shreveport that are, how shall we say, cost-effective. I'd been informed that actually flying into Shreveport would've likely doubled the cost of the trip for us. So I'll take the van. And pretty much as I suspected, we got maybe about a half-hour out of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex when Arthur asked me to take over for him. I finished the rest of the drive without incident, though I made some shopgirl's night when after being stuck with a flat Coke in a mini-mart somewhere off Interstate 20, I told her that there was only one true constant in the Universe:

Shit Happens.

I never fail to get a smile out of someone when I say that. Her tittering laugh followed me all the way back to the van. We pulled into Shreveport around 11pm local time. Cliff and I went next door to the Eldorado for a quick dinner, then retired quickly to bed. I found myself to be ensconced in a very nice ninth-floor hotel room, one that I'd wind up seeing far too much of in the days to come. And yes, my room had a panoramic view of that strip club I'd told you about before, but at least I know its full name now: Deja Vu presents Larry Flynt's Hustler Club. For the record, I never went in the place. Bad customer reviews.

I have to clear up a personal misconception here first. For some reason, I'd assumed that Shreveport and its sister-city Bossier (pronounced BOHS-yer) City were on either side of the Mississippi River. Incorrecto! That's the Red River passing through, on its way to join the Big Muddy somewhere in points east. The casinos along the river are actually riverboats connected to their respective hotels, though in some cases the riverboats aren't actually in the river, instead maintained in pools alongside and completely separate from the river itself. Nowadays there are similar set-ups all along the Mississippi and its major tributaries. Now back to the story at hand.

We had Wednesday to rest up and get used to the area, and Cliff and I walked over to the other side of the Red River (bridges are so handy) and visited what's known as the Louisiana Boardwalk. In other words, an outlet mall with some nicer shops and restaurants, a big movie theater (Mike loved that), and a Bass Pro Shops outdoor store that I never did visit. We found out to our relief that we'd basically be comped for every meal. Good news for us. The next day brought set-up, soundcheck, and our first night of work. The cabaret's house kit was nice, a five-piece Yamaha Oak Custom kit, albeit with only two cymbals (Zildjian A's, one crash and one ride) to complement the Zildjian Quick Beat hi-hats. The real problem was that the throne for the kit, while a reasonably comfortable bicycle throne, lacked a backrest. I was informed by the soundman that there had been a backrest on that throne before, but someone walked off with it. I wouldn't know how much of a problem that would be until the next morning. That said, the first night went well enough, but there would be minor sound problems that would dog us for most of the gig.

The next morning I woke up far earlier than I'd ever planned to, about 7am local time. Y'see, my body was still on Pacific Time, two hours ahead of Shreveport's Central Time. I woke up thinking "what the fuck am I doing up at five in the morning?" The reason was a small but throbbing pain in my right side, just above my waist and deep inside. Not a muscular pain, say a pull caused by all the stretching and bending I'd done the night before trying in vain to find a comfortable position for my back while playing without a backrest. Not a skin pain, like a rash or a cut. Deep inside. I hoped it would go away, but it wouldn't. I walked to the bathroom and took a couple aspirin and tried to return to sleep, but the pain began to increase. I got up, showered and dressed, then took a walk to get my mind off the pain. It got worse. I got back to the hotel, and there was no denying what was going on any longer. For the first time in about six years, I was dealing with a kidney stone. Unaware that I could've taken the shuttle bus, I called a cab and headed for what I was told was the closest hospital to Downtown Shreveport, Christus Schumpert Medical Center. Now I was in agony. I waited in Schumpert's ER for only about twenty minutes before being led back with what felt like a bear trying to eat its way out of my side. Thankfully, the staff didn't think I was some drug addict, but instead knew exactly what I was dealing with. A shot of morphine and phenergan later and I was feeling no pain. They passed along a prescription for Vicodin, and made me fork over $120 while passing on financial-assistance paperwork that will likely keep me from paying the hospital any more once I finish filling out the forms. I was so whacked out on the morphine that I wound up walking the roughly two miles back to the hotel before calling the rest of the band and informing them of my situation. The guys filled my prescription for me at a local pharmacy and Cliff paid for it, while leaving me in my room to sleep off the rest of the morphine.

I can't really remember all that much of the rest of the week. Why, you ask? Well, it turns out that I misread the prescription that Christus Schumpert gave me. I'd thought that they'd given me a ten-pill script. In reality, that number ten was how many milligrams of hydrocodone were in each of the twenty tablets in the pill bottle the guys brought me. For example, the strongest pills Joy has ever gotten for her pain had only 7.5mg of hydrocodone in each pill. No wonder I was stoned out of my mind. And constipated and nauseated to boot, thanks to the Vicodin. Solid food just wouldn't stay down, and liquids came out only in dribs and drabs. I threw up more in five days than I had in the previous five years. I soon found myself on an unplanned fast, drinking nothing but water and fruit juices for the rest of the week while in a haze of Vicodin, sleeping sometimes 16 hours a day.

Some first week, eh? How was I to know that it was only going to get worse?

Friday, September 10, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part Two: Ghosts Along The Carson

After getting smogged out in Sparks for ten days, I was looking forward to two weeks at the Carson Station, Steppen Stonz' home-base gig. But nothing ever turns out the way you want it to, y'know?

I checked into my room as usual on Sunday night, the night after the run in Sparks ends. Because we're pretty much the only band that makes the Station money, they pretty much let things go with us. The biggest thing is checking in waaaay early, three days before the first night of the gig. Mostly it's because Mike and Arthur drive up from Las Vegas or from God-only-knows where else after the previous gig ends, and they've got to have a place to crash on their off-days. Arthur just tends to stay in his room, or visit friends during his downtime, while Mike is a film junkie. He'll head up to the Galaxy Theater owned by Casino Fandango, or even the new second-run theaters that opened up in Carson City's old empty multiplex to watch a film or two a day. He even recently admitted to me while we were waiting for a flight at McCarran International Airport in Vegas that he once watched four movies in one day at a local theater. Me, I just grab a free modem from the front desk and get online with Joy's laptop. But there's just one problem, though - it doesn't seem to want to charge its battery. And after consulting three different shops, the problem is clear: the AC adapter's socket is bent, and the wires connecting it to the motherboard have come loose of the solder holding them in place. All three offered to fix the problem, but at a minimum cost of around $150, that's a fix I can't afford right now. So the laptop goes into its case, and I go into withdrawals. At least I have my PlayStation 2 with me.

We also received a visit from an old friend of ours, Andre Stennis. As in Andre Stennis, the guy I replaced in Steppen Stonz. Good ol' Dre. It's been a rough year for him, losing both his parents in a little less than a year. But he's holding up the best he can, dealing with his parents' effects and last wishes and all that. We all have to go through it sooner or later, but I can't imagine how he managed to maintain his sanity through it all. He was in town to visit friends and pick up gear left in storage in Reno for a gig back in the Midwest (note: I've since learned that he's in the process of moving from his native Omaha to Minneapolis). He was his usual jolly self, looking like he'd lost weight (a winter of shoveling snow out of your driveway will do that to you), and everyone was glad to see him, myself included.

But there was an unexpected negative reaction to Dre being there that first week in Carson as well. I noticed that Mike was really wanting me to do things with my playing that he'd never really wanted me to do before then. It seemed to me that he wanted me to be more like Dre, to play more like him. But I'm not him, and never will be. My ass is too pale, and I have more hair than the rest of the band put together. I'll do the best job I can to play the parts the way I'm told to and I won't argue about it, but I can't be who I'm not. Square pegs still don't fit into round holes.

And as the gig progressed, I got to see my good friends Idekay play a Monday night show at MontBleu, paying tribute to a fallen comrade. I've since learned that Idekay is breaking up, playing their final show next weekend, so I've come to the painful conclusion that whenever I buy a band's merch, they break up shortly after. It saddens me to know that I'll never be able to buy another Rush shirt again......

(UPDATE: I've since been informed that Idekay isn't breaking up after all. The band's founding guitarist had decided to move out of Tahoe, but recently changed his mind. Instead, the band will be hitting the studio to record a full-length CD, and recording their 'final' show for a possible release on DVD. Then they'll take the winter off to rest and recharge. My boy Jeremy is already working on material for a solo/side project to occupy his time, getting his Dave Grohl vibe on.....)

I also began to worry about my friends in Carson, how the difficulties of life were wearing at them. Jazzy, trying her hardest to get off welfare buy starting her own daycare, only to find that she's making less money now than when she was on the dole despite working 50 to 60 hours a week. Sara, dealing with an ex who she can't get out of her heart altogether despite her friends almost-universal dislike of the guy. Alexis & Crystal, planning a wedding that no matter how heartfelt, will mean nothing in the eyes of authority. And I added a new friend to my circle, one with whom playing the six-degrees-of-separation game one night revealed that she and I are a lot closer to each other than I could possibly have imagined. I look forward to introducing her to Joy in October.

But the gig came to a conclusion without any real surprises, and now I was getting ready to really break a new trail for myself and push into (for me) new and uncharted territory:

The Deep South......

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part One: Smogged Out In Sparks

Sorry I've been away for so long, dear readers. Joy's laptop died on me while I was on the road, so I've had to wait until now to explain my absence for the last six weeks or so. It was a long six weeks on the road, so I've had to break it up into four parts. Here's the first chapter of my sprawling epic......

The first two weeks of the journey started in Sparks, where we played a ten-day run of shows at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks over the course of Hot August Nights. This has become an annual thing for Steppen Stonz, and while I had to pawn a mixing console just to get there (since paid off and returned), it's a paying gig, and a damn good one at that. But all gigs have their ups and downs, so here's how this one went for me.

I've discussed the pros and cons of playing at JAN before, so we won't go in to that. But the biggest downer is that playing for HAN is that it's for ten days straight, with no days off. Even though we're only playing for four or five hours a night, the drag of having no days off can be pretty hard on a guy. But it wasn't so bad compared to what I'd face in the future. Hell, it was a piece of cake compared to that. The only other real downer was that I had no real internet connection while I was there. The Nugget had recently introduced wireless internet access for its guests, but at a cost of $50/week, that was just too much for me.

And on top of that, the whole Hot August Nights event is a drag for me. Don't get me wrong, if you like classic American cars, it'd probably be nirvana for you. But it means something completely different to me. What, you ask? It means thousands upon thousands of big, old, and decidedly not low-emission vehicles tooling around the Truckee Meadows all day and most of the night. The resulting traffic makes it a bitch getting anywhere in the area. And when you combine all that extra smog with August heat, you get conditions that are entirely unsafe for Joy to be in. I hadn't planned on taking her with me anyway for a wide variety of reasons, but I could always use the company. I just wind up sitting in my room playing video games and watching TV a lot, just killing time until showtime came around.

But regardless of the negatives, the good thing about HAN for musicians is that everyone works while it's on. Everyone. I can't really tell you who played along with us in the Nugget's cabaret during the final weekend of HAN, but I will say that they were friends of mine, but they were pretty tired out by the end of the weekend, since they were also playing shows every night elsewhere after they got off the stage at the Nugget. Bands I know were also playing just down the street from the Nugget on a temporary stage set up by my friends at Starsound, serenading the nightly parade of cars through Sparks' Victorian Square. Every casino had live music, even the ones that generally don't have live music any other time of year. And the casinos that served as the official hubs of HAN had additional stages set up in their respective parking lots for local and national acts. Now if only there was something other than that boring Fifties and Sixties music being played. I'm just not much for nostalgia, but that's what HAN is all about - hearkening back to a day when gas was a quarter a gallon rather than three bucks, nobody cared about emissions, and it was all about muscle, tail fins and chrome instead of MPG and LEV.

Oh, bother.

At least I would be able to truly relax when HAN was over, when we moved on to our de facto home base in Carson City. At least, that's what I thought......

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"So Why Do I Do This, Anyway?" or, "A Drummer Under The Influence"

Well, there's the mission statement right there, under the title. But more importantly, why write this blog in the first place? Who or what got you inspired enough to actually write about the inanities of your life and work? Well, I have a few inspiration, and it's actually a pretty diverse group. So here are the people most responsible for inspiring me to actually do something in front of my computer other than play Facebook games and caption pictures of cats:

David Goldstein - Seattle, WA

Goldstein, better known simply as 'Goldy', started his blog Horse's Ass (http://www.horsesass.org/) as an extension of a somewhat less-than-serious jab at the voter-initiative system here in Washington, targeting right-wing activist Tim Eyman with an initiative of his own, the sole purpose of which was to declare Eyman "a horse's ass" to all and sundry - even Eyman's mother. While Goldstein's initiative was shot down by a Secretary of State with no sense of humor whatsoever, it led to the blog which was probably the first one I'd ever read. He takes his shots at people, and takes plenty of shots in return. Goldy's biggest moment so far was when he revealed the utter lack of experience then-FEMA chief Michael Brown had in emergency-management in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. And he continues to annoy righties to this day.

Andrew Sullivan - Washington, DC

I've always been taught to respect both sides of an argument, so long as the people making them are factual in what they say and respectful of others. It drives my old-school liberal parents crazy, but it's part of what makes me who I am. Andrew's blog (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com) gives hope to me that there's some sanity over on the other side of the argument. Even though many would supposedly think as he does, many on the Right consider him something slightly to the left of Satan hisself. Why, you ask? Well, let's see here - he's not an American (English), he's a Catholic (and deeply critical of the current Pope and his policies), and he's openly gay, HIV-positive, and married. And yes, to another guy.

No wonder Sarah Palin is so scared of him. Which explains why I like the guy, though it's much deeper than that. Having the balls to call out people on (theoretically) his own side for their bullshit takes big brass cojones, and that's something I respect greatly.

Jason Davis - Washington, DC (metro)

The old adage goes "you've got to start somewhere." I met Jason on the comment forums on ESPN's website, talking soccer - more often defending it from dullards who think soccer is gay/retarded/socialist/un-American/whatever - and he was encouraging readers to check out his blog Match Fit USA (http://www.matchfitusa.com/). And in the space of a few years, he's gone from him and thoughts rambling in the middle of the night to running one of the best American soccer blogs on the net, with the awards to prove it.

"Elli" - Vancouver, BC (metro)

Yeah, that's her name. The name she wants you to know. Y'see, she's an independent..... oh, fuck it. She's an internet porn star. Well, she doesn't really like being called a 'porn star', but that's what she does for a living, and doing it pretty much all by herself. I came across her blog (elligirl.livejournal.com - NSFW) very much by accident. Seriously. One day I was just surfing, linking from one blog to another, pretty much at random. I can't even remember the name of the blog I was on when I saw a link that read "The Reluctant Porn Star".

I'm a guy. How the hell am I going to pass that up? Well, I didn't, and while she advertises her adults-only website regularly on her blog, she also talks about things far more normal than her latest videos. To be honest, when I cook ribs, the recipe is hers. I've swiped a couple other recipes from her as well. I've grumbled at her successful gardening. She's a good photographer of things other than herself (her archive of nature pictures on Flickr reminded me a lot of home when I lived in Reno). I've been utterly lost when she talks tech (I wager that she has the skillset to be the IT manager for a fairly large business - though that would probably mean a pay cut for her). But what really made me a fan of her blog was a post where she revealed that most of her family was none too pleased about her career choice, and that this made holidays really uncomfortable for her. I can sympathize with that. A lot. Admitting something like that takes a lot of bravery. And as you may have guessed by now, bravery is something I admire greatly.

Jamie Harvey - Fredericksburg, TX

This is almost an obituary of sorts, though I hope she wouldn't take it that way. She has enough of that on her hands right now as it is. Like Elli, Jamie is quite pretty, formidably intelligent, and very tech-savvy. Unlike Elli though, Jamie is very safe for work. Until recently, she was arguably San Francisco's premier music-scene blogger, known as the Hard Rock Chick (http://www.hardrockchick.com/). She averaged close to 100 shows a year that she attended, mostly in the Bay Area but often venturing far and wide to follow her favorite artists and bands. And her vast knowledge of Nine Inch Nails trivia, lore, and legend even helped settle an argument between Joy and I. Allow me to explain:

Y'see, Joy had told me for some time that her sister-in-law had a nephew who supposedly was Trent Reznor's touring bass player for a while. My sister-in-law is one of the nicest Mormons I've ever met, and while I've known more than a few Mormon black-sheep growing up (Thad Huhn, where are you?), including the one I've been married to for sixteen years. But I just had a hard time believing that my very normal-looking sister-in-law had a nephew like that. Jamie not only confirmed that it was so, but also provided me a link of said nephew trashing the Orlando Hard Rock Cafe during a solo performance.

And Jamie has had the willingness to reveal her darker moments as well. Concert and CD reviews could often be as much about her mood at the moment as it was about the bands she was there to see and hear. A review of Alice In Chains offered glimpses into dark corners of her adolescence that I could seriously identify with. Abusive exes and confused, not necessarily supportive family members (she once wrote that she was asked by a relative if she was gay simply because she lived in San Francisco - she worked for Sega in the videogame biz there) surfaced in reviews of black-metal bands and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. And she had a geek-out moment with the best of them when she followed NIN last summer for a few weeks, culminating in meeting The Reznor himself at an airport in Southern California when he told her through the NIN iPhone app that he was literally standing right behind her. But she recently left it all behind to return to Texas to care for her seriously-ill mother. We're friends on Facebook nowadays, but I've been hard-pressed to talk to her since she went home - how do you wish the best of luck to someone caring for a gravely, perhaps terminally ill parent?

I guess what all five of these people have in common is a certain kind of perseverance. The ability to be honest with oneself to others, to complete strangers. To hang yourself and your thoughts and opinions out there for all to see, to support or criticize, and to do so without fear. That is something I admire greatly, and aspire to emulate when I write these things out for you, dear reader.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a chuck roast downstairs that should be thawed out and ready for my attentions. And no, I didn't swipe this recipe from Elli. I got it from Alton Brown.

So there.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sunburns And Missing Cords

I'm home in Port Angeles now, just got back the other day. Jeez, is it hot here - 85F at sea-level feels like 100F in the high desert. And I'd know. Hell, I just played in it on Sunday.

We'd known well in advance that we'd been booked to play at The Nugget in Sparks for July 4th. But we weren't really sure just how we were going to go about it. We originally figured that we'd be playing in the little amphitheater-like stage just east of The Nugget, on the eastern side of Sparks' Victorian Square. But only a few days out from the gig, we found that we would actually play on a temporary stage in front of the parking lot that separates The Nugget's Courtyard Hotel from the northern section of the casino itself. But this was no problem to us. All we need are enough electrical outlets for our stuff, and we're good to go.

But playing outdoors is a different thing. And in Reno, that usually means playing in the heat of summer. Starsound Audio actually rolled out their own portable stage, and shaded it from sun and wind reasonably well for us. A little bit of sunburn on my arms was about all I had to endure, because there was just enough of a breeze to keep the heat from being too oppressive. In previous outdoor gigs with other bands, dealing with the elements was always a challenge, especially considering that those past gigs were in the unpredictable environment of western Washington, where rain can short out equipment far too easily - particularly the very expensive electrical thingamabob wrapped about my melon - microphone becomes electrode, mayhaps? But rain was nowhere to be found Sunday in Reno, and the day dawned brilliant. And hot. But everyone knew that this was coming, so plenty of hydration was the order of the day as we set up. Me? I replaced the Coke in my king-size travel mug with Powerade.

We started our show at 5:30pm, but only after a scheduling mishap. Y'see, we'd been told that we'd be playing from 5 to 9, but it turns out that The Nugget had been advertising all along that we'd play from 5:30 to 9:30. I only found this out as I checked into my room at The Courtyard. After letting Mike know, as well as the crew from Starsound (who also thought we'd be starting at 5), we all agreed that since this was The Nugget's show, we'll run on their schedule. But starting a show like this can be a bit disheartening. Why, you ask? Well, the real show (the fireworks) wouldn't start until after we finished playing (actually about 10pm), so the crowds only started to really come in after about 7pm or so. Which left us playing to..... well, let's just call them interesting. I have no problem playing for people with disabilities. Hell, usually they're the best-behaved people at shows. But let's just say that a few people in that early crowd were maybe best left indoors. It took an effort to keep from laughing at their antics. And I'm not trying to be mean-spirited or saying that the disabled should be viewed as freaks or something like that. I was just beginning to wonder where their caregivers were after a while. Dude staring at a single empty part of the stage obsessively while pawing something I presumed to be a cellphone, or the pair spitting water on each other - well, it was really just one guy doing it to the other, actually - but still, this was adding a whole new meaning to the term 'crazy from the heat.'

We had our own little private backstage area to hide out in between sets, but after a while it wasn't all that private. Kids kept asking to have their pictures taken with Mike and Arthur, while ignoring us. The only attention Cliff and I got was from a drunken woman who actually tried to sit in my lap and kiss me - yuck! Beer breath is not my idea of an aphrodisiac by any stretch of the imagination, but how the hell do you politely tell someone to get the fuck off of you? It didn't really help that almost none of our friends from Carson City that had promised to attend actually did, just our friends and chocolate-pushers Robert and Rhonda (thanks for the truffles!). A few other friends of the band showed up, but they were all new to me. But they were nice, so I guess that's all that really matters.

But as day became night, the mood improved. Eventually, we were playing to around twenty- to twenty-five thousand people. Or at least that how many I thought there were. There could've been a lot more - the expectations were for fifty thousand. But I was only able to see so many, and the whole of Victorian Square was closed, so I probably saw only half the crowd at best. But they were thoroughly enjoying the show from my vantage point. We'd been rehearsing a bunch of new material up to that point, and it all came off good. Any mistakes made were minimal and went unnoticed by all. The show ended, and we introduced Ascuaga family scion Stephen to the stage, and he emceed the remainder of the show, basically introducing a Nugget employee who sang the National Anthem, then calling on the show to start. We sat back and enjoyed the show, then Cliff and I headed back to my hotel room to get back into civvies to change. We were in mid-change when I got a phone call from Mike to hurry the fuck up and get back to the stage. I wish I'd gotten there faster. Y'see, in the chaos, the Starsound crew picked up one of my instrument cables and packed it away. I'd already misplaced one cable earlier in the day, and this was really beginning to piss me off. However, the Starsound techs told me that since they don't use quarter-inch instrument cables, and hadn't in quite some time, it shouldn't be difficult for them to find my cable and to return it. I sure hope so. They agree that cables aren't cheap.

But I got everything else packed away, and made it home just fine. And with good press. Every comment we got was in the most positive of terms - especially those that came from the higher-ups, even Stephen Ascuaga himself. Hopefully this will lead to more gigs, something we need in order to keep me able to be there to play. But now I have a few weeks of downtime to spend with Joy, and my family. Maybe my dad finally got the buffer he'd been agonizing over the last time I hung out with him. That way I can actually work for that airfare, rather than just ask for it.......

Friday, July 2, 2010

Louisiana Purchase

The other day, Mike and Arthur confirmed that we will indeed be headed to Louisiana, to play at the Sam's Town in Shreveport, right on the Mississippi River. We'll be headed there at the end of August, playing from the 26th to the 29th and September 2nd to 5th. There will be backline equipment waiting for me there so I won't have to take much more than my sticks, my kick pedals, my headset mic and maybe my monitor mixer. I am most certainly looking forward to this gig.

However, going to a new gig in a new city (2,414.57 miles from home!) has its own unique set of challenges. First off - naturally - is getting there. the four of us will fly from Reno to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) either through Las Vegas or Phoenix, with the exact date yet to be determined. I was informed that Sam's Town will require us to pay for our flight there as a de facto deposit to insure that we actually show up - eminently sensible in my opinion, but still a pain. After our arrival, they'll give us back the money spent on the flight. It just means that I'll have to borrow more money from my dad in order to pay for the flight as soon as possible, but at least it's money that I'll be able to pay back as soon as possible. We want to fly together in order to insure that nobody is left waiting around at DFW for god-only-knows how long.

The next challenge is actually getting to Shreveport itself. Actually flying in to Shreveport would likely double the cost of getting there, so we'll rent a van to get the rest of the way there. But there's one small problem. Though Arthur has already rented the vehicle, he and Arthur hate to drive. I mean, they really hate to drive. Go back to when I had them follow me from Reno to Florence, OR last year if you want proof. I've made the offer to do the driving for them, even suggested that Arthur cancel his rental reservation so I could make one instead (thereby saving them the expense of adding a second or third driver to his rental agreement). But even if nothing comes of that, I shan't worry. Instead, I'll just keep my mp3 player going, and make sure to bring more than one book - one for the flight, one for the the road, right?

The last challenge will likely be the thorniest - that car rental will be one-way, and one-way only. So until we start the journey home on September 6th, we'll be housebound. It shouldn't be too bad a deal, though. We will get rooms and a meal a day comped, and I'll have to find out how much internet access will cost me there, if at all. But what to do if I wish to get around? I can't imagine that I'd do that much walking in late-summer heat and humidity (both likely in the 90s and higher), but a bike is a possibility. Considering that I'll have a fair bit of money in my pocket at the moment, renting or even buying a bike isn't out of the question. The latter option also allows me the opportunity to donate the bike to a local charity when I leave town. Hey, take care of my own needs plus do a manly good deed by donating to charity when I no longer need it? BONUS!

I've been informed that I should have a good time while I'm there. Mike and Arthur have told me that the food is excellent there, and that they'd always had a good time there. One thing that intrigues me in a train-wreck sort of way, though: Remember when I told you that I found a Hustler Club in Shreveport when I looked at the area on Google Earth? It's right across the parking lot from Sam's Town.

Anyone want to give odds on whether or not I'll be able to fight off the temptation to look at the train wreck?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Playing Sick

It's something we all have to do, regardless of what we do for a living - but we still have to do it. Another week in Carson City has passed, and this had to be just about the most difficult week with the Steppen Stonz to date.

It didn't really start out that way, though. Rolled in on Monday night, and for a moment I actually considered loading in and setting up my kit right there and then. But I realized that it was just the caffeine in my system talking with false bravado, and I slunk up to my room to get a decent night's rest. But a few minutes later I got a phone call from my friends Sara, Jazmyn (Jazzy) and Tyler, who wanted me to come down and visit for a minute. I obliged, and we hung out for about twenty minutes. And they gave me a nice present.

Rhinovirus, aka 'the common cold'. By Tuesday night I knew something was wrong, so I started downing Zicam tablets and drinking a whole lot of water. Wednesday was a blur of fever, chills, disorientation, vertigo, and a severe lack of energy. The guys noticed it right away, and cancelled rehearsal that had been scheduled for that night. It was so bad that I actually considered asking the front desk if I could borrow the hotel's only wheelchair to get back to my room, where I slept pretty solidly for almost fourteen hours. Thursday was only slightly better, but I mustered the willpower to persevere. I'd been told that we would rehearse after Thursday's show, but me shambling around like a zombie must've changed their minds. Now if they'd only have remembered to tell me. When we rehearse, it usually starts an hour after we finish the night's show. So I stumbled up to my room, peeled off my sweat-soaked dress clothes and pulled on a t-shirt and sweats, and headed back to the elevators to meet up with the band. And yes, it took me most of that hour just to get to that point. I went over to the snack bar, where the rest of the guys were eating dinner. They acknowledged my arrival and asked if I was going to eat. No chance there, my appetite had left the building. By all rights I should've stayed in my room, but I was grimly determined to keep up my end of the business, no matter the cost to me. Midnight came and went, and the guys kept bullshitting away and really not paying any attention to the zombie behind them. They finished up their meals and headed for.... the elevators! I went after Arthur and asked him if we were rehearsing, and that's when he realized that they'd forgotten to tell me that they cancelled it because they didn't think I was healthy enough!

Ten more hours of sleep followed. I was feeling better Friday, and better still yesterday. I'm pretty much back to normal now, and I'm pretty sure that it was the Zicam Joy talked me into buying that made it only last a few days rather than a few weeks. But it taught me a valuable lesson - I've got to carry cold meds with me at all times. That, and restock my supply of Zicam. I've spent enough time being the Zombie Drummer, I want no more of that than absolutely necessary. Now I'm going back to my Lemon Echinacea Throat-Coat Tea and vitamins, and back to sleep.

Talk to y'all later.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Life Is A Cabaret - No, Really.....

Back again in Carson City at the Station, this time for only a weekend - let's just say that we were offered the two nights, and we accepted. And they're putting us up for the entire week - bonus! I have Internet access again! Well, I could've gotten online at the Nugget last week, but I can't really afford $12/day for service. It'd also be nice if the Nugget comped meals for bands coming in from out-of-town, but I can't really complain that much. They are paying me to be there, after all.

And last week's run in Sparks brought about an interesting new thing to me - the chance to interact with a touring company. Y'see, a few feet to the north of the Nugget's cabaret stage is their showroom theater, which had been hosting a touring production of Cabaret (natch) for the past week. I'd never really gotten to do so before, because the showroom had been dark (no acts playing at the time) during previous trips, and this was the only place where I'd played that such acts were booked. When I was in Powerlight, we'd occasionally meet bands that played upstairs in their ballroom - Blue Oyster Cult comes to mind - and one night we met the alt-country/Americana group Calexico at the Atlantis' cabaret, they'd just finished a show elsewhere in Reno and were staying the night there. But this would be altogether different - not to mention a lot more fun.

I walked offstage after the first or second set last Saturday when I heard a woman's voice asking me what kind of drums I played. I looked around and the voice came from a woman sitting at one of the tables behind the cabaret's sunken dance floor. Since my kit's resonant (front) bass drum head doesn't have a decal for the actual manufacturer of the drums (only a small Sabian Cymbals decal in the bottom-right quadrant), I get that question quite a bit, but so far never from a woman. She then asked some very technical questions about my gear, and mentioned how clean my cymbals sounded - this woman was clearly a drummer herself, and when I said so, she introduced herself as the drummer for the touring company that was playing next door, and that she really liked what she was hearing from us.


I don't have a problem receiving compliments from women. It's just usually that the compliments come from someone who's looking to get laid (which I can brush off pretty easily), or someone who really wouldn't know that much about drums and just liked the show. But this was something entirely different. There just aren't that many female drummers out there. In my own personal experience, I've only met two - one who plays in a cover band in Tacoma, and one who plays the cabaret circuit here in the Reno/Tahoe/Carson area. The fact that this woman was not only a drummer, but a peer who clearly knows the business as well as I do if not better, and is probably a far better player than me, well..... let's just say that she had my full attention. And not in any sexual way. No, seriously. Drummers will almost always kibitz (and hopefully not kibbutz - that'd be way too fucking loud) with other drummers if given the chance, and here was my chance. We talked gear, sticks, tech, the road - they'd be finishing a week-and-a-half run in Sparks the same day we finished our four-day run, and they'd be heading north to Montana while we rolled back to Carson. By the way, she's a New Yorker named Mia Eaton, and she was just the nicest person. She told me that she'd seen a little bit of our show the night before, and advised me that the rest of her company would probably come by to catch the show later in the evening.

And she wasn't kidding. When the DJ across the casino floor at Trader Dick's (our friend Bobby G), finished his set, the company's performers started to filter over to the cabaret. How could I tell? Oh, using the roughly three-foot-high stage as a ballet bar would be a good hint. My friends Alexis and Crystal were there that night, and Crystal asked me if I could put one leg up on the stage like that. I told her that I liked my hamstrings right where they were, thank-you-very-much. I'd say there were about a dozen or so of them, and they were just having a blast. Pretty soon the entire company was there, and their energy was so infectious that we probably played five or six encores, and I had a hard time sleeping that night because I was just in such a good mood. A few of them came by the next night, though Mia didn't come herself - probably had more important things to do. Not to mention traveling to Montana - voluntarily! Oh well. We'd exchanged information the night before, including Facebook membership. Working drummers like us need to stay in touch, I said, be cause we're a pretty rare breed of cat these days. And she agreed with me on that, though I'm sure she probably knows hundreds more than I do - she lives in New York City, after all.

All four of us really enjoyed this last weekend. The Cabaret cast just imbued us with a good vibe for the weekend, something that I'm pretty sure we all needed. I know I did. Getting to meet nice people like that is one of the reasons why I'm still doing this after all the bullshit I've endured over the years. So thanks go out to Mia and the rest of the cast. I only wish I could've returned the favor and gone to see them play. I'll definitely be keeping in touch with her. After all, what's the downside of having a connection in New York City?