Monday, November 27, 2006

Be Vewy Thankfuwl

Now that I'm working through all the leftovers in the refrigerator, have caught up on paychecks at work, and seem to have worked through some writers blokc caused by the compounding of problems, I can sit back, breathe a sigh of relief, and count my blessings.

Thanksgiving morning, while I was running around shoppng for last minute supplies for the dinner (namely, ingredients for the dinner itself), I came upon a black collie dam tied to a wrought iron fence at McGuane Park. Also tied to the fence was a plastic bag, containing a scoop for the dog. Sure enough, she was being abandoned on Thanksgiving. Real sweet. The kicker was that this dog looked familiar; I had rescued her during the summer from being abandoned at a park bench in the same park. Her temperament and attitude were so playful and fun, I thought about keeping her this time around.

After some convincing by Sue that a second dog would not be a good idea, since we don't know if she might be sick, we dropped her off at Animal Control, where paperwork was filled out, I watched her get a distemper shot, and she started the process of going into holding. If she makes it through the seven-day hold period and checks out on behavioral, attitude, and medical tests, her personality and look should almost guarantee her immediate adoption once she makes it to the city pound. I certainly hope so. This dog's been lucky so far.

My brother had back surgery on Tuesday, so he spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. He's only 34, way too young to have back surgery. But the combination of a life of manual labor and being overweight certainly conspired against him. Which made my decision to stay at home for the holiday the right one. I'll go up for Christmas, bringing both the gifts I didn't bring last year and this year's gifts for everyone. Hopefully I won't wreck the rental car this time around.

For her part, the only thing Mom really wants for Christmas is to have Chris, Tammy, and myself in the same house for Christmas. I'm damn sure gonna make sure that that happens.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Home Cookin'

For some reason, I found myself listening to 'BEZ last night. I've been nursing a chest cold I probably caught at the wedding Sunday and was falling in and out of sleep on the couch, thanks to my late night tendencies for web surfing and dog walking.

Anyway, it was about 10:30 and whoever was in the studio played "Come on Home" by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. In my north side days, I would go to Ten Cat with my chapbooks for a few drinks and some inspiration. As is the case whenever someone sits at the corner of a bar, writing furiously into a notebook and acting borderline antisocial, someone just starting to feel his oats has to come up and ask obvious questions.

"You writing?"

"What you writing for?"

"Think you'll write about me?"

On this particular night, it happened like it was scripted. Except, instead of giving curt answers to indicate that I wanted to be left alone, I engaged in conversation with one of the Ten Cat regulars. I figured, like the protagonist in Neil Gaiman's "Death: The High Cost of Living", I could mingle among the living for one day every hundred years. The man was a pleasant fellow, but his inebriation caused him to lose his train of thought occasionally. Then, as the conversation started to lull between us, "Come on Home" started playing through the sound system. My ears perked and I mentoined that this was a cool sounding song.

"That's Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, the greatest vocal jazz group of all time", my conversation partner said.

What followed was a fifteen minute lesson on LHR and the art of vocalese. Vocalese is a style where jazz singers rewrite horn and reed charts with lyrics to fit a song. Jon Hendricks and Dave Lambert were two of the pioneers of the style. When they teamed with Annie Ross, it was like catching lightning in a bottle. The man then asked, "You like jazz, son?"

I admitted that I didn't know much about the music, at the time, outside of the usual suspects: Miles, Louis, Trane, Monk, and Duke. He said to me, "Go pick up some Lambert, Hendricks & Ross the next time you're in a record store. You'll totally dig 'em."

I shook my head that I would, but had no intention of actually following through. One day, I found myself at Jazz Record Mart, back when they were located on Lincoln Avenue, rummaging through the free bins, when I came across a copy of "Everybody's Boppin'", a LHR retrospective Columbia released in the late '80's with liner notes from Jon Hendricks. I decided that, since it was free, there was no loss if I didn't like the disc. I got home, cleaned it up and fixed as many of the scratches as I could, and put it in my cd player.

I stopped listening to it a week later. From there, my education in jazz appreciation truly began. By the time I submitted my first concert review to Jazz Review, I felt as though I had enough of a background in the music to have an informed opinion. In 1999, my friend Whitley and I went to see Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross perform LHR songs at Symphony Center. Hendricks was a consummate professional, playing to the crowd and still able to bend notes like he was in his physical prime. Ross gave the audience the impression that she was only onstage for the money. She'd strike a pose that was embarrassing for a septugenarian, and the combination of scotch and cigarettes had ruined what was left of her voice.

When I first started working at HotHouse, I would bring my own cds in on Monday nights to play between Yoko Noge's sets. One night, Marguerite stayed in the office late, and heard me playing LHR on the sound system.

"You know, Chuck", she said, "Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross came to HotHouse in January."

Really, I said.

"Yup, I had some old vinyl of theirs and got them to sign it." then we recounted our separate experiences of that fateful evening. At that time, we were still trying to figure each other out. She could be the most charming person in the room one moment, then switch on a dime and alienate the same people she just charmed. I had a lot of anger pent up - a LOT - had finally started seeing a therapist for whom psychotropic drugs weren't the first option for treatment, and was beginning to slowly piece things together. I mentioned to her that I was at that concert the same night Hendricks and Ross visited. It was a a point of commonality, and it was a start. Over the next seven years, whenever I would play some LHR, she would mention the visit by two-thirds of the greatest vocal jazz group ever.

I don't listen to as much jazz as I used to. Part of that is due to my belief that music should give you an emotional reaction first, then a cerebral one. In avant garde jazz, particularly, the opposite holds true. But I can listen to some Lambert, Hendricks & Ross and suddenly my feet are tapping and I'm humming along to the trombone charts Dave Lambert would emulate so well. And it reminds me of the moments where we're at our most human.

Anyhoo, I never wanted to end this on a sappy note. I do recommend buying or downloading some Lambert, Hendrick & Ross. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, November 13, 2006

How Sweet It Is!!

I took this shot a couple weeks ago. This woman was just standing on the ledge, reading a book. I was intrigued, to say the least.

Peg and Brian were married in Starved Rock yesterday. The reception and dinner were like this congregation of people I've met and befriended over the past twelve years, it seems. It was also the first reception I've been to where folks weren't seated at the dinner in awkward painrings. I think it's because most of us knew each other already, it would not have mattered where we sat. I drew my lot sitting with all the old Unofficial Soup Kitchen folks, from my days when I would read long, meandering poems. We're all getting older; some of us have married; some of us are expecting kids; if we haven't had any already. A couple of folks were conspicuous by their absences. I looked around the room and it seemed like this whole group of people who somehow got together in '94 or '95, almost by accident, managed to stay in touch with each other and stumble into lives of our own along the way, while still maintaining contact and becoming better friends. It was a very proud and natural moment.

The weekend started with a dinner for the Chicagoist staff at Zapatista in the South Loop. Some of the staff expressed amazement that the dinner itself went along so smoothly. But during my Navy days, I was the chairman of the MWR (morale, welfare, and recreation) committees at both the oceanographic unit I was assigned to and the USS Anzio, and when you can plan Christmas parties for hundreds of sailors and their significant others, getting two dozen bloggers together is a piece of cake. Especially when Gothamist is footing the bill.

We had 24 of 27 staffers show up, were assigned two waiters and a food runner for three tables who had us served and cleared out in two hours flat, and everyone seemed to have a genuine good time. Fifteen of those twenty-four followed me to HotHouse, where Benny Matos and the New York Latin Jazz All-stars were laying down some tight boogaloo, Latin soul, and salsa dura. For those who hadn't visited, it was a chance to see what I keep harping about on the staff forums. Rachelle took some nice photos of Matos in action, and I think everyone who went had a good time, before ending the evening at the Pontiac for Live Band Karaoke.

Someone mentioned that its not easy to get that many folks together and not have any clashes of egos, but that's the case with the Chicagoist staff. To call it a labor of love is almost cliche, but in two-and-a-half years a talented group of folks have come together and really made a name for the site. I think the lovely Hixx put it best when she wrote, "joining Chicagoist is like joining a sorority (in the best way). It’s like making a group of automatic friends, and they’re supportive and smart and hilarious and awesome." It is sort of like a fraternity, without all the hazing that steers you towards a life of embracing the neo-conservative doctrine. There's no "thank you sir, may I have another" bullshit going on.

It's yet another good thing I stumbled into.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day

My polling place changed this year. I voted this morning at the Senior Suites of Bridgeport on Halsted. I used to vote at the St. Joseph's Men's Club at 28th and Lowe, one of those "sport and social" clubs Mike Royko wrote about in "Boss", where the only sport they engaged in was street fights with other white ethnics. The atmosphere isn't the same. At the men's club I always felt like I was entering some forbidden place, like Dad's liquor and gun cabinet. At the senior housing it felt like I was walking into a potential future: not at all bleak, but not what I want. I'm still shooting for that house in Kentucky, and a pot still in the woods.

Here's a bit of fallout from Florida 2000: my ballot was one-quarter the size of me. The only thing missing was someone at the voting booth to tell me who to vote for. "No, sweetie. Rich Whitney's not a nice man. You want to vote for Rod. Okay, straight line; make the arrow connect. Gooood. You get a gold star."

Speaking of, if you vote for Todd Stroger, you probably hate democracy. I don't know who came up with the "Stroger as Urkel" web site, but if you listened to him speak on the news or in his campaign commercials, it's an apt comparison. I almost expect him to look dirctly into the camera and whine, "Did I do thaaaaattt?"

As always, if you don't vote, don't bitch.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Things I Learned About Halloween

  • Some folks take it way too seriously
  • Heated Tootsie Rolls look like cat turds, and make a great accent for a cake
  • Dominatrixes don't have to be drop-dead hot, but they do need to exude some confidence
  • Speed Racer goes to the top three costumes I need to wear in the future
  • Unless someone wants to dress up as Trixie, then i do it next year
  • Sometimes it's too cold to have friends gather outside to watch bad poets stumble through their work at midnight. That's considered abuse.
  • If you're gonna dress up as Jeff Bridges in "The Big Lebowski", make sure you wash your thrift store Zubasz before wearing them.
  • If you're gonna dress up as Jeff Bridges in "The Big Lebowski", make sure the parties you attend have the necessary liquors needed to fix a white russian, or bring your own.
  • If you're gonna dress up as Jeff Bridges in "The Big Lebowski" and it's freezing outside, wear a sweater, not a thin sweat jacket.
  • It's alright to dress your dog as a vampire, or a ghoul.
  • You should be able to smack neighbors who recommend dressing your dog up as a princess.
  • It isn't alright to dye your dog's fur red, so he or she can be Clifford the Big Red Dog for Halloween.
  • Always have your iPod handy, in case the party hosts have poor taste in music. But don't just commandeer the docking station. That's bad taste if you're not me; then it's expected.
  • The best version of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" I've ever heard is by Scatman Crothers.
  • Screaming Jay Hawkins records should be mandatory on Halloween.
  • When a woman dressed as an Oktoberfest maiden is putting out feelers, don't ignore her after you found out this was the third straight year she dressed that way for Halloween.
  • Sometimes being a blogger of some note can lead to unexpected opportunities.