Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas from ApacheDug’s Teepee (aka “Been too busy to write, does it show?”)

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I don't make any pretenses that my blogs here are widely read, let alone all that interesting; but last night I was sitting here wrapping a gift when I realized it's been a couple weeks since my last entry, and what makes it worse, there's no Christmas blog!  I've written a holiday blog every year since 2006, and truth be told I was pretty happy with how last year's piece turned out.   ("The Twelve Stages of Christmas & Other Grinchy Things on my Mind", which you can view right here.)

The truth is that this year I've just been caught up in the humdrum of work & bad weather and trying to keep up with the going-ons of family (namely, my sisters).  My niece Drew has a bug right now it seems, so I'll be spending the holidays with my sister Shawn, her husband Jim & that beautiful little girl above, my other niece Sophia.   I'm excited for her to see what I got her (this very girly 'camping set', complete with pup tent, sleeping bag & knapsack) & I'm looking forward to my sister's ham & homemade scalloped potatoes tomorrow.   

I just can't believe that Christmas is here already--it seems we've had more than our share of holiday food in the office this year (I'm not kidding--between Erin's cheesy potatoes & Candace's Pecan Tassies, I work with some very gifted bakers) but I haven't heard any Christmas music or seen a single Christmas special or even a holiday themed 'regular' show!   How is that possible?

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It doesn't help that I missed Sophie's Christmas show; she's the angel in center

I realize that 'getting into the holiday spirit' shouldn't be dependent on Charlie Brown, animated clay figures or some cheesy sitcom or variety show on television, but it's not like I grew up in Vienna or a Norman Rockwell painting.  I was a typical American kid of the 1970s, where watching Santa sledding on a Norelco electric razor, the annual Carpenters special or Fonzie learning the meaning of Christmas helped set the mood. 

(I was also going to add that this is the first year I haven't seen 'A Very Brady Christmas' since it first aired in 1989, but those darn Bradys have been popping up in every other blog lately; I don't want anyone to think...oh forget it!)

I think I'm going to make a vow right now that next year, I will get a tree, a ham, some Christmas albums and decorate my apartment.  I'm serious!  I wonder if I could get my sisters to travel up here instead?

Well, I am sorry for not having something better here--I hope everyone reading this has a nice holiday & I also look forward to sharing some interesting things in the weeks ahead.  And Drew, I love you very much & hope things are back to normal for you soon.  Take care!

Merry Christmas Everyone

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Things I share with Harry Houdini (& how he helped me find my voice)

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This past weekend, my sister Shawn surprised me when she said that she'd been thinking about the anniversary of our mom's passing, and would I be writing something about it here. 

I suppose I was taken aback as I'd been pondering that very thing myself, but hadn't told anyone.  It will be five years since Mom's untimely death this month and I wanted to share some kind words about her, some sort of tribute. 

But the harder I tried to come up with something here, the more I couldn't.   I was in no mood to share funny stories, nor paint a sainted picture of her, or recount her sad, final days. 

I told my sister that I was sorry and meant no disrespect, but I just wasn't feeling it.  Shawn said she understood, but I wasn't sure I did.  

So earlier tonight I'm browsing the internet and reading about famous events this week in history:  Pearl Harbor, the death of John Lennon (to name a tragic few).  I wondered if anything 'newsworthy' had occurred on my birthday, and I was shocked to discover that Harry Houdini, famed magician & escape artist had died on October 31, 1926. Thirty-five years to the day I was born.

He truly was a fascinating man, and certainly deserves more than a passing reference in some obscure blog; but what I found so compelling was his disdain for spiritualism.  In his day, seances and 'raising voices of the dead' was a fairly common (if not phony) practice; yet he spent his later years devoted not to magic, but to exposing these people as charlatans.   Why?

After the death of Houdini’s mother, he spent vast sums of his fortune attempting to find a ‘genuine’ spiritualist to contact her; he came to the conclusion it was all a hoax & made it his mission to expose the practice


Houdini was very close to his mother, and her death in 1913 was the greatest tragedy of his life. For weeks after her passing, he made almost daily visits to the cemetery, sometimes lying on her grave to speak to her. “My mother was everything to me,” he said in a speech to the Magician’s Club. “It seemed the end of the world when she was taken from me... all desire for fame and fortune had gone from me. I was alone with my bitter agony.” 

Eventually, Houdini was able to return to work, but he continued to mourn his mother for the rest of his life.

I felt lt a real kinship with the man after reading that.  As sorry as I was to read of his loss, I appreciated his openness with his grief.


My beautiful mom, Linda B. Morris who passed on December 22, 2004; this is how I’ll always remember her


Yes, it's been five years, and my heart still hurts with selfish longing for my mom's love and attention.  But it aches with pride too, for the woman & mother she was.  She was terribly funny & sly, dramatic & generous and loved us all fiercely.  She was overprotective & unapologetic for it, unselfish and very private to everyone but us kids.  I shared everything with her, and my losses and triumphs were hers as well.


 

Mom’s granddaughter Drew & how she looks today, she’s soft spoken and private like Mom was, and shares a strong resemblance

I remember that shortly after the fuss of the funeral & attention from relatives & friends had faded, I sat here feeling very angry, empty.  I began spending my evenings reading everything I could find about 'evidence' of life after death, various religious beliefs, the paranormal. 

The only thing I had it seems, was my sisters shoulders to spill my grief on, and hope that somehow Mom was still out there.  None of this "she lives on in each of you" nonsense, but her real self.

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Her other granddaughter Sophia; she’s so protective of her loved ones & very clever, and shares Mom’s affection for dolls and all that glitters


I'm thankful that my niece Drew shared a dozen years with her (she and Mom were very close) and I resent that Sophie had no time at all; yet when I look at these girls, they both remind me of Mom because I see so much of her in them.

So they DO keep a part of her alive, and it makes me wonder sometimes if this is Mom's way of letting us know she hasn't forgotten us either, and knows our time without her is brief, and that we'll be with her again.  

Well, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I started writing this, but it sure felt good sharing my feelings here.  I love & miss you, Mom

Sunday, November 22, 2009

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s time to give thanks (and this is a good place to start)

movie poster 'Taking Chance'

 

I'm just going to say a couple things upfront:

I'm proud to be an American (like the song goes) but I don't own a big American flag, look for products made in America, or listen to Tim McGraw.  And when it comes to war, I'm not in favor of American troops in places like Iraq or Afghanistan, but I'm not necessarily against it either.  (A sad admission of not taking the time to learn more.)  

What I DO know however, regardless of where our forces are stationed, they deserve our full & unconditional support; and last night, I got a very good reminder of that with the film "Taking Chance".   I've seen a lot of movies, and I honestly cannot remember watching one that put a lump in my throat (and tears in my eyes) for the entire duration of the film.  

The movie is based on the true story of a Marine, Lt. Col. Michael Strobl (who loves his wife & kids so much that he's opted to work stateside behind a desk for most of his military career).  One morning in 2004 while glancing at the latest casualty list of soldiers from Iraq, he notices one in particular; not the soldiers name (PFC Chance Phelps), but his hometown (where Strobl had also grown up).  So he volunteers to accompany the body back to Phelps family for burial.

Chance Phelps

 

Never seen in the film, the real hero here:  PFC Chance Phelps who died in battle in Iraq

 

While he receives instructions on being a military escort, we witness Chance Phelps body being prepared for delivery to the family's funeral home.  Specialists gingerly wash the deceased, and carefully clean his personal possessions.  (His wristwatch, dog-tags, a wooden cross necklace.)  A full dress uniform is custom sewn complete with all medals and polished brass (even though, because of his injuries, it will be a closed casket).   Colonel Strobl is told that during the trip, from car to train to various planes across the country, he will stand at attention and salute the young soldiers remains at every entrance and exit point.

Saluting the soldiers remains

 

Kevin Bacon said that filming these scenes brought tears to both his eyes and the film crew

 

Along his cross-country trip (from Philadelphia to Wyoming), Strobl is taken aback by the respect shown to him, both civilian & from other branches of the military.  At one airport as he salutes the plane unloading, he turns to see the entire airport crew standing behind him, hands on their hearts.  On another flight, the pilot asks the passengers to remain seated after landing as there is precious cargo to be unloaded; a soldier killed in the line of duty.  Strobl seems the only one surprised.  The other passengers watch quietly as Chance Phelps container is wheeled off and saluted on the tarmac.

Michael Strobl

 

The real Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, who's report of the events surrounding his escort service inspired so many,  and eventually this movie

 

This is only part of the story, of course.  Along the way we learn more of Kevin Bacon (as Strobl) and his modest yet fierce dedication to not just PFC Chance Phelps body but to the grieving soldier's family.   (There is only one emotional scene by Bacon, who somehow manages to maintain a low profile while remaining the central character in the movie.)  

There is no great adventure here, no drama.  It is the voyage of one young hero's remains from the battlefield to his final resting place on a lonely Wyoming plain.

The movie isn't pro-military or even pro-America; just a poignant reminder on the goodness of dignity, humility & showing real respect.  Chance Phelps father (in an interview after the film) talked proudly of the visits, calls & letters his family still receives from other Marines in Chance's battalion, and says "These men fight for their country, but they die for their friends."                          Music by Greg Laswell - "Comes and Goes (in Waves)"

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Unsinkable Molly Webber (wait, that’s not her real name)



Can I share something silly here?  Haha!  I know, I know--when has that ever stopped me.  Okay, here's the deal; yesterday morning I am sitting on my sofa, eating a plate of microwave pancakes & waiting for the tape in my vcr (yes, I still own one) to finish rewinding so I can watch last night's episode of 'Medium'.   Meanwhile, I'm flipping thru the channels for anything good that may be on.

I click on TVLand, and see they're airing an episode of "The Brady Bunch".   Aw no--I admit to once being a hardcore Brady fan, but I've seen every one of these things at least 400 times and I'm pretty sure I cannot sit thru another one again.  I'm about to switch the channel when I realize this is the "Molly" episode, one of my top ten favorites--and strangely enough, the one I've probably seen the least.

For those Brady fans out there, you know the one I'm talking about--Season 3's "My Fair Opponent".   The girls in Marcia's class elect Molly Webber (a shy, homely girl) as a nominee for 'Banquet Night' as a cruel prank--and dammit, Marcia is going to make things right!

“Molly, try to walk without slouching so much; don’t you want to be noticed?”


In the days that follow, an amazing transformation takes place; Molly learns to walk with a book on her head, trades in her potato sack dresses for some groovy miniskirts and gets a cool shag haircut. 

(I always used to wonder who this girls parents were...) 

Unfortunately, Marcia discovers she's ALSO one of Banquet Night's nominees, but when she tells Molly she's going to drop out of the race, Molly tells her not to bother--she's a hottie now, and she's not worried.  Aghast, Marcia reminds her how she got there...

“It doesn’t make a difference how I got here Marcia; the point is, I’ve arrived!”

Whoops—Marcia’s created a monster!  But being the Brady Bunch, Molly comes to her senses, goes to the principal & tells him everything. 

She then gets Banquet Night's guest of honor (Colonel Whitfield, the astronaut!) to tag along with her as she goes to the Brady home to apologize to Marcia and let her know they BOTH won.  As they’re both so special, the banquet’s now going to have co-hostesses.

For some reason, this particular episode always fascinated me as a kid; I remember being amazed at her 'transformation', yet oddly attracted to BOTH versions of Molly.  Seeing this again...I suddenly felt inspired to find out just who this Molly Webber was (then & now). 

A search on the internet turned up her name (Debi Storm), birthdate (March 1958) and her acting biography.  I was surprised to see she had guest-starred in a variety of early '70s tv: shows like Bonanza, Marcus Welby, Emergency & of course, The Brady Bunch.  In the late seventies, she did commercials for Coke & McDonalds.


Did You Know Debi Storm was actually the first girl cast as Jan Brady—until the producers decided to go with natural blond daughters “like their mother…” 


Remarkably, she was also the original choice for 'The Exorcist', but turned down the role!  Well, that covered her acting career--but what about now?  And that's when I found her on Facebook.  

Her account was set to private, but I thought "what the heck" & sent her a brief message anyway.  I introduced myself & said that I'd seen her Brady episode earlier today & how much I've always enjoyed it.   And believe it or not, in less than 2 hours she wrote me back!



Debi Storm & her mom, 2009

She just couldn't have been any nicer.  She lives & works in Lakeland, Florida where she's both a realtor and mom to 4 kids.  She's very proud of her early acting career and credits her mom for keeping her grounded.   She thanked me for the letter & also told me that she's always been amazed at how many people remember her for that one guest appearance on the Brady Bunch. 

(Did you know that for her “transformation”, the producers instructed her mom to take her to a beauty shop & get a shag haircut.  Her mom couldn’t bear to have her daughter’s hair cut, so they went to a wig shop instead—and didn’t let on what they did!)
                                   
Well, this is one person I won't be forgetting anytime soon either.  Thanks for letting me share this little story here (and Debi, thanks for sharing your story with me).

Flower-power

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake (or, it’s my birthday & I’ll cry if I want to)

Sophie & me, today

 

There's really not a lot I have to say here, other than a big "thank you" to my sister Shawn (and my beautiful niece Sophia here) for giving me yet another special birthday.  When I awoke this morning & saw the skies heavy with rain (along with the realization that I was another year older), I wanted to crawl back under the covers & stay there.  Driving for an hour in the rain...birthdays...who needs 'em?

Well, apparently I did--seeing both girls brightened my spirits considerably.  Along with the awesome 'Star Trek' cake my sister had waiting for me!   (She actually had TWO cakes, but that's just Shawn.  And I ate from both, but that's just me.)

a custom Star Trek cake

 

Isn't this a terrific looking cake?  The little Enterprise on top lights up too!  I'm eating a slice as I type this, y'know...

 

Before we commenced to chowing down on the assortment of confectionary delights however, we drove out to the Drivers License Photo Center (I had to get mine renewed--it expired today & I almost did too, after seeing my new license photo) and then enjoyed some fried chicken.  I think the best part of the afternoon though was my niece (a confessed cake freak) who took ONE bite of that gooey galaxy and launched into a Junior Trekkie giggle-thon; she honestly gives new meaning to the term 'sugar-rush'!Happy Birthday Uncle Doug

 

At first I thought this was one of those smash cakes, the ones for babies to dive into?  Nope, just a chocolate one!  Hey, what's a Halloween birthday without a Halloween birthday cake? 

 

I only wish I had a photo of my sister's neighbor Jackie to share here too; she stopped over to say hi, dressed as a sexy witch.  (Which reminds me, if I plan to go on a witch-hunt of my own before retirement, I need to put the cake down & get my butt in gear with losing some fortysomething poundage. 

I've been making a half-hearted attempt to get in better shape for some time now, but I keep letting too many things get in the way--like Hamburger Mondays, Ice Cream Tuesdays, Wednesday Chili, Thursday Pizza, Friday Subs, Spaghetti Saturdays, Steak Sundays--did I miss any?)   Aargh!  I'm having a real epiphany right now... or maybe it's just all the sugar.  No, no--it's an epiphany alright!

Well, like I said earlier--I didn't really have a lot to say here.  I just wanted to give a proper shout-out to Shawn, and a thank you to my other family (and friends too), for making today feel special.

              Music by Al Caiola - "Baby Elephant Walk-Java Medley"

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Teepee Waiting Room: Someone will be with you shortly...



This morning on my bus ride downtown, I had the usual rigarmarole of thoughts dancing around in my head:  "It's supposed to be nice today, should I walk somewhere for lunch?"   "Will I get the Dubois assignment completed today?"  "Did I remember to record 'Criminal Minds' last night?"  "Why is that kid with the headphones looking at me?"   What was first & foremost however:  "It's been two weeks since my last blog, what am I going to write about next?"   It's like I'm in some waiting room... if I sit here long enough, someone or something will come to me.

Actually, it's not like I don't have anything; I just get second thoughts about some of the things I'm tempted to write about.  Here's a good example:  recently I decided it'd be fun to figure out what my spirit animal is.  I don't mean to be light about this, but it's sort of like the Native American version of a Fairy Godmother.  And I wanted one!


It's a common belief among Native American culture that everyone has a personal spirit animal;  Lucy Harmer's book is a gentle, sometimes humorous 'manual' on finding your own SA and how your 'animal' can help you understand who you are & help guide you on your life's journey  

I think that for a lot of people, this is a pretty "out there" concept, but it had me fairly intrigued.  I got a kick out of the plethora of internet sites & various online quizzes that promise to help; you answer a series of questions & you're now the proud owner of a spirit wolverine, bear or eagle.  (One woman expressed joy at being paired with a black panther.)  That’s how it works..

First of all, it doesn't matter if you're a man or woman, big or small, self assured or indecisive, etc.; you have no say in choosing your SA, it chooses YOU.  Secondly, it can be anything--a bear, a bird, a cat, even a salamander or a MOTH.   Third, you don't find out in a matter of minutes.  It can take days or weeks.  The theory goes that when you decide you're ready to know, you perform a form of silent meditation, and WAIT.  Your SA will let you know in an indirect fashion; you'll suddenly find yourself "coincidentally" running into any sort of references to a specific creature, until it dawns on you--"ah, my spirit animal is a (fill in the blank)..."   

So a couple weeks ago I began practicing some of the visualization  techniques outlined in the book, just in a casual "hey I'm in bed anyway" manner.   And on the fourth night I dreamt that I was driving to my sister's house & ran over a porcupine.

I didn't think anything of it (does running over your spirit-animal count as a vision!?) but as time went by, I begin seeing a lot of references to porcupines.   I know it sounds crazy (well, like this blog) but my whole life, I've never encountered anything porcupine-related.  And now, in a 2 week period I'm suddenly seeing references to porcupine grass on HGTV, porcupine fish on the Travel Channel--I even come across an old recipe for porcupine balls in a 1940s 'Vintage Recipes' cookbook!   Here’s the attibutes I share with my spirit animal:


Innocence

Trust in Spirit

Renewed sense of wonder

Creating your own path

Protection of boundaries

Defense when threatened

Allowing others their path

Non-interference


Hmm...I admit I really began to warm up to that porcupine, and who wouldn't want to believe they share such great qualities?  (Besides, the darn thing is so cute...)   And then last night, I dreamt that I was talking on the phone & telling someone about my new pet spider.  (What the--I hate spiders!)  Why would I dream I owned one?  And who wants a spider as their spirit animal?  Was I wrong about my porcupine?  I'm going to do my best to avoid all references to spiders today.  

This afternoon I decide I want a soda, so I go to our office kitchen where the vending machines are located; but this pop machine only sells bottles, and for some reason I want a can.  I walk down the hall to the smaller kitchen (where I know another pop machine is located) and when I enter--there is a spider plant sitting in the sink.   No!

So I get home from work tonight, I'm sitting on the edge of my bed & removing my shoes... and God as my witness, on the floor by my nightstand is a spider.  A damn spider.  It's just sitting there!  I haven't seen a single insect in here in YEARS, so why now?!   I decided I'm not ready for a spirit animal.  I scooped it up in a glass & flung it off my patio. 
                                 
Well, at least this whole episode hasn't stopped my newfound affection for porcupines--and for the record, I MADE those porcupine balls last weekend.  (They're like meatballs, with rice.)  And they were delicious.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A look at Male Bonding: you know, just hangin’ out & doing guy stuff



Around a month ago, I decided (what with the new tv season starting soon and all) that I'd better catch up on the latest movie releases on DVD, get 'em out of the way.  I've watched some good films ("Taken" with Liam Neeson & "Knowing" with Nicholas Cage), but last night I saw "I Love You, Man" with Paul Rudd & Jason Segel.  It's about this man who's found the right girl & they're going to be married, but he has a small problem:  all his friends are women.  There's no one he feels close enough to ask to be his Best Man.  

His brother attempts to 'set him up' with someone from his gym, and even his mother arranges a dinner date with her friend's son (who's gay, no surprise).  And then (on Rudd's own, as it should be) he meets Jason Segel.   I'm sure you can guess what happens from there.


This movie surprised me, it was that good.  What could have been a script full of lame gay jokes & juvenile humor was instead sincere & genuinely funny; I laughed out loud throughout the film.  Roger Ebert even gave it 5 stars!


Okay, I confess that while watching this, I related very much to Paul Rudd's character; and after the movie was over, I realized how much I miss having another guy to just hang out and pal around with too.

 


Dan Roberts & me, late ‘70s.  We were best friends for 25 years, from 1970-1995.  I’m still not sure what happened, too much time & distance apart I suppose.  We last spoke around 5 years ago.

I consider myself lucky to have a good assortment of friends now, both male & female.  But they're clearly separated by more than gender:  while women make up my 'physical life', most of the guys I feel a kinship with are from whom I know online in various message boards.  (And truth be told, even that number is dwindling.)

 


Jeff Kempin, from Chicago.  We’re both into the new Battlestar Galactica, seventies funk, Tarentino movies & cooking meat.  I’ve known him for years & sure would enjoy hanging out with him, but the dude lives in Chicago!


I honestly believe that finding another guy for friendship is more difficult than finding a woman for dating.   Like any relationship, a good bromance comes with it's own set of rules:

 

  • It can't be arranged, like a blind date or a matchmaking service; it just has to happen. 
  • If one guy is into sports & the other isn't, it can still work.  But if one is into hunting & fishing, and the other isn't, you can pretty much forget it.  I don't know why this is, it just is. 
  • Differences in politics & religion are okay in groups of guys, but the two of you should be on the same page as much as possible.  You're not?   Then find someone who is.
  • There's more to life than naked women, so talk about other stuff.  But man, don't be a prude if the other guy emails you a pic of Scarlett Johannsen "sunbathing".  C'mon, it's Scarlett Johannsen!
  • The age gap should be minimal.  I've become friends with someone at the office recently, but the guy is 28 years old.  Everytime a topic comes up that involves a year, say 1985, I hear "Doug do you know how old I was when you were 23 & dating that girl?  5!"  

 

Well, there's probably around a hundred other rules, but if someone tells you there should be no rules--then they've never had a real bromance.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Life in the big city: it’s just another Sunday in Pittsburgh

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I can't believe it's been two weeks since my last blog (the one about joining Facebook).   Sometimes the days and even weeks can merge together so seamlessly that I'll get my latest phone bill & think it's a duplicate, or I'll be combing my hair in the morning & wondering why it's so long; didn't I just get it cut a week ago? 

So it's hard to believe that only two days after I posted here, a 48 year old man walked quietly into a local fitness center (the same gym where my friend Julie is a member), opened his duffel bag, pulled out two guns & shot 12 women.  Three dead, nine wounded.  

Everyone knows most of the story now, of course.  Blogs and internet message boards abound with equal parts sympathy, both for his innocent victims and George Sodini, "this lonely man driven to do what he did". 

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ABC News reports claim Sodini was a likely psychopath; gee, ya think?   

The morning following the shooting, I got to work & a female coworker said "Doug...if you ever decide to come in here with a gun, please don't shoot me okay?"   A little bit of dark humor, but I still kinda took it to heart.   Like George, I'm in my forties--still single, haven't dated in awhile.  Okay a few years.  Am I lonely?  Sometimes, yes.  Would it be nice to meet someone, have a romantic relationship?  Sure. 

Do I worry that I'm going to go on a killing spree if I don't find someone soon?  Excuse me? 

I know all too well what loneliness can do to a person.  Sometimes it’s a real effort to not let those dirty dishes stack up, or get in some exercise before going to bed when you think no one else cares but you.  But there's a world of difference between 'alone time' & madness.  When people lamented that this wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been so lonely, & even George wrote that if the right woman came along, he would probably put off his plans for killing, I didn't believe it for a minute.  Sooner or later, he would've found the reason he needed to do it.   

Well, on a saner note it looks like I'm going to be in my apartment here for awhile longer.   My landlord had given me an extension on my lease, but I was just unable to find a condo with both the convenience of everything I have now & such close proximity to the city.   Er...except for this. 617D5C2B848A9C67_4996_2[1]

 

Mexican War Street condo in newly restored building; I went to see this & was surprised by the size of the building, it stretches back a whole city block

 

For people familiar with Pittsburgh, this place is located on the Mexican War Streets on the Northside, a 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo with an extra large balcony & one terrific view (the unit for sale is right in front).  Asking price is 109K.617D5C2B848A9C67_4996_3[1]

 

A park is directly across; beyond that, the city skyline

 

There's no offstreet parking though, and for such a busy neighborhood the only places within walking distance are the Salvation Army, a couple churches & Allegheny Hospital.  It's still a great piece of property in a nicely restored building.  However, as nice as it is...it's um, not exactly one of your finer neighborhoods.  While residences like this one look pretty spiffy, it's still a dangerous part of the city to be out and about at night. 

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One block up the street, a row of deserted storefronts & the recently closed 'Garden Theater', the city's last adult movie theater.  The area is known for drug & gang activity

While the neighborhood DOES carry some prestige for the residential restoration, you still hear about a shooting or stabbing there every week, it seems.

When I was mulling over the pros and cons, my sister Shawn told me it'd make her sick with worry if I moved there.  But Shawn, I could technically walk to work over the Sixth Street Bridge!  And it has that great view!

(Well, if you only look in one direction.  Ah well!  I’m sure I’ll find something eventually…)

I was planning to talk about the new casino here too, Pittsburgh's 'proud new addition' to the North Shore... but given my feelings about it (not good) and this blog, I think I've shared enough.  Think I'll go outside and enjoy some sunshine.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Sometimes, you’re just another face in the crowd…

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A little over a week ago, my friend Rich emailed me; he said he was having difficulty finding my Facebook page because there were several Doug Morris' out there, & wanted to know which one was mine.  When I told him I didn't HAVE a Facebook page, he was actually surprised.  "Why not?"

I'm familiar with it, of course.  (In fact, the site of my first teepee blog--Windows Spaces--was Microsoft's attempt to get into the social networking scene, and personally I thought it was pretty nifty, even if it didn't catch on with the masses.)  I had tried MySpace during it's heyday, and that's about how long I had a MySpace; for a heyday.  (I didn't exactly fit in with the 14-24 crowd, which is what it felt like they were aiming for.)   So after discovering that I actually knew more people that BELONGED to Facebook than people that didn't, I took the plunge & signed up.   Let the fun begin!

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That's my brother Steve & his wife Ann, who I've seen only twice in the last ten years; they both have their own Facebooks, who knew?

In all honesty, I still have mixed feelings about it.   From the start, it had some pleasant surprises; somehow the site recommends "friendships" you might be interested in forming, I guess based on the relatives you list in your Info Page, where you grew up or went to school, even former jobs you had.  The very first night I was on, I reconnected with my former work colleague (and once a very good friend) Kim Hall, and we sat up for hours, catching up on things.  Shortly after that, I discovered an assortment of relatives were Facebookers too (like my cousins Amy & Emily, and my brother Steve, above).   

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Kimberly (right), her husband Dave & son Evan

But that's not enough; you see, on Facebook you HAVE to have friends--lots and lots of 'em!   On my second day, my pal Martin contacts me--"Doug, you need more friends.  Search for coworkers, relatives, people you went to school with.  You gotta make more friends!!"   He's right, I only had 8 people so far--he has 403!   Oh wait, here's someone that works with my cousin's best friends' husband; do I like 'Lost'?  It doesn't matter:  we're officially friends now.  Do I want to be friends with his friends?  Who wouldn't?

And here's where it really gets friendly--every time a friend makes a comment like "I'm hungry & I think I'll make a cheese sandwich", it also gets posted on YOUR page.  Hey, you want to be in the loop, don't you?  And if 26 of his friends want to know what kind of cheese he's planning to put on that sandwich, not to worry--you'll see all of those too!  Just be glad there’s only 26 who asked, because he now has 377 friends in his Facebook.  

It doesn't have to be this friendly though--in fact, once I saw the potential for all this...camaraderie, well, not to be antisocial but I wanted to keep it real.  So I now have a total of only 25 friends on my Facebook page, and I'm proud to say I know each & every one of 'em!

Well, except for one--I have no idea who she is... but she's pretty.

And now, a true story...

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My sister Donda in "So Many Friends, So Little Time!"

Just yesterday my sister Donda (who happens to be a pretty big fan of Facebook) wrote me with an interesting (if not surprising) dilemma...

DONDA:  Doug, I have 160 friends on Facebook and it shows no signs of stopping!  Now what??

DOUG:  Well Cissy, you know how Facebook works!  A friend of a friend of a friend offers to be your friend, & you don't have the heart to say no...you need to start saying "No thanks”!

DONDA:  No--you don't understand!  I know everyone of 'em, and I love them all!

DOUG:  Well, fortunately you have 160 people to give you advice then.  Shawn, want to join me & your sister Cissy-Lin on Facebook?

SHAWN:  NO.

Well, there's a lot I didn't cover here--primarily because I haven't been a member long enough to see everything.  (What's with all the quizzes, anyway?  And what's with that Poke button??  You poke someone & then what--wait for them to poke you back?!) 

I think for now I'll keep my thoughts (and photos) right here in the ol' Teepee, where I can pretty much rant in private as no one comes here anyway.  And oh yeah--my friend Rich who asked me where my Facebook page was?   We're not officially friends yet.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Pow-Wow with Alex Lear: He’s the Music, Man

 

When it comes to blogs, this is how I've done things; whenever I have something new written for the teepee, I will sometimes scour the internet (and my brain) looking for the right song to accompany the topic. 

For example, my blog “A Chilly Night in Pittsburgh” was accompanied by Al Caiola's "Experiment in Terror"; and when I quit smoking last July, my personal lament here was set to Bobby Vinton's "Sealed with a Kiss".  (You know:  "though we've gotta say goodbye, for the summer...")  Clever, huh? 

So last weekend, I had begun a new blog about favorite male friends (a sort of followup to my last one about male bonding) & I'm wondering who to write about, and what music to play here.  I jump online to one of my favorite message boards for ideas & see my friend Alex;  I've known him for 4-5 years, a goodhearted guy who has an offbeat sense of humor & has never had an unkind word about anyone.  He's also an accomplished musician and the next thing I know—his music is playing on the teepee!

A Conversation with Alex Lear

Recently, Alex & I sat down for a chat about his music, among other things.  Just to give you a quick rundown, he's a 30 year old single guy who resides in Damariscotta, Maine.  When he's not doing the Monday thru Friday grind as a staff writer at his newspaper The Forecaster, he's performing at coffee shops, fairs, radio stations, and houses of ill repute (he said that, I didn't).  He has so far released two albums – Sandpapered Dreams in 2005 and Memorywall in 2007 – and a third is in the works.

DOUG:  What do you think sounds better, the Daily Bugle or the Daily Planet?  I'm only asking because this dual career thing is reminding me of Peter Parker and Clark Kent...you ever get that?

ALEX: I not only get that, but I use it as a much-failed pickup line. Being a Marvel Comics fan, I’m naturally all for the Daily Bugle. So I’d prefer to liken myself to Peter Parker, if only because he’s done a lot better at the box office.

DOUG:  Are your parents proud of you?  Are they supportive of your efforts?

ALEX: Yeah Doug, they’re great. I know a lot of would-be artists struggle with unsupportive parents who want them to become a doctor, a lawyer, or Bill Gates. Mine have thankfully wanted me to follow whatever makes me happy and productive & doesn’t land me dead in a gutter at the age of 40. What more could a son want?

 DOUG:  Alex, I think “Next Best Thing” and “To Carry On” are my favorites from Memorywall.  If they still made 45s, what two songs would you pick for the A and B sides?

ALEX: Interesting question. Being one of my more catchy songs, “Next Best Thing” would definitely be the A-side of my first single (or 45) from Memorywall, with “Musical Chairs” likely being the B-side since it follows “Next Best Thing” on the album. Plus the last note on “Next Best Thing” is the first on “Musical Chairs,” so they make a good back-to-back combo. “To Carry On” would make a good follow-up single, or possibly “Get Close to Me.” For a B-side I’d choose either “Cycle of the World” or “One of Those Days,” which are slower songs. Upbeat on the A-side, mellow on the B.

DOUG:  I know you're a tremendous fan of the Beatles; do you think they influenced your music?  What about other artists?

ALEX: I definitely get a lot of Beatles comparisons, particularly to John Lennon, which is the ultimate compliment. Simon and Garfunkel are a huge influence, too, in terms of their harmonic style and the way Paul Simon wove melodies and lyrics. Bob Dylan’s material from the early ‘60s to late ‘70s is also high on the list.  Other influences have been Badfinger, a British ‘60s and ’70s group and the most underrated band ever, as well as Billy Joel and Elton John. Yeah, people tell me I should’ve been born 30 years earlier.

DOUG:  Is it expensive to produce an album?   In all seriousness, your records look and sound very polished; where did those backup singers and other musicians come from?

ALEX: Studio time is the largest expense, and that depends on how much time I spend on each song (I can be a perfectionist of maximum anal retentitude), how many songs are going on the CD, and how many session musicians the producer & I bring in. It can run between $2,500 and $3,000. The cost of manufacturing a CD depends on the print run; the more CDs produced, the lesser the per-unit cost. All in all, it can be a $5,000 endeavor. I’ve sold more than enough to break even, which is nice, but it takes time, not being with a major label. In the long run, though, I’m glad to have done it – these CDs are testaments to my life at certain key stages, and that will always be great to reflect on. And if all else fails, the CDs make for great coasters.

 DOUG:  Hey, I know you also perform publicly; what do you think is the biggest audience you've had?  The smallest?

ALEX: A few years ago I performed the first song I ever wrote, “Window Shopping,” in a musical. I played a destitute street singer – gotta aim high! The theatre was packed, and yet I felt totally at ease. With the spotlight on me, I couldn’t see the audience, so that eased the pressure. The smallest audience might have been in a restaurant, where I was “background ambiance” and there was one diner. I could hear him dry heave every time I missed a note. The musical was far less awkward.

DOUG:  Do you only sing your own songs when you're on stage?

ALEX: I do a mix of originals and covers. The covers tend to be well-known – “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel and “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson, for example – and they’re great for reeling in listeners. Once I have their interest (“ooh, what’s he gonna do next?”), they tend to be more attentive when I bust out an original. Then they go back to dry heaving.

DOUG:  Do you have a manager?  How do you land those gigs?

ALEX: No manager, and I’ve landed many of my gigs through word of mouth or repeat performances. My job at the newspaper has really broadened my network and opened a lot of opportunities to performances I might not otherwise have had. You’d be surprised how many music halls want to give you top billing when you threaten them with a bad review.

 DOUG:  Alex, you're a good looking guy – I imagine being up there on stage gets a lot of attention from one or two females, at least!  Has anyone ever asked you for your autograph, or anything more?  Do you have groupies?  

ALEX: Why, Doug … you’re too kind. There are of course the hoards of older ladies who’ve asked me to be their gigolo. As far as the non-geriatric fan base, there have been a few women I’ve spoken with after a performance, who may be fellow musicians or just want to chat about music in general. I’ve signed quite a few autographs, but not nearly enough of them on undergarments. I think the key is to do more shows around drunk women.

DOUG:  Speaking of women, I read recently that Cher has up to 20 costume changes when she's on stage; do you do anything like that?

ALEX: HAHAHAHAHA!  Funny. My  goal is to make sure my shirt’s not on backwards.

DOUG:  Let's say you wake up tomorrow morning, it's the mid-1970s and you're a teen idol.  Who would you want to be? 

ALEX:  Donny Osmond, hands down. Wait … are you serious?

 DOUG:  Haha!  Hey, I know Memorywall is available on Amazon.com, iTunes, and Napster, but is your first album Sandpapered Dreams still for sale?

ALEX: It is, although currently you can only find it online at my alma mater, www.colby.edu/bookstore.  Just go there & search for my name.  Colby College also offers an earlier “CD single,” of sorts, called Mayflower Hill. Did you know that Colby is located on Mayflower Hill?  Now ya do!

DOUG:  Groovy, thanks Alex.  So--do I have a future in this sort of thing?  Not music, but celebrity interviewing and such...

ALEX: You do a great job of asking questions, Doug. I’ve wracked my brain here so much that my head needs a time out!   Now all you need are some actual celebrities!

.    .    .    .

Well, on that happy note... I hope whoever's reading this checks out his music; thanks for reading--and for listening!

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