Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ah-CHOO! You got the new flu?

Once again, my employer is offering free flu shots. They are giving us plenty of opportunities to get the shot and pitching the benefits of getting it. Unlike other types of communications in our company, however, the repeated flu shot promotion is already beginning to hit fever pitch. My inbox is receiving at least 3 to 4 e-mails per week offering - emphasizing - stressing - cajoling each employee to get one.

I work at the corporate office of a healthcare organization. That's right - I'm simply an overhead cost with no patient interaction. So while there is little risk to my catching the flu and passing it to a patient, I suppose I do run the risk of making my co-workers sick or vice versa.

Yet, I'm declining the shot as I do each year. Whether I'm lucky or good, I haven't contracted the flu before. Call me superstitious, smart, or an idiot, but I'm still not planning to get it - the flu or the shot. Last year (and again this year), we were at least presented an alternative: (1) get the shot ya stinkin' conformist or (2) wear a mask if you leave the corporate office for any reason.

But I am curious what strain we'll have this year. Certainly, the U.S. will see its share of traditional flu cases - the Coke Classic if you will of the flu strain. In addition, however, the flu has gone a bit chic the last couple of years with a bonus flu.

Two years ago, we all heard rumors of the bird flu. I'm not sure it ever developed though a co-worker or two was quite certain they nearly died of the stuff at least a couple of times.

Last year, the flu everyone had to have was the Andy Warhollish, 15-minutes-of-fame Swine Flu. Remember this one? Perfectly good bacon sources were slaughtered all over the world once someone in a neighborhood caught the sniffles and bought a bottle of Tussin.

Because I've chosen not to get the flu shot, I feel a bit out of the loop. I readily admit I'm not as hip about this year's Critter Flu as folks around me flocking like lemmings to willingly get stuck. I haven't heard about FLU 2010. So I'm left wondering about what poor, helpless life form may shoulder the blame for this year's flu crisis. Will it be....

The Possum Flu - This type of flu likely hits you right about the time you cross a street at night on your way to the drug store for Tamiflu. You see the on-coming lights of a car while running a fever, and *boom* down you go. The upside of this strain is the symptoms disappear quickly. Once the car is gone, you can generally arise and continue on your merry way.

The Spider Flu - This strain has the potential to cause many folks to miss work repeatedly during the winter because the funk can settle into a pair of legs up to four times a season. Also, its rumored this strain spawns a reddish, hour-glass shaped rash on your abdomen.

The Praying Mantis Flu - If this one develops as expected, look out. This strain is slow to show its symptoms and normally only affects women. A woman harboring the PMF virus generally doesn't know she's contracted it. But after a sex session with a man, PMF becomes very apparent to her when she bites the head off her mate. Sadly, her man's final words are likely "dear, how long have you had that sniffle?"

The Ostrich Flu - A spin-off of the bird flu, this strain is a bit milder than the others. Two temporary but painful and unsightly symptoms are the elongation of the neck and rapid growth of a fat ass. Also, the stress brought on by the ostrich flu results in the patient mentally withdrawing from all reality around him or her - putting their "head in the sand" if you will.

Despite the risks of Flu 101 and Nouveau Flu, I remain committed to declining the shot. The decision about your getting one, however, can be made by only one person: YOU. Well technically if you work or are married to a woman, this isn't exactly true. Odds are against you as your wife or boss may force you to get one. But you understand the point I hope.

With apologies to John Lennon: I am the eggman. I am the walrus. Flu, flu, ah-choo!


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rush road trip: Thus endeth the bloggeth

Brought to you by the letter æ.

Sailing through the ticket scanners was no biggie. (By the way, aren't you glad all those sadists are gone - the ones who took such great delight in ripping your ticket right at the band name or venue location?) We drew a bead on our seats as Rush had now moved on to its second number, Time Stands Still. Because this is one of two songs I actually don't particularly like, I wasn't bothered to miss it as we got settled. For the record, the other one I don't like is Big Money. Its Rush's equivalent of Van Halen's Jump.

Here Again I was at a Rush concert. The crowd was clearly In The Mood, the view from our seats was really good, and the night air from the clear night sky was fantastic. I could see each of the band members pretty well - especially Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson; however, having the three mega-screens still added a lot to the show. The camera crew was really good at zooming in on the hands and feet of Geddy and Alex during various solos. And the techs and board staff did their job to perfection with Geddy's equipment. His bass sound was impeccable - yet it didn't overpower Alex's guitars or Neil's drums.

A camera angled to the right of Neil Peart's bass drum presented some good shots. However, they also had a camera above Peart - which should have provided the best view of his chops. Unfortunately, from our seats, the lighting was terrible. The few times the overhead shot was on the screens, it was very difficult to see the details of his work. A minor inconvenience...

Source: Mucho gracias gnumoon

Upon first glance, I thought it was incredibly cool to see Ged sporting a Rush shirt with the logo from their debut album 35+ years ago. But with a second, longer look, I realized it said RASH on it. Even better! I do wonder if the long-sleeve shirt he wore was a rash guard to protect him from the Rash shirt?

Source: MSNBC

Geddy is pushing 60 - SIXTY. Yet, his bass playing skills are simply amazing. I've always listened in awe to Peart's drumming, and I had a respect for Geddy's playing - though not at the same level as I had for Peart. But he's definitely narrowed the gap. Its jaw-dropping to watch him play some incredible riffs and solos ... while working foot pedals ... while balancing bass lines with keyboard parts ... while remembering to sing the correct lyrics from about 35 years of recording.

After their first set was completed, the band took a break and so did I. Off to the bathroom, merch booth, and beer stand I went. At my age - with the exception of Rush - I now generally prefer my live music as singer-songwriters in small venues/clubs. This show reinforced a few of the reasons I've drifted that way over the last couple of decades: longer merch lines staffed by busy folks who really don't care, overpriced and uninteresting beer, and lack of interaction with the artist. Who wants to buy a $40 t-shirt and $8 Bud Light when I can buy $4 Shiners and a $15 CD autographed by Hayes Carll?

...and the meek beer shall inherit the earth...

When the Time Machine tour was announced, the big news was Rush planned to play all of Moving Pictures as part of the set list. Songs such as Tom Sawyer and Limelight have been set list staples from the get-go, but other songs such as The Camera Eye, Witch Hunt, and Vital Signs haven't historically been played nearly as often. Because I really wanted to enjoy the show free of bias from others, I refrained from reading show reviews, didn't watch any YouTube clips, and didn't download any bootlegs. Three wise decisions on my part I think.

Hearing The Camera Eye was a great treat. Listening to the lyrics with a fresh perspective and watching the big screen images of New York City and London in a post-9/11 world made the song a bit more prophetic and surreal.

Did you spot the "major award" from A Christmas Story at the :30 mark?

Hearing and watching Peart's drum solos never gets old. His performance is almost an optical illusion - frequently, I hear rhythms that quite frankly I don't see him play. One portion of his solo that's been around for a number of years simply blows me away. He rocks a 3/4 beat using his bass drum and high-hat pedals while playing multiple toms in a 4/4 time signature. The degree of difficulty puts the combo of patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time to shame. Its simply not fair.

After playing on his more conventional, traditional set, he turned and sat on his throne facing the other direction as a 2nd drum set designed for the tour rotated around to face the audience. (Transition happens about 2 minute mark in the video below.) The bass drum was significantly smaller than his regular one. And one mounted tom seemed even to be bigger than the bass drum. The ability of the guy to continually re-invent himself, his skills, and even his drumming equipment just leaves me wondering how he does it over and over - similar to my wonderment of why people still buy Peeps at Easter.

Photo source: HoldYourFireAl's SmugMug page

The second and final encore song to close the night was Working Man - a Rush classic from their original self-titled debut album. Rather than start it as normal, the first stanza and chorus were played reggae style. I'm not a big reggae fan, and I'm a big fan of Working Man. So if you'd asked me if I'd like that combo entering the gates, I'd say no. Yet it worked. Very unconventional - but it was good. After the initial chorus, Alex led them back to the classic arrangement. Having WM as the closer was appropriate. It kind of cements why I'm still a big fan. Although Rush is not above some experimentation with musical influences, song lengths, and themes, they've stayed with a core sound from the early 1970s to present day.

During the encore of LaVilla and Working Man, I started feeling a mist. Earlier in the day, the weather forecast showed a nominal 10% chance of rain. So, surely it couldn't be raining - besides, we were in the covered seating. Initially, I convinced myself the moisture was from a misting system in the rafters of the amphitheater's covered seating area. I realize now the prophetic nature of the opening lyrics from Witch Hunt:
The night is black, without a moon
The air is thick and still
When the show ended and we turned to head for the car, it was pouring! The 10% forecast of rain suddenly became a 100% reality of us getting drenched.

Good news: Wet t-shirt contest!
Bad news: It was a Rush show. 90% of the crowd was male.

Video clips, song title drops, attempts at humor that perhaps made only me laugh, and yet you want more? How about some show photos? I found this Photobucket album tonight where some great pictures were shared.

A few show oddities - things that confused me but may be perfectly logical to those who've seen the band far more often than twice in 26 years:
  • During The Camera Eye, one image shown on the screen was an ear of corn. I don't get it.
  • Early in the show, a maid...pushing a shopping cart onto the stage...tossed rubber chickens...into the washing machines...that was making sausage. Completely random? Or is this some sort of metaphorical pretzel I can't untwist?
  • A baby carriage made repeat appearances on the video screens during the show. Why? We came up with a couple of possible, plausible reasons, but I'm interested to hear feedback from others.
  • Unless my eyes deceived me, someone dressed in a bear suit made a couple of laps on a bicycle around the stage as the band was playing. Maybe I was just Losing It at that point of the show.
Knowing I wanted to compose a blog entry or two about the show, I made a few show notes old school style - pen and paper - to supplement my tweets and texts. Guess this proves I'm still trying to balance between being The Analog Kid and a New World Man.

Did I leave wanting more? Sure, there were plenty of songs I wish they'd included in the set list. But the trio did give us two and a half hours of great rock spanning almost four decades. So In The End, to ask for more would be expecting Something For Nothing.

With the show less than 15 minutes behind us, the conversation turned to "where next?" The conventional wisdom is Rush will return to the studio to finish their in-progress album and then tour again in 2011 with an updated set list. Will I get to see them again? Who knows. I Hope so. But if not, I'll shed no Tears as I still had One Little Victory by waiting a quarter-century for my second concert.

OK, I'm Losing It. Review done. Test for Echo. Out. [white noise.....................]


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rush road trip: Part IV of a 2-part trilogy

Summer 1978 - Trader's Post classifieds in Nashville, TN:
  • Ludwig 5 piece blue drum set used primarily in session work
  • Zildjian 24" ride, 17" crash, and 14" high-hat cymbals
  • Throne, hard shell cases, gig bag and extra hardware included
  • $400 firm
With a few hundred dollars from mowing lawns squirreled away at Commerce Union Bank, I talked over the ad with my mother, withdrew the money from my savings account, and had her drive me to buy myself a drum kit.

I set it up in the bedroom shared with my brother. The dimensions of our room weren't that big, and I quickly claimed eminent domain over about 40 percent of the floorspace. Once assembled, I spent that evening and most afternoons the next two years jamming to LPs and 8-tracks played on my bitchin' Radio Shack stereo. KISS, Journey, Skynyrd, a new band discovered by Gene Simmons called Van Halen, ELO, Boston, Peter Frampton, Aerosmith's "Toys In The Attic", and Deep Purple.

That was my drumming M.O. until the spring of 1980 - the wrap-up of my freshman year of high school. Thrashing the skins as if I was Keith Moon - though the reality is I probably had drumming skills more like Sun Myung Moon. Then a friend of mine asked me if I'd learned the drum part to Spirit of the Radio yet. What? Who is that by? Rush man! Don't you have Hemispheres?? La Villa? buh domp, ba doomp, bon bon bommmm, bon bon bommmm.

I borrowed the 8-track of Permanent Waves from my friend, listened to it through headphones as I sat behind my bass and snare, and didn't lift a stick. Finally, I stood to clunk through channels 2, 3, and 4 so the tape would eventually loop back to channel 1 to replay Spirit. (If you ever had an 8-track, you'll understand the verb "clunk".)

I was hooked. Feeble attempts were made to mimic Neil Peart's licks - including a few impromptu Lessons from friends who thought they had them down (they didn't). I had but a Ghost of a Chance of ever actually matching his skills. Then my buying spree began:

Permanent Waves on LP. Done.
Back track to 2112. Done.
All The World's A Stage - double live LP. Done.
Then back to present (at that time): Moving Pictures, Signals, Grace Under Pressure, etc.

As I blogged last week, I finally saw them live in 1984. I would never have guess that 1984 would be the only time to see them live ... until last week. 26 years later. I have to admit it was a bit surreal making plans to see the band I began listening to 30 years ago. Yet thinking about it now, it was really only about 3.25 Dog Years since I'd last seen them. Not bad.

The Countdown to see them again began about 5 or 6 months ago. When the Time Machine tour was announced, a friend of mine and his brother immediately committed to going. Fortunately for me, he decided to Take A Friend. So the three of us left our middle Tennessee Subdivisions last Wednesday AM with a playlist of classic Rush tunes, some high-end beer wrapped to stay cold in a soft-sided cooler, stories of how we enjoyed the band over the years, and various ideas for Making Memories during this overnight trip. One thing was certain. Having a steady salary from many years as a Working Man was going to allow me to more fully enjoy the 2010 show vs. what I could afford with my meager college budget in 1984.

Once settled in Atlanta, we met up with the rest of our traveling contingent. The carpooling crew consisted of 5 of us. Four guys, 1 woman. 80/20. Yep, it was a pretty representative sample of what was expected as the male/female crowd distribution for the evening. We had:
  • TMC
  • Friend, Atticus
  • Atticus' brother and proprietor of Food Furious, Ben
  • Atticus' cousin, Aaron, by siblings from a different marriage of parents...starting to get a bit dicey here
  • Ben's cousin, Leila aka gnumoon, but by yet another set of siblings from another marriage...or some sort of Circumstances like that...Bottom line: She and Ben are cousins. And Ben and Atticus are brothers. Yet, Atticus and Leila aren't cousins. Wait, the room is spinning. Can't figure this out. Confusion reigns! Mayday, mayday.
In the end, the best catch-all phrase I can now affectionately apply to all my new friends is they are all somehow related as Courthouse Cousins.

After a couple of introductory, how-are-ya? beers at our hotel, we were off to Mission number 1: dinner at The Vortex in Atlanta's Little Five Points. There we met up with two more fans - Carl and Rachel - neither of whom are related to the Courthouse Cousins. But since I had no known relatives on the trip, perhaps the two of them were my CHC.

The Vortex had some really interesting burger and beer choices. Ben settled on the Hell Burger with hot pepper cheese and a jalapeno/habanero pepper relish. Atticus downed the Coronary Bypass - a burger with a fried egg, a few strips of bacon, and several slices of cheese. And after a debate with Carl as to which one of us would get it, I finally decided to Roll The Bones and order The Elvis burger:

As a joke, I almost ordered a salad with vinaigrette dressing as my side item plus a Diet Coke. But I didn't and chose tots and a large Sweetwater IPA instead. In retrospect, I wish I had ordered what others at our table got - sweet potato tots! Somehow I overlooked this as an option - too busy I suppose scheming a bad joke vs. focusing on the matter at hand.

We likely stayed at The Vortex one beer too long. Traffic was terrible. We underestimated the time it would take in Finding My Our Way to the venue and get parked at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater at Encore Park. (For just one lousy night, couldn't they have renamed the place Lakeside Park? But I digress...)

Full of the Elvis Burger and an afternoon of Sweetwater IPAs, favoring a bum knee, but with Vital Signs peaking, we sprint-walked to the front gate. While doing so, I could hear the faint but unmistakable notes of the first song I heard by the band 30 years ago - The Spirit of Radio.

To be continued...


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Continuing Education Memorable Moments: The Sequel

Last year around this time, I blogged my list of most awkward moments from our annual department continuing education seminar. This year was my fourteenth such event. Once again, all 130 or so of us spent four days together in early September off-site at a state park for training, company updates, obligatory team building activities, and late night "social festivities".

Several days ago, Ozzy Nelson (click to follow him on Twitter) blogged the details of one of his memorable moments from this year - one of his own making! I'd now like to blog a few of my most memorable moments of the week.
  • One of our speakers presented on the subject of Accounting for Impaired Assets. The subject was quite appropriate considering the hungover status of much of his audience.
  • A motivational speaker urged us to shoot for an epic failure and study lousy customer service. (Actually, the guy was quite funny AND had a meaningful point at the end of his presentation re: the aligning of failure and success.)
  • Multiple 20-somethings informed me they'd never heard of Wendy’s “Where’s The Beef?” ad campaign.
  • PowerPoint FAIL - by a PricewaterhouseCoopers statistician. (OK, so maybe its a double-fail. I don't know.) This fellow works for what is known as a Big 4 public accounting firm. These folks know accounting, tax, technology, economics, business and personal financial planning, etc. But one thing is clear - they don't know JACK SQUAT about composing a PowerPoint presentation. Did he really think delivering about 50 slides of 8 point font and 200 words per slide with teal-colored font on a white background for a 50 minute presentation was going to work? The only things missing were overdone animation and swishing sound effects.
  • Everyone was asked to dress up for 80s night for our gathering at a local restaurant-beach club-dance hall-bar thing place joint. Two male co-workers showed up with bras on their heads a la Weird Science. This memorable moment could have become an unforgettable moment had they been able to bring Kelly LeBrock with them.

  • After the bra-men worked the room a while, I then got an overview of bra shopping and fitting tips from a female co-worker. Shortly after this informative session, I inhaled, then exhaled, and nodded to our bartender to say "Another beer here please? Um, better make that two."
  • The hired cover band - Rubik's Groove - kicked off Jessie’s Girl by Rick Springfield. I grimaced at the sound of 80+ people on the dance floor shrieking with glee as the band hit the opening riff. In my opinion, the song was a pretty rotten one when it was released. As far as I'm concerned, it hasn't improved with age. For crying out loud, the singer was an actor on the General Hospital soap opera! I was stunned at the number of our younger staff who not only had heard of it but screamed delightedly and danced merrily as the band played it. This poor, poor generation...
  • A co-worker made a chest wig from hair he shaved off his dog. He had several co-workers stroke it. Sadly, a few of them believed the hair to be his own! While not explicitly saying who did this, you can discern it from... cough... namenearstartofthisblogentry... cough.
  • The lead singer of the band went into the audience with his wireless mic. (If it had been a true 80s band, they would still have used corded microphones and slung them around like Roger Daltrey or Iggy Pop. But I digress.) He approached one of our female staffers who wanted less than zero part of his attention. She tried to feign interest in him - including acting like she was texting someone. But he stuck with it and yelled up at the band “Hey guys, guess what she’s doing. She’s texting someone back here.” Another co-worker - who was truly enjoying her frequent visits from our waitresses - leaned in and asked “did he just say she was tasting someone?”
  • On the return shuttle trip from our 80s night event, multiple co-workers started belting out a lusty, off-key, a capella rendition of Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer. After making it through the chorus, the loud voice of a lone female sitting next to one of our department VPs suddenly jumped up and interrupted with "Hey mutha f*****rs, everybody sing Windows to the Wallllll!" A unison laugh resulted - followed by a noticeable pregnant pause - followed by someone thankfully kicking off Journey's Don't Stop Believing.
  • During one of our late nights of "social festivities", another co-worker presented her case to me of the benefits of stripper pole exercising. It wasn't really a debate - I certainly wasn't presenting any counter-arguments. I merely listened intently, asked a few clarifying questions, agreed with every point made, and wholeheartedly supported her endeavor.
With each passing year, I realize more and more how past my prime I am in terms of hanging with the younger crowd. Yet sitting back and absorbing memorable moments such as these keeps me Forever Young (Rod Stewart - 1988 - 80s theme continuance).

For the record, my get-up for 80s night consisted of a Member's Only jacket adorned with buttons of Where's The Beef?, I Want My MTV, and the 1982 World's Fair.

For those who grew up in Nashville in the 1980s, you may also understand this one - one of Carl P. Mayfield's alter-egos:

To complete my ensemble, I snapped a SONY Walkman cassette player to my belt - complete with Synchronicity by The Police.
From time to time, I think I've had enough. Find something else to do - within or outside the company. Yet, sitting around with a smirk on my face, a willingness to observe and listen, and watch others 20 years younger than me rattle off an arsenal of career-limiting moves is generally enough to motivate me to stick around for one more year, one more year, one more year...