Posted: January 11th, 2007

Ten Reasons I Am Not A Rock Snob

...or at least cannot be considered a rock snob.

10. I can't pretend that Bauhaus is worth listening to if you're older than, say, 18.
9. Though I love them both, I can't pretend that Joy Division is better than New Order.
8. I am well aware that "disco" is not a dirty word.
7. While I enjoy and appreciate Big Star, I do not worship Big Star.
6. I am aware that the electric guitar is not the Chosen Musical Instrument of the Gods.
5. I am aware that for the most part the music of the 80's was much more interesting and creative than the music of the 90's.
4. I wouldn't trade my bath towels for a truckload of Wilco records.
3. I prefer real country music (i.e. George Jones, Hank Williams, Sr., Dolly Parton) to miserable, mopey, pretentious alt-country.
2. I know that the synthesizer is not the Chosen Musical Instrument of Satan.
1. I have other sources of self-esteem than telling people about how I only like a certain band's "older stuff".

Posted: December 23rd, 2006

I [Heart] Gastroenteritis

I wouldn't say that I blame Burrito King, Lawrence's best burrito joint. How could I? But I will say that not too long after eating a loaded chicken dinner burrito and a ham and potato breakfast burrito from them within a 48 hour period, I began to develop chills, fever, and real gastrointestinal issues including nausea, vomiting, and what I usually refer to as the "Pennsylvania Quick Steps". Frankly, my miserable housecleaning habits probably didn't help too much, either, but those are a constant. The burritos were outside my (recent) routine.

Of course, what made this all the more precious is that it all struck over a period during which I was going to have to make a transcontinental plane trip. Taking unusual precautions for my flight, such as packing extra underwear and a Ziplock freezer bag in an easily accessible part of my carry-on, I decided to soldier through despite trouble breathing, staying warm, and keeping myself away from the toilet for over an hour at a time. Then it really got fun.

Under normal circumstances, your day is what you make of it. Thursday my day was what American Airlines made of it. I got to the check-in in just the nick of time, only to discover that the first leg of my trip, the flight from Kansas City to Chicago, was an hour behind schedule. This was actually a relief, since that meant a much better chance that the baggage handlers would have the time to get my suitcase on the proper flight. A fortuitous goof, I thought, no harm, no foul. After a final desperate trip to a terrestrial rest room, I was ready to board.

However, O'Hare was fogged in most of the afternoon, hence the original delay and two more thereafter, leaving us passengers sitting in the plane on the runway for no less than two hours. I felt a few little surges from the old GI tract, but I managed to stand them down, or sit them down as the case had been. After some confusion we went back to the terminal, and since American Airlines personnel didn't make it exactly clear to us what our options were, I had considered getting off the flight and seeing if there was something that connected through Dallas. Well, a quick phone call to the American reservations department let me know that the O'Hare to Orange County flight was going to be pushed back as well; so, I didn't have to worry about missing it if I stuck with my current flight. I figured that also gave me the best chance of not getting separated from my luggage. Worst case scenario: I end up at John Wayne Airport at 8:30pm as opposed to my original arrival time of 4:30pm. Not too shabby. Despite my nausea and crawling intestines, I thanked the nice, helpful lady and decided to stay put.

Upon arrival in Chicago a little bit after 4:00pm CST, I was as ready to hit the men's room as I have ever been since my days of experimenting with "The Green Wave"*, but I decided to hold out for a few minutes to confirm the particulars of my next flight. Sure enough, my flight to Orange County was cancelled. Bowel-strainingly long lines had formed at the two makeshift "rebooking centers" set up in the American Airlines concourse. I decided to "unpack" a little, as it were, before continuing my struggle.

Soon after getting back to business, I was doubly relieved that rebooking didn't really require that you stand in line, just that you place a phone call to an 800 number. That didn't sound so bad. Another, slightly later flight, could work. So, I called in. The catch, of course, was that there were loooong wait times for operator assistance. First call I made, I was quoted a 19 minute wait time. After 15 minutes, my cell phone service dropped my call. The second, third, and fourth calls, I was a bit too crabby to remember the purported wait times, but the lousy Sprint service out at the O'Hare Airport cut out early each of those times as well. After nearly a half hour of this nonsense, I decided to use the pay phone instead. The negative side of the pay phone wait would be that should my stomach weasels strike again, I'd have to hang up and start the whole damned thing over. The positive side was that I could use my cell phone to contact my parents and continue to refine the logistics of my ride back home to their house from whatever airport I ended up arriving at. Dad reminded me that our house was well positioned for a rendezvous with any number of SoCal air hubs including Los Angeles, Ontario, and even San Diego, if events conspired to make arrival at Santa Ana impractical. Things weren't exactly looking up, but they were at least proceeding westward.

The wait time for an American Airlines customer service operator was now up to an estimated 29 minutes, and it took almost exactly that long to get someone to whom I can relate my travel dilemma. "Oh, you must have had a long wait in Kansas City to just be calling in now," she guessed. I told her that I had spent practically an hour just trying to get through on this line. There was a muted, apologetic "Oh...", and then we got down to the business of seeing what remaining flights to Southern California were available. She informed me that if I wished to land in LA, Orange County, Ontario, or San Diego, there would be nothing available until Saturday morning, meaning two nights in a Chicago hotel room for me, the cost of which they did not offer to cover. "Do you have anything to Southern California tonight, at all?" I asked. She told me that she did have room on a flight leaving for Palm Springs at 8:30pm. Calling my parents with the cell phone in my other hand this seemed like a "phone-a-friend" moment from some sort of cruel game show such as "Who Wants to Make it to Dana Point, CA for Christmas Without Soiling His Jeans?"

Dad was understandably pissed. Palm Springs, though a better pickup location than, say, Tucson, is out in the California desert two hours away from our beach city home. Needless to say that's two hours back, too, and my dad is something of an "early to bed, early to rise" sort. With a projected arrival time in "Little Las Vegas" of about 10:45pm PST, that would take him as far out of his comfort zone as consorting with my south Georgia relatives on a camping trip would for me. Still, no other options were available unless I wanted to have my own little gassy, queasy John Hughes adventure in the Windy City on Friday. Palm Springs it had to be. The operator asked for my baggage information, which I gladly gave her, and asked me to hold a few more moments while she ensured that my luggage would arrive with me in Palm Springs. Soon, she confirmed that this was indeed the case, and our business was thankfully concluded.

Glad to get away from the phone and not a mite hungry since I had vomited up everything I had tried to eat over the past 36 hours, I wandered over to the McDonald's counter to pick up a grilled chicken salad, something I imagined I could keep down. Roll the dice...and the winner is...me! Yes, the salad stayed put, though it seemed touch and go at times. Now it was on to gate H8 where I was to await my flight. However, to add insult to injury the gate assignment changed two more times, and the flight got pushed back by another half an hour.

Finally, I was in the air. Whatever viral or bacterial gastrointestinal wave I was riding crashed again somewhere over the Great Plains, but I managed to take care of things without having to resort to my emergency underwear. I spent most of the trip clowing around with the crossword in the in-flight magazine and polishing off this Jessica Abel book I had left half-finished for too long. During the beverage service, I got a ginger ale which really hit the spot. Things were finally looking up.

Upon arriving in Palm Springs at around 11:15pm local time, I met up with a rather tired and grumpy John Thomas Avery I (Dad), and we dragged ourselves over to the baggage claim to gather my suitcase, a bag too large to carry on the flight**. We waited 25 minutes for the carousel to lurch to life and visit upon us the gift of luggage. After 20 more minutes of waiting we were not really all that surprised to discover that my bag was not one of the fortunate ones to make it to Palm Springs. We waited in line at the American lost luggage desk where I loudly, and somewhat passive-aggressively ,said within earshot of the attendents, "There are a dozen ways which an airline can screw up. Today American's managed to hit a good nine or ten of them." I also said something to the effect of the airline only missing out on depositing me at an airport where my ride wasn't or just plain wrecking and killing me. I was all charm. We did finally pass along our luggage information and home address before we got the hell out of the Palm Springs airport at around 12:30am. A peaceful, if monotonous two-hour desert drive later and we were back into the lush "Shangri-La" region of Orange County, only about 10 hours later than originally anticipated.

The story wouldn't be complete however until we rode the wave, the GI wave, all the way until it met the shore.

Yesterday, waking to cheerful, stabbing little intestinal gurgles, I decided it would be wise to visit South Coast Family Medi-Center in Laguna Niguel, a little association of GPs who believe that "family" medicine doesn't merely include the best care that science and technology have to offer but also the powerful health-preserving properties of shame and guilt. Over my seven year stay in California, I went there for treatment of assorted ailments three times or so; a couple of bouts with bronchitis and a nagging martial arts injury come immediately to mind. With the latter medical malady, Dr. Kent, upon hearing that I was anxious to get back into my exercise routine, informed me that I was "too big" (read "too fat") to run and that I should lose fifty pounds or so before hitting the pavement at all. This week, a new doctor, upon hearing my symptoms and asking about my alcohol consumption, informed me that there might be a slight chance that my trouble was acute pancreatitis, a condition accompanying chronic alcoholism, although the diarrhea didn't fit the diagnosis, and that she'd need to run some blood tests.

Long story slighly less long, I spent most of today waiting on the results of my blood panel really regretting my party schedule in the 90's, and hell, most of the aughts. When the doctor finally called today it turned out that all my internal organs checked out as very, even unusually, healthy, and there were also some signs of a recent viral infection which would explain my symptoms and why I seemed to feel much better now.

The next time I go in there I'm liable to be scolded about my scuffed shoes and longish hair, for fuck's sake.

*Read my comic "The Choice".

**I have real issues with the amount of carry-on luggage people are trying to get away with these days, anyway. It seems as if it practically requires a rubber mallet and a steak press to get the overhead compartments tamped-down enough to close at all. My usual attitude is "How hard would it have been to check just one of those bags?" After this trip though, I might be a bit more understanding in future.

Posted: April 26th, 2006

Your picture here

This is an emergency update.

As I type this my television is tuned to MSNBC so that I can watch Hardball at 2:00am. I have just caught some really informative programming on Scarborough Country, however. Bill Clinton has decided upon a presidential portrait. Anna Marie Cox, Joe Scarborough's helpful commentator, was enlisted to critique this work of art, which will be our enduring image of The Man from Hope. She was wearing, and I want you all to remember this, a t-shirt under a sportscoat.

Cox criticized Clinton's fashion choices for the portrait, including, by her estimation, a "Men's Wearhouse suit" and a blue shirt, which, apparently, made him look like he worked at Blockbuster. His fashion choices supposedly made him seem "very Bubba".

Maybe. But she was wearing a t-shirt with a sportscoat.

I don't take fashion cues from Don Johnson, especially not two decades after he lost his cultural caché. If Anna Marie Cox expects me to take her seriously, maybe she shouldn't either. And Joe Scarborough, like all conservative commentators, needs to find a new whipping boy. You really don't have Bill Clinton to kick around anymore, and unlike Nixon, he held up to the scrutiny and abuse, anyway.

When Li'l Bushie gets his presidential portrait, I expect him to be portrayed with turned out pockets, wearing a bloodstained windbreaker during a driving rain, standing knee-deep in shit with children's books laying open, spines up, all over the place.

And if he's not, then all we have to do is find any photograph of him taken over the past five years...and just remember.

Posted: February 28th, 2006

Watch the Music as He Flies it Through the Air

More than a few Halloweens back, I was in desperate need of a costume as the big night was approaching, and I was struck with inspiration as I viewed CNBC one evening. Tom Snyder had once again made it to the national airwaves, and oddly enough I found I could manage a passable impression of the veteran broadcaster, including the trademark, from-the-toes laugh. My recollections of the old Tomorrow show were hazy at best, and I probably encountered the Dan Aykroyd and Joe Piscopo impressions of Snyder more often than the genuine article. Still, I was drawn to the guy's unrepentant squareness and tough, well-informed interviewing style. And, yes, I have to admit that unbelievable white-haired combover was too delightful a visual hook to pass up.

The next day I took twenty dollars to the local Salvation Army Thrift Shop and bought a vintage 70's pinstripe three-piece suit, a long-collared dress shirt, the widest striped tie I could find, and a pair of burgundy and black spectators. I still had enough left over for some grey spray hair color at the local costume shop, but I had to dig a couple of more bucks out for the final detail of my outfit: A fresh pack Camel Filters to capture the mannerisms and rhythms of the chain-smoking talk show host. I had much longer hair at the time, and after greying it up I did my best to dress it Snyder style, tucking the pony tail into the collar of my shirt. A laugh and a puff later, I was ready to take on the Lawrence Halloween party scene as an interviewer-at-large.

That night I hit all the hot spots, accosting costumed carousers for explanations of their outfits while staying in character as Snyder and encouraging them to keep in character as well. The best "interview" of the night was with a grad student in biology--his name escapes me now--who had taken advantage of his trim physique and fuck-you bleached blond buzz cut to make a rather convincing Susan Powter, the early 90's fitness guru whose mantra was "Stop the Insanity!" Wearing a sportsbra and spandex shorts, "Susan" told me all about her struggles with overeating and binge drinking before she woke up to reality one day and took to a healthy lifestyle and a healthy income from half-baked self-help tracts. As an old punk rock soul, the grad student immediately recognized the significance of Tom Snyder and how he rather grudgingly became the Ed Sullivan of the New Wave. I, on the other hand, knew only of the diastrous interview with Public Image, Ltd., John "Johnny Rotten" Lydon's post-Sex Pistols non-band. Soon thereafter I caught Snyder's "colorcast" as regularly as possible and developed a real appreciation for the man.

Tom Snyder was educated by Jesuits in his youth and dropped out of college to take his first job in broadcast journalism on the radio at age 21. The Catholic school background instilled in him a work ethic unusual for the average chat show host. If an author was a guest on his show, you could be certain that Snyder had read enough of his latest book to ask intelligent questions, if not the whole thing. When it came to music, however, Tom's tastes had been forged an atypically long generation earlier than those of his younger guests on the original Tomorrow show (1973-1981). Snyder liked Rat Pack-era lounge singers such as Sinatra, Eddie Fisher, and Bobby Darin. While he couldn't avoid the 60's zeitgeist entirely, it seemed that his appreciation for acts such as The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix was more academic than personal. He was notoriously poorly informed about current trends in music thereafter, most embarrassingly when he referred to 70's arena rocker Meatloaf as "Meatball" for the first ten minutes of an interview which betrayed more emblematically than anything else Snyder's sheer unhipness. (I can't say, however, that "Meatball" didn't kinda deserve a little bit of the Snyder treatment.) Imagine how clueless he had to be in 1977, the year punk exploded, snarling and spitting, into the music world.

In the years that followed on the Tomorrow Show, Tom chain-smoked his way through a round table discussion on this "New Wave" phenomenon with Joan Jett and Paul Weller while taking stabs at record producer Kim Fowley's effeminacy and thrift shop fashions; got spiritual with avant-rocker and poetess Patti Smith; let The Plasmatics blow up a television and even a car during their studio performances; brought Elvis Costello and the Attractions and The Jam in for rare appearances on the American airwaves; and, yes, offered the surly members of P.I.L. smokes during that infamous interview, saying, "I'll find a way to your heart yet, fella." His comments about the loudness and aggressiveness of many of these acts were none too subtle jabs at a style of music he found flatly unintelligible. Yet he still had them on, realizing somehow that punk rock was not merely good television but also a telling sign of the times in which economic stagnation and authoritarian leanings in government led to a harder-nosed youth culture than had been seen before. Sometimes though it really was just juicy TV such as when he tried to convince amazon-bodied shock-rocker Wendy O. Williams to tone down her act for the benefit of the over-40 set, telling her that he could tell that she "had the music in her". My guess is that then-bachelor Tom wasn't so much concerned with the music in that moment, but rather the contents of some sheer stockings and what resided beneath a short, pleated Catholic schoolgirl's skirt.

In the 90's Tom Snyder was brought out of relative obscurity by his longtime admirer David Letterman to host The Late Late Show which returned him to the format he was most comfortable with, one-on-one interviewing with no studio audience. There was a toll-free call in line for the simulcast which I actually managed to get through on once, in hopes of pitching a question to former Nixon aide, and former jazz musician, Leonard Garment. I was several sheets to the wind, however, and the operators wisely kept me off the air. (It was April Fool's Day and my knowledge of history wasn't what it is now. I found Garment's name and former profession comically improbable for a White House staffer, and I insisted that the interview had to be a gag. Stranger than fiction, et cetera.) John Lydon even reappeared to bury the hatchet, but Snyder still didn't seem to "get it". And that's just fine. Lydon didn't get him either, but at least Tom tried.

He left The Late Late Show in 1999, citing as a reason that the grind of nightly talk had finally become too much for him, but health problems including heart disease may have figured into more than just his ultimate decision to quit smoking and drinking his late night cocktails. In April of last year Snyder announced that he had chronic lymphocytic leukemia but expressed optimistically that it was treatable.

Some of the choice moments from the old Tomorrow Show are now available on DVD. Not only the performances from the upstart New Wave acts are captured there, but all the interviews of all his guests on those old shows. It's surprising how similar the pressing concerns of the 70's and 80's were to those of present day. Violence in professional sports, the rise of Evangelical Christianity, the battle of cultural conservatives against the entertainment industry, accuracy and honesty in journalism, the struggles of American industry to keep pace with the times, and even the travails of modern romance were topics as hot then as now.

Seeing as Tom can't anymore, perhaps we should fire up a "colortini" in his honor as we watch the pictures, and listen to the sounds, just as he flew them through the air back in the days when a punk band couldn't get anything but arrested on American network television...unless you came to him.