Monday, June 30, 2008


While you were doing whatever you normally do on Saturday mornings, I was driving a Lexus around a race track. Very fast. In West Virginia.

Which part of that paragraph makes you the most jealous?

For some odd reason, a friend of mine was invited to take part in a Lexus Performance Event. (Lexus uses a lot of capital letters to denote the fact that this is a Big Deal Event.) Apparently owners of eight-year-old Mitsubishi Galants are Lexus' next untapped target market, because somehow he got on the mailing list. He was allowed to bring two friends, and I was one of them.

The deal was this: spend two hours at Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia, auto crossing some of the sportier Lexus', do a couple of laps on the track following an experienced race car driver, then get one VERY high speed lap around the track as a passenger in a vehicle driven by one of said drivers. That one was in a Lexus IS F, with 416 horsepower on tap and brakes that would stop a train.

(As an aside, there was a chalk talk given by one of the drivers before we drove on the track, which also included the story of how the IS F came to be. The driver asked if any of us knew what the "F" stood for. It turned out that the "F" didn't stand for anything, but after we drove it a friend of mine offered this guess: "Fuck, this thing is fast.")

I'd never driven a Lexus before, or been invited to a Lexus event. (Unlike Mitsubishi Galant owners, Subaru Legacy owners apparently aren't one of Lexus' target markets.) It was class all the way, from the fresh fruit and fresh baked muffins we received upon arrival to the nice tote bag stuffed with a hat and, for some inexplicable reason, a cable to attach an mp3 player to a car stereo, we were given when we departed. And it was all free.

The drivers were all pretty big names in the sports car and drifting circuits, including an Andretti, and they couldn't have been nicer. And we did have theopportunity to wear real racing helmets while driving, which proved to be very handy when the race car driver took me for a hot lap and I repeatedly banged my head against the window during hard cornering.

I've been to other driving events, including GM's Autoshow in Motion (sadly, discontinued) and an event where a Mitsubishi stunt driver whipped a Galant through 180 and 360 degree turns and power slides while he casually chettedabout his career and I not so casually turned green. This was by far the best one ever.

Previously, I would have told you that there were two reasons I'd never consider a Lexus: they were well-built and luxurious, but not fun to drive, and I couldn't afford one.

This event wiped out excuse number one. And excuse number two? Well, I did stop and buy a lottery ticket on the way home.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Danny Boy

Any guitarist who was honest with himself (or herself) would give his (insert body part here) to be able to play like this. And Danny Gatton was like this on every song. A notorius perfectionist in the studio, his longtime engineer once said, "I've erased more great solos than any other engineer has ever recorded."

Oh, Baby

The funniest example of racism in action I ever saw was during the classes my wife and I took at the hospital where we were going to have the first (and, as it turned out, all) of our children.

It was a combined birthing and baby care class, designed to teach about both pregnancy and childbirth and how to care for the new baby during the first few weeks of life.

To say it was a room full of nervous people would be an understatement. During every sentence of the nurse who was teaching the class' description of labor and delivery, someone would gulp. The occasional moan or muttering was part of the soundtrack as well. But the nurse was confident, breezy and a very warm person, and she assured us that all would turn out fine.

Still, the atmosphere was pretty heavy for the first two sessions, which were about pregnancy and childbirth. But things got much better, at least for me, during the third session, which was devoted to infant care.

One of the other fathers-to-be in the class was a little older than me, probably around 40. (I was 36 at the time.) His shirt of choice was the wife beater, and his decoration of choice was the tattoo. His wife, a pretty, petite (except for the pregnancy part), much younger woman, was quiet, friendly and sweet, everything he was not. "Jerk" would have been too kind a description for him, but hey: I didn't have to live with him.

During the first couple of sessions, he had communicated two things continuously: 

he didn't want to be there and was only going as a favor to his wife (and no doubt demanded sexual favors in return as soon as they returned home after every class)

he was a racist.

At the third session, the nurse brought out a big box of soft baby dolls, so we could learn how to carry, diaper and care for a newborn. Most of the dolls were white, but there was one African American doll.

My respect for the nurse soared when she, while passing out the dolls, handed Mr. Racist the African American doll with a straight face. His expression was worth the price of the class.

As the rest of us cuddled, cradled, diapered and "fed" our dolls, Mr. Racist attempted to swap his doll with someone else's, tried to "accidentally" lose it, and treat it as if if had a bad smell. The nurse, again with a straight face, would gently admonish him: "Don't forget to always support your baby's back and head," she noted as he tried to carry the doll by the ankle as if he was about to toss it away. "Your baby won't be able to relax and drink from her bottle if you're rough with her," she observed when he was anything but gentle.

At the end of the class the nurse handed out an evaluation forms. "I got a lot more out of this class than I expected," I wrote.

I wasn't referring to information about childcare.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Persons Of Influence

You can tell a lot about a musician by the folks he/she cites as influences. If a metal band mentions Led Zeppelin, you know they'll huff and pound, with all of the volume and none of the style, of Led Zep. (None of them ever grasp the many dimensions Jimmy Page and company bought to the genre.) If a sax player mentions Charlie Parker, chances are he's a second-rate wanna be. Unfortunately, the same is often true for guitar players who call Jimi Hendrix their idol. (Yes, Frank Marino and Robin Trower, I'm talking to you.)

But if a bass player mentions James Jamerson, he might be pretty good. Because when Jaco Pastorius, considered by many the gold standard of electric bassists, terms himself a second-rate James Jamerson clone, Jaco wasn't being falsely modest. Yes, Jamerson was THAT good.

You may never have heard of him — in fact, you almost certainly haven't — but you've heard him. Hundreds of times. Jamerson was the bassist on almost every great Motown record, a musician so gifted that Stevie Wonder said, "Jamerson's bass playing made a certain fabric of my life visual."

If you're thinking that a bass player — a bass player! — can make a blind man see, then you have to figure he was something rare and special. He was. In an era where most bassists just played the root notes of a chord, Jamerson played complicated lines that pushed, pulled, skipped and slammed, never content to play a chorus the same way twice. He could soar with a jazz band, furiously spitting out a barrage of 16th notes, then anchor an R&B tune with such a deep bottom that you could smell the funk.

How deep was his sense of rhythm? In the studio, as a practical joke on his fellow musicians, he'd play his bass part in the song's 4/4 time while beating a completely different rhythm in 3/4 time, or even a more complicated time signature, with his feet. Any musician who listened to Jamerson's feet, rather than his bass, was in trouble. Luckily, his bass groove was normally so deep the other musicians could fall into it.

Jamerson took his rhythm from the way people walked and talked, or from the way a tree swayed in the breeze. Everything he saw and heard suggested music to him.

Sometimes, though, the music it suggested to him didn't always meet with approval. Motown evolved into a two-part system, where certain musicians were considered studio musicians and were almost chained to the studio, while others were touring players and went out on the road with the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and the other Motown acts. Jamerson, being a master in the studio, was confined there. It wasn't a problem for him, but it was a problem for the bassists in the touring bands who had to duplicate his complicated bass lines on the road. Several of them complained often, asking Jamerson to make his lines simpler. (He never did.)

Sadly, his lifestyle was the often heard story of self destruction, substance abuse and money squandered. That lifestyle took its toll, and he died long before his talents were recognized by most of the world.

His 1962 Fender Precision bass was named The Funk Machine by both James and a number of his fellow Motown hitmakers. But the funk wasn't in the bass. It was in James Jamerson.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Float Like A Butterfly

I was reminded today of a great film I saw years ago, which I highly recommend: "When We Were Kings." It's a boxing film, sort of, but you don't have to have any interest in boxing to really enjoy it. (I'm not a boxing fan at all.)

Even the story of how the film was made, after the footage languished for years as lawsuits filled the air, is interesting. But the film itself, about the Muhammed Ali-George Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" fight, is fascinating.

Here's the synopsis: Ali is, at 32, considered well past his prime as a fighter. Foreman is far from the smiling pitchman we see now: he's young, he's strong, he's angry and he's a ferocious fighter. But Don King, the boxing promoter, hasn't yet made a name for himself and is desperate to do so. The president/dictator of Zaire, Mobuto, is as well. He organizes a huge music festival built around the fight, to show off Zaire to the world, and puts up the money for the fight as well.

Ali, visiting villages and inviting folks to run and train with him, thoroughly charms the people of Zaire. Foreman, sullen, trains alone and keeps to himself.

On the day of the fight, every spectator in the place is screaming for Ali.In whatever language folks in Zaire speak, they're screaming themselves hoarse, "Ali, kill him! Ali, kill him."

In Ali's dressing room no one — no trainer, no corner man, no one — will even meet Ali's gaze. They know Ali is going to lose badly, humiliatingly. Ali could easily be the one killed, literally. Every spectator who knows nothing about boxing believes in Ali. Every member of Ali's team, who knows everything about boxing, doesn't.

But Ali knows something none of them do. And that something changes the fight and makes the movie close to incredible.

Trust me, it's worth the rental. Even though you have to suffer through George Plimpton. Lots of George Plimpton.

Chrome Dreams

Does everyone have some memorable cars in their lives, mostly memorable because of how odd or bad they were? I had a friend who had an old beater with a loose steering wheel. When taking a girl out on a first date he would (on a straight stretch of road) suddenly pull the steering wheel off the column, hand it to her and say, "Here, you drive for awhile." her reaction would often determine whether there was a second date.

Another friend had a Volkswagen Beetle — the original, air cooled version — and we really did once fix it with a paperclip. (A spark plug wire was falling apart and we temporarily bridged the gap with the paperclip. A wire hanger for a radio antenna? Did it more than once.)

My worst car was a 1966 Ford Fairlane 500, a big old bomb of a car that had a 302 cu. in V-8 and a nice rumble. It also had manual brakes which took both feet to push on the pedal when I was tired, and a curious electrical problem which caused it to stall whenever I drove through a puddle that was deep enough.

But the worst time ever driving it was when I was late and rushing to get to school (college). Just as I passed a police car the exhaust, already a bit rusted out, fell off the car with a giant clang and clatter. With no muffler, of course, the engine instantly became much louder.

The police officer looked over, shook his head, and kept driving. I guess he could see that my day was bad enough without having a ticket added to it.

I also once had a 1965 Mercedes Benz four door sedan, and each door was a slightly different color. (I bought it used in the 70s.) My girlfriend liked it because the passenger seat had an air conditioning event that blew straight up her dress if she sat with her legs spread.

I won't make the obvious joke. But you can if you wish.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sam The Sham

No doubt you've read (though hopefully not experienced) all sorts of Internet scams and cheats involving real looking fake sites that entice you to give your credit card info, shill bidders on eBay, and foreign widows who want to give you the $60 million that their late husband stashed in a Swiss bank account. (And rich widows are in such short supply these days.)

But I've found the newest, and potentially cleverest, scam going: bunk beds.

I put a set of bunk beds on sale on Craigslist yesterday, and within an hour I had four people saying they were interested. Three wanted to come see them, but the fourth had a different idea.

Mark Edwards lamented that he was "interested in buying from you," but unfortunately, "I would love to come check it myself, but I just got married and am presently on a honeymoon trip to Hawaii with my wife."

So he wants to "come check it" — Isn't that what you do on a honeymoon? — but is in Hawaii and, when the endless hours of surfing, volcano climbing and sipping drinks on the beach begin to drag, he thinks about — no, he yearns for — bunk beds. I don't know about you, but my honeymoon didn't involve bunk beds, in thoughts or in reality.

But why let a honeymoon in Hawaii interrupt the purchase of bunk beds for you and your lovely bride? Mark Edwards is a resourceful man, and here's his idea. He'll have his secretary mail me a certified check for $200, which is $50 more than my asking price, and then his mover will come pick up the bed from us. (Since the bed was taken apart this morning, I think his secretary could come pick it up if she had an SUV or a minivan.)

All I have to do is give him my name, address and phone number, and take the "advert" — Mr. Edwards sounds little British — of the Web.

No doubt the mover and bed would be long gone when Mr. Edwards' "certified check" bounces sky high.

I'm afraid that if Mr. Edwards' lovely bride has her heart set on bunk beds, she'll have to look elsewhere. It is possible, I suppose, for someone who can afford to honeymoon in Hawaii to be able to afford brand new bunk beds from anyone of a number furniture stores, but maybe the price of coconuts has risen faster than I thought.

Still, Mr. Edwards' poignant ending does bring a little tear to the eye and a catch to the throat. "I would love," he writes, "a surprise change of furniture in our home on our return."

I would say that bunk beds, particularly from his new wife's point of view, certainly qualify.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Copper Tones

A friend of mine, who owns a hair salon, was parking in the small lot behind his business the other day when he noticed something unusual: his heat pump, which was normally securely mounted on his roof, sitting in the alley. And it wasn't the only one.

Apparently, thieves had taken the heat pumps from the roofs of his business and some of his neighbors', lugged them down to the ground, and stripped the copper (tubes and such) from them to sell. The skyrocketing price of copper must make this a lucrative venture.

Now, I don't know what these things weigh, but I wouldn't want to carry one down a ladder. And I don't begin to understand why the copper can't be stripped from them while they're still on the roof.

I also can't understand how someone could take several heat pumps from neighboring roofs and pull the copper without anyone noticing. It must have taken a fair amount of time and effort to steal the copper bits. I don't know how much copper in on a commercial heat pump — we certainly don't have one — but with copper at just under $4 a pound on the U.S. and London exchanges, there must be a lot to make the thefts worthwhile. (I have no idea what scrap metal dealers pay for copper, and how that compares to copper futures on the exchanges.)

Still, it must be lucrative enough for a couple of guys (I'm guessing) to spend a couple of hours (at least) removing and stripping copper from heat pumps.

You have to think that if they applied that amount of effort, initiative and skill to a legitimate job, they could have excellent careers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dog Days

Our dog, Bo, has many fine qualities: he's sweet natured, patient, loving, protective, big (97 pound black lab) and loves to play.

And he can chew. Anything. When he's bored. When he wants attention. When he's unhappy at being left alone all day. When my wife is taking a nap. When we got a guinea pig.

Of course, he always chews whatever item is most inconvenient or inexpensive for us, such as one of a pair of shoes, and then one of a second pair. It's never the remote control that I can replace at Circuit City for $5.99, but the one that's only available from the manufacturer, costs $30 and takes two weeks to arrive. My wife's iPod looked tasty to him one day, and although she rescued it as soon as she saw him chewing it, her iPod is now no more.

Library books, especially the expensive, hard cover kind, seem to have particular appeal for him.

But the worst dog chewing story didn't involve him, and didn't really involve chewing. When I was 12 we got a German Shepherd who was very high strung. Her name was Pinky, for reasons I can't begin to recall.

One day my mother had baked a cake for my birthday. (Chocolate. Is there any other kind?) She left it siting on the kitchen counter for a minute, and when she returned Pinky was halfway onto the counter, and had eaten half the cake. She yelled and Pinky dashed away.

Into my room. And then proceeded to throw up all over my bed.

Happy Birthday.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Senior Moment

A few days ago, coming back from a meeting, I dashed into Burger King for a burger and a soda. I ordered of the value menu, but the price was even lower than I expected. I checked the receipt while I ate and discovered why:

The sweet young thing at the cash register had given me the senior discount.

For the record I'm 52, though I'm sure that to the 20-year-old (if that) who took my order I look positively ancient. I certainly look my age. Though I couldn't find anything on Burger King's website, a Google search turned up a number of senior discount listings. Burger King either gives a discount at 55 or 60; the various sites I visited couldn't agree.

At first I didn't know whether to laugh or be offended. Then I thought, Burger King, I'm sure, can't buy a break. If the cashier asks, some people will be offended. If the cashier doesn't ask, some people will be offended. If the cashier offers a discount without being asked, some people will be offended.

No matter what, somebody's going to be huffy.

So, all you folks who spend hundreds of dollars (or more) on cosmetics, haircuts, botox, whatever, to make yourself look younger? It's costing you in more ways than one.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Stars And Stripes And Dogs And Ponies

I was reminded at a client pitch meeting this morning about the best dog and pony show I've ever seen. I doubt it will ever be topped.

I was a copywriter at an ad agency, with a bank called 1st American Bank as a client. Although we handled all of the bank's advertising, and had some very talented graphic designers on our staff, the bank had decided to hire a high powered design firm to design their new logo. The bank wouldn't allow us to have anything to do with the project, but invited the creative team to the logo presentation meeting to give our "input."

The bank was paying $20,000 for this logo, probably 10 times what we would have charged.

One the appointed day three of us from the agency went to the bank to see this new logo presented. The head of the design firm was a walking cliche: in his 50s, gray hair pulled back into a pony tail, pierced ear, all black outfit, black Porsche. The client was impressed. It was all I could do not to laugh.

Members of the design firm launched into a film and slide presentation about the bank's rich heritage, its quintessential American-ness, and a bunch of other stuff. My two co-workers and I are trying not to look at each other or roll our eyes. The client group, which was all upper management, was eating it up.

Finally Mr. Porsche unveiled the new logo: an oversized number 1, an "s" with two lines through it, and a "t." The room was silent.

The lines through the "s," he explained, symbolized a flag waving in the breeze, proud and strong, like the flag Francis Scott Key saw when the British were shelling Fort McHenry. I'm trying so hard not to laugh that I'm turning red. The bank guys are nodding and smiling. They love it!

I'm staring at the logo, trying to see why it's worth $20,000. Am I missing something? It looks like something a first year design student might knock off in 15 minutes (and get a D on the project). Mr. Porsche keeps shoveling BS, and the bank guys keep eating it. I'm praying no one asks our opinion, because I can see that my coworkers have the same opinion I do.

Oh, and the $20,000? That was just for the logo. To put it on letterhead, envelopes, business cards, etc. was extra. The bank guys were happy to pay it.

The bank is long out of business, but that's not the punch line. This is: the bank was Arab owned. There wasn't a single American among the owners.

Great show, though.

Audit Trail

There's one word that every small business owner — and I am one — fears: audit.

However, I will now share with you the secret to not only surviving an audit, but guaranteeing you'll never be audited again.

My business came up to receive a random audit from the state last year. Lucky me. The auditor sent me a letter, and followed up with a phone call a few days later to set an appointment. He was clearly Asian, with somewhat broken English, but I understood him to say that he knew where I lived (I have a home office), that he knew the area well because it was his audit territory, and he'd arrive at 10 a.m. the next day.

That morning our daughter Claire, who was eight, threw up and stayed home from school. She was laying on the sofa while I stacked all the financial documents the auditor had requested on our kitchen table.

10 a.m. came, and the auditor didn't. 10:15. 10:20. 10:30. Finally at 10:40 he pulled up, gathered a laptop case and pile of papers from his front seat and came to the door, looking a little out of breath and upset. As I went to the door our dog, a 100 pound black lab, started barking. The auditor recoiled.

I put our dog in the basement and let him in. As I was offering him something to drink he was explaining, in broken English, that he'd gotten lost on the way. As he dumped his stuff on the kitchen table and started getting out his laptop I explained that Claire (whom he could see on the sofa) was home sick but wouldn't bother us. The auditor seemed to be rattled, and merely nodded.

His laptop fired up, he asked me for the first document from the list he'd sent me. As I handed it to him Claire leaned over the edge of the sofa and threw up into a bucket I'd put there "just in case."

"I'm sure everything is fine," the auditor said, shutting his laptop and standing. "You'll be getting a letter of compliance within a week to 10 days." (I'm not going to try to duplicate his broken English.) He was out the door in 30 seconds.

As soon as he left I said to Claire, "Sweetie, I know you don't feel well. But as soon as you do, I'm taking you to Toys 'R Us and buying you whatever you want."

I haven't heard from an auditor since.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


What could I possibly write about Jimi Hendrix that hasn't been written before? Looking at his brief life and even briefer recording career, and the number of books and articles that have been written about him, you'd have to say that he probably has the highest ratio of words to career time of any artist around, with the possible exception of the Beatles. (And, like the Beatles, the scavengers have foisted huge amounts of posthumous slag on uninformed record buyers.)

My favorite Hendrix-related quote, which I can't find and have to recall from memory, came from a review of a Cream album, where the reviewer was talking about Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton's relative overdubbing abilities. "Beck is actually better than Clapton at fusing together four guitar overdubs," the reviewer opined. "Hendrix is better than both of them. He does it all at once."

In fact, reviewers of Hendrix's first album searched the band photos in vain, looking for the second guitarist. There HAD to be at least two to make all of those lovely guitar sounds.

Which reminds me of my second Jimi item. Like most rock artists, Jimi couldn't read (or write) music. All music publishing houses that published rock music had folks on staff who would listen to recordings and write out the notes and chords the artist was playing (and also write out the lyrics when they weren't supplied by the artist, occasionally leading to some  hilariously inadvertent errors).

The transcriber who was given the first album by the new Jimi Hendrix Experience listened to the feedback laden disk repeatedly, then stormed into his boss' office. "It's music," he told his boss, "but not music I can transcribe." The problem: many of the sounds didn't lend themselves to the usual neat notation of notes on a staff. Much of it couldn't be classified as notes in the traditional sense at all.

In high school I once blasted Jimi's version of The Star Spangled Banner as the introduction to some long forgotten American history presentation. I got sent to the principal's office. It was worth it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Wheel World

If you ever want to scare the piss out of yourself — and get a free T-shirt — watch for the return of the General Motors Autoshow in Motion.

A friend and I love to go to driving events, including one where Mitsubishi had a stunt driver from one of its commercials test our ability to withstand carsickness (I failed) while simultaneously sliding a Gallant around a track at high speed and chat about being a stunt driver. But the greatest event of all was the GM Autoshow in Motion, which I went to twice before GM "temporarily" (their words) suspended it in 2006.

The event was simple: GM brought all of their cars and trucks, all of the vehicles made by companies GM owned or partially owned (Saab and Hummer) and competitors' cars to the parking lots of Fed-Ex Field, where the Washington Redskins play. GM would set up a bu ch of courses with traffic cones, and you could drive as many vehicles as you wanted. No salespeople, but a box lunch and a T-shirt when you were done. All free.

Most of the courses were fairly low speed, but two stood out. In one section of the parking lot they'd trucked in tons of dirt and made an off-road course for the Hummers. Unlike all of the other vehicles (save the Corvettes), someone from GM rode in the passenger seat, mainly to help you out. The GM person would tell you when to stop, switch into low range, etc. One hill was so steep that as you began climbing it your view through the windshield was nothing but sky. It was a view I've never seen through the windshield of my Subaru.

But the best part was the Corvette course. Here the folks had laid out traffic cones so the course had a long straightaway and some fairly high speed turns. The guy rising with you — at least my guy — encouraged me to wind it out.

There were two lines to drive the Corvettes, one for the automatic transmission models and one for the folks who wanted to drive a manual. The automatic line had a dozen people in it, while the manual line had none. I've driven a stick for years, so I got in that non-line and was whisked into a Z06 that was loaded (heads-up display, trick suspension, the works).

I started driving and the GM guy in the passenger seat spoke: "When you get to that third cone, nail it." "Really?" "Really." Holy guacamole. If that car had had a back seat I would have ben in it, the beast accelerated to quickly. Without the headrest I would have snapped my neck.

When we completed the course there was still no one in the line for manual transmission cars. "Want to go around again?" "Hell, yeah." He encouraged me to go faster this time, and I didn't want to disappoint him.

At the time I owned a 1993 Mazda Miata, which was just like the Corvette except for four fewer cylinders and about 300 fewer horses.

After the second drive, I reluctantly got out (even though no one else was in line), so I didn't take advantage of the GM guy's good nature. He'd already given me an extra turn.

"So, is this different from what you're driving now?" he asked me. "Yeah," I replied. "Right now I have a Mazda Miata."

"You know, the Corvette is much more practical." "Really? How so?" "Bigger trunk."

He was right: the Corvette's trunk was twice the size of the Miata's. As fine an argument as that was, however, my wife was unconvinced.

And she claimed my free T-shirt.

Thanks For Saying That

Here's the most valuable piece of advice I ever received from a women's magazine. (It has nothing to do with hair care.)

I read it while waiting for a blind date set up my mother, so it already didn't look like a promising evening.

What happened was this: my sister's mother in law has two sons, Bruce and Paul. Bruce married my sister. Bruce and Paul's mother, despairing of Paul ever getting married, advertised in a national Jewish publication for a date for her son, something along the lines of "Your wonderful daughter should met my wonderful son." I won't get into the issues raised by this, which are pretty self apparent.

Anyway, apparently there were some responses from meddling mothers of daughters in the Baltimore-Washington area (my sister's in-laws are in Richmond, Virginia), and for some reason those responses were shared with my mother, who took it upon herself to call one of these women and ask if she wanted to meet me. (Obviously, this was when I was single.)

When my mother told me what she'd done I was furious. I told her never to do it again, but because she'd called one woman and told her I was going to call her, I thought it might be hurtful if I didn't call. So I did.

When I went to pick her up for our date she wasn't, of course, actually ready, so I waited in her living room while she finished her preparations. Some women's magazines were on her coffee table and I, bored, picked one up.

One of the articles — I wound up having a lot of time to read — was about how to say thank you. Essentially, it said that most of us, taught by our parents to be modest, rather than boastful, slough off compliments. "Wow, you did really well on that test." "Ehh, I was lucky." And it's true.

But the point was this: If I compliment you and you pass it off, saying it was luck, or circumstances, or anything but your own actions, you're saying (by implication) two things: you didn't really achieve anything noteworthy through your own efforts, and I'm wrong in complimenting you. In essence, under the guise of modesty, you've just criticized yourself and me.

But what if you say, "You did a great job organizing that event," and I reply differently? What if I say, "Thanks. I worked really hard on that, and it makes me feel good to have you say that." Or, "Thanks, I worked really hard on that, and I appreciate your saying that." Or even, "Thanks."

Now you've acknowledged the compliment and praised both yourself and the person who complimented you, but not in an egotistical way. You both feel good.

It felt awkward and a little artificial the first time I tried it, and the second and third times as well. But eventually it started to feel natural, and now It comes naturally.

Try it and see what I mean.

Oh, and the date? Religion was a very big part of her life, and her dream was to move to Israel and raise lots of Jewish children. That wasn't my dream.

Plus, she let her mother set up her blind dates. How creepy is that?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Hot News

Last night our PTA went to a Japanese steakhouse — I hadn't been to one in years — and although the food has remained the same mildly spiced beef, chicken and shrimp, the show has been improved.

I don't ever remember seeing the egg toss, but our chef (I guess that's the right title) tossed a raw egg up in the air, caught it on his spatula, tossed it in the air and bounced it off his very snappy red hat (it had a vaguely Russian look to it) and finally cracked it on the grill in front of him. With a great clanging and banging he chopped food, tossed sauces around, and flipped bits of scallop and shrimp into our mouths. (His deal was that he kept tossing food at you until you caught a piece in your mouth. If you caught the first piece, he moved on to the next person. If it bounced off your face and onto your plate he tossed another. And another. So if you caught the food on the first try, you got one piece. If you missed, you got more. Once again, incompetence was rewarded.)

But my favorite part — my eyebrows might disagree — was when he set things on fire, which happened very 15 minutes or so. It was Flambe City. One exciting torch escapade is one I'd love to be able to duplicate at home.

With a great whirling and swirling of his knife blade he sliced an onion, separated one slice into rings, then stacked the rings in an upside down cone. He poured some liquid, no doubt alcoholic, into the center of the stack and then struck a match. The flames shot three feet into the air and the heat, no doubt, could be felt at the next table. As the flames were dying down he grinned, shouted "Lava!" and squirted some kind of thick red-brown sauce into the center of the stack, which immediately bubbled up and over the sides of the stack, very much like lava.

That was way cooler than watching people do seal imitations, opening their mouths for tossed food.

I'm thinking about trying the same thing at home, but our kids don't eat onions. Maybe I can do a mini version with Cheerios.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bass Instincts

Today I champion the career of yet another obscure musician — I've got a million of 'em, as Jimmy Durante used to say — bass player Colin Hodkinson.

The British-born bassist was the first, and probably the most successful, rock/blues/jazz bassist to treat his instrument like both a rhythm and lead instrument, often in the same song. (There are a number of songs, in fact, where it's just his bass and his voice, playing thick chords and dazzling single note runs, sometimes simultaneously.)

This guy has technique like Bill Gates has money.

He has a couple of solo albums, a number of collaborations with folks both known (Brian Auger of Brian Auger's Oblivion Express and Pete York, late of the Spencer Davis Group) and unknown (Frank Diez, Konstantin Wecker).

His best work was with a sadly overlooked trio of the 1970s, Back Door. WIth a lineup that featured a drummer, a sax/flute (and occasional keyboards) player, and Hodgkinson, whose bass is out in front most of the time, Back Door played jazz rock, not in the fusion sense, but in the "play the piss out of whatever we want" sense.

He's a monster, monster player: Jack Bruce would give his left testicle to be able to play like this. Hell, who wouldn't? (Well, maybe Jaco.)

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that Hodkinson briefly played in Whitesnake, a waste of time hair metal band of the 80s. (I guess we're all allowed one mistake. I'm sure the gig paid the bills for awhile.) In an odd career move, Whitesnake leader David Coverdale (former Deep Purple vocalist) recorded a version of the album "Slide It In" with Hodkinson on bass and guitarist Neil Murray, which was released in Europe, then rerecorded the entire album with a different bassist and guitarist in the U.S. The U.S. version was a big seller.

If you want to hear a complete rethinking of electric bass guitar, played with both exquisite taste and jaw dropping speed, seek out any of his discs, especially with Back Door. Subwoofer recommended.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Impossible Dream

This morning I went for a job interview, and I was asked a question I struggled with a little bit. The interviewer asked me to describe my dream job, and I'm afraid I wasn't 100% honest.

I think the correct answer was to describe a position almost exactly like the one for which I was interviewing. Unfortunately, the folks interviewing me hadn't yet told me the specifics of the position, so I wasn't sure what to say.

The honest answer to "What would be your dream job?" is, of course, "Driving to the bank to deposit my multi-million dollar lottery check."

Somehow, I didn't think that's the answer she wanted. I also thought it might imply that I had a poor work ethic.

The trickier question, at least for me, is why so many of the places I've worked went out of business. The first newspaper on my resume went under (publisher owed money to the IRS). I quit the second to move from New Jersey to Maryland. The third, which was my first in Maryland, went out of business six weeks after I moved here and started working. (Too bad about that one-year apartment lease, eh?) The fourth was killed by the publisher.

The first ad agency where I worked was obviously going under, so I quit to avoid the rush. (I left in March; it closed its doors in June.) The third ad agency where I worked is now also out of business.

It got to the point where I was once offered a job and I told the boss that I wanted to interview the comptroller, if only to assure myself that the place was solvent. (No doubt surprised by my request, he said okay.)

I'm also pretty good at putting restaurants out of business, too. I guess I'm the business equivalent of Typhoid Mary.

Maybe that's my dream job.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Board Games

If you're ever looking for a food product that's the perfect combination of cardboard and styrofoam, have I got a snack for you: Bothers-All-Natural Crisps.

The brothers — is mum on the exact number of brothers or if, in fact, there are any brothers at all (could be a side gig for the Keebler elves) — have hit upon a unique strategy: take sweet, juicy, apples, Asian pears, bananas, pineapples and strawberries, and suck all the juicy and most of the sweet out of them. They call it freeze drying. I can't repeat what I call it, just in case there are impressionable young minds reading this.

Sadly, though the freeze dried fruits are all natural and have no added anything, they don't have the fiber that the cardboardy texture might lead you to believe is in them. In fact, they have very little of anything, including taste.

In the interest of science, we attempted to reconstitute some of the bananas and strawberries after popping a few dried ones in our mouths. The results were soggier, but no more flavorful.

The company's motto is "The Healthy Snack... the one Mother Nature would eat." If Nother Nature is a non cannibal, and thus wouldn't eat her own fresh fruits and vegetables, I suppose that's true. (What would Mother Nature eat, anyway? Those of a certain age are pretty sure she doesn't eat margarine.)

One daughter and I were at a festival yesterday, and received free packages of the pineapple, pear, apple, banana and strawberry products, So far we've tried three, and I defy you to sample one with your eyes closed and tell me which one it is.

According to the website, the company does the same things to potatoes that it does to innocent fruits. The potato chips, or crisps, or whatever they are, are said to be gluten free, nut free, dairy free, soy free and fat free. If only they weren't taste free as well.