Thursday, May 28, 2009

$6.66 Due

"You superstitious?", she winked as I perceptibly shook at the amount that appeared on the postage meter.
"I mean, about the $6.66?", she wondered, clearing up the matter in question. Or so she thought.

It’s a quirky little post office here in town, below the canal. I love it. The folks working at the counter there come in all range of friendliness, warming up to you over the years in indirect proportion to their natural wariness. I go there often enough, 2-3 times a week, to have packages shipped to various friends and family.

"Not another batch of movies?", one asks me as I dump another three self-returning Netflix envelopes in the out bin.
"Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm!", she continues. Weighty opinions via two consonants.
"Is she right?", I wonder calibrating the "mmm"'s loaded in her "Hmmmmm"'s.
"Am I spending too much time watching movies, instead of shifting my eyes to the passing clouds by my window, watching life go by?"

"Oh, another package going up to Canada with the Customs tag labeled "Family CD’s"?", another asks me as I fill in all of the requisite shipping documents.
"Don't you think they’ve had enough of your family’s pictures? Give their eyes a break, why don't you? Let their minds savor your packages so they start wondering what's up with you, instead of loading them up with pictures and CD's. That's too much information too soon, don't you think?"
"You know, she may be right!", I cogitate, my mind's cogs imperceptibly engaging.
"I'm no longer even a whisper of a mystery to my friends and family! I'm a drudge. No! Worse! I'm a self-recorded drudge!" I hesitate, before reluctantly letting the package go, vowing I will delay the next shipment for at least a month to allow a patina of inexplicability to coat my daily life.

"They forget something? Again??, he asked and laughed simultaneously as I pondered whether to overnight the forgotten items to one of my kids or make them suffer and send it Priority Mail.
"You'd think with their young minds they'd be able to remember all this stuff. Well, maybe they just have too much stuff. Maybe living without would make them appreciate what they live with?"
I nod, taking in another Post Office gristy observation that I'll roll around into a pearl later.
"The regular?", he inquires, not so much as expecting a negative reply as going through our routine exchange.
"Yep, the regular"
"O.K., Two Day delivery. $4.95. See you tomorrow?"
I hand over a five, wait for the change, and first shake and then nod my head, thus covering all possible answers to his question.
"Ha!", he notes, "Kids! They've got you to where you don't know "No" from "Yes". See you...whenever.", and he turns around chipping my package into a rolling bin.

So, today the $6.66 incident. My passport had expired 2 years ago; an indication that I'm losing it. Since I was a teen, I'd never had my passport expire without having a renewed one in hand. If you're going to be a self-perceived Man-On-The-Go, you best be sure you’ve got the legal documents to Go-Where-You-Want-To-Go. How I’d let the expiration date slip by 2 years ago sadly indicated that my On-The-Go had been going nowhere. An application was quickly filled out, passport pics taken (you don’t want to ask), check written, and expired passport shoved all together in a padded envelope destined for Philly. Registered Mail, of course, the only accepted method of Slavic Mail Paranoids.
"So, are you superstitious?", she quizzed me again.
"Me, superstitious?", I muttered to myself, the Ever-Suspicious One.
I had all reasons to be! Sure! This passport was going to be with me for 15 years. Fifteen Years! And it's begun its decade and a half life's journey by being marked with the postal total of $6.66!?
What is that saying?
Will my letter, registered,yes, but still...will it arrive at all?
Will the State Department employee who receives my letter notice the $6.66, scream and toss my letter and application into a shredder?
What if the State Department employee, droning away, misses the $6.66 postmark, processes the application, and mails the new passport to me, not realizing that the sign of the $6.66 has burned itself into my passport thus guaranteeing some horrible, nasty, unforgivable act to be done to my person in the next 15 years that I have this passport.
I hesitate. Do I take back the envelope, rip it open and shove blank pages inside to up the weight and the postage?
"Look, I know this will sound peculiar. Can you mark it up to $6.67? Can I pay $6.67? Please!?"
Slyly, she tempts me with a pause."I understand, but I can't overcharge you. It would be against the postal code. Do you want to take it back and add more blank pages?"
What! I know now that she's cruelly toying with me. She's reading my thought. Quick! Wipe out that ATM card access code from your mind!
"Uhmmm, no. That's o.k. Just send it in as is"

"As is? You mean...", she stares at me as she combs back her horns, " $6.66!??".

I leave, then turn around as I see her putting my package in a special bin. I take out a nickel and surreptitiously slip it onto her postal scale and quick step out the door, just barely hearing her laugh and yell, "This Washington's not going to shield you from the $6.66!!"

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pamela's - Nuff Said

It seems that the secret is out. Pittsburgh's own Pamela's, a breakfast favorite, will no longer be Pittsburgh's to hold close and dear. The absolutely fabulous pancakes (really more crepe-ish in their appearance and taste) were served at the White House over the weekend. Since first visiting Pittsburgh back a few years, it was strongly suggested that I park my open gullet at Pamela's, be it in the Strip District, Shadyside, or Squirrel Hill.

During the election hubbub last year, Mr. Dan Rooney, of Pittsburgh Steelers fame (and shortly of Irish Ambassador fame) decided to take the soon-to-be-elected Barack Obama and his lovely spouse to the Strip Side Pamela's for some meet, greet, 'n eat activity. The pancakes were so memorable that the owners of the Pittsburgh chain were invited to D.C to share the pancake wealth.

hope success doesn't spoil this little Pittsburgh treasure. By the way, while the pancakes are great you shouldn't pass up Pamela's version of homefries. For me at least, it's neck and neck between the two as to which brings a bigger smile on my face...

...although, putting in a plug here, Sunday Morning brunch at Lidia's is an extraordinary way to begin one's week. I've gone at least every season and I'll admit my heart (and gut) are pulled strongest with the winter season offerings. Sarma! Not to say that the other three seasons' offerings are slouches. For the price, you cannot go wrong. Your tongue and your nose will thank you.

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Crossing Over into KindleLand

Burdened with Amazon coupons awarded for past CD & book buying sins and, more importantly, blessed with substantial generosity from family and friends for an event that I had nothing to do with, except for my drop-in attendance, I've taken the plunge into the pseudo-possession of books.

I have a Kindle. A Kindle II, to be specific.
Let me wax in the dated mode of singing groups that dressed alike and rendered heartbreak in harmony.
It's neat. Very Neat.
It really is thin, light, and iPod-like in its operation (although it would be EVEN NEATER if the pages became wide as you tilted the screen from the vertical to the horizontal, but I'll suffer gladly).
I've read in bright sunlight, in dimmed 40 watt light (yeah, those damn energy-saving lights that catch on like an old time steam engine slowly pulling out of a station), and while walking the dog.
There are a minimal amount of buttons, so you're not accidentally changing pages or skipping to other menus.
The downloads on the free Amazon/Sprint network is as fast as advertised.
The screen is extremely easy to read and, most importantly, does not tire the eyes. You can change the font size, which is a thoughtful option.
I charged the Kindle over a week ago and I've been reading something on it every day. The battery indicator bar has barely moved from the Fully Charged mode.
For family and friends who are always intimidated or teed off as to what to give you at Christmas or at other gifting opportunities, having a Kindle opens up easy avenues to their relief and to your happiness. Amazon gift cards are a delight. Truly.
And, finally, have I said how neat the Kindle is?

O.K., the negatives. As a Slav, even heaven and a great cake have negatives.
1) The Kindle is a tactile and a visual delight. There is not, however, any need to have a nose when reading the first few pages of a newly downloaded book. If you are, like me, a person blessed with an admirable proboscis, a personal sensory instrument that you like to use in most of your new adventures, you will be disappointed to learn that you cannot stick the old Jimmy Durante between the freshly cracked pages of a book...since there are not book leaves to crack open. Perhaps in Kindle IV, there will be a button to press that will squirt out New Book smell, sort of like the aerosol cans that can be squirted in your 1999 Toyota Camry that guarantee nasal illusions of New Car Smell.
2) You can download "books" from Amazon. That's it; no other sources.
3) It is easier for me to loan you my first and second born kids, even my dog, than it is to let you borrow a tome from my tomology (???). However, with the proper references, bank account numbers, and papal dispensation it is theoretically possible that a slight chance exists that I may lend out, for a limited window of time, one of my books. With the Kindle, the only way I can "loan" you a book is by handing the Kindle over to you. The downloaded books? Nope, even if you had a Kindle of your own, there is no way that I can lend you any of the books I've downloaded. And vice versa.
4) Book prices. Keep in mind that you really never "own" the downloaded books. So, when you download a book for free (Twain, Wodehouse, and a ton of trashy romance novels), it doesn't really matter that much that if the Kindle were to go kaput or if the technology is deemed exhausted (which you know it will be). The books were FREE!
But, when you've paid some buckos ($9.99 for most books), the mindset (well, o.k. MY mindset) is a bit different. Those books will be lost once the technology goes to the next level.'re sinking money into things not tangible. I look at my bookshelves and see books I purchased 20-30 years ago. Aside from a "protective" layer of dust and some yellowing, the books are, to my Ever Loving Wife's consternation, still there. I know I won't be able to say the same thing for the Kindle "books". And donating Kindle "books" to a library or for taxable charitable contribution deductions? fuhgeddaboudit.
One additional note about the book prices. Some of the books currently available in the Kindle version (specifically those NOT of the best-seller variety) are just a buck or two more expensive as physical versions than as electronic ones. So, don't start using those bookshelves as firewood just yet.
5) A cheapo complaint. The Kindle is delivered in a very secure and well-packaged cardboard box. It does NOT come with a protective carrying case; that is an option that will cost you between $20-$70 dollars. For $359, you'd expect some sort of carrying case.

Some reviews are here, here, and here.

Pricing of a Kindle? Check out this post.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

There Are Limits...

Isaach De Bankolé is The Lone Man in Jim Jarmusch's latest release, Limits of Control. Paz de la Huerta is The Nude.

She is The Form in the movie.
Mr. Bankolé, The Function.
The Form, and make no mistake about Ms. de la Huerta's ability to display her, ahem, form, follows The Function around through most of the movie, as confused by The Function's distant attitude to her form as we, the audience, is confused by his attitude to, well, just about everything.

This is an intense watch of a movie, measured out slowly in espresso cups, two at a time, to be precise, as that is The Lone Man's preferred method of xanthine alkaloid (Yes, The Loan Man is that exacting). The common and the esoteric all are important as clues to what is happening or what is to happen. Or maybe not; later on that point. The Lone Man takes on qualities of today's Loan Man. He stares, listens, and gives you nary a clue as to your requests. He contacts various people, who all move about the streets of Madrid and other towns and cities in cockroach-like spells of speed and hugging corners. They identify themselves with the phrase, "You don’t speak Spanish, do you?” , spoken to him in...well...not always Spanish. He nods each time in answer to the question, regardless of the tongue it was spoken in. So! A multi-lingual but not too lingual Lone Man, obviously a put-on of Mr Eastwood's Man With No Name early Westerns.

The Lone Man subsists only on espresso and that, only one. He orders a double espresso, one each in seperate cups, but sips only out of the right one (except in the last cafe visit in the movie when he sips form the left! A major indicator of things to happen! Maybe.....) It's good that he does not partake of any foodstuffs, as he may have a problem fitting into the fabulous suits he struts around in more most of the movie. He's the man in blue, then brown, then silver, each suit the same cut and the same emanating from within shininess. I thought the suits were tailored from gabardine, but a friend that kindly accompanied me to the movies assured me it was silk. Very expensive silk. We exchanged glances realizing this metro-sexual moment was unplanned and changed the topic to diesel engines.

But this is what this movie will do to long as you ride it out to the end. The theatre was barely 10% full and became less so as folks that came in as couples left the movie alone. Most of the departees were female, most probably grown tired of seeing yet another movie about a guy who, granted he looks great in suits, seems to have difficulties making commitments to human beings. As we steadily find out in the movie, he does have the ability to make a commitment, but we have no clue as to why he opts for this commitment.

Aside from Paz de la Huerta and her apple-ish derriere, there are short appearances by John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, and the ever delightful Gael García Bernal. Bill Murray also drops in at the end. He is The Man, but labeled The American.

*** Spoiler Alert ***
In his role as The American, Mr Murray speaks for the audience. The American is the target of The Lone Man and since The American represents us, we the audience have also been the target of The Lone Man for the first 110 minutes of the 116 minute long movie. In the 11th minute, Mr. Murray appears.
The American is holed up in a bunker-like building perpetually guarded by armed black-uniformed men and high-beam searchlights. To this viewer, the property seems impenetrable, especially since The Lone Man does not have the proclivity to pack some serious firepower. An AK-47 would ruin the lines of the suits, I guess.
So, in one scene, we see The Lone Man, his high cheekbones reflecting the high beams, on a slope overlooking the compound.
Next scene, he's relaxing on a couch in a bank vault-like room awaiting The American's arrival.
Mr. Murray enters the room, sees The Lone Man casually seated and asks what the audience is also wondering, "Who are you and how did you get in here?". Mr. Murray uses quite a few well-placed adjectives in the F-bomb family here, which I opted to exclude, to correctly reflect his frustration and that of the 110 minutes (and counting) viewing audience.
There's a pause.
The Lone Man responds, "I thought I'd use my imagination."
Mr. Murray is flummoxed; the audience is groaning, crushing candy boxes and chewing and spitting out program brochures.
We have endured looooong glazing pan shots of vineyards, a flamenco song & dance practice signifying something of an esoteric nature that may hit me in my sleep decades from now, The Lone Man's sipping one more espresso contemplatively, too many suit changs for me to count, and now this! Jarmusch is pulling out the ol' Deus ex machina ploy! He has tired of toying with his audience and, with 5 minutes left in the movie, decides to speed things up. The snail becomes the cheetah and we, the audience, are left in the dust.

For those of you first Jarmusch viewers, please, PLEASE stay away. Try something else first. May I suggest Night on Earth, or Down by Law, or Ghost Dog or even Coffee & Cigarettes?

For those Jarmusch zealots and I count myself as one of the stricken, you should see this movie (what am I saying? It's been out 2 weeks; you've gone already)! Then, blog on it or leave your pithy comments here to let me know if I have sinned against the Church of Jarmusch by not being even a tad enthusiastic.
Well, I did enthuse on the suits, right?

A review of Limits of Control and NYT's is here.

Another review of Limits of Control


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday Morning Tuneage

I'll be on in a couple of hours. You can tune in @ 91.3 on your FM dial if you're in the IMMEDIATE area of Newark, DE. Otherwise, best option is the internet.

In line for today's listening are the usuals, Mr. Waits, Mr. Byrne, Pauseland, Lafayette Gilchrist, Oliver Mtukudzi. Some others are Anders Osborne and 007, both out of New Orleans. Will Bernard, also a New Orleans based musician (and playing buddy of Stanton Moore) and the New Orleans musician, Allen Toussaint, will be on tap (whose latest album has some great guitar work by Marc Ribot). Peter Bernstein, Organissimo, Wilco, Booker T, and TV on the Radio are also on tap....along with 1,000's more! Or at least enough to round out the 3 hour show.

So, Morning After, today, 9:00 to 12:00 EST.

Hear you there!


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pickup Pittsburgh May 2009

So, rather than posting the play list for the annual college pickup, I thought I'd try posting these short (and not so short) bits of footage with music playing rather loudly in the background on the car's stereo.

Driving into Blue Mountain Tunnel westbound on the PA Turnpike on Sunday May 17, 2009

Between tunnels on the PA Turnpike, driving by the famous World of Pigeons. Tip of the hat to Ol' Froth, who actually stopped to take the photo on his site. I've passed this decrepit barn innumerable times in the last 8 years, once in a while catching a glimpse of flocks of pigeons circling the barn on a flyover.

Driving to and through Tuscarora Tunnel with the late William Clarke on the harp.

One more to fit here after I download it. It's about 14 minutes which is a problem as far as downloading it to YouTube.

Entering Pittsburgh from the northwest and driving through Shadyside

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Rodney Dangerfield Would Feel at Home Here

Last night on The Daily News, this exchange took place between the impish Jon Stewart and the Stick-it-to-the-Diamond State Ken Salazar.

So, if the state that used to be called the "Small Wonder" was wondering what Washington D.C. thought of need to go any further. It's the state to punk.

Now, it will be interesting if, as Mr. Stewart opined, V.P Joseph Biden "is going to kick (the forementioned Mr. Salazar's) ass! Biden is going to be all over you."

In Delaware, with quite a lot of beachfront property being owned by House of Reps and Senators from the capital, we had assumed those areas were classified as a national park. I mean, on a congressman's salary they couldn't afford the property, right? There has to have been some Federal assistance to allow our elected officials to dip their overworked footsies in the Atlantic or the inlet.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Secret Life of Words

The Secret Life of Words, directed by Isabel Coixet, is one of those character-driven films, snail-like in pace, that will drive a viewer short on patience and high on the ADD scale to performing calisthenics during its 115 minutes. If you're looking for action, bail ship early! If it's sixteen degrees of nuance you're after, sit up straight in your futon sofa and pay attention! A futon sofa, in fact, is a good place to be as it eases the path to empathy with one of the principal characters, Josef (Tim Robbins), who spends the majority of the film laid out in a bed, recovering from severe burns and other injuries.

Another injured soul, Hanna, as played by Sarah Polley, is a nurse who we first encounter working as a factory drone. Ms. Polley is your typical Canadian; nine tenths of her talent and accomplishments lie beneath the surface in silent repose while we only glimpse just one tenth. Oh, but what a haunting and beautiful tenth it is. As Hanna, Ms. Polley is a visitor to the human race. It becomes apparent early on that something truly barbaric and hideous has happened to her in the recent past. Her interactions with human beings are minimal; when she needs to, which early on in the movie seems pervasive, she turns off her senses, like she does her hearing aid. She's a shadow passing through the days.
After being forced by her employer to take vacation form her factory shipping & packing duties, (as her Slavic work ethic and resolve not to take vacation for four years has resulted only in earning her the resentment of her vacationing fellow workers), she ends up on an oil rig. Working. Working as a nurse, which she was at some point in time before. Her life's tightly coiled story starts unwinding as she nurses Josef back to health from a horrific fire-related accident on board the oil rig. Considering that Tim Robbins is prone for the majority of the movie, it's amazing what an animated (and, yes, nuanced) performance he gives. If you are a Robbins fan, as I am, you will be pleased with another finely drawn portrait he does of a character.
As with some of the reviews, I was bothered by some of the additional characters that Ms. Coixet elected to write into the film. As with the rest of the cast, the minor characters were finely acted. But the point of having them in the film, specifically the cook and the oceanographer, were lost on me. Initially, it seemed as if their characters would be instrumental to the story and then, like air from a balloon, they fizzled out to nothing. It's as if she had plans for them and then opted to not include them past a certain point. Well, at least she didn't go Hollywood and have them die in some explosion/fire/tsunami snuff.

Julie Christie, in a small role as a Swedish aid worker, shows again that at any age, she is incapable of not being beautiful. As a note, Ms. Polley directed Ms. Christie in Away From Her.

Otherwise, I give a strong recommendation for one of those rainy days or nights when you want to mull over your existence....or lack thereof.

Josef, at one point in the film, asks Hanna what her name is. She sidesteps that question as she does most of his inquiries. Josef starts to speak of a nurse named Cora. He throws away a hint that it's a story he read a while ago. That story, "La señorita Cora", from a book titled "Todos los fuegos el Fuego", is by the late Argentinian write Julio Cortázar, who also wrote, among many books, The Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, with his wife Carol Dunlap. This is the only book I've read of his but I recommend it highly. Like this movie, however, it is for the faint of heart, not those in search of technicolor adventures.

Other reviews are here, here, and here.

(Oh, yeah. The picture? One of the best album covers, from the Bill Evans-Jim Hall album, Undercurrent. Flattery? I think so. I'd blogged about the album here.)


Monday, May 04, 2009

PIttsburgh. Why I love the Internet

After reading this spiel, click on this link.

Steve Mellon, a photographer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has posted a collection of photos, well stitched together photos, that he's called Pittsburgh Revolution. In this series (because it is a series, only a seemless one), he has photographed the interior of St. Nicholas' Croatian Catholic Church. I blogged about it a few years ago, frustrated that I could not get inside.

These photographs by Mr. Mellon only fuels the frustration. It is magnificent!

So, click on the link.
Then, on the toolbar at the bottom of the picture, hit the FULL SCREEN button.
Then, with your mouse, clicking the left button, ZOOOOOOM around the room.

My hat's off to Mr. Mellon for a wonderful display and my hopes go out that the First Catholic Croatian Church in the U.S. of A. is somehow restored.

More of Steve Mellon's panoramic Pittsburgh views are here.

What a great old American city it is.


Friday, May 01, 2009

This Version is Way Too...


But it will have to do until someone posts a full version. I blogged previously about the song for this summer here. IMHO, this song should be a Grateful Dead-ish Phish-ish 20-25 minutes long. It is a catharsis of all that has (and will) ail you for the can't-get-through-fast-enough 2009.


May Day

It's already May! 1/3 through 2009 and, I'm sure, folks are eagerly waiting for December 31st to roll around in hopes that the economic malaise, like the swine flu, duly runs its course through the 10th year of this century with the promise that the recovery, like the promised swine flu vaccine, arrives in plentitude in the autumn of this year.

But, before we descend back to the caves, huddling uneasily together for warmth while breathing in opposite directions, let's celebrate May, a month named with the possibility of Hope.

In Minneapolis, May Day is a big thing, almost European its celebratory style. I realize that the planning for this annual event has been in the works for months, but it is unfortunate timing that a good deal of the Day are tied in with
pigs. Even the main poster has a pig on the shoulders of a man, opressing him with a porcine attitude.
I'll assume that In the Heart fo the Beast Puppet & Mask Theatre, the folks that have been putting the May day Parade together for 35 years, are thumbing their nose at the Swine Flu and, yes, even the Avian Flu, by having a respective member of each flus' originators right there on the poster.

Take that Flu! We're at one with other species, no matter the ill health they are inadvertently sending in our general direction. We will march and jump and dance and wait for May 2nd to garner any ills you rain on our parade.

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