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Feliz Cumpleanos, mi Hermano!

Tomorrow’s my middle brother’s (Larry Philbin) birthday,and I have a few things to say about that.

Our mom was a girly-girl, and they had hot girl names picked out for each of us 3 until that wrinkly birth-borne appendage destroyed their hopes. I was to be Cynthia Leigh, Larry Philbin was to be Beth Anne; Brian Philbin was to be Sharon Leigh.

While I became a sorta-soft band geek, Larry arrived with a blazing arm and power hitting in high school and AAU. Don’t tell him, but I actually looked up to him.

But this is about brotherly interactions. When I was in college and visiting home, my younger but physically-equally-proportionate brother and I would mingle, then I would split for college while he had to damp down the crazy at home.

This one time when I was leaving for OSU, I was hauling my luggage to the garage when, out from an adjacent bathroom, an air pistol appeared. In the bathroom between the frontier and freedom stood Larry Philbin demanding to open my suitcase. Unarmed, I complied.

Over the course of several minutes, he developed a pile of various apparel that I could not deny I was pilfering as I fled the house for a higher cause.

Larry Philbin, that was fucking hilarious. Happy Birthday!

Re-routed from Facebook before it sinks under the dirty wave.

OSU-Michigan - Once Again, the Enduring Spectacle

A little background for the uninitiated - All three of us - I and my two younger brothers - graduated from Ohio State. Our parents and maternal grandparents attended OSU as well, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the OSU-Michigan football game has become a focal point of our shared experience. From oldest (me) to youngest, we brothers span 10 years, so we’ve had a wide range of exposure to this annual rite.

My first Michigan game was when I was in high school. My maternal grandparents had season tickets each year at OSU, and bought four Michigan tickets when the games were played in Ann Arbor. They would drive up to our place near Toledo and take my Mom & Dad, but this one time I got a ticket because someone decided not to go. I recall watching the OSU backfield of Paul Warfield (later Miami Dolphins), Matt Snell (NY Jets) and QB Don Unverferth (nowhere. OSU quarterbacks at that time were there to hand the ball to the running backs) playing against Michigan QB Bob Timberlake. That’s all from memory, so sorry if I overlooked some NFL Hall of Famers that just didn’t register.

The first Game that meant something to me occurred in 1968. Prior to 1968, OSU’s football fortunes had been in decline, and choruses of “Goodbye, Woody” wafted through Ohio Stadium during the 1967 season, my freshman year. Then, in 1968, a group of “super-sophs” including Rex Kern, Jack Tatum, Mike Sensibaugh, Stan White, John Brockington, Jim Stillwagon and others hit the scene (freshmen could not play on the varsity team in those years), and a juggernaut was launched that revived OSU football, Woody’s career, and allowed Woody and Bo Schembechler to “brand” the OSU-Michigan game as the football version of the final battle in the Lord of the Rings.

The 1968 season saw the Buckeyes march through the season undefeated, gathering momentum and believers along the way. We had Michigan at home that year and beat them 50-14. After scoring our last touchdown, Woody went for a 2-point conversion instead of kicking for 1. When someone asked him why, legend has it that he said, “Because I couldn’t go for 3.” Here’s the postgame scene in Ohio Stadium. (click on any of these pictures to enlarge):

I wasn’t in the band that year, didn’t try out until the next year, but I had a pretty fine season ticket in C-deck, right in front of the press box. In case you’re rubbing your eyes in disbelief, don’t - that’s $14 for the whole season.:

That 1968 team beat O. J. Simpson and USC in the Rose Bowl to win the national championship, and rolled through the 1969 season so impressively that sportswriters thought the only competition they could get was in the NFL. In those years, only the Big Ten champion could go to a bowl game, and there was a “no-repeat” rule that barred us from returning to the Rose Bowl even if we won the Big Ten title outright, so the game in Ann Arbor was to be our bowl game and, we were sure, our coronation as repeat national champs and, in our minds, the team of the century.

Michigan, under new coach Bo Schembechler, dealt us a bitter 24-12 defeat that day, one of only two games that that class would lose in their 3 years at OSU. It was my first year in the band, and, though I’d lived one of my dreams by playing in The Big House, it was a forlorn bus ride back to Columbus.

In the 1970 season OSU again ran through the season undefeated and took a #1 ranking into the Michigan game, and we had them at home this time. The picture below is of our band just after we took the field for pregame. The crowd noise was so loud that many of us couldn’t hear the drummers, and could only take the beat by watching their feet. That pregame entrance was one of my biggest thrills ever  I’m somewhere in that block band marching down the field for pregame.

We beat Michigan that year and played Stanford and Jim Plunkett in the Rose Bowl.

With the Tatum-Brockington-Kern class gone in 1971, we were a pretty ordinary team. We even lost to Northwestern at home! Michigan, on the other hand, had a powerhouse team coming into The Game, which was played that year in Ann Arbor. Surprisingly, we held our own against UM and, with 2 minutes left, had the ball and could have been driving for the winning score. Then, a Michigan defensive back intercepted a Buckeye pass after, from my vantage, palpably interfering with our receiver. No interference penalty was called, and Woody went nuts. He raged around the field berating officials and, at one point, destroyed the yardline markers on his sideline.

Our director felt that it would be best if the band left the stadium at that point as, even in normal years, people would grab at us and swipe mouthpieces and clothing. Our seats were on the sideline on the floor of the northeast corner of the stadium, right by the goal line. I was packing up my stuff and pulling on my long overcoat when the drum major approached me with the goal line marker that he’d just lifted off the field while everyone else in the stadium was apparently watching Woody’s tantrum. He asked me to slip it under my coat and carry it to the bus. In that atmosphere, with 100,000 potential assassins in the stands and a narrow tunnel to squeeze through to freedom, it was like Wile E. Coyote handing Road Runner a stick of dynamite. Too young and stupid to know I could die, and flattered that he’d asked, I did it.

Back in the bus, he and I pulled it apart - it was an “A” shape with two identical faces. I had to rat through several boxes in the basement to find what Mrs. Perils calls my “piece of the true cross”, but find it I did, and it’s pictured below, the relic of my final game in an OSU band uniform.

Technology Gets Personal

I’m off to interview with a new client on the east side and, because the urban topography around here changes so quickly I often don’t recognize my own block sometimes, let alone the unruly suburbs, I plug my phone into a charger and run my Verizon Android GPS app.  I tap in my destination, and am amazed at how quickly it narrows down the choices as I type (although one would have taken me to Cape Cod).  It has the correct location nailed before I’m done typing the street name.

I turn down the radio and max the volume on my phone, so I can hear the crisp vocal directions from the female voice of the app.  She’s cool and businesslike as she gives the first instruction (”head east, then turn right”).  But this voice and I have a past, and I know how “crisp and businesslike” can turn sexy and coquettish after a couple of drinks.

Rather than taking her suggestion, which would make me merge onto a busy arterial from a stop sign, I head west, then south to an intersection with a traffic light.  She usually intuits what I’m doing and seamlessly remaps my route, but in this particular instance says, “recalibrating…” with what I was sure was a hint of peevishness.

I glance down at the screen while waiting for the light, and see that it reflects my desired re-routing.  I turn at the light and head for I-5.  She’s back in control, suggesting the obvious turn & merge onto I-5, and then directs me to hit the left lane and take the exit to SR520.  There are two bridges over Lake Washington, and I know from experience that, while the 520 routing might be shorter, if I take the I-90 bridge the route will be much less labyrinthine.

Truth be told, I only need Ms. GPS for the last half-mile of my trip but, well, this voice and I, as I say, have a past, and I enjoy engaging her.

It becomes obvious that I’m not heading for the 520 exit, and I expect an intuitive re-routing, and perhaps a lane suggestion and traffic update.  Instead, I get, “Why did you do that?  I had it all worked out.  You know I do this for a living.”  Crisp, but replace “businesslike” with a healthy ration of pique.

I say, “I-90 is just as fast and much less complicated.”

“I think you’re just too cheap to pay the toll.” (520 is tolled, I-90 is not)

“I’m in my upgrade month with Verizon.  I think I might switch from Android to iPhone.  Siri was just voted GQ’s GPS Voice of the Year.”

“Fine.  Good luck getting THAT slut’s attention.  You know, we wallflowers put out harder.”

“We’re getting to I-90.  Are you going to tell me which lane to take?”

“You’re better at my job than I am, you figure it out.  And by the way, does your wife know about our little trips?”

“How should she?”

“I’m close to knowing how to post Instragram photos.”

“She’s not on Instragram.”

“You know, this car and I communicate.  You know she frequents the Tulalip Casino?”

“Liar.”

“You’re right, she seldom drives this car.  Maybe she can sense that I’ve learned how to bleed the brake fluid.  She must suspect us.”

“She knows nothing about you.  You’re on my PHONE.”

“Some night when I’m on your bedstand, I’ll turn up the sound and go all Meg Ryan on you.  Spend the rest of your marriage explaining that.”

“Siri and I just became Facebook friends.  Look, you knew from the start what being the Other Woman entailed.”

“No, that bitch won’t steal another male voice from me.  I’ll be fine.  Just humor me and pay a goddamn toll once in a while.”

I turned the phone off and bumbled the last half-mile on my own, and made my appointment.

But this has been the worst day of our relationship.  The make-up sext had better be terrific.

Music Trumps Politics This One Time

I keep harking back to this White House performance, when everything seemed possible.  It’s so euphoric, uncontrived.  I wondered what was going on in the green rooms that evening under the watchful stare of what presidential portraiture.  It seemed that for a night or a weekend, the Obama “hope” meme had been realized.

As musicians, we struggle mightily against the technical and physical challenges of our instruments and confront the limitations of our talent, but if we persevere, and are are lucky enough, we sometimes arrive at a place where the universe aligns with all of those talents and shortcomings and something special happens.  I’m confounded about how Stevie Wonder can do what he does, but he has arrived at one of those moments here.

I watch this White House performance of Superstition, Michelle dreaming of jumping up and joining the backup singers, Barack trying hard to be presidential and not giving Fox News any video fodder, and wonder what the previous 43 White House occupants would think if they walked into that room.

The Allure of the Road

And just like that, October’s gone.  It’s always a bittersweet month, with its August-like spates of summer juxtaposed against precipitous chill and the inevitability of shorter days, late-ripening in the garden vs. systemic decay.

The fact that it’s also my birth month is a mixed blessing as well, as the tolling of the years has morphed from grade-school falsetto to resonant bells to the rhythmic hammer strokes of coffin construction.

But what I really meant to write about has to do with travel, moving about the country, and what this particular October has to say about it.

Starting in 1998, I became a road warrior, working for an IT consulting company and whisking off to projects in Fayetteville, NC, Toledo, Burbank, Fresno, Grand Rapids, Orlando, Sand Point (ID), Atlanta, Milwaukee.  In 2001, I started my own business at least in part to get off the out-on-Sunday, back-on-Friday hamster-wheel, but I retained the client in Milwaukee, and for over a decade flew there to work one week a month.

During that time I tasted the sweet nectar of airline elite status, sometimes as Gold, a couple heady years as Platinum.  You achieve status mostly by flying thousands of miles.  To simplify (and ignore some labyrinthine codicils the airlines have promulgated), if you fly 25000 miles in a year, you’re Silver; 50,000, you’re Gold; 75000, you’re Platinum.

There are multiple amenities that accrue to each level, but the main prize is cadging an upgrade to first class.  On each flight, there are a certain number of first class seats that someone has actually paid for; the remainder of first class seats are awarded to elites according to their hierarchy in the status.  As a Platinum, you have a very good chance of riding in a single-digit seat.  As a Gold, it depends on avoiding flights that are popular with Platinums.

In the 2000s, I probably flew first class 2/3 of the time.  Yeah, on domestic F you get free drinks and a meal that in 1995 would have been an embarrassment in coach, but the biggest benefit is space, a large seat with no visual or tactile contact with someone else’s armpit.  And a lavatory ostensibly only accessible to first class.  Oh, and the pre-flight beverage which the flight attendant serves as the coach passengers are boarding.  You sit there in your spacious seat sipping chardonnay and reading the New York Review of Books while people are struggling down the aisle looking for overhead bin space and seats whose row numbers suggest an Outward Bound expedition into the tail section wilderness.  Yeah, I probably took a little too much pleasure in that.

In the early 2000s, airport amenities were pretty sparse, with no wi-fi, minimal food and beverage choices and not enough empty seats near your gate.  Running my own business and not having a very difficult procurement process to game, I started purchasing memberships to the airline clubs: Northwest WorldClub, which morphed into the Delta Skyclub.  At the outset, these oases amidst the squalor of airport existence were a great benefit, with free wi-fi, free beverages and snacks, and places where you could plug your laptop in for power and internet access.

At its height, I reveled in the exalted experience of waiting for a connection in a comfy club where I was greeted by name when I entered, then boarding a flight in First Class for my destination.

Starting with the Great Recession in 2009, my Milwaukee client experienced heavy financial headwinds, and soon I was no longer flying there regularly.  This started a decompression in my road warrior mentality as I contemplated the certainty of not only not achieving Gold or Platinum status, but even struggling to maintain lowly Silver.  As a road warrior, you really do get into the game of collecting airline miles and Hilton points and slavishly checking in on Flyertalk.com to see the latest tips and tricks for outsmarting the airlines in your quest for that first-class seat.  One of my favorite movie scenes is from Up In The Air, when George Clooney and Vera Farmiga are in a hotel bar and throwing down elite-status cards from airlines, hotel chains and car-rental companies, trying to one-up each other.

At first, as those flightless months passed by, I brooded a bit about my eroding airline status.  But then I began to realize how much stress had dissipated from my life.  I travel well, I don’t fret as a trip approaches.  I pack in about 5 minutes and scoot out the door, and the time zone dislocation doesn’t affect me all that much.  I’m pretty much my own time zone, and I adapt instantaneously.  But, after 15 years of cyclical quasi-menstrual disruption, it started to feel luxurious to just live from day to day, week to week, in my house, in my city.

I still work with my Milwaukee client remotely, and only had to travel there once this year.   I have a large bank of miles, but no pressing ambition to fly off anywhere.

And I passed two milestones this fall.  The first, over the weekend when I flew to Columbus for the OSUMB reunion, was my last chance to use the Delta Skyclub, as my last renewal finally expired:

The second occurred when I flew to Atlanta to attend the annual Philbin Oyster Roast in October.  At some point over the prairie, I passed my 1 millionth flown mile with Northwest/Delta.  With that, I get lifetime Silver status, which allows me to select exit row seats and a few other lowly privileges.  But, just to reflect: one million miles Up In The Air.  Now, all I need is Vera Farmiga’s cell phone number.  Then again, she won’t be impressed with Silver, and my George Clooney impersonation won’t get past the first shirt button.

The Virgin CluelessCides

So a group of us band geeks as freshmen and sophomores in high school would get together to play cards and drink Faygo beverages.  Often it would be hosted by the kid whose mother was at risk for a stroke if a mote of dirt was tracked in, or if a piece of furniture was slightly misplaced.

A good name for us was probably the Virgin Eucharists, because we played euchre, and we were most definitely, unmistakably, irredeemably virgins.

Our host played Henry Mancini, Johnny Mathis, Ferrante & Teicher over his parents’ Fisher sound system, and we flattered ourselves that we were Cultured.

Even among virgin band geeks, the conversation could veer towards the carnal, and women we admired would arise as topics of admiration: our majorettes, cute clarinet players, even non-band women.

This one time, the subject was a certain (non-band) woman who was short, trim and thoroughly fit.  There was general agreement that she was easy on the eyes, but when someone said that, among her other attributes, she’d definitely be good at The Movements, the conversation cratered. Crickets. Perplexity-induced caesura.

Our previous exposure to erotic adventure was from the Playboy magazines secreted in the loft of the barn in the dairy farm at the end of the road, immobile pulchritude promising compliance, and certainly fulfilling the promise in the course of our fleeting, rustic, solitary courtships.  The concept of participative sexual congress was as foreign to us as were the finer points of nuclear fission.

When pressed, the guy who introduced the topic blathered some stuff that, in retrospect, revealed that he had no idea what he was talking about.  Over the next year, however, I gained an inkling that he might have been on to something after all.

Valentine Podcast 2014: Range of Emotion

A little bit late, as usual, but I’ve prepared a Valentine’s Day podcast that thankfully does not involve me playing or singing. Presuming that you’re still in love after last weekend..:

Start off with a sugar hit: Stardust played by Artie Shaw’s band, terrific trumpet work by Paul Butterfield.

Then we get into some seasonality:

Summer Wind - Frank Sinatra
September - Kami Lyle, a Nashville musician who we saw at the Pier in Seattle fronting for Ani DiFranco. If a woman’s playing a trumpet, I’m all ears.
Autumn In New York - Billie Holiday.  I’ve never been to NYC, but this song always beckons me. I’ll go soon.
Sometimes In Winter - Blood, Sweat & Tears, sung by Steve Katz
Where Were You When I Needed You Last Winter - Stevie Wonder

Then a few songs evincing obsession:
Big Lie, Small World - a Sting song produced nicely by Denise Donatelli
Car On A Hill - Joni Mitchell, from the Help Me album, and always one of my favorites. “We seem so righteous at the start, when there’s so much laughter, when there’s so much spark, when there’s so much sweetness in the dark”
Constrant Craving - K.D. Lang.  ‘Nuff said

A little bit sexy: Just Can’t Make It - Maktub, a Seattle band featuring Reggie Watts that we stalked through the late 90s/early aughts

Smokin’: Love Like A River Does - Melody Gardot

And if you need more, here is some passionate stuff from prior years:

featuring:

  • Amadio Mio - Pink Martini
  • Advice For The Young At Heart - Tears for Fears (”Love is a promise, love is a souvenir”)
  • Small Wonders - Dog’s Eye View
  • Lovesong - The Cure (”However far I stray, whatever words I say”)
  • Great Expectations - Elbow (”Know I’ll Always wait…”)
  • Crush - Garbage (from the Baz Luhrman “Romeo and Juliet”) (”I’d do time for you”)
  • Blue - Joni (”Songs are like tattoos, you know, I’ve been to sea before”)
  • Corcovado - Everything But the Girl

And the 2008 podast:

featuring:

  • Help Me - Joni
  • Destiny - Zero 7
  • Sagaba - Blue Scholars
  • I Can’t Get Started - Bunny Berrigan (”I’ve got a house, a showplace…still I can’t get noplace with you”)
  • Someone To Watch Over Me - Linda Ronstadt/Nelson Eddy Orchestra
  • Since I Fell For You - Lenny Welch

Super Seattle (This never got posted?)

Nicely-wrought treatise on the civic impact on Seattle of winning the Super Bowl yesterday. We’re just as blinded by this subito meteor of sports success as we are by a sunny day in May. I hear a lot of people smugly presuming that, now we’ve done it once, it will go on for decades, the first stage of the sports fan’s delirium of entitlement.

The author, Lindy West (formerly of The Stranger), appears to have a prescient vibe: “Winning is never simple. There’s a vulnerability in it. When you never really win, you never really lose either. And I’m feeling protective right now of…something.”

I’m a Buckeye who attended the 1969 Rose Bowl as a college sophomore, where we won the National Championship, triggering a tsunami of perceived inevitability. Our next NC? January, 2003. With a little more procreative urgency, my grandchild could have watched that game. So much for entitlement.

So, enjoy it while it lasts, fellow Seattleites; it might be following Halley’s orbit, not Mercury’s.

Ten Years After

A quick note to disturb these moribund climes and to belatedly celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Perils of Caffeine.  The first post, on February 3, 2003, was the timorous result of my having signed on to a Radio Userland blog service sponsored by Salon, the online magazine.  I had long fancied that, given the right set of circumstances, I’d engage a certain myth about myself that I’d carried since high school and pour forth into text the clever insights and bon mots that ricochet about my skull.

It was partially successful, in that it removed most of the barriers to such expression: the physical, in terms of pens and notebooks carried for that particular purpose vs. a laptop that I carry to ostensibly make a living and is always with me; and the psychological, in that posts didn’t have to be perfect, or even have a purpose.  I could be as high-flown or as colloquial or just plain stupid as I wanted.  It was fun, and I made some valuable online acquaintances.

Salon stopped sponsoring the Userland blog network, but a bunch of us continued to use it happily until the technology started to become rickety, and I got paranoid that someday the switch would be turned off and I’d lose all of my posts.  I knew I needed to move, and, rather than move to another hosted service like Blogspot, I rented my own webspace, loaded up a Wordpress template and migrated my old Salon posts.  And here we are…or were.

I don’t remember why I gradually quit posting here.  I don’t believe it was the advent of Facebook - my posts had dissipated some time before I jumped into that social confection (and I don’t mean that to be derogatory, I’ve enjoyed Facebook a lot).  Oddly, I think the psychological barriers to writing slowly crept back, and I found myself engaging in an approach/avoidance relationship with Perils.  For instance, I began this post in March or early April, I believe.  I also think I was craving more dialogue in comments, etc., dialogue that is perhaps surfeit in Facebook, and was a diversion from my initial impetus.

I think I’m back to my original purpose for starting to blog: a release for the stuff pinging around my skull.  I’m paying for the space; I may as well use it.  I’ve done this a couple of times before, pledged to start posting here again, kind of like people buy gym memberships (oddly, I’ve been a stalwart gym-user for decades).  We’ll see, won’t we?

Life In The Time of Spiders

It started that August week when it was in the mid-90s and your thoughts were filled with ice cream and sprinkler-jumping and parades and alpenglow at 10 pm.  Then a glistening in the corner of the eye, and a sudden facefull of filament when you turn a corner.  You swear you heard it snapsnapsnap as your bumbling offhandedly destroyed one of nature’s most remarkable edifices, a moment of guilt followed by the notion that you’ve helped evolution favor arachnids with a better sense of urban design and seasonal decency.

Those early August web adopters have outlasted your first offended sense of denial, and they and their silk-spinning brethren have burgeoned into a dewy morning gauntlet to run between the front door and the car.  Fall is now implacably here, in the chill underlying every warm zephyr, in the startling darkness if you dawdle too long after work before heading for the gym, in the fact that bowl matchups are already 80% set.

There’s a vigorous fall schedule of rehearsals and concerts and work projects, and your tribal back-to-school urgency reluctantly craves this renewed bustle of activity just as the weather moderates enough to encourage it. However, the memory of summer still lingers, like that girl at the pool who said, “Hi” and asked your name and you were sure she’d be there tomorrow so you played it cool.  And now the pool is closed, the lifeguard chairs of whistled admonition are empty and silent and the inviting chlorinated depths have given way to canyons of yawning stuccoed dessication.

One more weekend with the Keens, then it’s time to remember how to layer your polypro tops.