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Mi Cumpleanos

So I approach another birthday, insignificant in terms of celebrated “zero” numerology, but it’s still there and has to be navigated.  I think these are “speed-bump” birthdays, but they’re becoming less disruptive, and more complicit in abetting my hurtling to dusty doom.

It’s like I’m cruising along, as we do in a comfortable car that befits our age, registering the occasional Mail Pouch barn painting, even perhaps a Burma Shave collection of signs (Sleepy?/Just remember, pard,/That marble slab/Is doggone hard.), when I check my speedometer and - shit! - see it says 68.  I was sure I had put it on cruise control at 50.

Even so, it’s just a blip.  When I hit this late October birthday, in recent years, I’ve been thinking that, Hey!, even if I get a diagnosis, I’ve got one more summer.  And since I mostly avoid my doctor, I’m unlikely to even have a diagnosis.

So here we go again, one more lap around the celestial wristwatch.  Look forward to my 69th.

Hello, Seattle, 43 Years Ago


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So I’ve been watching Mad Men fitfully for a couple years on Netflix, haven’t pushed into the last half of the last season just yet.

It beguiles and intrigues me because it’s set in the 1955-1965 time when my parents were reaching the apex of their youth and surfing, however timidly, the incredible surge of the post-war economy and culture.  Of course, there’s the costumes and props and maddening telephone technology in Mad Men that resonate, but also wisps of the urgent issues of the day, and how the writers ingeniously filtered them through office culture.

I worked at summer jobs at my dad’s manufacturing plant ( they made glass for General Motors) in the late 60s, and, although we weren’t working in a Manhattan high-rise, we were still firmly attached to the skeleton  that underlay the social and professional fabric of the country, so in so many ways my dad’s office in middle America was just a door or two away from Don Draper’s.

43 years ago, perhaps to the day, (I’ll close this loop in a moment), Mrs. Perils and I returned to our post-college digs in Bowling Green, Ohio, from a breathtaking trip to Seattle, took a look in the mirror, and decided that we were going to be those guys that, as Huck Finn said, lit out for the territory.  We hitched a 4×8 U-Haul to my ‘67 Pontiac Tempest and headed for Seattle.

In the Mad Men episode I just watched, Don has just walked out of a meeting in Manhattan and begun driving west, to a future as uncertain as we faced in 1974.  Somewhere around Cleveland, the ghost of Bert Cooper appears in the passenger seat and recites Kerouac: “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”

The question, of course, is existential and not merely geographical.  It was sufficiently laden with emotion in the Mad Men plot, but - and I’m not a crier - I found myself suddenly weeping (in a manly way), a late-summer squall exposing long-forgotten topology.  Where was I (we) going back in October, 1974, taking leave of family we knew would feel our absence and (probably) question our choice?  By all measures, we’ve had a wonderful life, and connected deeply with our families, but at the time it didn’t seem so certain.

I think “Whither goest thou” is a trenchant question for life’s next adventure.  And this car, this formerly shiny car, nonetheless seems up for another cycle around the odometer.

October


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Suddenly it’s October, my birth month, and there’s a bite in the air and a decidedly more severe angle to the sunlight, as if it’s beginning to ration itself, as opposed to its June - August profligacy.

In its honor, here’s one of the most gorgeous pieces I’ve ever played, Eric Whitacre’s October for concert band.  This recording is from the 2013 LGBA (Lesbian Gay Band Association) concert that Betsy and I traveled to Atlanta to participate in.

It’s a tone poem, and ingeniously imparts the possibility of warm, brilliant days in October, while constantly reminding that it’s a month of inexorable attrition, decay and loss, as its mood swings from  brilliant brass to minor-key woodwinds.

October - Eric Whitacre:

50th Reunion Letter to the Class of ‘67

It’s amazing how the years have melted away.  I’m sorry I can’t be there with you next weekend, I was just in Columbus last weekend to march and play with the Ohio State Marching Band Alumni.  I would have stayed through the week if my mom still lived in Pburg, but the only remaining family that would host me are in the cemetery.  It’s a lovely cemetery, but my superannuated slumber there would most likely be interpreted by the employees there as inventory.

After PHS graduation, I attended Ohio State, eventually graduating in 1971 with a degree in Accounting.  Along the way, I got to do something I’d lusted after in high school as much as that Raquel Welch poster from One Million Years BC - I tried out for and made the Ohio State Marching Band.  Biggest thrills: playing in The Big House at Michigan, and the 1971 Rose Bowl and Rose Parade.

After graduation, I worked for a (formerly) Big Eight accounting firm in Toledo for about a year and a half, but I really didn’t like it, and quit before the onset of my second “busy season”.  I’d had this idea from high school that I really wanted to be a writer, and enrolled in courses at Bowling Green for writing, and reading literature that I was supposed to read in high school but never did.

Betsy Piez and I had our first date around Thanksgiving of 1966.  It was really glamorous.  I was editor of the Somethin’, and was covering the basketball game at Lake, and I dragged her along.  Must have been the cachet of that byline, we stuck together even after I left for college (she was a sophomore).  She was her class valedictorian, and went to the elite college (Carnegie-Mellon), while lazy me got the default state school.  Pittsburgh’s not that far from Columbus, and we did lots of weekend commuting.  After she graduated, she joined me in Bowling Green and we moved in together, to the consternation of both our families.  We eventually relieved the familial tension and married in June, 1974, more detailed story here: http://perilsofcaffeineintheevening.com/2004/06/07/on-this-day-in/

The writing thing never panned out for me - lazy again, probably - and we arrived at a restless stage.  However, when I was working in Toledo, one of my co-workers got a job teaching accounting at Seattle University, and we took him up on an invitation to visit, driving across the country in 50 hours.  He took us on a 3-day bicycle trip, and a backpacking trip.  We fell in love with Seattle.  We were outdoors types, even in Bowling Green, daily runners and frequent bicyclers.  We drove back reluctantly to Bowling Green and, a month later, loaded up a 5×8 U-Haul and moved to Seattle.

I worked fitfully as a bicycle mechanic for a few months, then went back to work in accounting.  I still didn’t like doing taxes and auditing all that well, but it was a living.  Then, in the early 80s, people began buying IBM PCs and asking us how to do their accounting on them.  I migrated to systems consulting, and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing ever since.  I started my own business in 2001, and finally found professional fulfillment by doing so.

We’ve had a sweet life here in Seattle.  Shortly after moving here in 1975 we rented a house near Greenlake about 4 miles north of downtown because Greenlake was a popular running venue, and bought it (the house, not the lake) later that year.  We still live there, with 42 years’ worth of detritus filling the basement and threatening any fondness our son (see below) might have had for us.

Our son and only child, Andrew, was born in 1981, and lives close enough to visit on a weekend, but far enough away to have his own life.

Betsy and I met in high school band, but after college, didn’t play our instruments (clarinet for her, trumpet for me) except for Ohio State band reunions.  In 2009, I decided that I’d like to find a community band to play with, and that spurred Betsy to exhume her high school clarinet, and we both joined a band http://rainbowcityband.com/ here in Seattle that is LGBT-based.  We’re a marching band in the summer, playing in parades from Seattle to Vancouver, BC, and in fall, winter and spring we’re a concert band that I think Frank Menichetti (http://perilsofcaffeineintheevening.com/2004/09/02/a-musical-interlude/) would be pleased to hear, and it’s become a major hub of our life. We’ve been calling it our Reunion Tour.

Last summer I had an unexpected opportunity to connect with Perrysburg.  I was notified that the Ohio State Alumni Band would be playing in a parade and concert for Perrysburg’s Sesquicentennial.  Since my younger brother Brian was in the OSU band, we decided to come back and participate.  Details here:  http://perilsofcaffeineintheevening.com/2016/08/09/home-once-more/

Besides playing my trumpet, I love sea kayaking, and exploring the incredible coastline of the Salish Sea.

In high school, I was a band geek, and band was my primary social life and the primary object of whatever effort my lazy ethos might engender, so I didn’t socialize as much with you non-band classmates.  I have immensely enjoyed acquainting with many of you on Facebook and hope you will continue to stay in touch even though I’m not attending the reunion.  Be well, and have a great reunion.  Send pictures.

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.

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