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My Salon-tro

So a group of us who cut our blogging teeth in the early ‘aughts on a platform sponsored by Salon Magazine has decided to try to break the FB/Twitter microblogging straitjacket and reincarnate our former blogging selves, at least for the month of February.  Kind of like a rookie contract on the taxi squad.  We’ll be cross-posting by linking in a Facebook group.  Sticking it to the Man!

I like the idea, as I think my writing chops, such as they were, have withered since blogging gave way to the largely empty calories of FB and Twitter.  I’ve maintained my Salon blog name as a dedicated domain, and post something every couple of months when something jumps into my head, probably aliens hacking my brain through my remaining silver amalgam fillings.  (I’m actually not sure if I have any of those left, as I had a dentist in the 70s and 80s who was hellbent on replacing them with gold onlays.  I think he may have had a William Jennings Bryant dartboard in his office.  Guys from my crematory are going to have a pretty grand weekend, but I hope they have to wait a while).

I happened onto the Salon platform sometime in 2003, when I subscribed to the online magazine.  I hadn’t heard of “blogging” before, and it sounded like a mechanism to keep a promise to write that I’d made to myself in high school.  I was editor of our school newspaper my senior year, and gave myself permission to write a “humor” column called Philbo’s Phollies, after a regrettably enduring nickname that an asshole math teacher hung on me in 7th grade.  I wanted to style it after a syndicated feature in the Toledo Blade at the time called The Squirrel Cage, written by a Seattle Post-Intelligencer guy named Douglass Welch.  The Squirrel Cage was a series of vignettes populated by characters in a nondescript suburban neighborhood, which pretty much characterized my home town, but was adept at exposing human foibles humorously and with self-deprecation.

I kind of thrilled at the way stuff found its way from fugitive pockets of my subconscious onto the page through my prosaic ink pen, but once I graduated it fell fallow.   As time went by, technological advances such as the IBM PC, word processing programs, Usenet and maillists seemed to make the task of writing less onerous and more likely to be appreciated, but I never engaged until I followed that link to Salon blogging.

The platform had a satisfying array of folks, some who went on to be A-listers, and many of us have kept in touch through social media.  I never got into politics or confessional drama (and still won’t), preferring to try to entertain a bit and make the occasional effort to post a more polished piece.  I kept hoping that more people would read and comment, but I ended up with about 10.  The few, the proud.  When Facebook came along, there was so much more contact, and I like it for the relaxed connectivity it affords.  When I can post a photo and get 70 “likes” by midnight, it seems more gratifying than working on a blog piece for 90 minutes and get a comment or 2.  Seems, but it’s ephemeral, and in a half hour it’s submerged in a gaggle of cats.

I’ll keep my presence on Facebook because it’s kind of a free-for-all home room, but I’m hoping to rekindle that rewarding feeling of making more considered prose.


Click to engorge

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:

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?”


“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 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:


  • 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:


  • 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.