Monday, February 27, 2006

new CDs

My brother gave me an gift certificate for Hanukkah and I finally used it last week to buy some items from my wish list. I got Dream Theater's Octavarium, which I listened to at the gym on Saturday. It's more lyrical and less hard-core metal than their previous album, and they even use an orchestra on the last track, a 24-minute opus along the lines of "A Change of Seasons." It's not ideal workout music, but it's a good album nonetheless.

The big purchase was the Switched-On Bach boxed set. I've written about S-OB before, and it has been one of my all-time favorite albums since the first time I heard it over twenty years ago. Wendy Carlos recorded other Baroque albums on the Moog synthesizer throughout the 1970s, and this set brings them all together in one collection. I'd heard everything in the set before except for three of the Brandenburg Concertos, but not in many, many years. So listening to these CDs was like being transported back to my pre-teen years, when I was a geeky kid discovering Bach. In fact, it was a long time before I heard most of these works performed on anything other than a Moog. Even now, I'm still amazed at the range of sounds that Carlos was able to get out of this equipment nearly forty years ago. Listening to this music makes me happy in ways I can't even describe.

Friday, February 24, 2006

High School Senior Year Meme

My brother sent me this list of questions, so it ends up in the blog.

1. Who was your best friend?
I don't think I could pick just one. I had really geeky friends who were the top students, and I had a crowd of noble miscreants I hung out with on weekends. Maybe Joel, as he was my go-to friend for homework questions, discussions of school politics, and general extracurricular activities.

2. What sports did you play?
I was a manager for the football team, so I kept track of the game balls, the water buckets and the sideline setup during games, and made sure all the equipment got out to the practice field and back during the week.

3. What kind of car did you drive?
I drove my mom's '86 Toyota Corolla when I could borrow it from her. I only drove it to school a few times, mostly at the end of the year.

4. It's Friday night, where were you at?
Usually out with my friends, playing pool, trying to pick up girls at the mall or hanging out at someone's house.

5. Were you a party animal?
In a word, no.

6. Were you in the "In Crowd"?
No, although I was slightly more popular during football season, due to my affiliation with the team. Maybe I'm just remembering it that way.

7. Ever skip school?
Once, when we had a student "strike" to protest the ongoing teachers' selective strike that had disrupted school for most of the fall semester. Since the teachers would decide each day whether to strike or not, one day the students showed up at the high school with signs and pickets and refused to go into the building. We had news coverage, food, parental support, the works. The principal came out and said we were OK to strike that one day as long as we moved the protest to the middle school. So we formed a caravan of students driving their own cars two miles away to the middle school, which was on a high-traffic road and offered us much better exposure to the public. By early afternoon we were all cold and hungry (it was early November), so most of us went home. The strike continued throughout the rest of the school year and into the next, so our protest made absolutely no difference. But it was fun just the same.

8. Ever smoke?
No. I lost respect for my friends and girls I liked when I found out they smoked.

9. Were you a nerd?
Nerd, geek, dork, you name it, I fit it. I was in the top ten students in my class, took almost all AP classes, captained the quiz bowl team, and got my acceptance letter for Georgetown in December, earlier than anyone else in my class got accepted to college.

10. Did you get suspended/expelled?
No. I never even had detention. I stayed after school because I wanted to, not because I had to.

11. Can you sing the Alma Mater?
The words to the Alma Mater were printed in the student handbook, but I never heard it played so I don't know the music. The school fight song was the Notre Dame fight song, but I don't think we had our own words.

12. Who was your favorite teacher?
Mr. Pompanella, who taught AP American/European History. He treated his class like a college course, and for the most part got college-level work out of his students. And he was fond of muttering Latin phrases under his breath, knowing we couldn't understand him. Ms. Adams, my AP English teacher, is a close second, as her class was the one that inspired me to major in English at Georgetown.

13. Favorite class?

14. What was your school's full name?
Westmont Hilltop High School.

15. School mascot?
A "Hilltopper", which was a ripoff of the Notre Dame mascot. I think our mascot faces the other way, probably to avoid a lawsuit. At football games during my era, a student wore a giant red & gray football costume and danced on the sidelines in front of the band.

16. Did you go to Prom?
Yes, with a friend from my Jewish youth group who came all the way from Charleston, WV for the event.

17. If you could go back and do it over, would you?
Yes. By the time I got to high school, I had figured out how to handle the relentless teasing of the students who picked on nerds like me. As a result, high school was largely free of that sort of harassment, and I was able to enjoy myself more than I had in previous grades. I loved football season and being a part of the team, albeit as a much-abused manager. If I could go back in time, I'd join the team as a sophomore, when we won a district championship, instead of the following year, when we went 4-6.

18. What do you remember most about graduation?
Playing a viola solo during the ceremony. And sweating under my robe -- the auditorium was hot and those robes were some kind of synthetic non-breathable fabric.

19. Favorite memory of your Senior Year?
Going to Pennsylvania's All-State Orchestra festival in April. I had to pass an audition to get there, and I studied the music and practiced more than ever before (or since) to get through. It was my last music festival, and I'd known many of the other musicians there for years, so it was a last hurrah for all of us.

20. Were you ever posted up on the senior wall?
Whatever that is, we didn't have it. However, after graduation my name was on the "Top Ten" plaque for my class, which should still be hanging outside the school auditorium. Future generations of Hilltoppers can look up at my name and think "who the hell was that guy?" If they notice it at all.

21. Did you have a job your senior year?
I played in the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra, which paid me about $140 a concert, enough to pay for gas and entertainment on weekends.

22. Who did you date?
No one seriously, though I did have a few dates. My only high school girlfriend was Becky Gore, who I dated the previous year. Becky, if you're out there, say hello.

23. Where did you go most often for lunch?
Because of the way my classes were scheduled, I had to eat lunch in French class. I took so many classes I didn't have time for an actual lunch in the cafeteria.

24. Have you gained weight since then?
I gained weight in college and in the years after, then lost it a few years ago. When I was home at Christmas, I found a pair of jeans in my closet that had been there since high school. I think they might fit me now.

25. What did you do after graduation?
Immediately afterwards, I went to a family graduation party at the home of my stepmother's nieces, who were my classmates. Then I played Trivial Pursuit with my geeky friends until the wee hours. Since we'd had a strike all year, we graduated on June 30 and I only had about seven weeks of summer. I spent most of that time at home hanging out at home, though I did go to Washington, DC for a few weeks to see my dad and take care of some business at Georgetown.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

thoughts while watching Olympic hockey

Mike Emrick is a great hockey announcer, but he's going to blow a vein in his forehead. Whenever there's a play in front of the net, he sounds like someone is squeezing him in an uncomfortable location. I'd say that he's just extra excited for Team USA, but he's like that for every game.

The organists in the hockey arenas in Torino are AWESOME. So far in the tournament I've heard Coldplay, Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," and Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets." And every time they play the recorded "Day-O," I wonder who changed the channel to a Yankees game.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

early wake-up call for hockey

NBC, in its utter boneheadedness, is airing the Olympic mens' ice hockey games live on MSNBC and the USA network in the mornings and during the day. I missed Wednesday's games, so I set my alarm for 6:30 AM today and watched parts of two games while I got ready for work. I got to see Switzerland upset the Czech team, and part of Finland's 6-0 romp over Italy. In a possibly boneheaded move of my own, I set my DVR to record all seven hours of today's hockey on MSNBC, so I can watch it later tonight with my own homemade "tape delay." It's better than what NBC is showing in prime time. The only event on tonight's schedule that I want to see is the snowboardcross. I can live without the mens' figure skating finals, even with Johnny Weir's eccentricities. I just have to find a way to compress seven hours of hockey into three hours, so I'm not up all night.

I still remember the Nagano hockey tournament with fondness. CBS showed those games live as well, but with the time difference in Japan, they aired after midnight in the US. For several nights during the Games, I took a nap in the evening, then woke up to watch hockey overnight. I went back to bed around 5 AM and got a few more hours' sleep before going to work. Oh, to be 24 again and have that kind of energy....

Sunday, February 12, 2006

BLIZZARD 2006!!!!

I've seen three blizzards in the past four years in New York. Why is it that they've all happened on weekends? I'd like to get a day off work for snow just once. In 2003 there was a blizzard over President's Day weekend. Last January we had a big snowstorm on a Saturday afternoon. And this time the snow started on Saturday night and continued into Sunday morning. We were supposed to get about a foot of snow in the city. Instead, at noon the measured snowfall in Central Park was 22.6 inches, the second-highest amount of snow ever. I went for a walk this afternoon and took my camera along. I walked over to Carl Schurz Park and saw lots of kids sledding and making snowmen, and took some serene pictures of the park and Gracie Mansion. You can see my photos in this Flickr set.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cat Detective Fred

Gothamist has the best roundup of the different versions of the story of Fred, the undercover cat for the Brooklyn DA's office. It's a fluff story (pun most definitely intended) about a serious crime: a Brooklyn man who had little veterinary training and certainly was no doctor posed as a veterinarian and made house calls for about seven years. He got caught when one of his clients thought his sick and wounded dog hadn't been properly cared for and went to the police. Fred the cat, a former stray, got involved in the sting operation that finally nabbed the guy. Now he's a guest of the DA's office and available for future detective work. Make sure to check the links to the NY Times' story and photos. I think they've got the best version.

I'd like to see more of Fred. I think he could investigate the disappearance of many catnip mice in my apartment over the years.

Monday, February 06, 2006

One more thing

The past month has been one of the worst of my life. My marriage ended, one of my cats died, and to top it off I had a nasty cold. But the one constant throughout has been the Pittsburgh Steelers' run to a championship. The thought that if I could just get through the week I'd have another Steelers game to watch kept me going and gave me a reason to be happy, even if everything else was going to hell. So I'd like to thank the Steelers not just for winning the Super Bowl, but for giving me something to be really blissfully happy about for the past month.

And, to top things off today, #22 Georgetown rallied to beat #9 Pitt 61-58. The previous big win for the Hoyas was over Duke the day before the AFC championship game, so I thought today's win was a good omen. Now the big dance is just a month away....


It's two hours later, and I'm still giddy. I'm also exhausted, hoarse, and just plain drained from watching that game. The score might have been 21-10, but it was a much closer game than the score indicates, or at least it felt that way. I nearly had a few heart attacks, and during the 3rd quarter and into the 4th I had to go to the kitchen to wash dishes, I was so worked up. By coincidence or superstition or whatever, while I was working, the Steelers started turning the game around. When I ran out of things to wash, I had to go back to watching the game, and then the Seahawks made it a little more interesting. It was not a pretty game to watch, and the Steelers nearly gave it up a few times, but it doesn't matter.


When the game was over, I screamed at the top of my lungs (my neighbors must think a maniac lives here) and then played the "Steelers Polka" and danced around the living room. I waved my Terrible Towel, shouted "Go Steelers!" at some passing fans, and made some celebratory phone calls to friends and family. I know *I* didn't win a championship tonight, but it's a fantastic feeling to watch my team win one. That's why I'm a fan. That's what it's all about.

I'm beyond happy that Hines Ward was the MVP. This guy was drafted the same year as Troy Edwards, only six rounds later, and despite outplaying Edwards in camp and in games, he couldn't get on the field for his first two seasons. Finally the team realized that Edwards was a bust and Ward was the real deal, and he became the big-game receiver the team had needed. Throughout his career, he's exemplified the Steeler way of playing the game. He's not flashy or brash, he just gets the job done, and in spectacular fashion.

Antwaan Randle El had that one great touchdown pass, and a few other excellent plays, but I'm surprised that nothing else came out of his nasty tackle in the first half. I thought for sure he was coming off the field on a stretcher, but not only did he get back up, he came back to make that unbelieveable touchdown pass on the run to Hines Ward. I hope the team can re-sign him, but I won't be the least bit surprised if he goes to another team. That's OK, we can always find playmakers. Same goes for Ken Whisenhunt, the offensive coordinator, who is likely to become the head coach for the Oakland Raiders. I thought Mike Mularkey's departure was a bad omen, but Whisenhunt came in and turned out to be a great offensive mind. Bill Cowher has a great record with assistants, so I'm sure we'll do OK if Whisenhunt leaves.

Speaking of Bill Cowher, I think this Super Bowl championship punches his ticket to Canton. 14 years coaching the Steelers, six AFC championship games, two Super Bowl appearances, and one title (and maybe more with this team... do I dare to dream?). He's got everything on his resume that he should need to make the Hall of Fame when he retires. And he's not done yet. The guy is only in his 40s and is now set for life with the Steelers. He could tank the next five seasons and he'll keep his job and I'll support that. He's won the big game. That's all he needed.

I can't believe that Ben Roethlisberger is not even 24 years old and he's taken the Steelers to a Super Bowl championship. Unbelieveable. I was excited when they drafted him two years ago, knowing even then that he was going to be a special player. But I had NO idea that he'd be this good this soon. He's got a long career ahead of him, and I hope it includes a few more titles for the Steelers. The AFC is a tough conference, and he's got some great quarterbacks for company -- Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Carson Palmer among them -- but I like his chances.

Finally, Jerome Bettis retires from pro football as a champion. What an amazing ending to what was already a Hall of Fame career. More than anyone else on the team, Jerome Bettis has been THE Steeler for ten seasons. Just a great, great guy and a fabulous football player. Congratulations, Jerome, and thanks for all those wonderful years and pounding runs through the line.

I have no idea what to do next. I'm definitely wearing my Steelers cap to work tomorrow, and I might just wear my Terrible Towel like a cape. Even now (12:35 AM), it's still draped over my shoulder. As with every year, I'm sad that the football season is over, but what a great way to go out. The party at my house was a hit again this year. James' chili was just as good, if not better, than last year, and our homemade pierogies got rave reviews. I think I scared some of my guests to the point that they'll never watch football with me again, but at least I've given them some great stories to tell their friends. I have to try to go to sleep now, but I don't think I'll be sleeping too much. I'm still keyed up. What a great, great night.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Why do I care so much about this team?

I just realized that I'm going to be a complete mess by the kickoff of Super Bowl XL on Sunday. I'm so excited already, I may not even be able to watch the game. Part of me wishes that I could just wake up on Monday morning and know the outcome, just so I can get past my own anxiety. This party ought to be interesting.

I've waited ten years to see my team back in the Super Bowl. It's been 26 years since they last won a championship, so long ago that I barely remember it and certainly didn't appreciate it at the time. I know that it's just a game, that whether Pittsburgh wins or loses my life won't change on Monday morning. I'll be the same person I am now because the team isn't playing this game for me. But it doesn't matter. When I see the Steelers black and gold, whether it's on a player's uniform, a fan's jacket, or a team tchotchke at home, it stirs a feeling inside me. It's a kind of love, irrational, intoxicating, and exhilarating. I was raised a Steelers fan, and my love for the team stuck with me throughout my childhood and into adulthood, even in the lean years when the team was awful. I know that I'm cheering for a uniform and a color scheme, not for players or coaches. I know that it's absurd to care this much about a bunch of millionaires playing a game. It doesn't matter. The Pittsburgh Steelers are MY team. They have always been my team, and they will always be my team. Even if they lose 10 games a year for the next 20 years, I will always love this team. Women, friends, jobs: they all come and go, but the Steelers will always be my team.