Tuesday, July 31, 2007

my first sick day in years

I've had a slight cold for a few days. It's nothing severe, mostly just a sore throat and a few other minor symptoms. Since I wasn't feeling that bad, I went out and had a little too much fun this past weekend. On Friday, I went to a Mets game with some people from work and one of our vendors. We had field box seats behind the visitors' dugout, and I got some close-up photos of batters in mid-swing when I wasn't enjoying free food and beer courtesy of our vendor friend. I also got a high-five from Mr. Met, and a photo of myself next to the Mets' 1986 World Series trophy. I feel like a traitor to my hometown Pirates, though. On Saturday night, I went to an all-you-can-drink birthday party at a bar in my neighborhood. I woke up on Sunday morning with my throat feeling worse, but that didn't stop me from taking care of the errands I had to run that day. That evening, when my friends came over to watch TV, I ended up hoarse from talking and coughing. And my eyes were red from me over-wearing my contacts. I'm a bit of a hypochondriac, so I thought for a few minutes that I might have pink eye. I collapsed into bed right after they left.

So on Monday morning I sounded and looked terrible. I didn't actually feel that bad, but I had a feeling I should stay home from work. I'd already taken the morning off to get my cable TV fixed, so I called work and took the rest of the day off. I haven't called in sick in over two years. There goes my streak. Since I wasn't that sick, it was even more miserable than usual to be at home. There's nothing on TV. I watched part of "The Towering Inferno" and went for a walk later in the afternoon. I'm back at work today. My eyes look and feel much better, my voice is coming back, and the cold is nearly gone. But mostly I'm just glad to be back in the office. I'm a social person, and I can't stand being home alone for that long. Having broken my no-sick-day streak, I think I'll be a little quicker to call in sick the next time I have a bad cold. I've come to work on days when I really should have stayed home. No one wants to hear or see me when I'm that sick.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This is beyond ridiculous

The 2007 Tour de France is beginning to make the 1998 debacle look like a smashing success. Alexandre Vinokourov was expelled from the Tour earlier this week for a positive drug test. Michael Rasmussen had been leading the Tour and expected to win, until the news got out that he'd missed two mandatory drug tests earlier in the year. So this afternoon, his team dropped him from the race.

I love cycling and the Tour, but the events this week strain what little credibility this race has left. Whoever ends up on the podium in Paris on Sunday will not have earned their victory. The race organizers should just cancel the rest of the race and spend the next eleven months working on a new way to run their event. Maybe they should increase the length of drug-related suspensions from two to four years. A positive drug test would mean the end of many racers' careers. Otherwise, just let riders take whatever they want, and forget about testing. Let the Tour be about who's got the best medical staff and HGH, and not who can ride the fastest up a HC mountain.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Things that I think are awesome

1500 prison inmates rehearsing their version of "Thriller."

Things I just don't "get"

I like to think I've got a good sense of humor. I'm highbrow and lowbrow: I like sophisticated British comedy, but I also like a good poop joke. A man getting hit in the groin is never not funny. However, sometimes there are popular memes that everyone seems to adore, but I just don't understand. Here, then, are a few of those items. I defy anyone to explain to me how and why these things are funny.


I should probably find this one hysterical. It's funny pictures of cats, with captions that have misspelled words in them. But I'm just confused. Why do the captions have to be misspelled? Why are people appropriating this format for so many other things? I feel left out and unpopular, like high school.

The Dugout

Nearly everyone on Deadspin loves this site. It's baseball players engaging in imaginary IM chats. Everyone gets a funny screen name, and recurring characters have their own unmistakable voices. Maybe it's because I'm not a huge baseball fan, but I hardly ever crack so much as a smile when I'm reading these posts.

Sacha Baron Cohen and "Borat"

Yes, I'm way behind on this one. I avoided seeing the movie in theaters last fall, but I finally saw it on video in March. It had a few laughs, but for most of the movie I just wondered what everyone else thought was so incredibly funny about it. By extension, I don't get Sacha Baron Cohen either. Talladega Nights wasn't that good a movie, but he was by far the least funny character in it. Any time he was on the screen I couldn't wait for him to get off it and move on to something else. I tried watching Da Ali G Show on HBO a few years ago, and I just didn't like it. Forgive me if I pass on the Bruno movie when it comes out.

I know, it's a big world, and to each his own. I've tried to get my friends to watch "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" with no success.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Saturday's beer tasting/cookout

I went to another beer tasting party at a friend's house in Queens this past Saturday. I went to one last September, and this one was the same format, but with different beers and food. This time I stayed until we ran out of beer, which happened around 10 PM, so I got to try 19 different beers. I don't remember most of the beers, though there was a double IPA that was extremely bitter and a sour, fruity beer that stands out in my memory. I took photos of each bottle as we drank it, and after a few shots I figured out that it made more sense to photograph the beer bottle next to my glass of beer. I also got to meet my friends' six-month-old son, who was adorably cute even when he was drooling (which was most of the time, as he's teething). For the food, the hosts went with a French theme, though I don't remember now what that had to do with chicken and beef kabobs, grilled shrimp, corn on the cob, fresh vegetables, and homemade ice cream. The food and liberal doses of water kept me from getting beyond a mild buzz, which was the idea. As with a wine tasting, you don't want to get drunk on beer that you're drinking for the purpose of tasting the nuances of flavor. One of my friends hadn't been to a beer tasting before, and he didn't listen when we told him to take it easy. He e-mailed us on Sunday morning with the message "Worst. Hangover. Ever."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

new music purchases

I did some CD shopping on my way home from work Monday night. I meant to just buy the new Velvet Revolver album, Libertad, but as usual I came home with some other albums as well.

The Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street. I can't believe I didn't own this one already.

Matthew Sweet: Girlfriend. The title track is one of my favorite songs in Guitar Hero II, and the rest of the album is catchy too. Someone told me all the songs are about breakups. That would have been useful information 18 months ago when I was looking for alternatives to Blood On The Tracks.

Ratt: Out Of The Cellar. It was $7. And "Round and Round" is a great song.

The White Stripes: Icky Thump. This album is so good it makes me wish I'd started listening to the White Stripes years ago. I've listened to it twice already, and I'm sure I'll play it again this week sometime. I need to get the rest of their catalog now.

Also, while I was at home last week working on the carpet in my mom's room, my brother and I took turns with the musical selections. I played two of the pieces from one of my concerts this past March, and he played Michael Torke's One. Torke is a modern composer, and I typically don't enjoy new compositions in classical music forms. But the five pieces on One, all named for colors, are amazing. I had to get the album as soon as I heard it. Lucky for me, emusic.com had it in MP3 format. Between listening to this album and the White Stripes, I'm way behind on podcasts.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Who trashed my desk?

It's my first day back at work after a week off, and truth be told, I'd rather be anywhere else but here. When I walked back to my cubicle, I found my desk had been messed up more than usual: the LCD monitor, my speakers, my coffee mugs and French press had been knocked over, and some papers were out of order. I usually blame the cleaning staff when this happens. I've seen the late-night cleaning ladies sit at our little conference table and talk, and according to the guy in my department who works evenings, they will also sit at our desks and use the phones. There was nothing wrong with my desk that couldn't be fixed in thirty seconds, but that's not really the point. This is my workspace. I have it arranged the way I like it. I don't want anyone else sitting here and screwing it up.

I think I need some coffee.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

wrapping up a trip home

I did take a walk on Monday afternoon. I walked over to my old middle school, then to Johnstown's world-famous Inclined Plane. Along the way, I took photos of some of my old hangouts and got some good shots of the downtown area.

Monday night's orchestra rehearsal was my first time playing with the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra in about 15 years. As a ringer, I would have been happy to sit anywhere they wanted to put me, and they put me on the 3rd stand on the outside. I've never sat that close to the conductor before (at least in that orchestra), and for the first 20 minutes I fully expected someone to come up, tap me on the shoulder, and tell me my services were not needed. But that didn't happen, and I survived what amounted to a 2 1/2 hour exercise in sight-reading. I think I'd seen two or three out of the 15 or so pieces in the folder before. One of the pieces was a medley of Irving Berlin songs featuring an a capella group with my former middle school music teacher singing soprano. I hadn't seen her in ages either. In fact, there were many people in the orchestra I hadn't seen for years, so it was a bit of a reunion for me.

On Tuesday we ran some errands and that evening, my mother, brother, and I tag-teamed to make dinner: poached flounder, peas, and corn on the cob. OK, my brother did most of the work. I think my contribution amounted to chopping parsley and setting the table. But it was delicious.

Wednesday saw us working on home improvement. Over the past few years my mother has been ripping out the ancient wall-to-wall carpeting in the house and exposing the hardwood floors. Before we arrived she had started pulling up the carpet in her bedroom. The three of us spent about two hours moving furniture, ripping up and cutting carpet, pulling out tacks and nails, and cleaning up the disintegrated fabric underneath. I'm not a big fan of home repair like that, but there was something satisfying in tearing up the carpet and seeing what was beneath it.

That night, the concert went better than I'd thought. We'd gotten a call in the afternoon that the concert had been moved from the outdoor location in the downtown baseball stadium to the indoor site, the War Memorial arena a few blocks away. The local National Guard unit had gone to the trouble of moving the cannons, so we had actual howitzers for Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. And from my seat, I had a clear view of the cannons when they fired during the climax of the piece. I didn't drop my viola (the conductor had warned us about that) but the yellow flash and the sound of the blast did make me jump a little. The smoke drifting back into the arena had an adverse effect on the breathing for the wind and brass players, and made my eyes water. Things like that don't get taken into account when planning concerts. We got our stuff packed up and made it outside in time to see most of the local fireworks display.

So it was a fun trip home. Next year, though, I think I'll stay in New York and invite my family to come here. Nothing beats the fireworks in New York.

Monday, July 02, 2007

my vacation is off to a great start

I'm at home in Johnstown, PA, this week for the 4th of July. My mother, my brother, and I are all playing in the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra's holiday concert on Wednesday evening. I don't think the three of us have ever played in the same concert before.

I spent Sunday visiting some friends in Pittsburgh that I hadn't seen in a few years. On my way home, my mother and I drove across downtown and I remembered how much I love visiting Pittsburgh. I need to get back there more often. Now that I've seen how easy (and cheap) it is to get there on jetBlue, I'll have to fly in again.

It's been almost a decade since I came home for a visit in a month other than December. I'm sitting on my back porch with my laptop, the sun is out in a clear blue sky, and the temperature is in the 60s. I love the city, but I'm enjoying the hell out of this. I may go for a walk after lunch to see how the old neighborhood looks when it isn't covered in snow.