Saturday, December 31, 2005

Bye Bye, 2005

2005 Is Shown The Door By I Am A BugWelcome to another New Year's Eve: in this case, the rainy, cold, windy ass end of a rather...shall we say, dramatic 2005, and hopefully the start of a far more agreeable 2006.

Granted, a more sedate and calm new year free of financial surprises might portend a less vitriolic and/or miserable blog, I think I'll take that trade, thank you very much.

Aside from yesterday and today's relative business, the last week has been surprisingly calm at work. The day after Christmas turned into our best day-after we've had in the new location, with a sales figure more in line with the run-up to Christmas than the wind-down afterwards. From there, it was almost immediately back to normal business: a rather curious departure from last year's holiday season, where it was the week after Christmas that saved our winter storm-stalled momentum. We also managed to nail that half-million mark for the first time since we left Great Lakes Mall in 1997: a milestone that, if nothing else, tells us that we are doing something right in this Best Buy/Wal-Mart world.

Alright, without further ado, I Am A Bug presents a nice one-stop recap of the highlights and low tides of 2005 ...


Our first run-in with the infamous Inspector Scene in November 2004 is finally resolved with some slapdash hammering of wooden slats into the downstairs bathroom wall, immobilizing it and allowing the door to said area to close correctly at last (this repair lasts maybe three months).

Counterbalancing this, our ex-landlord kindly sues us for leaving our previous lease six months before it expired, despite our best efforts to resolve this matter with in advance of the move. Looking back on this from a year later, this kind of started the ball rolling right then and there.


January is the month that nothing happens in my business, but February is when all of the big tour/album news starts to fly fast and furious. As a result, there was much news of varying activities from many of my favorite artists this month. U2 announce a Cleveland show waaay early on, but my attendance this time was just not in the cards. The same is true with Nine Inch Nails, who announced a new album and tour as well. Bruce Springsteen came back from Limbo to announce Devils & Dust, which becomes one of my faves of the year. I then just about leap for joy when I read that The Cocteau Twins have reformed to play the Coachella Music Festival. However, a few days later it becomes apparent that no one had asked singer Elizabeth Fraser what she thought of this idea, and the whole thing fell apart before the good news had even started to sink in. Dead Can Dance also reformed for a tour, but there was to be no Cleveland date. Bugger.

On another musical note, I start writing what became a weekly column for 45RPM, a weblog run by my friend and ex-Record Den co-worker Mike Beaumont.


Without exaggeration, the snowiest freakin' winter in Northeast Ohio history continues unabated.

Thanks to the kindness of a regular customer at the store, Sarah and I head downtown to see Duran Duran and VHS Or Beta (the only concert we will see this year ... we just didn't know it then).

In an ominous sign of Things To Come, my car develops a rather expensive problem with the cooling system that requires immediate attention.


I get pretty damn sick at the beginning of the month: sick like I haven't been in years, really. Hell, I can't even think of the last time I called in sick to work, it was that nasty.

Spring joyously arrives a couple of weeks later and finally ends a terrible, endless winter.

A second car repair job in a month (as well as a couple of rather unpleasantly big heating bills) leaves me temporarily poleaxed financially.


I get an unannounced raise at work, which helps a bit to catch up with my car repair woes.

I also get to revisit my childhood one last time as Revenge Of The Sith finally comes out, which at once ends 28 years of being a drooling Star Wars nerd and reveals Darth Vader to be a complete rube with a hardon. Sad.


Life is ever-so-briefly Good as the weather is wonderful and I have no worries with money.

I am very pleasantly surprised that not only do I greatly enjoy War Of The Worlds, but that having Tom Cruise (in the midst of his public Cool Meltdown) as the lead character doesn't detract from the experience one iota.

Then, in the shocker of all shockers for the year, Pink Floyd announce that they will re-unite to play the Live 8 concert in London. With Roger Waters. Holyshit.


Following nineteen years of very public acrimony, David Gilmour and Roger Waters not only deign to be on the same stage as each other, but they smile and wrap arms around each other's shoulders during the group bow at the end of Pink Floyd's fucking amazing 23-minute reunion set. I am geeked up to an extent unseen since at least the summer of 1995, if not 1994. It's not a pretty sight.

From this high, it's only a few weeks until things head rapidly for rock-bottom. The tailspin that characterizes the second half of 2005 gets going at the end of the month: while trying to get my car to pass an emissions test, it seems like just about everything that can go wrong does goes wrong, and I get a whopping $1400 repair bill accrued in a matter of days, which pretty much atomizes my recently-rebuilt finances and sets me behind on bills and everything else for the next five months. Wheee.


Following a run of freakishly bad luck, running around, and very nearly losing my cool with people at all stops along the route, my car passes emissions and is back in my possession ... but oh, the cost ...

My friend Dave Lynch came to town for a Sunday and we headed down to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, watched the remake of Dawn Of The Dead, and he spent the night on our new hide-a-bed with Moe as a new best pal and bedmate.

Sarah also switched jobs at Case: in effect, going from working with people to hanging out and playing matchmaker with a gazillion immune-compromised mice. After eighteen years of dealing with other people on my job, I can't say I blame her.


I watch, appalled, as the United States Government goes to Hell in a handbasket in front of the whole world following the near-loss of New Orleans and a wide swath of southern Mississippi following the arrival of Hurricane Katrina (one of, like, five or so to hit the U.S. mainland this year). This is quite possibly the most embarrassing and infuriating moment in a very embarrassing and infuriating last five years. The prospect of three more years left to go under with these jokers in office just fills the heart with dread, doesn't it?

While all that is going on, my lower-left wisdom tooth (the last of these still in my head) begins to ache on a regular basis. Marvy.


Fall shows up and promptly screws up all the wonderful weather we've been having since the end of May, but also brings along the drama and edge-of-your-seat action of the League Championship Series followed by another anticlimactic World Series. While the Cleveland Indians went to hell at exactly the wrong time of the season, at least the Everfucking New York Yankees didn't win the title. In fact, they didn't make it past the second round. Bwaahaha.

Just after mid-month, 45RPM (or, to be more direct, Mike's ISP) gets threatened by the RIAA over the posting of a Strokes track and we pull the plug for the time being.

I also develop a nastier seasonal bout of what feels like bronchitis than I've ever had before, and it turns out later to be a mild form of asthma triggered by allergens (i.e., two cats) and crappy weather. Laid low by this attack, I make a partially successful attempt to quit smoking that lasts a whole month and change. Wheee.

Lastly, our Halloween is spiced up considerably by news of Sarah's bank account/debit card being hacked into and overdrawn by nearly $2000. That's a hell of a lot of online poker. Grrrr.


Winter arrives very early this year, as snow is on the ground a week before Thanksgiving for crissakes. Oh noooo.

I attend a funeral for my friend (and ex-Record Den co-worker) Jim's mother at midmonth.

My toothache recurs in a big way around the same time, and a big day-long spat of cleaning reactivates my asthmatic tendencies in a big way. Fed up with the wheeze and cough that this entails, I make arrangements to visit a doctor at the Lake County Free Clinic and get some free Albuterol for my troubles. I also set up an appointment with my dentist to have my wisdom tooth repaired, and to my surprise, I am directed to an oral surgeon for the procedure instead.

At the end of the month, said tooth was removed at a cost far greater than I'd expected to spend at the dentists' office. Life (or at least the holiday season) looks rather bleak at this point in time.

In a nice break from the unremitting gloom, Inspector Scene does his thing and finds absolutely nothing at all to bitch about for this year. Wooo!


I spend the first week of the month in misery from my tooth removal, which had far more lasting effects of discomfort than any I'd had done previously.

By the time all is finally copacetic once again, I have lapsed back into smoking, largely as a result of additional stress from another unplanned car repair. Luckily, this one goes far more smoothly than the rest, and at considerably less cost, but I am edgy as hell, regardless.

By midmonth, however, following months of worrying, my being able to participate in Christmas finally becomes a reality. Ho ho ho.

Incidentally, you gotta love Northeast Ohio weather sometimes: it snows like a son of a bitch for the entire first half of this month, and then the latter two weeks are full of the kind of weather that wouldn't seem out of place in, oh, April ...

Alright, back to a relaxing evening hanging out with the kitties and possibly tuning into America's Rockin' Eve (or whatever they call it these days) in morbid curiosity later on this evening. In case you haven't heard, they are planning on wheeling out dear old Dick Clark at some point during tonight's festivities. My money is on Dick's return to the public eye being previously-taped in case he should ask Ryan Seacrest for a handful of tapioca pudding and a blankee. At best, it'll be nice to see Clark still up and about again, if usurped as MC by Seacrest, the ultimate gigglemuppet. At worst, this could be one of those all-time cool bits of trainwreck T.V. that happen only once every few years.

Happy new year to all!

NP Eurythmics Ultimate Collection

Monday, December 26, 2005

Yule Wrap-Up

Please pardon the unintentional pun in the title: once again the hour groweth late and sleep beckons ...

All things considered, this was a nice enough Christmas this year, though the dull gray sky, rainy conditions and residual exhaustion from the last eight days (and these stupid extra keys on my brother's keyboard which keep tripping my hands up) made for a small damper on the day spiritually.

It was pretty hard dragging myself out of bed and into the shower this morning, holiday or not. We got to my parents' house just before 11 A.M. since my mom had to work in the afternoon, and thus we had our gift exchange at a relatively early hour for us (mine is the family that tends to do these things hours after most people seem to, on average).

Some highlights of the day's haul: Sarah gave me some gift cards to Borders and Kohls for books and clothes (yay!) which I will be utilizing in short order. I also scored some cool geek stuff from my boss in the form of Japanese editions of a few Pink Floyd CDs that I've been coveting for months. A real nice surprise from my friend Dave was a 2-DVD-R set of the entire run of Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot. I also recieved some books that have been on my amazon wishlist for a while including The New York Times Guide To Essential Knowledge: A Desk Reference For The Curious Mind (hey, sounds like me!), Ben Fong-Torres' The Hits Just Keep On Coming: The History Of Top 40 Radio, and Wide Angle (a book of National Geographic photography).

Most of my wishlist this year was composed of DVD's, and I turned up a nice handful in the form of Field Of Dreams, The Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 3, the seventh season of The Simpsons, and the two-DVD edition of Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

Lastly, I got another bundle of white socks. Rawk. It's kind of funny now to think that when I was a kid, opening boxes containing socks and clothes on Christmas morning was usually a drag, yet as an adult, these very things make me as happy as getting new Star Wars action figures did twenty-five years ago.

The big Christmas lesson to be learned for next year: I must go to greater lengths to avoid doubling up on things, perhaps even creating separate wishlists for different people. It wasn't a disaster: I was only given a couple of doubled-up DVDs from different people that I'll have to figure out a way to trade in without reciepts (I think I might re-gift one to a couple of friends, come to think of it), and I wound up doubling up on a gift for my mom with my sister since she bought the same item from my mother's amazon wishlist that I did from work. Ooops.

One double gift that did work out, however, falls into the super geek realm as I received the same making of The Dark Side Of The Moon book from my brother as my next-doo neighbor Steve, though in differing editions (one hardcover and one advance review copy of some kind in softcover), which is just ducky with me since I collect this kind of stuff (I do, after all, have all three editions of the Storm Thorgerson Floyd artwork collection Mind Over Matter).

Alright, my next goal is to head to bed and sleep for about, oh, ten hours or so, which is something I haven't been able to do in a couple of weeks now. Happy boxing day.

NP Various Artists The Narada Nutcracker

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

At last, the day that makes the last few weeks (if not months) worth the slog.

I am so tired right now that when scanning the news headlines a few moments ago, I seriously thought for a surreal moment that the new Pope had just asked the world to be "Pacemakers" instead of "Peacemakers." If nothing else, that made for a seriously cool "HUH??" moment.

Anyway, just taking a moment to wish all who look in here a wonderful Christmas. Despite the utter lack of snow on thr ground, I'm off to a pretty good start, and I get two days off in a row (including the dreaded Day After! yaaaaay!) thanks to an intense -- if rather blurry and indistinct -- week at work. We kicked some serious ass this week on the sales front ever since last weekend, and Friday was the biggest sales day we've had in our current location to date. I've also worked 81.5 hours since last Thursday and am currently feeling like seriously burnt toast, so I'll leave this post at that and get some sleep since we need to be at the 'rents in about 9 hours for the family gift exchange followed by a loooong day of lounging around. I'd have it no other way.

More on this day later on. I crash now.

NP A.D. & The M.T.'s - "The 8 Days Of Hanukah" (an irreverent little gem from a locally-released holiday compilation that is pretty much utter crap otherwise)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

This Post Has Nothing Whatsoever To Do With Canada

It feels weird noting that today is the first day of winter when we've had one of the snowiest Decembers in recent memory thus far. Then again, it's either feast or famine that way in this part of the U.S., it seems.

A few topics to cover before I head downstairs to watch a DVD with a bowl of chicken soup and some saltines ...

OK, I think it's official: David Gilmour hates me ... or maybe he thinks I smell.

See, it's not enough that my hero's first freakin' solo tour in 22 years does a nice looooong wide arc around my environs (and plays in venues so small in size that even if I were insane enough to truck off to Chicago to see him play, I would get cornholed on the tickets themselves), it also appears that he is terrified of somehow competing with himself, which is about the only reason that comes to mind for the news I heard at work today.

Hopeless fanboys like me nearly wet ourselves with joy a couple of months ago when Pink Floyd's eternally-delayed DVD release of Pulse was finally slated for release on December 20. Well, that news was too good to be true, we learned a few weeks ago, when the street date was pushed back to January 17, 2006.

Well, I found out earlier today that the January 17 date was also too good to be true, since the fucking thing has now been shoved into distribution Limbo once again: one source tells me that the title has been outright "cancelled," while now lists a release date on January 1, 2010 (I'm not sure which is worse). AARRRGH!!


I'm nearly finished Christmas shopping ... just need to take care of some work friends and my siblings before I'm finally done. While scoping out some ideas, I bought a set of multi-colored "icicle lights" for the office, though I need to stop at the store sometime to pick up some nails and an extension cord so I can put them up as thumbtacks and reinforced packing tape didn't hold them up very long.


The Christmas tree went up on Sunday (along with a few lights in the window), and I'm now wondering if I'm going to bother with this again next year as Moe has been a complete butthead ever since. Almost immediately, he was attempting to climb/eat the tree while hidden underneath it, necessitating the placement of two Scat Mats on top of the tree skirt.

Moe quickly figured out a way to move these mats aside without shocking himself, of course, so I am at a loss as to how to proceed from there. Worse, it looks like he's also attempting to scale the tree from the outside, judging by the flattened bottom branches and a couple of bowed-downwards metal tree limbs. Grrrr.


The dry and cold conditions Weather Underground had been calling for last weekend never materialized, as we've been snowed on quite a bit instead. Here's hoping that they also called this weekend's forecast wrong as well: temperatures in the low 40s and rain! On Christmas! UGGGH!


Finally, some far happier news: after a slow start, we've been kicking some ass lately at the store. We finally reached the pace of sales we've been worried about all month long on Monday, and started padding our lead with a very good day today. Our increased pace should start getting noticeably more intense tomorrow night, followed by all-out mayhem on Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning.

Alright, time to relax a bit before facing the hordes again tomorrow. 'Night!

Monday, December 19, 2005


Last week, my inner fanboy was sent into a tizzy with the announcement of a forthcoming new album and a possible U.S. tour from none other than David Gilmour. Squeeeeeeeeeee!!!

A quick break: If you have to ask who David Gilmour is, then get off my blog. Now.

Anyway, the above news was tempered with disappointment: as of today, it looks like I don't need to worry about how I'm going to afford concert tickets after all ...

Pink Floyd's Gilmour plans rare US/Canada tour

By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Pink Floyd fans waiting in vain for the band to reunite for a tour will have to make do with the next best thing: the first solo trek in more than 20 years by singer/guitarist David Gilmour.

A week after he announced plans to tour Europe in March, Gilmour on Monday said he would play 10 shows in five North American cities, beginning on April 4 with a two-night stand at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

The trek will also take him to Toronto (April 9-10, Massey Hall), Chicago (April 12-13, Rosemont Theater), Oakland, Calif. (April 16-17, Paramount Theater), and Los Angeles (April 19, Kodak Theater; April 20, Gibson Amphitheater).

Gilmour, 59, will be touring in support of his upcoming album, On An Island, a follow-up to his second solo release About Face, which came out in 1984, the last time he toured without Pink Floyd.

The new set is due in U.S. stores on March 7 via Columbia Records. The title track boasts guest vocals from David Crosby and Graham Nash. Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright, Roxy Music lead guitarist Phil Manzanera, Robert Wyatt and Jools Holland also appear on the album.

Pink Floyd's reunion with estranged founder Roger Waters to play the Live 8 charity concert in London last July raised hopes that the band would hit the road for the first time since 1994. But Gilmour said in a statement, "I'm rather hoping that with this tour announcement people will believe me when I say, honestly, this is the only band I plan to tour with!"

The European trek, meanwhile, begins on March 10 in the German city of Dortmund -- four days after he turns 60 -- and proceeds through Hamburg, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Milan and Rome, before ending on May 29-30 with a sold-out two-night stand at London's Royal Albert Hall.


Bugger. Ah well, thank goodness for the internet: at least I can download the shows a few hours later. Muahahahaha.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Tide Is Turning

These are not Record Den shoppers, nor is this Record DenIt was a pretty busy day today at the store: the kind of busy that creeps up on you when your attention is elsewhere.

Even though we haven't worked a Christmas season in a mall setting since doing that hellish daily commute to Great Northern Mall at the end of 1997, the kind of unending, staggering volume of people and sales you get in a mall environment is very hard to forget (especially when you've done ten years of these). In our strip mall location, however, we are never continuously beseiged by a store full of shoppers like we were back then, so for us it never feels at this time of year like we are doing the kind of figures we should be doing. That said, when I think back on today and remember all the times I was updating sales and orders or hunting down stock in the back room and constantly being interrupted by the phone, or breaking off to ring up a sale, or answer a question from a customer, I realize that we were, in fact, kicking some butt ... just in a far less overwhelming manner than I am still accustomed to after all these years away from the mall-shopping throngs.

In short, with nearly every customer leaving the store after buying something (often a handful of somethings), there is now a glimmer of hope that we might make the month of December after all. Until today, we were running far enough behind the pace of December 2004 that it was beginning to look like we might not be able to catch up. Twenty-four hours later, having solidly beaten the comparable Saturday last year, we're still not completely back on pace, but our lag has been cut down considerably.

Brightening spirits a little more is that due to the way the calendar falls this year, we are going to get a longer run-up to the holiday than last year, and I'd bet we are going to get absolutely slammed the last three full days of sales (starting on the 21st). Also, we lost a few of the biggest potential sales days last season to crippling snow storms (what ended up saving our month last year was the week after Christmas), and meeting the figures of those rotten days should be a walk in the park as long as the weather (currently cold and very dry) holds up.

On that note, according to the fine folks at Weather Underground, we're starting to look rather iffy for a white Christmas ...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Whoop-Dee-Doo And Dickory Dock

It's been raining more than snowing the last 24 hours, and the combination of all the re-frozen, half-melted snow and the roiling gray sky reminds me more of yucky mid-January than mid-December. Despite the blah conditions, though, it is with some trepidation that I have observed this evening that things are looking the tiniest bit up lately.

If there has been one overriding theme in my personal posts to this blog over the last six months, it seems to be that "planning is pointless": it seems that every time I have announced plans or forecasts for work/money/the car/et cetera, things have spiralled out of control quickly afterwards. Thus, I feel slightly foolish and maybe even a bit ballsy tonight since I am writing about feeling well and being in a pretty good mood, all things considered.

Now, don't get me wrong: life is far from a bowl of cherries here, but it really does feel somehow like the worst of 2005 is finally past as even the bad news seems tempered with a ray or two of sunshine. Firstly, Sarah's bank account woes remain unresolved as I type this, though she has managed to get another account going and is in the process of getting all of this crap behind her. I'm still winding my way through finally catching up with my debts, and am really fucking tired of running in place financially as a result, yet the light is now truly visible at the end of the tunnel in that department at last. Lastly, we seem to be in for a rather damp squib of a December at work as we have fallen nearly 20% off-pace from last December's figures as of today, though starting tomorrow anything goes as our sales should finally start to break out.

About the only thing that has me a bit pissy right now is 100% my own fault: I've relapsed into smoking over the last week or two. I'll of course blame this on a combination of my latest car troubles, my ongoing 2005 fiscal crisis, and the lingering discomfort of my wisdom tooth extraction, but it really boils down to me being a weak little dweeb when things were bleak. A week later, I have a car that works fine, an extraction site nearly fully healed over, I can eat whatever I want in a normal fashion, I am getting close to not being behind on my finances ... and I have to quit cigarattes all over again. Fuckin' duhhh ...

All that aside, my own mood has also been lifted immeasurably the past few days by the realization that I will be able to do Christmas shopping this year after all. I've been pretty upset about this over the last few weeks, particularly as things seemed to be accelerating downhill towards the end of November. But I found to my surprise last weekend that I would actually be able to pull off a limited Christmas shopping spree, and I was knocked off about half of my shopping list in one-fell swoop late last night (all hail The next step in me getting as absurdly Christmassy as I always get will be stringing up some lights and dragging out the tree this weekend (followed by keeping Moe out of the damn thing for the two weeks or so it takes before I get fed up with his mischief and take it down for another year, heh heh).

NP Various Artists Merry Mixmas: Christmas Classics Remixed

Thursday, December 08, 2005

December 8, 1980

I was 11 years old on December 8, 1980. I don't really have much of any memory of John Lennon's death as it happened. I heard about it at school, certainly, but I simply wasn't really into music at the time beyond what happened to be on the radio at home or in the car.

I do remember that one of my best friends at the time was a huge Beatles fan, and he played his 45s of "Starting Over" and "Woman" a hell of a lot in the months after that day (then again, we also wore out a copy of the Stars On 45 single a year later, so make of that what you will). I also clearly remember reading a Time magazine cover story about it at my Grandmother's house a few weeks later while we were visiting for Christmas. I probably felt like it was a real shame that one of the Beatles was dead, but didn't give it much thought beyond that.

Needless to say, it took years for the enormity of that day to sink in. It probably wasn't until a bunch of us from work went to go see Imagine: John Lennon when it came out in November of 1988 that the real impact of that day was made clear. The movie, like its subject, was alternately joyous, frustrating, funny, flawed and amazingly touching: a beautiful tribute to John's life within and outside of the Fab Four.

This tribute comes at a price, however: the scenes at the end of Imagine that deal with the events of December 8 and the emotional aftermath in New York City remain almost impossible to watch without feeling overwhelmed with sadness or rage.

What an incredibly sad and senseless loss.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Attempted Rimjob (or: More Fun At Conrad's Good Year)

A pair of phat rims, chillin'

Hey, kids! Ready for some more "SUDDEN CAR REPAIR!!! OH NOES!!!" stories?

Well, tough shit. Neither was I.

Early yesterday afternoon, I walked briskly to my car, jumped into the driver's seat, started the engine and drove about fifty feet or so before I realized something has gone rather terribly wrong with my passenger-side front tire. Upon investigation in the parking lot, I saw to my surprise that I had spent the last half-minute of driving on my tire rim: the rubber itself was collapsed around said rim and flopping about uselessly. I quickly reversed back into my parking slot and then headed inside to call for a tow.

To answer the questions before they leave your lips (as they have with everyone else's), there was no option of trying to put on the spare at this time. First off, our parking lot was largely encased in a sheet of ice and I felt no great desire to see how the manufacturer-supplied jack mechanism would hold up on that surface. Even if I had felt daring enough to attempt this stunt, the spare tire, jack and tire iron are out of my reach for the time being as the trunk lock on this car has been busted since about 2002, and perhaps earlier.

Secondly, I currently have no AAA coverage. Sometime later that night, I thought of that option and pulled out an outdated membership card from my wallet. I then asked Sarah if we had let our membership slip. She replied that she had renewed her membership, but I had opted to let mine lapse, and saying at the time "Bah, I really can't see a need for it at this time."

Yes indeed, good call, Brainiac ...

Anyway, calling around to towing companies yesterday was a fruitless endeavor: either the tow trucks couldn't get to me on time, or they couldn't reach me when they did arrive in my area (the phone lines here have been annoyingly prone to not working very well when calls that we actually need come through) and subsequently buzzed off to another call somewhere else. Being that Tuesday is a bit of a pressure-cooker day for getting orders done and product tagged and shelved, I was in a time crunch and couldn't wait around until dark for a tow truck, so I had give up the chase quickly and finagle a ride to work a couple hours late from my neighbor (and occasional co-worker) Steve.

With a veritable snowstorm dumping down on the area (thanks for the assist, Mother Nature!) I was up early this next morning to start calling around towing companies again as it is impossible to schedule these things ahead of time. At 11:30, the wrecker arrived and it was a rather suspenseful ride to Conrad's on unplowed roads in a flatbed wrecker with a car chained to the top. I'll take this time to say hats off to the guys who drive those trucks in these kind of shitty conditions: the driver was smoking and chatting relaxedly while I was tensely strapped in my seat, watching the road ahead and hoping this guy wouldn't roll us over or send us skidding into a ditch.

Following this white-knuckle trek through the thickest snowstorm we've had so far this winter, the car and I were left safe and sound at Conrad's Good Year. If you've been keeping up with events in this blog, then you'll recall that Conrad's is the same place that I dropped a fucking shit ton of money on car repairs back at the end of July: the end result of this sent my finances (and the rest of this year) into a tailspin that I am only now starting to see the end of at last.

I should make it clear that going to Conrad's was not a choice I was happy to make for a repair destination: I haven't been entirely sure how much I trusted these guys after seemingly everything that could have went wrong went wrong the last time I was here. However, I couldn't afford a tow to Cal's Marathon in Mentor (my longtime trusted car repair business) and even if that weren't an issue, Cal is nearly impossible to schedule repairs with on short notice.

So, the ideal plan for today was to get the car to Conrad's as early as possible, get a new tire popped on and get the hell out in time for work at 2. That plan went out the window pretty quickly as the manager informed me that it would be a couple of hours before my car could even be looked at, let alone repaired. This wasn't a horrible setback: I'd been formulating a backup plan in case of this happening. Everything I needed to get the important work for today (a couple of orders I needed to place with suppliers in New York and California) was at home in the office, so all I needed to do was get a taxi back to the condo and get to work. I called the taxi dispatcher and was told a ride would be on the scene in about twenty minutes. Rawkin'.

While waiting for the taxi to arrive, of course, my car must have shot to the front of the repair queue. The manager mentioned to me that the car was being looked at as we spoke, and I hurriedly called back the dispatcher to cancel the ride as it looked like I wouldn't be hanging around that long after all. Well, that changed pretty quickly too, as it turned out: I was then told a few minutes later that my car had been inspected, but couldn't be worked on for another couple of hours.

While that alone was enough to get me a wee bit exasperated as I realized I'd have to call the taxi dispatcher again and then re-arrange a ride home, I started to get angry with the manager as we discussed exactly what these guys had in mind for my car. I was not at all surprised at all to be told that the rims on the blown tire were pretty bent up from being briefly driven on (not to mention dragged onto the back of the wrecker), and I told the manager that it didn't matter anyway as I had no intention of replacing the rims if that were the case: a plain ol' new tire would be just fine.

Apparently, this didn't compute with the manager and he told me with palpable incredulity that I needed a new rim since my tire wouldn't match the other tires (he apparently hadn't noticed that one of my other tires already had no fancy rim) and there had to be a new rim on the tire to test the seal of the rubber and blah blah blah: in effect, he was forcing a brand new rim down my throat and asking $230 for the damn thing before even getting to mounting and balancing the damn thing. Oh Jesus, here we go again ...

Ignorance is strength I was going to be paying $230 for a goddamned new tire with a snazzy official Beretta rim when all I needed and wanted was a plain old black steel donut instead. Luckily, a mechanic nearby was one of the guys who had worked on my steering system over the summer and remembered all the hair-pulling and wild tossing about of money from back then and I'll be damned if he didn't steer the manager quickly away from his $230 hustle and down to a simple $75 replacement wheel instead, which is pretty much what I'd had in mind in the first place. It would probably be a few hours or maybe a day before a replacement tire was in the shop, but I was too relieved to care at that point.

Feeling a lot better since it appeared that this business was going to be a minor cash inconvenience and not the dreaded financial coup de grace that would cap off my 2005 with a bang, I called the taxi dispatcher again to re-schedule a ride and was told that all the drivers were backed up thanks to the continuing storm and I'd probably be waiting for an hour and change. I said that was fine and then sat down with an irritated sigh in front of the store's T.V. set, which was being manned by the three older women who were also waiting on their car repairs.

The communal choice as I sat down was the FOX network, which was at the time showing a typically hyper-caffeinated episode of Malcolm In The Middle. I wasn't very pleased with this choice, but let me tell you, Malcolm was fuckin' Masterpiece Theater compared to the inhospitably vicious, soul-sucking moral vacuum that was The Maury Povich Show, which came on immediately afterwards. I had no idea ol' Maury was still peddling this shit on the airwaves, and the unrelenting screaming and bleeped-bickering between the, uh, guests on stage was actually starting to make me miss The Jerry Springer Show. Thankfully, the taxi finally pulled up to the front of the store and I finally got the hell out of there.

A couple of hours later, with the necessary stock orders and sales work finished in the comfort of my home office, Sarah arrived home from work and was preparing to give me a lift to Record Den so that I could at least cover the evening shift when, to my surprise, Conrad's called to inform me that the car was done and I could come pick it up at my convenience. Huzzah! Upon arrival at the store, I was told that the tire was fixable after all, and that they had resealed the rubber to the refinished rim and all was good. I paid the amount, grateful to be mobile again, yet also swearing off Conrad's in the back of my mind (and making a note here for anyone who might be considering using them in the future) for any future non-emergency repair jobs. I was a bit wary of being screwed over after dropping so much cash there over the summertime, but being given the hard sell on a fucking expensive new rim and tire when the old one was still fixable (wow, imagine that!) the whole time pushed me far enough to stick these guys on my shit list. Jerks.

Cal's Marathon, I'm coming home.

NP American Top 40: The Top 100 Songs Of 1977

Friday, December 02, 2005

Nothing But The Tooth

Tooth extraction in the good old days

I had my last wisdom tooth pulled yesterday morning, right on schedule. For whatever reason, this was the first time I had this done under General Anesthesia (which, in itself, is something I haven't been through since childhood), which was administered via I.V. even before I had a shot of novocaine. Looking back from now, if I'd had any idea how very different this experience would be compared to previous extractions, I might have reconsidered on the GA part. In fact, I likely would have: yesterday was pretty fuckin' rough.

Going into this, I felt pretty cocky: yesterday was going to be more of a "last free day off before Christmas" than a sick day. If you've never had a wisdom tooth pulled on novocaine, it's really no big deal at all. In fact, it's really no worse than having a couple of cavities filled. Yes, you'll be sore at times when the pain meds wear off, but you can drive yourself home afterwards and only have to worry about what not to eat for the first day or so and keeping the extraction site clean. Thus, I lined up some bottled water, chicken noodle soup, and a box of saltines to get me through the worst of this, and I had a prescription of hydrocodone that I'd picked up from Walgreen's on Tuesday morning. All systems go and ready to rock, you might say.

Along comes Wednesday morning. It was required that I have someone to drive me home afterwards, so Sarah opted to take the day off and be my medical chauffeur. We got to the offices of Great Lakes Jaw & Implant Surgery just before 8 A.M. and I was brought into an examination room a few minutes later. After a short wait (this guy seems to always be running behind), the place was buzzing with activity as the oral surgeon and two female attendants moved busily around the small room while raising my chair into a weirdly not-quite-uncomfortable position so that my head was tilted dramatically back away from my chest. They couldn't seem to get a vein going inside of my elbow, so I felt a pinprick on the back of my hand and within 30 seconds I was out like a light.

Actually, "out like a light" is kind of a misnomer as I have no memory of even falling asleep, per se. The next thing I recall was waking up suddenly with a very numb left jaw and some distant traumatic half-memory/dream (?) of being under a dentist's drill and signalling "OW THAT HURTS" (I chickened out when given the chance to ask if a drill was used on me during the procedure ... in retrospect, I really don't want to know). Whether that memory was a drug-induced nightmare or not, I was pretty damn out of it and I have hardly any memory at all of writing a check to cover the operation, the trip home, getting in the front door, you name it. I think I was largely doing okay with walking, for what it's worth, though I also remember Sarah giving me a supportive hand at odd times.

The real nightmare, however, began not long after we got back home and I was dazedly surfing the web, checking my e-mail, and replacing the bloody gauze pad in my mouth every 5-15 minutes, waiting for the worst of the bleeding to stop. I popped the first of my prescribed pills and within twenty minutes was starting to feel pretty dangerously queasy. I went to bed quickly and managed to slip into an uncomfortable snooze that lasted until sometime after 3 P.M., when I woke up in a hell of a lot of pain.

Popping another tablet, I attempted to get some soup down and failed. The sensation of the broth was too much to handle at that point, and trying to get down some water didn't feel much better: the left side of my face was a live wire. Not much later, the nausea returned full bore, and it was then that I realized that the pain pills were doing as more harm than good since taking them on an empty stomach was only making me sick. I returned to bed again and fought down the urge to ralph all over the damn place as I slipped back into dreamworld.

A part of my mind knows good and well that, when nauseated, the best thing to do is just head for the nearest commode and yak and get the agony over with. Problem is, I also hate throwing up so much that I will frequently battle this urge with all the willpower I have to keep that from happening. Thus, I spent most of yesterday afternoon and evening lying semi-comatose in bed, moaning in misery, popping the odd pills, trying to get something into my stomach to keep it from freaking out over the pills, and generally trying very hard not to retch (a battle I finally lost around 10 P.M. and the results of which will probably kill my appetite for chicken noodle soup for a long time).

Somewhere around 2 or 3 A.M., I had finally had enough of being awake for a half hour before getting sick to my stomach again and decided to call it a night.

This morning went far better: I woke up around 8:30 and did some tentative puttering around, swished around my mouth with some Aquafina, ate a bowl of Apples & Cinnamon oatmeal and returned to bed around 11. A couple of hours later, I was up out of bed and getting ready for work, the only remnants of yesterday's agony being a dull soreness behind my bottom left molar. The worst is over. This year soon will be as well. Hallelujah.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Fun At The Free Clinic

Damn...who knew?

Being that the awful cough and wheeze that I'd inherited from our housecleaning binge had largely passed just before Thanksgiving, I had been second-guessing my need to keep the appointment I'd made to the Lake County Free Medical Clinic all last weekend. I'd reasoned to myself that they weren't going to tell me anything I didn't already know, but Sarah's protestations (aided by a brief reappearance of The Wheeze during Sunday's temperature gymnastics) made me keep the appointment.

Needless to say, my day was off to a pretty iffy start when I pulled into 270 E. Main Street in Painesville (the stated location of this place) at 9 A.M. sharp and was greeted by a nearly-empty three-story office building with all of two cars in the parking lot and no listing of a Free Clinic anywhere in it. Marvy.

Irritated, I got back in my car and spent a few minutes driving a circle around downtown Painesville, scanning randomly about for any sign of the place and had no luck finding it. I eventually drove a further down E. Main Street in search of additional clues and came across some place called the Lake County Health District. It wasn't the right place, but one of the secretaries there was able to point me at the new location of the Free Clinic ... directly behind a Rite Aid in another faceless three-story office building about 1000 feet away from the one I had just visited. Dohh.

Located three floors up, my first impression of the Lake County Free Medical Clinic was the waiting room, which was populated almost exclusively by Hispanic folks judging by the unending flurry of murmured Spanish I heard all around me. As I briefly chatted with the receptionist while signing in, I quickly deduced why I was puzzlingly informed that she "will have no clinic until Monday" when I was called to set up the appointment last week: apparently English was her second language as well.

Thanks to the bungled address fiasco, I had arrived 15 minutes late for my appointment, but didn't wind up actually being seen by a doctor until almost exactly two hours later. The time between was spent being briefly screened by a nurse for about 10 minutes or so, and the other hour and fifty minutes skimming through a handful of thirty-year old National Geographic magazines in the waiting room. Ah well, I suppose it beats being stuck with Good Housekeeping ...

One thing about the clinic that struck me was how old everything looked in it. None of the fixtures or furnitures in the examination rooms were "chintzy" or "cheap," but rather very well aged, if you know what I mean.

On that note, I have to admit in retrospect that I had never given a lot of thought as to what kind of a doctor would work in a place like this. Thus, I really shouldn't have been as surprised as I was when the man of the hour finally toddled in the examination room I was in with the gait of an arthritic three-year old and greeted me in a voice so thin and low that it was borderline inaudible: Gregory House, he was not. When I told her about him hours later, Sarah had guessed that "he must have been retired and working for free." I'd replied "sure, but it appears he retired about three decades ago."

The doctor was a nice enough guy, despite the fact that he told me pretty much exactly what I was expecting to hear: I appear to have a tendency towards being asthmatic. *Shocking music.* This trip wasn't a complete waste of time, however: Herr Doktor did provide me with some Albuterol and a bottle of Robitussin DM which I'll be putting to good use the next time this condition recurs, which judging from our topsy-turvy weather could be as early as Thursday ...

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Turkey Day '05 Wrap-Up

Being that Sarah and I didn't even get out of bed on Thanksgiving until about 2 or so in the afternoon, you could say that it was a pretty laid-back Thanksgiving, even by my lax standards.

After some puttering about for an hour or so, it was time to get seriously moving. In order to keep up our "Thanksgiving Breakfast On The Town" tradition, we decided to head over to the Denny's in Willoughby around 4. This was a bit late for a breakfast, granted, but we had no idea that my parents had actually started Turkey Day dinner at a reasonable hour this year. I'd never noticed this until sometime around high school, but it certainly seems like 99% of America eats Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner at about 3 in the freakin' afternoon, while the my family prefers to sit down at the table even later than our normal dinner hour of 7 o'clock.

While Denny's worked out just dandy as a breakfast locale for us last year, it turned out to be the worst-case scenario this time around, largely due to the unbelievably sucky waitress we were saddled with. Oh well, we only had to deal with her twice in the hour and change we were there ...

From there, it was straight over to Mentor in what felt and looked like the arctic gales of midwinter. Luckily, the weather people were largely wrong when it came to the local conditions as the Early Winter Apocalypse that was called for on Tuesday wound up amounting to 3" or so of snow and a whole lotta wind (though I'm sure it must have been a real party in the Snowbelt that day). Upon arriving at my parents, we saw that the table was already set and the smell of a finished turkey hung thick in the air. Oops.

While I didn't exactly stuff myself at the restaurant, I was only able to eat one plate's worth of Thanksgiving dinner that night. Pretty shameful. From there, it was a few hours of relaxing, doing some last minute buffing and polishing to my wishlist (hint hint!) and watching DVDs of Triumph The Insult Comic Dog and (by request) Back To The Future with Sarah and my younger brother, Bryan.

A bit later on as we were approaching midnight, my brother Brett and I briefly (and jokingly, I swear) discussed the idea of heading over to Wal-Mart in full NHL gear and busting some heads when the doors opened at 5 AM. Sadly, however, I was secheduled to be at work at noon on Friday, so the plan was scuttled. As it turns out, a few dozen customers nationwide did a credible enough job of acting like crazed bulls in a china shop on their way to the electronics section to do us proud. Gawd bless Black Friday mornings.

While we're on the topic of Black Friday, it's been pretty hectic at the store the last couple of days, but not in the way we had planned it. Yes, the business has been pretty much on target for the weekend, but we've also been up to our ears in moving and re-arranging work since the guy we commissioned to create some new product bins finally delivered most of them about three months behind schedule. We desperately needed the expansion space and it's nice to have it at last, but doing all of this gruntwork at the onset of the Christmas shopping season is exactly what we were trying to avoid by asking for these bins back in fuckin' August. Grrr.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Holiday Forecast: Blah

This started off being a pretty pissed off entry, but I've mellowed quite a bit since I started writing, so now this is more of a even-keeled, yet resigned kind of post. That's good, because I was starting to even get pretty tired of my own bitching ... maybe even more than any of you must be by now, heh heh.

It becomes more and more clear to me as time moves on just how enormous of a financial mistake I made this past summer when I green-lighted the repair of my car's steering system. From that precise point onwards, I have basically been spinning wheels in order to keep up with my financial responsibilities, and feeling that control of my life has slipped out of my hands. Exacerbating this feeling is the remarkable runaway domino effect that seemingly went into motion within weeks of my going into debt: since the middle of August, life has been like an unending display of Murphy's Law in action as just about everything possible that could go wrong has gone wrong.

I think I reached a peak in my level of distress or depression last week with how the second half of this year has unfolded (and keeps unfolding), and since then I've adopted a more jaded, yet minutely positive attitude over the last few days regarding life as we know it on Thanksgiving eve, 2005.

Anyway, the situation here has once again become more complicated financially. Since the Cleveland Free Clinic wasn't taking any new patients until January (?!) and I could not reach the Painesville location after multiple attempts, I finally made an appointment with the dentist I last visited in mid-2000. I actually kinda like this guy and he usually does a fine job of putting me at ease, but this time was not one of those happier occasions as it seems he cannot take care of this particular problem.

Instead, I have been referred to an oral surgeon who will apparently have to remove my last remaining wisdom tooth from my mouth at a rather inflated cost as compared to what it would be if my dentist had just done it on the morning of my visit. Oddly, I can't see the problem as I have obviously had a lower wisdom tooth done before by a regular dentist with no ill effect. My dentist also mentioned a gum infection and an abcess, but the oral surgeon (who seems to be a pretty cool guy, very likable and also quick to ease any apprehensions I had) couldn't find any serious problem in those areas when I asked him about them during my examination.

So far, I'm at $230 spent without anything having actually been done yet. $160 on a set of x-rays to find this out at the dentist's office and then $70 for a five-minute consultation with the oral surgeon (!).

Jesus, I picked the wrong career ...

NP Roger Waters Ça Ira

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Tooth Or Consequences

Me, sometime in the early 1980s in MichiganAt some point when I was about 11 years or so old (I'm not sure exactly when, but I know it was while I was still living in Michigan), I went in for a scheduled dental checkup and was told afterward that I had four cavities and I had to set up an appointment to get them all filled.

At that time, this news didn't fill me with any terror or dread at all: I had been going to this dentist for years and never had any problems with the experience (though I suppose having my teeth sandblasted every six months to a year with what tasted like very flat dried orange Sunkist wasn't exactly high on my list of Favorite Things in life). While I was a tad bit surprised that I had let myself get a cavity for the first time in my life (let alone four), I was also a bit curious as to how this procedure was going to go.

My follow-up visit was probably one of the formative events of my life, and not in a pleasant way. What happened, in short, was that I had my four cavities professionally drilled and filled without any painkillers. At all.

I don't remember how long it took to get all four teeth done. I suppose it couldn't have taken more than an hour, though it felt at the time like it was never going to end. I remember quite vividly hearing that high-pitched pneumatic whine for the first time, the fleeting, vaguely unsettling thought of "hey, uh, aren't I supposed to get some kind of anesthetic for this?" as my dentist leaned over me and shined that light directly into my face, and then the rapid downward shifting of the sound's pitch when the drill head contacted one of my breached molars. All I could was make odd "unnk" "nnnk "nnnng" noises at odd times while gripping the edges of the chair with white knuckles and feeling the occasional tear drip down the side of my face.

My obvious agony didn't earn me any sympathy points from my dentist. Instead, I was given stern admonitions to "sit still," "hang in there," "almost done" and a couple of other instructions to that effect. This dentist was never the friendliest codger in the world: if anything, he seemed a bit like a grouchier version of my grandfather in that they shared a no-nonsense kind of attitude. After that day, though ... let's just say that our relationship had changed drastically.

OW OW OWLife I said earlier, that day was a pretty life-changing event: from that point onwards, I have been scared out of my fucking mind of the dentist's office. Even almost entirely positive dental office experiences that followed (including one visit where I was blissfully stoned out of my entire being on nitrous and novocaine) failed to wipe out the psychic stain of that one visit. I've had three wisdom teeth out over the last 15 years, all of them with no complications or suffering whatsoever (save for the one time I waited a half hour too long to pop my first pain pill afterward -- hoo boy), yet during my most recent procedure about 5 years ago, I remember sitting alone in one of the exam rooms, reclined in the chair and visibly trembling in irrational fright during the few moments between my examination by the hygienist and the arrival of my current dentist.

With that in mind, you could probably imagine the feelings of "ohhh shit" that came to mind when I started feeling another tooth slipping into distress (as mentioned in this post). I'm not completely sure if this is the last of my wisdom teeth or a molar that's gone to Hell, and I've put this off for as long as I can, but it's becoming apparent that I am just about out of time: lack of funds and proximity to Turkey Day notwithstanding.

I do have a choice in the matter, which is at once reassuring and kinda scary. Sarah has informed me that the Free Clinic Of Greater Cleveland offers extraction services. The reassuring news in this is that said extraction would be absolutely free of charge. The bad news is that I'd have to drive into Cleveland proper to get this taken care of, and the "you get what you pay for" part of my brain is gibbering insanely at the idea that "free" must somehow mean "no painkillers" or worse (whatever "worse" might be). Yes, I realize this is likely foolishness brought on my fear, but that's my brain for ya.

That said, I think I will see if I can arrange a Monday appointment at this Free Clinic place and we'll see how this goes. If that won't fly, I will try to get an appointment from my "regular" (read: the last guy I saw 5 years ago) dentist instead. Time is of the essence, here: I want this taken care of immediately, since I am already sorely regretting waiting this long (no pun intended, honest), and I'd very much like to be able to eat myself into a turkey coma on Thursday.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Ultraman with Chest Bulb ThingAs you might have inferred from my current user photo, I have recently been on a bit of an Ultraman kick. I have no idea what drove me to start Googling around on Ultraman and seeing what was out there a couple of weeks ago, but I've been a total blast revisiting one of my favorite T.V. shows from my childhood.

Waaayy back when I was a kid, my family would spend most Thanksgiving holidays at my grandmother's house in the unfortunately-named burg of Beaver, Pennsylvania. Back in those unimaginably quaint pre-cable T.V. days, the Greater Pittsburgh area didn't offer an awful lot of choice in the UHF band, so WOR TV-9 out of New York City was beamed in to give residents a bit more of a viewing selection than just the three networks.

Normally, this quirk of programming wouldn't have meant anything to me at all, save that from 1976 to 1985, WOR had a tradition of showing nothing but Godzilla movies from morning to evening on the day after Thanksgiving (Turkey Day itself was filled out by sundry King Kong flicks). To a 7-9 year old kid, this was even better than saturday morning cartoons: watching 400 foot tall radioactive dinosaurs knocking each other around like professional wrestlers was more than enough to drive me to wild heights of glee.

God bless WOR TV-9
However, being that there was only one T.V. in the household, and that my monster movie marathon was always on at the same time as the day's lineup of college football, my relatives would always reach wild depths of exasperation with me and wage lengthy battles over who got to watch what.

Anyway, from these humble beginnings came my childhood love of nearly all movies in this ilk, no matter how stupid or hokey (not to mention the attendant hilariously wound-up Crazy Eddie commercials). Imagine my delight, therefore, when I discovered one day that a half-hour T.V. show featuring a whole new cast of monsters and badly-dubbed heroes was available for viewing on WXON (Channel 20) in Detroit. And this came my introduction to Ultraman.

The Science Patrol In Action!The story of the original Ultraman series (not to be confused with the seemingly several dozen other series that followed) goes like this: this guy Hyata (seen standing to the right) is a member of the Science Patrol, who function kind of like the X-Files unit of the Japanese CIA, if you will. Members of this team wore these really awful loud orange suits with red ties, button-down lapels, and modded white motorcycle helmets. They also used ray guns and flew around in a kinda hybrid airplane/rocketship that launched from the top of their headquarters building (which itself was the size of a city hospital).

I should also add, by the way, that this series also had one of the fuckin' grooviest theme songs ever.

Anyway, back to the story: while flying about in outer space looking for UFOs, Hyata's rocketship collided with that of Ultraman (an advanced superbeing from neubula M78). The collision between the ships kills poor Hyata and Ultraman, feeling really bad about this, decides to make amends by resurrecting the Science Patrol officer and lending him his life force (in effect, becoming a kind of symbiote with him). Ultraman technically ceases to exist as he inhabits Hyata's body, but he can re-emerge to save the day whenever Hyata whips out his Beta Capsule in times of dire need. I realize this sounds kinda wrong, but just bear with me, here.

Now, there was a catch to this deal: Ultraman, being an alien being, doesn't adapt too well to the Earth's atmosphere and as a result can only fight giant monsters for a few minutes before he starts to freak out. Well, O.K., he doesn't so much "flip out" as a little light indicator on his chest starts flashing insistently which means "uh oh, hurry it up, pal" and lends an element of danger into his fights with other guys in rubber suits.

Ultraman Getting Ready To Kick Some AssOf course, Hyata and Ultraman being one and the same has to remain a secret. Thus, Hyata becomes a kind of Clark Kent figure at times, having to slip away from the other members of the Science Patrol in order to turn into Ultraman and kick some monster ass before all of the balsa wood sets could be completely flattened by the "guest" monster.

It wasn't long before WXON added another monster-themed show directly after Ultraman, and that was Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot, which may have shared a lot of very similar elements to its setup, but never was as outright cool as Ultraman (though it had its moments here and there).

As a final note: people currently living in Florida and complaining about the amount of hurricanes blowing through over the last two or three years are a bunch of pansy whiners. Going by the established histories set forth in Godzilla, Johnny Sokko, Ultraman and Gamera, it's glaringly obvious that during the 1960s, the major cities, industrial centers, and military forces of Japan were ravaged every week by enormous, ravenous monsters from the depths of the Pacific (or deep space in some cases). Despite these contant incursions, however, the citizens of Japan seemed to do pretty well for themselves, all things considered. As usual, we Americans have no idea just how good we have it here.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sunday Synthpop Brunch: A Flock Of Seagulls

A Flock Of Seagulls and their hair (where applicable) It was all about timing: the post-punk New Romantic movement, with its legion of bitchin’-haired snappy dressers practicing their best cod-Bowie croon, was uniquely suited to take advantage of the infant form of music video. While it wasn’t quite “money for nothing and chicks for free,” as was widely assumed, the lure of being in a band and being on T.V. (and, by extension, an instant fashion-plate to an impressionable audience of millions) proved irresistible to hundreds of struggling musicians in the U.K. at the time.

While being good-looking and/or seeking to draw the maximum possible attention to ones self was hardly a revolutionary idea in the music industry (even during this time), there existed a handful of bands that ran a bit wild with the style-centric angle of New Romanticism. Among this select clique, none achieved the level of fame (or infamy) reached by A Flock Of Seagulls, one of those unfortunate acts whose utterly bonkers visual aesthetic (two of the four original members worked as hairdressers for day jobs, which undoubtedly gave them a leg up on the competition in that department) almost completely overshadowed their music, at least as far as 95% of the record-buying public was concerned.

As with countless other groups of English origin, A Flock Of Seagulls was centered around two brothers, in this case Mike and Ali Score. The band started off in 1979 in Liverpool as a trio with Mike on the keyboards and vocals (and the occasional guitar) along with Ali on the drums and Mike's friend Frank Maudsley on bass. Realizing quickly that their sound needed to be “filled out” a bit, the band brought aboard guitarist Paul Reynolds after a few months of looking around for a suitable addition and then went about the usual business of writing songs, playing clubs and trying to land themselves a record contract.

One of the most striking aspects to A Flock Of Seagulls is that their music is really quite simple in construction, and executed with hardly any flashiness on behalf of the band. While the resulting clean, basic sound may well have been due to their limited abilities as players (I think it’s safe to say that there were no virtuosos in this lineup), it nevertheless made them stand out even more so from the rest of the emerging field, who tended to fill up the spaces in their music with sequenced arpeggios or extraneous electronic percussion effects. Rather than follow this lead, A Flock Of Seagulls chose to leave those spaces wide open, resulting in a sound that soared and conjured up visions of limitless night-time starscapes rather than fancy clothes and swanky night clubs.

A Flock Of Seagulls and their hair (where applicable) Balancing their vast sonics with a pop songwriting standpoint, A Flock Of Seagulls came off as more of a synthrock band than many of their peers ever dared to be, and it was in this area of that Reynolds became the band’s secret weapon: some of his solos recalling the direct, yet celestial sound of David Gilmour (he also seems to share a bit of the latter’s love for delay and reverb effects). With such a stinging, distinctive tone layered onto atmospheric synth chords and a propulsive rhythm section topped off by the band’s “futuristic” stage appearance, the Flock soon became one of the first signings to the newly-created indie label Cocteau Records.

Not long after the (uneventful) release of their kinetic debut single “(It’s Not Me) Talking” in 1981, the Flock released a debut EP with production handled by ex-Be Bop Deluxe leader and Cocteau Records co-founder Bill Nelson. While this EP made no discernible impact on a commercial level, enough attention was garnered at dance clubs by the pogo-friendly single “Telecommunication” to start turning heads a bit higher up the music industry food chain, and within a few months, the boys found themselves signed to Jive Records and recording their debut album with ex-Gong bassist (and budding New Wave guru) Mike Howlett producing.

Listen Most of the debut EP (including “Telecommunication”) made its way in re-recorded form to the combo’s full-length debut album, which was released in the spring of 1982. From the outset, A Flock Of Seagulls initially went nowhere as the band could not find any purchase at radio for the first single, the grandiose alien abduction epic “I Ran.” This problem was quickly solved by the content-starved MTV cable network, which at the time was voraciously adding just about anything thrown at it in order to fill up airtime. With “I Ran” now in the channel’s rotation, the band then set out on tour as the opening act for fellow U.K. pop lineup Squeeze.

Boiling forth from a doomy, ominous instrumental intro, “I Ran” was for most of America a real blast of fresh air in the increasingly soft/corporate rock-dominated climate of 1982. An imaginative use of aluminum foil and floor mirrors, the promotional videoclip for the song was certainly not a big budget piece in the mold of Duran Duran's “Hungry Like The Wolf,” but it contained enough direct iconic imagery to make it memorable (and of course we cannot go without another nod to Mike Score’s hair, the shape of which was now beginning to resemble that of a seagull in flight) and it soon became one of the most popular videos on the network. Between MTV exposure, resultant airplay from rock radio stations being bombed by listener requests to hear the song, and the band’s ongoing road work, “I Ran” began to build a good sized head of steam that finally got it into the Billboard Hot 100 by midsummer, with A Flock Of Seagulls nearly outpacing its performance on the albums chart.

Winning markets over one by one, “I Ran” took a long time to reach the national Top 10: initially charting in July of 1982, the song finally crested at No. 9 for a couple of weeks right at Halloween with A Flock Of Seagulls reaching the Top 10, selling 500,000 copies as well and staying listed on the album survey for a year.

A Flock Of Seagulls While “I Ran” remains to this day the song they are best known for, A Flock Of Seagulls have some real gems buried away in their catalog, some of which, like their follow-up single “Space Age Love Song” and the Grammy-winning (!) surf-tinged instrumental "D.N.A." were in a similar melodious, epic vein as “I Ran.” A decent-sized follow-up hit, reaching the lower end of the Top 30 in February of 1983 (following a similarly lengthy climb as its predecessor), “Space Age Love Song” was a more outwardly emotional, even romantic piece that featured Reynolds’ guitar work effectively making the five-word choruses work in spectacular fashion.

By the spring of 1983, the band's follow-up album Listen was ready for release, and was presaged at radio and MTV by the single "Wishing," which is quite possibly the most affecting song in the band's canon. While it didn't glide quite as gracefully as their preceding singles (the drum sound here was far more robotic and mechanical in nature than what had come before), "Wishing" was a more hypnotic kind of work that was all about scale and austerity. It also featured a gorgeous, 2 1/2 minute instrumental coda with Reynolds' oddly-muted guitar presence emerging from the background like a pitched-down whalesong. While "Wishing" stalled disappointingly at the bottom of the U.S. Top 30 (a little below the peak of "Space Age Love Song"), it became the first and only of the band's singles to be embraced by their home country: reaching the Top 10 of the U.K. singles survey.

Listen Those awaiting more of the same on the second Flock album were in for a bit of a surprise as Listen offered up a rather different listening experience than the debut. It wasn’t hard to identify that this was the same band or anything: that intoxicating sweep and sense of space was still there, but the feel of the music was colder, darker, and more overtly synth-driven than what had come before, which was fully the band's intent. A lot of this is likely due to the record being recorded in Germany in the studio owned by legendary Krautrock producer Conrad Planck (though Howlett was manning the boards again). Listening to other tracks like the failed second single "Nightmares," the bracing techno-rocker "Over The Border," or the chilling instrumental "The Last Flight Of Yuri Gagarin," it's easy to hear echoes of Neu! and Kraftwerk in the final mix.

That said, Listen remains to this day my favorite of the band’s records (and apparently the same goes for Mike and Ali Score, judging by the liner notes in the CD), possessing some pretty forlorn, spatial landscapes that admittedly lack obvious pop hooks, but not without a few hidden gems, one of the shiniest of which was the absolutely sublime electro-ballad “Transfer Affection.”

Listen was viewed as a commercial letdown in comparison to A Flock Of Seagulls, even though it reached to #16 on the album charts and was listed for five months, but it was on the 1984 album The Story Of A Young Heart that the wheels really started to come off. Listen may have been a alienating to those who wanted more of "I Ran," but The Story Of A Young Heart offered up more of the "classic" Flock sound, but a complete drag regardless. While the group appeared to be trying to reclaim lost ground in already-changing times, their charming shortcomings had started to become a bit glaring, particularly in the areas of songwriting and artistic growth. By switching back to their "classic" sound, A Flock Of Seagulls weren't at all rejuvenated, but instead sounded like they were running out of gas. Apparently the public agreed, as the The Story Of A Young Heart flamed out at #66 on the album chart, ten notches below the peak position on the Hot 100 of its one and only single “The More You Live, The More You Love.” Both album and single represented the last appearance of the Flock on the U.S. hit parade.

Ten hut! The next couple of years for the band weren’t pleasant for anyone involved as some pretty massive changes fundamentally altered the direction and sound of the band, the most damaging being the departure of Paul Reynolds. A bit of a fragile soul during the best of times, Reynolds apparently descended into serious drug and alcohol abuse as a result of stress and constant rigorous touring. By all accounts, Reynolds was a physical and mental wreck and leaving the band probably saved his life. At the time, however, the loss of his highly distinctive guitar work (a crucial part of Flock’s signature sound) really took the wind out of the band’s sails.

The magnitude of this loss became glaringly apparent (as did a few other things) when the band’s fourth album appeared in the spring of 1986. At the time, I never would have thought that a new Flock Of Seagulls album would make The Story Of A Young Heart sound like a Herculean achievement, but unfortunately no one was prepared for Dream Come True. Recorded in Philadelphia, co-produced by Mike Score and a guy named Wayne Braithwaite (who has also worked with the likes of, uh, Billy Ocean and Kenny G) and with a far different sound and approach than any of the albums preceding it, Dream Come True was a clunky, misguided disaster on just about every imaginable level, from the embarrassing, over-shellacked techno-funk production to the frankly hideous cover art. It was pretty obviously the endgame for A Flock Of Seagulls and they knew it, but what a shame that they had to release this album to figure it out.

Following the complete dissolution of the band in the wake of that fiasco, Mike Score laid low for a while and then, surprisingly, resurfaced in 1989 as A Flock Of Seagulls with an entirely new band installed around him. This new lineup would change regularly around Score over the years, with the odd single (“Magic”) or album (The Light At The End Of The World) to flog for a small group of remaining die-hard fans. Otherwise, one could convincingly argue that A Flock Of Seagulls got a jump on the competition one last time as they became, whether they like it or not, the first traveling 80s nostalgia show.

Buy The Best Of A Flock Of Seagulls from

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Sunday Synthpop Brunch: Taco

TacoVery few biographical details exist anywhere about Taco Ockerse, so we'll cut to the chase fairly quickly: born in Indonesia (yet of Dutch descent) and raised in Germany, Ockerse studied theater and dance before making a name for himself around Hamburg as the frontman of the band Taco's Bizz.

Apparently, Taco Bizz's nightly setlist of re-imagined swing/crooner-era oldies performed in the swankest nightclubs in the city began to attract some record company attention, and Ockerse soon found himself recording a radically modern-ized solo cover of the Irving Berlin standard "Puttin' On The Ritz" (last made popular by Fred Astaire in 1946) for a single release at the end of 1981.

Astutely realizing the commercial potential in Ockerse's neo-retro schtick, RCA Records green-lighted an album to be created around "Puttin' On The Ritz," serving up a mixed bag of similarly-retooled Depression-era pop tunes from the Taco's Bizz repertiore alongside a few original songs. With Ockerse now simply billed as Taco, After Eight was released in Germany at the end of 1982.

About seven months later, the unexpected happened as "Puttin' On The Ritz" improbably managed to cross the ocean and became one of the biggest surprise hits of 1983 in the United States. While a nod for this breakout success is certainly due to rotation on then synth-crazed MTV, "Puttin' On The Ritz" was also a bona-fide radio and retail hit, reaching #4 for two weeks on the Hot 100 that September. A crisply recorded, vocoder-sprinkled work of charming robo-pop cheese (with a tap-dancing break midway through in an apparent nod to Astaire), "Puttin' On The Ritz" managed to sounded utterly unique on the radio despite the plethora of foreign synthwave acts swarming over American airwaves at the time.

Puttin' On The RitzIn true "one-hit wonder" fashion, Taco seemed to vanish just as quickly as he had appeared. Despite After Eight climbing up to #23 on Billboard's album chart and ultimately selling half-a-million copies, Taco became persona non grata at Top 40 radio from the instant "Puttin' On The Ritz" slipped off of the hit parade. Another cover tune, "Cheek To Cheek" (which probably sounded too much like "Puttin' On The Ritz" for its own good) was worked by RCA as a follow-up single, but there was no interest whatsoever from the public and the song failed to list on any chart stateside. Ouch.

In a futile effort to reverse Taco's immediate decline of popularity in the U.S., a second album, Let's Face The Music, appeared in the summer of 1984. While the new album sported a noticeably slicker, funkier, and even more-polished sound (if that can be imagined) than After Eight, RCA quickly found that getting anyone to so much as look at a copy of Let's Face The Music was about as easy as trying to sell Christmas trees in April. Hell, the only way I knew there even was a second Taco album at the time was by catching the video for the slinky title cut on an episode of HBO's half-assed time-filler show Video Jukebox one afternoon that fall. Needless to say, I never saw it again.

So, what killed Taco's career so completely after one single that he never charted another record in the U.S. again? You might as well ask what kills the momentum of any one-hit wonder: the reasons are legion. In this case, however, I'll venture a couple of guesses ...

1) If you listened to the "Cheek To Cheek" mp3, you probably thought to yourself "hmmm, maybe this was a cute idea taken one song too far." Now imagine a whole album of that same idea. In the case of After Eight, at least 500,000 people picked up a copy (a pretty good haul for a full-length album by a flash-in-the-pan artist), and hardly any of them came back for seconds.

2) Pardon the pun, but the sheer novelty of "Puttin' On The Ritz" might have sated the public's appetite for Taco right then and there. I can vouch for this reason personally, as listening to "Puttin' On The Ritz" once in a blue moon during a radio station's "All Eighties Weekend" is goofy fun, but actually sitting down and listening to an entire Best Of Taco collection -- yes, these things actually exist -- can be a rather ... emasculating experience (and this is coming from someone who likes a lot of totally fey bands from the same time period, mind you). Without a doubt, this is some of the fruitiest electropop in the history of the medium.

The Best Of Taco! No, seriously!Abandoning the U.S. market, Taco concentrated on the German market from that point forward, starting with 1985's Swing Classics In The Mood Of Glen Miller, and, it is said, recording the soundtrack to a movie called Whiz Kid. Incidentally, one of these albums sports a truly dreadful disco rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" that is so awful I just had to share the pain ...

See, this is why the internet exists, friends: so you can learn absolutely useless trivia while listening to records no one ever wanted to hear twenty years ago, let alone now.

From sketchy information, it appears that there may have even been another album or so from Taco as the 80s wore to a close, as his Best-Of collection also features a disturbingly Stock-Aitken-Waterman-scented hunk of Limberger called "Got To Be Your Lover," which dates from 1988. There are also accounts of Ockerse dropping the robopop and trying out a more R&B-leaning style of music, but information on these latter albums is nonexistent (or written solely in German).

As far as what Ockerse is up to these days, all I have been able to glean from a scouring of the web (including the one and only website dedicated to his life and work) is that he still lives in Germany and is prone to performing music on the odd occasion ... but your guess is a good as mine as to whether "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" is still in the setlist.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Autumn Is Upon Us

An October Rainbow (and friend)
Well, it's October again. Time for an indian summer (I think we're getting one starting yesterday as a matter of fact), and steadily, stealthily cooling evenings that drag you into winter without your realizing what is going on. Then, next thing you know, it's November first and freaking cold out and you realize that you'd better busy yourself winterizing the car and maybe start planning Christmas shopping expenses before too long. Damn it.

O.K., I jest a bit: I actually like October a's just too bad that November has to follow, you know?

As you might have guessed from all the pics here, I'm a big fan of October colors: it's the prettiest month of the year as long as the weather keeps from getting all gray, wet and blustery. October makes me think of caramel apples and funnel cakes and rickety carnival rides at the It's Better In Mentor fair (which usually happens in September, but was always the true benchmark of the beginning of autumn for me as a teenager) and also of standing around small fires to keep warm on cool, damp nights. Most of all, October always brings up fond memories of the old cider mill my family and I used to frequent every year around this time when we were living in Southfield, getting thick apple cider and hot cinnamon-tasting donuts that were absolutely delicious and always worth the trip (now is when I start thinking about jumping in the car and making the 3.5 hour trip to the northern suburbs of Detroit to get some more, heh heh).

October also makes me think of baseball and playoffs and the World Series, but this year finds me once again in the position of having no teams to root for, and only teams to root against, thanks to the Indians falling apart at exactly the wrong goddamn time of the season. Ah well, at least with this team, saying the words "maybe next year" doesn't have that hollow ring of "yeah, right" to it.

Autumnal River
Sarah and I have now been in the condo for over a year now: that particular anniversary came and went unheralded at the end of last August. After a rather blistering summer, the weather has been absolutely perfect over the last few weeks, which means we have not been running the AC much at all, and that makes me a very happy camper.

While we're on the money subject, I am finally seeing the end of the tunnel in getting myself out from underneath the crushing load of my car's repair bills. By the end of this month, I should be able to clear Bill Week with a decent positive balance ... maybe even enough to take care of the two other problems that have sprung up since that godawful final week of July: an apparent coolant leak of undetermined severity and the similarly undetermined state of my rear brake system. Yay.

In better news, my work schedule has recently taken a delicious turn for the better. Brian's job working for that electrician guy apparently was an utter wash from Day One, and he was recently laid off. This doesn't come as a huge surprise as things he's said offhandedly over the last couple of months seemed to indicate that all was not quite working out as planned. What makes this news notable is that he now needs more hours to work and, as a result, I now have two day weekends (Sunday & Monday) for the time being. Weeeeoo!

I could get used to this real quick...

Pumpkins And Other Weird...Things
In other store news, things are moseying along alright in a business sense, though by "moseying" I mean we've just finished up an utterly flat September (missed the target figure by 93 stinkin' dollars, damn it). Our pace for the year is still comfortably ahead of target, and thus our magic number of half a mil is still within our sights, though it might involve an extra push at some point to achieve. Last year it was the week after Christmas that saved our asses, thanks to all the godawful snow days beforehand ... here's hoping we don't get pushed up against the wall the same way this year.

Of course, November will also bring about The Return Of Inspector Scene and a part of me is just breathless with ancticpation as to how this year's inspection sweep will pan out. I have my suspicions that the assertions I've heard to the effect of "don't worry, if he checked something last year, he won't check it again this year" may not hold a lot of water since nearly all of the work we did to the doors in this condo to make them close correctly has come rather undone over the last six months or so thanks to the gradual, imperceptible sinking of this place into landfill. Thus, a part of me thinks that we will certainly hear about the doors, and yet another part of me answers that with: "yeah, so what? What the hell can I do about it now?" Needless to say, you will certainly be reading updates on this should it come into play.

NP Depeche Mode Playing The Angel

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sunday Synthpop Brunch: Amii Stewart

Amii Stewart, 1997Amii Stewart may have one of the most recognizable smash hits of the Disco Era era to her name, but her career as a stateside Dancing Queen (or even Pop Singer) was a very short-lived affair.

Musically inclined from childhood, Stewart initially made a career for herself in the arena of dance/theater. Having taken dancing lessons after being taught to play the piano by her father, Stewart enrolled in "workshop" programs to hone her talents while still attending high school in her native Washington D.C.. Shortly after starting college, Stewart left school to work full-time with the D.C. Repertory Dance Company.

Working with the D.C.R.D.C. eventually let to other breaks, and Stewart began to make a name for herself internationally through her work as lead actress (and ultimately assistant director/choreographer) in the play Bubbling Brown Sugar which she performed in Miami, London and New York, followed by a role in the New York-staged Toby Time.

It was while in London working on Bubbling Brown Sugar, that Stewart laid down a few tracks on a lark with producer Barry Leng. Even though Stewart was a bit under the weather while auditioning, her powerful vocals must have convinced Leng that there was potential and she was offered a contract with Hansa Records. A handful of tracks were eventually recorded for future album release after her first single "You Really Touched My Heart" generated sufficient interest from the label for more material. Ariola Records, desperate for a lifesaving hit, optioned the release of Stewart's music in the American market, which at the time was fully in the sway of Disco Fever.

Working with another writer named Simon May (whose 1976 U.K. Top 10 single "Summer Of My Life" had also been a Leng production), Leng created some original songs for Stewart to sing, and began rearranging a smattering of oldie covers in a more contemporary musical vein. The first (and by far the most successful) of these covers selected for release was a rendition of Eddie Floyd's 1966 R&B classic "Knock On Wood."

Knock On WoodWhile it's fair to say that Stewart's striking vocals would probably have drawn attention to this song no matter what the production style, this production was designed from the ground up to grab attention, which is exactly what it did. While Floyd's "Knock On Wood" was a midtempo bluesy number that simmered on the radio like a sultry July evening, the Leng-produced Amii Stewart version moved like a relentless freight train, indiscriminately mowing down everything in its path. Most importantly, "Knock On Wood" just sounded incredibly huge in a dance club, with its thundering beat, oddly-creaking synthesizer lines, laser-bright horn sections, insistent percussion effects, and ominous underlying bass hum all compressed together into an explosive mix that Jeff Lynne himself would have killed to create.

Released to radio in January of 1979, "Knock On Wood" went down a storm, ultimately reaching the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for one week that April, and selling an estimated 8 million copies internationally, not to mention powering its attendant (and wisely similarly-titled) gold full-length album into the Top 20.

Seeking to capitalize on the runaway success of "Knock On Wood," another cover song from Stewart’s London sessions was selected to be the follow-up single. In retrospect, perhaps this was an ill-advised choice as the rocket-like momentum of Stewart's career vanished almost immediately when her cover of the seminal Doors smash "Light My Fire" (paired with a new song titled, er, "137 Disco Heaven" to create a medley, in effect) not only failed to match the success of its predecessor, but fell way short of the Top 40 as well, sputtering to #69 that summer. That being said, it bears mentioning that "Light My Fire/137 Disco Heaven" did far better overseas: in fact, it actually placed a slot higher in the U.K. tallies than "Knock On Wood."

Things slipped even farther when Stewart's follow-up album, Paradise Bird failed to reach the Billboard's Top 200 album chart that Christmas, instead "peaking" at #207 on the magazine's Bubbling Under list. Despite the same production team and formula of orginal songs with a few re-imagined oldies as before, there were also no hits or even almost-hits from Paradise Bird, a lot of which was blamed on the impending collapse of Ariola Records, though it should also be pointed out in fairness to them that Hansa version of Paradise Bird wasn't exactly setting the surveys afire over in the U.K., either.

I'm Gonna Get Your Love (produced by noted cheese-dancepop maestro Narada Michael Walden) nearly got Stewart's career back on the upward track again, but ultimately could only generate one song of any impact whatsoever in the hybrid duet (think "prehistoric mash-up") of "My Guy / My Girl," recorded with the recently-late Johnny Bristol. While the two singers alternated songs in the "verses" and "choruses" to cute effect, the rest was a rather horrifically-overcooked mess and the song eventually became Stewart's second (and last) U.S. chart dud, barely cracking the Top 60 in the waning summer of 1980.

PearlsFrom that point onwards, Stewart never returned to the U.S. music charts, though she eventually found herself popular enough overseas that she was able to keep a career going on that level alone. Within a couple of years, she had reached the point that her Georgio Moroder-produced 1986 album Amii never even saw the light of day on these shores (nor have any of its follow-up projects with such luminaries as Ennio Morricone, for that matter). With the writing on the wall now too big to ignore, Stewart eventually left the United States for the rolling landscapes of Italy where her multi-faceted singing talents have yielded her an ongoing career that extends to the present day.

Buy The Best Of Amii Stewart: Knock On Wood here.