Courage

When I first joined Twitter it wasn’t for camaraderie, I wasn’t anonymous, but I also didn’t seek out people I knew. I followed sports media, comedians, people who thought they were both, and the president. While I would occasionally tweet back and forth with Henry Schulman and TJ Quinn, there was no one on Twitter I would consider a friend. With the Giants losing 99 games, the bowl headed idiot moving the Raiders to Vegas, and the deterioration of our nation’s executive and legislative branches Twitter became less important to me and I would go days and weeks sometimes without opening the app. That changed when I started listening to and getting involved with (wait for it) The Break It Down Show. When I started following the Show, Pete, and Jon I started interacting with a whole new group of people. I’d get involved in a discussion about music and look at my phone an hour later and there would be hundreds of Twitter Notifications. One of the people that was always involved in those discussions was Phil Green. Never the most vocal, but he was always involved, liking tweets, offering positive comments, just generally being a nice guy. At some point Phil followed my Twitter account, and I, having recently eschewed my long held 75 following limit, followed him back.

Following Phil on Twitter a couple things soon became clear, we both love music and our families and Phil is also very proud of his Washington Husky heritage. I guess being a part of two Rose Bowls and one National Championship Team can have that effect (this would be where the director cuts to the Cal grads in the audience as they scratch their heads wondering “how is that even possible?”). Like me Phil has been active in the album fights, judging several, doing the Michael Buffer style prefight ring announcements, and lately doing the accompanying artwork, all of which are awesome. Phil and I have never judged the same album fight (something that I hope changes soon), and never been in the same room. I had a chance to meet up with him and Pete for dinner a month or so back, but I had another commitment (which turned out to have been cancelled, seriously ticking me off). The last few months I have noticed that Phil has sprinkled in some likes and retweets from Steve Gleason, I didn’t think much of it, knowing that Steve Gleason is an inspiration to many people.

On today’s Break It Down Show (click here to listen) the reason for those tweets became much clearer. Phil has been diagnosed with ALS. I don’t know much about ALS. I know Lou Gehrig, Stephen Hawking, Catfish Hunter, Steve Gleason. I have a poster signed by Bo Jackson as part of a fundraiser for his former teammate Steve Smith. Unfortunately the medical community doesn’t know a whole heck of a lot more. They are certainly trying, new tests and treatments are in the works, and warriors like Phil are doing whatever they can, offering their bodies to help. I’m not going to describe what Phil is going through, I’m going to ask you to listen to him, he does a great job of telling his story. The struggles he’s faced so far, the reality he knows is coming, and his desire to not only have experiences with his family while he can, but to also network with his friends and community to help others that are facing the same thing. About 16 minutes in he says the one thing I’ve known all along “I’m a positive person,” and he’s using that to try and help the cause.

In addition to working with Steve Gleason, and other ALS enterprises Phil has created a non-profit of his own, Make A Difference against ALS (MADALS.org coming soon) and is starting a Podcast featuring other ALS Warriors, tentatively called I Am ALS. The Break It Down Show titled todays episode “Courage in the Face of ALS.” That title is accurate, and describes Phil’s quest perfectly, but it’s about more than just ALS. Thankfully most of us will not be afflicted with ALS, but everyone has their own struggles and situations. Listening to Phil’s story and others like his should serve as a message to all of us that we can stay positive and move forward. In Stuart Scott’s ESPY speech a few years back he said, “When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.” Phil is proving that with ALS, and we can all use that in our own lives.

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Neat and Lucky

In 16 years of marriage I’ve learned that one of the keys to success is tolerance. In my wife’s case she tolerates a lot. The first thing that comes to mind is that she tolerates, generally without comment, that every February I buy a new Giants hat and proceed to wear it for the next 52 weeks through rain and wind and dirt and sweat until it becomes an oily, dusty, dirty, faded, stinky mess.

She also has to tolerate my quirks. One of which I was reminded of in an email from Pete Turner, yes that Pete Turner, host of The Break It Down Show. In addition to talking and recording interesting people all around the world, and editing and producing PodCasts, Pete is in the midst of an Album Fight (concept discussed previously: click here) pet project. Mix-tapes submitted by fans and listeners face off against one another in a bracketed tournament until one true champion is crowned. His email was a request to listen to a matchup and give him a quick score to use in some secret background analysis.

The first song on the first mix-tape was one I know well, very well. My favorite band. Not just my favorite band, but a song off my favorite album by my favorite band. Aerosmith. Love in An Elevator. Now, you’re probably wondering, and maybe slightly fearful, what is it that Christine has to tolerate about Love in An Elevator? I will tell you to get your dirty filthy minds out of the gutter. This is my life, not a porn set. And in my life I am a product of the MTV Generation, the one where MTV played music videos. I have seen the video for Love In An Elevator no less that eleventy-three bagillion times, and listened to the album version on Pump at least that many times. Both the video and the album track start with a little vignette. The elevator doors open, the female operator announces, “Second Floor hardware, children’s wear, ladies lingerie. Oh, good morning Mr. Tyler. Going down?”

Which brings me to my quirk. When I’m in an elevator, and that elevator stops on the second floor, I must say that line. If there are children present I can manage to leave off the “Going down?” but other than that, every single time it happens. We have been together for over twenty years, that is a lot of elevator rides, and she has never, NEVER tried to get me to stop this. If that is not an example of true love I do not know what is.

Speaking of true love and album fights you might be wondering why I’m not an official judge for these fights. Well, it’s because I have submitted a mix-tape. The theme for this mix-tape battle is “Love”, and the mix-masters were free to choose their own sub-theme. When I think of love I think of my wife first, so I made a mix-tape of ten songs that have been a part of our relationship. It contains some of the first songs we danced to when we started dating, the first dance song from our wedding, some songs that I have heard over the years and sent to her because I wanted her to hear them, and the song from which I made her personalized ringtone on my phone.

One thing that Christine struggles to tolerate in my music. I very rarely have free reign to choose what we listen to, and even when I do I have to proceed knowing that it can get revoked at any time. So when I played her mix for her for the first time I was a little worried. We were stuck in traffic somewhere between Pasadena and Claremont on the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. She loved it. She loved it so much we listened twice. She loved it so much we played it again at her parents house. She loved it so much she asked me to make her a copy for her phone so she can listen to it whenever she wants.

My mixtape will step into the ring for the first time in the next week or so. I don’t know how the fight will turn out, but I do know that I’ve already won.

Tis the season

Yeah that right, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Jingle belling and twinkling lights with presents under the tree with the hohoho’s everywhere and the bell ringers all up in your bizness at the WalMart? No. Not that season. The coming of our Lord and Savior, born to a virgin mother? Also cool, but not what I’ll talking about. Hanukkah? Nope. Kwanzaa? Nah. Oh wait, you say, I’ve seen every episode of Seinfeld multiple times. The airing of grievances and feats of strength are right up my alley, clearly I’m excited about Festivus. Also wrong. What I’m excited about is a phenomenon known only as “The List Thingy.”

“The List Thingy?” What the heck are you talking about you freaking weirdo? I’ll tell you. The List Thingy is a curated collection of the years best albums as decided by five of the World’s Greatest Living Minds, friends who all share a love a music and lists. The only other commonality is a degree from Cal Poly, AKA the school that most Ivy League grads wish they had gotten in to. The Breakfast Club featured The Criminal, The Princess, The Brain, The Athlete, and The Basket Case. In the List Club I could embody all those personas, but we’re not in High School. In Grown Up World we are The Engineer, The Pilot, The Administrator, The Rover Driver and The Artist.

The List Thingy began several years ago when The Administrator was still The Teacher. We exchanged texts, as we do, and decided to come up with a list of the years best albums. As fate would have it there were ten days left in the year, so we decided that we would each reveal one album each day. The rules were, and remain, simple. No duplicates allowed and the album must have been released during the current calendar year. A couple years later we brought The Rover Driver and The Pilot into the fold, and last year we invited The Artist, and his proclivity towards weirdness, into the group.

The rules remain mostly the same, we start a day earlier now, and set aside Christmas Day for our songs of the year. Last year we decided to start by listing our favorite albums on Day One, to help prevent someone from getting their number one aced out by the no duplicates rule. We’re all also fathers to young children, so we make sure to note any selections that might contain objectionable material.

For me the list is a year long journey, but it’s a journey that involves listening to as much new music as I can find and setting aside the choicest selections for possible inclusion in The List. I’m working my way through November’s releases right now, I’m a little behind from where I am normally as I’ve allowed myself to be happily distracted by the occasional Album Fight, but I’ll get there, and it will be glorious.

Table for Two

Scene One: Suburban bedroom, cluttered but comfortable, around Midnight on a Monday, husband (Brian), wife (Christine), and dog (Molly).

Christine (playfully): When are we going on a date?

Brian:. A date?

C:. Yeah, a date, just the two of us, spending time together. We need to do something for ourselves.

B:. That sounds like fun.

C:. Your mom is all moved in, ten minutes away, it’s not hard for her to watch the kids so we can go out.

B:. Yeah, what do you want to do.

C:. You’re the man, you should figure it out.

B:. Ok. I’ll work on that.

Scene Two:. Office Cubicle, cluttered but comfortable, Tuesday morning. Brian is working diligently, solving the World’s telecommunications issues whilst listening to his daily podcast lineup. Right now it’s the Break it Down Show, Pete A. Turner is having a conversation with Hilliard Guess. The best thing about the Break it Down Show is that it’s not an interview, it’s a conversation. Right now Hilliard is asking Pete about his daily life, his routine. Then the statement that kicked me in the gut. “You’re not doing nothing for yourself at all.”

That statement triggered an immediate flashback to the conversation at bedtime. It was as if Master Spy Pete had bugged my bedroom and planted this episode to help me. Thankfully the show actually posted before the conversation took place. Side note: Pete, if you are going to spy on my bedroom could you let me know. I’m not afraid of going full frontal, but my upper body could use a little work to be camera ready.

Thirteen years ago, when we became parents, Christine and I made the decision to be the family that does everything together. It wasn’t a drastic shift, we were homebodies to begin with. When I turned 30 we took an eight-day cruise with a six-month-old. Not just any six-month-old, but quite possibly the fussiest, most spoiled six-month-old in the history of mankind. And I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it. Since then we’ve added another kid, I’ve suffered and rehabbed from multiple injuries, and for the most part everything we have done we have done together. Cruises, vacations, ballgames, recitals, gymnastics and swimming competitions, traveling as a pack of four. Sure Christine and I had a few “dates” consisting of some anniversary meals, a couple Springsteen shows, and an overnighter away in Bodega for our 15th Anniversary while the kids stayed with my mom, but that’s about it. And I wouldn’t change a thing.
The kids are older now, we actually leave them at home alone for short periods of time on occasion. Last year around Christmas we went as a family to see The Mother Hips play a “family matinee” in San Francisco. The kids liked it. They grew up listening to the Hips. Plus they can now tell their friends they’ve been to “a club”. And they got the added attraction of dancing with a man dressed as Santa, and later seeing Santa shooting airplane bottles of vodka in the corner. This year, when tickets went on sale for the Hips Holiday shows, I mentioned it and Christine said, “maybe this year we leave the kids behind.” Although caused by unfortunate circumstance my mom has indeed moved closer to us, and she’s gone out of her way to set up her spare room for her granddaughters. The timing is right for us to do something for ourselves. So if you happen to be out and about and you might see a new couple. Strikingly gorgeous, but socially awkward. Give us a wide berth, we might look lost, but were trying to rediscover ourselves. And I’m looking forward to it.

She’s Not My Little Girl Anymore

“We’re having a party, everybody’s swingin’

Tonight won’t you come down

Don’t make me dance all night alone”

“Say I won’t (recognize)” by The Gaslight Anthem Click here for YouTube. Two minutes and 53 seconds long. The drive from Vacaville to Vallejo takes about half an hour with no traffic, and on a Saturday night in February there was none. I think Lily and I listened to this song eight times that night. Volume cranked, singing our hearts out. At the conclusion of each song I would ask, “one more time?” And she would reply, “One more time!” She was in first grade, six years old, we were coming home from a birthday party at a gymnastics center. Riding in Daddy’s car was still a novelty back then, as the van possessed multiple child seats and space for all the necessities of a young family, but she liked it because it always smelled like bubblegum (technically watermelon gum, but let’s not get lost in the details).

I knew in the moment that this was a time to cherish, that singing goofy crazy songs with Daddy wasn’t designed to be a lifetime endeavor. It lasted longer than ever thought it would, though. Several years later she would still insist that “Daddy’s music is horrible, except for The Mother Hips and The We’re Having a Party Song.” She’ll still participate in the family “Love Shack” sing-along (as described here about 27 minutes in), but that’s practically a reflex reaction. On the first day of middle school I offered to help her make a strong impression, we’d roll up, windows down, music blaring. I let her choose between AC/DC and The Beastie Boys, she chose silence. During this past Spring were always listen to “The Five O’clock Traffic Jam” on the way to swim practice, and it didn’t take long for me to become familiar with the same three songs they played every day, and in turn start to sing and dance along while driving. There were a couple occasions, brief bright streaks across the Scion, where she would join in, but her heart wasn’t in it.

I gave it one last go on Tuesday. The kids were off school, a teacher in-service day following Labor Day. I met everyone at Target on my way home from work, and we all got froyo. Lily decided to ride home with me. She claims it was because “Daddy’s car is fun on Lake Herman Rd,” but it was most likely to get away from her sister for ten minutes. I connected my phone and hit play. It was the tail end of a DeadPod (weekly podcast of Grateful Dead taped shows). Just as we hit Lake Herman Road they started in on a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home.” It was off tempo, slower than I was used to, Jerry’s was on vocals so that was uneven, and worst of all it was during the Donna Jean Era so her gawdawful warbling would come and go, but I knew I could nail the melody. I tried to get Lily to sing along. I even fed her the lines, but she held fast, the whole time looking more and more thankful that we were on Lake Herman and the chances of someone she knew seeing her were remote.

My first little girl, the one who made me a daddy, is going to be 13 on Saturday. She’s smart and beautiful and strong and limber. She has a big heart. She is loved more than she may ever know and she has taught me so much. She’s not a little girl anymore, and the world is getting serious for her. I’m exceedingly proud of the young lady she has been and the woman she is becoming. I know that little girl is in there and one day she’ll sing along with Daddy again, just for the fun of it all.

The Walrus is Paul, and Paul was Dead (To me at least)

August 14, 2014. It was meant to be. 38 years after the Beatles last public performance Sir Paul McCartney was coming back to blow out the flame at Candlestick Park. I was going to be there. When I heard about the show I knew I needed to be there. Candlestick Park may have been a windy concrete toilet, but from 1986 to 1999 it was our windy concrete toilet. I saw my first game there on a Friday night, back when they started games at 8:05 PM. Steve Carlton pitched a shutout against the Giants that night. I saw Don Carmen pitch 8 perfect innings against the Giants only to have Bob Brenley break it up with a double leading of the ninth. The Giants lost that day as Juan Samuel hit a solo home run off Mike Krukow in the tenth (starting pitchers used to do that, you know). I saw Scotty Garrelts throw 8 2/3 no hit innings against the Reds only to have Paul O’Niel break it up with a liner over Jose Uribe. I saw the Giants beat the Cardinals 21-2 one day as Chris Speier hit for the cycle and Ernest Riles hit the 10,000th home run in team history. I was at Dave Dravecky’s first game back from cancer as he beat the Reds. I was at the last game in 1992 convinced they were going to Florida and leaving me for good. I was at the first game in 1993 as Barry Bonds homered in his first home game as a Giant and the Grateful Dead sang the National Anthem. I had tickets for the one game playoff that never happened. I was there in September 1997 for the first game of the pivotal two game series against the first place Dodgers. Bonds planted a first inning two run homer in the upper deck, Kirk Rueter pitched a gem and Roberto Hernandez hit 101 to close it out. I was there for game three of the playoffs that year Devon White hit a grand slam to end the Giants hopes. I was there for the final game in 1999 when a helicopter came and took home plate away and planted it at the corner of Third and King as they played Frank Sinatra singing “There used to be a ballpark…”

Google says that without traffic the drive from Benicia to Candlestick should take 43 minutes, and having experience driving to SFO at 3 AM I can vouch for the accuracy of that number. The show was scheduled to start at 8. We left the house around 4. We saw the first sign for a Candlestick exit around 6. Paul came on at 9 and played a Springsteenian 2 hours and 45 minutes. 35 songs, of which we saw six.

They sold around 50,000 tickets for that concert. I’ve been at games where it was just Mom, Jason and I with a few thousand of our closest friends and I’ve been at games where the stadium was jammed full of over 60,000 people. I know for a fact (even though I never attended) that every 49er game for the last 30 years had more than 50,000 in attendance. We always had a place to park and there were always plenty of SFPD and parking attendants to move traffic along. That night we (painfully slowly) exited the freeway and there was one police officer at the base of the offramp sitting in a folding chair. Hours later we saw another one as he directed us to a dirt lot (one I had parked in before). The parking fee collectors had long since gone home for the evening, so we saved ourselves $40 (woo freaking hoo). We hustled to the gates, made a pit stop (after seven hours in Scion nature called), and caught the final encore. Paul sounded great, Paul was charming. The lights came on, we hustled out, bought a bootleg shirt for $5, hit the road, and even after hitting a drive thru for a “late dinner” we were home in less than an hour.

It hit me the next morning. I had arranged to come in late and bring Annabel with me for an unofficial “Bring Your Daughter To Work Day” before she started Kindergarten. Got in the car and turned on the stereo, which had been silent since the night before as we had turned it off hoping to hear some muffled McCartney as we slogged through the clusterfunk. It was the Beatles. I couldn’t do it. I felt ill. Disappointment mixed with anger swelled inside me. I would have traded my hat to be the one who pushed the plunger to implode that concrete cesspool. At work people asked about the concert. I think I was shorter and terser than normal in my answers. They stopped asking after a while. I knew it wasn’t Paul’s fault. The SFPD, Mayor Ed Lee, and Another Planet Entertainment were the recipients of angry emails that day. Those emails probably went unread, surely went unanswered. I stopped listening to The Beatles, took a couple years. It wasn’t until I tried learning “Let It Be” on the ukulele that I gave them another listen. I’m still not all the way back, but “Live and Let Die” no longer feels like a gut punch.

Why am I writing about this after almost four years? Well, I was asked to co-host another Album Fight on the Break It Down Show. The combatants? Paul McCartney and Wings “Band on The Run” against John Lennon’s “Imagine”. In order to do the work I had to temporarily immerse myself in Beatle Bits and try to set aside any hard feelings that remain. Give it a listen here, and tell me how I did.

Brian gets a Call

Brian: Hello

Brian: Hello

Obvious Robot Voice: Hello sir. My name is Trevor, I am calling on behalf of ABC Duct Cleaning [name changed because I can’t remember the exact name]. I need to talk to you about cleaning your heating ducts.

B: Are you a robot?

ORV: No, I am not a robot, what makes you think I am a robot.

B: You just sound like a robot.

ORV: I assure I am a real person.

B: I remain unconvinced.

ORV: Did you know that without proper cleaning your heating ducts can accumulate 40 pounds of dust and grime in just one year?

B: I did not.

ORV: It is very important

B: [Interupting] Wait. Hold on. 40 pounds in a year? My house is 25 years old. That is 1000 pounds of dust and grime. Should I be worried that this extreme amount of dust and grime will overburden my duct work and cause it to come crashing through my ceiling?

ORV: I’m not sure I understand your question.

B: You said 40 pounds per year can accumulate in my ductwork. I know for a fact that my ducts have never been cleaned. That’s 25 years, at 40 pounds per year. That is 1000 pounds of dust and grime suspended in flimsy sheetmetal above my ceiling. I’m seriously worried that it will come crashing through my ceiling at any moment.

ORV: I cannot answer that question, please let me transfer you to my supervisor.

Obvious Robot Voice 2: Hello this is Steve, how may I help you?

B: Steve, as I was telling Trevor, there is potentially 1000 pounds of dust and grime suspended over my head at this very moment, how concerned should I be that it will come crashing through the ceiling while I sleep?

ORV2: {click}

Brian: Hello

Obvious Robot Voice: Hello sir. My name is Trevor, I am calling on behalf of ABC Duct Cleaning [name changed because I can’t remember the exact name]. I need to talk to you about cleaning your heating ducts.

B: Are you a robot?

ORV: No, I am not a robot, what makes you think I am a robot.

B: You just sound like a robot.

ORV: I assure I am a real person.

B: I remain unconvinced.

ORV: Did you know that without proper cleaning your heating ducts can accumulate 40 pounds of dust and grime in just one year?

B: I did not.

ORV: It is very important

B: [Interupting] Wait. Hold on. 40 pounds in a year? My house is 25 years old. That is 1000 pounds of dust and grime. Should I be worried that this extreme amount of dust and grime will overburden my duct work and cause it to come crashing through my ceiling?

ORV: I’m not sure I understand your question.

B: You said 40 pounds per year can accumulate in my ductwork. I know for a fact that my ducts have never been cleaned. That’s 25 years, at 40 pounds per year. That is 1000 pounds of dust and grime suspended in flimsy sheetmetal above my ceiling. I’m seriously worried that it will come crashing through my ceiling at any moment.

ORV: I cannot answer that question, please let me transfer you to my supervisor.

Obvious Robot Voice 2: Hello this is Steve, how may I help you?

B: Steve, as I was telling Trevor, there is potentially 1000 pounds of dust and grime suspended over my head at this very moment, how concerned should I be that it will come crashing through the ceiling while I sleep?

ORV2: {click}

Obvious Robot Voice: Hello sir. My name is Trevor, I am calling on behalf of ABC Duct Cleaning [name changed because I can’t remember the exact name]. I need to talk to you about cleaning your heating ducts.

B: Are you a robot?

ORV: No, I am not a robot, what makes you think I am a robot.

B: You just sound like a robot.

ORV: I assure I am a real person.

B: I remain unconvinced.

ORV: Did you know that without proper cleaning your heating ducts can accumulate 40 pounds of dust and grime in just one year?

B: I did not.

ORV: It is very important

B: [Interupting] Wait. Hold on. 40 pounds in a year? My house is 25 years old. That is 1000 pounds of dust and grime. Should I be worried that this extreme amount of dust and grime will overburden my duct work and cause it to come crashing through my ceiling?

ORV: I’m not sure I understand your question.

B: You said 40 pounds per year can accumulate in my ductwork. I know for a fact that my ducts have never been cleaned. That’s 25 years, at 40 pounds per year. That is 1000 pounds of dust and grime suspended in flimsy sheetmetal above my ceiling. I’m seriously worried that it will come crashing through my ceiling at any moment.

ORV: I cannot answer that question, please let me transfer you to my supervisor.

Obvious Robot Voice 2: Hello this is Steve, how may I help you?

B: Steve, as I was telling Trevor, there is potentially 1000 pounds of dust and grime suspended over my head at this very moment, how concerned should I be that it will come crashing through the ceiling while I sleep?

ORV2: {click}