Friday, July 31, 2009

Stupid things I've done...and am
(No. 93 in a continuing series)

Those of you who give attention to my life and activities (more than I do, as this post will indicate) might remember that the Ticketmaster website screwed me over on the purchase of some concert tickets a few months ago.

But Ticketmaster's screw job pales in comparison to what I did to MYSELF!

Because, as you can see above, concert tickets contain a lot of important information; they tell you what musician(s) are performing, where you're allowed to sit, the location of the event, and (I can't emphasize this last point enough) ...

The date and time of the event!
Any reasonable person knows that the only indispensable person at a Jackson Browne concert is...Jackson Browne.

If you're anybody else, you better show up at the time on your ticket.
And I know that. I understand the protocol.

So Monday (July 27, the day that I was supposed to be attending the Jackson Browne concert with the Middle-Aged Woman, our friends, Chico & (his daughter) C-One), I left work at 7 pm, got home around 7:30 pm, changed clothes, went out to get something to eat, came home, sat down at my desk to work on balancing the checking account, launched my browser and accidentally clicked on a link to Facebook where I saw C-One's comment about the concert that had started approximately 90 minutes earlier - that I was supposed to be at. And I realized at that moment, I was not giving my life the scrutiny it deserved.

I picked up the tickets (which have been sitting next to my computer monitor where I see them nearly every day) and sped to the room where the MAW lay throbbing (as usual).

Styro: Guess what? [Holds out concert tickets]
MAW: I thought the concert was tomorrow night.
Styro: No, it's today. [Hands tickets to MAW]

Perhaps it would have been better if I hadn't been reminded of the concert at all. I suspect the MAW felt that way - but she got in the car with me anyway.

I think of myself as a decent writer - but there are not enough words to express the incredible mix of emotions I felt as I drove 27.6 miles (according to my GPS) to the show. I tried to let my mind go blank as much as possible - because all of my thoughts were dark, angry and filled with self-loathing. Here's just a sample:

"What sort of idiot forgets about a concert when he's had the tickets sitting in front of him for 3 months?"

"What in the world can I say to Chico and Christie to explain this insanity? 'Oh, sorry - I guess you're just not important enough for me to bother remembering I was supposed to attend a concert with you tonight.'"

"We'll never make it in time. The show will be over."

I truly can't remember being more disgusted with myself since...

...since The Boy was small and left the house* while I was (supposedly) watching the kids - and walked out into a busy street before I could locate and catch him.

Anyway, I wasn't feeling too good. The only bright spots, in retrospect:

- I didn't drive like an idiot
- I kept quiet; no ranting and raving
- We didn't have to pay for parking (they don't really plan on people arriving two hours late), and
- The beauty of the music made me (briefly) happy

I wouldn't have thought it possible during the drive there - and it seemed like a distant memory during the drive home - but for a few minutes, as I listened to the music**, I was able to forget what a stupid idiot I was - and just enjoy the sound, the energy, the joy of a live performance, the uplift of a large group of people enjoying a shared experience. [Chico and Christie were very cool about the whole thing - just glad we hadn't ended up dead in a roadside ditch on the way to the show.]

If I get the opportunity again, I think I really need to show up at the time shown on the ticket.

Take care.

* I still can't believe he left the house by himself!
** The end of The Pretender (a personal favorite of mine - as we crossed the parking lot to the band shell), Running on Empty, I Am A Patriot ("The river rolls for the righteous...someday"), and The Load-Out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

If excuses were horses...
beggars would ride

Above is pictured the stack of debit card slips that I entered into Microsoft Money last night - instead of writing a decent blog post.

Once they are entered, they get placed into envelopes - until I balance the checking account (for that month - or, in this case, quarter...millenium) - and look like this:

Lastly: A big THANK YOU to Jess at This Life Is Mine for the cool award she bestowed.

I hope someday to prove myself worthy. But not today.

Take care.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

RTT: Post-IT Notes
from the Knight Gathering

(A few final glimpses from this year's family reunion)

  • My Sister-S' two young daughters, the Double A's, standing in the hallway outside their room singing "Daddy took my blankie away - Daddy give my blankie back" over and over.

    [It appeared they had been temporarily evicted from the room while Mommy and Daddy packed up to check out of the hotel. The girls told me they expected to have their blankets returned in the car - but this mild protest was clearly designed to hasten the restoration of those beloved blankets.]
  • Overheard* during a card game: "You're arrogant - but in a nice way."

    [My me. Every once in a while, I just don't know what to say.]
  • Cousin-A's two boys sitting in the waiting room of Mercy Hospital Cadillac - mesmerized by the Disney Channel.

    [They are both under age 10 - and it was impossible to tell from their demeanor how much they understood of their grandfather's condition in the Emergency Room. Of course, none of the adults understood much more than they did, in truth.]
  • Littlest-A (my youngest sister's younger daughter) pretending to be be a fearsome monster in front of her great-grandmother.

    [This exemplary performance took place immediately following the annual Group Photo shoot outside the hotel. Her attempts to be fearsome where somewhat undercut by her overall size and appearance, i.e. small and very cute.]
  • Sister-W and The Boy leaping up for a Nerf football like the deciding touchdown for a Super Bowl was on the line.

    [It clearly would have garnered a pass interference or unsportsmanlike conduct call from the referees (had they been present). When I called out to The Boy, "Don't hurt your Aunt-W!", he responded incredulously, "Me? Hurt her? She's trying to kill me!"]
  • Watching my mother and Sister-W playing cards together - and seeing how they have become the same person.

    [My sister is the younger model of her mother; they look alike, they sound alike, they think alike. It's kind of frightening actually.]
  • Overheard during a euchre game:

    Mom: I see you're wearing your sexy shirt?

    Sister-S: What?

    M: Well, you can clearly see...

    S: What? My nipple? I'm wearing a bra!

    M: No - but you can clearly see your cleavage.

    S: Mom - I've got no boobs!

    [As a semi-objective observer, the top was not very...revealing.]
Well, that's the news from Lake Wobegon...where the men play euchre, the woman wear revealing clothing and the children are all singing for their blankets.

Take care.

Uncle-R Update:
He is scheduled to be released from the hospital today. I will try to update Twitter or Facebook with more news during the day if possible.

* OK - she said it right to my face

Monday, July 27, 2009

Knight Gathering: It's all fun and games...

Until someone gets hurt.

Editor's note: I recorded audio for this post because my good friend, Leslie, wrote to tell me - "What I like best about your blog...your could be on radio." And as a guy easily influenced by flattery, I had no choice but to resume recording ASAP. Hey, I need all the fans I can get!]

I have long felt that one certain measure of success in any endeavor is whether all participants have emerged unscathed. "Not getting hurt" are words by which I try to live. And while I'm the first to admit that Jim Morrison was speaking pure truth when he wrote the lyric - "No one here gets out alive" - he did not write "Everybody here is going to end up in the Emergency Room".

But sometimes Life takes us there anyway. I was there just yesterday morning.

To bring you briefly through the weekend at my family reunion: After a Friday night filled with cards and drenched with alcohol, Saturday dawned cloudy and rainy. But the forecast called for better things later in the day, so we proceeded with our plan to spend the day at Kenwood Heritage Park in Cadillac, MI. Cousins B4 & S drove over from Houghton Lake with their mom (Aunt-D) and their families. Sister-S and her family stopped to pick up Grandma on their way to Cadillac. And by about 1 PM, we were all assembled at the park. The Boy and I made a quick run to the local grocery store to pick up the 30 hamburgers, 30 hot dogs and 24 bratwursts I estimated we would consume - along with buns and condiments. As usual, I overbought - but we were able to keep the leftover meat cold and send it back to Houghton Lake with my cousins at the end of the day. After a second straight night of cards and drinking, there was some quick pool time for the kids Sunday morning after breakfast, then packing to check out.

Here's where the excitement begins. When my mom brought Uncle-R some breakfast to his room, he complained of feeling lousy. I stopped by his room a little later to check on him and he said he was starting to feel much better. He told me he'd slept most of the previous night in Cousin-A's room (so that his room with the kitchenette could be used for late-night card play) but had woken up early that morning feeling poorly and decided to head back to his room to try and get a bit more rest. Unfortunately, his room key was giving him problems and he nearly passed out in the hallway - but in the nick of time, the key opened the door and he barely made it to his bed.

Uncle-R told me things had taken a turn for the better around 9 AM - and by the time of our visit (between 9:15 - 9:45 AM), he was feeling better. So I left him to pack up my room, load the car, and get cleaned up for departure. When I emerged from my shower not quite an hour later, The Girl told me that a doctor was in my uncle's room. By the time I had gotten some clothes on, an ambulance had arrived and they had him on a gurney for transport to the hospital. He was shaking and clearly agitated (although he told me that he was not in great pain), so I put my hand on his shoulder while they waited for the elevator and urged him to do what he could to calm himself. When the ambulance headed out of the hotel parking lot a few minutes later, I was the only family member in a position to follow (since most of the others had children to look after or had been interrupted in packing the cars for checkout), so I headed to Mercy Hospital Cadillac with the Girl and The Boy.

I was able to provide the hospital staff with some of the information they needed to formally admit him and after a few minutes was allowed to go back to see my uncle. Although it was unclear what, if anything, the staff there had been able to do for him, Uncle-R was clearly feeling better. He was no longer agitated - but seemed in good spirits, teasing The Boy about wearing his baseball cap at an odd angle - very much as he had seemed to me when I visited his room earlier that morning. Both The Boy and The Girl got a chance to see Uncle-R (to ease their minds); soon Cousin-A and his wife (BK) and two sons had also arrived. I watched their boys so that A & BK could see The Patient, sending The Boy and Girl out to get some food after a bit (since The Boy had slept sufficiently late that he had missed breakfast at the hotel).

At around 1 pm, the medical staff had still drawn no conclusions as to whether Uncle-R would have to spend the night at Mercy Hospital, if he would be discharged, or some other alternative. I offered to BK that I would take their kids and mine to my Grandmother's house (about 45 minutes away) so that they would not need to worry about hospitalized parents and bored children all at the same time. This turned out to be a good plan since the decision to hold Uncle-R overnight and move him to a regular room was not made until very late in the afternoon. Although it was suspected that some malfunction of his pacemaker caused all of Sunday morning's excitement, I still can't confirm that as a fact. Doctors are also concerned about the function of my uncle's kidneys (or lack thereof) and think he may have had a heart attack.

So, at present:

- My uncle remains at Mercy Hospital Cadillac,
- My mother spent the night at her mother's home outside Evart, MI
- The last we saw Cousin-A and his family, they were passing us heading south on I-75
- The Middle-Aged Woman arrived safely home from Chicago before 5 PM local time
- The Girl, The Boy and I arrived home about 9:45 pm from the 2009 Knight Gathering...

Where almost nobody got hurt. So don't you go getting yourself hurt. Or should I say -

Take care.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Euchre as a blood sport

Every family has, I think, its own unique ways of interrelating - accepted methods of showing affection, of speaking to each other, of spending time together. I would describe the distinguishing characteristics of my mother's family in this way: simple devotion to the supremacy of blood ties over all others - combined with aggressive extroversion and fueled by intense competitiveness. If this all sounds rather pathological...well, in some ways it is. We're the people you see who have too much to drink at a party, who talk too loud, who say things they regret the next morning.

But before you, dear reader, get the wrong impression - I should add: My mom's family are also quite a tight-knit group; they are affectionate, they are playful, they are funny. They don't take any sh*t from anybody. They've got your back. I'm one of them.

One of the popular ways to pass time at our family reunions is to play cards and have a drink. Drinking is optional - but card playing is expected. And it is a rather serious business, too. The game of choice is euchre. Oh, we'll play other things: cribbage, spades, pinochle, crazy eights. But the real game is euchre.

Friday night, I was involved in two noteworthy euchre incidents. The events are rarely about card playing itself - but more how the game can be a revealer of character (or, sometimes, lapses of character).

In the first, I was playing a game partnered with my Uncle-R against my mother and The Boy. And they were kicking our @$$es. Normally, this would grate on my uncle a good deal - but he was actually taking things pretty well. In fact, what was really getting on his nerves was my mom's seeming inability to keep her mind on the game. She was oftentimes more preoccupied with providing (or eating) snacks to keep play moving forward. [Note: Euchre is a simple game played with five cards dealt to each player. The pace of play is expected to be brisk - particularly amongst seasoned players.]

By the third game, fortunes seemed to have shifted, and Uncle-R and I were finally leading by a few points. Then my mother bid a hand and, during the third or fourth trick, when it appeared she might lose the hand, reneged (failed to follow suit during play). When this was pointed out, she said she had forgotten which suit was trump (even though she was the one that had "named" trump). Anyway, this was the last straw for Uncle-R; who was more p*ssed off, I think, by my mother's inattentiveness to the game than her error. He wanted the two points that the rules say our team was entitled to. My mother was offended at his tone - declared the game was over and kicked my uncle out of her hotel room (where he was supposed to sleep that night). I invited Uncle-R to bunk in our room for the night (since we had two beds and a sleeper sofa) and the world continued to spin.

Later that same night, I got involved in another euchre game with my Brother, Cousin-A and his wife, BK. BK and I were partners against Brother and Cousin-A. By this point in the night, all of the other players were feeling no pain (I was not partaking of alcoholic beverages that night). Until Brother made a remark that aroused the mock outrage of Cousin-A and BK; whereupon they began to strike him about the head and shoulders - literally!

Now, don't get me wrong - it was kind of fun to watch. But both Brother and I were surprised by the aggressive nature of the blows. Mine was more amusement - with a few comments thrown in that I hoped I would not be the next target. Brother's was more pain and shock combined with a bit of whining (looking for sympathy that would never come). But, in any case, they gave him a few good wallops. And play soon continued as though nothing unusual had happened; and, of course, nothing very unusual had happened. That's just how we roll.

I'm glad to say that no blood was actually spilled in any of these incidents. But the reunion is far from over. You never know what might happen next.

I'm just hoping for a loaner hand.

Take care.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Knight Gathering: Day One

The Trip: The Girl, The Boy and I traveled from Redford to Cadillac yesterday afternoon. I got off work early so we were able to get on the road a little after 4 PM, each of us armed and dangerous with a fully-loaded iPod. The Girl had prepared a special 18-song Steely Dan playlist for the trip. The Boy was up next with an impromptu DJ session featuring a few current faves downloaded from iTunes (Ben Folds, Eric Hutchenson, Mat Kearney) and some prime ELO cuts. I get in a few songs at the very end of the trip from Springsteen, Was (Not Was) and Nat (King) Cole. The best part is listening to the kids sing harmony parts on a song that was popular long before they were born; all three of us wailing to Mr. Blue Sky or Route 66, for example

Arrival: Mom, Uncle-R, Brother and his family, Sister-W and her family, Cousin-A and his family were all present when we arrived around 8:30 pm local time. [Sister-S is picking up Grandma for arrival this morning. Still waiting to hear from Cousins-B4 and S.]

The kids all enjoyed the pool - the adults enjoyed having the kids entertain themselves. The Girl was a big hit in our room with all my cousins' younger children gathered around her and her laptop as she found kid-appropriate content on YouTube. I got my wireless router and Roku player hooked up in the room so the kids could watch part of a movie before bed. The adults played cards.

Which is a post unto itself. So come back soon for our next installment -

Euchre as a blood sport

Don't miss it!

Take care.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Meet the cast

The Girl, the Boy and I travel to my family reunion later today; specifically, a gathering of the progeny of my mother's parents. Since I expect my posting for the next few days will center around reunion events, let's meet our cast, shall we?

Grandma: My mother's mother is 98 years old. She'll be 99 next March 1. She lives in Evart, MI - so we hold the reunion in the nearest garden spot, Cadillac. My grandmother is one of my favorite people on the planet.

Aunt-D: My grandmother had three children. Her oldest, Bill, was deaf. He and his wife, my Aunt-D, had two children; the oldest (a boy) is my Cousin-B4 and his sister, Cousin-S. My Uncle Bill died in a car accident before I was born. His children were so small, they hardly knew him. My Aunt-D is a wonderful, gentle woman. When she was growing up, use of sign language by the deaf was strongly discouraged. She can lip-read like nobody's business. Although I have always been somewhat self-conscious when talking with her (tending to speak too loudly, instead of just exaggerating my enunciating slightly to make the lip-reading easier), I love her dearly.

Cousin-B4: is the oldest child of my generation. My great-grandfather (my mother's father's father) was William Wallace Knight (remember Braveheart?), nicknamed "The Boss". WWK was born in Scotland before emigrating to the US. His son, my grandfather, was William Wallace Knight II. My Uncle Bill, who I never had the chance to meet, was WWK III. And so you can see why I decided to refer to my oldest cousin as B4. He can be gut-bustingly funny; he also knows how to build a great bonfire. He and his lovely wife, MK, have three pretty girls. The oldest is almost exactly the same age as The Girl (Ms. Partly Cloudy, first-fruit of my loins). They also have twins. There will be no William Wallace Knight V. But if that ever caused my cousin a restless moment, he never let on. He loves his girls with a passion.

Cousin-S: is also slightly older than me. She and her husband, MN, have three boys - and (finally) one girl. Then they stopped. Their oldest is about the same as The Boy (second - and last - fruit of my loins).

Uncle-R: My mother's older brother is in his mid-70s. Some recent health problems have slowed him down a bit; but he is still the original Angry Old Man. He loves to read and collect art - but he has no room to keep any more books or prints. Although he has a prickly personality, I love my Uncle dearly. He is old-school; family comes first. Although it is never discussed, I think he has been in some measure like a father to my Cousins B4 and S. And I think he still misses his brother, Bill, after all these years. I'm not sure he ever had a better friend that his brother.

Uncle-R had three boys with his wife - then he had a rather bitter divorce. I remember as a kid being somewhat afraid of my uncle. He used to have quite a temper and - like nearly everyone on my mother's side of the family (including me) - can be QUITE LOUD!!!

Cousin-A: The oldest of my Uncle's three boys (about a year younger than me - close in age to my Brother). Along with B4, he is a premiere jokester. After a brief marriage and divorce, Cousin-A has settled down with his second wife, BK, and they have two boys.

Cousin-T: Lives with his (relatively) new bride in Washington. They are expecting their first child this summer and I don't expect them to be in town for the reunion.

Cousin-J: The youngest of Uncle-R's boys. He and his dad don't always get along. He and his wife have one son. They have been to the reunion in several years.

Mom: My mom was the youngest in her family - and the girl. So, my Uncle says, she got away with murder. She and my dad (now divorced) had four kids. I am the oldest.

Brother: Is slightly less than a year younger than me. We both have June birthdays - mine is the 29th, his is the 7th. He is a regional manager for K-Mart living outside Green Bay, WI. He used to be the black sheep of our family - but he's become Mr. Family Man. He and his wife, BW, have three kids (girl, boy, girl).

Sister-W: Is four years younger than me. She has twins, two divorces, and a new man in her life. We sometimes go for years at a stretch without seeing her at the family reunion - but she is supposed to be coming this year.

Sister-S: My youngest sister is the one we tend to see most often. Her husband and I have compatible interests; and the Middle-Aged Woman likes Sister-S better than anyone in her own family (I think); so it makes for a good double-date. They have two beautiful little girls.

Well, that's probably more than you wanted to know - but hopefully it will come in good use when trying to figure out who I'm talking about in my posts for the next couple days. When next you hear from me, I will be in Cadillac, Michigan.

Take care.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Scottish Play

Yep - that's me in the back row, far left. ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR matey!

Now that the play is over, I'm hoping to have more time to write. My blog output since return from vacation has been pretty shameful. But maybe I'm just facing the reality that I can't continue to stay up until 1 or 2 AM each morning, thinking deep thoughts (at least they seem so at that hour) and writing them down.

Anyway, my family reunion is this weekend - so the The Girl, The Boy and I are headed to Cadillac, MI on Friday. Although it would seem that my output would suffer under such conditions, I expect that the hotel will have free Internet - and that I can borrow a laptop from either my kids or my job.

Let the good times roll.

And speaking of roles: Next time I get to be a slob. More on that later.

Take care.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

15 Books

My friend, Khai, sent out a note on Facebook with her top 15 books of all time. And since I spent a goodly amount of time responding (picking the books was easy; writing the blurbs took a while), I decided to turn it into a two-fer - a Facebook note and a blog post. If you'd like to play the game too (I think the Middle-Aged Woman is posting her list sometime this week...), I have included Khai's rules (not mine - I don't play by the rules) below.

[Khai's Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends, including the originator, so your friends can see what books you chose. (To do this in Facebook, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste rules in a new note, cast your 15 picks, and tag people in the note - upper right hand side). These are the books I can read over and over and over again. I've read a lot of classics AND fluff books.]

Jim Styro's 15 Books:

The Bible (Various authors) - Yeah, I's not an easy read. In fact, there are plenty of parts you could skip over - and I'm betting God wouldn't mind a bit. But there's nothing else quite like it. I prefer The Jerusalem Bible - but NIV or RSV are good too.

The World According to Garp (John Irving) - I love Irving...and this is still my favorite. His stories are rich, his characters are real. No American author in the second half of the Twentieth Century can equal the consistent quality of his novels.

M*A*S*H (Richard Hooker) - M*A*S*H is a phenomenon which I came upon in reverse order; TV show, film, then book. Each one has its unique value and charm. But I think so few people have read the book as compared to its video off-spring, that I feel the need to recommend it.

Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut) - I also love Vonnegut and it was either this or "Jailbird" (another wonderful book). But Slaughterhouse Five was the entryway for me to the rest of his stuff, so it gets the nod.

The Lord Of The Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien) - I guess this is a cheat - but it's a good cheat; three books for the price of one (choice). You don't have to love fantasy - you only have to love good writing and a good story to enjoy Tolkien. A reminder that every happy ending comes at a price.

Schindler's List (Thomas Keneally) - Keneally brings us both the horror of the Holocaust and a tale of unexpected redemption in the story of an unlikely savior. I have championed both the book and film since so many seem to have shied away thinking that the material is "too depressing". Neither life or this book is that simple; give them both a chance.

The Story Of Philosophy (Will Durant) - My life would be much poorer without having been exposed to some of the great thinkers of the ages through Durant's primer.

The Civil War (Shelby Foote) - If you don't care for history, then read Shelby Foote. A novelist takes on the greatest events in American history and brings them alive. If you've seen Ken Burns' documentary or read Michael Shaara's novels of the Civil War, you owe it to yourself to read Foote's three volumes.

Lonesome Dove (Larry McMurtry) - I would argue that this is the finest American novel of the second half of the Twentieth Century. No one book can cover all of what it means to be human - but this comes close.

Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton) - If you've only seen the film, you don't know the whole story. Crichton is an idea man - not always a great writer; but this book is a compelling page-turner - and it makes you think.

The Burden of Proof (Scott Turow) - I could never understand why Grisham got all the good press. Turow is a superior writer - and this is a great book which grapples with the complexity of relationships. (Which reminds me that I probably should have included something from John Updike - but I think Turow is more accessible.)

Catch 22 (Joseph Heller) - A tour de force. So funny and angry - full of horror, lunacy, despair - and a ray of hope. Too rich a diet for regular meals - but it sticks to your ribs.

The Complete Peanuts (Charles Schultz) - Watterson's "Compleat Calvin and Hobbes" is leaner and meaner. But Sparky is the original. The humanity is always shining through - even when it's a beagle.

The Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Abbey Road Studio Session Notes
(Mark Lewisohn) - An absolutely indispensable historical record for anyone who loves music. Because anyone who loves music, loves the Beatles.

The Stand (Stephen King) - King is, arguably, the premiere storyteller of his generation. And this is his greatest story.

Perhaps some of your favorites are listed above - maybe it's all new to you. If you love a good book, I'm betting that you would enjoy nearly anything listed above. If you do decide to try one out that you've never read before, let me know how it goes.

Take care.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Lazy Man's Guide to (Almost) Everything

Say - do you ever read my wife's blog?

Did you ever think to yourself, "I really need a Ulysses S. Grant doll!"?*

Did you ever think to yourself, "Who the hell is Ulysses S. Grant ?"

If the answer to any of these questions is "Yes", then today's post may be of interest to you (clicking on the links above will make things clearer).

If not, I apologize.

Take care.

* The tale really starts here

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Waiting Room

Before 7 am, the hospital is relatively quiet. Now that the Middle-Aged Woman has been ushered behind closed doors by a nurse, I'm alone in the waiting room. Of course, the ever-present television is a constant companion - but we're not on speaking terms - so I'm mostly ignoring the stream of information spewing forth from the local morning news show (The tanker accident on I-75 last night which has a couple miles of the freeway closed is the story du jour. The wreckage that used to be a bridge over 9 Mile Road is still smoking.). I've spent a good deal of time in waiting rooms over the past two years. The different tests and treatments that the MAW has undergone normally involve drugs that make operation of a motor vehicle inadvisable - so I'm the designated driver,

I also do comedy relief when necessary. Whenever The Patient is nervous (rarely) or agitated (more frequent - but this can be caused by so many things...), I will often attempt to lighten the situation with humor. And I'm not above making fun of The Patient (let's face it - wearing one of those gowns with the exposed caboose can turn you into a joke magnet) when necessary - or convenient.

When I'm not driving or working on my stand-up routine, I'll read - or try to sleep. Actually, that doesn't sound like such a bad idea right now. Once The Patient emerges, I'm sure you'll get a Twitter, Facebook or blog update on her condition. Look sharp and...

Take care.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I owe a cock to Ascelpius

Yeah - I'm talkin' to you, Crito!

OK, so I realized that there was no way in Hades that I was going to be able to prepare a post after getting home from the Harry Potter flick tonight. So I'm taking a few minutes (when I should be taking a cat nap) to write out these few measly lines.

So how about these for contradictions:

- I love sleep. I think it is important - and entirely undervalued in contemporary American culture. I regularly harp on my (nearly) adult children to get to bed and a decent hour.

AND...I'm going to the midnight show of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince tonight and don't expect to get home until close to 3 AM. If I wasn't doing that, I'd probably be up until 1 AM writing a blog post (better than this one).

- I'm nearly always busy. There is rarely a night that I come home from work and vegetate in front of the TV. I'm either attending a martial arts class, a choir practice, a meeting at church or the Youth Theater or writing a blog post.

AND...I loved doing as little as possible on my vacation. I love doing as little as possible whenever I can get away with it. Deep inside me, is a lazy man yearning to breathe free.

- I love attention. Clearly my outgoing nature, my penchant for theater and public speaking, the blogging are all designed to get other people to notice me, to tell me how talented I am, to love me.

AND...I don't really know how to accept a compliment gracefully. I tend to protest that I am unworthy or offer a contradictory critique. I am learning how to just say "Thank you" which is probably the best I will ever be able to do.

There's more...but I really need to get that cat nap.

Take care.

PS: [3:38 am] Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was great!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Not yet in the groove

I'm telling myself I could have written a GREAT post tonight.

But I didn't. I watched The English Patient (Best Picture 1996) instead. A fine film.

I sometimes wonder about myself though. How is it that I enjoy The English Patient and The Big Lebowski?

I think I need to do a post on such (seeming) contradictions. Once I shake off this post-vacation malaise. Of course, that could take all week.

Wednesday's post will be a crap shoot in any case - 'cause we're going to see the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince tomorrow. Perhaps a mini-Styro review.

With no spoilers.

Take care.

Monday, July 13, 2009

We're Back

The Middle-Aged Woman and I arrived home from Petoskey, MI on Friday night after a wonderful week there with Leslie and Larry - celebrating Independence Day, golfing, eating, talking, shopping. Mostly relaxing. MAW took the pictures - so check her blog for the visuals.

Today, I return to work and the normal routine, well-rested and ready-to-go. As soon as I'm done typing, I'm going to get in some exercise time to start the work week right. But first, a few random updates from the weekend.

- It was great to get back to martial arts class on Saturday morning. It felt good just to sweat (profusely), to see good friends I had missed, and have a leisurely lunch afterward.

- The opening performance of the Macbeth farce at the Motor City Youth Theater Saturday night was nerve-racking (for me - because I had missed the last week of rehearsal) but turned out well. Two good friends came for the show and were able to hang out afterward and visit with the MAW and me. It was nice.

- The weather was so nice Sunday, I asked The Boy if he wanted to go golfing. Although we golfed at the Twilight rate (which allows you to play as many holes as you want while the sun still shines), he wanted to stop after 11 holes. A surprise - but I don't think he was having fun (despite parring the last hole).

- Watched Vicky Christina Barcelona last night. It has its moments - but the whole thing doesn't really go anywhere, does it?

I plan to return to regular posting now that vacation time is over. Hope I've got something interesting to say.

Take care.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Are you in the play, Jim?

The answer, of course, is - yes.

This weekend and next, the Motor City Youth Theatre and Grantland Street Players and putting on two different productions on alternate nights. The Youth Theatre are performing Hamlet on Friday night and Sunday afternoon this weekend (July 10 and 12 - with a final performance the following Sunday afternoon, July 19). The Grantland Street Players (the adult wing of the Theater - with whom I will be performing) will be presenting The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society's Production of Macbeth on Saturday, July 11 and again the following weekend on Friday, July 17 and Saturday, July 18.

The version of Hamlet done by the youth will be an edited version of the full play - but the production is true to the spirit of the drama and tragedy of the original. I have both watched and performed in other productions done by the MCYT kids - and they are very talented.

The Farndale Avenue...Macbeth is a comedy about a group of British ladies trying to put on Shakespeare's Macbeth - with some difficulty. Imagine Monty Python doing Macbeth in drag - that'll give you an idea of the spirit behind this comedy. But we have real women performing most of the roles.

Anyway, either one of these productions would be a fine night out for you and your family. Particularly if you live somewhere near southeastern Michigan. You can go to the Motor city Youth Theater website ( for more information (you may even find a picture of me there somewhere from a previous production) - or leave me a comment, if you need me to send an email with details.

Vacation update: We went on a nature trail hike today (everyone but the Middle-Aged Woman; if you want an explanation, bug her) outside Harbor Springs. And watched Episodes 4 & 5 of The Civil War (1863). And took a walk into Petoskey State Park after dinner and strolled along the beach there. And watched Gran Torino (everyone but the Middle-Aged Woman; if you want an explanation...) - which was great.

So it was a good day. Hope yours was too.

Take care.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Free Man in Petoskey

One of the many nice things about vacationing away from home is removing yourself from the routine obligations and tasks of every-day life. No meetings to attend, no practices, no particular schedule to meet. The luxury of sleeping or staying up late, taking a nap, going to bed early. Having the entire day to read or watch films - broken up by meals and conversation. A day when the most important thing you have to plan is a list for the grocery store.

That's a little different than my normal routine.

Of course, there are still a few activities I would like to work in before the end of the week. But if I don't get to all of them, it won't spoil my enjoyment of the things I end up doing.

- Spend some time on the lake paddling a kayak

- Ride a bike or walk down to the beach at Petoskey State Park

- Play some cards with Leslie and Larry

- Play some tennis and/or have a swim in the (indoor) pool

It has been a bit cool and breezy lately, so outdoor swimming hasn't been an option. On the other hand, there has been little or no rain - so the weather has not much limited our ability to enjoy the outdoors. Although it wasn't warm today, Larry and I enjoyed the natural beauty of the golf course immensely. Driving through the woods quietly in an electric golf cart with the breeze in your hair and a small stream running nearby is pretty cool when you are used to lots of concrete and traffic and a hectic schedule.

My only real obligation this week is to finish memorizing my lines for the play I will be performing in on Saturday (and Friday & Saturday next weekend as well). I'm in good shape for all but my long speech that closes the play - but I made good progress on that bit tonight. I plan to work on my lines each night this week so that I will have it all down cold by the time we leave on Friday.

Having this time to relax, to reflect, to be refreshed is a great blessing. Although I can (and often) do these Three R's at home, it's quite nice to have an extended opportunity to "get away from it all".

Wherever you are, I hope you will find a way to do the Three R's too.

Take care.

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Why don't you give yourself over Pleasure?!"

Jim Styro's Meaning Of Life, Part Thirteen

I'm just about smack dab in the middle of a two-week vacation. So far, I have enjoyed myself immensely - golfing, talking, eating, golfing, drinking, listening to music, golfing, shopping, watching films...and golfing. Tomorrow, Larry and I plan to...go golfing. The truth is that we have been ordered to go golfing by our wives - because they want go putzing around in thrift shops tomorrow and don't want us messing it up for them. I secretly suspect that Larry would prefer to hit the thrift shops with the women - but I figure we can hit the thrift shops too (after our round). So hopefully, I can make it up to him.

It will be my sixth day of golf in the past eleven days - which is certainly a personal best for me (depending on how you look at it). I've actually been slacking in the Golf Dept. since we got to Petoskey last Thursday - but there's no way I could have continued the torrid pace of play from last week (five rounds in six days) without my arms falling off. Anyway, I love golf - not because I golf well - because a golf course is just a beautiful place to be. Beautifully green, well-tended, often with rolling hills, trees, a pond or stream here and there. It is the height of luxury, I think, to spend a few hours where the only concern is trying to knock a small white ball into a slightly larger hole.

That thought leads me towards a whole series of ideas concerning enjoyment, vacations, pleasure and leisure, which all touch upon the question:
What is The Secret to enjoying yourself?

We've touched upon some aspects to the question in our past MOL discussions -

You've got to know what you enjoy, what will make you happy.

You've got to align your expectations to reality.

It helps to have people around you who desire your happiness and want to share it.

But being in my current circumstance (in the middle of a two-week vacation with good friends, no responsibilities and the means to do nearly anything I desire) highlights one overriding consideration concerning The Secret:
Will I allow myself to have a good time?

For in much the same way the a person can look a golf course and appreciate the natural beauty, feel exhilaration in the challenge of the game itself, or just enjoy a few hours spent with a buddy in the fresh air - another might focus only on shots that went awry, the cost of the golf balls that were lost, or how fast/slow the greens were playing. Any of these elements may reflect the reality of the experience - but our enjoyment of the experience is based just as much (if not more) on which elements we CHOOSE TO focus on.

Why would we EVER choose to focus on the negative aspects of the experience? Perhaps because the overwhelming majority of elements of an experience were "bad" (or did not meet our expectation). But is other cases, it may be that our attitude was not shaped by the experience (we don't feel good because so many bad things actually happened) - but rather, our attitude shaped the experience (we "knew" beforehand things would go badly, things happened, we decided they were bad, repeat Steps 1,2, and 3). Maybe I don't really believe I deserve a nice vacation. Maybe I don't think I've earned the right to enjoy myself. In my experience, people don't always need a good reason to punish themselves.

So perhaps the first element in enjoying yourself is to remember or decide that - it's OK to have a good time. It's allowed.

Perhaps this is only an issue of middle-aged, white American men - but I doubt it.

Lest you be concerned: I am not having any problems along these lines. In the words of Elwood P. Dowd, "I have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whoever I'm with." Of course, Elwood drank.

But so do I.

Take care.

PS: I may write some more about this. Or I may be having too much fun on vacation. You never know.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Musical Matchmaking

The morning, as scheduled, the Middle-Aged Woman and I left the cozy confines of suburban Detroit for the small-town splendor of Petoskey, MI. (For those of you who need a map, please refer to this post.) In preparation for our departure last night, I created a couple of compilation CDs for Leslie and Larry.

One of the discs featured a selection of 25 Nat (King) Cole tracks, including his big hits and many personal favorites. I noticed Larry grooving to the King Cole Trio's Straighten Up And Fly Right during our drive home from Greenbush to Detroit on Monday and decided then and there to make sure that he receive a more in-depth exposure to Cole's music.

A slight digression: Jim Styro's Top Five Nat (King) Cole tracks
[This is very difficult...]

1. Straighten Up And Fly Right - This really swings. Such energy, so playful. Pure gold.
2. Nature Boy - Although I normally detest an artist rerecording their own work, some of Cole's tracks really benefit from the maturing of his voice and some fantastic new orchestral arrangements. This song is an example.
3. There Will Never Be Another You - A personal favorite. The man has so many astounding ballads that picking particular tracks is painful. The first time I ever heard this song was in the film version of The World According To Garp. A wonderful, heart-breaking lyric.
4. Stardust - As an amateur vocalist myself, I've got one question: how the HELL can he make this song sound so effortless?
5. Don't Get Around Much Anymore - What an arrangement! So smooth, so much swagger. It's the bomb. That's why he's the King. (Jump back, Elvis, Michael or anyone else you want to mention. Who needs Sinatra when you can have Nat?)

OK - where were we?

Oh yeah - so I also made L&L a collection of 19 Jonatha Brooke tracks (both solo and with The Story). I'm not sure Jonatha has had any songs which would qualify as "hits" exactly - but if you haven't heard this woman's music, you need to run (don't dawdle) to Amazon and buy some now. (I am willing to provide recommendations at no charge.) We were listening to some of my personal collections during our drive Monday and it struck me how many times I have included Jonatha's music. I also recalled Larry expressing interest in her music at some previous Music Night gatherings; he may have even borrowed a CD or two. Anyway, I decided he needed to possess more of Jonatha's music as well.

[Dear Jonatha: In penance for giving some of your music away, I promise to buy another copy of "The Works" and give that as a gift as well. Love, Jim Styro]

Another digression: Jim Styro's Top Five Jonatha Brooke songs
[I can believe I'm doing this to myself again. So hard...]

1. The Angel In The House (The Story) - This is the first track that really got my attention. Such a bittersweet lyric - and Jonatha's vocal range is glorious.
2. Where Were You? - The word that comes to mind again is "swagger". On her first solo album, Jonatha rocks out with impunity. I particularly love the homage to "Here Comes The Sun" that closes this number.
3. Because I Told You So - What this lady can do with just her voice and a guitar is amazing. A wonderful lyric of devotion - a personal favorite.
4. Linger - Great, ringing guitars. When the chorus kicks in, who can resist punching the accelerator? "Here I go-oh-woh-woh-woh-woh-woh..."
5. No Net Below - Few artists are brave enough to be heard so up close and personal. This track is recorded so that you can hear every breath, like she's whispering the song into your ear. In the dictionary, the word "intimate" refers back to this record.

Damn - it's getting hard to remember what I was going to write about when I started this.
Oh, I remember...

So we're listening to a Jonatha Brooke song ("No Net Below" actually) on the way to Petoskey today and Snoplum says:

"I think it would be great if Jonatha Brooke covered a Steve Ward song. What's that "river" song I like?"

"Well, there's a few of them: do you mean Flow (river flow) - or The River Leads Me Home - or Down By..."

"That one. River Leads Me Home."

"I think she should cover Kid Yourself. It's probably his most Jonatha-like song. Or, if she wants to do a ballad, I would suggest Still Life"

"Well, I think they should do a duet on The River Leads Me Home."


"They should work together on a record. Jonatha has her own label. She can hire whoever she wants to work on her records..."

"OK - but...they seem like very different types of artists to me - in so far as you can make judgements about what a person may be like based on their art. Steve Ward is...a disillusioned optimist - and Jonatha is an optimistic cynic."

"Oh - that's a post!"

"What's a post"

"What you just said about Steve Ward and Jonatha Brooke."

"I thought it was more something I might put in a Random Tuesday Thoughts thing - not a whole post just for that."

"No - you have to write a post with that and we'll send copies of it to Steve Ward and Jonatha Brooke so that they can start working together. And I will be responsible for having brought together two musical geniuses."

"You'll be responsible? Does that mean you're writing the post?"

"No - you're writing it. I'll be...distributing it."

[Think of the great scene in Schindler's List where Neeson (as Schindler) meets Ben Kingsley (as the accountant Stern): "Not the work, not the work...the PRESENTATION."]

Last digression: Jim Styro's Top Five Steve Ward tracks

1. Careful (Can't Fall Again) [Cherry Twister] - So hard to pick only one Cherry Twister number. But I love the slide guitar on this number (it reminds me so much of Steely Dan's Pearl of the Quarter) and the harmonies are sublime. This is the softer side of Steve.
2. I Missed The Mark - The opening track of Steve's first solo album, Opening Night. From the joyous organ strains that open the song to the closing guitar lick, this is no rookie music-making. This is alternative pop from a man who knows how to write, how to play, how to sing, how to produce a record. How can this guy not be both rich and famous?!?!?!?!
3. Still Life - A near perfect pop song. I won't even attempt to describe its pristine beauty. Go buy "Opening Night"!
4. The Death of Star - Oh and do you like psychedelic pop too? Well the Doctor is in! The arrangement to this song is mind-blowing; like Art Garfunkel doing Strawberry Fields Forever.
5. Kid Yourself - The closing song on Steve's second (and last, so far - dammit) album, See and Be Seen. "Someone's got a secret to tell..." - indeed; and the secret is: Steve Ward is a pop music genius.

OK - so to sum up:
1. Go buy all of Steve Ward's albums (quit whining - there's only three. You'll thank me later.)2. Go buy any three Jonatha Brooke albums
3. If you already know about Steve and/or Jonatha - and you have any powerful friends that can bring these to talents together, then lend your voice to mine. Send emails, make phone calls, alert your Senator, Congressman, Obama!

We need them to make beautiful music together.

Take care.

PS: I had to finish off this post in the parking lot of the Petoskey Burger King where I was barely able to steal their free Internet access. So please excuse any typos, bad grammar, stupid ideas, etc.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Personal best

My vacation started last Friday, June 26. In the six days since then, I have played a round of golf all but one day (Monday - my birthday - when we drove home from Greenbush to Redford). And on four of the five days I played, we shot a full 18 holes. So I've played 81 holes in the last week. I've never played golf five out of six days. I may never do it again. But it certainly raises the bar for future golf planning.

Tomorrow, we drive to Petoskey to spend the week with our good friends, Leslie and Larry, at their condo. Although I expect to do lots of different things over the next week, my one critical duty will be to provide suitable films to watch for periods of inclement weather or days when a quiet evening at the condo is desired. I always take way more video that could possibly be watched. It's my way of keeping options open.

Here's what will go in the movie bag:

Gran Torino - Clint Eastwood's latest, filmed (in part) around Metro Detroit where I abide. Of the four of us, only Larry has already seen it.

Ken Burns' documentaries, The Civil War & The War (WWII) - Leslie had been reading a novel set during the Civil War and desired additional background. Nobody's better at making history interesting than Burns.

Frost Nixon - Nominated for Best Picture last year with great performances from Frank Langella and Michael Sheen. I believe I'm the only one who's already seen it.

Swimming to Cambodia - Leslie and Larry weren't familiar with the late Spalding Gray (who the MAW and I love) - and their children are currently traveling in Thailand and...Cambodia.

Lonesome Dove - Larry mentioned he hadn't seen it. Most likely, too long to undertake - but you never know.

The Dark Knight - L&L haven't seen it. And they count on me for a good comic book movie now and again.

State and Main - A good comedy is always important to have ready. And I'm the only one who's seen this one.

Burn After Reading, Thank You For Smoking, Lars and The Real Girl - Three more comedies, because I'm the King of Video excess. Each of these has a different mix of funny and touching - with the Coens Brothers leaning more cerebral (as always) and Lars being on the opposite end of the spectrum.

The Times Of Harvey Milk - Because I haven't purchased Gus Van Sant's Milk yet. And that film owes a debt of gratitude to this earlier documentary.

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen - Because I got the 20th Anniversary Edition for Father's Day (along with The Times of Harvey Milk).

A River Runs Through It - I love this movie. A great story of family.

Harvey - Perhaps my favorite move ever. A comedy - with heart.

Well, it's getting late - and I've got a big drive tomorrow. I hope to keep posting while we are out of town - but access to the Internet may be limited.
Keep a look-out for me. And I'll try my best to stay in touch.

Take care.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

All You Ever Wanted To Know About
The Spinner Invitational

(but were just too smart to ask)

-or- "How Nineteen Guys Got Owned By One Girl"

The 22nd Annual Spinner Invitational, held each year at the Bay Valley Resort, was a rousing success again this year. The 2009 Golf Festival was held last Friday and, despite the fact that my Twitter posts were few, uninformative and generally without merit - the overall event went off without a hitch.

Invitees met at 9 AM for the Past Champions Brunch to bulk up for the grueling day ahead, find out the handicaps and groupings for the event, and hear some words of advice from the reiging champion.

Brunch was held (as it has been for many years) at the Exit Restaurant in Birch Run, MI. The 2009 group photo below was taken just outside that establishment. Please note 2008 Champion Ed Kirt in the left center of the front row. You can't miss him; he's the guy wearing the coveted Orange Jumpsuit, that is awarded (temporarily) to each year's champion.

In the same tradition as the fabled Green Jacket awarded each spring at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, the Orange Jumpsuit must be proudly worn by the reigning champion at brunch each year. Well, it must be worn anyway - and any grumbling kept to a minimum.

Can you guess from this photo who is the new 2009 Champion? No peeking to the end of the post! [What do you mean "I already gave it away?"]

We traveled the remaining 25 miles to Bay City and got down to business - golfing.
[That's The Boy below - striking his first shot ever at the Spinner Invitational.]

As I indicated in my last post, golf is only a small part of the event. In addition to the Past Champions Brunch and an informal 19th Hole gathering at Bay Valley, the group heads south to Frankenmuth, MI (on the way home for most participants) for the Governor's Awards Banquet. For most of the Invitational's 22 years, the banquet has been held at Zehnder's - where most of the attendees opt for the delicious, all-you-can-eat family-style chicken dinner.

As with any prestigious, long-standing event of this kind, there must be an organizing body to plan and execute all of the necessary activities - in this case, the Board of Governors (a group of men shrouded in mystery: beloved by many, feared by some; who wield their power Old Testament-style). Although I have come to know these men well during my years serving as the Director of Spinner Operations, it would be safer for me and you to avoid dwelling o'er-long on the Board.

Suffice it to say that: the Governor's Awards Banquet combines the storied tradition of Britain's Open Championship with the heady anticipation of the Academy Awards. The Invitational celebrates, not the fruits of golfing excellence, but rather the oftentimes rocky journey of the "hacker" whose limited opportunity to play does not reflect his/her love of the game. And the awards presented by the Board of Governors reflects this focus.

The winner of this year's "Cooke" award - for the most shots coming to rest in a sand trap:

The Duke of Inkster (with five)

The winner of this year's "Hannum" award - for the most shots striking trees:

Big Billy B. (with an astounding eleven)
[Bill is in the right of the photo, Chico is presenting the award at left.]

The winner of this year's "Morrison" award - for the most shots coming to rest in a body of water:

Larry* (with a respectable eight water balls)

The winner of this year's Capt. D.H. Wyatt Award - for the highest net score (the score adjusted by handicap):

Chico** (with a net 88)

And last - but not least - that golfer who persevered all of the hardships and self-doubt, whose very presence broke down barriers and brought hope to those who might not previously been bold enough to dream what seemed impossible;
the 2009 Winner of the W. T. Bigby Memorial Governor's Trophy:

Judy G. (with a net 65)

Check out this year's Champion with her posse:

I only wish you all could have been there. We had a great time.
And we'll do it again; same time, same place - next year.

Take care.

* A close friend, vacation buddy, member of the Music Night Federation and all-around cool guy; who with his wife, Leslie, is an originating member of the L2C2 Vacation Club.
** One of my closest friends, former boss, vacation buddy, Music Night co-founder and all-around cool guy; he and his wife, Chickadee, are also originating members of the C2L2 Vacation Club.