Saturday, October 30, 2004

Proud Daddy

Quick entry -- gotta head to a soccer game with my boy in about 10 minutes. But I had to get this moment down.

This morning, just for fun, we asked the kids which member of the Scooby Doo Gang they thought should be president. We don't really talk politics around the house if we can avoid it, but we thought it would be fun to see what they came up with. I suggested Velma, because she's so smart. Christine noted that Fred might work well, since he has a lot of charisma (and man, can that guy wear a scarf!). Miranda thought for a while, and then said "I don't know, but I got to vote for real the other day!"

Hmmm. Apparently they did a mock-election at school. So, Christine and I kind of eyed each other, and then said "well, ummm, who did you vote for?" And she said she wasn't sure, it was "the one at the bottom." And then she paused for a moment... and suddenly blurted out:

"I KNOW I didn't vote for George Bush! He's been president forever!"

So, we laughed. A lot. And I just looked at her and said, "No honey. I just seems that way."

Damn, I love my kids.

Mood: Tired, proud
Now Playing: Nada

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

MixMeister = Crack

Quiz for the day.

Q: What do The All-American Rejects, Laurie Anderson, B-52s, Barenaked Ladies, Basement Jaxx, Beastie Boys, Beyonce, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Black Eyed Peas, Blondie, Blue Man Group, Blue Oyster Cult, Bowling for Soup, Bumblebeez 81, Kate Bush, Butthole Surfers, Cake, The Clash, Clutch, Joe Cocker, Concrete Blonde, Elvis Costello, Counting Crows, The Cramps, Dashboard Confessional, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Eminem, Faith No More, Fischerspooner vs. Billy Squire, The Flaming Lips, Franz Ferdinand, Nelly Furtado, Peter Gabriel, Garbage, Green Day, Patty Griffin, Happy Mondays, Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, INXS, Chris Isaak, Jane's Addiction, Janet Jackson, Jimmy Eat World, The Killers, Linkin Park, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Kirsty MacColl, Raul Malo, Maroon 5, The Mavericks, Sarah McLachlan, George Michael, Kylie Minogue, Modest Mouse, Alanis Morissette, Jason Mraz, New Found Glory, No Doubt, The Offspring, Oingo Boingo, Pet Shop Boys, Liz Phair, Poe, The Polyphonic Spree, Pretenders, Raffi, Reel Big Fish, The Replacements, Riddlin' Kids, Scissor Sisters, Screaming Blue Messiahs, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Staind, Joss Stone, The Stone Roses, Los Straightjackets, Gwen Stefani, Matthew Sweet, Sugar, The The, Toad the Wet Sprocket , Tool, U2, UNKLE, Velvet Revolver, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Rob Zombie, and about 4 dozen movie clips and sound effects have in common?

A: They’re all part of the 6 hour, 23 minute long MP3 mix (that's all in a single 525MB or so file) I’ve assembled for my Halloween party. I think it’s pretty much complete. Just need to get the video-dub version of "Ch-Ch-Check It Out" downloaded and converted to MP3 and I should be good to go.

Must have spent close to 24 hours on this thing, all together. Good lord, what is wrong with me?


So, party disaster was narrowly averted today. Last night, we get a call from the woman who we hired to run the kid’s party (ingeniously designed to keep the kids entertained and occupied while also keeping them the hell away from the adults for a few hours. Nefarious, yes, but so, so good…).

The conversation begins with “I am so sorry to have to do this….”

My blood ran cold.

“… but I won’t be able to work your party Saturday. Sorry for the short notice, but my mother just called and they are taking my grandfather off of life-support Saturday morning and she really needs all of the family with her.”

So, yeah, it’s kind of hard to question the woman’s priorities here. Of course she could be lying. This could be a really good variation of the “dead grandmother” excuse we’ve all used once or twice somewhere along the way.

Somehow I doubt it, though.

So, yeah. Panic at 9:30 last night, followed by a night of restless worrying and disastrous-party nightmares. 4 days to go, and suddenly we have no one to run the kids party. What to do? Either we get someone else, pronto, potentially at an exorbitant price, or else Christine and I would just have to take turns running the kid party while the other hosted things downstairs. After all, we couldn’t suddenly tell our guests that kids are no longer going to be allowed, and I’d be damned if I was going to have 1-2 dozen kids scampering around the downstairs while the adults were trying to enjoy themselves.

Luckily, however, our back-up guys (who work the Kid’s Zone at our gym, and who are AMAZING with kids) were still free, even at this late date. Huzzah!

Now, what the fuck costume and I gonna wear?

Mood: Stressed, yet relieved
Now Playing: Kirsty MacColl, “Galore”

Friday, October 22, 2004

Party Prep Madness

OK, so the party planning stress is really starting to build up now. But in a good way.


Our annual Halloween party takes place in eight days, and planning is going pretty well so far. But Christ, there's a lot left to do. See, you gotta understand, I do this thing in a big way, at least as big a way as is available to me within my somewhat limited means. Each year it grows bigger: more decor, more guests, more music, more everything. It's a pretty damn good party, and it's getting better each year we throw it. The crowd of fiolks gets more varied and more sizable each year: this year, I'm guessing well top 80 people over the course of the evening, although it could be significantly more. We shall see.

So here's what we've got planned so far:
  • 6+ hours of mixed music, in a single 520MB+ MP3 file. Exhaustively selected, tinkered with, cross-faded, and sequenced by yours truly. I'm trying to pretend that this is complete, but I'm a hopeless tinkerer when it comes to party mixes and I know that I'll be fucking around with the mix until the day of the party.
  • Music distributed throughout the house and into the backyard via wireless networking, a Shoutcast server, WinAmp on various computers and laptops, and powered speaker/subwoofer setups all over the place. Server is in place and working, and I've got enough computers, speakers, and laptops at my disposal to put the thing together.
  • Movie clip trivia contests. About 20-25 movie dialogue clips, each about 30 seconds long, sprinkled liberally throughout the music mix. Basically, if you hear the clip and can be the first person to get to me and correctly identify the file the clip is from, you get a prize. Last year it was scratch-off lottery tickets, I'm trying to think up some other ideas for prizes this year.
  • Front yard and front of house decorated to look like a graveyard, with "wrought iron" bars on the windows, skeletons hanging from everywhere, bones, tombstones, lights, fog, etc. Graveyard is ready, window pieces are built but not decorated. Still have to sink a bunch of anchors in the brick on the front of my house to hang everything.
  • A lot of beer, a lot of wine, a lot of food, a lot of folks bringing more of the same.
  • Kids party with 1 or 2 nannies working upstairs. Spooky movies, stories, and games for the kids throughout the evening, and a Halloween Ghost Hunt in the backyard (each kid gets a souvenier flashlight and goes poking around the backyard looking for little toy filled jack-o-lanterns and lollypops dressed up to look like ghosts). Gotta decorate the lollypops and the rest of the goodies SHOULD be delivered by UPS by Thursday. If not, well, let's not think about that shall we?
  • Tons of decor. Between my brother and I we have plenty of props and whatnot, so the place will be fairly steeped in atmos-fear. Fake fog will be in abundance, no doubt. Almost NONE of the interior work has been done yet. Hoping to get all the window works done this weeke, but the rest will have to wait until after the house is cleaned and ready to go -- no point in putting a bunch of Halloween crap out just so that we have to clean around it later.
The cleaning will be, thankfully, quite a bit easier this time around. My sister-in-law is coming down for the party this year, and being the delightfully spoiled NYC girl she is she has offered to pay to get our house cleaned professionally before the party. This is one of those fantastic combinations of generosity and selfishness -- if she didn't do this, we'd be putting her to work to get the place ready, so it's a win/win all around.

So it's coming along nicely. But, of course, my weekend is looking insanely busy again. I was hoping to get some chill-out time in tonight, but I just got a call from my mom and her car has died (second time this week). I'm kinda stuck at the office until she gets the car towed, and then I'll need to go pick her up and get her home, so who knows how long that will take. Then, tomorrow is soccer game, elementary school fund-rasier/Rennaisance Faire thing for an hour or two, and then back to the house to work on decor. Sunday, we've got Sunday school/church, grocery shopping, Halloween spooky symphony concert with the kids, and hopefully some time to get more party-prep work done that evening, and then ... well, then the weekend is pretty much finished.

Taking next Friday off to make sure that things are all put together for the party. Typically I wind up working my ass off all day on the day of the party, setting up tables and decorations, cooking, cleaning, stressing out, and by the time the first guest arrives I'm friggin' exhausted. Plus, I get all wound up and forget to eat, then when the party gets rolling and everything is going well I relax and knock back a-couple-a-few strong cocktails and whammo! Empty stomach! Drunk! The goal is to have the entire house put together and ready to go on Friday, so that Saturday we can just get the cooking and food prep going early, have a good solid lunch AND dinner, and spend as much of the afternoon just trying to keep things low key, maybe even cramming in a power nap mid-afternoon.

We shall see.

Mood: Good, if a bit anxious
Now Playing: Gregg's House of Horror 2004 Party Mix (Current Tune: Mdoest Mouse, "Float On")

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Catching My Breath

Man, I was doing so well at updating this journal every couple of days, and then the last week or so really knocked me off track. Time to refocus.

Things have been hectic and insane hereabouts. Not necessarily "bad," exactly. Just too damn busy. The last month or so, I've found that my free time has pretty much vanished completely, and it's really beginning to stress me out. Let's walk through some of the events, causes, and whatnot.

I mean, there's the usual work -- too much of it, or too little. But I think it really started just before my daughter's birthday party last month -- all the preparations, all the money going out, all that noise. Along with that, my son started soccer with the local YMCA league -- practices are schedule for 6:30 Friday nights (ack) and games are the following morning (8, 9, or 10 o'clock). Then there's always something that has to be taken care of on Saturday. Running around, shopping, buying, returning. So, as it is most weekends don't actually begin until about noon on Saturday these days.

Now, let's add to this the fact that we've taken a leadership role in this young families dinner group thing at our church. Basically, you get 5 or 6 couples together for dinner once a month, they get sitters for the kids, and we do... I dunno... stuff. There's discussion topics, but we've never really followed them -- We basically treat it as an opportunity to socialize with some folks from our community that we wouldn't ordinarily spend time with. Even though neither of us is particularly ourwardly super-religious, we decided to do this last year to expand our social circle in some new areas and we wound up meeting two other couples that we really get along with, so we figured we'd try it again this year. This time Christine volunteered to lead the group.

Well, we had to host a dinner Saturday night, so we had the classic awkward Getting To Know You dinner. Of course, since it's a church-oriented group, no one ever knows what to expect. We attend church, but in my case it's for two reasons only: I like the kids to have a simply structured religious environment so that later we can start really digging in on some of the trickier philosophical stuff with some sort of common starting point and b) I enjoy participating in ceremony. Otherwise, I have very strong religious convictions, but they don't tend to overlap well with folks who are very into organized religion in general. I always wind up sort of biting my lip and waiting to get a vibe from the others. Once I hit a comfort zone, I may interject my opinions, but in general I do the nod-and-smile thing.

So, we were supposed to have 6 couples altogether. One couple -- friends from last year -- couldn't make it, and a second couple kept us on the hook waiting to get a confirmation until 3 days beforehand, and then canceled 45 minutes before the dinner (lost their sitter, and when we gave them a list of names to try they never even bothered to call us back to let us know that it-hadn't-worked-out-but-thanks. Rude. Later, in e-mail, we let them know that Febraury and April months that would be good for them to volunteer to host, and they come back with "we'll see." Let's just say we're REALLY hoping that these folks will bail on the group. I don't need this shit.). That leaves us, the other couple we knew from last year (Ginny and Dave, who are awesome, and also from New York. In fact, Ginny used to underage-drink in my hometown. Small world), and two new couples.

One couple seemed nice: Pleasant, if hard to get a reading on, but that's not too unusual for these sorts of cold meeting things -- it always takes a couple of these things before people begin to relax. I mean, it's all very artificial and forced, so it's silly to expect everyone to be at ease. She was pretty, Mexican, and 2 months pregnant. He was nice, drank some wine, chatted amiably, etc.

The other couple, though, seemed to be competing in some sort of Mr. and Mrs. Catholic America competition. Every Single Thing they said over the course of the evening had to do with Catholicism, our church, the pastors at our church, the Catholic student groups at the school where they met. Everything. Bright eyed and smiling, like Christian Pod People. And they're good friends with the bozos who canceled at the last minute and didn't even thank us for trying to help them work things out. On their way out, it was very clear that while He had retained his Wide Eyed Pleasant Gaze, She was somewhat ruffled by the Uppity Women (Christine and Ginny were in rare form -- stress + wine = snarking amiably at each other all evening). If you know them, you know it's all in fun, but if you don't share their sense of humor it can get brutal. Perhaps it worked: We're hopeful that they will bail on the group as well.

But anyway, stressful evening after stressful day of preparing for stressful dinner. Finally, at about 10, after I deployed some mild untruths about needing to wrap things up so I could go get our kids from my mom's house, the new couples bailed, leaving us and our friends to spend the next 2 hours, drinking wine as quickly as possible and trashing the Super-Christians.

Finally! The weekend had begun to be fun! It only took until 10PM Saturday. And unfortunately, that's how most of my weekends have been feeling lately. Agh.

So, on top of this we are in the midst of planning our annual Halloween party. Now, I LOVE throwing this party. I wouldn't skip it for the world. This will be the third one we've thrown since we moved into our house here in Texas, and it keeps getting bigger (in complexity and attendance) each year. First year was smallish, around 20 people or so including kids. Last year was significantly larger, about 50 or so people total, with a kids party going upstairs (we hired a couple of nannies to keep the kids occupied so the adults could relax and party downstairs without kids underfoot) and this year looks to be larger still. Current guess is that we'll hit 70-80 people altogether (around 20 kids, 50-60 adults), over the course of the evening, although it could be significantly more. Christ, if everyone who hasn't responded shows up we'll hit about 200.


So, there's a LOT of preparation to be done. Decorating the house (graveyard in the front yard, new window decor I'm currently building, new tombstones, tons of stuff inside as well). I'm nearly done with the music mix for the party (6 hours of mixed stuff -- I love MixMeister). Then there's buying stuff. Beer, wine, food, probably some liquor as well. MONEY MONEY MONEY. In the middle of all of this, there's soccer (still), as well as a fund raising fair at my daughter's school on Saturday, plus we're bringing the kids to a Halloween show with the Austin Symphony on Sunday.

Jeez, how am I gonna get all this done? I see some late nights in my future. And I still haven't figured out a costume. Aggh.

Anyway, that's a ramble for you. A bit more rambly that usual, but I do what I can.

Mood: Mildly harried
Now Playing: Reel Big Fish, "Turn the Radio Off"

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The End of the Moon

So, the Laurie Anderson performance was wonderful, as expected. Much more low-key than "Happiness," last year's show , and also very notably sad. Not in a maudlin "telling sad weepy stories" way, of course. This is Laurie Anderson after all: if there's emotional content in her stories, it is more often suggested than it is explicitly told, or the emotional response comes after the fact, as the pieces kind of fall into place.

I felt as if last year's show was characterized by a sense of wide-eyed befuddlement, a "can you believe this?" sort of reaction to the post-9/11 world in which we live. This show felt more like the sad resignation and acceptance of this new world. Dark, simple stage, littered with small lit candles, a red velvet chair stage-right from which she occasional told stories that were of a more personal nature, very small keyboard and effects rig center-stage, a white plastic rectangle with some of the craters of the moon imprinted on it, which functioned briefly as a incongruous and unexpected video screen but which mostly just hung there, mysterious and cold, floating and starkly lit to stage-left. And stories, with quiet sequenced rhythmic keyboard accompaniment, interspersed with mournful violin pieces.

The show, named "The End of the Moon," was initially called "Beauty" when she began workshopping it last year, and a lot of the material dealt with concepts of beauty, and symmetry, and science, and the way that people can cling to or believe two things at once, often things that directly contradict or undermine each other, and the constant Laurie Anderson bemusement at absurdity in everyday life, and the ways in which all of these things intersect and intertwine. I came away with a sense that we perceive beauty in the spaces between these things, or in the places in which they overlap.

One of the running themes throughout the show was her experiences over the past two years while acting as the first (and, sadly, last) artist-in-residence at NASA. Her description of the reassembly of the fragments that were gathered from the ground after the Columbia disaster was spine tingling: while trying to study the disaster and determine the casue, the pieces they were able to locate and collect were arranged in an aircraft hangar, placed in the approximate shape of the shuttle itself. But there were so many pieces missing, she said, that the actual arrangement was more like a map. A map of things that had been lost.

And she told this great story about how, when she first got to NASA, she saw one of the most beautiful pictures she'd ever seen, a Hubble photograph of some nebulae or other, and it was full of gorgeous baby blues and pinks, with baby stars being born within. And she started wondering, is it REALLY that color? That's amazing! So she asked one fo the technicians about it, and the technicians said well, of course, the actual appearance is largely determined by what wavelengths of light we're actually looking at and etc. and so she asked "but what about the colors?" And he said, well, we chose them. So, she asked, you mean it could have been medium gray and a sort of brownish purple if you wanted? And he said sure. So, she asked, why'd you pick pink and blue? And the guy says, "Well, we thought poeple would like that."

And she sums it up by saying "wait a minute, who's the artist in residence here?"

I loved the ways in which she cast science in an artistic light. We tend to think of science as this cold, clinical and exact thing. But the fact is that so much of the edgier parts of science, like astrophysics, and quantum physics, bear as much a resemblance to avant garde art as to anything clinical and exact. They are so full of guess work, and supposition, and playful toying with concepts and new ideas.

One final anecdote, which hit me like a gut punch: Her current work-in-progress consists of doing a series of walks, 10 day walks, and then using the experiences gathered in the walk to generate her work. She has a terrier (named Lolabelle), and she had read that terrier's, being very intelligent, could learn and understand up to 500 words, so she decided to go on a long and very secluded walk/retreat with Lolabelle to see if she could figure out what those words were.

So, she describes how they go on this walk through some portion of the California mountains, where there was hardly a single other person to encounter the entire time. And she describes how Lolabelle, being a terrier and bred for herding, tends to walk along in this constant state of alertness, checking the permieter, circling behind her and then running ahead to wait behind a tree before popping out and again checking everything. And then, somewhere along the way, she notices turkey vultures, circlng lazily overhead. And then sometime later, a couple of the vultures suddenly swoop down, and then hover near the treetops, checking out Lolabell, trying to figure out what that thing is, realizing that, no that thing's not a rabbit or a squirel, just a bit too big for us to take out. And Lolabelle stops and stares up at them, wide eyed, alert but terrified, and then the vultures went away.

But after that, for the rest of the trip, Lolabelle is different. Instead of just checking the perimeter, she's checking the sky as well. And her expression is one of realization, the sudden awful understanding that the dangers don't just come from the ground anymore. Now she's got to worry about a whole 240 more degrees. Now they can come from the sky. And Laurie, puzzled, says that the expression on Lolabelle's face was familiar, and she couldn't quite figure it out until she realized, finally, that Lolabelle had discovered the very same expression that Laurie had seen on the faces of all of her neighbors, in New York City, after 9/11.

It made my hair stand on end, my breath catch in my throat, and my eyes well up. And in recalling that moment, the exact same thing is happening now.

Mood: Invigorated
Now Playing: Vangelis, "Blade Runner"