Why Concerts Are Still Worthwhile

My favorite Rush song is Bravado.
But it wasn’t when I first heard it. Sometimes you return to a song years later and it gives you a completely different feeling. But in this case I knew exactly what made me love it after dismissing it so many years ago: the live version, specifically the Rush in Rio DVD.
Perhaps the crowd played a part in it, but there’s quite a difference in musicality. Geddy sings with much more emotion. Alex’s solo seems sparse, more honest, beautiful individual licks that build into a gorgeous resolve. And his outro is Mark Kopfler-esque in its heartbreaking passion.
Taken altogether, the studio version feels sterile and emotionless in comparison, which is a bit hilarious when I realize how much I love the Gregorian chant version.
In a completely different example, Take Flight is my favorite Lindsey Stirling song, just for the music alone but also because it’s easily the most visually exciting track on the Live in London DVD. Even the music video is superb. When I saw the new live version of this song on YouTube, it didn’t look quite as stunning, but it made a difference because I knew I’d be seeing it live in a few months. And indeed, when the show finally got to the Greek Theater and I was in the second row, it was so much more inspirational, special, whatever adjective you’d like to choose.
I will admit I went quite a few years in my late twenties and early thirties without seeing many live shows, until Raining Jane caught my attention about fifteen years ago. From then I’ve been to hundreds of shows in Los Angeles, in places like Hotel Café, Molly Malone’s, Coffee Gallery, and quite a few that no longer exist. Other than an occasional headache when the mix was too loud, I’ve never regretted it. And can you think of a better way to meet your favorite musicians, especially without it seeming stalkerish? Just about every CD I’ve bought in the past 10 years is autographed, and some of those favorite musicians are now friends I have lunch with all the time. Heck, their kids know me!
So this is for all the musicians who think it’s no longer worthwhile to play out, but also to the fans, who should demand their favorite artists show up!

;o)

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Heightened Senses

So, I have heightened senses.
The most famous person, even if he wasn’t real, to suffer from this was Usher. . . no, not the rapper, the character from Edgar Allan Poe’s story. That was fiction, of course, because no one could live like that; he would have killed himself a long time before. So yeah, I don’t have it anywhere near that bad, but I still had to grow up with everything being. . . too much.
Why does it suck most of the time?
As I age, my hearing and eyesight are fading, but unfortunately not my sense of smell. That’s as strong as ever. Every time I pass a dumpster, or even a trash can, I have to remember to internally close my nose, otherwise it feels like getting hit by a sledgehammer.
Taste is also hard to deal with. The way you feel when biting into the hottest pepper around is the way I feel with any small amount of any spice. . . except cinnamon. I have to order everything bland; my burgers consist of meat, cheese and bread, with the occasional bacon thrown in. Steaks have nothing on them. Waiters hate me, dates are embarrassed (only one of many reasons, apparently), and no one really understands.
Then there’s the last one: touch. This is the most difficult to explain, as there are two components: touching someone or something, and being touched.
My touching is as strong, or as sensitive, as ever. I’ve pleasured women just by rubbing their eyebrows. Being touched, however, is declining in a bad way.
In talking smack with guys and being honest with ladies—try it, it works—I’ve known that pleasurable sensations are off the scale for me, compared to most. The physical delight people achieve with orgasm, I can achieve with a lot less, so just imagine what a climax feels like. Unfortunately, with great pleasure comes great soreness. Even worse, as I age I’ve lost even more of this stamina, getting sore quicker, in some cases a lot quicker. It’s a bummer, though usually you don’t feel it until after. It does usually preclude an encore, though.
And regular pain? Please don’t pinch me. Getting a flu shot? More like a stab wound. And going to the dentist? No thanks, haven’t in 25 years. I’d rather have my teeth fall out.
Now imagine sunburn. . .
I’m writing this next section while eating at Juanita’s, my favorite place at Olvera Street, in downtown Los Angeles. I’m eating a bean and cheese burrito, just about the only thing on the menu I can have. Even with this relatively plain dish, I’m getting a slight buzz from the cheese. And right after, I go to Kitty’s for a soft serve. . . vanilla, of course.
So yeah, most of the time it doesn’t matter, but that just makes the times it does that much worse. Chronic pain is my closest friend. So for those who have asked me to go out with them, to nightclubs in particular but really anywhere loud, I hope you understand a little better why I always say no. If you invite me to a Cajun or Indian restaurant, I might have to shoot you. So don’t. Leave me alone and let me decide, okay?
;o)

Government Office Bliss

Friday morning found me walking up desolate and weed-edged Rosemead Blvd. in El Monte toward the complex of federal buildings tucked next to the freeway, across from the outdoor mall anchored by a giant Target. I had to fix some errors that had cropped up in my mom’s benefits, so that she wouldn’t lose all that lovely health care she’s getting now and make my financial burdens even worse than they already are.
Knowing the drill, I put all the stuff from my pockets into my backpack, especially the coins, and then sent it through the x-ray machine; that way when I passed through the metal detector I only had to remove my hat, my glasses, and my phone. And my belt. Have I mentioned I’ve lost 60 pounds? Luckily my shorts did not slide off. The security guard was jovial enough to joke around, so that was fun.
Having been there before, I managed to pass by the info desk this time and go to the next help person further inside. She sent me to a line that I thought was wrong, where the guy quickly told me to go back to her for a number and enter the waiting area where I’d been before and knew I was heading. Luckily that didn’t take long, especially when I saw so few people there, including no one at the no-number line; it got pretty full by the time I left. And the guy with the baby was there with someone already being served, so it was hardly a wait before I was sitting down on one side of the giant circular desk in the middle of the room holding five workers.
It felt similar to the DMV, though not as harried.
And then the worker I got, a pleasant Hispanic gentleman in his forties in glasses and tie—the only downside was the Raiders lanyard holding his ID—proceeded to take care of everything I needed, glancing between the paperwork I’d gotten in the mail and his computer. It felt like it went by so quickly, even though it was a solid half hour, and part of that was when he was searching for his staple remover. (I realized what he wanted without him saying, which surprised him tremendously. When he asked how I knew, I told him, “They don’t call me Sherlock for nothing!”)
It was such a pleasant experience—I felt like I’d made a new friend—that I stayed to fill out a survey card, giving Ernest as high praise as I could come up with on the spot. And even though the supervisor was helping someone else, when she saw me holding the yellow card she took it with a smile and a genuine thank you.
I’d budgeted two to three hours, depending when I got there, for the experience, and much like my times at the DMV, I was out quickly. As always I gazed longingly at the ice cream factory across the street, which I blame for the brain fart I had at not boarding the bus pulling to a stop in front of me, which would have left me in the same place I needed to go, and instead walking half a mile in already-warm temperatures to the other bus stop. On the other hand, that heat and sweat, along with the feelings of triumph and relief, led me to drop into the Carl’s Jr. and get my first Oreo milkshake in years.
So props to one government employee who doesn’t fit the cliché. . .

;o)

For My 50th Birthday, I lost 50 Pounds

In ten months. It might actually be sixty-four pounds, according to my doctor, but who’s counting?
Here’s the big thing. I did it without basically changing my diet. Yes, I gave up peanut M&Ms, golden Oreos, and a lot of 7-up. I even cut down on ice cream, though with this weather that’s already changed. But I still have sugary cereal every morning, and a lot of days feature bacon and eggs, ham and cheese, potatoes of some kind, waffles, bean and cheese burritos, burgers, and country fried steak.
Not so funny story: I actually haven’t had cereal in five days. At first it’s because I ran out of milk, but on Friday I bought a gallon, along with a huge container of ice cream, and managed to stuff them into my backpack. It was 108 degrees that day, so I walked as fast as I could toward home after getting off the bus. Somehow the milk jug managed to open the zipper on the backpack and suicidally plunge to the sidewalk! Argh!
But back to it. I’m sure people are going to ask how I lost the weight, so here goes. The first thing to mention is that I have a fast metabolism. I gain weight quickly, but I lose it too. There were days when I lost five pounds in about three hours, and no, I don’t know how that happens, it just does. But that’s not the most important point.
I’ve lived with chronic pain since my spinal injury in my early twenties. Since then I’ve picked up numerous other injuries, especially to my knees. Recently I’ve had a torn rotator cuff, which I decided not to have surgically repaired (best decision ever, physical therapy took the pain away!). Most importantly, I have arthritis in my knees, hips, and every part of my spine.
Last October I found myself having to change domiciles. That meant three weeks of packing, and seemingly hundreds of trips to the dumpster. Worse—biggest of all—was the hundreds of trips back up the stairs to the apartment, stairs being the worst thing for my knees. While there was pain from using muscles that had been dormant for a long time, I quickly realized that my chronic pain did not get worse.
That was the key. In those three weeks, I was shocked to discover I’d lost twelve pounds.
Now knowing I could do things without pain, or without more pain, I joined an aqua arthritis class at the Y, did a lot of treadmill, and managed to get some pretty cheap equipment for a home gym. I’m talking some small dumbbells and resistance bands, rollers, a yoga mat, things like that, not actual giant machines you’d find at the gym. Most of the exercises are courtesy of the people at Bleu Physical Therapy in Alhambra, a place I highly recommend.
So that’s it. The big 5-0. Here’s hoping I manage to get through the day without anyone surprising me with some stupid party. . .

;o)

Selfishly Helping

I don’t do this often, but this is one of those exceedingly rare times when I feel the need for it. A couple of weeks ago something happened that’s been nagging me, and I feel that if I write about it, maybe I’ll get some closure.
I’d just gotten out of physical therapy and was heading for the bus stop when I came across an old Asian man in a seersucker suit, using a blind man’s cane as though he’s not familiar with it; I mention he was Asian because the language barrier was insurmountable. He hands me a card that says Lanai Motel, which I assume is the one I just passed, though I’ve never seen its name. I really wanted to make the next bus, but knew there’d be another one soon, so I gather his elbow in my hand and lead him toward the hotel as he talks about who knows what.
I had some trouble navigating him; I didn’t want to pull on him too hard, but he kept going in all directions. Eventually I got him on the handicap ramp of the hotel and let him walk up it alone—with cement borders on both sides, he couldn’t get lost—and go up to ring the bell and get the desk clerk. When the guy looks out the window and nods, I go back down the ramp and, sure enough, the poor guy can’t navigate the slight turn. Luckily the desk clerk, who thankfully spoke Chinese, shows up and takes over the navigation, and I leave before either can say anything.
In her book Lindsey Stirling talks about being selflessly selfless, as opposed to selfishly selfless, which she defines as doing something nice for someone for your own selfish reasons, even if it’s something as simple as wanting to feel good about yourself. So was I being selflessly selfless? Not sure. I do know that if something had happened to him—from falling down to being hit by a car—and I hadn’t helped, I’d feel horrible. Does that make me selfish? Probably. What I can’t get over is why this philosophical conundrum is getting to me so much. You’d think after a few days my brain would just let it go. . . oh crap, that song just exploded in my head again. . .
Yeah, that pretty much explains how confusing the whole thing has been. . .

;o)

Whatever Shall I Wear?

This is not a question I ever imagined asking, but tomorrow is the Jump, Jive, and Thrive fundraising event and there are numerous options as far as my chest billboard goes. Just in case anyone feels like voting, here’s the options, keeping in mind that the night features
1. Breast cancer awareness.
2. Takes place at UCLA.
3. The UCLA gymnastics team is hosting.
4. My girl Lindsey Stirling will be playing.

Can’t believe I’ve been following the team this long.

My fave of 5 Lindsey shirts. It’s actually more beige than seen here.

The favorite going in, considering both the place and the cause. The script is more pepto than the kinda grapefruit color seen here.

It’s been getting a little chilly at night, so I put in a hoodie option.

;o)

INsiders: Tale of Two Cities

The start of my third year with this prestigious group turned out to be one of the best meetings yet, much more fun than one would expect in a lecture about a famous and often-discussed book/play/story.
First, a little background: The INsiders is a discussion group that meets during the run of each play at A Noise Within (not counting the annual A Christmas Carol). Some people liken it to an old-fashioned salon—a term invented in 16th Century Italy, but that’s another story—where people gathered to banter about the art of the day, usually literature and poetry. For those who don’t know, A Noise Within is a relatively famous theater company in Pasadena, known for being a tiny powerhouse amongst the giants of the stage world. The theater is easily accessible, as it is right off the 210 freeway, as well as being directly at a stop of the Metro Gold Line light-rail train.
Every INsiders gathering has two guests, one a distinguished scholar who usually teaches the work being discussed, the other an actor involved in the production. At this past Tuesday’s meeting the acting guest was Emily Goss, who portrays Lucie. She’s one of the few actors at A Noise Within whom I was familiar with before seeing her on the stage here. In this episode of the You Tube series Princess Rap Battle, she played Goldilocks (behind Cinderella, not the one in red), but with her newly brown/red hair she no longer fits that role.
The scholarly guest was Dr. Lana L. Dalley, a professor of English Lit at Cal State Fullerton. Far from the stereotype of a stodgy academic in tweed, she was instantly notable for her short blonde hair and script tattoo on her right arm; when asked about it later, she admitted it read “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress,” which is the first line from Middlemarch, by George Eliot. She’s also an X-Files fan, as we’ll see later.

Armed with computer slides that were both amusing and educational, Dr. Dalley regaled us for the next two hours with little-known tidbits on the life of Charles Dickens, as well as placing his life and works into context. The first note that struck me was the reveal of Dickens World! Yes, an amusement park was built around his novels, with such features as a water ride, haunted house, and animatronic show. Even though I would have never thought to go, I’m disappointed I won’t have the chance, as it has since closed down.
Unlike most famous authors, Dickens never wanted to be a writer. Like Shakespeare, he was more interested in acting, but missed his first audition due to sickness. He did eventually work on the stage, but ended up writing to make money, eventually becoming so famous that at the height of his popularity he did tours around England as well as America, and was reportedly quite the diva about it. He even had a rider that would put most rock stars to shame.
One of the most intriguing tidbits for me was his friendship and collaboration with Wilkie Collins, a vastly underrated author whose most famous works were The Woman in White and The Moonstone, some of the best early British mysteries.
At one point Dr. Dalley showed movie posters of some of Dickens’ works, the first being a recent Bleak House production starring Gillian Anderson. . . except she called her “Scully.” Anyone who can reference The X-Files during a English Lit lecture is more than okay in my book.
The lecture ended on a fun note about Tale of Two Cities having the first ever mention of potato chips:
“Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomics in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.”
I don’t know how oil can be reluctant, but it sounds awesome. I might argue, though, that since fries are called chips in England, this isn’t so much about potato chips as French fries, which I love a thousand times more, but I digress.
It felt like there wasn’t as much time for questions as usual, but since Dr. Dalley let us interrupt her whenever we wanted, there wasn’t much left to ask. The lecture was so entertaining that poor Emily spent most of the time as a fellow listener, but did get to bring some insights into her portrayal of Lucie.

If I’ve piqued your interest in attending, here are the remaining dates for the 2017/18 season:
The Madwoman of Chaillot | Oct. 24, 2017
Mrs. Warren’s Profession | Nov. 21, 2017
Henry V | Feb. 27, 2018
A Raisin in the Sun | March 27, 2018
Noises Off | Apr. 24, 2018

In addition to the guests and discussion, you get refreshments—cookies and strawberries are the favorites—and if you arrive early you can join a lot of the attendees for dinner beforehand, usually Chinese food (I go to the burger joint).
Fair warning: it does cost, though it counts as a tax-deductible donation. For more info, contact Alicia Green, the Director of Education & Community Outreach, at education@anoisewithin.org or call 626-356-3104. (Don’t be scared, she’s a sweetie.)

;o)