Could Be Worse, Could Be Better

So last night the microwave conked out.
This morning, really early, a tube behind the toilet burst, so that you don’t have to get into the tub to take a shower.
And for the last few days I’ve had a thumbnail going the wrong way, only to wake with a bump of red and white above the nail.
Gonna be one of those days, huh?
Luckily the apartment handyman turned up early, though it did take a while for the bathroom floor to dry enough for him to replace the tube. Then it turned out the microwave wasn’t to blame, it was the electrical outlet. That got fixed quickly too.
So feeling good about that, I walked for 45 minutes to CVS, only to find a long line at the Minute Clinic, and over two hours of waiting because of the doctor’s lunch break. Should have followed my instincts and taken the bus to Pasadena Community, but eventually did get out there—the JPL bus takes a long detour through the charming old-fashioned downtown of Sierra Madre, then another long walk—and in less than 15 minutes after arriving I’m in a room waiting for a doctor. I won’t tell you about how she sliced my thumb open to remove the bad fluids—mostly because I didn’t watch—but it hurt a lot less than I expected, and then I caught a bus right in front of the clinic that left me two blocks from home. And wow did this clinic look clean and modern, even having free coffee and a futuristic vending machine that had red vines!
So now I’m at the desk hoping the roof doesn’t leak, but feeling a lot better than I did that morning, when I was drenched from having to reach into the spray to shut off the valve. Sure, it’s basically first world problems, but when they come in bunches. . .

;o)

Food Review: Juanita’s

A lot of people kid me for not liking Mexican food. Others playfully harass me for not being a foodie, which is harder for me to understand, even when they mention my tastes in literature, music, movies, and so on.
The truth is I’m a man of simple tastes (that includes women, before you ask). I order my burgers plain with cheese only, my country fried steak without sauce, my bacon and eggs without anything else. I could tell you about my hypersensitivity to spices and such, but I don’t want to give you any more easy jokes.
So with all that, Juanita’s on Olvera Street makes the best bean and cheese burritos. Whenever I’m at Union Station with time to spare before going somewhere else, I’ll walk over there and talk to Edward about Firefly or cosplay or something else geeky while savoring the easy smooth flavor the only two ingredients mix into. . . three, if you count the tortilla. This is especially important ever since my favorite downtown eatery, the Yorkshire, closed down, and Clifton’s changed for the much worse.
You may now expect my next food review sometime in the next decade.

;o)

Two Disparate Music Experiences

Thursday
First up was a movie theater viewing of “Rush: Time Stand Still” which feels like a sequel to their “Beyond the Lighted Stage” documentary. This one ostensively covers their R40 tour, billed as their last one ever, but includes plenty of reminiscing about the old days, such as their time on the road with Kiss in the 70s, as well as the various vehicles they used to get around the country when they were playing 250 gigs a year.
Behind the scenes videos of people you like—not just their music, but as human beings—are always fun because they come across as “just like us.” Alex in particular is his usual hilarious self, but Geddy and Neil both get to show their funny side too. The best part for me was the first-person video from Neil’s motorcycle; over the years there’s been plenty of photographs, but never vids.
So while this wasn’t nearly as in-depth as “Lighted Stage,” that’s okay, it wasn’t meant to be. Think of it as an author adding a surprise chapter at the end of a book you loved.
Topped it off with a half hour walk home in the dark, something I haven’t been able to enjoy in a while. Just cool enough to feel like autumn. . .

Saturday
Going full disparate from Rush, Saturday featured a live performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, bookended by Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. This being my second time at this Pasadena Symphony series—the first time I didn’t know where the Ambassador Auditorium and got there way early—I wasn’t expecting anything as good as that first one, with the lovely Elena Urioste soloing on what’s probably my fave classical work, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, but on the other hand I’ll listen to the Rhapsody anytime anywhere. As a matter of fact I tweeted: “If someone challenged me to listen to Rhapsody In Blue for 24 hours straight, I would take them up on it.” I also tweeted: “The start of Appalachian Spring always reminds me of sunrise on a misty morn,” which pretty much encapsulates how I feel about that work. Scheherazade didn’t do as much for me this time, other than the familiar parts, of course, but this day was about Rhapsody anyway.
I hadn’t given much thought as to who would be the piano soloist, so I was a bit surprised when conductor David Lockington introduced him as a fifteen-year-old who was as good on the violin as the piano. Ray Ushikubo indeed proved he was talented as well as a teen, for he brought a lot of drama and bombastic movement to the piano. . . although a lot of pianists older than him overdo it as well.
The fun part about this piece is in identifying the parts Gershwin mentioned inspired him, like being on a train or the bustle of traffic. The clarinet glissando that starts things off didn’t give me chills like it usually does, but the horns were extra rude to make up for it. This is the third time I’ve seen Rhapsody live in the past couple of years, but it’s tough to say which is better or more fun. This was the smallest orchestra I’ve seen performing it, but then Gershwin originally wrote it that way, and it didn’t suffer from lack of sound. The point is, this was well worth the walk in the surprisingly hot sun and the price of admission, though the fact that I have to take the elevator to get to the restrooms and water fountain got old in a hurry. . . though I did get to flirt with a pretty rainbow-dress-wearing frizzy redhead in the lobby beforehand, so all good. . .

Coming up:
Continuing the disparate theme, this Thursday gives us—me—what I’ve been waiting for ever since I treated myself to fifth row tickets and the meet-and-greet special: Lindsey Stirling!

;o)

Jetting to JPL

Finally got to do the Jet Propulsion Laboratory tour! Considering I’ve been to Houston, Kennedy, and SpaceCamp, why did it take this long to get to the one so close to me?

Here’s a few images from the almost three-hour tour. . . try not to sing along to that one. . .

!IMG_3148 Cassini !IMG_3150 Voyager !IMG_3164 thermal selfie !IMG_3169 deep space dish menu !IMG_3175 where we at !IMG_3178 control room 1 !IMG_3179 control room 2 !IMG_3180 rover crossing !IMG_3187 scardey

 

;o)

Travel Thursday: A Quick Recap of the Weekend

I always thought the best definition of serendipity was one used on the Max Headroom TV series: “Digging for worms and striking oil.”
But here’s an even better one: “Serendipity means looking for a needle in a haystack and finding the farmer’s daughter.”
Oh yes, please. . .

Okay, Saturday found me in Pasadena’s imposing main library. Thankfully all I had to do was walk two blocks to catch the bus that left me right in front of the library, which was good because as usual it was late and I got there just before Marina V went on stage, barely enough time to get my camera out and hope the new faster lens could deal with the strange lighting behind her. . . though obviously it did well enough, as you saw from the photos two blogs ago. . . yeah, go to the bottom of this one, skip the poem, and there they are.
Set list:
1 Ghost Wandering This Earth
2 I’ll Be All Right
3 You Make Me Beautiful
4 Run
5 Neil Diamond in Russian
6 Say Hello
7 Stand
8 Light Up the Dark
9 Speak

1 Ghost Wandering This Earth
Haven’t heard this one in years, seemed longer than usual. Marina teased Nick about being a blonde with a master’s degree. “You don’t see that often.” To which he promptly replied, “You didn’t say what it was in!”
2 I’ll Be All Right
I don’t remember now why she mentioned it, but she did say she was wearing sports shorts under her relatively short blue dress. No further comment necessary.
3 You Make Me Beautiful
This usta be my fave, before the next one came along.
4 Run
Yay for little cameras with video capabilities and relatively steady hands!

5 Neil Diamond in Russian
Not a fan of his in any language. Nuff said.
6 Say Hello
This one took a while to start, as they were confused as to location of the tambourine, which was supposed to be in the bag. . . except Nick had already taken it out and put it under the piano. And conveniently forgotten. Marina also mentioned how cushy the seats were, “like grandma’s couch.”
7 Stand
For being overly dramatic I still like this one.
8 Light Up the Dark
Pretty sure this is my first time hearing this one live.
9 Speak
I think this has become her official closer.
Didn’t stay long, still having stamina troubles after the nose surgery.

Sunday
Just like the last time I attended a performance at A Noise Within, the bus came late and I actually arrived at the back door after it was scheduled to start. On the other hand, going to previews, which are a lot more relaxed as far as time is concerned, mitigate that a little, so I had time to go to the front and pick up my ticket and even go to the restroom. . .
Today was Julius Caesar day. . . as in the play I was going to see, not the Ides of March. Despite being a Shakespeare fan, I don’t think I’ve seen this since we performed it in English class my junior year of high school; I still remember how a friend had written “Assinated” instead of “assassinated” in his notes. Good times. . .
The opening music was so overly dramatic I instantly hated it. Here it was a little justified as people walked around the stage handing each other cardboard signs, which at a predetermined point where placed before chests, bearing the names of the characters. This description was hardly worth how amazingly cool that moment was, but on the other hand the music did not get better. The industrial design, with plenty of scaffolding, didn’t do much for me either, though as the play went on I saw how ingeniously they used it and decided it was okay. The costuming left me mystified, though; those long fur coats weren’t enough for me to know exactly what time period this was supposed to be set in. . . and as usual I’m gonna keep on going to keep that participle from dangling off the cliff, since it’s afraid of heights.
Took a while for me to get into it; hesitate to admit it, but I might have nodded off for a few moments there. But at the assassination scene things picked up, and I didn’t lose interest from them on. As much as I had against the design and music, the lighting was incredibly effective, especially the handheld lamps. Another effective part was their use of the open area atop the seats, as well as the ramps between sections; this is the fifth work I’ve seen here, and all have featured actors walking or running through the audience, but this time it worked even better.
As expected, but even more so here with the acting, Mark Antony’s speech was the highlight. Later in the Q&A a lady mentioned she was a Brutus fan, but this performance put her squarely in Marcus’s camp. {The actor did seem to appreciate it.}
One thing I noticed all the more here than in other performances: the actors help move the scenery. No divas here; even in high school productions you don’t usually see that. I think it’s a nice touch for a company I have rapidly grown fond of, for much more than just the quality acting.
This being the first preview there was an after-show discussion, from which I remember these tidbits:
Iambic pentameter allows you to memorize easier, like when you listen to a song over and over and suddenly realize you know the words, or as I like to call it, osmosis.
This play brings out the absurdity of politics, even more relevant now. And this production’s based on Mean Girls, according to the chiefs’ daughter.
The best way to memorize lines, according to one of the actors, is to whisper them, so you don’t get any inflection on them when you haven’t yet decided how you’re going to play it. But the most important acting point is you have to love your character. . .
All topped off by a very late lunch/early dinner at Hook Burger. Yummy!

;o)

Two Thoughts on Nose Surgery

1. So, which part of my body got the worst of the pain from my nose surgery? My calves! What? Why?

2. Been told to use hydrogen peroxide to clean the blood from my nose. That’s the stuff that sends rockets into space and makes bimbos blonde, right?

;o(

Mozart non-opera and opera

Despite severe exhaustion from the volleyball day at Northridge, I valiantly headed out to A Noise Within for Figaro; it helped that all I had to do was cross the street to catch the bus. It also helped that I’d already paid for the ticket, otherwise I might not have tried it. Bus almost zoomed by me, maybe because it wasn’t expecting to pick anyone up, considering there was only one person aboard. Very rare. Driver told me I shoulda used my flashlight, but it wasn’t until walking back that I remembered I had a flashlight with me. Two actually, but why quibble? After that a couple got on, she Indian with a British accent, he hippie from South Philly, and on an almost-empty bus they sit right behind me and subject me to such inanities. . .
Okay. Off the bus, I walk down the length of the bus station, then cross the small road, and I’m at the back door of the venue, first one there. Unfortunately there’s a late rehearsal, so the audience is dark and they’re not letting anyone in just yet for fear of someone going splat. By the time they open there’s a dozen people and I don’t feel special anymore. Also didn’t feel special when I had the row all to myself and someone else came by, but oh well.
Tonight’s production of Figaro is the same plot as the famous Mozart opera, just no singing. And it’s in English. The only music we get is during scene changes, and it’s a rock version–heavy on electric guitar–of Mozart’s music. The main characters are on first, Figaro and Suzanne, but it isn’t till the Count comes out–dressed in what a stylish 70s rocker type might be sporting–that things really take off. Later there’s a scene where he takes off the long wig, and yeah, definitely changed not just the actor’s appearance but his whole mojo; we would not have believed all that bombastic entitlement from the meek accountant-like guy underneath.
Though the play is witty and sarcastic, what really sells the comedy is the body language, particularly by Suzanne. The character doesn’t have much grace, sitting with her legs spread and shoulders slumped, especially opposed to the mincing high-heeled steps of the Countess. But later in the play, when the roles are reversed, the maid has to fix the countess’s body language, slumping her shoulders and spreading her legs rather forcibly. All small touches, but add up to a lot of funny, the best being when Figaro has to describe what’s in a letter and Suzanne is behind the count giving him huge pantomime hints. . .
If you’re at all familiar with the plot, you know it’s about Figaro coming up with grandiose schemes and not realizing how clueless he is; Suzanne’s gonna be the one wearing the pants in that family. Everyone’s got their own ploys and scams, and for a while it’s hard to keep all the tangles clear in your head, but of course since it’s a comedy everything will work out fine in the end. . .
I had told myself that if I wasn’t having fun by halftime I would leave, thereby catching the last bus home. But it was so good I stayed, and then had to walk for an hour, as I said already exhausted from the previous day. Strangely enough, only one person passed me, and that was outside the Taco Bell. Two bikes overtook me, but other than that it was actually a pleasant solitary walk which left me with plenty of time to think. . . except with my senses attuned to the extra dangers darkness brings, I didn’t think of much anyway.

Sorry, UCLA gymnastics. Far too exhausted to trudge across town on Saturday. Gonna miss you and your amazing smile, Elette.

Still a bit tired–losing an hour made it worse–but more than game Sunday morning to head out to real opera, if you can call it that. As usual went early, and as it turned out the bus downtown had to take not just one but two detours, missing Union Station, heading off a block away from the house–probably no longer there–where I spent the first seven years of my life. Ended up at the central library after another detour, due to some gathering in front of City Hall, then had to wait some minutes for it to open so I could hit the restroom. Not only that, but the little old Asian lady sitting next to me on the bus stole my water bottle! What is the world coming to?
At least I catch the subway right in step, and even with the detours I’m pretty early when I step into the sun of North Hollywood. Earlier I’d googled–can’t believe that’s a real verb–restaurants but couldn’t find anything that my taste buds and allergies could take. There was some diner nearby, but it was closed. After catching a pure vanilla at Coffee Bean, I set off down Lankersheim toward Universal, walking and walking and kept walking till I finally found a burger place about a half hour later. Had thought about eating there in the air conditioning, but instead figured I’d eat while waiting for the bus. Nope, something ornery in my mind said go ahead and walk by while eating, which is difficult when you have a burger, fries, and a drink to deal with and only two hands. If they’re right about evolution, how come we don’t have an extra hand sticking out of the chest or something? (old joke)
Finished off the fries just in time to get in line for theater, where my ticket was found with no problem, once the guy realized my last name wasn’t Franklin. A cute Orion slave girl handed me a program, then I gave my ticket and was led–not just given directions–to a small hutch on the left side, where there were five seats in two rows–combined. Instantly the two ladies in the three-seat row, Portland and Ruth, pronounced me their new best friend, so there was a little bit of chatter as I tried not to listen to their conversation when they weren’t including me. At the last moment two guys, one in an original pilot command shirt, sat in the two-seat row in front of us, so no leg-stretching allowed after all.
Finally it gets going, with the Star Trek theme, including “these are the voyages,” played by the orchestra in the pit. . . but just when you think they’re gonna launch into the main song it instead turns to the Mozart, which got a chuckle.
Instantly we get Captain Belmonte, played with relish, ham AND cheese, by Brian Cheney. His credits show he is indeed an operatic tenor, but I doubt he’s ever done anything like this. Not that the singing is out of his wheelhouse, but the sheer. . . Shatner-ness cubed of his performance. . . it’s actually shocking that anyone could out-Shatner Shatner, but then his many aside glances to the audience proves this is well past anything that pretends not to be farce. . . and I mean that in a good way! Later on he plays a certain “Scottish mechanic,” and that accent is, again, something he’s never done in his opera career before. . . I hope. But the contenders for his biggest laugh are the barrel rolls and when he works in an “Oh my!”
Once the Klingons come out he hides in front of a rock to spy on them, which is good because the Klingons are singing in. . . well, Klingon! Even the supertitles say “Some Klingon. . . more Klingon.” At this point Belmonte calls for the Universal Translator, and order, such as it is, is restored. Nice touch.
The Spock is named, just like in Mozart’s version, Pedrillo, which makes it fun when the bimbo pronounces it wrong later. Constanza–a name as close to the original as you can get without actually using it–is the Uhura, whom Belmonte has fallen in love with; not something we ever saw in the show or the movies, though considering Kirk’s reputation, not out of the question. But easily my favorite character is the Orion slave girl; in the original the character was simply called Blonde, so it makes sense here she’s Blondie. Her Brooklyn bimbo accent is so perfect; she plays ditzy so well that when she sings operatically it’s almost shocking. She gets a great stealth joke where she complains that people are trying to get the “slave” part of the name out, but traditionalists back in Orion–most of them below the belt, in the South part–are resisting. I think the only reason they made the Orion Slave girl a major character was for the obvious–saw it coming a kilometer away–“It’s not easy being green” line.
Gotta say, these are some wimpy Klingons, though to be fair they were wimpy Ottomans in the original too. The chancellor is easily toyed with, and even the cruel Osmin gets played with by Pedrillo, Blondie, and even the captain. He does have a really funny chuckle, though. It didn’t occur to me that these are Next Generation Klingons interfacing with original series Federation until the end. But then, considering even the laser burn effects were cheesy–I’m hoping purposefully so–everything just fit together in an outrageous and hilarious way.
And nothing was more out there than the recreation of Kirk’s battle with the Gorn! Even the conductor in the orchestra put got into it, throwing Belmonte a rock as a weapon in the middle of battle. But since we didn’t have time for him to rediscover gunpowder, Belmonte pulls out his phaser and Indiana Jones’s the Gorn to oblivion. BeeTeeDubya, as I was walking out of the place I saw that the Gorn was actually a pretty brunette, without the Gorn head that is.
Can’t have the thing end without a redshirt showing up! And of course getting his head chopped off right away. No rescue there. Then we get the main four singing about how they should be escaping, not singing, and of course get captured. Those of you familiar with the Mozart, it ends the same way here; those who don’t, find out by going to see it somewhere.
The whole thing was so over-the-top they needed oxygen masks and Sherpas, but again, it was all in good fun with only a couple of eye rolls.
After all the bows we get a tribute to Leonard Nimoy, as it should be.
Well, that was simply awesome, though my own pleasure was somewhat mitigated by my eyes going watery throughout. Thought it was due to the darkness and my still-new glasses, but once outside on the way to the subway–just two blocks away, convenient–the nose went runny too, so I took an allergy pill with a Gatorade I had to buy off the street, since you might recall my water bottle was stolen earlier. Yeah, like Chekov’s gun. . . and not the Star Trek Chekov!
Three nights ago, after the Northridge day, I was thinking how dark it got coming back from North Hollywood; this time the sun is still high, thanks to daylight savings. Too bad, I like the dark. . .

;o)