Monday, October 31, 2005


I read in the paper today that the D/FW area was around eleven inches behind in rainfall this year. I think all eleven inches tried to come down around 11:00 this morning. On me. D'oh!

OK, it wasn't really that bad, and I do have a reasonably worn-out umbrella that does as much of the job as can be done. Still, it was weird to walk out of my first school to a deluge of that quantity. It calmed down a bit before I had to go to my next school, a park-in-the-front, walk-to-the-back affair. And looking at the big picture, at least large portions of our local vegetation are no longer in as much danger of catching on fire now. Still, I wonder if the would-be ghosts and goblins will be deterred.

Not that I'll be home to greet them, since I teach until 7:30, and then my friend Colin and I are set to partake in Chipotle's "Boo-Rito" promotion (dress up like a burrito--i.e. swath yourself in foil--and get a free one). I do have a bag of candy by the door in case of extreme latecomers, but nobody took advantage of that last year, so I gave most of it to my friends and ate the rest.

There's a gig in the works for this weekend; I'll post it on the sidebar and discuss it tomorrow. For now, I'm off to teach a few at the store (the first two having cancelled, which is the only reason I'm at a computer quite this early on a Monday).

Oh, and if you're new to the blog, here's my ghost story from a few years back. Happy Halloween to all!

UPDATE: In case you're wondering, Colin and I did in fact do the costumes. I had two cartons of aluminum foil, but I forgot the duct tape, so we were pretty much falling apart, costume-wise, by the time we got up to the counter. We added an extra touch by writing the abbreviation for our favorite burritos across our chests in Sharpie; his was an "S" for steak, mine a "C" for chicken, just like they write on the burritos themselves. We were able to go up to the counter and tell them we were wearing our orders!

We were the only costumed ones when we got there, though others would arrive later...but in all honestly, our costumes were better. One guy only had what looked like a Little Red Riding Hood bonnet made of foil on his head. Great fun. We then did what lots of people in school were talking about today and saw Saw II. Now, when someone asks me "Did you see Saw?", I can answer in the affirmative without having been at a playground.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: An exchange with a kid during lessons...
ME: Wow, you made that same mistake for the third time.
KID: I know; I almost never do that. I think it's because I just got back from lunch; I can't concentrate.
ME: Why--because the cafeteria food was so bad?
KID: (laughs and shakes his head)
ME: What is it, then?
KID: Sugarrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
ME: Aha...

I wonder how many kids will be too pumped up on sugarrrrrrrrrrrrrr to even get to sleep tonight.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A Simple Solution for Education

In yesterday's post, I cited several instances of short-sighted or self-serving decisions made by school administrators, and I noted that the problem was not just with the individual administrators themselves, but also how the whole system is set up. I'll elaborate for a moment and then suggest a simple solution that I think would work very well.

The problem with the setup of most public school districts is that they've become top-heavy with administrators. Texas Governor Rick Perry made a move in the right direction a few months ago when he issued an executive order mandating that 65% of all school expenditures must go toward classroom instruction. It's by no means perfect, since it doesn't count things like libraries, transportation, food service, or even heating and cooling the schools under the instructional portion, but it's a good start. Perhaps what Governor Perry was getting at--and definitely what I am getting at--is that the top-heaviness must be reduced. Why? Here are two good reasons:

1) The school district has become an inefficient bureaucracy. I've already stated my disdain for bureaucracies; it's mostly because the jobs created by such bureaucracies are often unnecessary, which leads to equally unnecessary actions. A person in such a position will often come up with ridiculous, poorly-thought-out policies just to give the appearance of "doing something." (In my own opinion, zero-tolerance policies, uniform dress codes and standardized exit testing such as TAKS can all be attributed to such thinking.) Bureaucrats often become so entrenched in such a mindset that they lose touch with the real world. As I said in a previous post, it's important for administrators to get out into the world and interact with people who are not other administrators; otherwise, the disasters for which they make plans daily become the bulk of their reality, which has a detrimental effect on their way of thinking. Also, bureaucrats tend to be difficult to terminate, even when they're doing a bad job, and they will often fight vigorously to keep their comfortable, do-little position.

2) Adminstrators are no longer teachers. This, in my opinion, is the root of the problem. Often, the only way to make really good money in the field of education is to go into administration, but doing so may bring one of two negative outcomes: Many good teachers are removed from the classroom, and many bad teachers are placed in a position where they can make rules (often bad ones) that affect multiple schools. I know of several educators who left administration because they couldn't stand to be away from teaching. Meanwhile, the ones who stay get caught up in their "ivory tower" and forget what it's like to be a teacher.

I remember well one of the presidents of UNT when I attended school there. His entry in the directory of faculty in the university catalog did not begin with "President and Chancellor"; instead, he was called "Professor of History" first, and then his presidency was listed. To me, that indicates a man who had his priorities in order, and it was a good starting point for explaining the success he had during his tenure.

So here is my simple solution to this problem. Every school district should formulate a policy that goes something like this:

Every administrator must teach one regular class per academic term.

This would actually have several positive outcomes: It would allow outstanding teachers to have additional administrative responsibilities without completely removing them from the classroom; it would increase the possibility that administrators with no talent for teaching would be removed from academia completely after a semester or two; and it would prevent administrators from totally succumbing to the bureaucratic mindset, because they would never completely stop being teachers.

This solution is so simple, I'm surprised nobody has proposed this before. It's sort of a relative of the idea of the "citizen-legislator" that was discussed extensively during the term-limits debates in Washington of a decade ago (which is still at least a good idea, for some of the same reasons we're discussing here). I originally thought of the idea of term limits for administrators (in the same way that many colleges have rotating department chairs), but the concept of the teacher-administrator would probably be much easier to implement and would likely yield even better results. I'm sure many administrators won't like it, but parents and students should be highly in favor of it...and, after all, education is supposed to be for the benefit of the student, isn't it?

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, October 28, 2005

A Problem in Need of a Solution

I've been meaning to write this post for several months now, but something else has always gotten in the way. However, I've written many times before about about short-sided, self-serving, unrealistic, even idiotic decisions made by school administrators: Zero-tolerance policies that also involve zero-thought; kids suspended for being in possession of "deadly" rubber bands; a senior honor student expelled because he borrowed his dad's truck to drive to school without noticing the shotgun in the back seat. But it was this story that encouraged me to finally write this post:
Before Hurricane Katrina, honor student Kevin Henry, 17, passed Louisiana's high school exit exams and planned to spend his senior year completing class assignments, selecting a college, volunteering and enjoying senior activities.

Now a student at Lawrence E. Elkins High School in Fort Bend Independent School District, Henry can consider his Louisiana exit-exam scores water under the bridge. If he wants to graduate and receive a Texas diploma, he has to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

"I think it's unfair that any student from Katrina has to take the test," Henry said. Two weeks before TAKS, Henry said he hadn't seen a copy of the practice test. He thought he would do well, but still felt stressed about it.
(Hat tip: Mom and Dad, who brought the article to me in their Houston paper)
Does anyone else think this is just ridiculous? To me, this is one of the big problems with "admini-think": the one-size-fits-all mentality that rarely, if ever works. If a large number of students are displaced because of a national disaster like this, the state (and the individual school districts) should work with them to make sure they get to graduate, and they should do more than usual to honor the affected students' test scores from their home states. So much for that "warm Texas welcome" that many evacuees have been experiencing...

There's also the matter of the state test itself; should a single test really outweigh a student's entire academic career's worth of grades? If so, why do we have grades to begin with, if this standardized test is supposed to be the be-all and end-all of education?

And what of this whole zero-tolerance mess? The problem is, one-size-fits-all thinking just doesn' all. Never has, never will. It's just easier (lazier?) to hide behind a set of rules and not take the time to consider each case on its own merits. It's also a quick and easy way to avoid having to make difficult decisions, or (heaven forbid!) stirring up controversy. Why do any work when you can sit back and let the rules do the work for you?

I place the blame for this type of thinking squarely on the shoulders of school administrators--not just the administrators themselves, but the way the whole system is set up. I think there's a quick and easy fix to the whole thing (which might even save school districts money to boot). I'll outline that solution in tomorrow's post.

RELATED POST: A Simple Solution for Education.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Happy Birthday (You Money Pit You)

I didn't realize until late in the day that all of this was taking place on her third "birthday" (i.e. anniversary under my ownership), but Kevmobile 1.2 seems to be conspiring to drain me of all my excess money these days. You might recall that, at the beginning of this month, I was without the car for several days due to what turned out to be both clutch and transmission problems. Then last night, on my way home from Denton, I noticed that the power steering was much less...powerful. I took it in after teaching at my first school today and found out that the rack and pinion had gone out. (That had been one of those things on my to-do-in-the-near-future list since August, but its replacement was preempted by the clutch and transmission stuff.) Great--more missed lessons, more money leaving my wallet...and how will I get to the college? Missing that teaching is not an option, so I pondered bumming rides off friends, finding a bus schedule, wondering if my parents (who were on their way for a visit anyway) would arrive soon enough (but nahh, didn't want to make them do that). Finally, they came up with a solution: I'd use the mechanic's spare car as a loaner for the afternoon. He relished the idea of having the car, which he was trying to sell, on a college campus for a few hours with the FOR SALE sign readily visible.

Driving that car proved to be the most interesting part of the day. It was a Prelude, so it was even lower to the ground than my Civic. There was no AC (not needed today, really) or radio (I did miss that, and I realized that time moves very slooooooooowly at red lights when there's nothing to listen to), and the speedometer didn't work. Not wanting to get a ticket in a borrowed car, that meant I had to drive by feel, which I think actually worked. Having driven a stick since I was sixteen, I figured that I know at least what 30, 35 and 40 MPH feel like, but still, that was an odd sensation, not unlike a Jedi closing his eyes and using the Force (no, I didn't actually do that). At any rate, it was a nice gesture on the mechanic's part to loan it to me; I added a few gallons of gas to his tank on my trip.

When I went back between combos to pick it up, the other proverbial shoe dropped: It needed a full set of tires, not just the front two as they'd suggested before. Oh, and the brakes are about to go out. Bleh. (And before anyone suggests hastening the arrival of Kevmobile 2.0, you should know that I still have a year to go before this one is paid off...and I was hoping to go a year after that before starting payments again.) After those two things are done, I hope to not set foot in the mechanic's again anytime soon, save for oil changes.

Have a money-pit car story? Feel free to drop it in the comments (perhaps along with your favorite lottery numbers; I need some extra luck this week).

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Something's in the Works

It looks like there definitely will be a public gig of some sort for me next weekend. It won't be TD/D per se, because too many of the regular members are unavailable, but we will be using a lot of the TD/D book, because I think that the bulk of those tunes are both accessible to the casual listener and yet open enough for creative improvisation. I'll have more details once the personnel is set, but for now, suffice it to say, I'm definitely excited about this one.

(cross-posted at Team Demon/Dingus)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Taken Out by a Ballgame

OK, it looks like there won't be a regular post tonight, as I've been glued to the TV ever since I got home. I'm watching the World Series, of course, seeing if the team of my childhood, the Astros, can pull one off. (As we speak, it's tied at five, going into the eleventh.) Original thoughts resume during tomorrow afternoon's break.

UPDATE: D'oh! It was definitely not enjoyable to stay up till 1:15 in the morning for a game that ended the way this one did. But I'm a fan...what can I say?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Fall Has Fell, and Kev Has (Been) Sprung

The uneasiness of today ended relatively quickly when I didn't get selected for a jury. Whew! Sure, I had to get up before the crack of dawn (indeed, the entire train ride down was in the dark) and endure a lot of sitting around, but in the end, I wasn't one of the "lucky" six (it was a misdemeanor case, thus the smaller panel), so I was released from service a shade before one o'clock. I treated myself to Chipotle in the West End (since it's located right in front of where the train would pick me up) and was back teaching by three. I lost some money, but not a ridiculous amount, and I can even make up a few of today's middle-school lessons on Wednesday, when the high-schoolers are at marching contest.

I think there will always be some anxiety about being called down for service, for the reasons I discussed yesterday, but this time, it was a minor inconvenience at the most. Here's hoping I don't get called again for another couple years this time.

Blue Red train: I took the Red Line from the Bush Turnpike Station to get downtown, and once again, the trip was pleasant. The trains were clean, efficient, and free of any really shady-looking characters. It only took forty minutes to get to the West End, and a little longer to catch the bus over to the courthouse (finding the right bus did prove confusing at first, as the transfer station was, to the novice, loosely-organized chaos). The train doesn't often go where I'm going (yet?), but it's a great way to get around, and it sure beats sitting in rush hour on Central Expressway to get downtown.

I wonder if it was a Norwegian blue: Admit it--if you read the story about England's first case of bird flu being found in a dead parrot, the first thing you thought of was the famous Monty Python sketch. (Even weirder, when I was in Potbelly at dinnertime tonight, reading the issue of Quick in which that story was found, I looked up and saw a picture of Michael Palin on the wall in full Ministry of Silly Walks pose. Heh.)

I can see drive for miles and miles: Congratulations to my friend and colleague Kris, whose '89 4Runner hit the magic 400,000 mile marker this morning ("at about 8:05 a.m.," as his email noted), thus putting the deeds of the original Kevmobile to shame. You wanna go for half a million now, Kris?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Beyond the Call of (Jury) Duty?

For the second time in almost exactly a year, I have been called to jury duty, which will happen tomorrow morning. As I noted last year on the eve of my service, jury duty is probably about as much fun as a root canal no matter who you are or what you do for a living, but it's especially distasteful--and potentially finanically harmful--to those who own their own businesses, and it's even worse for anyone who is the sole proprietor of said business. It's worse still for those with no other source of family income, i.e. the single. Wow, I'm up to about four strikes now, right? Please indulge me in a little rant here...

Unfortunately, business hardship is not an allowable exemption in my county (which, as I said before, is almost understandable, since some people would undoubtedly take improper advantage of such a loophole). It is possible to postpone one's service, but, in my case, there's no guarantee that the rescheduled date would be any better (I suppose I could ask to be assigned during a school holiday, but, knowing my luck, I'd be given the week right after Christmas or something). At least I have a little money socked away right now and none of my students have individual competitions for the next couple of weeks. Still, it's extremely distasteful to know that I'll be paid six dollars a day for my service; I earn that in twelve minutes when I'm teaching. Mondays are also busier this year than they were last year, so even if I only miss the one day, I'm out over 300 bucks.

I'm also concerned because, for the first time, I've been called to the criminal courts instead of the civil ones. This is distasteful for me for several reasons: 1) The thought of possibly helping to send someone to jail; 2) It seems as though a criminal trial would last longer than a civil one (am I wrong here?); 3) The criminal courts building is not on the main rail line, so using my free DART pass will require me to catch a bus after a forty-minute train ride; 4) My reporting time is thirty minutes earlier than it was for civil court, and now they require us to be there 45 minutes earlier than that because of possible long lines for security checkpoints...all of this will make me have to wake up--on the coldest day of fall so far--at five in the morning (for the first time since my college radio days), thus almost guaranteeing the Monday-est of all possible Mondays.

But my big question today is this: Is it fair to require someone to abandon his business, practically for free, in the name of civic duty? And, for that matter, is it in anyone's best interest to remove teachers from teaching for this purpose? I had the latter discussion with several other teachers at a social event last night, and we were pretty much of one mind that disrupting the educational process was rarely a good thing; in cases where a substitute is possible, very little productive work will take place unless the substitute is highly qualified (all the people I was talking to were band directors). In my own case, the lessons will just be completely missed, as the possibilities for make-ups are scant, thanks to the schedules of both the students and myself. Students (in both high school and college) are granted automatic exemptions; why not their teachers?

I do understand the desire of the legal system to have the biggest possible cross-section of the populace involved in the jury system, but the self-employed really do take it on the chin in this area. Employers are not required to pay their workers' salaries while on jury duty, but I'm sure most of them do. I, on the other hand, acting as my "employer," cannot possibly pay my "employee" (me again) his salary for any missed days, because the "company" (still me) will not have earned any money on those days. What to do?

I've been thinking for a long time about some fair way to deal with this, and I believe that I've come up with something: Allow the self-employed to deduct the amount of missed work on their income taxes. We already have a form that's entitled "profit or loss from business," and the amount of income sacrificed to jury service could be put in the loss column. The self-employed would thus get to participate in the jury process without taking quite so much of a financial hit. Anybody see any problems with this? Am I missing something? Or is it such a good idea that the government will never go for it? Leave your responses in the comments.

Also, if you're from another state (or country?), feel free to tell me how the process works in your area. In Dallas County, it's a "one day/one trial" policy, which means that if you're not picked the first day, your term of service is considered complete (I'm crossing my fingers here, bigtime). In Minnesota, as James Lileks noted recently, you only get called every two years, but you're on call for two weeks! (I'm not sure if that's better, but at least you could plan for it; I had two weeks' notice on this summons.) There are undoubtedly many other ways of doing things of which I'm not aware.

Anyway, my rant is over for now. Wish me luck tomorrow, and feel free to make your predictions in the comments as to how long I'll be stuck there this time. If I'm picked, updates will be sporadic; if I'm sent home, my gleeful post will go up tomorrow night.

UPDATE: I didn't get picked. Yay!

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Give me the making of the songs of a nation, and I care not who writes its laws."--Andrew Fletcher (1704), Scottish political writer, as quoted in the sermon this morning at church.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Farewell to a Classy Lady of Jazz

I heard on the radio last night that jazz singer/pianist Shirley Horn died on Thursday from complications of diabetes at the age of 71. She made some small-time recordings in the fifties, one of which caught the attention of Miles Davis, who brought her to New York to open for him at the famed Village Vanguard and became a lifelong friend. Though she took some time off in the 70's to raise her daughter, she reemerged in the 80's with a series of acclaimed recordings on the Verve label, many of which received Grammy nominations. As a vocalist who was equally proficient on piano, she paved the way for many of today's younger stars like Diana Krall and Norah Jones. By all indications, she was a very classy lady and will definitely be missed.

The days are just packed: He doesn't do interviews anymore, and even his current place of residence is unknown, but there's a great feature on Bill Watterson, the Calvin and Hobbes creator, that I read today. In honor of the new collection of all ten years' worth of C&H strips, many local papers are re-running some of the strips for a few months; I'm happy that they're doing so here.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I Have Zero Tolerance for "Zero Tolerance"

I've written before about the ridiculousness of "zero tolerance" policies in schools when they try to make Mt. Everest out of an anthill-sized problem. Here are two more examples of administrators who've just gone off the deep end:

Exhibit A: The Paper Gun
Here in North Texas, three students at Amber Terrace Intermediate School in DeSoto were suspended for folding a piece of paper into the shape of a gun:
Destiny Thomas, 11, and two other classmates were suspended from school because of a folded piece of paper that resembled a gun Monday.

The students were also told they would be placed in an alternative school for 30 days.

"I just thought they would tell us to throw it in the trash or just cut it up and don't make no more," Thomas said.

Destiny said she made the paper gun after a fellow classmate at Amber Terrace Intermediate School in Desoto showed her how to fold a computer paper. She said she had no intention of doing anything that would get her kicked out of school.
Officials noted that the student code of conduct for the district "clearly states" that "no weapon or replica of a weapon" is allowed at school. But, c'mon....paper?? This is going way over into Ridiculous-Land here.

(Thankfully, clearer heads prevailed in this case, and the students were allowed to return to their classes after their punishments were revoked late Tuesday.)

Exhibit B: The Phalloween Costume
A student in Washington state was suspended for three days for wearing an inflatable penis costume to another school's homecoming dance.
A Steilacoom student is fighting a decision by school officials to suspend him for three days after he appeared in an inflatable penis costume outside another school's homecoming dance, KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reported.

Pioneer Middle School student James Watkins bought the costume last weekend and later showed up outside a dance at Steilacoom High School wearing the outfit.

His parents described Watkins as a straight-A student, an athlete and a "good kid" who made a mistake. They said the three-day suspension, along with a sexual harassment citation, are too severe.

"He wasn't even on his own school grounds," said Mark Watkins, his father. "Poor decision, I agree. Disciplinary action? I agree. I think they went way too far."
Did you catch that? A sexual harassment citation? I have no doubt that people were offended, but harassed? I'm doubting that.

This story came to me through Dave Barry's Blog, where the commenters were having fun with the subject, but there are serious undertones to the whole thing. It reminds me of the time when a five-year-old kid was charged with sexual harassment for kissing one of his kindergarten classmates. Also, as one of Dave's commenters points out, the harassment charge could dog the kid for the rest of his life (when he tries to get jobs, etc.).

I've said it before--this whole "zero tolerance" thing is idiotic; it's an idea started by people who are too lazy or uncaring to handle each case on an individual basis. As I wrote last spring, in the "assault with a deadly rubber-band" post,
I'm sorry, but I have zero tolerance for "zero tolerance" policies like this. Maybe there's more to the story than we've heard so far, but it sounds on the surface like the teacher was just a bit too thin-skinned, and the administration overreacted bigtime. Nobody got hurt; nobody even got as much as grazed. Give the kid a couple days' detention and make him write 500 sentences about how he'll be more respectful next time. Sure, the administration is trying to gain--or should I say force--the respect of the students by enforcing every rule to the letter in the most punitive way possible, no matter how small the infraction. So far, it's not working too well (just like it didn't for the Nazis, as [talk show host Charley Jones] pointed out [last spring]). The problem is, if administrators keep making idiotic rulings like this, they're going to lose the respect of not only the parents in the community, but the students themselves.
There are plenty of other examples of intolerable zero-tolerance at this site, in a section called Zero Tolerance for Stupidity.

I could write a book take a picture: I really wish I had a digital camera--for a lot of reasons, but certainly so that I could post more cool pictures on this blog. Tonight, while walking through Firewheel (since my schedule doesn't allow me to go to the gym very often, I walk the entire "streetscape" section whenever I have an errand there), I glanced in the window of a women's clothing store that was nearing completion, and I was confronted with the sight of a small army of naked, headless mannequins. It would have made quite a picture, and it also reminded me of that rock band called the Screaming Headless Torsos, who could have perhaps used such a picture for their CD cover art.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

There Is Joy in Mudville

I got home too late last night to post about it, but let me add my voice (or text, in this case) to the many in the Lone Star State who are celebrating the imminent arrival of the World Series in Texas. Yes, I'm hoping for the day when my beloved Rangers will get there, but for now, having grown up in Houston, I'm totally happy that Astros did it. Needless to say, I'm pulling for the 'Stros, and even if they weren't in, I'd likely be rooting against the White Sox, since a) I'm a Cubs fan, and b) White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen seems to have some chip on his shoulder against Buck Showalter or something like that. (I've also lived in St. Louis three different times, so I could have staked a small claim to the Cardinals had they prevailed.)

I've missed most of the games of the playoffs so far, but I hope to carve out some time to catch quite a bit of this Series, cheering on a guy who went to school in my district (Roger Clemens) and another one who used to live in my parents' neighborhood (Jeff Bagwell). And I bask in the hope that, now that one Texas team has gotten to the biggest stage of the Show, the other one might soon follow (and hey, nobody burst my bubble on this until at least next May, alright?).

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my fraternity brother Eddie, a.k.a. Blue. He's having a party thrown for him on both nights this weekend, so I hope to at least make one of them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Do Clothes Really Make the Man?

I've posted on here about dress codes before; my general take on the idea is that they don't really tend to accomplish what the instigators expect they will do, and that, more often than not, it's really about a power play on the part of those in authority. And now, the NBA is making headlines with the announcement of an off-the-court "business casual" requirement for its players:
Players are required to wear Business Casual attire whenever they are engaged in team or league business.

"Business Casual" attire means:

- A long or short-sleeved dress shirt (collared or turtleneck), and/or a sweater.

- Dress slacks, khaki pants, or dress jeans.

- Appropriate shoes and socks, including dress shoes, dress boots, or other presentable shoes, but not including sneakers, sandals, flip-flops, or work boots.
(Read the whole thing here.)
As you can imagine, this isn't going over well with the players. Here in Dallas, the Mavs players don't like it, and the general consensus around the league is that this has gone way too far when we're talking about grown men.
That's a key element of the topic – being told how to carry oneself. Jerry Stackhouse said players – many of whom are products of the hip-hop generation – value their individuality. Players are hopeful that the rules will be relaxed or amended once the league sees the backlash.

The flip side to that is that they are earning millions of dollars from fans, television and corporate sponsors to whom commissioner David Stern must market the players.
There must be one out there, but I have yet to see a positive response to this by anyone outside the league office. Local sports columnist Kevin B. Blackistone calls it a power trip on the part of the commissioner:
This is one quip Mark Twain got wrong. Clothes don't make the man.

Some pretty reprehensible folks over the years have dressed like they belong in boardrooms. Come to think of it, some of them have been in boardrooms. And now they're in jail rooms.

But the NBA's commissioner, Stern, who has become so inebriated with his own power that he's turned into the sports world's Great Dictator, is hellbent on making over an image that he perceives as deleterious to his league, a league that set attendance records last season and is growing in popularity overseas by leaps and bounds.

... And now he's decided, pretty much on his own (he consulted the union he's emasculated), that the urban black fashion aesthetic has no place in the game.
Ahh, yes, the race card. Blackistone is a fine writer (and a jazz fan to boot), but hardly a column goes by where the subject is not viewed through the lens of race. After a while, it tends to dilute his message, so that, like the Columnist Who Cried Wolf, it's difficult to distinguish real issues from bluster.

But is he right this time? Are there racial undertones to this? Or is it more about an executive who's just gone power-happy? And, for that matter, will this actually work? Will it raise the profile of the league, or will it just serve to alienate the players? Drop me your thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE: More player reaction: Spurs superstar Tim Duncan, not usually known as a man of many words, calls the new code "basically retarded."

QUOTE OF THE DAY: (from an amusing exchange between me and a clerk at the store where I was buying some new school shoes on my lunch hour)

CLERK: Do you have a membership with us?
ME: Nah, I don't buy enough shoes to make it worth my while.
(This is very true, by the way. I never wear shoes at all in my house--that's Fun Facts #9 if you're playing at home--and I'm in flip-flops whenever it's seasonal and possible. One good pair of shoes for teaching should last me several years, but the heels wore out of the pair I bought last year, and I was starting to feel the pain.)
CLERK: Well, maybe your wife does.
ME: Well...if you introduce her to me, then we'll be in business.
CLERK: (laughs)
ME: I've been waiting a long time for her, as a matter of fact.
CLERK: I have to tell you, sir, that's a good one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


There are always one or two days a year that just hit me like a ton o' bricks, and today was one of those days. The combination of a Monday and the trip to Denton took it out of me last night; how in the world did I do that every week back when I was running the alumni program for my fraternity chapter? Still, it was great to hear Randy Brecker again, even if we couldn't stay for the whole thing. The Woody Witt group definitely bears further checking-out the next time I'm in Houston (among them was the outstanding pianist Joe LoCascio, whom I'd heard before, backing up Marvin Stamm), and it's always a pleasure to hear Ed Soph on the drums. Still, the evening took its toll, and I was dragging through the entire teaching day. When I got home a little while ago and still felt exhausted, I knew that it was the day to go to bed by 10:30 (whic I'm about to do) so that the extreme tiredness doesn't continue.

So I still have a lot to talk about, but some of the hot-button issues that I want to discuss aren't going away anytime soon, so I'll get caught up eventually.

Comment-ary: This is one aimed at the regular Musings readers; I've noticed that there haven't been as many comments here lately, so I was just curious--does it have to do with the word-verification thing, or are people just being uncharacteristically quiet? Or do you just agree with everything I'm saying here? (Yeah, right.) Anyway, I'm definitely keeping the word-verifcation function, but I was just wondering if anyone was having any trouble with it.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Weekend Roundup

A little bit o' this, a little bit o' that:My next post will likely be Tuesday, as I'm going to that Randy Brecker concert in Denton tomorrow night after I get done teaching. I'll have a report on that, no doubt, along with other stuff.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Thinking Eating Outside Inside the Boxx

When I went to the grand opening of Firewheel last week, there weren't any restaurants open yet (save for the Barnes and Noble cafe, the restaurant-osity of which I wasn't aware until earlier this week, when Zack tipped me off about the Grilled Chicken on Foccaccia Bread sandwich...mmm!). Actually, the Rice Boxx may have opened that first day, but not in the 10:00 hour when I was there. But now that I knew for sure that it was open, it was time to check it out--tonight.

Of course, any somewhat-fast-food Asian place will, fairly or not, be compared to my beloved Panda Express, which I tend to visit several times a week. But Rice Boxx, a local effort that's been around for eight years, certainly stands on its own merit. The concept is a bit different; you still stand in line to order from the counter, but you're given a beeper that goes off when your food is ready, and, while the food comes to the table on trays, it's also served on real plates and eaten with real silverware--a nice touch.

The line was insanely long at around 7:00 tonight, a fact that could definitely be attributed to both the newness of the town center and the fact that none of the other restaurants have opened yet. It was a bit cramped in there, as the line actually winds through a small section of tables, and I was somewhat dismayed when the second cashier suddenly abandoned her post, leaving but one to handle the entire throng. But these glitches notwithstanding, the service was fast once I got to the register, and it didn't take too long for my beeper to go off, especially considering the size of the crowd.

I tried one of my favorites, Kung Pao chicken. The portions were (like at most Asian restaurants) quite generous. Although (at just a shade over nine bucks) it was more expensive than Panda, I did take the "combo option" of getting an egg roll and drink, which was only a little bit more than adding the drink itself. The rice was very good, and the entree itself was delicious, with a different spicy sauce than I'm used to, big chunks of chicken, and some of those fiery-hot peppers (red, in this case) that had me scarfing down my tea. I also had the good fortune (heh) of sitting right next to the cookie bin, which was filled up regularly, prompting many to have more than one. (My fortunes for tonight read, "Good news of a long-awaited event will soon arrive" and "Romance comes into your life in a very unusual sort of way." [Yeah, let's hope for both of those.] The fortunes also have lottery numbers on the back, which I plan on entering for the next Powerball or Mega Millions.)

The atmosphere is nice and open, with raised ceilings and exposed ductwork, and there's a decent amount of room at the tables; I sat at one of those that shares a long sofa-like chair with other tables, but I didn't feel cramped at any time, even with an oversized party at the next table (by this, I mean more people than the table was designed to hold and not that I was sitting next to really large people). There are also several outdoor tables with umbrellas (of which I'll take advantage when in a group setting; when dining solo, I read, thus needing the indoor light) which put the diner close to the action of the newly-created cityscape that is Firewheel.

So, while the slightly higher prices and longer waiting times won't keep me from lovin' the panda at lunchtime during the school week, Rice Boxx is a great addition to the mix and a place that I'll definitely visit again and again. The cool places just keep coming and coming here; Garland, you are a retail wasteland no more.

Let the competition begin: Surfing the Rice Boxx website while researching this post, I noticed this clever dig at one of their competitors: "There's no reason to PAY-WAY more than you need to for a great dining experience. Try us today!" Seeing as how Pei Wei is itself coming to the adjacent Firewheel Market development, it should make for a lively rivalry...and even more choices for us.

A cool way to get around in a cool place: Most of the mall security officers at Firewheel ride bicycles, but tonight I saw one tooling around in a Segway. Sweeeeeet...

Everybody was Kung Pao fighting: There was a great conversation going on behind me between a father and son while I was in line for my food tonight...

DAD: Do you know what you want yet?
KID: (ponders)
DAD: Look, they have Kung Fu Chicken!
KID: Dad, that's Kung Pao Chicken.
DAD: Ohhhhh...
KID: It wouldn't be very appetizing to call it Kung Poo Chicken!
DAD: I didn't say Kung Poo Chicken, I said Kung Fu Chicken.
KID: (laughs)
DAD: I guess I'm having trouble reading that far.

(For what it's worth, I thought the dad said "Kung Poo Chicken" as well.)

UPDATE: This mispronunciation/play on words is obviously nothing new; a few seconds of Googling found a drawing of "Kung Fu Chicken" and even a food item with that name.

Friday, October 14, 2005

It's Still About Revenue, Not Safety

I turned on the Ernie Brown show yesterday when he was discussing a recent article in the Washington Post which confirmed what a lot of us had been suspecting all along: Red-light cameras installed at intersections tend to make accidents increase, not decrease:
The District's red-light cameras have generated more than 500,000 violations and $32 million in fines over the past six years. City officials credit them with making busy roads safer.

But a Washington Post analysis of crash statistics shows that the number of accidents has gone up at intersections with the cameras. The increase is the same or worse than at traffic signals without the devices.

Three outside traffic specialists independently reviewed the data and said they were surprised by the results. Their conclusion: The cameras do not appear to be making any difference in preventing injuries or collisions.
(More analysis here.)
C'mon, guys, we're onto you now. It's not about safety, and it never has been. It's all about revenue, and that's a pretty dishonest way to generate that extra cash for your municipality. All they would have to do is simply shorten the yellow lights a little bit, and...ka-ching!--extra green in the city coffers. It's not making anything that much safer (at most, it's changing the type of accidents--more people getting rear-ended, for example), and it's just making the city government look greedy.
Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the data reinforce the motor club's view that the red-light effort is targeted more at generating revenue than at reducing crashes. "They are making a heck of a lot of money, and they are picking the motorists' pockets on the pretense of safety," he said.
I've posted on this subject before, mostly because I live in a city that uses the cameras, and also because I was rear-ended at an intersection last year--one at which I might have gone through a yellow light if the city's usage of red-light cameras hadn't been in the back of my mind. I'm happy to update on any developments that reinforce the wrong-headedness of this policy, in the hopes that someday these mutant cash cows will go away here at home.

Quite a find: A rare manuscript by Beethoven, done in his own hand, was found this week in a cabinet in the library of a seminary outside Philadelphia.

Things that make you go "huh?": Last week, the Oakland A's ousted their manager, Ken Macha, supposedly because they wanted to "move in a different direction." Today, they announced that he's now un-fired and, for that matter, signed to a three-year deal.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

So Much to Talk About...

...and so little time in which to say it. I'll get caught up over the weekend, with blogging and everything else.

Oh yeah, here's a quick news flash for the locals: Randy Brecker at UNT next Monday night, rescheduled from a few weeks ago. Details here (scroll down a bit).

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Quick Question...

So, is anybody else as happy as I am that the Yankees lost last night?

I wonder if A-Rod is still blaming the lack of home-field advantage (in the personage of Buck Showalter, even) for the team's dismal showing....or did the fact that A-Rod himself went 2-for-15 in the divisional series have more to do with it? Hmm...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Blog Tag

Tagged by Eric (this came in right before I went out of town, so I'm getting to it just now):

1. If money were no object, what would you be doing with your life?
Writing cool tunes, working on my improv, and doing a better job of promoting my band.

2. Money is just that - an object, so why aren't you doing it?
Well, I am, but I have to do things like putting a roof over my head and food on the table, so things just happen a lot more slowly than they would if I had normal-length days.

3. What's better: horses or cows?
Cows, and not just because you can eat them. I just think they're fascinating to observe. In a previous post, I described a gig that I played one time where cows made up part of the "audience."

4. What do you think the secret to happiness is?
Being surrounded by people you love, and who love you...and if you're doing what you love to do and can even get paid for it, that's icing on the cake.

5. When was the last time you had a dream that you either remember well or did not want to awake from? Can you share a bit?
There was one, just a few weeks ago; I woke up right before the really cool part was about to happen. Now, if only I could remember what it was about...

6. When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At different times, an astronaut, a rock star and a professional football player (that last one is especially hilarious if you knew how little and skinny I was as a kid).

7. Complete this statement: Love is......
The giving of a big part of yourself over to another.

8. Can you tell a good story? (write one!)
Heh--I have a whole blog full of 'em! But here's my ghost story.

9. Can you remember your last daydream? What was it about?
That would be this afternoon, for a short (10 seconds, max) time during lessons...but nah, no clue what it was about, since I returned quickly to the task at hand.

10. If you were to thank someone today, who would you thank?
On a supernatural plane, I'd thank God for giving me life and my musical talents and these great people I'm surrounded with. If it's limited to earthly beings, I'd thank Mom and Dad for putting me through school and into a house, and my friends just for being themselves.

Who's next for blog tag?
I'll tag on two continents: James and Shawn.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Notes from the Road

It seems like every time I take a solo roadtrip, I notice some unusual things:
  • As I was driving down 35E through Red Oak, I noticed an ambulance on the other side of the freeway, lights ablaze. Several minutes later, I noticed a second ambulance, from the same company, going normal speeds and without lights or siren engaged. I wonder if the second one was an apprentice to the first one, just following along at a distance to watch its crew in action.

  • Just south of Hillsboro, there's a truck stop with a trailer in its parking lot that bears the name BREAD OF LIFE MOBILE MINISTRIES. The thing is, this trailer has been in the same place for at least the past five years. At what point do they have to start calling it an "immobile" ministry?

  • I passed a sign for one of the many Czech food places in West, Texas (not the famous Czech Stop, at which I would stop for delicious kolaches on the way home tonight, but another one downtown), and one of the delicacies they advertised was skunk eggs. My first thought? Eww. Then, as if on cue, I smelled the pungent odor of...roadkill skunk. Not much of an advertisement, I'd think.

  • I noticed a place just south of Waco named "Johnson Equipment." The smart-aleck portion of me wondered if they sold condoms.

  • CHEAP GAS ALERT: It was too late for me to stop, but a station in Troy had regular unleaded for $2.48 a gallon yesterday (though I noticed on my way back to Waco last night that it had risen to $2.79).

  • In north Austin, they're extending the Mopac Expressway. While stopped at a light on the new service roads, I noticed a bridge beam that had just been installed, with the caption 63,000 LBS. written on it. I'm sure that's accurate, but...dang, that's a lot of weight.
I'm pretty beat; my nephews wore me out yesterday, as 4 1/2-year-olds and 2-year-olds tend to do. I have some pressing blogular business to attend to, but I'll catch up tomorrow.

Friday, October 07, 2005

In the (Town) Center of It All

Kevmobile 1.2 was sprung from the Car Hospital this morning, although it took a convoluted series of events to get the job done:
1) Walk about nine-tenths of a mile to the garage to pick it up
2) Drive back home, park that car, take rental car to first school of the day
3) Return rental car; catch ride home with their courier.
(It's times like this when I wish I had relatives in town, or at least friends who weren't either teaching or attending school.)

Remarkably, all this took less time than I had allotted for it, so I was left with an hour to kill at a shade past ten this morning. That meant there was only one thing to do: Go to Firewheel in the first hour of its opening. (Indeed, after all the posts I've done in eager anticipation of this place, I think it was inevitable that, somehow, some way, I would get to go there almost as soon as humanly possible after the ribbons had been cut.)

Again, let me reiterate: I'm not a "mall guy." I'll probably never go in half the stores there. But this development (an open-air "lifestyle center" patterned after a small town) is different, because it's going to transform Garland; I could see it happening before my very eyes today. Even the picture in today's paper didn't totally do it justice, because the one thing missing was people. But in real life, there were lots of them, strolling down both sides of the "Main Street" setup, where parking is also allowed, and the streets bustled with car traffic as well. It's definitely not your daddy's mall in that respect. Sure, when the change of plans (to not build a traditional enclosed mall anymore) were announced about three years ago, there was the typical grousing: "It's too hot in Texas" and so on. But, IMHO, the convenience of being able to drive right up to your favorite store outweighs a little exposure to the elements from time to time, and evidently, retailers agree, since this place has attracted quite a few non-mall-type stores like Circuit City and Linens 'n' Things. Walking through the central park, with its fountain and a little stream running through it, I just kept thinking to myself, "I can't believe this is actually in Garland...and less than five minutes from my house." Granted, there were a lot of special things going on--live music, giveaways, etc.--but I don't expect the novelty to wear off anytime soon. (I also thought for a moment that I saw Santa Claus there, but that seemed early...and it turned out that it was just a big guy in a long white beard who made the amusing decision to wear a red jacket. Heh.)

Garland has been under-retailed for most of its existence, but no more, and I for one am happy to keep more of my dollars at home. The mayor had long lamented the inability to buy a men's suit in town, but I'm sure he's taken care of that by now (his wife has cards from both major anchors, he noted in the paper today). Me, I wanted to procure a Starbucks product within five minutes of home, and I did indeed get that, though only as a free sample from a stand out in front of the eventual site of Starbucks. (Indeed, that was my only real gripe about today--none of the restaurants are open yet. I bet any of them that had opened would have made a killing on opening day, but it sounds like most of them will debut in December along with the movie theatre. I'm sure I'll be in the area more often when the neighboring Firewheel Market also opens up, since that'll be home to Chipotle, Potbelly and, yes, another Starbucks, which, along with the cafe in Barnes and Noble, makes two-and-a-half of them; my neighborhood is on the verge of being very nicely caffeinated, thank you.)

So my general thoughts? Very, very cool. This new "fake downtown" had more excitement in its first day that the "real" downtown Garland has had on any day in the whole time I've been here (except maybe the Fourth of July). The next phase will feature apartments, so this city-within-a-city still has a whole lot of growth in its future.

OK...I know that my near-obsession with this place has been amusing to many of my friends, but this might be the last time I write about Firewheel until the theatre opens or my band gets a gig there. (Anyone wanna take bets on this being the last Firewheel post until then?)

Be true to your school(s): I went to my one high school football game of the year tonight, as my two biggest schools played each other. I was reminded that marching band is much better viewed from the outside, but the audiences were quite appreciative, and most of them even stuck around for the halftime show instead of rushing to the concession stands. The stadium was packed: I arrived late, hoping to avoid the crowds, and I still encountered a lot of people trying to park, having to do so in a field myself. There's something invigorating about the great Texas tradition of Friday nights under the lights, and it was cool that I could call each school my own (you always win that way).

I also noticed one interesting thing: Marching band has changed a lot since I was in high school, but drill team has hardly changed at all. I guess there's not much else you can do besides high-kick and do a routine with props, but still, that was interesting.

On the road again: I'll be in Austin tomorrow during the day, visting my sister, brother-in-law and nephews, and in Waco tomorrow night and Sunday for the big Sinfonia Founders Day Concert, so blogging will resume Sunday night (if I get home early enough) or Monday.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Little Easy

New Orleans has long been known as the Big Easy. The city is also, of course, rather out of commission at the moment, and one of the few bright spots in that whole story is that its musicians are scattered all over the place, sharing their unique talents with people who might not otherwise get to hear them. Last night, Denton (which has long been known as Little D to Dallas' Big D) became the Little Easy for a few hours as the amazing New Orleans-based group Astral Project performed at UNT. The group, made up of saxophonist Tony Dagradi, guitarist Steve Masakowski, bassist James Singleton and drummer John Vidacovich, covers a variety of styles and does so with an amazing sense of both virtuosity and near-telepathic togetherness.

Each member is a master of his instrument, and together they form something really special. Dagradi was all over the horn; I heard traces of Brecker and Trane in his sound, but he's definitely his own man. His guitar-and-tenor unisons with Masakowski were dazzling; that sound combination is a personal favorite to begin with, and they pulled it off with jaw-dropping speed and accuracy. Masakowski plays a seven-string guitar of his own design (with extra frets on the bottom end, as a guitarist friend of mine pointed out) and combined virtuosic technique with interesting tonal colors, making special use of harmonics. Singleton plays acoustic bass, but oftentimes in very non-acoustic ways (slaps. pops, etc.). His feature on "Cowboy Bill" was impressive, as was a tune in the second set where he started out playing a sequence of low notes, then adding higher figures over top of them at the same time. Hmm--that was cool. But wait...he's breaking out the bow too? And all three things are still going? OK, he's obviously got some sequencer stuff there. Drummer Vidacovich was worth the price of admission all by himself. In addition to spicing everything up with grooves that have "New Orleans" written all over them, he added colorful cymbal splashes, interesting and intricate polyrhythms, and occasional manic eruptions, all in an extremely tasty manner. Plus, he's one of those "rubber-limbed" drummers who's just so fun to watch.

It was a great evening that ended too soon. I'm definitely looking forward to picking up some of their CD's (available on their website, as well as at CD Baby and the iTunes Music Store.

107 years of brotherhood: Happy Founders Day to my fraternity, Sinfonia, a fine brotherhood of musicians. Out here, we're celebrating on Sunday with a big concert at Baylor; I'll have more on that later.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

"We're Really Cruisin' Now!"

Driving around in a Volvo this week reminded me of a funny story of the time I got to see Gerry Mulligan in Chicago...

My protege at the time, a bari player with the nickname of C-Rod, was as much into Mulligan as I was, and, as often was the case, Gerry never quite made it to Dallas. But we found out that he was playing in Chicago at something called the Ravinia Festival. When we realized that each of us had a best friend living in Chicago (in neighboring suburbs, it turned out), we hatched a plot: We would split a "Friends Fly Free" pass (a big promotion for Southwest Airlines at the time), go to Chicago and visit our respective friends, and then meet up for Mulligan at Ravinia.

The trip actually happened, and we ended up riding out with my friend's then-girlfriend and his boss's then-wife, who took the four of us out to the northern suburbs in her Volvo. C-Rod and I were nervous because the trip started out late and we got stuck in tons of rush-hour traffic. Gerry was splitting the bill with Wynton Marsalis, and we were sure that Wynton would be the headliner since he was quite popular at the time. It got closer and closer to starting time, and the traffic stayed bad.

Finally, we got through the last big line for a tollbooth (for almost every highway in Chicago is a tollway, it seems); finally, the road ahead was clear. Our driver, J., then hit the gas pedal, and the needle shot up to...55. The speed limit. Oh no, not just the speed limit! We'll never get there. J. then turned to us, grinning, and said, "We're really cruisin' now!" C-Rod and I smiled weakly from the back seat; we knew there was no way we'd get there on time. (To this day, whenever I'm stuck behind a slow Volvo, the first thing out of my mouth is probably "we're really cruisin' now.")

Except we did. The whole night ended up being a convergence of happy accidents. All the close-in parking areas were blocked off--some even guarded by cops. Finally, after seeing that we would have to drive a while, J. did a U-turn and drove back up to one of the guarded gates. "Excuse me, officer," she said, "but we have two saxophonists who came all the way from Texas to see Gerry Mulligan; is there any way I can go in and drop them off?" The officer replied, "There are no parking places, ma'am; are you just wanting to go in and come right back out?" J. assured them that she would...except that when we pulled in there, another officer directed her to park. Heh, we were in! Us, 1; The System, 0. We were even happier to note that, as we got to our lawn seats (with no real view of the stage), they announced the opening act: Wynton. Yesss!! Obviously the young lion had deferred to his elder for this one.

It got even better when we saw a familiar tall, skinny guy with a white beard wearing a tux, walking up to the snack bar. It was him--Mulligan! I turned to C-Rod: "Wanna go meet him?" He looked scared as could be, but joined me in approaching our musical hero. I did all the talking: "We're two bari players who came all the way from Texas just to hear you tonight. I'm Kevin and this is Chris, and it's really a pleasure to meet you." Gerry looked somewhat bemused upon hearing of our trip, and he asked us what kind of horns we played. C-Rod uttered the only three syllables he would say during the whole conversation: "" We exchanged pleasantries for another moment, and that was that. Mulligan, in the flesh.

The night closed out even better, as we stood by the back of the pavilion area to catch the end of Wynton. An older couple, definitely part of the wine-and-cheese set, were leaving for the night and spied us by the exit. We must have looked like underprivileged waifs, because the man said, "we're going home for the night; would you like to use our seats?" and handed us two tickets. We saw the rest of the show from about halfway back.

We would see Mulligan again before he died (during a visit to UNT where he did a clinic at school and a concert with the One O'Clock at the Meyerson), but I'll never forget that first night, when our pilgrimage paid off.

Sneakin' a peek: I had a long lunch hour today (as in more than an hour, even), so I just had to drop in on the grand opening of Dillard's at Firewheel (yes, I was so impatient that I couldn't wait two more days when the rest of the center will open). The big surprise was that I actually made a transaction there; when a pair of blue jeans is on sale for twenty bucks and fits great, you go for it (or I did, anyway). It was quite impressive to notice how big the place is up close; it's hard to tell that when it's set so far off from the main roads. Even though the middle part (the "Main Street" portion between Dilllard's and Foley's) won't open until Friday, I got a good peek at it out of the south entrance of Dillard's. All I can say is...This. Place. Is. So. Cool. I'm not likely to make the ribbon-cutting on Friday morning, but I'll be there as soon as I can.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Saga Continues

I'm still without Kevmobile 1.2; evidently it was making "three different noises" today and they had to call in their transmission specialist. Whatever happens, they're going to have to take out the whole transmission again, which sounds expensive. Bleh.

I'm at least mobile again; the rental place was able to get me into a car today (a Volvo station wagon....go soccer dad Kev!), since missing college rehearsals was not a possibility. But that costs money, too, so it's been pretty distracting, and this definitely wasn't how I wanted to spend the end of my four-day weekend. Even if it gets done tomorrow, it'll be a challenge to get the rental car back and get driven back to my car without tanking any more lessons.

Oh, and to add insult to injury, I came home tonight to find another jury summons in the mailbox. The most recent time I'd been called was just last year at this time, and I've never gotten called two years in a row. It's almost like it's a conspiracy to prevent me from keeping a lot of my money or something.

Meh. I'll work through it. I always do. For now, though, it's all pretty annoying.

There's no crying whining in baseball: The regular baseball season is over, but some of the Yankees, with A-Rod leading the pack, are whining and accusing Rangers manager Buck Showalter of poor sportsmanship during Sunday's finale against the Angels. Why? Because Young, Teixeira and Blalock, the team's emerging superstars, were each pulled after their first at-bat. Buck said he did it so that they could each get the standing ovation they deserved from the fans. A-Rod and company accused him of doing it so the Rangers would lose to the Angels, which took home-field advantage away from the Yankees for the first round.

Umm...A-Rod? It's not always about you, buddy. That New York mentality has gotten to you. I can't believe I was ever a fan of this guy when he was a Ranger.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Cabin Fever

"help! i'm stuck at home for the night with no car. someone come spring me for an hour or two..."
--my AIM away message at the moment
That's right, I'm a prisoner in my own home.

OK, not really, but it sure feels like it. I never expected to spend part of my four-day weekend at home at night without a car, but that's where I am. And now, having stared at the (admittedly slightly more than) four walls of Casa de Kev all day, I'm starting to go a little stir-crazy.

I was going to title this post "Clutch. Car. Go." in reference to both the cult-favorite cartoon character from decades ago and the fact that the clutch on my car did in fact go, or was at least far enough along in the process thereof that it warranted professional attention. But the story just turned into a comedy of errors that lasted all day.

I've always driven a stick; in the beginning, I liked the better mileage of a manual transmission (though I understand that automatics have improved in that area lately), and I learned on a stick, so driving an automatic just doesn't feel like real driving to me. The only downside is that, when you drive cars for as long as I do (338K on the original Kevmobile; 147K so far on Kevmobile 1.2), the clutch is going to go eventually. The only questions that remain are when and how.

At least the event of its demise has gotten easier each time: My first car in college had its clutch go out on a trip back from Thanksgiving, about an hour and a half south of Dallas in a town called Corsicana (yes, you can probably hear the bad country song now: "I dropped my CLUUUUtch, in CORRRR-si-canaaaaa") on a day when I had to pick up two friends from the airport. Yikes, what a mess. (It involved cramming four people and their luggage into a Saab sedan at one point; there was also the necessity of bribing two different friends with beer to pick me up and/or take me back to Corsicana, and the messy situation of getting a Nissan fixed at a Toyota place while relying on parts to be shipped down from Dallas during a bus strike. Oh yeah, and I had to ride my bike to my radio job at 5:30 a.m. in 27-degree weather. Bleh.)

When Kevmobile 1.0's clutch breathed its last, at least it had the decency to do so about half a mile from home; I was able to limp back in what was left of first gear and get it towed to the shop. This time, I wasn't stranded anywhere (except for now), as I heard the metallic grinding noise for a while (my friend Colin was making fun of it last week) and knew it was time to get it looked at on this day off from school. It seemed easy so far...

And then the comedy began. First off, the garage usually offers its customers a ride home if they can't get to their car right away. But today, they were understaffed, which left me to walk home. It's not a bad walk--I've done it before, and it clocks in at only nine-tenths of a mile--but it was a bit too hot (should've saved the shower for afterwards, I thought later), and my beloved flip-flops were somewhat less beloved for a trek of that distance (no blisters, just a gradual tightening of the calves near the end). Now all I could do was sit and wait for the phone call.

A metallic noise like the one I was hearing usually meant one of two things--the muffler or the clutch. Thanks to the same corollary of Murphy's Law that discusses the odds of toast falling buttered-side down being directly proportional to the cost of the rug, I would of course end up with the more expensive problem. They said they'd be done by their closing time, but I was teaching at the store till then...d'oh, time to rent a car. That's not easy right now, as almost every rental car in the D/FW area is still being used by hurricane evacuees, but they had something for me--more than I wanted to spend, but less than the money I'd lose if I missed every lesson. This being the company that "picks you up," I was instructed to wait until 4:00...pushing it, time-wise, but doable.

Except the company that picks you up...didn't. When 4:20 came around and no courier guy in sight, I called them back. We're swamped, he said; but they could get me "any minute now." I called the garage back--were they sure they'd be done by closing time?--and decided to cancel the rental car, hoping to get at least one lesson to drive out to the house and reschedule the others for later.

At lesson's end, I had the student drop me off at the garage right before closing time. "Ten minutes more," the guy said. I read some of a magazine. "Just five more minutes," he'd say later. Eventually, he came in again, looking downcast. All the parts went in properly, but an axle wasn't lining up. They didn't feel right releasing it to me, just in case.

So here I am....stuck. I'd already been getting cabin fever; this was the longest I'd been here at home with nothing to do in a long time. And now, no ability to run errands, visit friends or even go to Starbucks. Bored, bored, bored. I think I'm off to watch some TV now...and I can only hope that the car is ready before lunchtime tomorrow.

UPDATE: A friend did come over and spring me for a brief Starbucks jaunt a little later, so I did get out of the house for a time. The empty garage still looks weird, though...

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Machine Never Learns...

I've certainly ranted against the Machine in these pages quite a bit already (for those not in the know, the Machine is my name for the big recording companies), but it seems like there's always something else to talk about; they bring it on themselves, they really do.

Here's the latest: Evidently, some of the record companies are trying to pressure Apple CEO Steve Jobs to raise prices on some songs at the wildly popular iTunes Music Store (at the moment, everything costs 99 cents in the U.S.). Jobs, however, accuses the labels of being greedy, noting that they already make more profit by selling a song through iTunes than they do on a CD. Also, The Joy of Tech has a great send-up of the whole situation; the guy being portrayed in the cartoon is the CEO of a huge music conglomerate which is owned by a distillery--the kind of person we really want making artistic choices for you and me. (Hat tip: Jeremiah Cohick.)

This appeals to our bass-er instincts: Imagine if you worked in an office where everyone had a really nasty, distracting habit, and eventually you got them to move it outside or in special rooms in the building. Sounds like the nasty habit would be smoking, right? Except...suppose it wasn't smoking, but playing the tuba, in a hilarious short film from Canada.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to fellow jazzblogger Shawn, who shares his special day with the interesting triumvirate of Mahatma Gandhi, Groucho Marx and Sting.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Catchin' Up

OK, four days' worth of posts are finally done now; Blogger's been down for maintenance a few times, and it seems like it's always happened when I was home and ready to blog. Since I've spent so much time on catching up, today will simply be a clearinghouse of some unusual stuff that I've run across during the past few days:Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday Dingus! I was able to get him the traditional birthday burrito last night before the ballgame, since all my fraternity brothers were arriving late. Too bad he has marching band for most of the day (d'oh).