Saturday, 27 December 2008

I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo. I’ve been thinking about it for several years now, but that’s as far as it ever gets. It sounds like a good idea in my head, and I truly envy some of the great artwork that other people have, yet I never get it done.

The first one I’d get would be a very particular thing. There’s this band I like. I take vacation time and travel to see them several days in a row. They have a glyph, their logo, of sorts, that I’d have done just below the crook of my elbow. Now, the band isn’t instantly recognizable, so the glyph is somewhat obscure, but I’ve seen other fans with the same tattoo… in the same place. Do I want to risk turning into a super-fan?

Part of my desire, and my hesitation, is that I want to be unique. However, so many people have tattoos, how unique can it be? It seems like a silly thing to get permanently attached.

My Aunt has a couple tattoos. One cluster is a set of, I think, violets. One for her mom, one for her daughter, and one for her grand-daughter. It makes perfect sense and seems like the perfect reason to me. But to me, personally, I can’t imagine doing it. While I love my mother dearly, and she means a lot to me, I don’t know that I’d want her with me 100% of the time. I’m sure the feeling is mutual.

I think that’s the main reason I don’t get a tattoo. There isn’t anything in my life that I feel so strongly about that I want it with me forever.

Sure, I know they’re not totally permanent. Tattoos can be removed if you have the money and the pain threshold. But who goes into it thinking they’ll just wipe it away when it becomes inconvenient? You go into it thinking it will be with you forever.

It’s not fear, it’s not the expense either. I can deal with both of those. So does it really just come down to ambivalence? If it’s just for the right, the high, why not sky dive, drive fast, or even just stand on the edge of a cliff?

What does that say about my life? Is it good that I don’t go into anything until I’m sure? Or is it just sad? Sad that there’s nothing I’m so passionate about that I want it etched into my body so as to declare it unto the world?

Everybody has their reason: love, lust, loss, lunacy; I’ve yet to learn mine.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Other than my Aunt Cheryl (a Lutheran pastor) and my Dad’s folks, mine are not a particularly religious people. We don’t go to church or practice any religion – at least not formally. Yet we say grace at holiday gatherings, mainly Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

It’s as if begging alone will guarantee a good spot in the hereafter.

At Grandpa Armstrong’s it was usually up to either my brother or me to say grace. I was terrible at ad-libbing prayers since we didn’t get much practice at home, so I always stuck with an old, childhood favorite:

God is great, God is good Let us thank Him for this food, Amen.

One time I accidentally – ACCIDENTALLY – flipped the middle line “Let Him thank us for this food” and got away with it, but that was rare. Grandma Armstrong had a great sense of humor except when it came to The Almighty. Prayer was to be taken seriously. You played it straight and didn’t take chances if you knew what was good for you.

At Grandma Bertula’s it was a different matter entirely. Grandma herself was pretty dour, but the rest of us were a fun-loving bunch. Jocularity and good-natured ribbing were de rigeur and pretty much nothing was off limits.

That extended all the way to saying grace; a task normally reserved for “the kids.” My Mother and Brother were spared, which meant it was up to Uncle Ray, Aunt Mary, and me. Ray did the honors when he was in town, and I’d pick up the slack when he wasn’t.

We had two classics, I’m not sure where Ray came up with them, but they were like well-worn friends. The first beautiful in and almost artfully minimalist:


That was it. After that he’d dig right in and you’d miss the stuffing if you weren’t paying attention. The other, extravagant by comparison, was probably my favorite:

Rub a dub dub Thanks for the grub Yay God!

Every year Grandma Bertula acted annoyed, but I think it was all an act. Truthfully, I think she secretly enjoyed it. She’d smile, kind of sheepishly, and exclaim “Oh, Ray!”

My Uncle Ray and Aunt Cindy were visiting her family one year, so I was asked to do the honors. I didn’t dare look at Grandma because, she had this face she’d make. The disapproval face. In spite of our family’s long-running, if irreverent, tradition, she expected something more traditional. Somehow I just knew. So I just bowed my head, took a slight pause for dramatic effect, and said:

Clap your hands and stamp your feet Praise the Lord! Good God, let’s eat!

I remember getting a “Michael!” from someone, possibly Mom. I couldn’t tell if Grandma was more shocked or amused, although I did catch her stifling a smile. Either way I just beamed; I hadn’t chickened out and had pulled it off.

After all, if you can’t have fun with your family, you’re taking life far too seriously.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

I’ve been a long time fan of Tom Waits. Huge fan. When he comes out with a new album, I have to get it on release day. He’s got a stunning vision that gives each song a life of its own.

And, because I’m a guy, I have a certain appreciation for Scarlett Johansson too. She’s a beautiful, talented actress. And her voice! I could listen to her speak all day.

Combine the two: Johansson doing covers of Tom Waits songs, and it should be a winning combination. How could I resist?

I wish I would have, because mere words cannot convey how disturbing this album turned out to be. The hackish cover-art should have been a clue, but I failed to heed its warning.

First, I should give her a bit of credit – due anyone who appreciates Waits’ sometimes quirky and challenging work. But that’s where it ends.

I don’t know who should get most of the blame for this, Johansson or the producer. The whole album has this vocoder/harmonizer quality to it. Kind of an auto-chorus thing, but not very well done.

On every song.

I’m not sure if it’s because they thought her voice wouldn’t stand up on its own, or for some stylistic reason, but it turned out to be a distraction.

Anywhere I Lay My Head opens with an instrumental piece, “Fawn” from (Alice, 2002), which takes the simple, almost weepy original and turns it into something akin to a song from an old-time revival meeting crossed with a noise band.

The album also has one original track “Song for Jo,” in which I can see the inspiration. The song isn’t bad, aside from the auto-chorus, and it’s one of the only high-points on the album.

She does put her own touch on “I Wish I Was In New Orleans” (Small Change, 1976), and largely pulls it off. With sparse instrumentation, it has a certain lilting quality to it that actually works with the production style. In fact, it’s exactly what you would expect given her persona and the album concept. Unfortunately the song comes too late in the album (#8) to overcome the bad taste left by the songs leading up to it.

The next track, “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” (Bone Machine, 2002), takes on a Blondie-esque, almost disco quality, but not in a good way. Debbie Harry can pull off the sultry, sexy, husky thing, but Scarlett has a few years to go and needs some material that might lend itself to the task.

The title track, “Anywhere I Lay My Head” comes from 1985’s Rain Dogs, and the album contains a smattering of songs from all over Waits’ work. Alice (2002), Big Time (1988), Orphans (2006), Swordfishtrombones (1983), Small Change (1976), Real Gone (2004), and the previously mentioned Rain Dogs are all represented.

I wanted to like it. I really did. But in the end, this one goes on the list of albums I’m mildly ashamed to own. Scarlett Johansson fans will be disappointed; Tom Waits fans will be pissed off.

Tuesday, 09 December 2008

Vanessa and I originally met at a Mensa gathering. We got to talking and seemed to hit it off. I had a great time, and was intrigued, but still too shy to trade phone numbers. Lucky for me, Scott was more bold.

A week or so later Scott called to say that Vanessa was having a Hanukkah party. She had made a special point that I should stop by. Normally I would have avoided any party where I didn’t know most of the people there, but something about the tone of the invitation compelled me to go. And, boy, was I glad I did!

The party was a blast; hours went by in seconds. Vanessa and I talked occasionally throughout the afternoon and I was still there long after everyone else had gone. We talked easily, almost like old friends catching up after a long absence. I finally left around midnight, but not before we had arranged a dinner date.

The next few months were a bit of a whirlwind. We spent most evenings together, weekends too, and talked on the phone at least twice a day. I was smitten – there’s no other way to describe it.

We would talk about our hopes and fears, dreams and disappointments. On walks together we’d point out how ours would be different than the house we were walking past, and what our wedding would be like. It was during those conversations, on one of our walks, that talk about “the one” came up.

I believe that each of us has a someone out there, but you may not find them right away. Sure, there are the high-school sweethearts that stay together forever, but other couples take longer and my not even meet until later in life. If you love someone and you grow apart, no matter how much you adored them, they were not the one.

Vanessa, on the other hand, was convinced we each have only one true love, and that hers was in a former boyfriend. Since they couldn’t be together, she could never really be happy. She refused to believe anything else and would let it short circuit parts of her relationships with other guys. I think that’s part of what happened with us.

I’m not entirely blameless either. It’s not like I really knew what I wanted at the time. I was bored with my job, my consulting business wasn’t taking off, and I still had a piece of carry-on baggage left from my divorce. But those are just excuses.

We started off strong, but she just wasn’t into the relationship – not as much as I was – and I wasn’t strong enough to fight for it. We simply drifted apart.

For a while I thought that she might possibly have been right. What if my one true love had slipped by? And did that ever hurt. But the more I thought about it, the easier it was to accept the fact that she wasn’t my “one.” I remember her and the relationship fondly, but it was apparently not to be. I remain hopeful, and convinced, that my true love is out there somewhere. When I find her, she and I will both know it.

That’s what makes the love true.