All in a Day's Work

Mul·ti·task·ing   (mlt-tskng, -t-) n. — The concurrent operation by one central processing unit of two or more processes.

For Example: In the last 48 hours, I’ve hung myself off the side of a State Police helicopter, clocked in at 90mph racing to Glens Falls for Senator Clinton, sprinted up 3 flights of Capital steps for Gov. Pataki, and crawled under 6 vintage film projectors at the Palace Theater. All that and still time enough for fitness, friends, film, and food too! It’s called tv news and it’s all in a day’s work.

There’s nothing more rewarding than juggling real-world priorities and making everything fit like a puzzle. It’s a balancing act that takes time to perfect and endurance to prevail. Some say the PeaceCorp is the toughest job you’ll ever love. On good days, I like to replace the word “PeaceCorp” with “Television News”. Making strict deadlines every day at noon, 5, 5:30 and 6 sharpens the senses and improves effeciency. My reporter and I pace each other like a well-oiled machine.

It sure would be great if there was a “Take-a-viewing-audience-member” to work day. Maybe then, there would be more respect for what goes on behind-the-scenes. Better yet, if my News Director and General Manager could tag along with us, there might be a better chance of getting a 15% pay raise rather than a 15% pay cut.

TV News is made up of a weakening Union called NABET. NABET desperately negotiates with our parent company (Freedom Communications) every 3 years to keep a fair and consistent contract for it’s behind-the-scenes members. Myself and about 50 of my colleagues pay Union dues. It’s an unnerving place to be right now – foreseeing a pay cut while juggling a steep morgage, unpaid debts and relying on freelance jobs for extra income. The entire industry is changing and my job decription is being treated as no more valuable than a fast food employee. No offense french fry servers.

Moral and spirits are at an all-time low and I feel like I’m on a sinking Titanic. No, wait, scratch that, it feels like I’ve managed to escape the sinking Titanic and now I’m treading water for a life raft . I never thought I’d walk in the same footsteps as my Dad – a UAW member with General Motors for 30 years, but here I am, and here I’ve been, for over 10 years. It appears that a strike might be inevietable, thought that’s a worst-case scenerio. Pining over things out of my control is not my nature though so it’s on to my next assignment leaving enough time to blog about it and make it feel all better.

Popcorn and Porn

Deb and I saw the documentary “Inside Deep Throat” last night at the Spectrum.

Need I say more?
Oh, wait, during the show a popcorn kernal got stuck in MY throat – no joke!

From Caipirnha to Fire Alarms

“This is Cachaça” explains Phil Pillsworth “Between soccer, carnival and the samba, this drink is the most popular thing in Brazil! It tastes something like rum because it’s made from sugarcane. Would you like to try some?”. I figure nothing can be as strong as Grappa, so I agree to a small sample, just a small shot though.

Mary and Phil are my absolute favorite intellectual liberals! While working in the Peacecorp in Brazil in the 1960’s, they met, fell in love and traveled extensively ever since. Back in October of last year, I flew to Guadalahara, Mexico and had the exciting chance of videotaping their winning bid on a retirement home in Ajijic. I love listening to them lament about the out-of-control right-wing agenda, wrestle with society’s deepest social maladies, and argue about who forgot to turn on the oven for the lasagna to cook! Last nights evening in with them was all about their recent trip to Brazil during Carnivale.

“So what to do think”” asks Phil, as I cautiously wet my palette with the intoxicating Cachaça. “Hhhhmmmm…”

I’m no spirit aficionado, usually sticking to table wine and heffen weisen beer but this Cachaça is lethal stuff and I’m glad I’m sitting down! A kick, a bite, something like tequila, sort of like vodka, I’m trying to be place the flavors, like I would with wine — as if I’m any good at that either! “Ah hell, bring on the Caipirinha!” I squeal. Caipirinha is a cocktail with Cachaca in it and it’s all the rage in London, Paris and even here in NYC.

And so begins another memorable evening with Mary and Phil; a couple I can only hope to be and act like when I get older…whatever older is. They’ve spent the entire day preparing a Brazilian feast, Brazilian photos, and Brazilian videos for my sake. And though all of that is great, what I’m really after is listening to great storytelling – and nobody does it better than them. Verbiage comes so natural to both of them and since they’ve been together for over 35 years, each other literally picks off where the other left off in a conversation. My parents divorced partly due to a lack of communication skills so this intrinsic verbal compatibility between couples fascinates me. I marvel at Mary and Phil’s longevity, transient lifestyle, and thirst for learning. Despite the digs and wisecracks each other lobb at the other (albeit amusing as hell to me) their adulation and respect is obvious.

“Mary, Why is there so much smoke pouring out of the oven??? For God’s Sake, the Lasagna’s on Fire!”
“Phil, for God’s Sake, I left that Brazilian CD under the desk!! Look to the left!!”
“Mary, I can’t have my dessert yet, for God’s Sake, I’m still finishing up my salad!”

It’s like music to my ears!

I could blame it on my past or turning 33 (again) and still single, or my romantic notions felt during full moons, but for all the reasons I’m attracted to this older successful couple, saying goodbye always leaves me wanting to know their secret. If your reading this Mary and Phil, a note to remember – when the time comes that you decide you’d like to enlighten the rest of the world with this underground tidbit , I’ll be there, camera rolling!

Thanks so much for dinner.

Ski Your Fears Away

Every year I ski solo on Easter weekend. Rain, shine, snow or ice, I’m out there; traversing some twisted mogul run, usually one I have no business being on. It’s usually very quiet, there are no lift lines, and the snow stays groomed well into the evening. On beautiful days, especially this past weekend, the mountains are my haven for a spiritual reawakening. Perched high above evergreens dripping with snow the lift sweeps me into the heavens. A few years ago, a man on the chair ahead of me played Amazing Grace on his harmonica. Blissful, tranquil, and admittedly a powerful moment.

Some will argue that skiing is too much hassle, too much money to be worth it. Usually, they’re right on both counts but not today – not on a 45 degree day at 4000 feet. As I was leaving for the Adirondacks, I got a call from some of my closest tv friends. They had flown up from Atlanta the day before and insisted that I ski the Catskills instead. Oh no – not Hunter Mountain, I thought to myself.

There’s a legend that the Catskills were actually made by the Devil; that he was flying around with a big bag of rocks on his back when the bag ripped open and the rocks fell to form the Catskills. The Devil, it is said, was often seen in these parts. In fact, as I approached Hunter Mountain that day, driving south along Route 214, the face of the Devil was visible in the stone cliff. Not a good omen for an Easter weekend!

The owner and founder, Orville Slutzky, is 88 yrs. young and a wonderful friend. He treats the media like family – extending free tickets and meals with no guarantee of return coverage. I worked on a tv special here a few years ago and the Hunter crew were especially accommodating. Orville insists that I park my NYP car in a specially designated area and who am I to deny better parking with 30 pounds of ski equipment? Even at 88, Orville is still the Pope of the place or so I thought. 10 minutes later my licence plate is recorded and a stern police towing warning is broadcasted over the PA. I rush out in time to sweet-talk an officer who doesn’t so much believe nor care that I know the Pope.

My friends finally show up an hour late. It’s understandable considering their extended Irish family is made up of 6 brothers and sisters, 10 sons and daughters, a couple dozen nieces, nephews, cousins, oh, and 1 dog. I know I’m probably missing a few more. Not all came that day but enough to divide the lot into 3 vehicles.

The near-perfect conditions had my confidence swelling and I stupidly ignored “You Must Be An Expert” sign and dared the double diamond runs. “If my friends can do it so can I!” was the deciding mantra.

“The Catskill Devil himself must have carved these things out”, I cursed, as I began the rough descend. Moguls the size of tsuanami tidewaves came tearing at my left, collapsing at my right, tossing and turning me over like a beach pebble. Something inside me was burning – could it be my legs were on fire? Removing my skis would prove risky but worse than that, humiliating. Who did I think I was trying to emulate my friends expert skiing techniques? My foolish pride will be the end of me today. I begged the Devil for mercy. Reciting every prayer I knew – the bottom was drawing closer. My friends waited patiently and praised my efforts when I finally made it in. Whew, they didn’t see the panic and pain I was experiencing! The only lines I could utter in return were “Well, I was definitely out of my comfort zone there…but, let’s do another!”

Fear has no place in short-term memory, especially mine, and following that run I did another and another – terrifying, exhilarating, mortifying, and humbling. I even managed to forget to get off the lift and dumped out a little late, smashing my head on a pillar and taking out a couple cones. My right ski came off and a pole went flying but to my dismay the lift kept circling above me, nearly decapitating me as I struggled for position. Could the lift operator be the Devil in disguise? Black and blue and bruised all over, I called it a day. My friends rewarded me later with a homecooked family dinner. Thank you to all, but please, lets make it the Adirondacks next time!

Rock'in at the VFW

My schoolmarm friend invited me to watch a friend’s band in Green Island last night. Two elementary school teachers, one by the name of Ben and the other Bill play in a band called “Benny and the Frets”. Last night’s gig took place at the local VFW. “VFW…”, I thought…”Well, sure, why not, I’ll try anything once”. Deb was decked to the nines, at she usually is, and I stayed my usual casual self. Pulling up to the joint, the sign out front confused us with the name of somebody else’s band. “Could we be at the wrong VFW?”. Several doors to the building were locked and the place seemed a little too quiet, even for an older crowd. Finally, the fourth door past a glowing neon “Budweiser” sign showed us the way. 2 priceless little gray-haired women, probably widows of soldiers who fought in Korea, greeted us as we entered. Before coughing up the hefty $2 door charge, Deb asked about “Benny and Frets”. “Betty and the who?” “Betty what?” “Was that Betty you say?” replied perplexed widow #1. Deb peered around the corner and caught sight of one of her coworkers. Benny or Ben as I was introduced to him, straighted out the matter, admitting his band goes by several names. Oh no, I thought, confusing the little ladies who collect your pay is not a good thing. Having come this far Deb and I deserved a drink. “I feel funny using a plastic cup for your White Zinfadel Miss” admitted the bartender. “It’s coming from a cardboard box so no complaints here” I grinned. Ben introduced us to a motley of personalities; Bev, a short and stocky butch electrician sporting a tie-dye shirt, being the most vocal. Van Morrison and Billy Joel covers played while a fierce trumpet player drowned out a questionable flute but respectable sax musician. A defunct birthday party in the backroom shared their jello shots and test tube lemoncello with all. Deb and I were feeling no pain by 9pm. The wood paneled bathroom, decked out with kitchy wall hangings and the smell of musty cigarettes, redeamed itself with flawless mirror lighting. Wow, do I look good for being 33 (again) I thought, peering into the mirror mirror on the wall. It was either that or Deb and I really did need to slow down on our consumption. Around 10pm, White Zin Bartender abandoned his post and asked me to dance. The stolen birthday party chips and salsa had me sobering up some but who am I too turn down a lonely VFW member? He too now has something to write about! When the chips and salsa disappeared we too decided our exit stragedy. Saying goodbye to our new friends we vowed to return to Green Island VFW for more drunk’en tomfoolery — maybe later rather than sooner though…

Kodo, Japanese Drumming

A week ago I watched a strangely complex and perverse movie called The Tin Drum. It’s about a boy named Oskar who rejects the “stupid” adult world and it’s hypocrises. At age 3, he stops growing and learns to assert some control over adults through beating on a tin drum and his vocal talents.

Tonight I decided to carry that drumming theme out a little longer. I got tickets to the world-renowned Japanese taiko drum troupe at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady. An evening of pulse-pounding percussion unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. The concert wasn’t merely something I watched or listened to. It was a cacophony of sounds that I felt — literally.
The vibrations of the drums shook my seat and pierced my mind. Kodo is the name of the troupe which stands for “heartbeat” and/or “children of the drum”.

Though I only stayed for one set, I was truly impressed with the performance. It felt great to be away from listening to my roommates watch reality shows on Thursday nights. Will there ever be an end to these annoying programs?

As written in the Times Union today…”Kodo has been rattling the roofs of theaters around the world with their big world beat for nearly a quarter-century. Formed on Sado Island off the coast of Japan in 1981, the troupe’s initial intention was to establish a school for traditional folk arts, including weaving, carpentry, pottery and woodworking. Originally, the drumming performances were intended as a way to raise funds for the school; soon, the drums took precedence.”

Before the show I talked with an author of a book about Kodo. The book describes how Kodo performers live on a small island and commune together. They eat, sleep, and play together. They cook, clean and gather food together. They practice for years and years together before they even take stage. The author went on to describe the types of fishing boats they use to net fish and oysters. An absolutely fascinating life style that I’d love to do a documentary on someday…if it hasn’t been done already.