Thursday, August 26, 2010

Coming of Age, Automotive Edition

When your first child is autistic, you miss out on some milestones as they roll around. Nate doesn't drive, and shouldn't drive, based on the way he plays Burnout and Need for Speed. That boy takes too much pleasure in cracking up cars.

Yesterday, I was supposed to head up to Boston for the Red Sox game, but a 60% chance of rain coupled with thunderstorms made me reconsider a 9 hour round trip for a rainout. (The weather held off and the BoSox played a double-header instead). By staying home, I got to take Robbie for his road test. Actually, four of us loaded into the Land Cruiser and took him to Oneonta.

Karen and Nate headed to a coffee shop and I waited with Rob. His early nerves had faded and he was raring to go. There was a girl ahead of us and she rode off with the test administrator for a long time. Rob and I talked and a Cooperstown friend of his pulled up. His test was soon after Rob's.

One way to lessen the tension was Rob's constant referring to my first driving test, my failed driving test. I was doing OK until I made a right turn in front of an oncoming car.

"You know you just cut that guy off," the proctor said sternly.

Of course I talked back. I was 17 and that's what I did. Bad form. I didn't understand who had the power back then.

"I didn't cut him off; I had plenty of room."

"Take it back," he ordered. Not "take back what you said," but "drive this car back because your test is over." So, all morning, Robbie kept saying at the slightest provocation, "Take it back."

When Rob went off for his test, I talked to our Cooperstown friends. It seemed like a flash that he was back. Uh oh, that was much shorter than that girl's test. And, he pulled up on the opposite side of the street. These are the signs of failure.

The woman who tested Rob got out of the car. Her face was severe, no emotion. I'd noticed that earlier. It's to be expected, getting in car after car with people who haven't yet proven they can drive. That's taking your life in your hands every workday.

She gave me a look and a thin smile. It was OK. He passed. And he really passed - not one point taken off.

Now we have a son who can drive. I'm not worried about him at all; it's all good. Now he can order at the drive-thru (and he did at Taco Bell soon after). Better yet, I can get more sleep as he carts me around.

This transition to adult children is working out very well, I must say.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Record Wars and Family Peace

Aunt Linda called from Santa Monica last week.

"Hi, I found albums and wanted to know which ones you want. I have Dylan, Firesign Theater. I already promised Robbie a Country Joe and The Fish album."

Since record hunting is now a three player sport in our household, I told Linda to send them all. Between me, Robbie and Joey, we'd pick that carcass clean.

Box one arrived yesterday. Joey was at work, so Rob and I got a sneak preview. We'd already discussed the rules that I proposed. First, everyone has to chip in to pay for postage. Three bucks each, but, as Rod Blagojevich said, you gotta pay to play. Second, we would draw lots to decide who'd pick first. Some might say that as the father, I should go last, or not at all, but, hell man, we're talking records here. Every man for himself.

I checked out the pile often, and it was on second, or third, glance, that I beheld the miracle. Blonde on Blonde was a mono copy with the rare Claudia Cardinale picture in the gatefold. Joey assumed he'd get it, since Rob and I both have copies already, but now it was up for grabs.

When Joey got home, he looked through the records and we used Scrabble pieces of Nate's initials, N, E and K, to decide who went first. The tiles were shuffled on the kitchen table. I picked the K, worth 5 points to the other letters 1. Before I chose, I informed Joey of the Dylan problem. Had he picked first I would have told him as well. Fair is fair. He was crushed, but so you have it. I also told him that inside the Are You Experienced? cover was Meet the Beatles.

It was Joey's turn. He chose John Wesley Harding. I was stunned, and when Robbie quickly snatched The Doors' first album, I had to ask.
"Hey Joey, you've been talking about that Doors album for weeks. I can't believe you didn't pick it."

Here's what happened: in pre-selection talks, Robbie had mentioned he wanted that one Dylan record. Brotherly spite clouded good judgment and Joey went for JWH. So it goes. It's finders keepers, or first come, first serve. Either way, Joey was Door-less.

I ended up getting what I wanted - Fugs, Kaleidoscope's first album, stuff the two of them wouldn't know or care about. After the session was over, Joey was downcast. The Doors mishap had him reeling.

"Hey," I said. "You came back from Chicago with about 60 new albums. Trade with Rob."

The two disappeared and a little while later I went up to Robbie's room. There, leaning against his bed, was All Things Must Pass, George Harrison triple vinyl masterpiece.
"Whoa, Joey traded you that for The Doors?"
Rob laughed.
"I kinda pressured him into it."
I'm still the father here, and, as such rule setter and commissioner. I had to make a snap judgment.

"No sir. You can't get three albums for one." Joey ended up giving Rob Squeezing Out Sparks instead.
Later, I spoke to Linda, who told me another box of records is on its way. Controversy is sure to follow.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Jack White's Other Other Band

I'm spoiled. I admit it. The concerts I go to these days are wonderfully professional: great sound, punctual start times. I love it. Gone are the days of horrible sound and bands that keep you waiting for hours, for reasons totally their own. When I saw The Rolling Stones on the first date of their 1981 American tour, they hit the stage two hours after Journey ended. As if Journey wasn't bad enough!

Joey and I headed to the Congress Theater in Chicago to check out The Dead Weather. Would I finally see Jack White live? Two years ago I had tickets for The White Stripes show, also in Chicago, that was cancelled as a result of Meg White's stress level, or sex tape, or stress level about the sex tape.

The doors opened at 7 PM, which meant the line that curved around the side street adjacent to the theater didn't move until around 7:30. Once in motion, it became a quasi-military operation, the first half of Full Metal Jacket run by greasy-haired crazy people.

"Two lines!, Don't mess up my lines!" shouted the stringy line monitor. A rough pat down was given upon entry. I was waiting for someone to call me Pvt. Pyle.

Most old theaters I've been to have been restored to their former beauty. Not so the Congress Theater. It's a dingy mess. We headed up to the balcony and sat in smooth, oily seats. Below my feet was a huge pitted concrete patch. I was not overcome with a sense of calm about my surroundings.

I was excited to see the opening band, Harlem. They didn't come out until 9, and by then, the place was a sweltering crock pot of people and weed. Below us at floor level was a crush of fans growing restless by the minute. Joey was growing impatient and the smell of pot saturated the air around him. Later, when I asked if he'd gotten a contact high, he was confused. He knew the song by Nodzzz of that name, but only now got it.

"Oh, so that's what it means," he said with surprise. Another of life's mysteries solved.

Harlem was very good, and would have been better had the sound not been a muddy morass of heavy bass. Every word spoken was unintelligible and their power pop was done a disservice by the venue.

When The Dead Weather came out, the crowd went berserk, watched closely by the giant eye atop the painted backdrop. This may be the first show I've ever seen that I didn't know one song in advance. Didn't matter though, it was exciting to see White and the group. They were excellent, though again, the sound was atrocious.

Know this: in any Dead Weather show, when Jack plays guitar it signifies the end of something. he stepped out front twice, for the last song of the set, and the final song of the encore.

A woman next to my friend said it was the 15th time she'd seen Jack White in his various incarnations - White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather. The theater was packed with similarly rabid fans, and when they sang and clapped and stomped on the floor, the structural insecurity of the balcony became apparent. I could see the headline in the next day's Tribune:

Scores Die in Concert Collapse

Thankfully, we survived and learned a valuable lesson. It's still possible to see great bands in shitty halls with miserable sound. When my iPhone has better sound than The Congress Theater, there's something wrong.