April 2005 Archives

A Non-Meme Friday Five

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Here are five things off the top of my head on a sunny Friday morning.

First, I can't believe Constantine went home on Wednesday. I mean, I'm glad he's gone, but I just can't believe America showed him so little love. By the way, his farewell rendition of "How You Remind Me" was worse than the one that got him kicked off.

Second, let's talk about the weather. I'm only happy when it rains during the week, while I'm at my desk. If it were possible, I'd ask the rain to take an hour for lunch. Rain on the weekend should be illegal.

Third, have you seen the Starbucks cups with the little "The Way I See It" blurbs? My favorite is #33, a poem by Nikki Giovanni...

Hot allusions
Metaphors over easy
Side order of rhythm
Grit/s plain or with sauce
If you want to be a poet
You've got to eat right

Fourth, the Giants have a two-game winning streak going, which is only notable because it isn't a two-game losing streak. If you read Peanuts, you know that even Charlie Brown's baseball team can have a two-game winning streak.

Win #1:

Peppermint Patty: Bad news, Chuck. My team can't play your team today. We have too many guys who aren't feeling well. We're going to have to forfeit the game. You win, Chuck.
Charlie Brown: All right, team! I don't want any letdown now! We've got a streak going!

Win #2:

Franklin: Hello, Charlie Brown? This is Franklin. We won't be able to play your team today. Five of our guys can't make it. We'll just have to forfeit the game. You win, Charlie Brown.
Charlie Brown: I can't believe it. A two-game winning streak.

The Giants had yesterday off, so their streak lasted an extra day. In order for it to grow, they'll have to win against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. By the way, Arizona is first in the West. When did that happen? I suspect the division lead will be changing hands many times this season.

Fifth, on the light rail, the only thing more annoying (and rude) than a person talking loudly on a cell phone is a person playing drums. You think I'm kidding, but the guy had an iPod and sticks. He was drumming on his skateboard to a song only he could hear. That went on for about a minute or so before a woman asked him to stop. He had the luxury of playing the tough guy behind his reflective sunglasses. He stared at her for second before returning to his own little world, all the while never missing a beat. She asked him again and he suddenly noticed that everybody was staring at him, including a couple of large, mean-looking guys who had been exchanging jailhouse stories. He decided it was in his best interest to stop.

Of course, this got me to thinking how it might be cool to have a train band, which is like a house band, but with a consistent gig playing tracks on the tracks. Oh, how I crack only myself up. They could occupy a raised stage in the last car and provide entertainment for those who desire a little live music on their way to work. Just a thought. Go out and have a great weekend.

Ever The Same

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Song on my mind... "Ever the Same" by Rob Thomas

just let me hold you while you're falling apart
just let me hold you so we both fall down

fall on me tell me everything you want me to be
forever with you
forever in me
ever the same
call on me
i'll be there for you and you'll be there for me
forever it's you
forever in me
ever the same

you may need me there
to carry all your weight
but you're no burden i assure
you tide me over
with a warmth i'll not forget
but i can only give you love

Mendocino, Here We Come

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Last Friday, a.k.a. Earth Day, M and I took a trip to Mendocino. I had no idea that Silvia would also be spending a weekend in the area, but it's a cool coincidence. Anyway, we made our way across the Golden Gate Bridge and up 101 past Sausalito, San Rafael and Petaluma, until we reached Highway 116. We cut over this two-lane road through Sebastopol, Guerneville and across the Russian River before reaching Jenner and Highway 1.

The Shoreline Highway winds and weaves its way up the coast. If you choose this scenic route, expect the trip to take an extra hour or two. If you're prone to motion sickness, I'd recommend taking Highway 128 instead. Otherwise, the beautiful ocean views are worth the extra time and curves.

Our coastal journey continued northward through Gualala and too many little towns to list, but we eventually pulled off to visit the Point Arena Lighthouse at the end of the road. The fog had beaten us there by about an hour, so visibility was horrendous, but that didn't stop us from climbing the spiral staircase of the 115-foot structure. This incarnation of the lighthouse is nearly a hundred years old. An earthquake in 1906 destroyed the original lighthouse built in 1870.

We ventured further north and stopped at Queenie's Roadhouse Cafe in Elk for some coffee. Before leaving, we discovered a trail that led down to Greenwood State Beach, a quiet cove with grayish black sand. It was wondrous there and a place deserving more of our time, but we had to be moving along.

We continued up Highway 1 through Whitesboro, Albion and Little River. Before long, we made a sharp left turn off the freeway and into Mendocino, a coastal village with approximately 1,000 inhabitants.

We stayed at the Mendocino Hotel and Garden Suites located across from the Mendocino Headlands State Park. The historic Victorian hotel has a combination of suites, standard hotel rooms and European-style rooms. We went European, which meant we had to share bathrooms with other guests. The room was small, but cozy, and contained a bed, chair, sink and closet.

My favorite part of the hotel was the lobby. It had dark wood furniture, burgundy wallpaper, old photographs, antiques and a large fireplace. It was like traveling back in time. In the morning, there was complimentary coffee and tea in the lobby and newspapers at the front desk.

The major downside of our accommodations was the noise. A tarp over the adjoining restaurant roof amplified the rain that came Friday night. Constructed in 1878, the building is old and its walls don't block out the sound. One can hear everything people say or do in neighboring rooms. When I say everything, I mean everything.

After perusing the local shops and restaurant menus, we decided to dine at Mendocino Cafe. It had a selection of seafood, steak and Thai dishes. If you're on a budget, a number of pubs offer cheaper entrees like burgers, fish and chips and, oddly enough, more Thai dishes.

On the outside, Mendocino isn't a refined or sanitized tourist trap like Carmel or Monterey. It's a tourist trap trying to keep it real. The town is worn and dilapidated, but instead of tearing down abandoned churches or water towers, folks have creatively reused the buildings as stores or homes. Like Fort Bragg to the north, Mendocino was once a lumber town. Today, it's a community without an economic engine. What keeps it alive are its art galleries, jewelers and restaurants.

To me, the main appeal of the town isn't so much the town itself, but the town's surroundings, which we found to be breathtaking. On Saturday, we would explore it more.

AI: The Aught Nots

Last night's American Idol was the second worst episode of the finals. The theme was "Songs of the Last Five Years" or, as I'm calling them, "The Aught Nots". I try not to be too cynical or critical about the contestants, but last night, they all seemed eager to annoy me and give me reasons to dislike them.

To stretch six two-minute performances over an hour, we visited each of the contestant's families and hometowns. They were praisefests that painted the finalists as saints destined for musical greatness. I wouldn't have a problem with the testimonials if they were followed by blow-me-away performances, but they weren't. The gushing sucked the reality right of the room and it all returned the instant the singing began. On live television and in front of millions of adoring fans, six innocent songs were maimed.

Carrie tackled a Martina McBride song and even wore a cowgirl outfit to really bring home the fact that she's country through and through. I figured that out all on my own eight weeks ago, but maybe she was worried I had forgotten after seeing her "Barbie meets Stepford Wives" hair and wardrobe last week. Her performance was stale and off-key. She'll come in third this week.

Bo followed with Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Want To Be". It was my favorite song of the night and fit the image he's trying to project. He gave it a solid nod, but I was disappointed that he didn't even try to go for the high notes, leaving it to the backup singers to fill in the holes. Of course, maybe a seasoned performer knows his limits and knows that trying to hit a note and missing is worse than omitting it. It's the SAT approach to singing. Anyway, I have no idea what he was wearing, but it was colorful and ugly and his Lenny Kravitz sunglasses didn't help in the fashion department. That aside, I'd give him second place.

Next was "The Vonz", whose nickname I've given up trying to understand. She sang "I Turn to You" by Christina Aguilera. She hit most of the notes and tried to reach the high ones. Picture the music measures as shelves in a grocery store and each note as a can of soup. It was as if she was trying to grab a can of clam chowder from the top shelf and barely touching the bottom with the tip of her fingers. She really needed the musical equivalent of stepping stool. Her constituency and most of America will find her endearing and vote her into first place.

Anthony then attempted a Celine Dion song. I was expecting something horrible, but must have set my expectations too low because he didn't sound half-bad. This week, I think he will come in fourth, thanks to Constantine's stumble.

And how he stumbled. The Rocket of Novelty that launched Constantine into the stratosphere ran out of the cheese that fueled it and came plummeting back to Earth. He returned to his "rocker roots" and sang Nickelback's "How You Remind Me". The original song was a guilty pleasure that only worked for me because of Chad Kroeger's gravelly (some would say annoying) voice. Constantine's voice didn't come anywhere close to sounding half as tough or angry. The performance felt hollow and weak and no amount of flashing lights or camera kicks could save it. His rocket will crash into fifth place. Finally.

Last up was Scott. Anthony may have sung "I Surrender", but Scott looked and sounded like he surrendered. His heart wasn't in the performance and, for the first time, he took the judge's criticism without talking back or being disrespectful. He looked resigned and he'll be going home tonight.

After a few weeks of unoriginal themes, I actually would like the show to return to last year's idea of focusing on a particular artist's song catalog. I'd like to see the remaining contestants take on Roy Orbison, Bruce Springsteen or even Elvis Presley. Having the Idol wannabes take on proven American idols would spice up the last of the season.

Two Funnies

I don't know how cartoonists do what they do on a daily basis. Six days out of the week, they attempt to package a smile into a three-panel comic strip. On Sunday, they triple the panel count and go for laughs in color. I realize people pay them for what they do, but it seems to me that money would tend to stifle rather than stimulate an artist's imagination.

Two recent strips caught my eye. Before I forget or lose them, I want to write them down. The first one is from Foxtrot...

Mom: Paige, what are you doing?
Paige: Watching TV.
Mom: It's a beautiful spring day! You should be enjoying it!
Paige: All right. All right. Sheesh. There. I put on The Weather Channel.
Mom: I'm counting to three...

There are days when it's gorgeous outside, but all I want to do is stay holed up inside and planted in front of the television. On those days, someone needs to hand me this strip.

The second one is from Calvin and Hobbes...

Calvin: Ewww, look! This bug is eating another bug!
Hobbes: Yuckkk!
Calvin: Blecchh! Gross!
Hobbes: Ick! Ick!
Calvin: Blbpbblpth! I can't believe I looked at that! Ew! Ew!
Hobbes: Hacckkhh! Gaaacck!
Calvin: Great experiences are even better when they're shared.

This is classic Calvin being the typical kid, but then saying something wise beyond his years. An experience is even better when we share it. This is true whether we experience it firsthand, with another person, or secondhand, sharing it through a story (or tall tale depending on the number of retellings).

AI: The Late and Imaginary Recap

This will probably come as shock to many people, but last Tuesday, I didn't watch American Idol. Don't get me wrong. At home, there's a valuable videotape sitting in a VCR that contains the episode. The tape should also hold Scrubs and The Office, but they're not the priority. I will hopefully get to sit down and watch it tonight.

Unfortunately, I really want to write an American Idol recap. Not seeing the show makes the task difficult, but not impossible. There's only one minor drawback: being completely wrong. I'm not going to let that stop me. So, here we go.

Tuesday, on American Idol...

Unhappy about having to wear a suit and tie last Wednesday, Ryan made his hair extra spiky and wore a t-shirt that read, "I have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and you are?" He then introduced Randy, Paula and Simon and made a joke about Simon wearing the same clothes every day, which isn't as much funny as it is true. Simon gave Ryan a withering look while thinking of a clever way to call him gay.

There was then the Coke-sponsored segment showing Ryan making the contestants guess this week's theme...

Ryan: It's from a game on a show Drew Carey once hosted.
Constantine: Who?
Ryan: He would introduce it with the line, "With the help of Laura Hall on piano."
Contestants: (blank looks)
Ryan: Drew would also say, "It's time for our favorite game in the whole wide world!" (whispers something into Anwar's ear)
Anwar: Motown?
Ryan: Hoedown! That's right!

As a special surprise, the house band got the night off and Laura Hall performed on the piano. Now, I could go into gruesome detail about each performance, but if you've been watching the show recently, you know that performances don't matter. This explains why Scott and Anthony are still around to torture millions of viewers.

After one of many commercial breaks, Ryan interviewed Drew Carey, who just "happened" to be in the audience.

Ryan: So, Drew, Simon thought Constantine mangled Hoedown, but since you are the Hoedown expert, tell us what you thought of Constantine.
Drew: Who?
Ryan: The tall guy who can't stop gazing longingly into the cameras.
Drew: Oh, him. Yeah, he mangled it, but I hardly noticed after he hypnotized me with those dreamy eyes.
Ryan: I know what you mean. What did you think of the other performers so far?
Drew: Oh, are we still talking about that? Because I'm really only here to promote Whose Line Is It Anyway?: The Animated Series coming to Fox this summer.

By the end of the "imaginary" episode, I already knew who was going to be in the bottom three. It didn't require much psychic ability to predict that it would be Scott, Anthony and Anwar.

Now, if I hadn't seen Wednesday's episode, you might be reading about how Scott was eliminated and escorted off the stage by mean looking king penguins. How, in another Idol scandal, animal rights activists accused the penguins of being on "the cream" and "the clear". And how the birds' attorneys denied these allegations and said their clients thought they were only using fish oil.

Unhappily, I saw the real thing and the sad truth is that Anwar received the lowest number of votes. While he was one of my favorites, I was slowly accepting the fact that he probably wouldn't make it into the final two. I just didn't expect to see him leaving before Scott or Anthony. With any luck, those two will be the next two gone. Of course, with my luck, it's more likely I'll see king penguins doing a Hoedown with Laura Hall.

Resolutions, Bricks and Running

Over the last few days, I've spent a good deal time, including the time I would normally spend writing here, taking a look deep down inside, questioning myself and making resolutions. Sometimes, the most important resolutions aren't the ones you make with each new year. They are the ones that cover things you should have always done and should always strive to do. They aren't the resolutions you advertise, but the ones you keep and keep in mind.

Since Saturday, I've been building the first of two brick walls in the backyard. Of course, it hasn't been a solitary undertaking. I've received a ton of help, especially with loading, unloading and placing the roughly one-hundred keystone bricks that make up the retaining wall near the fence line. I figure I'll need just as many to complete the flower bed once I dig the trench. The bricks are tan, weigh about twenty-five pounds each and look similar to these garden wall units. When completed, it should be just the right height for sitting. I need to remember to take some photos while everything is still underway and once it's all finished.

On Sunday, we ran the Wildflower 5K Fun Run. The race benefits the American Association of University Women's scholarship fund. The course is nearly a complete loop that begins in the local high school's parking lot, passes a number of farms, a medical center, a new housing development, more farms and finishes by the high school's soccer and baseball fields. The terrain was completely flat, which made it ideal for folks who desired a leisurely morning jog. I chugged along at a comfortable 9:12 per mile pace.

In 2003, I ran twelve races, which now seems like an excessive number. Last year, thanks to an ankle injury, I only participated in three runs. Sunday's race felt good and boosted my motivation to stick with the outdoor runs and indoor workouts. If possible, I hope to participate in five or six races this season. Most of them will likely be 5Ks, but I'd also like to do a 10K or two.

State of the Giants: 8 Games In

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The Giants have played eight games so far this season: five against the Dodgers and three against the Rockies. They swept Colorado, but only took one game from Los Angeles and that was the season opener.

Although their big guns (Bonds and Alou) aren't in the lineup, the team has still managed to score runs. Unfortunately, they haven't scored more runs than their bullpen has allowed. Unless their relief pitching improves, San Francisco is in for a long season. It's no use for guys like Lowry, Schmidt and Williams to pitch gems, if guys like Benitez, Brower and Walker are going to give away the game in the late innings.

The season is only a week old and the Giants have an even record. That's probably a higher winning percentage than most folks figured they'd have, but if they don't shore up their relief pitching, they're going to find themselves in a hole too deep for even Barry or Moises to dig them from.

This evening, they begin a three-game series against the Rockies, a team with a seven-game losing streak. Let's hope San Francisco can push Colorado's losses into double digits before traveling to San Diego on Monday. With Noah Lowry on the mound tonight, they have a good chance to taking the first game.

Captain Saturday to the Rescue

The office has been hectic this week. I took Monday off and that's the only thing preventing me from making a break for the sunshine. All I have to do is survive until Captain Saturday comes to the rescue. But before he and his sidekick, Sunday Boy, arrive in the Weekendmobile, I thought I'd quickly review last weekend's highlights.

Last Saturday evening, I attended a South Valley Symphony concert. They perform primarily in Gilroy, at Gavilan College, but for one night, they played at the Advent Lutheran Church in Morgan Hill. The orchestra is about thirty instruments strong and all of the musicians are volunteers, which is neat. It isn't the same experience as seeing the San Francisco Symphony perform at Davies Symphony Hall, but it has its own charm.

The music director and conductor, Henry Mollicone, led the orchestra, which performed three pieces:
  1. Concert Waltz #1 by Glazunov
  2. Violin Concerto by Sibelius
  3. Symphony #4 "The Tragic" by Schubert

Admittedly, I wasn't familiar with any of the pieces and the only composer I recognized was Schubert. Despite the lack of name recognition, I liked the first two pieces more than the third. The waltz was lively and drew the audience in for the violin concerto, which was dark, tragic and featured Dale King, the solo violinist, who was brilliant. Because of the small venue, he stood no more than twenty feet away from us. Actually, all of the musicians were so close that it felt like we were in the orchestra pit with them.

During intermission, instead of paying eight dollars for a glass of wine, like we would in San Francisco, we paid two dollars for bottled water and Reese's Pieces. Thinking about it makes me laugh. I enjoyed the small-town symphony experience.

On Sunday, after dim sum (which I refuse to give up no matter what they say), I took my dad to see Sahara. It was the second half of his birthday gift. The first half was the book the movie was based on. I gave that to him back in February, much closer to his birthday. Clive Cussler is one his favorite authors and I thought he'd get a kick out of seeing Dirk Pitt on the big screen.

The film itself was entertaining. It made no sense whatsoever, but was action-packed, dumb and funny. It's one of those movies where the hero just happens to be wherever he needs to be just in the nick of time or manages to escape certain death at the very last second, multiple times. What's hilarious about Dirk is that in his attempt to save the girl and the world, the girl ends up saving him and his trusty sidekick saves the world.

Steve Zahn, who played the sidekick, Al Giordino, cracked me up. He greeted everybody with a "Hi, how ya doin'?" Of course, he was usually greeting bad guys, so he'd follow that up with punch to the noggin.

On Monday, we drove down to Fresno. Did you know that Fresno State has a farm and a rodeo? That was news to me. The campus is huge, but most of its acreage is lawns and parking lots. When we arrived, we stopped at Uncle Harry's New York Bagelry and Coffeehouse. I had espresso and a chocolate-chocolate chip bagel, which was delicious. Before we left, we dropped in again for toasted sandwiches. With Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks so close, we were tempted to make a run for the woods, but the voice of reason and responsibility prevailed and we made our way home.

That was about it. This weekend will be shorter, but I hope to cram as much excitement and relaxation into it as possible without things oozing out the sides. Okay Captain Saturday, anytime you want to rescue me...

Now would be good.

Or now...


AI: Back to Back

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Yesterday wasn't a very good day. If I were a Sim, you would've seen a pink diamond hovering above my head. I felt better once I left the office. One reason for my improved mood was the chance to finally sit down and write about Tuesday's American Idol. The small things give me joy. Of course, I was only able to extract it from my PDA this morning, so here it is...

After last night's run, I got back to the house with just enough time to shower before AI came on. It has been my experience that everything seems better after a good run. Colors look brighter, food tastes better, people are nicer and Idol contestants sound better. This may not be the case in reality, but it's hard to tell when on a runner's high.

This week, contestants performed songs released in the year they were born. If I had to choose a tune from my birth year, I would go with "Annie's Song" by John Denver. It's simple, sweet and sounds great in the shower.

Nadia started the night off with "When I Dream", a slow, sultry song that she didn't sell well. Paula complimented her appearance, which is Paula-speak for "I didn't like your singing." I predict Nadia will receive the second lowest number of votes.

Bogart rocked "Free Bird". He may not be the best singer in the competition, but I like the quality of his voice. I can easily imagine hearing it on the radio. He also has this presence on stage I find engaging. It wasn't his best song, but it wasn't bad. With the way America has been voting, he will receive the third lowest number of votes.

Anwar sang "I'll Never Love This Way Again". It's unusual for guys on Idol to perform songs originally done by women. It's ambitious and risky, but Anwar has done it twice. A few weeks ago, he attempted Chaka Khan and fell short. This week, he sang Dionne Warwick and shined. His voice, control and range were working fine.

Then Anthony "Potter" Fedorov surprised me by wearing normal clothing. He sang "Everytime You Go Away" and actually did a decent job.. I still say he's this year's John Stevens, but his voice is much better than the red-haired crooner's.

On AI, it's all about the song choice. The selection becomes more critical if a contestant occupied the popularity basement the week before. Vonzell had a big decision to make, but as the grail knight from Indiana Jones would say, she chose... wisely. "Let's Hear it For the Boy" was an energetic, upbeat tune that she sold with gusto.

With his rendition of "She's Gone", Scott got my vote for most improved. In a week, he raised his game from dismal to merely uninspiring. It's a huge leap, but I predict he'll be the one saying goodbye to Idol Island this week.

Country Carrie tried to rock with "Love is a Battlefield". She made her voice gravelly, but I was unconvinced. It felt like a Nadia song. Simon said it was like watching a kitten that wants to be a tiger and I agree.

Constantine closed the show with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". I give him seven for showmanship, six for singing and three for the tongue. Simon called it "astonishing", which is as ambiguous as saying something is "interesting". The last few weeks have shown that Constantine excels at novelty songs, but I wonder if his novelty will soon wear off.

For the first time ever, I correctly predicted the bottom three. Of course, I completely messed up the sequence. Scott somehow eluded elimination and Nadia was sent packing. I haven't been as diligent as I should be about voting, but I'm definitely dialing Bo's digits next week. No more of this bottom three nonsense. Okay, no more Idol talk for at least five entries.

AI: The Musical

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I'm still miffed about last week's AI results show. For the second week in a row, America voted off the wrong person. I don't know why it happened. All I know is what I witnessed.

First, they had last season's Idol, Fantasia Barrino, perform. She didn't as much sing "I Believe" as scream it, but to her credit, she screamed it in tune. It was a raspy scream, which I hope was as painful for her as it was for me. She was out of breath before the song ended. When asked what advice she'd give to this season's contestants, she said, "Act ugly!" I don't know what that means exactly, but I hope to apply it to my own life someday.

After that, Seacrest wasted little time and announced that Nikko, Vonzell and Scott were in the bottom three. I understood why Scott was there, but beyond that, I was confused.

This is probably a good time to review Tuesday's performances. The night's theme was Broadway musicals, which probably explains a lot by itself. I braced myself for the worst.

Scott attempted to sing "The Impossible Dream" and justified my anxiety. He started shaky, played hide and seek with a few correct notes in the middle and finished shaky. He was my first bottom three nominee.

Then Constantine took "My Funny Valentine" for a spin. With my eyes closed, he was amazing. With my eyes open, he was creepy. Like those eerie portraits found in haunted mansions, his eyes seemed to follow me. I don't want to admit it, but he's been sounding better ever since he abandoned his rock star persona. I have this unsettling feeling he's going to be in the final four.

Of all the songs Carrie could've chosen from The King and I, she picked the monotonous "Hello, Young Lovers". It reminded me of reheated pizza: bland and a bit soggy. Based on one night's performance, she was my second nominee for the bottom three.

After nailing a Whitney hit, a confident Vonzell tackled a Streisand classic. While Simon downplayed her rendition of "People", I thought she was the best female singer of the night.

Next up was Anthony, who looked and sounded sloppy. His pop version of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" was ghastly. He secured the third and final nomination for the basement.

Up to this point, everybody had ditched their unique styles and attempted to fit into the Broadway mold. Nikko didn't abide and applied his R&B grooves to "One Hand, One Heart", a ballad from West Side Story. I admire him for giving the song his personal touch, but I must admit to liking the original version better.

Anwar was back to show he was not a one-note wonder. With "If Ever I Would Leave You", he gave everything to every note and I was relieved. The past few weeks shook my faith, but if he can keep it up, he'll be there with Constantine.

Like Nikko, Bo kept his style intact as he sang "Corner of the Sky". Simon thought it was his second consecutive substandard performance. I disagree. Bo has been consistently good throughout the series. He brings an undeniable energy to every song.

Nadia was the last to perform. Her rendition of "As Long As He Needs Me" was okay. The individual notes were strong, but she covered only a small vocal range, which made the song sound repetitive and boring.

In the end, Nikko went home (again) and for the second week in a row, the weakest performers avoided elimination. I think those who voted for Anthony need a good smack upside the head. They also need to have their phones confiscated. People like to compare Anthony to a certain Idol runner-up, but he's no Clayken. He more closely resembles last season's John Stevens and I hope he gets the boot soon.

Enough to Go By

Song on my mind... "Enough to Go By" by Vienna Teng

I've built a lot of castles
built a lot of blazing speed-of-light machines
but it doesn't matter, you know
they all crumble in the winds of change
so I turned back to breathing
I learned a few good reasons to cry
and I finally called home
praying you weren't out of range

carry the weight
I'll carry the weight of you, I swear
carry the weight
I'll carry the weight of you

Every now and then, I find myself returning to a certain album and playing my favorite tracks repeatedly. When I came back to Waking Hour, which I took out of circulation to prevent it from being completely worn out, I programmed the player to run through eight of the thirteen tracks. After a few cycles, I found myself repeating and listening to "Enough to Go By" more often than the others.

I don't know what it is about the song that had me gravitating towards it. Perhaps there was something in the words or melody that I needed to hear. Maybe it said something that I've been trying to express lately. I can't really say. All I know is that I was drawn to it.

I sometimes believe that we crave certain songs for the same reasons we crave certain foods. Our bodies know what they need and while they don�t always know the most efficient way to get it, they usually point us in the right direction. And if they can't do that, they at least point us to the nearest gallon of ice cream.

Sometimes we come back to the same song and we hear it differently. If we're lucky, we may even come to understand it more deeply. It's as Vienna said in another song...

this is the same place, love
no not the same place we've been before

The Fourth Question

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I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but the coffee at work is hideous. Despite that fact, I'm still a member of the office coffee club. It's hard to beat $3.50 a month for unlimited hazelnut and vanilla coffee creamer. In some places, refrigerated creamer might be considered a luxury, but here, it's a necessity. The liquid that claims to be coffee is quite undrinkable without disguising it with a hint (or four) of flavoring.

When I first came to this office, there was an old coffeemaker that took an hour to brew a pot of really bad coffee. Some people weren't happy about it, not about the really bad coffee, but about how long it took to brew. Then a month ago, somebody bought a brand new maker. Now we get really bad coffee six times faster, in regular or bold strength.

Because life is too short for bad coffee, I purchased a desktop coffeemaker for about ten dollars. It's nothing fancy, but can brew twenty ounces of whatever roast I want. I recently finished off a couple half-pound bags of Kona and Viennese blends, so it was time to replenish my stash. At lunch, I stopped by Starbucks and purchased a pound of Sumatra. Typically, the barista asks me three things:
  1. Would you like this ground?
  2. What type of filter?
  3. May I have your money? (Okay, it's more of a silent question accompanied by an upturned palm, but still.)

Today, the barista asked the same three things, but surprised me with a fourth question...

Barista: (accepting $10.15 in exact change) Would you like a free cup of coffee with that?
Me: (failing to disguise surprise) Really? Uh, sure.
B: What size?
Me: Well, uh, how about a grande? *
B: Not a venti?
Me: No thanks, a grande works.
B: Okay, coming right up.

It's been a while since a Starbucks barista offered me anything free. When the chain first opened here, they regularly gave customers a free cup of coffee with the purchase of beans. If somebody bought a travel mug, the first drink was typically free. Over time, those perks seemed to disappear. I doubt I'll be offered another complimentary cup of coffee anytime soon, so I wanted to remember the occasion.

*I would've asked for a venti, but felt it would've been greedy of me. A tall didn't seem like enough, so I went all Goldilocks and chose the size in between.

Climbing El Toro

For twenty years or so, the town I live in has held an annual spring hike to the top of El Toro (Spanish for "the bull"), the unique westerly peak that appears as the official town logo. It's the first thing I see as I leave the house and ever since moving here three years ago, I've wanted to climb it. Of course, as with anything that is close and easy to do, I never got around to it, which turns out to be a good thing because El Toro is private property. The only way to make it to the top without trespassing is to attend the yearly event sponsored by the town's historical museum that obtains permission from the landowners.

Early on Saturday morning, about a hundred townspeople gathered in front of the museum to make the trek. The local Boy Scout troop had climbed El Toro the night before to clear the trail and set up ropes. The hike itself isn't very long or hard. It took about thirty minutes to reach the ropes and another ten to reach the summit (approximately 1,402 feet above sea level). From one angle, El Toro looked like a greener version of Half Dome.

While not as steep as Yosemite's granite giant, the climb was still challenging. Loose soil and ropes increased the difficulty level. As long as my gloved hands held onto the rope and my feet were on the ground, I was okay, for the most part. Every now and then, the person in front me would slip and yank the rope, which caused a whole group of us to swing two feet to the left and into the waiting branches of poison oak. Luckily, my skin and the leaves never made contact, so I didn't develop a rash, only severe case of paranoia.

On a geological note, the base and most of El Toro is composed of greenstone (a.k.a. red rock), a type of volcanic rock. According to the local geologist, as one nears the top, the brownish rock, which is neither green nor red, gives way to limestone (which tastes nothing like lime). Of course, grass and trees cover everything, so the entire hill actually looks green.

When I reached the top, a young Boy Scout greeted me. He was a scrawny kid who took his job of passing out tickets seriously. Nobody got by him without receiving one. "Here's your ticket," he said, thrusting a blue raffle ticket into my hand and smiling. "Take it back to the museum for a certificate." I don't exactly know why, but I liked him.

The top of El Toro isn't very big. If I were to take a wild guess, I'd say it's between sixty and seventy feet in diameter. To get a panoramic view of the valley, one has to circle the peak. On Saturday, it was hazy, so visibility was limited, but one could still see the town limits, the rolling green hills and Chesbro Reservoir.

I spent about ten minutes on the summit before making my descent. It took about half the time of the climb to reach the bottom. Back at the museum, I had a sip of coffee and traded my ticket for a certificate proclaiming I had reached the top. I'm hoping to return next year. With any luck, the skies will be clear and I'll have more time to enjoy the view.

The Bellarmine Boys

I would be writing something else right now, but I'm finding it difficult to concentrate with these Bellarmine boys making so much noise. They're names are Mike, Nick, Steven and Ralph. I only know this because, unlike most teenagers that simply call each other "hey you" or "dude", these guys actually use proper names. They're like soap opera characters that say each other's names regularly to familiarize new audience members with who's who.

Before Ralph boarded the train, the other three were attempting to study. When I was their age, I never spent my mornings studying. I spent them rushing to complete homework from the previous night. I was feeling ashamed until I heard this exchange...

Steven: Nick, what question are you on?
Nick: I'm on number seven.
Steven: I'm only on number six. I don't think we're going to finish the assignment before first period.
Mike: Frap! Steven, we have an assignment?

In an instant, shame became pride. I was proud to see the tradition of procrastination still alive and strong. Its torch still burns brightly for today's youth and burns brightest for Mike, who not only had to borrow a pencil from Nick, but also had to search for spare paper from classmates in the adjoining car.

Once Ralph boarded, I surrendered to the distraction. He announced to everybody within earshot (intentionally or not) that he was going to the Giants season opener this afternoon with his dad. I admit to being slightly jealous, but tried to be happy for him. After all, he was going to be experiencing the game from the same lower level seats he and his dad had at PacBell Park during the World Series three years ago. "Not jealous. Happy," I told myself a few times to make it stick.

His bragging stopped abruptly when he noticed that he didn't have a yellow piece of paper like everybody else onboard. It was a survey form from Caltrain. This morning, they wanted to know how we felt about they're proposed rate hikes and service reductions.

If the proposal passes, I'll be paying more money for fewer trains between home and work. I thought about writing in the comments section, "Thank you, sir! May I have another?" Figuring they wouldn't appreciate the bitter sarcasm, I wrote instead, "If it's going to cost more to ride, can you at least run baby bullets south of San Jose?" Weak, I know. Now I wish I went with bitter sarcasm.

Anyway, Ralph saw the survey forms and the following conversation transpired...

Ralph: Hey, Mikey, why are those papers so yellow?
Mike: I don't know, Ralphie. They just are. Leave me alone.
Ralph: They remind me of pee.
Mike: What? Pee? Yo, that's whack!
Ralph: Uh-uh.
Mike: ...
Ralph: I got my toilet back.
Mike: Got it back?
Ralph: Yeah, the one across the hall broke, so my dad took it to the shop. I had to use the one all the way at the other end of the house.
Mike: That sucks. Now, shut up.

That's where I left them. Considering their stop was less than five minutes after mine, I doubt any of them finished the assignment. If they're lucky, they'll have some time during class to wrap it up and slip it into the teacher's pile before he notices. On a personal note, the Bellarmine boys inadvertently helped me finish my unofficial weekday assignment: write a journal entry before work.

AI: Waiting For the Bo

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Last Wednesday night, before I could post my recap, Fox aired the American Idol results show. I had called the producers to see if they could postpone the episode and repeat Tuesday's performances (with new critiques), but they said they were unwilling to pull the same publicity stunt two weeks in a row.

Thanks to a cataclysmic lapse in consciousness (a.k.a. a nap), I missed the first ten minutes of Tuesday's show. By the time I was alert and able to turn on the television, the second performer, Jessica, was already on stage. While she sang something forgettable by Leann Rimes, I kept thinking, "Who performed first? Please don't let it be Bo!"

Anwar, my longtime favorite, was next to sing. He performed "I Believe I Can Fly". I don't know if other contestants have been adding kryptonite to his food, but his super powers of consistency and voice control seem to be gone. While the other two judges were critical, Paula showered him with over-the-top compliments. I might be imagining things, but she seemed tipsy.

Nadia returned from hair purgatory and redeemed herself with a Melissa Etheridge song. All three judges said it was much better than last week. She sounded the same to me. I think they were just elated that she wasn't sporting a mohawk.

We then saw and heard the softer side of Constantine, which was weird because Constantine doesn't have a harder side. Simon got it right to call him a pop singer. Of course, Simon also said that he was better than Bo, which made my jaw drop for two reasons.

First, I couldn't think of any possible way that Constantine could be better than Bo. Even if Bo were to mime his song or sing like Alvin the Chipmunk, he would still be better. Second, I realized that Bo had been the first performer. I suddenly had the urge to change the channel and watch the rest of Scrubs, but denial overcame me. I kept watching and waiting for the Bo, hoping against all odds that he'd show up.

I closed my eyes and said, "Now!" I opened them again and it was Nikko Smith. He sang a song I didn't like, but he sang it well. Unlike Anwar, he chooses tunes that highlight the strong part of his range.

Anthony, the unBo, performed next. What I found outstanding: his huge silver belt buckle, his nuclear green shirt and his fake beard. What I didn't find outstanding: his performance.

Losing hope, I repeated, "Now!" But Carrie showed up instead and sang "Independence Day" by Martina McBride. On the bright side, she finally looked relaxed and so did her hair.

Scotty "The Body" (as Seacrest calls him) Savol's usually spot-on voice faltered this week. To get back in form, he may need to return to his funky shades and crooked cap.

My irrational Bo hope was down to the last performer. I closed my eyes again, but shut them tighter and opened them slowly. Everything was blurry and at first, I thought my wish had come true and Bo was on stage, but my vision soon cleared and Bo became Vonzell. That transformation was frightening. Anyway, she belted a Whitney Houston power ballad and simply nailed it.

By the end of Tuesday, I was positive only guys would be in the bottom three. My prediction was Anwar, Scott and Anthony, with Anthony going home. Showing how wrong I could be, the public chose Nadia, Anwar and Jessica. With the way he performed, I thought Anwar would get the boot, but Jessica got it instead. This week, I don't know if the music teacher can prove himself worthy of another chance. All I know is that I'm not going to miss Bo.

Sin City

Yesterday, I went to see Sin City, a movie based on Frank Miller's graphic novel series of the same name. I never read the books, but with critical acclaim and Clive Owen in it, I thought I would check it out. The movie was repulsive and brilliant.

What was brilliant was the style and music. At first, I didn't realize Sin City was a Robert Rodriguez film, but after a minute or two, I could see his (and Quentin Tarantino's) fingerprints all over it. They both have great taste in music and give their films a unique, signature feel. This was also the second movie I've seen that was completely set against a green screen. (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was the first.) It allowed Rodriguez to faithfully re-create Miller's world on film.

The sexploitation, graphic violence (beheadings, amputations, castrations, mutilations) and stories themselves were repulsive, which is apparently signature Miller. The movie also combined the stylized gun violence of Rodriguez's Once Upon a Time in Mexico with the stylized sword violence of Tarantino's Kill Bill.

The movie tells three separate, yet repetitive stories. All of them take place in Sin City, a.k.a. Basin City, where every woman is a stripper or a prostitute and every man is a cop or a criminal. It's a place where people have no problem torturing and killing one another. Morals are relative or nonexistent. At their core, all three stories are about redemption through revenge. The only thing separating the "good" guys from the "bad" guys is their views about violence against women. Nothing separates their views about violence against other men.

The most memorable characters were the disturbing villains. Elijah Wood played a creepy serial killer/cannibal who was a cross between Hannibal Lecter and Wolverine. Benicio Del Toro portrayed a crooked cop who was like Harry Potter's Nearly Headless Nick, but with a pistol impaled in his forehead. And Nick Stahl played a smelly, yellow pedophile that reminded me of a Ferengi from Star Trek. In a black and white world, he stood out.

Watching this film was a frustrating experience and I left with mixed feelings. I admired the technique, but couldn't get past the content. It was like opening a beautifully wrapped box of maggots. I guess I'm just not as hip as the critics are (or I just have something against maggots).

A Thursday Holiday

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Yesterday, the company gave us the day off in honor of Cesar Chavez. Most of my coworkers took today off as well. They thought a four-day weekend made more sense than coming back to work for a day. Like an April fool, I wanted to be different, so here I am in the office, the very lonely office. Actually, I'd rather be here while it's quiet. It's a rare opportunity to work without interruptions.

What did I do on my holiday? Nothing productive and I don't feel too guilty about that. As Calvin once said, "Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless." The same goes for holidays. If you find yourself working on your days off, you're doing something wrong and need to find somebody to teach you how to use them properly.

Yesterday morning, I took BART and MUNI to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I read for part of the trip, which is a dangerous thing to do while riding on an unfamiliar bus, especially one with a poor public address system. Every announcement was, "Next stop, Hurgle-splishy-wick and Brmmph Street, exit to the right." I ended up getting off at the wrong stop. Fortunately, it wasn't far from my intended destination.

I was in the city to have lunch with M. With some time to spare, I went to a coffee shop with a green mermaid logo and wrote for a while. For lunch, we ate at Kiki Japanese Restaurant and I had the salmon and rock 'n roll (unagi and avocado) combo. If you ever eat there, check out the walls. They're painted with colors I'd describe as cheddar cheese and lavender. Depending on which wall you're facing, the effect is either nauseating or soothing. The food was standard, but reasonably priced.

In the afternoon, I roamed around Golden Gate Park. One of the most serene spots in the park is the National AIDS Memorial Grove. It's a beautiful sunken garden and an ideal place to enjoy the sun, read a book or be alone with one's thoughts. Before leaving the park, I paused to watch four older gentlemen lawn bowl. I don't know anything about the game (sport?), but when I grow up, I'm going to learn how to play.

As afternoon grew into evening, we took a stroll along the sands of Ocean Beach. It's difficult to explain, but the ocean has a way of calming and motivating me. It was rejuvenating and the perfect ending to a Thursday holiday.

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