Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Come to the Table of Plent-Wii

If you have a Nintendo Wii,  put in the Wii Sports disc and choose "Training." Then choose any of the golf training games.  The music that plays in the background sounds just like Dan Schutte's "Table of Plenty" . . . only slower and better.  Of course, better than "Table of Plenty" isn't saying much!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Reno vs. Orlando

So Orlando wants to build its own bowling stadium in an attempt to wrest away the U.S. Bowling Congress tournaments from Reno and its bowling stadium, pictured.  Let's compare the two cities to see whose bowling stadium should rule.

Activities for kids/families
RENO: The arcades in the casinos, Wild Island
ORLANDO: Disney World/Epcot/Downtown Disney, Universal, Sea World
Advantage: Orlando

Trials that garnered national attention
RENO: James Biela
ORLANDO: Casey Anthony
Advantage: Push

Revenue sources
RENO: Casinos
ORLANDO: Toll roads
Advantage: Reno

People bet on . . .
RENO: Pro and college sports
Advantage: Reno

Economic problems
RENO: Collapse of tourism, construction, and gaming industries; foreclosures
ORLANDO: Collapse of tourism, construction, and space-related industries; foreclosures
Advantage: Push

RENO: Sunny most days, dry summers, snow in winter and spring
ORLANDO: Sunny, stormy, humid, hurricanes
Advantage: Reno

Sports teams
RENO: Nevada Wolf Pack, Reno Aces
ORLANDO: Orlando Magic, Grapefruit League
Advantage: Orlando

Undesirable visitors
RENO: Westboro Baptist Church
Advantage: Push

Undesirable transplants
RENO: Californians
ORLANDO: Snowbirds
Advantage: Reno

RENO: I-80 and Hwy 395
ORLANDO: I-4, Fla. Turnpike, toll roads
Advantage: Reno

Visitors arrive in the airport from . . .
RENO: Las Vegas, San Francisco, Salt Lake City
ORLANDO: Everywhere else
Advantage: Orlando

Natural wonders
RENO: Lake Tahoe, Sierra Nevada
ORLANDO: Wekiva Springs
Advantage: Reno

Seniors busy . . .
RENO: Playing bingo
ORLANDO: Driving to the 4 PM senior dinner specials
Advantage: Orlando

State known for . . .
RENO: Gambling, brothels, silver, gold, deserts, wild horses, Area 51, Harry Reid
ORLANDO: Disney, oranges, warm winters, space program, Super Bowls, Marco Rubio, hurricanes
Advantage: Push

You get to watch . . .
RENO: Burning Man
ORLANDO: Shuttle launches (until now)
Advantage: Orlando

Who would want to live there?
RENO: Fernley
ORLANDO: Celebration
Advantage: Reno

Strange residents
RENO: Brothel workers and exotic dancers
ORLANDO: Spiritualists and fortune tellers
Advantage: Reno

So Reno should  keep the USBC, and in the words of Paul Taglia-Boo, Orlando should build a museum or something.  QED.

Monday, July 04, 2011

My Cars

My older brother introduced me to the British show "Top Gear" a couple months ago.  I've never been a big gearhead, but I have enjoyed Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May with their backhanded reviews of various vehicles, oddball challenges, and road tests by the enigmatic Stig as well as celebrities ("The Star in the Reasonably Priced Car").  I've also learned that, for the most part, American cars are garbage compared to European ones.  It's a far more entertaining and informative show than MPT's stodgy "MotorWeek" in which John Davis says the same thing in the same overblown cadence week after week.  By the way, check out the guys' visit to Reno a few years back.

So this got me thinking about my history of Cygmobiles, not that I can quite write about them in the style of Top Gear.  I'll do it in my style and supply photos where possible/applicable; unless otherwise mentioned, these are photos I gleaned off the web.

1976 Chevy Nova (actual image)

(A screencap from an old family home video, and note my neighbor's AMC Pacer in the background!)

This came from the era in which GM simply forgot how to make cars, especially with all the new emissions regulations of the mid-70s.  My folks bought this to replace the 1971 USS Chevy Impala; that thing was a battleship, with a black interior and exterior.  Nice and hot on summer days, and running the A/C only hurt the 10 MPG more.  But I digress, since I never even drove the Impala.

For a while, the two-door, split fold-down Nova was the only car our family had (remember when all families had only one car?).  Somehow, all eight of us fit in it a couple times, but that was when my brothers were quite small.  Then my dad eventually got a Ford Escort, so I wound up driving this one a lot, especially in college.  I more or less took it over as my own.  It was a straight-6 engine that had decent pickup.

I took it on several road trips, once to Old Rag Mountain on Skyline Drive in Virginia, and then to Ocean City a time or two.  One of those times, I drove the whole way and back with a busted leaf spring, and wondered what that grinding noise was.  My dad had to rig up some kludgy contraption involving four jacks to repair it; he says that was the most difficult vehicle fix he ever made.  Also, the handle to pull the driver's side door came off, so I had to jerry-rig part of a leather belt in its place to get it to close.

The most famous thing about this car was its lack of power anything . . . but especially steering.  You could get an upper body workout just trying to parallel park it.  The hood could also be opened from the outside, meaning one frigid night when I went to see Michael Hedges and Leo Kottke at the Meyerhoff in downtown Baltimore, I came out to find the battery stolen.  I had to wake up my dad and get him to pick me up.

Having written so much on the Nova, I guess it means a lot to me.

1970 Dodge Dart

My aforementioned older brother (no, he's not Racer X, or even The Stig) entrusted this car to me when we went into the Air Force in 1984.

Well, his trust was misplaced, as I forgot to check the oil every so often; I cared more about what was on the stereo.  The engine seized up and died a couple months after he left.  I wonder if he's ever forgiven me for it. One of the fenders was replaced and still had writing in paint on it.  A number of my relatives had Dodge Darts or Plymouth Valiants, pretty much the same thing.  I earned my driver's license on my aunt's Dart.

1972 Chevy Chevelle

I didn't own this car, but got to drive it a bit when my parents bought it inexpensively from a neighbor of my grandfather.  The hood was a bit rusted and the vinyl top dry-rotted, but the 307 V8 had gobs of power.  It was huge and fun to drive . . . except when the plug wires didn't work and the engine kept stalling.  Like the Impala, this was not a car to buy for its gas mileage, but if I had had the inkling/talent, it could have been worth restoring.

1986 Chevy Celebrity

This was the first car I bought for myself; it had been a company fleet car.  It only lasted me three years, however.  I took it on a few long trips, such as to my older brother's wedding in Maine (my sister had to drive or else she'd get carsick, and we argued about almost everything all the way up and back), a wedding in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the fateful vacation in Cape Hatteras where Ladycub and I first became an item.  It had a 4-cylinder 2.2 engine, and I found the oil rather difficult to change on it because of the engine being mounted sideways.  Under the hood was far more crammed with stuff than either the Nova or the Chevelle, whose engines were bigger.

Although it was a good-sized 4-door vehicle with wide seats, it really goes down as one of Chevy's poorest efforts.  It seemed they wanted to make either an oversized Citation (another loser for the Bow Tie) or an undersized Caprice, and came up with neither.  The beginning of the end came when it broke down on Route 30 near Lancaster, PA; I believe it ended up having head/valve problems.

1990 Plymouth Acclaim (actual photo)

"Happy the people who learn to Acclaim me."  The first car I bought from a dealer, and hence the first time I learned about the old salesman "Let me talk to my manager" ploy.  The Acclaim was a successor to the Reliant and other K-cars of the bailed-out Chrysler-Plymouth (history repeats itself).  It apparently had been a rental vehicle.

This sedan (or "saloon," as the Top Gear guys call it) was nothing spectacular, but it was still roomy.  And it was my first vehicle to have cruise control.  It lasted me about four years until the engine decided it had had enough.  Also, I had Loyola High tags on this and my next couple vehicles.

Here's a shot of me digging out the Acclaim after the January 1996 blizzard.  Speaking of which, I drove it up to Rochester, NY and back twice.  Once was in January 1994 between two blizzards.

1991 Dodge Spirit (actual photo, right, next to LC's long-lasting 1990 Geo Prizm)

Like the Dart and the Valiant, the Spirit was almost a carbon copy of the Acclaim.  I bought it from a fellow employee.  It had a little more mileage than the Acclaim, and lasted about the same amount of time, four years.  Guess I need a car every Presidential administration.  I still remember when it threw a rod in Annapolis, and I was barely able to limp back to the house.

1998 Chevy Malibu

I'm shocked I can't find my own picture of "the 'Bu."  It was the first and probably only car we've ever bought brand new, thanks to credits from a credit card.   We got it from Anderson Chevrolet with the help of a buying service,  There's something about that New Car Smell.  There's also something about the immediate depreciation once you drive it off the lot, and the gas mileage was so-so.

But it was a fun car to drive, with plenty of room, a great stereo, a smooth ride, and good power.  It felt more like a car you wanted to be seen in . . . which isn't why we bought it.  Sandy and I took turns driving it.  It lasted us nearly seven years, until it gave up the ghost on the side of I-70 as we were heading to (ironically enough) my uncle's funeral.

Only a week and a half after we took ownership of it, we nearly hit a deer on White Marsh Boulevard outside Baltimore.  Somehow, I managed to hit the brakes so that the 'Bu didn't spin out, and it stopped inches from the deer crossing in front of us.

1996 Saturn

This was a fortuitous purchase after the Spirit died.  I bought it from my next-door neighbor, who was trading up for another Saturn.  But his car was ultimately disappointing; it required a lot of work and died in 2003 after barely three years of use.  It was also smaller than anything else I'd driven, handled roughly, and wasn't that comfortable.  But I guess I got my money's worth out of it: when I first started working in radio in 2002, I put 20K miles on it in six months . . . not that that anything to do with its demise.

This may have been my last GM car ever.

2000 Ford Focus Wagon

This was one of my favorites, and so far has been the only vehicle I've had that has cracked the 200K odometer barrier.  That means we put 170K miles on it . . . in just five years, and 50K in just the 18 months prior to 200K.  That happens when the average commute to work is 100 miles round trip, between the two of us.

I never felt like I was driving a wagon, and being married, I no longer had to worry about whether it turned women off (a former roommate had a Cavalier wagon, and he figured that was his chick repellent).  It handled great (even in snow), got close to 30 MPG, and could carry all sorts of junk.  Not that we used it, but it also had a roof rack.

On the downside, we did have to put a good bit of work into it, figuring that was still cheaper than a car payment.  Do a search in this blog under "Cygmobile" for some of those stories.  It was still running when we left to move out West, but we opted not to take it with us, although we toyed with the idea of driving it across the country for the trip.

2001 Toyota Corolla (current, actual photo)

The Top Gear guys described the Corolla as "bulletproof," and I'm not going to argue.  I have a feeling this thing is also going to reach 200K miles.  This was my first purchase off Craigslist, and the character I bought it from was kind of shadowy.  But I knew a Corolla would be rugged.

I'm not all that sure why I like it.  It's not the most comfortable car I've ever driven.  If it weren't for power steering, nothing would be power in it (see the Nova above).  Speaking of power, it's a challenge to get up I-80 into the Sierra in it.  The ride is rough and loud, and the concrete interstates out here don't help things much.  And I really lament the fact it doesn't have cruise control; it makes the drive to the Bay Area painful for my right foot.

I have had to put some money into this car, but mainly for things that wear out after 100K miles, such as the timing belt, the serpentine belt (you do not want it to break on you in the wilds of Nevada), and the catalytic converter (That?  Was pricey).  And I did have to replace one of the headlight lenses and the two windshield washer fluid nozzles.

But I like the Corolla's reliability.  In nearly three years, I haven't had any breakdowns, and it gets 30 MPG or more.  And since most of my driving is right around town (I average maybe 10K miles a year), it's fine for that purpose.  It handles OK in the snow, although I haven't chained it up for a winter trip over the Sierra yet.

And unlike American cars, I like being in a vehicle that doesn't feel like it has to go to the shop every couple months.  It's not being held together with duct tape and superglue.  Nice to have some peace of mind about my ride.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How To Be A Good Lector

Ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a lector at Mass.  I consider it an honor and a privilege to proclaim God's Word, and it uses the talents God gave me.  I credit my father for inspiring me in this calling; he's been a lector for decades, and one Holy Thursday, we lectored together.

I admit, however, that I went through a time of getting melodramatic with the readings, and it was rightly brought to my attention.  I was turning into more of a performer than a proclaimer, and that takes away from the impact of the Word . . . and puts the spotlight on me.  (That's also why I'm a Recovering Worship Leader.)  Now, I try to provide emphasis, but not too much.

Some general pet peeves I have about lectors:

  • Reading too fast.  What plane do you have to catch?  This is the Word of the Lord, not one of my two-minute newscasts.  There is no need to rush it.  If you do, you all but guarantee the congregants will not take away the meaning of what you just read . . . even if they're reading along in their missals.  The only lectors who read too slowly are kids, who generally read a word at a time, punctuation be damned.  Also in this category is rushing right from one reading to the next, or into the Psalm, but that may be more a function of what the priest or the Liturgy Committee wants.  Ten seconds between readings bowed in prayer never killed anyone.
  • Being unprepared.  Now I concede that you may be filling in at the last minute, but I bet more often than not, if you're stumbling over a reading, you simply haven't read it before going on the altar.  It doesn't take a long time to prepare, maybe only half an hour or so.  Read the context of the reading in the Bible, so you know how to approach it.  Find out how to pronounce those tough names.  And if you're on the lector roster, it doesn't hurt to look over the readings even if it's not your week, so that in an emergency, you don't sound like you just got pressed into service.
  • Reading as if it were the phone book.  If your name isn't James Earl Jones or Ross Mitchell, this approach won't work.  As I mentioned above, too much drama isn't a good thing, but neither is complete emotional detachment.  This and reading too fast are why teenagers, for the most part, make lousy lectors.  Preparation will help prevent this.
  • No eye contact.  Another corollary of being unprepared.  You should be able to lift your head from the text every so often and make eye contact with the congregation.  Now, the priest doesn't do this as often on the altar because his prayers are to God and not to the people (don't get me started on ad orientem vs. versus populum). 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Father-In-Law

My father-in-law died late last night.

His role in my life began in 1993, when he made the decision to take early retirement from Westinghouse (now Northrup Grumman).  I had already dated his daughter once a few years earlier.  One ex-girlfriend and a few other what-might-have-beens later, Sandy and I were rebuilding our friendship.  Anyway, he and my mother-in-law opted to take the early out money and move to Reno, Nevada.  We stopped over their house as they were holding a yard sale at their old Catonsville house; I got hold of a desk of theirs.  One of the catalysts for my relationship with Sandy was her invitation to come visit them with her after they'd moved.

When we visited them, I found out he didn't mind throwing down a buck or two at the casinos, although he stuck mainly with slots and video poker: I don't remember him playing many table games.  He also showed us that many of the casinos had great restaurant deals, and the first place he took us was the steakhouse at Western Village in Sparks.  We would visit him and my MIL in Reno several times over the years.

My FIL was always a pithy man.  He and my MIL took many trips Back East to see family and for their own sake; their typical itinerary involved Baltimore, Atlantic City, Ocean City, and Lancaster County, PA.  He loved going to Jennings Restaurant in Catonsville for chicken, and G&M's in Linthicum for crab cakes.  We met them once at Willow Valley Resort outside Lancaster, and that was when I asked him for his permission to marry Sandy.  His response was, "Well, I don't see why not; you two are mature adults . . . Hey, what do you think about the Notre Dame game this afternoon?"

At the wedding, I practically had to make him give me a hug after he walked Sandy up the aisle.  At the reception, MIL told us via the videographer, "And I hope you have lots and lots of grandchildren!"  He replied, "Shouldn't they have children first?"

We enjoyed taking walks together, usually just around the neighborhood or a nearby lake.  And we would talk about mostly sports or politics, nothing too deep (as if the Willow Valley conversation wasn't an indication of that).  And he surprised us all by taking us to Hawaii in 2005; it was a surprise 45th anniversary present for my MIL, and as an added surprise, he brought us along.  We treated it as an early 10th anniversary trip. 

In early 2008, we decided to move to Nevada.  Almost immediately afterward, we found out he had colorectal cancer, which made our moving out here all the more necessary.  Sandy is their only child.  The four of us dined together frequently, and we also took them to a Reno Aces baseball game.

His condition steadily worsened over the last month.  Just under two weeks ago, as he began hospice care, we managed to take him and MIL to the Western Village steakhouse . . . the same place he'd taken us back in 1993.

That was the last time I saw him alive.  Now I pray for the repose of his soul.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

Monday, April 18, 2011

On the Crab

Sandy and I haven't had cable TV for several years now.  I really haven't minded not having it, although there are a few nuggets worth watching that you can't find on over-the-air TV.

One of those is the Discovery show "Deadliest Catch," which I first saw when I was in the hospital back in 2007.  I found it rather interesting, but didn't make a big deal out of it.  Then last year, one of the local stations started showing reruns.  Sandy and I have become, as it were, hooked.  Now that we have Netflix, we've been "catch"-ing up with the previous seasons.

One of the things I scratch my head about is why I like this show.  I hate fishing.  I'm not that comfortable on the water.  I'd make a hideous "greenhorn."  Besides the fact that I'm woefully out of shape, talk to me sometime when I'm sleep deprived and you'll see what I mean.

I guess it's the various elements of drama: fighting the waves and the ice, dealing with mechanical problems and injuries (not to mention the ever-present threat of death), personality clashes (but I'm glad it's not all about the personality clashes, or else it would be like that reality TV wasteland known as MTV), and never knowing if the crab pot is full until it breaks the surface.  And a lot of men can make a lot of money in a little time . . . if they don't mind going through a frozen hell to get it.

So far, it seems the captains aren't letting their new-found fame get to their heads . . . too much, although a contract dispute nearly cost the show the Hillstrand brothers and Sig Hansen, arguably the signature personalities.  Then again, the show's gotten so big, it's spawned a convention called "CatchCon."

Now if only they fished Maryland blue crab.  Mmmmmm.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Eyes Of Fallon Are Upon You

In July of 2009, Sandy and I took a ride one Friday afternoon to the areas east of Reno and Sparks.  We started by heading up to picturesque Pyramid Lake, so picturesque Apple used a nighttime picture of it for its iPad background.  We still need to spend a day up there; the air and water are warmer than Lake Tahoe. 

Then we drove south to Fernley, which had been devastated the year before by a canal rupture that caused a major flood.  It had been one of the fastest-growing areas in the nation.  Now, it's home of the highest unemployment rate in the state.  Then we turned east for Fallon.

One purpose of the ride was for Sandy to show me Naval Air Station Fallon, home of the "Top Gun" aircraft.  We got as close as we could to the base as ordinary civilians could.

It was getting toward dinner time, so we headed into Fallon, looking for someplace to eat.  One barometer we've often used when being in an unfamiliar place: go where it's crowded.  We noticed a lot of people outside this place called the Pizza Barn.  The owner talks about it here, and we found it hard to argue with him.  It's great pizza, and the decor is quite unique.  Over the bar is a sign that says "Free Beer Tomorrow."

But as we ate our pizza, we felt like we had eyes burning through us.  Not only (as the owner said) are the workers a tightly knit bunch, so is the town of Fallon as a whole.  I guess something about us recent Maryland transplants said "Not From Around Here" like a neon sign.  I figured with the NAS, Fallon residents are used to seeing new faces.  Maybe not.

We drove back through the canyons between Fernley and Sparks on I-80 back home.  I wouldn't mind getting that pizza again, but I hope we wouldn't garner so many stares.

A Techie Issue

I just upgraded to Windows 7, and it took me more than a week to successfully install my wireless USB adapter.  I post what I found in case anyone else has the same issue.

The Netgear WG111V3 G54 wireless adapter is compatible with Windows 7, but it doesn't take too kindly to ZoneAlarm (firewall).  So I uninstalled ZoneAlarm, installed the adapter, and reinstalled ZoneAlarm, and now everything's OK.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The St. Louis Jesuits and What's Now Called Liturgical Music

Never mind "We Really Used To Sing This": chances are your nearest Catholic parish STILL sings "Earthen Vessels," "You Are Near," "Only This I Want," "Be Not Afraid," and more by the St. Louis Jesuits.  LC has their best-selling album Earthen Vessels.  And without them, the pervasive Glory and Praise hymnal simply would not exist.

In "The Mystery of the St. Louis Jesuits," the indispensable Jeffrey Tucker reviews a book that came out in 2006 called The St. Louis Jesuits: Thirty Years, edited by Mike Gale. Some comments:

The St. Louis Jesuits have indeed succeeded in transforming the sound and shape of Catholic liturgy, so much so that the authentic sound of Catholicism has been largely relegated to the land of CDs and specialized liturgical settings. [Then later Tucker adds:] What was once the “folk Mass” in the typical parish became the family Mass and, finally, the only manner of celebrating Mass. [How many guitars do you find at a Lutheran service, for example?]
You might almost forget that we are speaking here of the simple, well-worn, and recognizably popular melodies, written in that pseudo-folk style of the period, that have achieved ubiquity in millions of parishes, and can be (and usually is) sung and played by people (usually on guitar) with little or no formal training in music. [Fr. Z has written much about the implementation of Vatican II versus what the documents really said, including Chapter VI of Sancrosanctum Consilium: "Composers and singers, especially boys, must also be given a genuine liturgical training. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services."  How many of us raised post-Baltimore Catechism even know of this?  According to the book, only John Foley has formal musical training of any sort.]
Their first venue was the campus liturgy at the College Church and the Jesuit House of Studies. As Foley, who could play piano but learned guitar in seminary, says “Just at the time, the guitar started to be allowed in the new liturgy. I thought ‘well, they need music, so let’s go.’ ” Indeed, at every step they were encouraged by their superiors to bring the music that they thought of as popular song into Mass. Says Schutte: “I never would have continued these stumbling attempts at music had it not been for the encouragement of my Jesuit peers and superiors.” Hence, they were not seminary’s equivalent of campus rebels. They were cultivated and promoted and encouraged by their teachers and superiors. [I have often wondered how much of this revamping of liturgical music was really a grassroots movement and how much was brought on by a restive bunch of USCCB types who'd had enough of all that Sancro-whatever.]
For decades, Catholics have been fed a very restrictive diet of music [which I suspect is the same complaint supporters of said music say toward chant and polyphony], and it will take time to broaden people’s understanding of what music at liturgy can and should be [not the least of which is trashing this whole idea of The People Run The Mass Because VII Said So]. Certainly, there must be transitional measures that include vernacular plainsong and new polyphony. Truly sacred music does have advantages in this struggle. It is the music of the Church and not some interloping foreign voice. It is inspired and true. It demands more of the singer and listener, which means that people are going to be called to a higher sense, and challenged to achieve it. It demands humility and deference to truths we cannot always entirely understand. It calls forth a radical change in our liturgical sensibility. It will be as new to this generation as the music of the St. Louis Jesuits was to the generation coming of age a third of a century ago.  ["But it's too HAAAARRD!" the Bishop Trautmans and the readers of the Baltimore Catholic Review will say (nod to Fr. Z).  I say, take a look at your parish's empty pews and ask yourself: How's that working out for you?  Wasn't the dumbing down of the liturgy and the introduction of "folk" music supposed to bring MORE people to the Church?]

I'll cheer loudly when every last Glory and Praise is tossed in a nice big bonfire.