Friday, January 22, 2016

#203 - Movie Night

Tonight at the dinner table, my wife proclaimed that tonight was going to be movie night, and that the three of us were going to be in the same room together and watch a movie. Together.

Now that doesn't sound all that revolutionary or radical. Until, that is, you realize she is often asleep (either in bed or on the couch) by 8 p.m., and our son is a teenager who, I suspect, would sometimes be happier to not admit to having parents that to actually spend time with them. In fact, his first reaction to her pronouncement was to say "I'm not sure I'm up to that."

Nevertheless, the three of us adjourned after dinner to the family room, turned on the television, fired up the Roku, launched Netflix, and promptly stalled trying to decide what to watch. But she was not to be deterred.

Since our son has on occasion voiced an interest in making videos (which more often than not actually means he was to make a video of himself playing a video game as opposed to making an actual movie), my wife decided to launch an episode of Hollywood's Greatest Film Directors featuring Barry Levinson, director of Diner, Bugsy, and Rain Man, amongst others.

We also made it through that episode (which I found very interesting), so we decided to push our luck and try an actual movie. She chose a documentary about young magicians preparing to compete for the title of Teen Champion during the World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas.

Part way through Make Believe (2010), we lost one of the three viewers as my wife dozed off. That is not a commentary on the quality of the film, though. I found it very interesting, and the young magician I was most rooting for actually won.

When you watch a movie on Netflix, after it ends the service provides three other recommendations, one of which usually makes no sense based on the film you've just seen. (I believe in the case of Make Believe, two of the recommendations were other documentaries while the third was for a horror film. Go figure.)

At this point, I guess you could say that our movie night had officially come to an end, as my wife woke long enough to move from the chair in which she had fallen asleep to the couch, where she promptly went back to sleep. Our son decided that was enough togetherness for one night and adjourned to his room to resume his usual routine of playing video games and watching videos about playing video games.

I decided to watch another movie and chose one about one of my all-time favorite comics, Don Rickles. Mr Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007) was directed by John Landis (National Lampoon's Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Beverly Hills Cop III, among others) and intersperses pieces of Rickles' Las Vegas act (and other performances) with interview clips from Rickles along with a number of celebrities who know or admire the man: Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Bob Newhart, Robin Williams, Chris Rock. Hilarious.

While the film didn't really discuss specifics, afterward I realized Rickles was in his 30s before he had any real success as a comic and nearly 40 before he really became a star. As he nears 90, he is still performing.

I hope I have something that continues to fire me up and interests me if I should reach that age.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

#202 - Just Like Herding Cats

For months (maybe even years) Teresa and I have talked about doing various home improvement projects or having them done. Last month, we finally moved from the talking to the doing stage.

We decided to start with our family room and have a gas fireplace installed. Boise is prone to inversions during prime fireplace weather, and during an inversion there is often a ban on wood burning. Hence the decision to go with gas.

We went shopping and found a fireplace we liked. Someone from the dealer was to visit the house before we made the purchase just to check our situation and ensure the model we had chosen would actually work. He never showed up.

That turned out to be a good thing. We had our contractor open up the wall where the fireplace was to go so he and his crew could build the platform for supporting the fireplace. Upon opening the wall, his exact words to me were "the plot thickens."

Here is what the area looked like before the work began. The middle section juts out about eight inches from the two wall areas where the shelves are on either side. When we bought the house in 2003, we were told the house had been "plumbed" for a fireplace but that one had not been installed. We later found a fireplace door in the storage area above the garage. Because of that, we had no reason to suspect that the reality was any different.

However, after the contractor and his crew opened up the wall, we found out the situation was much different. Hence the reason for the ominous statement about the plot thickening.

It turns out there had been a wood-burning fireplace present all the time. Not only that, but at one time the fireplace had been used at least occasionally before the previous (original) owners of the house decided in their infinite wisdom to simply wall over the fireplace. They also decided not to mention it when selling the house. Either through experience of simple dumb luck, the contractor's crew chose the perfect place to cut into the sheet rock if we had decided to stay with the wood fireplace.

Once the existing fireplace was revealed, we decided against a gas fireplace and went with its cousin, a gas fireplace insert that could be installed in the existing fireplace. We placed the order for that on December 8. We then had gas line installed, had that work inspected, and waited for the insert and the special-order surround to arrive.

We are still waiting. When I called the dealer yesterday, I was told the insert and surround had finally arrived, and we set up an appointment to have it installed tomorrow. Maybe.

The workers who put in the gas line also connected a test valve to test pressure in the line. Once the line passed inspection, someone was supposed to come back, remove the valve, and turn on the gas supply to the line. We are still waiting for that as well.

In the meantime, we are also trying to coordinate all of this with having some wiring done so we can place the television above the fireplace (cliché, I know, but it's really the only place in the room the TV works) and having wires run to be able to connect speakers and other entertainment peripherals yet not see all of the wires. Which means running them behind walls or through the ceiling.

We also want to replace the shelves with something more built-in looking, though the options we got for actual built-in cabinets and shelves were not that compelling. They were plenty pricey, though.

We have, I think, decided on some DIY entertainment centers from IKEA for each side topped with bookcases of the same width. The plan is to secure the bookcases to the walls for added stability. Given the way various parts of the house were constructed, it could be as expensive as built-ins once framing and supports are added. We'll see.

The challenge for us is trying to coordinate everything, figuring out what comes next, scheduling, ordering, etc. We've never hired out home improvement before, so what could have been a one-week or two-week job if we'd been able to do it ourselves has now stretched out a month (most of that with no work being done as we wait for various parts, tests, etc.) with more to come.

You see, we haven't actually order the cabinetry yet, and that will likely take several weeks to arrive. On the other hand, we now have a nice pull-down door with ladder access to the storage area above the garage, something we had not even planned on doing at this time. However, since it is thus far the only completed job of this project, it does give us something to feel good about and a reason to think there might be light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, it could simply be an oncoming train.

Monday, January 4, 2016

#201 - Random Thoughts

Hope everyone has recovered from the festivities surrounding the ringing out of 2015 and the ringing in of the new year. I wonder whether the ringing referred to is actually ringing in the ears caused by the fireworks some people insist on setting off to mark the beginning of the year. I do know my dog doesn't care for that tradition in the least.

This weekend, I watched the documentary "Best of Enemies" on Netflix. The film documents the use by ABC News of conservative pundit/commentator/publisher William F. Buckley, Jr. and liberal author/commentator Gore Vidal to help it make its mark during coverage of the 1968 Republican and Democratic Presidential conventions.

"Best of Enemies" does a good job of making the case that ABC's daring decision forever changed the way in which political conventions are covered while also serving as a harbinger for the future of television news and what has come to pass for debate. It goes on to also make the arguement that much of the foundation for today's sharp political divide and the resulting "culture wars" was laid during the 1968 election. Very interesting film.

I also finished reading "Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink," the compelling memoir of my favorite singer and songwriter, Elvis Costello. A few people have complained that the book is rambling and indulges itself too much in name-dropping, but I found the book fascinating and the "roaming" style perfectly lent itself to the conversational style of the writing, much in the same way that something said in a conversation might trigger the memory of something else.

In the book, Elvis does not let himself off the hook easily for mistakes made, although he does gloss over a bit the events that led to the demise of his backing band The Attractions and his falling out with original bassist Bruce Thomas. Perhaps that history is covered elsewhere, but hearing it from Elvis' own lips would have been welcome.

Now that the warm glow of holiday joy and half-hearted wishes for peace and love has subsided, I see that Facebook has returned to its usual stream of political bashing, snide remarks, and sophomoric insults that passes for civil discourse and debate in our 21st-century electronic society. I get the sense that some people feel their point is best made by a steady stream of similar posts that bombard the senses rather that a single, well-chosen, articulate post making their point. Debate by sledgehammer, I call it.

While finishing that last paragraph, I happened to glance up at my 2016 Grumpy Cat desk calendar. As is often the case, Grumpy Cat had what seemed to me the perfect way to punctuate my feelings about Facebook these days. From today's calendar entry: "I thought I couldn't be more disappointed. You proved me wrong." Funny, sad, and true all at the same time. You are wise beyond your years, O Grumpy One.

Friday, January 1, 2016

#200 - Turn The Page

First, let me be the 912th person to wish you a Happy New Year. Okay, that's out of the way.

2016 is here and, as is the case with every year, it promises to be filled with ups and downs. New faces will become part of the landscape while familiar names will fade from the scene.

2016 brings with it another Presidential election, and some who are prone to exaggeration and hyperbole are sure the fate of our nation is at stake. For some, the election shapes up as a choice between caring for all of our citizens or caring for the select few. For others, the election is a chance to take back our country from the government and put it back in the hands of its citizenry. The truth, I suspect, is somewhere in-between.

As always, the start of a new year also means a chance for new beginnings. New Year's resolutions will be made - and broken and perhaps re-made and broken again. For years, I religiously made ten resolutions for the coming year. For years, I religiously broke every single one of them. Although I suppose now that is no longer strictly true.

For a number of years, I resolved to do something with and/or about my music. This past year, I finally did. So I guess you can say I'm batting one for 150 or thereabout.

This year, I've decided to make one, all-encompassing resolution. I resolve to do the best I can, to be the best person I can be, to be as happy as I can be on any single given day. I further resolve to worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

Whatever you may resolve for the coming year, I wish you success. Should you stumble and fall, try not to be too hard on yourself. Like me, you're only human.

If your list has room for one more resolution, let it be this. Resolve to be good to yourself in 2016. For if you are not good to yourself, you cannot be good to or be good for others. Happy New Year!