Comedy

A Wicked Christmas Weekend

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We love so many people that we consider family. However, there are a few full families that are truly our extended family in every possible way. One of those families lives in Leesburg, VA. They (parents plus three children) were supposed to spend Thanksgiving with us in NYC. Unfortunately, life intervened and they had more urgent business to attend. Thankfully, we were able to reschedule to get them up for Christmas.

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On Friday (when they arrived), after having a fantastic meal at Jackson Hole (probably still our favorite burger place in NYC, though there are so many spectacular ones), we did something unusual for us (and them as well). We split up completely!

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The parents took the 5-year-old girl to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. They reported that it was fantastic and the girl was mesmerized throughout!

Lois took the 13-year-old to see the new Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Neither was too enamored with the movie. If a 13-year-old boy doesn’t come back raving about such a movie, that’s all I need to know about it. Winking smile

I took the 11-year-old to see Blue Man Group. It was my third time, his first. It’s been quite a while since I last saw it, so I was quite excited to go again. I was really pleased to see that while the basic show was the same, they created a few new acts, replacing some others, while keeping some real crowd pleasers. In other words, even I got to enjoy some new things (I enjoyed the original material as well).

Needless to say, the 11-year-old was thrilled and had many mind-blowing guffaws during the show. The toilet paper part (a staple) will probably live with him forever. Smile

All seven of us met up at our favorite NYC restaurant for dinner: The Peking Duck House. The parents had been there twice before, but this was a first for all three kids. The meal was a huge success (it never isn’t, but I feel compelled to report on it nonetheless). Even though everyone professed to be stuffed to the gills, when offered ice cream for dessert, amazingly, everyone found an extra spot to stick it in. Smile

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Not to slight any other activity, because the weekend was 100% incredible, but the main event (and hence the title) was all seven of us going to see Wicked on Saturday afternoon. It was our (Lois and my) 12th time. It was a first for everyone else. I will admit to being a bit nervous as to whether the kids would like it.

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When we looked at our programs and saw that the two leads were the same ones we saw last time: Jackie Burns and Chandra Lee Schwartz, Lois and I knew that at a minimum, we would be enthralled. Thankfully, all seven of us loved the show.

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To be honest, the two ladies were even better this time than last time (and they were amazing last time). The only weakness in either of their performances came in the the last big number, For Good, which they had trouble with the previous time as well. This time it was better. Each had trouble with their solo, but they came together beautifully for their harmonies (not so last time). Otherwise, their acting and singing were pretty much flawless.

There were two other changes in significant characters. Madame Morrible was played by someone we hadn’t seen before. Neither Lois nor I liked her performance. In fact, Lois thought her acting threw Jackie Burns off a time or two (I think she might be right). She wasn’t bad, and if it was my first time I probably wouldn’t have known better. Still, practically every other Madame Morrible we’ve seen was better, including the last one, who we particularly liked.

Fiyero was new to us as well. I think that last time we saw an understudy for this one. I found his acting not quite as loose as some of the others (including the last one), but his singing was good. In particular, he nailed the difficult duet with Elphaba in the woods (As Long As You’re Mine). So much so, that Jackie Burns nailed her part. I dinged her a bit on that number the last time out.

The Wizard (Tom McGowan) was as wonderful as he has been each time we’ve seen him.

So, a huge success (like I said, every activity was, except for possibly Mission Impossible).

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We walked to the theater, having lunch at Z Deli around the corner. Afterward we walked back and headed straight to The Capital Grille. I like a lot of steak houses, The Capital Grille among them. While I’ve been there many times, this might have been my best meal there. It would be hard to imagine a more pleasant way to spend time with family on Christmas Eve!

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After dinner I watched The Matrix with the boys (their first time). We paused a bunch of times early on to discuss the mind-bending plot. Once the real martial arts scenes kicked in, they were done discussing and were more intrigued by the acrobatics. Smile

We got to spend more quality time with everyone on Christmas morning, then they hit the road back to Leesburg. As sad as we were to see them go, our hearts were full from a literally perfect weekend with loved ones.

Rather than collapse, we continued the weekend festivities by meeting another good friend for lunch. I can’t speak for the ladies (each of whom ordered eggs), but my tuna melt was as good as it gets. So was our conversation, which we lingered over long after the meal was done.

P.S. The 11-year-old was enamored with my toy (my You Rock Guitar). He couldn’t put it down the entire weekend. Smile

YouRockGuitarYouRockGuitarContinued

The Book of Mormon on Broadway

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I’m a Scorpio, in practically every way. The most important way is that my birthday just recently passed. I love comedy in nearly every form. When we watch sitcoms on TV, and I laugh at everything truly groan-worthy, Lois always says: “You’re so easy!” It’s true, I am.

I don’t live under a rock (at least not any longer). I am aware that The Book of Mormon is the hottest ticket on Broadway (even hotter than my beloved Wicked). I was aware that it was by the creators of South Park. I was sure that it would be hysterical, irreverent and over-the-top (in particular in its use of foul language). I wanted to see it.

I knew that Lois couldn’t make it through the performance, so I never bothered to get tickets. Then Lois told me that I should get tickets for my birthday and take friends rather than her. Well, if I must (apparently, I must’ed, so I did). Winking smile

Three of us went last night. I went with an open mind, with no doubt that I would love it even more, without the guilt of thinking about Lois squirming in her seat next to me.

I was wrong. Not about everything. It is very funny (though not even close to hysterical or even consistent in the level of humor). It’s extremely irreverent, though not in the let’s poke fun at everything (but rather, let’s ridicule a group that isn’t likely to do/say anything in response). It’s over-the-top, but in making light of things that simply can’t be made light of (the very real, ongoing female genital mutilation in Africa is a non-stop riot in their opinion).

People laugh their heads off, even at those images. It feels to me like it’s more the shock value than an actual joke. When you see people around you laughing, and you’re at the hottest comedy for which you paid a small ransom to attend, you laugh too (or at least most people in the audience did).

To me, there were two separate shows (seamlessly integrated into one spectacle):

  1. A (very raw) comedy ridiculing every aspect of Mormonism. As a side dish, the plight of the poorest, most oppressed, AIDS stricken Ugandans is served up for our delight.
  2. A sendup (parody/skewering) of Broadway Musicals.

Let’s start with #2. I think The Book of Mormon nails it perfectly, in a funny way. Every single actor/singer is fantastic. The music is fine (nothing that I can remember even the next day, but it was all pleasant and professional throughout). The lyrics are often sophomoric, but they’re meant to be (or at least completely feel like that’s intentional). The dancers are very good and all of the exaggerated movements are precisely meant to parody the genre.

The sets are minimalistic on some level, but extremely creative. The transitions from one scene to another are simplistic, but work very well. In other words, the team that put this show together are incredible pros.

The female lead (character of Nabulungi) was a substitute last night (played by Asmeret Ghebremichael). She was amazing! That’s all the more impressive when I found out that the person she was subbing for, Nikki M. James, won the Tony for this role. If Nikki is better than Asmeret (and perhaps that’s true), I can only imagine how good she is!

The two male leads were perfect. Andrew Rannells reminded me of Jim Carrey at his best (physically as well as performance skills). Josh Gad was phenomenal.

To summarize, if #2 was the total target, then The Book of Mormon was as good as it gets.

The problem is that it was paired with #1. When I described it to Lois last night, she asked why they didn’t make up a religion, sprinkle in parts of every major belief system (including Mormonism)? Bingo (once again, Lois is typically more insightful than I am, even about things I’ve seen and she hasn’t!).

I’ve already said (twice) that the entire lighthearted treatment of the Ugandan people borders on the absurd (wow, Hadar, you finally get it, it’s supposed to be exaggerated to absurdity). Unfortunately, there’s no exaggeration, it’s happening, today, and it’s simply not funny.

How about Mormonism? Surely that’s fair game, right? Well, anything is fair game to the authors and that’s fine. They are equal opportunity skewerers. For that, I do applaud them (seriously), they’ve taken on some groups (at South Park) that got them heavily censored as well, so they don’t shy away from one group and only target another.

My problem is with the audiences (not just mine, but the ones who make this a runaway hit). First, let’s stipulate something that I had to check (I was not and obviously still am not an authority on Mormon doctrine). I looked on the official site of the Mormon Church where they describe the Book of Mormon on a single page. There is nothing in the show that contradicts what is on the official page.

In other words, the creators choose to present the material in a satirical manner, but from my perspective, they do not distort the teachings as far as I can tell. They deliver the words with a classic tongue-in-cheek and wink-wink nudge-nudge know-what-I-mean know-what-I-mean manner.

Does some of it sound unbelievable? Of course (to me!). But then are there any major religions that don’t have ample amount of hard-to-swallow stories that can’t be proven beyond the faith of their believers? If you’re not a disciple of the Judeo/Christian bible, do you really think the Garden of Eden existed and played out literally as the bible tells us? If you’re not a Muslim, do you believe that Muhammad memorized the Quran as told to him by an angel and then dictated to his followers from memory?

If you believe all of those things (or more importantly, any of those things), is the tale of Joseph Smith really so absurd? Yet, people have no trouble equating the beliefs of honest Mormons with raucous comedy. In fact, I would posit that in general Christians (of any ilk) are considered to be a fair target for any treatment in this country (unfairly and incorrectly, IMHO).

I further posit that if everything about this show were held constant, with the exception of swapping Mormonism for Islam, few (if any) would laugh at a single line, even devout atheists who think all religions are absurd. In fact, the show wouldn’t be made. On the off chance that I’m wrong about that, I’m sure it would close pretty quickly. In the end, some things aren’t funny (or aren’t allowed to be in our Politically Correct environment).

Thankfully, Mormons are a peaceful bunch who aren’t even likely to sue (unlike, say, Scientologists, when they are made fun of). So hey, let’s all take our best shot at Mormons, they’re obviously good sports!

It’s a funny thing about strongly held beliefs. Over time, they can change, either because they’re proven to be wrong, or because something else makes us rethink aspects of them.

The earth was flat, then it wasn’t (perhaps someday it will be again). Nothing can go faster than the speed of light, even in theory (except for warp speed in Star Trek). Oops, some neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light (man was Einstein a moron). Let’s not get started on our Food Pyramid (which minute of the day is it now, so I know which Pyramid to refer to?).

I started this out by mentioning that I’m a Scorpio. Well, am I? According to this article in Time Magazine (the most respected publication on our planet, can I get an amen?), I am no longer a Scorpio. In fact, Scorpio is now exactly a week-long phenomenon, and not a single person who was a Scorpio before is one now.

What? Is nothing sacred anymore? When you can’t trust your Zodiac Sign, it’s clearly an indication of end days, no?

I’ll finish this off by stating that it’s extremely rare that I agree with a review in The New York Times. Typically, when they love a show, I hate it. When they hate it, I at least enjoyed it, often loved it.

Ben Brantley wrote a very long and detailed review of The Book of Mormon in March 2011. I encourage you to read it fully. I think it’s actually very fair (at least 80% of it is), even though he’s clearly over-the-moon about the show. We don’t really differ in our description of most of it. We differ in the why of some parts (he loves it, and I believe that not everything that can be done should be done).

I still can’t wrap my head around some of his conclusions though:

Now you should probably know that this collaboration between the creators of television’s “South Park” (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) and the composer of “Avenue Q” (Robert Lopez) is also blasphemous, scurrilous and more foul-mouthed than David Mamet on a blue streak. But trust me when I tell you that its heart is as pure as that of a Rodgers and Hammerstein show.

That last line, really? Really? He spends way too much time trying to prove the connection (to the Sound of Music and the King and I). When you can point out to me in either of those how Rodgers and Hammerstein work in anything even remotely pure of heart as repeating a single line that starts with F U, dozens of times in a row, I’ll stand corrected.

He ends another string of paragraphs that I felt like quoting in their entirety with this line:

And it uses this vocabulary with a mixture of reverence and ridicule in which, I would say, reverence has the upper hand.

If you saw this show and thought that reverence had the upper hand, then I want to shake your hand for having the sunniest disposition of anyone I can imagine. To be fair, since most of you who have seen the show (and read the review) will want to pinpoint Brantley’s comment as referring purely to their reverence of the Broadway Musical Genre, and not to their reverence of Mormonism, a true quibble/debate is possible on that.

I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll conclude with what happened after the show. Like with Friday night’s performance of Wicked, we’re still in the Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS (to repeat, twice a year, possibly lasting the entire year between the two times). The character of the shows comes through in the way they appeal for donations.

Wicked was represented by Glinda, who was charming in every way in making her appeal. The Book of Mormon was represented by Josh Gad, who was very funny, but at times downright vicious in his humor in trying to get people to donate. Aside from the mandatory F-bombs that he was required to throw (in particular at audience members who left while he was talking), he had to throw in the optional D-Bags to describe anyone who might not put money in the buckets. Nice!

I put money in the bucket last night as well, but I put four times more in the Wicked bucket. I’ll give Josh this. I might have put in zero, if he hadn’t pre-shamed me with the D-Bag comment, so mission accomplished Josh!

For the record, both of my friends loved the show, unconditionally. For the record, I love both of my friends just as much today as I did before I found that out. Winking smile

The Addams Family

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In a recent post I mentioned that it was Lois’ birthday this month. The celebration continued throughout this weekend, when 11 of our closest friends from Richmond and Birmingham came to spend the weekend.

On Friday night, 13 of us went to see The Addams Family on Broadway. One of the leaders of the visitors worked some magic and got us 13 contiguous seats in the front row of the mezzanine (there are only 14 seats in the row). The seats were incredible.

As I understand it, the reviews have been less-than-kind, but the show continues to sell out and get strong word-of-mouth. I believe that only Wicked outsells Addams, and considering that Wicked is our favorite show of all time, and that we’ve seen it eight times, I don’t begrudge their continued strong sales. 😉

The only way that The Addams Family can get a poor review (in my opinion) is if your expectations are completely mismatched. If you’ve never seen (or heard of) the original TV show, or the movie versions, and you think you’re coming to see some deep drama or weighty philosophical musical, you’ll give it a low grade.

If you realize you’re coming to see a farce, based on the original premise, but updated to a more modern story (working in homages to the original throughout), then you can’t help but laugh out loud quite a number of times, and chuckle constantly the remainder of the show.

Addams moves along at a nice pace. Most of the singing is excellent. While many of the songs are funny, none are memorable musically (not really surprising). A few even feel forced, given that they likely need to have a certain number of songs to feel good about calling it a musical.

Nathan Lane is fantastic in everything he does and this is no exception. Bebe Neuwirth does a terrific job acting. While her singing was good (entirely on key), of all of the cast, her singing was the weakest and most inconsistent.

Uncle Fester (played by Kevin Chamberlin) was perfectly cast. He looks the role, sings wonderfully and delivers all of his lines deliciously.

Grandma (played by Jackie Hoffman) was also perfectly cast.

The kids were very good, the understudy who filled in for the Pugsley character that night (Matthew Gumley) and Krysta Rodriguez who plays Wednesday.

The set was highly imaginative. They represented different parts of the house by shifting around the staircases and reconfiguring them.

If you want a light-hearted night out, with a fair number of laughs, I recommend The Addams Family.

Tonight Show Tribute Song

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For those who don’t like to read my long posts (or anything longer than a Tweet), here’s the bottom line (don’t forget, you can make the video play full screen!):

You can also share the link with others (right click it and choose copy).

The overwhelming majority of posts on this blog are about music. We attend a lot of live shows and we do more than our fair share to support bands that we believe have something special to share with the world.

As a side-effect of our passion for music, we started a micro business (not really launched yet) called Songs and Jingles, LLC. This post isn’t about that business, though Songs and Jingles produced the tribute that this post is about, and the place to view the resulting video is on the YouTube Songs and Jingles Channel.

I have been watching the Tonight Show enthusiastically since 1968. Johnny Carson was an amazing host for 30 years. Jay Leno continued the tradition as well as anyone could have hoped for. I believe that Conan O’Brien will continue to do the legacy proud.

In an attempt to honor the changing of the guard at the Tonight Show, and help one of our favorite bands get wider promotion, I came up with what I thought was a clever idea: write a custom tribute song for the Tonight Show, and get this band to perform it on the air (Conan closes most shows with five minutes of live music from top bands).

We chose one of the band’s songs for the tribute’s music and I wrote the lyrics. Since we’re friendly with the band, pitching the idea to them was easy. After serious consideration they decided to pass. Fair enough.

I liked my lyrics (humble, I know), but more importantly, I really liked the whole concept of honoring the Tonight Show and promoting talented artists. I decided to turn it into a YouTube project instead, like the successful Birthday Tribute songs we’ve already produced at Songs and Jingles.

Through an online search, I discovered the amazing musical talent, Ben Schwartz, who had YouTube songs of himself performing the Jay Leno theme and the Conan theme.

I contacted Ben, asking what motivated someone so young to record this type of music. He said he’d been a big Tonight Show fan for a long time. Since I started before I was officially a teenager, I understood and knew that I’d found the right collaborator.

Ben asked for my lyrics which I told him I’d willing to rewrite if he couldn’t find the right melody to fit them. I needn’t have worried! Within two days, Ben had a first cut song to match my lyrics. It was incredible but didn’t have the tempo I’d hoped for. Ben agreed, and two days later delivered another version: perfection!

The song is wonderfully complex musically but difficult to sing. My original plan to sing it myself was shaky considering that I was straining to hit the notes on both ends.

Serendipity strikes again! While fully immersed in this project, we met Amy Rivard, with her spectacular voice, as strong as it is beautiful. I’ve written about her a number of times (we’ve seen her perform live twice). I asked if she would be willing to record our Tonight Show Tribute Song. She agreed.

I culled photos from the various incarnations of the Tonight Show, along with a few choice pictures from around the net that complemented the lyrics, and put together a video slideshow to go along with the song.

If you didn’t view the result above, please do it now!

Ben’s music and Amy’s voice are spectacular. With their talent and generous personalities they’ve made this project a joy for me to be a part of. The original goals of honoring my love of the Tonight Show while promoting talented up-and-coming artists has been achieved!

I hope that anyone who comes across this will enjoy it enough to share with their friends so more people will discover the amazing Ben Schwartz and Amy Rivard.

If you also tune in to the Tonight Show more often than you otherwise would have, that will be a nice bonus. 🙂

Another theSetNYC Show

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Three weeks ago, we attended our first theSet NYC show, documented here. While the show was a little choppy, we really liked the place, Le Poisson Rouge (specifically, the Gallery Bar). We think the people behind theSet are wonderful, and we believe in their vision for showcasing upcoming talent.

So, when I saw that they had another show scheduled in the same place last night, and I knew that it was our only free night in an 11-day run of social commitments (all fun, so don’t feel badly for us), instead of using the one night off to collapse (a very tempting choice), I really wanted to support their efforts.

Oh, and the fact that the Kobe Sliders (Sloppy Joe’s) and Spicy Tuna Roll (and the Edamame for Lois) were beckoning to me, didn’t hurt either. 😉

While there was a nice crowd the first time we attended (July 6th), it was a holiday weekend (duh) so I shouldn’t have been surprised (pleasantly!) that there were probably nearly twice as many people last night. It will still comfortable in the space, but it was much closer to a practical limit than the first time.

There were also more performers last night (nine in total), but again, the host Kai Raziq (the only repeat from the last show) kept things moving along very nicely.

Since I’ll cover each artist separately, in at least one paragraph, this will be another long post. For those who are more interested in my overall impression of the night, and theSet NYC in general, I’ll get that out of the way now, so you can skip the individual comments, and my summary.

To repeat from my intro above, I really like what theSet NYC is doing. We thoroughly enjoyed last night’s show (more than the first one), even though there were definitely some lulls in the action (low points).

It’s not fair to judge or criticize any of the performers by the same standard you’d use if you went to see a full set by a professional comedian or singer, especially one you’d pay top-dollar for. The point of these shows is to see up-and-coming talent, hear something fresh (hopefully), and watch people try to hone their craft.

So, bottom line, a very entertaining evening that we’ll be sure to repeat again!

Last general note about theSet. They go out of their way to create a safe atmosphere for the performers. We love that! It’s OK not to like a performer or their material. It’s not OK to heckle them, be rude in other ways, disrupt their performance, or ruin other people’s opportunity to enjoy a routine you might not be enjoying. Bravo for that!

Normally, we put up at least one photo of each performer. For whatever reason, every picture Lois took last night came out so dark, that I decided not to post any, since each performer is  linked and you can see a ton of information about them (including photos). Sorry.

Last night there were seven comedians and two singers. I’ll cover the comedians first, in a block, in the order that we liked them (like last time), then the singers (so don’t assume that all seven comedians were better than either singer).

Harrison Greenbaum closed the show, but we both considered him the most consistently funny and polished. Tons of self-deprecating humor. Very comfortable delivery. Interacts with the audience well. He clearly already performs at a professional level.

He finished the show with a magic trick that was clever, engaging, funny, and left the crowd laughing hard (and a little amazed) as they walked out. theSet was correct to put him up last!

Dan Nainan bills himself as a 100% clean comedian. Lois prefers that greatly. I don’t mind stooping to a lower level, if the muck ads comedic value. Most often it doesn’t, so I admire Dan (and the likes of Jerry Seinfeld) who have to work a little harder to make us laugh, without having the shock value to work with.

For the most part, Dan was terrific. Like Harrison, he’s already a pro, no doubt. The difference in the ease in delivering the lines between a pro and an amateur is painfully obvious.

He took one trip off the rails (in our opinion only, as the audience was going crazy for it, so keep that in mind!). He did a George Bush imitation. He had it down pretty well, and the few lines were funny enough. But, because he’s an easy (and in our opinion a tired) target, Dan continued too long. Making fun of different words that Bush flubbed isn’t a new joke, so after a few, that’s enough.

He had an opportunity to be let off the hook. One of the security walkie talkies interrupted him in mid-routine, and he stopped to comment on it. Then he said “Where was I?”, and after a pause, jumped right back into the Bush routine.

As opposed to Harrison, to us, that meant Dan peaked earlier, and ended on a weaker note, which isn’t the way to leave your audience. Still, we’d happily go see him again. He’s funny, and has an excellent delivery!

Sam Morril has a completely self-deprecating style. For the most part, his material is fresh and funny. On occasion, his delivery is a bit inconsistent. Sometimes, total comfort to great effect, at other times, reasonably awkward. Even in the awkward moments, you can see the content peek through, but if Sam raises his game just a bit, he has what it takes material-wise.

Sean Donnelly was very different than Sam, but essentially as good overall. Lois’ instinct was to list him above Sam, barely, and mine was to list Sam first, barely. Sean opened the show, which can be brutal or great. You don’t have to be better than anyone else, yet, but you also don’t have a warmed-up crowd, and you have no clues as to what they like and don’t like.

From that perspective, Sean did an excellent job. He too is very comfortable on the stage, and has a quality delivery for the most part. Like Sam, a few times, he lost focus and had a little trouble getting back on track. He’s not afraid to engage the audience, and was reasonably adept at it.

For the most part, his routine was quite clean. So, when he launched into one vulgar joke, he got a little more mileage out of the f-word, since he hadn’t used it yet. The joke itself was reasonably funny. Ironically, while his use of the f-word was in context, and not gratuitous, it was also totally unnecessary.

There were many other words that would have substituted well (I think better), and added euphemistic color to the joke. Oh well, I don’t write ‘em, I just judge ‘em. 😉

Nore Davis is an inventive, comfortable comedian, who loses his way a little too easily. I’ll give two specific examples in a minute, but first I’ll make the generic point. Nore’s delivery is terrific. He has command of the crowd, and has a smooth delivery that was consistent. His content is pretty funny. So, what’s the problem?

When he came on stage, he had that quality that immediately grabs your attention. When he started his routine, he (and we) realized that there was a ton of reverb left on the mic, since he followed a singer. The person handling the sound (Pim, filling in for Leo) had stepped away, so Nore was on his own.

While waiting for Pim to return, he made a very funny, and very vulgar ad-lib (about feeling like he was trapped in a cavernous vagina). It was funny, so I’m fine with that. But, he couldn’t help himself (in my opinion), and he pushed the joke too far, and ended up saying and doing some over-the-top crude things to keep that one clever (and quick!) line alive…

One more example. He told an excellent joke about getting a portable CD player for his birthday (the very last one every sold, and he told that part really well too!). He said that everyone made fun of him because he could only carry around 12 songs at a time, all from the same artist. Even grandma laughed at him, telling him that she had 15,000 songs on her new iHear hearing aid!

Funny, right? Indeed! And, his delivery was flawless. We were laughing our heads off, until he couldn’t stop himself from immediately saying “what a bitch!”. He then cursed grandma a bit more. Bottom line, that is for shock value only, hearing someone calling their grandma a bitch. It didn’t add a single thing to the already wildly successful joke!

Anyway, not to beat it to death, but he overuses that specific word, along with other (potentially) equally offensive ones. Yes, yes, it makes me sound like a prude, but like I said already, the vagina ad-lib was hilarious (until he pushed it too far).

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Nore Davis become a very big name in comedy in the years to come (even if he doesn’t change his act), but, if he finds a slightly cleaner style, I’ll bet his appeal will be that much broader.

Brandon Greenspan has some clever material, buried in a consistently poor delivery. His style is self-deprecating, so it’s possible that he tries intentionally for a specific delivery style (like Woody Allen does, or Steven Wright), but in my opinion, it isn’t working (or it isn’t deliberate). He simply comes across as not self confident, and easily distracted on the stage.

Both he and the next comic had to refer to their notes a few times. That’s really not a big deal, but we’re talking about 7-10 minute sets here, which isn’t all that much to memorize, so either he/they aren’t working hard enough to prepare, or they’re overly nervous (I’ll have a bit more to say about that in my summary).

To repeat, I think he’s a clever guy, with some interesting comedic insights, which felt fresh (so he’s writing interesting material at home), but he needs lots of practice delivering it. For that, shows like last night are perfect. I would see him again, willingly, so I don’t want you to read this and think it was hard to take.

Scout Durwood was not originally listed on the schedule for last night’s show. On the other hand, two other comics were listed that didn’t show, so getting Scout at the last minute was good for their lineup, timing-wise. Unfortunately, as you see her listed last on our list, she didn’t add too much to the comedy…

I would have listed her above Brandon, but Lois felt more strongly about the order than I did, so I swapped them (like I did in the last review when Lois felt strongly about one of the comics).

Like Sam above, her delivery is inconsistent. On some jokes, she’s a complete pro (delivery-wise). On some, she comes across as a rank amateur. She too needed to consult her cheat sheet. Again, no biggie, but she looked at her sheet before telling a single joke! Really? Couldn’t she have snuck a peek right before stepping on the stage?

She told a few funny jokes, and quite a number that just lay there. She has the style to be a lot funnier, if she works on her consistency, but I don’t know whether she has enough material to fill more than these 10-minute slots.

On to the singers, then a summary.

Sarah Nisch sang and accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar. She did two numbers, both originals. She has a really good voice. Both songs were good (though both of us vastly preferred the second one, which Sarah described as a bit more uplifting, rather than the first, which she described as wrist-slitting inducing). 😉

Sarah plays the guitar reasonably enough (mostly strumming, straightforwardly), but, oddly enough, it didn’t work for me at all in terms of accompanying her voice and lyrics. In other words, her guitar playing was more of a distraction.

Still, she’s a talented singer/songwriter, and I’m sure Lois and I would be happy to catch her again at one of these shows.

Jamie Alimorad sang, backed by a CD playing through the speakers. Before I cover the performance, I want to compliment Jamie’s stage presence. Since Leo wasn’t there to operate the laptop and the sound system, there was quite a bit of trouble getting the background CD to start, and when it did, it was a whisper in the background. Jamie never lost his cool, and even though he isn’t a comedian, he handled himself and the situation well, and kept the crowd relaxed and interested.

Unfortunately, I don’t have all that much else to say that is very complimentary. He has a pleasant enough voice, but he did two covers, starting with Bryan Adams Summer of 69. If his voice were spectacular, OK. But, everything about his performance was more Karaoke than professional singer. Good Karaoke, to be sure, but compared to all of the other original works (Sarah included), it felt completely out of place. Sorry Jamie…

I realize that many (most?) who get this far will simply label me/us as prudes, and say that we simply don’t get the humor in raunchy jokes. If you knew me, you’d know how ridiculous that is, but I totally get how I’m coming off.

One of my all-time favorite comedians is Buddy Hackett (I can recite dozens of his jokes verbatim, including some very long routines). They are mostly filthy (dick jokes, etc.). Not only do the jokes kill me each time I hear them, I love telling them, so I have no trouble delivering those words. But, they are integral to the jokes, not gratuitous.

A number of the comedians we’ve seen at the two theSet shows used their words as crutches. What happens in that situation is that the audience is focused on the crutch, not the joke, or the person. If a person walks into the room on actual crutches, you’re less likely to remember other things about them, because it steals your focus. The same is true in comedy.

So, while I’m but one voice, I’ll continue to hammer away to these very talented up-and-coming comedians, that they need to hone their craft better by concentrating on the actual joke, not on using vulgarity for the pure shock value of it. Follow my advice or not, it’s your careers. 😉

As for theSet, one of the things that the host (Kai Raziq) has done at both shows (repeatedly) is attempt to get anyone from the audience to come on stage and tell a joke, a story, anything. His point is that it’s harder than it looks, even for 30 seconds, and of course, he’s right!

In the first show, no one took him up on the offer, even though he tried hard. Last night, no one took the bait either, for the first few times that he tried to get someone on the stage. Then finally, one woman got up for 30 seconds. She had no idea what to do, but turned it into an amusing physical bit. We all appreciated her courage and effort nonetheless.

I don’t really have a need, nor even an interest to try that out, but out of curiosity, one of these days, I might just have to find out how awful/hard it is to stand up there, and perhaps I’ll be a bit less harsh on the real comedians after I do that. 😉

Thank You ABC

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I find it ironic that on the same night that ABC is about to air a White House exclusive promo, something which I think borders on a wrong-headed move (understandable, predictable, but still wrong-headed), I am about to praise them for something completely different.

The fact that I am about to praise ABC is surprising for another reason, namely that I think we’re down to watching only one show on a regular basis on that network: Lost. I’ll come back to Lost later on, even though I’ve written about it separately in the past.

Last season (shortened by the brilliant Writers Strike) we watched two additional shows religiously on ABC: Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies. We watched both religiously this season as well, until they were both unceremoniously dumped, mid-season (along with Dirty Sexy Money, which we’ve never seen).

We both loved Eli Stone (though it took Lois three episodes to come to that, while I loved it from the first scene). We looked forward to every new episode, and were never disappointed.

I liked Pushing Daisies way more than Lois did, and I’m thankful that she humored me and didn’t make me feel guilty about wasting her time when I eagerly watched it each week. The cartoonish colors were brilliant and lush (solidifying the fantasy feel of the show), and the dialogue had cracker-jack fast quips that always had me in stitches. The writing was in the style of the West Wing and Studio 60 (no wonder Kristin Chenoweth signed up).

I wasn’t surprised that Pushing Daisies was canceled. I was surprised that Eli Stone was. I was shocked that both were canceled without warning, mid-season. Both were serials where important plot-lines unfolded each week (as opposed to episodic shows, like Law and Order).

At best, you’re leaving extremely loyal viewers with a dangling, highly unsatisfying ending. At worst, you’re cutting off a promising show because it didn’t perform quickly enough, which could be short-sighted, given the rough start each show had during the previous Writers Strike shortened season.

I totally get that it’s a business, and they have the right and the experience to do exactly what they did. I also get that none of the three shows that they canceled were topping the charts. I also know that ABC wasn’t promoting the shows all that hard either, and certainly didn’t give them a chance to grow a base. But, again, it’s their decision.

So, after that long-winded (typical) introduction, why I am thanking and praising ABC today?

A few weeks ago, I noticed that Pushing Daisies was set to record an episode on my DVR (from my season pass) on a Saturday! I hadn’t seen a single commercial announcing its comeback, nor seen anything online either, so I assumed that they were running repeats (after all, none of the networks are noted for airing first-run shows on Saturday any longer). Stupidly, I deleted the recording from the queue!

Yesterday, Lois was reading a magazine, and she said to me “Did you know that last week they aired the Series Finale of Pushing Daisies on TV?” Oops! I logged on to ABC and saw that not only was the finale available, it was the third (and last) new episode since the series was canceled.

So, I was sort-of glad I had deleted the recording on the DVR, because I would watched it without knowing that there were two additional episodes leading up to it.

In the unbelievably typical whacky world of TV networks foray into online streaming, only the last two episodes were available on ABC. The first of the trilogy was already gone from their site. I was able to find it instantly on another site, in poorer quality, but with zero commercials.

After watching that episode, we watched the last two on ABC, in 720p HD. The quality was awesome. I’ve mentioned in the past that Lois is rabid about avoiding commercials. Even she didn’t complain about the maximum of one 30-second commercial in each break. ABC is notorious for inserting more commercial breaks into their online programming than the other networks (Hulu, which features both NBC and Fox, shows dramatically fewer commercials per show).

Even so, I was glad to watch the commercials, because ABC was delivering value to me, and this was my desired form of payment. That made it all the more bizarre that they removed the first of the episodes. Given the choice, I would have gladly watched commercials for that one as well, but instead, they drove me to another site where they derived zero revenue from me, instead of the few pennies they otherwise would have earned.

However, here’s the kicker to the story. By getting me to visit ABC at all (in this case through the magazine article), I noticed that they were offering a streaming episode of Eli Stone that was new as well! It turns out that this is the first of the final four episodes of that show. We watched that too, and loved the episode, and can see that they too will wrap up the series to our satisfaction, now that they have the chance to do so.

Hadar, is there a point to all of this ranting? Yes, there is. First, this took nearly zero effort on the part of ABC, as the shows were already shot and in the can (as they say). Putting them online is a matter of decision making, not really a matter of scheduling them for broadcast where ratings and revenue come into play.

But, ABC didn’t really make money off of you Hadar (you say). Perhaps, but not necessarily true! First, for Eli Stone, since there are three episodes left, I have now set my DVR to tape them on TV. 70% of Americans still don’t have a DVR, so there will be plenty of people watching Eli Stone (Saturday night at 10pm!) with ABC hopefully making more money than they do with normal filler programming on that night.

As for Pushing Daisies, both Lois and I found the wrap-up of the series satisfying. Lois turned to me after the finale and said “You should buy the DVD of this season”. I said “You don’t even like the show!”. She said “I really liked the way they ended it, and I wouldn’t mind owning it!”. So, if we decide to, we’ll be buying both seasons (to have all of the episodes). I can guarantee that we would never have purchased either season the way it was previously ended.

I said I would come back to Lost, so here goes. Lois and I never watched Lost when it first came out. We weren’t even tempted. After the second season, David and Wes bought us a gift of the first two seasons DVDs. We got hooked. We bought Season Three on DVD the second it was available. We watched Season Four on TV, but also bought two copies of the DVDs when the season was over, one for us, and one for David. We’ll buy Season Five as well, and Season Six next year.

The point is, fans can be created after the fact with all of the time-shifting, social networking, word-of-mouth, gifting, etc. When shows are cut off prematurely, they’ll never get a chance to participate in that ecosystem.

For the past two years, one of our favorite shows has been Chuck on NBC. It too was practically canceled, until enough fans online saved it at least for part of next season. I’m hoping that decision will pay off for NBC, because we’re definitely looking forward to seeing more episodes. At least Chuck ended with a proper season finale, which was engaging enough to have been satisfying as a series finale as well, if it needed to be.

By the way, even though we watched every episode of Chuck every week, we also bought two copies of each season’s DVDs. So, we fast-forwarded through the commercials, but we still sent in our cash…

Anyway, thanks again to ABC for making the remaining episodes of Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money (which had more fans than the first two, not including us) available, both on TV, and online!

Ceili Rain at Joyful Noise III

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Over a year ago, I wrote a post entitled Everybody Clap for Everybody. The second paragraph explains how we came to discover Ceili Rain, in September 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11. We’ve been huge fans ever since, but have never had the opportunity, and therefore the pleasure (and privilege) of seeing them live.

That oversight was finally corrected yesterday. All of my posts are overly long, and for the few of you with the fortitude to stick with them all the way to the end, I apologize and thank you (and secretly applaud you as well!). 😉 This one won’t be an exception. I’m busting with things to share, including a generally extraordinary day, in addition to experiencing the magic that is a live Ceili Rain show!

I’ll cover Ceili Rain first (as I typically do), and then describe the rest of the day.

Ceili Rain was scheduled to come on stage at 5:30pm, and play until about 7pm (a very nice length indeed). Due to the constant downpour all day, logistics were thrown off course a bit, and Ceili Rain didn’t start playing until 6:20pm.

Their CDs are marvelous (I recommend every one, but I’ll be more specific later on for those looking to dip their toes, rather than buy the whole shebang at once). I know all of the songs well. Still, nothing can prepare you for seeing them live. Not five seconds into the opening number (Jigorous from Erasers on Pencils) and we knew we were in for a completely magical experience.

Most groups can’t deliver a live experience that matches the polish of a well-crafted CD. Many can and do. A rarer few blow away any sense you have of them as recording artists when you see them perform live. Ceili Rain is in that rarified group. There is literally no way I can do them justice by trying to describe the feeling, so I won’t try too hard.

I’ll state the normal facts as I always do, and simply say that in this case, the whole, greatly exceeds the sum of the (extraordinary) parts (facts).

Here’s a group shot of them on stage:

Ceili Rain

Ceili Rain

Standing left-to-right on the stage:

Burt Mitchell on whistles and pipes (he also sang on at least one number). Bagpipes aren’t typically an instrument one associates with Rock music. In fact, I bet that many people don’t associate Bagpipes with music at all. 😉 Give Burt a few seconds, and you’ll change your mind. He plays a variety of whistles, just as well, and adds a marvelous flavor to Ceili Rain.

Burt Mitchell

Burt Mitchell

Joe Davoli on fiddle. I’ve written about many great fiddlers over the past few years. I’m now officially adding Joe to my list. We both loved every note he played last night. At intermission, Lois bought Joe’s CD (along with guitarist Harvey Nusbaum) called Fiddle & Guitar. Wow. It’s a gorgeous instrumental collection of amazing fiddle and guitar tunes! Of course, Joe was kind enough to sign it for Lois. 🙂

Joe Davoli

Joe Davoli

Bob Halligan Jr. on the acoustic guitar, vocals and electric keyboards. There are many people with great voices. While Bob is one of them, he has a quality that very few have in addition to the voice, and that’s the ability to use the voice and every body part to take you on a trip with him, wherever he feels like taking you.

Bob Halligan Jr

Bob Halligan Jr.

Like my caveat for Ceili Rain in general, I’ll never do justice to describing seeing Bob perform live. Unlike Ceili Rain, I’ll at least make a half-hearted attempt to describe it a drop. 😉

Let’s start with the voice, since I mentioned it first above. Bob can hit notes that are surprising and breathtaking. One some levels, it can give me the same chills that Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts does (both can create high sounds that are still distinctively male, and both can maintain complex melodies while switching gears seamlessly). Unlike Gary, Bob can also sing in more normal tones (no disrespect to Gary, who is one of my favorite vocalists!).

In addition to also being an excellent musician, Bob’s performance is completely infectious. If joy was a disease, then he’s a carrier, and he can spread the disease in an airborne manner, to all in his vicinity. If you don’t want to be uplifted, stay far away from a Ceili Rain show! 😉

I could on and on, but I’m not sure that I could adequately convey the magic, so I’ll just add that Bob has an instant, and deep rapport with the audience. When he called for a conga line to dance around the tent, it formed spontaneously, with sheer joy on the participants’ faces, and on the fuddy duddies in the crowd (like us), who didn’t join in. 🙂

Finally, Bob is one of the most prolific, and amazing songwriters of our time. He has over 1,000 songs to his credit. He is the heart and soul of Ceili Rain, and the world is the better for him!

Hadar Bob

Hadar Bob

Bob Lois

Bob Lois

Kevin de Souza on electric bass and harmony vocals. He’s the newest member of Ceili Rain. Rating a bassist is generally difficult, because even great ones often fade into the background, by design and choice. I have no trouble claiming that Kevin is awesome on the bass.

Kevin de Souza

Kevin de Souza

In addition to simply laying down fantastic bass lines all night, and taking an amazing long solo (beating out most of the bass solos I have heard in the past), he also has all the requisite on-stage energy necessary to make him a full-blown member of Ceilli Rain. He’s simply delightful to watch and listen to, all night.

Raymond Arias on lead guitar (electric) and vocals. Ray has been with Ceili Rain for nearly 12 years now, making him the longest-standing member playing with Bob. Raymond sings harmony with Bob beautifully. He plays the electric guitar exceptionally well. When his turn came to play solo, he also sang lead in true Rock ‘N Roll style, belting out renditions of two classic Rock songs back-to-back. He too is a great fit for Ceili Rain.

Raymond Arias

Raymond Arias

Bill Bleistine on drums. Bill sits in the back, center stage, behind Bob. Loyal readers know that I love nearly every instrument, and pay a lot of close attention to every band member at every show. This is always true for the drums, for which I have a special love.

Bill Bleistine

Bill Bleistine

I’ve written about a number of drummers in the past few years who have mesmerized me. I need to firmly, and unequivocally place Bill near the top of the list (on any given night, he could easily top the list). Aside from his impeccable and fantastic playing all night long, the energy level of every Ceili Rain song, and the length of the two sets, make his feat all the more inconceivable.

In addition to supporting the band on every number brilliantly, he took a long solo that has to be among the top five I’ve ever heard, quite possibly #1. Bravo Bill!

Whew. Magic, magic, magic, magic (and then some more magic).

Hadar Lois Bill Ray

Hadar Lois Bill Ray

During intermission, Lois also bought two copies of the new CD, I Made Lemonade. The official CD release is on July 1st (according to at  least one website), so you may not be able to buy it anywhere except at a live show until then. Of course, Bob and Bill signed it for her. It’s a wonderful CD. Lois and I feel privileged to have played the tiniest of roles in helping to bring it to fruition.

When you lift the CD out of the jewel case, two large paragraphs of text are revealed on the inside of the back cover. The top one is from Bob. It starts off with him saying that when people ask him which of the CDs is his favorite, he feels like a parent does when someone asks which of your children is your favorite!

While I understand that completely, I also know that many people who read this will not want to jump in and buy all six CDs before knowing if they will love Ceili Rain as much as we do. For those people, I suggest two things:

  1. Listen to the selection of free streaming songs available on their MySpace page. Selections can always change, but at the moment, in addition to the title cut from the new CD (I Made Lemonade), you can also hear my personal favorite (That’s All the Lumber), and Love Travels, the song that started this whole wonderful journey for us in the first place.
  2. If you’re going to buy only one CD, I’d recommend starting with their namesake: Ceilin Rain. It’s just one phenomenal song after another, including both That’s All the Lumber and Love Travels.

After the intermission, they played for roughly another hour, making their time on stage over two hours. The fact that they didn’t melt into a puddle of their own sweat after putting on such an intense show for that long is incredible.

Since the entire show was pushed back a bit, that put the second set in near darkness (given the clouds and rain). Since that wasn’t anticipated, there were no lights to shine on the band. It was still fantastic, but could have played out differently.

Here’s how this all came to be…

Because we purchased the first five CDs directly from the Ceili Rain website, we’re on the regular mailing list informing fans of upcoming shows. A month ago, I noticed that they were playing two hours away from us in Quakertown, PA (technically, Applebachsville, PA, but don’t expect your GPS to know where that is!). This was going to be their third headlining appearance at the Joyful Noise fund-raiser run by St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Given our schedule, it was a tad inconvenient, but it was also our best bet to see them live and we decided to make the commitment to be there. We were surprised to see that the event was free to attend. All of the funds raised would be voluntary. In addition, they were requesting non-perishable foods be donated, since the entire event was for the benefit of the Quakertown Food Pantry.

Wanting to participate in the spirit of the event, not just getting to see Ceili Rain for free, we went to Costco and bought quite a bit of non-perishable stuff. For the most part, food we typically buy for ourselves, so we know it’s really good. We loaded up the back of our car and drove from NY to Quakertown, early yesterday morning.

First, a brief mention of the other five performers who played all day leading up to the Ceili Rain finale. Since all-but-one of these performers isn’t really a professional, it’s not really fair to subject them to the same review that I would normally give any group or individual.

In the order that they appeared, starting at 11:15am:

Living Water. This is a local group from Quakertown United Methodist Church. Eight of them were on stage for roughly 45 minutes.

Living Water

Living Water

Kickin’ Brass. Five performers (trumpet, trombone, tuba, French horn and another trumpet). They were on stage for roughly 45 minutes.

Kickin Brass

Kickin' Brass

Once Called Saul. Five guys in the band. They were on stage for roughly 45 minutes.

Once Called Saul

Once Called Saul

Keith Spencer. I’ll say a bit more about Keith, because of the five groups that performed before Ceili Rain, he’s the only one that is likely able to (and I would guess does) support himself solely through his music. He lists himself as:

Vocalist, Actor, Cabaret Performer

Keith Spencer

Keith Spencer

He’s backed singers like Robert Flack. He has an exceptional voice, and a warmth that makes audiences sit up and take notice instantly. He sang mostly Spirituals, with a few Broadway tunes (also spiritual in nature) mixed in. Lois and I were enthralled at his performance.

He was accompanied on the electric keyboards by Charles de Mets. His playing was excellent, and he complemented Keith perfectly. I updated Charles’ name from my original post, when Keith was kind enough to email me the correct spelling!

Charles Demetz

Charles de Mets

Keith and Charles were on stage for roughly 45 minutes.

This has nothing to do with yesterday, but I stumbled on it trying to find a link for Keith, so I’ll share it. Here’s an article written two years ago about the frenzy of couples trying to win a free wedding courtesy of the Today Show. The last picture of the bunch is of Keith and his then fiancee. A little further down, they tell the story about how Keith proposed to Amy. 🙂

SWiM was the last band to perform before Ceili Rain. Four guys on stage for nearly an hour.

SWiM

SWiM

Except for Kickin’ Brass, which was purely instrumental, the other four sets were purely Christian Music. Of those, Keith clearly performs other types of music in other venues, with the remaining three groups strictly performing Christian Music.

Lois and I enjoyed what each group had to offer the audience, and they fit the spirit and mood of the day quite well. Thanks to all of them for participating in Joyful Noise III!

On to recap the rest of the day. Weather.com was calling for 80-95% chance of showers for every single hour of the day in Quakertown, PA yesterday. Nice. It was quite cloudy for the first hour of our drive over, but we still held out the slightest hope that the rain might be minimal. Those hopes were dashed in the second hour, when it started raining steadily. The rain continued without many breaks until 3pm!

The rain stopped from 3-5pm, then started again. When Ceili Rain was on for a little while, Bob complained that the humidity was wreaking havoc with the tuning on his guitar. He gently asked if could put a suggestion in the box asking the big Boss for better weather.

10 minutes later, it stopped raining. 15 minutes after that, the sun came out, very brightly. 10 minutes after that, a beautiful rainbow appeared. The gentleman who was collecting donations in the buckets all day came over to us and asked Lois to come with him to see the rainbow. Here’s a shot that Lois took:

Rainbow

Rainbow

Even though it later started to rain heavily again, I still am respectful of Bob’s ability to get his suggestion acted upon so quickly. He clearly has a more direct line than I do to the big Boss. 😉

When we arrived at St. Paul’s (thank you GPS for being able to find this rural Church with zero problems) it was raining hard. We parked, but a gentleman immediately came up to our car and asked us to drive a mile down the road to the local elementary school where a shuttle bus would bring us back.

Before we left, three gentlemen unloaded the back of our SUV on behalf of the Quakertown Food Pantry. We also left our two plastic chairs there (to get soaked) while we drove to the elementary school. We were the first car to park there (having arrived at 10:45am) and the shuttle bus took us back immediately, since there was no one else to wait for.

We planted our plastic chairs about 25 feet from the stage, in what felt like it would turn out to be an arbitrary first row. Sitting any closer would have been good for the view of the stage, but would have likely lead to instant deafness, as there were giant speakers on the grass in front of each side of the stage.

Even though it was pouring, we were under a very large tent, and very thankful for it. What was apparent from the moment we returned on the bus was that every single person we encountered was as nice and helpful as they could possibly be. There were an enormous number of official volunteers, all wearing purple T-Shirts with Joyful Noise III on them.

The organization for the event was as good (if not better) than most professional venues we attend. This, despite the fact that the weather wasn’t cooperating in the least.

The main coordinator of the event is a delightful man named Rich Baringer. He was the MC as well. He kept everyone informed throughout the day, and kept the flow as smooth as you could want. He told a number of corny jokes. I’m a sucker for a good groaner, so I laughed with him, not at him. 🙂

Rich Baringer

Rich Baringer

In addition to coordinating the event, he had the vision and passion for it as well, so we all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude, as does the Quakertown Food Pantry. In Googling around to find a link for him, I discovered that he’s a Personal Chef with his own website. If he cooks 1/2 as well as he runs Joyful Noise, then his client’s are extremely happy, I’m sure!

For two complete outsiders, attending an event like this can potentially be uncomfortable, if it’s really meant to be an insiders celebration. I’m happy to report that the good folks at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church are wonderfully welcoming. We felt like we were a part of their community, and it felt good.

I could probably tell 100 stories as examples, but I’ll spare you and tell a few. At one point during the day Rich announced that one of the couples in the audience was celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. We all cheered as the wife waved to us. The husband was serving food a hundred feet away.

Later in the day, Rich had to point out that we shouldn’t have been all that impressed with the earlier announcement. He had just found out that a couple of days before, another couple had just celebrated their 71st anniversary! We turned again (and again only saw the wife). My goodness, she could have passed for a spry 60-year-old. There’s some good water in the wells in Quakertown if you ask me! 🙂

There were a ton of kids of all ages at the event, with lots of activities planned for them as well. All of the kids, including the really young ones, were extraordinarily well behaved, so my hat is tipped to all of the Quakertown parents that we met as well! Cute doesn’t even begin to describe them. Lois and I giggled a bunch as we watched kids chase their parents (and each other) with glee.

Boys Eating Hot Dogs

Boys Eating Hot Dogs

Lecture 101

Lecture 101

Helping Dad Carry the Amp

Helping Dad Carry the Amp

Rich’s wife, Mary Beth, was the French horn player in Kickin’ Brass. During Ceili Rain’s second set, Rich (playing the saxophone), Mary Beth and two other members of Kickin’ Brass came on stage to form a horn section for Ceili Rain. It was fantastic! Bob Halligan Jr. joked that he’d be pleased to have them tour with him as long as they were willing to play for free. 🙂

Brass Section

Brass Section

We spent 10 solid hours with a group of strangers. Within minutes, we felt at home. By the end of the day, we felt like we were extended family. Thanks to everyone who attended the event for making us feel so welcome. Aside from the obvious connection of the music to the term Joyful Noise, all of you made a truly Joyful Noise throughout the day!

Wes and Hadar’s Excellent Adventure

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Many more people participated in one or more of the activities I’m about to list. Only Wes and I enjoyed every single one of them, hence the accurate title. 🙂

Wes flew up on Thursday morning and I picked him up at Newark Airport. We headed straight to the city and met Lois and two friends for lunch at Westville. We met there at 11:30am because the place is tiny and fills up fast. Only one of the five of us had ever eaten there, so it was a new experience for the three four of us. The food was fantastic! I had the Caesar Salad with grilled chicken. Here are pics of three of the dishes, starting with mine:

Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Hot Dogs

Hot Dogs

After lunch, Lois, Wes and I relaxed and caught up with work/email, etc. Then we headed for our night at the Highline Ballroom to see our favorite group, Girlyman. That evening was covered extensively in this post.

The next morning, after breakfast, we headed up to the house. Wes had never seen it. We logged on there and all did our own thing until lunch. After lunch, Wes and I headed to see the new Star Trek movie. Lois was intending to come as well, but we had a problem with the dampers again, and she called the HVAC people and waited for an emergency technician to arrive. Sorry Lois!

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes and I both enjoyed the movie. I would be lying if I said it was great in any way (other than the special effects, which were stunning), but it’s action-packed, moves at a very quick pace, is an inventive story, etc. I agree with the comments I had heard about the movie before I saw it, that you don’t need to be a trekkie to appreciate the movie, but that it pays homage to the original in so many ways that it’s extra satisfying to a real trekkie. Kudos to JJ Abrams and the entire creative staff of the movie for pulling off that difficult balancing act!

When we got home, we both logged on again, and  I finally got the blog post about Girlyman published. We then headed for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Tarrytown (that we had never eaten at before). It wasn’t our original destination for dinner, but the two places we wanted to eat at were 30+ minute waits (you know, in this economy, where supposedly no one can afford to eat out any longer…). We were quite disappointed in our meals, so this place won’t be visited again by us. Oh well…

After dinner, we walked 200 feet to our real destination for the evening, Tarrytown Music Hall. We had 10th row seats to see Steven Wright, one of my all-time favorite standup comics. This was my first time seeing him live, but I’ve been a fan ever since he burst on the scene (probably longer ago than many of you are alive). 😉

Steven Wright

Steven Wright

As is typical of most shows at Tarrytown Music Hall, he didn’t come on the stage until 8:25pm (scheduled time, 8pm). It’s annoying, but otherwise, we really love Tarrytown Music Hall. He was fantastic. He did his routine non-stop for 85 minutes.

For those of you don’t know, he’s the king of dead-pan one liners. For the most part, they are based on word play. He never (OK, rarely) smiles, except for specific effect. In other words, his own jokes don’t appear to make him laugh (and that works really well for his type of material). He only told one vulgar joke, and I’d bet that none of the kids that were in the audience had a clue that it was vulgar!

He used the F-word perhaps 10 times, so in general, his act is pretty clean. He speaks softly, so the audience trained themselves (incredibly quickly) to come to a dead silence seconds after laughing hysterically, for fear of missing the next joke!

Here are but two (of hundreds of) examples of the style of humor that no one masters quite like Steven Wright:

I have a friend who has a stained glass eye.

24-Hour Banking. I don’t have that kind of time.

No two jokes are connected. Topics fly all over the place. It’s really funny to hear delayed laughter around you, when you realize that people are trying hard to process a joke, and finally get it, a few seconds too late. 😉

We had a great time there. Afterward, we drove back to the city and watched a bit of Conan O’Brien in his new gig as host of the Tonight Show. I also watched the first two nights on Hulu, and I think Conan is doing a marvelous job in his new time slot. Congrats Conan!

On Saturday, after breakfast and the obligatory emailing, Wes and I met Laura in the lobby and went on one of my patented long walks up the East River. It was the nicest day of 2009 in NYC (so far), and our walk was spectacular in every regard. It took us two hours and 10 minutes, and we loved every second of it (or at least I did!).

After a shower, Wes, Laura, Lois and I grabbed a cab and headed to Five Napkin Burger for lunch. None of us had ever been there before. So, what made me pick it for lunch? I subscribe to Fred Wilson’s blog (one of the top VC’s in NYC) and read every one of his posts religiously. He often writes about his wife, who blogs under the moniker The Gotham Gal. For whatever reason, I had never clicked through to her site.

The other day, Fred blogged that The Gothan Gal had updated the design of her site, and he was very pleased with the result. That’s the first time I clicked through. I liked her writing style and started reading a bunch of her posts. Then I came to this one about Five Napkin Burger! I decided to give it a shot. I’m very glad I did, as all four of us really enjoyed our burgers (all different kinds). Mine was an Italian Turkey Burger. Yum!

From there, the four of us walked back to Times Square, and went to see Angels and Demons. Thoroughly enjoyable. Substantially better movie than The DaVinci Code. We walked back to the apartment after that.

While I caught up on some email, Laura and Wes walked the few blocks to Red Mango and picked up frozen yogurt for a light dinner for the four of us. It was my first taste of it, and I liked it a lot. Chris (Laura’s husband), who was at the dentist while we were lunching and enjoying Angels and Demons, joined us for dinner, which he picked up for himself from the brand new Just Salad a block away from the apartment.

After dinner, the five of us grabbed two cabs and went to see the show Altar Boys at New World Stages. New World Stages is a fantastic space/building, a block off Broadway, that houses seven smaller theaters (Altar Boyz can seat 363 people). All of the shows are quirky (or at least have very quirky and provocative titles and posters). Wes picked this one.

Altar Boyz

Altar Boyz

Wes, Lois and I really loved the show. I caught Laura and Chris chuckling a few times, but I suspect (strongly) that they didn’t like it as much as the rest of us did. It’s very borderline whether any audience member will consider the show one of the following:

  1. Irreverent, but still uplifting and respectful of Christianity
  2. Blasphemous
  3. Some mixture of the two

Personally, I choose #1, with no hesitation, though I have no trouble accepting and understanding that many people could legitimately believe #2 is more accurate. Without a doubt, it’s blasphemous in it’s caricature of Boy Bands. But, in getting you to laugh at that, I believe it still very effectively gets across a message of the best of Christianity’s teachings. It turns out that Laura and her family made the show a birthday present for Lois, and Lois loved and appreciated every second of it!

Thanks M&M’s. 😉

We walked home from the show. When we reached the apartment building, I made the scandalous suggestion that Wes and I go across the street to my favorite Mexican restaurant, El Rio Grande, for a nightcap. Laura and Chris decided to join us as well. Technically, the outside was closed already, but we’re regulars there, and they were kind enough to sneak us in. The inside was still officially open, but it was the most beautiful night, so we were glad to sit outside.

Three of us enjoyed frozen margaritas, and the fourth wisely picked a Banana Pinata for dessert, that the rest of us got to taste (and swoon over!). We then sat on our deck for another 40 minutes, soaking in the remainder of a perfect day.

This morning, we dropped Wes off at Newark Airport and headed down for our usual road trip down I95. Memories of a perfect weekend (uh, I mean, excellent adventure) still linger!

Wes, thanks so much for making the trek up from NC to spend such quality time with us! 🙂

Colin Hay at Canal Room

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I was very late to the blogging world. Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation) needled me for a while, and I finally relented. My only goal was to document our lives (mostly the good memories) in excruciating detail, so that as our memories fade (or fail), we’d have a record to look back on, semi-authoritative.

In doing so, I told the stories of our lives in chronological order, because I was writing for myself. After a while, when covering music events became a major theme here, Lois strongly requested (she would be annoyed at me if I said insisted) 😉 that I cover the headliner first, then the opening act, then our background story. That became my pattern, which I’ve been faithful to for a long time now.

That isn’t the case for this post (already, given this long intro), but really for another reason.

In every performance that we’ve attended for the past six years, if there was an opening act, the headliner at least acknowledged the opening act, typically thanking him/her/them, and usually requesting another round of applause. Often, the headliner gushes about the opening act. Occasionally, the headliner brings out the opening act to do a number with him/her/them, or surprises the audience by joining the opening act during their stint (Girlyman has done that a few times in our experience).

Last night was the only exception. Colin Hay didn’t acknowledge (or even mention) the opening act, The Paper Raincoat. For that, I will cover their part of the show first, and then cover Colin’s piece. They deserved the mention last night, and still do this morning. I would have preferred for it to come from Colin, who has a wee bit more influence than me, but here goes my take.

We saw Colin Hay live for the first time two weeks ago, at the Birchmere, covered in this post. We both loved the show, Lois in particular. I noticed that he was playing two nights at the Canal Room (4/15 and 16). We weren’t scheduled to return to NYC until the 17th, but Lois got very excited about the prospect of seeing Colin again, in particular in such an intimate venue (we’ve been to Canal Room once before).

He had different opening acts for the two nights. I listened to both on their respective MySpace pages (The Paper Raincoat page is linked above). Both were good, but I particularly liked The Paper Raincoat. While it didn’t hurt that they were the second night (altering our trip a bit less), I really did prefer to hear them live, given the choice.

So, we locked in tickets to see Colin again, influenced by the fact that The Paper Raincoat sounded like a group we would like. We were right!

While there are many differences, I would say that The Paper Raincoat has a similar sound and feel to The Weepies. You won’t confuse the two, but if you like The Weepies (and we do, a lot), then you’ll like The Paper Raincoat.

I encourage you to listen to all of the songs on their MySpace page, and to read the detailed biography there. I’ll highlight one unique (and cool) feature about the band, but they go into much more detail in the biography than they did on the stage last night.

While every one of their songs stands alone musically and lyrically, and is thoroughly enjoyable, unlike other bands, all of their songs combine to tell one long story (basically, a novel, unfolding in a series of songs). The concept is very cool, and can serve as an extra impetus to follow the band long term, if they can keep up the genre and keep the story interesting. It’s also the reason for naming the group The Paper Raincoat (but you’ll have to read the MySpace bio to understand why).

Standing on the stage from left-to-right were:

Amber Rubarth playing electric keyboards and mini xylophone. She sings lead and harmony, and writes/co-writes their material. A very talented lady, who also exudes a ton of warmth on stage.

Amber Rubarth

Amber Rubarth

Alex Wong played the guitar, a tiny electric keyboard, and the mini xylophone. He too sings lead and harmony as well as writes/co-writes their material. He has an excellent voice, with a very self-effacing stage presence.

Alex Wong Mini Xylophone

Alex Wong Mini Xylophone

Alex Wong Mini Keyboard

Alex Wong Mini Keyboard

The two of them comprise The Paper Raincoat. In addition to them, they had a guest drummer.

Adam Christgau played the drums, and sang harmony for much of the set. He’s really good, at both. He also did some unique (to me) things on the drums. On a couple of songs, he covered the snare drum with a towel, achieving a very interesting sound. On one song, he put the towel on the Hi-hat cymbal, also to good effect. Finally, he used a brush drumstick on a frisbee. Really? Yes, a frisbee (or at least, that’s exactly what it looked like to me!).

Adam Christgau

Adam Christgau

On their second-to-last number, they did something very cool. Alex had two tambourines in his hand, and he invited Colin Hay up to the stage to shake one with them. After 10 seconds of waiting (jokingly), he decided to offer the tambourine to an audience member (without the invitation to come up on the stage). The tambourine ended up in Lois’ hands.

While Lois was shaking her heart out (pretty well, if I say so myself), Alex and Amber joined Adam, and all three of them played the one drum set simultaneously. It was really cool (not just because I was sitting the closest to the tambourine player). 😉

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

They finished their set with an a capella number sung by Amber, with Alex and Adam harmonizing, and playing percussion on their chest and legs. In addition to well-timed hand-clapping (for additional rhythm) by each of them, they did some cool cross-person hand clapping, making it a visually interesting song as well.

The Paper Raincoat A Capella

The Paper Raincoat A Capella

They were on stage for a total of 40 minutes, all of it fun and beautifully sounding. To repeat, they deserved more than a mention from Colin. Of course, if he had given it, I probably would have spent less time on them, so perhaps he did my readers a favor, in giving me an excuse to highlight them. 🙂

Colin Hay came out 30 minutes after The Paper Raincoat exited the stage, at 9:22pm.

Colin Hay

Colin Hay

Everything that I said about him at the Birchmere applied last night. He was hysterical, had a great set list, sang amazingly and played the guitar wonderfully. It was an excellent show. I won’t repeat those things. There were a few qualitative differences in the show, so I’ll concentrate on that instead.

At the Birchmere, Colin noticed a kid in the front row (just a few feet over from us), who was likely around eight-years-old. It caused him to catch himself a couple of times when he was about to say something raunchy, or drug related. He still cursed a bit, but you could tell that he was trying not to do it as much as he wanted to (and told the audience that he normally does).

Well, last night, there was nothing holding him back. If you haven’t heard the F-word spoken in a while, you should try to catch a Colin Hay show, so that you can get your fill quickly. It doesn’t bother me whatsoever (Lois isn’t a fan of this type of communication), so I’m just mentioning it in case any future concert-goer cares to know that in advance.

He also told more drug-related stories (mostly pot, not hard drugs). They were very funny, and usually related to the song he was about to sing (as were his stories at the Birchmere). While there were quite a number of repeats in his comedic stories (quite natural for a given tour, and for an introduction to the same song!), there were also a reasonable number of fresh stories, all well told, and all extremely funny. The audience was (once again) eating out of his hand!

The second difference is that at the Birchmere, the entire show was solo. Last night, he had a special guest, his wife, Cecelia Noel. In addition to having her own band, she occasionally performs with Colin, even when his full band is on stage (you can easily find YouTube videos of the full band, with Cecelia on stage too).

She has an excellent voice, and obviously knows the material cold. She dances in pantomime to the lyrics, which we found a bit distracting, but I’m sure that others enjoyed it immensely. Especially the men, since she’s quite beautiful, and her movements are anything by shy and demure. 😉

Cecelia Noel

Cecelia Noel

Colin was able to work her in to some of his gags as well. One small example is his song Beautiful World. There is a line in there “I Like Sleeping With Marie”. At the Birchmere, he sang that line straight. Last night, with Cecelia on the stage (she joined him for roughly 1/3 of the numbers), after singing “I Like Sleeping With Marie”, he smiled at the audience, and added “Not Anymore”, in the pause between lines, very naturally, very good naturedly, and Cecelia played along as well. It was very cute.

The other difference was the venue itself. Birchmere is very large, with very large tables (it’s a place where you eat dinner and watch the show at the same table). It seats 650 people, and Colin sold it out.

Canal Room is a small venue. The only other time we were there, it was set up in a lounge atmosphere, with plush chairs and sofas, quite spread out. In other words, not all that much seating, allowing a capacity of roughly 100 people (I’m just guessing). Last night, it was set up with tiny fold-up chairs (that hurt my butt quite a bit). That permitted a lot more people to sit, and then they crammed in the standing room crowd around the bar, and in every other corner of the place.

My best guess is that there were roughly 300 people there last night. As with the Birchmere, this was not a crowd that wandered in off the street to hear whoever was playing. These were hard-core Colin-loving fans, that knew every word to every song (except perhaps the gorgeous number that he did from his upcoming August release of his new CD). Whenever he invited the audience to sing along, they were only too thrilled to oblige.

Colin was on stage for exactly 105 minutes, all wonderful. He’s a joy to see live, and I’m sure we’ll do it again in the future.

We got to the Canal Room very early on purpose (we were expecting the more limited seating like the first time we were there). The doors opened at 7:30pm, but we arrived at 6:25 to stand patiently outside. It turns out that we were first on line! The bouncer felt bad for us, and actually suggested we go get a bite or a drink at his favorite place around the corner. There was no way Lois was going to miss out getting the best seat in the house, so we just stood there.

I am actually amazed at how quickly the hour passed, and that I didn’t even have a second of physical discomfort for standing in one place for an hour. Whew. I am also extremely impressed with how organized the Canal Room staff are (and how nice they all are as well).

When they opened the doors, we were the first two in, and grabbed the two center seats in the first row. Aside from neck strain in looking up at The Paper Raincoat and Colin Hay all night, the seats were fantastic.

At intermission, Lois bolted out of her seat and bought two copies (both signed) of The Paper Raincoat’s EP (four songs, all of which are on their MySpace page). Before the show started, she also bought Going Somewhere by Colin Hay (she bought two different CDs of his at Birchmere). We intended to hang around and have him sign it after the show. Unfortunately, we were really wiped, so just like Birchmere, we bailed and didn’t say hello to him at either place. Some other time…

Happy New Year

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For the past six years (2002-2007) we’ve spent New Year’s Eve in Richmond, VA. There are four couples there who get together each year and cook a very special (and sumptuous) dinner at each others houses (rotates each year), and we hitched our wagon to their tradition back in 2002. Of course, we were invited this year as well, and had originally accepted the invitation.

Unfortunately, our good friends in Leesburg, VA are going through a very rough time. The Dad has an aggressive form of cancer, and this week was undergoing a particularly aggressive round of chemotherapy. He was being treated daily, for a minimum of six hours of the life-extending poison being pushed (their term, not mine) through his veins.

As much as we knew we’d enjoy our annual New Year’s Eve get-together in Richmond, we also knew that helping our friends-in-need was the right thing to do, and we had no hesitation in offering our help. There were two things we could do directly:

  • logistics (driving the Dad to/from the hospital)
  • entertaining the boys, who clearly feel stressed worrying about their Dad

They have three kids, two boys ages 10 and eight and a girl, 2.8 years old. All three are adopted. We met the family when the 10-year-old was 18 months old, and they lived two doors down from Lois’ Mom’s apartment in NYC. We’ve remained very close to them even after they moved to VA seven years ago. So, we know the boys really well, and their various likes and dislikes.

We headed there Tuesday after working all day at Zope in Fredericksburg. On a whim, we stopped for dinner at Five Guys in Warrenton, VA. We’ve eaten at this Five Guys a number of times, because it’s roughly half way between Fredericksburg and Leesburg, and we occasionally meet our friends there on a weekend when we’re working at Zope. On Tuesday, it was just a convenient (and delicious) stopping point for us.

In an incredible small world story, a few bites into our meal, both Lois and I recognized a 10-year-old boy going over to fill up his drink. It turns out that really good friends of the friends that we were headed to visit had also stopped at Five Guys on their way to spend New Year’s in the Outer Banks! We were headed in opposite directions, with neither of us having planned to stop for dinner there. In another irony, they had visited our friends earlier that day!

Small World

Small World

On Wednesday morning, I drove the Dad to the hospital, and spent three hours keeping him company while he was undergoing the chemo. That turned out to be beneficial for him in another way. The hospital has free WiFi, but his work laptop needed to be coaxed to connect to it. In his condition, he was unable to get it going on Monday or Tuesday, but I was able to connect him, and he felt better about getting some work done on Wednesday.

Boys Only Moment

Boys Only Moment

At lunch time, I left him to join the rest of the family (Lois included) at our favorite local Chinese restaurant where we all enjoyed a buffet lunch. After lunch, Lois and I took the boys bowling. I haven’t bowled in years, but I love it every time I go. They had each bowled only once before (at a birthday party I think), and really liked it. We all had a blast and the boys played some video games afterward.

As you can see, all three boys had perfect form. Of course, my form is also over-flowing. I guess I need to get serious about that in 2009. So far, not so much…

Hadar Bowling

Hadar Bowling

8-year-old Bowling

8-year-old Bowling

10-year-old Bowling

10-year-old Bowling

A typical moment between me and the 8-year-old (this one, at the Bowling Alley):

Head Stand

Head Stand

Two best friends, sharing a moment:

Best Friends

Best Friends

We are prone to spoiling them over the years (often to the consternation of their parents), but we weren’t about to deny them much this week. So, after bowling and video games, we drove to Baskin Robbins (which is housed inside a Dunkin Donuts), and got them ice cream (well, one of them got ice cream, and the other one a smoothie). I had an excellent Lite Latte, quite delicious.

Chocolate Sprinkle Cone

Chocolate Sprinkle Cone

Smoothie Delight

Smoothie Delight

You’d think that this would be a jam-packed day, but you’d be wrong! From Baskin Robbins, we headed to the local movie theater to see Bedtime Stories. Of course, the four of us had to split a large popcorn. You gotta do what you gotta do. 😉

Keeper of the Popcorn

Keeper of the Popcorn

The movie is excellent. I highly recommend it. What sets it apart from most movies (including other kid-friendly ones) is that no one tries to sabotage anyone else. There is a nemesis (and you might even consider him an evil nemesis), but he doesn’t do underhanded things directly to Adam Sandler (our hero). It’s refreshing. The story itself is creative, while still being predictably formulaic. A very sweet movie. The boys loved it, so did we.

When we got home, we found out that another of the Dad’s friends stopped by to visit him in the afternoon, and was kind enough to bring him home. We had a lovely dinner together, followed by a little too much rough-housing between me and the eight-year-old (he loves to wrestle). I also played a ton with the little girl (more on that later).

Even though it was New Year’s Eve, we all went up to our rooms by 9:15, and Lois and I watched TV for 45 minutes, and hit the sack (completely exhausted)  at 10pm. No complaints about not ringing in the new year at midnight!

The clinic (attached to the hospital) was closed on New Year’s Day, so the Dad had to be checked in to the main hospital. I drove him in and watched in amazement as they couldn’t find him in the system, even though he was told in advance what room he would be in. The normal registration desk was closed so we had to navigate a maze to find the ER registration, which likely explains why they didn’t know how to do a normal admission.

I stayed with the Dad for two hours and then picked up Lois and the boys and we went bowling again! Everyone improved their scores from the day before, so it was a satisfying outing. We then headed to Cici’s Pizza Buffet. It was our first time (the boys love it) and we thoroughly enjoyed it (very tasty in addition to being a very good value!).

From there, we headed to the movies again. This time, we went to the giant multi-plex to see The Tale of Despereaux. On the way there, in the middle of a conversation, both boys excitedly starting yelling look over there. It took us a second, but when we looked at the divider, there was a hawk sitting on top of the wrong way sign. Very cool!

Hawk

Hawk

Of course, another round of popcorn for the four of us. We all enjoyed this movie as well, but all four heartily agreed that Bedtime Stories was significantly better. In fact, the 10-year-old claimed that Bedtime Stories was his favorite movie.

After the movie, we dropped Lois and the eight-year-old back at home, and the 10-year-old and I headed to the hospital. Originally, we were told that the Dad would have to stay in the hospital for two nights, not getting out until Saturday morning. During the day, they changed their mind and decided he could come home each night. So, we headed there to keep him company until they released him, and watch some bowl games in his room. Shortly after the Rose Bowl started, he was released, and we brought him home.

We had another excellent dinner together, followed by watching the second half of the Rose Bowl. It didn’t get exciting until the last seven minutes, but it was a good distraction nonetheless. I was strong and successfully resisted all attempts to wrestle again. I was quite sore from the bowling and the wrestling up to that point. I did end up playing a bunch with the little girl again.

Mother and Daughter

Mother and Daughter

Previous to this trip, she hadn’t been all that verbal. While we’ve spent a reasonable amount of time around her, she was more of a remote cutie (like a doll) than like a real person. I was completely blown away this trip by how verbal she is. Not only does she talk up a storm, but her vocabulary is extensive (it’s almost frightening, seriously). If she pronounced all of the words better, I would swear she had the conversational skills of a 13-year-old, no kidding!

How many nearly-three-year-olds do you know who can form the following sentence (I’m not changing a single word!)?

Ho-dar, can you come to the family room and play with me and my toys?

OK, so she doesn’t always pronounce my name perfectly, but otherwise, pretty incredible. Here’s one other example of an actual conversation between us:

her: Ho-dar, I have my own telephone!

me: Really? Do you talk to people on the phone?

her: No, it doesn’t have any batteries in it, so I can’t!

Wow. Pretty cool to watch a personality come to life between one visit and the next!

Here I am with the kids, right after breakfast:

Pajama Gangstas

Pajama Gangstas

This morning, I took the Dad back to the clinic. I stayed with him for a few hours again and then headed back to pick up Lois and the boys. We had lunch at Chuck E. Cheese (a first for the two of us). We had no idea what we were in for (of course, the boys knew exactly what the deal was). We were surprised that they wanted pizza two days in a row. As you all probably know (and we didn’t), it wasn’t about the pizza at all. Chuck E. Cheese is all about the games.

They had a blast playing a ton of games and won roughly 300 tickets between them. Still, they couldn’t find a single prize that they wanted, so they saved their ticket receipt for the next time. We had hoped to see Madagascar 2 after lunch, but it was no longer playing in any theater near them. So, we headed to Walmart and let each of them pick out a DVD to watch at home.

When we got home, the Mom told us that she was going to pick up her husband when he was done. We already knew we would be leaving today, since the boys had Tae Kwan Do tonight and tomorrow morning again. Given the updated schedule, we decided to hit the road while it was still light, and we stopped by the Zope office before heading to the hotel to settle in for the night.

All-in-all, a very successful visit in every respect. In addition to accomplishing our mission, our friend also received very good news that his tumors appear to be responding to the chemo. He is incredibly nauseous all the time, and he is weak as can be, but hopefully, he’ll start feeling substantially better soon. He’s completely bald as well, but we both think it looks pretty good on him. We’ll see if he chooses to keep it that way. 🙂

For us, ringing in the new year with such good friends is as good as it gets! Thanks for hosting us. 🙂