Known Johnson

December 30, 2006

Good news/bad news

Filed under: General — Tom @ 11:26 am

The good news is that it wasn’t food poisoning after all. The bad news is that I know that because Alissa got whatever stomach bug that I got . . . and so did her older brother . . . and her mom . . . and her sister. The really good news (so far,) however, is that Amanda has somehow managed to avoid getting this thing, which has been my big fear all week. Knock on wood, cross fingers, pray, whatever it is necessary to continue this through however long it is necessary to get past this – neither of us are up for dealing with ramifications of a spewing toddler.

I did finally eat my first actual “meal” since Sunday night yesterday, and I think my craving says much about me as a person: I wanted, very, very badly, Wendy’s chicken nuggets. I had to go out and get a ground-loop isolator for my truck’s Ipod install (because for whatever reason, the direct Ipod input/charger causes a constant hiss and loud alternator whine in my truck (and my old Ipod only elicits a very minor whine that I can ignore – strange)) and on my way home I just could not resist the call of Wendy’s just down the road from Fry’s Electronics. I’d had a bad experience the previous day with some leftover pizza that Alissa had gotten the day before and decided that I was well enough to eat (I wasn’t, but wouldn’t know that for a few hours – honestly, I should have guess, cheese? come on) so my first bites were more than tentative. Even when I was finished and I felt fine, even hours later, I was unsure and nervous – was this going to unleash an attack on me at any moment? Well, it didn’t and today I’m still fine. And Alissa? Two days later and she’s fine. I don’t get it. I suffered for nearly five days and she’s already back on her feet. Weird.

So maybe now I can have the “vacation” that I’d planned on having. It’s shorter by five days, unfortunately, but now I can have some of the freedom to do as I’d wanted. Now that I have it, however, I have no idea what to do . . .

December 27, 2006

Christmas dilemma

Filed under: General — Tom @ 2:20 pm

After what seemed like ages (well, two years,) Apple finally upgraded the Ipod to a size I could really use (80gb) and so the proper authorities (Santa/Alissa) were notified at the appropriate time (Christmas.) And what do you know, I was apparently a good enough boy this year to warrant finding one under the tree this year – a shiny black one. It’s awesome – and already stuffed with about 60gb of music.

As much as I like the art-object like sheen of the chrome back and glistening black front, it’s just too slippery and prone to damage, so, as you can see from the picture above, my Ipod is already covered in an Iskin Evo3 case (which I have mixed feelings about, mainly because the lock-button on top is almost impossible to get to because of the very, very thick layer of rubber surrounding it – what were they thinking? Well, I kept wondering that until I started writing this and checked out the Iskin site and realized that what I have is not an Iskin case but a very similar knockoff! There are some notable differences, the first being that lock-button port, the second being two alignment holes (which, by the way, don’t) above the click-wheel (the real Iskin has a single hole below the wheel,) and a sharp edge on the bevel of the click-wheel hole in the plastic, among quite a few other things that I won’t bother going into. It’s just frustrating because Alissa went to the trouble to get this for me and I know she’s going to be upset that it’s not right. She couldn’t have known. I didn’t know for two days either. But it’ll get resolved with a real one soon enough, somehow.

The real dilemma is what to do with ol’ blue up there. He’s been absolutely the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received – my constant companion for the past two years. I feel more than a bit sad to see that little dude being relegated to the “obsolete technology” pile, especially since it’s only simply “out of space,” which may seem ridiculous to some, but when you go through music like I do, it’s a pretty frustrating predicament to run into. So I don’t know what to do. Blue is going to stick around for now, I guess. Maybe I can just rubber-band the two Ipods together and have 120gb of space, just switch the headphones from one to the other when I need to hear something on the other one.

As for the rest of Christmas, Amanda received a mountain of toys that we have no idea where to put when she’s not using them. I even bought an organizer before Christmas that I now realize is probably comically minimal in proportion to the amount of stuff she now has. So we may be getting another one of those soon . . . amazingly.

I couldn’t fool Alissa. She had told me she didn’t want a new Ipod, even after I explained that it now had the most sought-after upgrade from most music-freaks wanted – gapless playback (so concerts play back without that annoying half-second gap) – but she insisted she just didn’t want one. I kept suggesting that maybe she wanted a new Ipod for the past month and she resisted. A couple weeks back it hit me that it would be great fun to make her think I got her one so I asked around and found that one of my coworkers still had the box from her Ipod, a year old but current enough to look new. I carved out the middle and stuck Alissa’s real gift inside – a really nice diamond necklace – and wrapped it up, hoping that when she opened it up she’d get flustered and a bit upset and that I’d have to encourage her to go any further. Well, she opened it, sighed, looked at me, and said something to the effect of, “You did not” and promptly slid the inner box out to expose hidden gift inside. She knows me too well.

December 26, 2006

Santa left me something special

Filed under: General — Tom @ 11:29 pm

For dramatic effect, let me start off this way: in the past 36 hours or so, I have eaten about two pieces of bread, a bowl of rice, and a handful of Saltines. When Santa left our house Christmas eve, presents weren’t all he left.

I woke up Christmas morning and something was just not right, but I didn’t know what yet – something just didn’t feel quite right. I’d not felt quite right Christmas eve, either, but I’d chalked it up to overeating, even though I’d really not eaten all that much, not enough for that kind of stomach ache. I ignored it for the time being – Amanda was up and so I got her up, got her some breakfast while Alissa slept in a bit, and got a loaf of fresh bread baking in our bread machine. It wasn’t too long before I figured out what was wrong.

And so I spent the day darting from gift-giving and opening to the bathroom, unable to eat or drink pretty much anything until late in the day when I dared make some rice when the pain of hunger in my stomach outweighed the gnashing of whatever foul bug had gotten into my gut. I ate a very little bit of it and it seemed to sit fairly well.

As tired as I was, I feared actually going to sleep for how violently unrestful it seemed like it would surely be, but luckily it turned out okay. I only awoke a few times from various things unrelated to being ill, thankfully. I woke up in the morning actually not feeling too bad, but it turned out to be wishful thinking. I let hunger come to me after a few hours and gingerly ate some of the bread I’d baked the day before. When I found that nothing evil happened immediately, I ate another piece. I found quickly that I just didn’t need much, but mostly what I needed was water, so I nursed an ice cold cup all day.

Unfortunately, just when I thought things were going fine I made the brave leap and ate the remaining rice that I’d made the night before. Unwise, as I found out a few hours later. It’s hard to get your brain to accept that it may not feel sick while parts of your body that don’t necessarily directly report their every condition may not be quite up to the tasks you want to undertake. And so I overdid it a number of times, whether food or just being active – I put together a playhouse/slide that Santa brought for Amanda, then spent a good 45 minutes outside with her and Alissa while she played on it and wandered around the yard examining rocks. Shortly after that, I found it impossible to resist sleeping on the couch – something I never do. And I’m sore – everywhere, but especially my calves and forearms. I have found that if I bend my feet the wrong way, the muscles in my shins lock up in excruciating pain. So I try not to do that. It’s harder than you’d think.

Where did this come from? Not sure – I can only assume food poisoning, as I’d think if it were some kind of communicable disease then everyone around me would have it. I was the only one who ate the burger at the restaurant we went to for Christmas eve dinner and I’m the only one sick. But the burger seemed to be cooked just fine, so I don’t know. All I can say is that, for the moment, being a pastatarian sounds real good.

December 22, 2006

Christmas list

Filed under: General — Tom @ 8:57 am
  • I woke up sometime in the middle of the night yesterday with some hilarious thoughts about why you shouldn’t invite Vikings into your home. Needless to say, by the time I officially woke up for the day, I had completely forgotten everything but the fact that I had woken up with hilarious thoughts about why one shouldn’t invite Vikings into your home.
  • You can’t tell, but I updated my two WordPress installs for this site and Lookout For Hope and then activated the Akismet spam-blocker. I have been having HUGE comment-spam problems – literally hundreds a week and I was losing the battle keeping them at bey, but with the latest WordPress and Akismet, I have been released from my spam-cleaning duties! It’s truly amazing – not a single bit of the (so far) 299 pieces of comment spam that have hit this site in the last week have passed through for approval by me. Akismet is a saving grace – if you’re using WordPress and don’t have the latest updates or don’t have Akismet, update!
  • Whither Christmas? Maybe it’s just me, or just Arizona, but it seems like Christmas has kind of disappeared this year. I realize not everyone celebrates Christmas, but it seems like most people do to some extent. Few houses on our street have lights up and no one seems to be in much of a Christmas mood. This after one of the more pathetic Halloween’s that we’ve ever experienced. It seems like people just don’t want to bother celebrating anything anymore, or bother with the effort of decorating. I’ve even seen signs around advertising a service that will decorate your house with lights for you. That doesn’t seem very festive – putting up lights is part of the fun, but I guess having someone else do it for you is better than not having them up at all.
  • Somewhat tied into the above, this has been one of the odder Christmas-buying seasons: I got almost all of my buying done early and almost all of it done online. It took most of the stress out of it, but it also sapped it of a lot of the fun that is a part of the season. I feel like I’ve been disconnected a bit from the season for the above and because I wasn’t out in the stores surrounded by everything. I know the stress of shopping takes its toll, but sometimes the hustle and bustle is part of the fun. I’ll seek a better balance next year.
  • After today, I’m off for 10 days from work. This is a true bargain: I took three vacation days next week to make it a full week because we get Monday and Tuesday off for Christmas and of course New Year’s Day the next week falls on Monday. You can’t pass up an opportunity like that.
  • Quite possibly the most hilariously cute thing that Amanda has done yet: whenever one of the many appearances of the famous Chia Pet commercials comes on, she stops and attempts to sing along with it. All she can manage to do is “Cha-cha-cha” but it never fails to send us into fits of laughter. Nearly as funny is the fact that when ads for The Clapper come on, she is compelled to clap along with the announcer’s urging to “clap on, clap off!” That’s the power of marketing right there, people. I’m just glad she can’t use the phone or the computer to order these things.
  • I have a feeling things are going to get very busy over the next two days, so let me take this opportunity to wish you all a merry Christmas while I can! I’ll be back next week, posting furiously while I have some free time – be sure and check both sites!

December 18, 2006

The final farewell

Filed under: General — Tom @ 5:51 am

I hit Tower Records for the last time Friday – for real, this time. I had Amanda with me, as I had picked her up from Alissa’s parents and was on my way home and just felt compelled to stop. I had seen one disc there a few days before and had stupidly passed it by, an import that usually would be prohibitively expensive and somehow it slipped my mind to actually pick it up. I knew Friday was my last chance, so I grabbed Amanda up in my arms and we made our way through the open-air walkways of Desert Ridge mall in north Phoenix for one last, quick visit to Tower.

Signs on the door made it obvious that this was it – 90% off CDs, “final 2 days,” etc. Inside it was actually depressing – the shelves, already growing bare in visits past, were growing many bare spots as people picked up things they had been casually interested in and wouldn’t mind losing a few dollars on. I headed for the Bs and picked up one of two remaining James Dean Bradfield (the lead singer of Manic Street Preachers) copies of his album, The Great Western, an album marked at $27.99 that would only set me back $5.60 today. I made a quick survey of the store and spotted two more discs, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil and Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, both of which would set me back $2.60 each. Surprisingly, they had dozens of copies of each of these in endcaps facing the front of the store. Why so many, I can’t imagine, nor can I imagine why none of these were selling – they’d been there for weeks.

Amanda grew restless, grabbing at things when she got near, so I took that as my sign that it was time to leave. Just under $12 later, I was out the door for the last time. I didn’t even look back, or even really think about how it was the last time, so absorbed was I in entertaining Amanda with the Christmas sights on display in the mall around us. We stepped out the door and the doors closed behind us, permanently. It’s hard to feel much sadness for this loss when I have someone like Amanda to show the little wonders like a giant wreath hanging over the entrance to the mall, and it’s impossible to look back when she only wants to point to the things that entertain or pique her curiosity. This is nothing to her, of course, and when she grows up, things like Tower Records will just be something old people like me will be talking about, but at least she can say she had been there now.

December 17, 2006

At least she didn’t get told “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid”

Filed under: General — Tom @ 10:46 pm

She may not have had a list, but after today, she’s definitely on Santa’s “nice” list (not that she wasn’t before, of course, but you’ll get the point in a moment.) No lumps of coal for this one . . .


Time of arrival at the line for Santa’s lap? 11:30 am. Time of arrival at Santa’s lap? 2:45 pm. Hence the lack of smile on Amanda’s face – she may not have cried like many other kids did, but Alissa and I both think her lack of reaction either way may have simply been out of exhaustion. This kid was tired. She went to bed extra early tonight because she missed most of her daily nap for this and once she was down in her bed, she was out – a rarity because she likes to play with the two little music box-things that are attached to her crib. Tonight she went to bed and went to sleep fast. I don’t blame her – that was a long, long afternoon in the mall doing not much other than standing, being amazed at the sheer number of kids some families have (unscientific average number: 4!)

And dude gets extra points for having a real beard. Hell, who knows. He might have been the real deal.

December 16, 2006

Tasting crow: John Mayer

Filed under: Music,Reviews — Tom @ 11:51 pm

I am fully prepared to admit that I am wrong when I am wrong. I’m just not wrong that often, not about music. But, in this case, I’ve been wrong about John Mayer. I had written him off almost entirely because of the one song I’d bothered to allow into my brain – the same one most people know him for, “Your Body Is A Wonderland,” one of the creepiest songs I’ve heard in recent memory. And, yeah, I’ve read the numerous statements about his guitar skills, etc., but I’d simply ignored them thinking that if he were so great a guitarist, surely he’d not write “Wonderland.” Yeah, yeah, I know, “great guitarist,” etc., etc.

Or maybe it was the similarity to Dave Matthews, vocally, that also turned me off – I’m not going to be one of those who rips on the Dave Matthews Band, I think they’re a fine band who turned out some great songs, but at some point I just seemed to move on. I think I simply overdosed on him years ago to the point that I just don’t seem to be able to really stomach their music anymore. It happens.

Or maybe it’s the banal, grasping-at-the-charts qualities I found in what little of his music I admit that I’d heard . . . until recently, when I heard “Gravity,” a live version, playing somewhere and it somehow sunk in that this tender little blues song, filled with incredible, nuanced guitar playing, some of the finest guitar playing I’ve heard in a while, in fact – the kind of stuff that leaves indelible marks on your soul and begs you to play it again, and again – had sold me. It was one of those moments where I was caught listening to everything – the lyrics, simple and yet yearning and thoughtful enough to mean something, and maybe more than they might seem at first; the backing band tight and responsive, like a good blues band should be; but mostly that guitar – notes squirting and flitting here and there in a perfect call-and-response, so barely under control. All the elements that make for great guitar listening. I was hooked. On John freaking Mayer? No, no, this can’t be. But it was.

And it was as if the fates had planned it – Amazon had one of their special deals where not only were both Try!, Mayer’s live blues disc (the one I preferred to get, to be honest) with jazz great (and current Who member) Pino Palladino on bass, and his latest, Continuum, which I wasn’t so hot to pick up, on sale very cheap, but together they were cheaper than buying them separately anywhere else. I took the plunge. When they arrived a few days later I sheepishly took Try! out with me on a drive thinking that I’d surely realize I’d made a dumb mistake, but immediately I felt vindicated – Mayer killed me with his playing. He may just be a young guy who’s never suffered a day in his life, but he can play the blues with the best of them. The Tragically Hip may have been right when they sang that “the blues are not required” – to play the blues these days. So maybe he’s not completely original – he has certainly picked up a good deal of his sound, both vocally and in his guitar playing, from Stevie Ray Vaughan, but I was quick to find out that when he steps out of the blues and into more mainstream music, as on Continuum, it’s merely an influence rather than an imitation.

It wasn’t immediate – I didn’t warm up to Continuum very quickly and therefore I didn’t have very receptive ears for it. While it fared better than I expected, it just wasn’t a hit with me. There’s a glossy sheen to the sound that makes it hard for me to get a grip on much of what’s going on. But the studio version of “Gravity” kept me coming back, along with the uplifting toe-tapper “The Heart Of Life” which had me grabbing the liner notes to see if Eric Clapton was guesting on guitar (he’s not,) and then the plaintive “Stop This Train” became added to the “favorites” list. There’s more soul and vintage R&B infused in Mayer’s sound on Continuum than I expected to find, a fact that quickly elevated the shimmering “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” to favorite track status, beyond that studio version of “Gravity,” which pales slightly in studio form compared to the live version found on Try! that hooked me. And then there’s that note-for-note perfect reading of Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love” . . .

The album is certainly aimed at the mainstream, and, aside from a few tracks, wisely (for the mainstream, that is) steers clear of the blues that were Try!‘s centerpieces. It’s unfortunate, in a way, that these tracks are so much more mannered and manicured than they needed to be – that he chose to do something subtle and romantic, where the smoother approach may have worked out better for the majority of his listeners, is understandable, but I wonder how many more are out there like me who may have had reservations that might have been cast aside with a more muscular sound. Mayer could do something raw and really powerful like he did with Try! if he felt like it – but now that I’ve given in and opened my ears, I’ve come to accept the music for what it simply is now, and I finally accept that I really just plain enjoy the hell out of Continuum as-is.

December 14, 2006

“Holy crap!”

Filed under: General — Tom @ 3:27 am

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein:
If you’re blue, and you don’t know where to go to, why don’t you go where fashion sits…

Rest in peace, Peter Boyle.

December 13, 2006

“Holy crap!”

Filed under: General — Tom @ 9:25 pm

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: If you’re blue, and you don’t know where to go to, why don’t you go where fashion sits…

Rest in peace, Peter Boyle.

Return to Tower

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 5:44 am

Truth be told, it wasn’t my last trip to Tower. In fact, I have to admit that I’ve hit Tower a few times since then as the clearance sale went up and up. I really didn’t expect much else to tempt me, but as I read more and more testimonials about Tower excursions in these final dark days revealing previously hidden gems, things apparently brought out from deep within storage, I had to go back. And go back again. And then again. And so I’ve managed to hit Tower at least once a week or so, it seems. But, from what I read, this week is truly it – most hints point to Tower’s doors closing by the 17th, or no later than the 24th. Judging by what I saw today, I don’t know how they could possibly last much longer anyway.

Despite having a cold, Alissa alerted me to some potential gift items that I knew I had to check out first at Tower. I had to pick up Amanda at her grandparents’ house, which is right by one of the two Arizona Tower locations anyway, so I left a bit early. I really figured I’d be in and out – surely by now there could be little to tempt me, right? Oh how wrong I was . . .

I quickly found that while the gift items in question were nearly gone (one was found – a whopping $4.80 after 70% markdown from the normal $15.99 price,) there were plenty of self-gifting items available. At 70% off, this was not the time to debate – just buy it if it was deemed interesting. It would be gone, guaranteed, if I opted to pass on it. And so I did buy, within reason – picking up a copy of Kenny Garrett’s latest album, the Grammy-nominated Beyond The Wall (and now I have to add this to my list of deserving nominees that bumped Bill Frisell’s latest album out of the running,) Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, Josh Ritter’s The Animal Years (a seriously fantastic album that I wish I’d jumped on when it came out back in March when I saw it getting all the accolades – only so I could be more familiar with it to place it on my year-end best-of list because it is that good,) a Liars CD single for the album track “Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack” from their seriously warped and fun Drum’s Not Dead (fans of Can, Einsturzende Neubauten, and Animal Collective must check this one out,) and Son Volt’s Austin City Limits DVD. I did get burned on one item, however, and that’s The Move’s Message From The Country – bought on a sort-of whim because I’d heard something off this album at some point and really liked it . . . but I have no idea what or why I liked it because I certainly don’t now. But for $5, it didn’t feel like such an awful plunge to take – I can sell it off for that much and there’s no harm done. But for $36 total (including the gift-CD) it was a really rewarding day of music buying.

That said, I was struck by a little bit of sadness in recent days as I realized that, with the passing of Tower, we here in Phoenix lose one of our last deep-catalog resellers. Having recently been shocked by the massive reduction of Borders’ music section (seriously, it’s no more than 25% what it used to be,) it’s obvious that local music sales are simply drying up. Tower is simply the last of the big name stores. From here on out it’ll be indie chains like Zia Records and true indies that we hear about and use locally, but probably with the same frustrations that I’ve turned to Amazon to solve: little back-catalog stock. Tower’s prices are what ultimately destroyed them, but there was something so comforting about walking in and seeing CDs older than the current release in the stacks – that’s something that Zia Records should be the place you’d naturally think of relying upon, but instead they’re just as bad as Best Buy (actually, Best Buy frequently has better older stock than Zia, sadly. Zia seems to be relying solely upon trade-ins for back-catalog material.) So while I gleefully search the shrinking aisles of Tower for cheap gems, it’s with the knowledge that this may never happen again.

While it’s sad, it’s hard to say no to the bargains and hard to not feel the thrill of those bargains. As I read on one site, you better take advantage of it – “you only get to take part in the death of the record industry once.”

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