Author Archives: Rob

History Lesson

To say that Hamilton is a work of genius would be understating things.

What was it that pushed Lin-Manuel Miranda to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton in such a brilliant and bold way? On paper it must have looked like an insane idea, but what I saw on the stage at Proctor’s this week was like nothing I’d ever experienced could have even imagined.

I know I’m a little late to the game on this, but it’s easy to understand how people have become obsessed with the show — and too bring history to people in this way, even if it’s a wee bit superficial, is a positive thing for our culture. Think of all the people who have delved more deeply into Hamilton and American history after this musical ingited their interest.

That’s good for all of us.

NBTW, Miranda left a lot of material on the table that didn’t make it into the show, mincluding a song about Ben Franklin that the Decemberists scored and recorded. It’s pretty great

Mall Punks

It had to be 1981 when me and my friends drove from Plattsburgh to see the L.A. punk band X play in Montreal. They were my favorite band, so it was a real thrill to press up against the stage and watch John Doe and Exene exchanging vocals, the blonde and ridiculously cool Billy Zoom effortlessly running through his punk meets rockabilly riffs, and D.J Bonebrake who was, well… the drummer. It’s breathtaking to be so close to a band you idolize.

Fast forward to 2019.

Hearing that X would be play in Albany on June 9 blew my mind. What? Albany? Why?

They were scheduled to play at The Skyloft, the new music venue at Crossgates Mall. Seeing a band like X at the mall — any band at the mall —  felt a bit weird, like my mother should be dropping me off at the show, or something. It turns out that Skyloft is a great little place to see a band, even while people are walking by outside with shopping bags from Old Navy and Best Buy.

As for X, well, they were unbelievable. It was flawless musically, and the signature harmonies of John and Exene were as beautiful as ever. Billy Zoom maintained his studied cool, albeit while perched on a stool, and D.J played the drums like a man who was a third of his age.

I’m old enough now that aging rockers seem more like older brothers, sister, and cousins. Interestingly, there were a lot of young kids at the show, people in their twenties, to whom the band would be old enough to be grandparents.

This brings us to the most wondrous thing about the age of rock: the way people can discover and enjoy music that’s forty years old or more. In 1945, young people weren’t discovering music from 1905, and saying, “Wow! This is great!” Today they do, and we all rock on together.

Destiny

We went to the Clark in Williamstown to see the big Renoir exhibit. It was fantastic — and fun.

As we walked through the gallery, I whispered to my lovely companion — in a terrible faux French accent —  things I imagined Renoir and his models may have said to one another. She made me feel good by laughing at my stupid jokes, which is one of the reasons I love her so much.

“Ah, OK — put your hand in your hair.”  She resists. “But, Auguste, again? My arm gets so tired!”

We were reading about Renoir’s wife, Aline Charigot, who was the model in many of his most famous paintings. I commented on how Aline was 14 years younger than her husband, and an older man standing nearby said, “Just the opposite of me and my wife.”

Excuse me?

“My wife, she was 14 years older.” He launched right in, telling us about the woman to whom he was married for more than 50 years. They met when he was a 22-year-old student in Paris, and she was a painter. He took out a wallet and showed a picture of the two kissing. He had an eccentric air to him and it was a mildly strange encounter — but his story was so romantic.

I’ve had experiences like this before, brief encounters with strangers that feel like something more. They drop in at certain moments in unlikely ways, bearing what might be some sort of message. In the hospital just after my father died, a nurse appeared from nowhere and said she was, “here to take care of him.” To me, during that time of such intense emotion, it was like an angel descended on the dim room and I’d interrupted her work.

Because I’m always curious about this, I asked how the man in the gallery met his wife. He paused. “Destiny.”

Destiny, indeed. How else can you explain some things?

Bandwidth

There are some things about blogs that I hate, like when people allow their site to sit idle for months at a time.

I have become what I hate.

What I hate more is when people write about why they haven’t been writing. I’m always like, “Oh, shut the fu*k up and just write a post. We’re here to read what you wrote, not why you didn’t write something.”

I’m about to become that, too.

There was a time I could churn out interesting (in my opinion) blog posts on a regular basis. I’ve always figured that once was the minimum one should try to hit, and if you don’t have anything to say once a week, maybe you shouldn’t have a blog.

Based on that, I shouldn’t have a blog.

But best I can figure, this isn’t about interesting topics. I have loads of random ideas about things that could be a blog post, and in fact, I can usually take just a tiny thread of thought and make it into something sort of relevant.

So what’s going on?

I think it’s the thing my young management consulting friends call bandwidth. This refers to the amount of resources needed to complete a task, and in my case, I just haven’t had the bandwidth to focus on this thing. Extra demands at work and home eat up my mental energy in a way they didn’t used to. Things that were once easy now require more effort.

This is funny because I’m in very good physical condition right now, better than I’ve been in a couple of years. But my bandwidth? It just ain’t what it used to be.

The irony. I expected this to be the other way around.

Owl In a Box

In Albany, it’s not unusual to see a scraggly figure huddled against a downtown office building. But a downtrodden soul I encountered early one recent morning wasn’t clutching a cardboard sign. It was an owl.

A barred owl to be exact, common in these parts, but not commonly found sitting on a city sidewalk in broad daylight. You don’t need to know much about owls to know that this was a problem.

WTF, now?

As it happens, I went on an owl prowl in March at the Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville. Before we headed out to roam the woods, a wildlife rehabilitator gave a short lecture and showed live owls in her care.

Owls, she said, are commonly hit by cars or hurt by flying into things. What should we do if we find one injured? Carefully put it in a box and find someone who can help. So I went upstairs to the office for a box.

I folded her in a blanket and lifted her into the box. She was compliant, I was nervous. It was probably the first time for us both.

Amazingly, it only took a few calls and less than 10 minutes before I had a plan. The wildlife rehabilitator I contacted sent me to a local vet’s office that would take in the owl and manage its care.

I should probably mention that I taped the box shut before departing. Having an owl get loose in your car on the Thruway would not be good, though it would make for an interesting news story.

The owl — a Facebook friend dubbed her Hoota — is doing fine. She was not about to die, as I feared, nor did she have any serious trauma. The vet’s office thinks she may have flown into the side of the building and been stunned. Today, a week later, she’s under observation before they decide on releasing her.

Owls mostly move through the night unnoticed. If your lucky, you’ll hear one or see it fly past silently in the dark. They want or need nothing from us, but on occasion, we are the only option.

The Gospel According to Lebowski

Peter’s denial of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is one of the Bible’s best known passages, so to read it in front of the whole church on Palm Sunday was humbling.

But it was hard to keep a straight face.

I occasionally serve as a lector at my church and over the weekend was assigned to read part of the Passion, the section where Peter claims not to know Jesus. But the voice that rang through my had when I practiced the reading wasn’t the apostle Peter’s.

The servant says, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.”

And Peter replies,  “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!”

Peter sounds like the Dude.

No matter how I said it, it kept coming out in various shades of Lebowski. Hmmm. Let’s place the emphasis slightly differently and… it’s still the Dude. Wait — let me try it like this. No. His Dudeness.

It’s weird, yes. And by coincidence, there’s a character named Jesus in The Big Lebowski. 

I’m pretty sure a few people in the crowd picked up on this, for I could tell by the look on their faces that they heard the Dude when they were supposed to hear Peter.

Maybe it was just my imagination, but I don’t think so. And if you disagree, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

Patty Wagon

If you want to convince an Irishman that you’re an eejit, call March 17 “St. Patty’s Day.” Let’s be clear: Patty is short for Patricia, and Paddy is the nickname for Patrick.

Period.

A quick survey of the news reveals that there are a lot of eejits out there in the media using “St. Patty” — too many to count. To make matters even worse, the misuse of St. Patty is disrespectful to another saint.

St. Patricia was a 7th century noblewoman who gave everything to the poor, took a vow of virginity and devoted her life to the Lord. St. Patty ended up near Naples after being shipwrecked during a voyage to Jerusalem. She later died and is now the city’s patron saint. Her feast day — which one might call St. Patty’s Day — is celebrated on August 25. According to Wikipedia, people believe that the dried remains of her blood turn to liquid on that day — and on “every Tuesday morning.” The Tuesday part seems to make it less special.

So, let’s not mix up our Pattys with our Paddys. Do it once and you can be forgiven as a simple eejit. Do again? Then you’re a feckin eejit.

Me and My Mummy

People still ask me if I miss my old job. Not really. Well, yes and no. Yes, it was always interesting and it was work I excelled at, but do it today? No thanks.

But allow me to reminisce.

Lon Chaney Jr. as The Mummy

Early in my career, I produced cheap local commercials and we were doing a spot for Halloween Hall in Ballston Spa. We’d done a lot of shooting in the store, but this season they had a unique new item they wanted to show off: an elaborate mummy costume. This would require a special shot that could only be done back in the studio.

Our plan was for the mummy to emerge from the darkness into a beam of light — and to make it extra dramatic, we rented a smoke machine. Nothing makes things look cooler than a smoke machine.

We were all set — but someone would have to swaddle themselves in this mummy suit. Normally, I’d persuade an intern to do this, but that semester we didn’t have one, so I wrapped myself up and went to work. It looked terrific — exactly as planned — and with the studio full of smoke, I got out there and lurched around doing my best Lon Chaney Jr.

That’s when the station’s chief engineer ran in screaming.

“What is this smoke? Do you have any idea what it can do to these cameras? The PARTICULATE MATTER in this could corrode the circuit boards! Destroy the optics! How are we going to do the news in three hours with no cameras?”

Oh, shit.

Yes, we were in the same studio as used for the newscast, and in moments, a crew from engineering started disconnecting the hulking cameras and dragging them into the hallway.

It should have been funny, me standing there in a mummy suit getting yelled at, but my blood ran cold. I skulked off to my office and waited to be fired.

Later in the day, my boss, the director of sales, called me to his office. He said something like, “Hey, no more smoke machines in the studio,” and sent me on my way.

That’s the day when I learned a valuable lesson: TV stations are not run by the engineering or news departments, they are run by sales. The only media literacy lesson you need is this: it’s a business — and if you think the media is biased, you’re right. They’re biased toward making money.

Guns and Drugs

Petersburgh, New York is only about four miles from both Vermont and Massachusetts. If it weren’t for the road signs, you might not know where one state starts and the other one ends. But even if the borders are invisible, there are profound differences when you cross them.

Two examples.

People in Vermont are very much like the people in Petersburgh, except they can very easily buy guns. In fact, Vermont has fewer gun laws than most states in America, and Vermonters can buy as many handguns as they like with no license, permit, or waiting period. Then they can carry concealed with few restrictions.

In the time it takes you to buy a gun in Vermont, you couldn’t even complete the application in Petersburgh.

A short way south, in Massachusetts, ordinary people can walk into a store and buy marijuana. Recreational sale is still in it’s infancy, so it’s not quite as easy to buy weed in Massachusetts as it is to buy a gun in Vermont, but give it time. People are standing in line to buy pot in Mass, but there are no lines for guns in Vermont.

In Petersburgh, marijuana means you need to know somebody —- or know somebody who knows somebody.

It’s true that there are more important measures of freedom than guns and drugs, but to many people, these are meaningful symbols of personal liberty. Both can be misused. Guns, sometimes, in terrible ways.

Petersburgh, so close, yet so far. If the wind is blowing right, you can smell the marijuana, and hear the sound of gunfire drifting over the hills.