Friday, July 24, 2009, posted by Q6 at 6:21 AM
My wife and I finally made it back to the theater last week; it feels like forever since we've been, and we LOVE to go to the theater, be it local (Orange County Performing Arts Center) or further out (like the Ahmanson in Los Angeles or the Pantages in Hollywood). This time it was back to the Ahmanson--one of my personal favorites--for SPAMALOT.

I'd heard about it's Broadway run, and the Vegas run, and I really wanted to see it--so my wonderful wife bought us tickets. It was a LOT of fun. A few highlights:

--My son opted not to go, claiming he wasn't familiar enough with the source material to justify the cost of the ticket. The thing is, though, that you can easily enjoy this without knowing the movie that well, or at all. It might actually help not knowing the movie at all--you wouldn't be distracted by missing scenes or changes. In the end, you can know the movie or not and still enjoy this musical--so when it comes to Orange County in October my son is going whether he likes it or not. He'll thank me for it later.

--The musical also plays on some other well known Monty Python sketches. I identified three non-Holy-Grail references without even trying. There are probably more.

--One of the actors in the company--his name is Rick Holmes--is HYSTERICAL. He did some ad-libbing during the "Knights who say Ni" number, even referencing South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's woes. Moreover--and this is what impressed me the most about him--not only did he play multiple characters in the musical, but he played several of the same characters that John Cleese played in the original (this may be the only positive aspect of knowing the source material well): Sir Lancelot, the French Taunter, and Tim the Enchanter. I could have watched him ad-lib the French Taunter all night.

--The female lead, Merle Dandridge, has an amazing pair of lungs. They're both pleasant to listen to and to look at. Her comedic timing is also excellent.

--Before the show I suspected I was missing out by not seeing this with Tim Curry in the lead (Broadway). Turns out I was wrong. John O'Hurley is a laugh riot as King Arthur.

--There's a restaurant about ten blocks from the Ahmanson--Roy's Hawaiian Fusion--that's pricey, but worth it. My wife and I did two appetizers, two entrees, and two rounds of drinks. They make a martini there--"The 1988"--that's now on my favorite-drink-list. The host asked if we wanted to use the free shuttle to the Ahmanson (I could have driven, but what the heck), which ended up being a limousine. That was cool.

We'll take my son (and my daughter, if she's gonna be around) to see SPAMALOT! when it comes to Orange County in October. I'm also interested in seeing Young Frankenstein in September 2010.

Man, I do love the theater--and I love being married to someone who enjoys it, too.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009, posted by Q6 at 9:24 AM
Among the many blogs I check on a daily (or near daily) basis is Neil Gaiman's online journal. He makes a point of responding to fan mail from time to time, and his July 12 post brought to light a similarity he and I share. His post is here, and I explain below.

It's worth mentioning here that I have a great admiration for Neil Gaiman (known as "Nerful" in our household, as that's how his signature appears on the autographed works we own), not only because he's a great writer that my wife introduced me to, but also because he seems so very down to earth for being such a well known person.

So his post is about reading stories aloud (and doing character voices), and it brings to my mind the time I spent reading some (but not all) of J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series to my kids. I didn't start reading to them until the third book in the series, and by then the first film had come out. If memory serves, I think I read books three, four, five, and maybe six. (I'm surprised I don't remember this better; I know I didn't read the last book to them, because I remember going to the local grocery store at midnight--there was a line there, too--then going home and reading until five or six in the morning. Come to think of it, we may have done that with the sixth book as well.)

Being a former public speaking major, I don't know how to read fiction without using multiple voices--even if they're only in my head. I make a point when reading of "casting" the book as I read, if for no other reason to keep the characters straight. One of the best audiobooks I ever heard--The Godfather--used a multivoice cast and completely blew me away. So when it came time to read to my kids, it became a reader's theater project for me (so much so that with one of the books, I had to read a chapter ahead every day so I knew what was coming; the downside is that I read the book twice in the same sitting, but the upside was that such "rehearsal" really nailed it). Another aspect of reading the book this way is discovering just how well Rowling wrote the characters: I didn't use that much inflection change between Ron and Harry, for example, but they speak differently than one another, so there wasn't that much need to change inflection.

Some voices became standards for me (and fun to do). Case in point: Richard Harris is and will always be Dumbledore. Even when Michael Gambon hit the screen in the role, I still read Dumbledore as Richard Harris (this was my daughter's favorite voice). Hagrid was a gruff voice, but I didn't try to do a Robbie Coltrane imitation. There were others, but it was just a matter of "playing the moment" with a lot of it.

This is as good a place as any to make this statement: I think that a serious casting error was made in the fourth and subsequent films. All due respect to Brendan Gleeson, who is a wonderful actor and has mad acting skills in both comedy and drama, but I had a much better pick for the role of Mad-Eye Moody, and one that would have adhered to Rowling's "Brits only" rule: Richard O'Brien. See, I was reading the character to my kids before any on-screen materialization, and when I saw the character's personality and actually read Mad-Eye's lines, all I could hear was Riff-Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It would have been a great movie, and O'Brien would have brought a lot of dark-and-creepy to the series, which it needed (especially in "Order of the Phoenix"). I'm just sayin', reading in Riff-Raff's voice really made the Mad-Eye Moody character leap from the page.

My kids are seventeen and fifteen now, and while they're not to old to read to, schedules don't make that as possible as it once was. Still, there's the theater inside my head, which I still greatly enjoy--and if you've ever cast a book in your head, or read to your children with a variety of character voices, you know exactly what I mean.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009, posted by Q6 at 5:40 AM
As I've stated before, this transition from analog to digital television was never going to work out perfectly. We tried it in February, and everyone complained that they weren't ready. We did it in June, regardless of who was ready, and now they're just dissatisfied with the result: those who still rely on analog signal, or those with converter boxes, complain of the signal strength problems we knew were going to occur.* My question is this: What do they want us to do about it?

There are people who get along fine without television. There are families that get along fine without it. Hell, there are countries that seem to function without three televisions in every home (not counting my now-defunct Sony Watchman, I have three in my house).

The only hole I can find in my logic here is this: television has become a the primary medium for delivering information, important emergency stuff included. Radio fell by the wayside a long time ago as a dominant medium, and newspapers are dying a steady-paced death. In order to remain a well-informed populace, I suppose we need to make sure that everyone has access to a TV signal. (President Obama made this point not long ago, and thank God it's the only point he's tried to make on the subject.) Then again, if we look at the weekly TV ratings, it's really just the crime dramas and half-hour sitcoms in the top ten--Southern California's ratings show "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance" as the top shows, which just makes my "we don't need TV anymore" argument for me.

Should we worry about those who don't have TV anymore? Are they really missing all that much?

* You know who else really loses in the analog-to-digital switch? SETI. If you've ever seen the opening sequence from the movie Contact, you'll remember that the shot zooms away from Earth as we hear our broadcast history run in reverse, the signal finally dying away as we zoom back further than we've been broadcasting. If there are any little green men out there listening, they may get the idea that we've closed up shop.
Monday, July 06, 2009, posted by Q6 at 5:21 AM
Two years ago I went to my 20 year high school reunion (I posted about that here), and I remember walking away being glad that I went . . . but I didn't walk away with much else. People either looked exactly the same or completely unrecognizable. It was good to attend such a milestone--20 years, after all--but it's not like we still had a lot in common.

Last month I got together with about a dozen people from high school (a "mini-reunion" for a classmate who lives in the Bay area and wasn't in town for the reunion), and it was more of the same: lots of "what have you been doing since then," "what are you doing now," and quite a bit of storytelling of days past. It was nice to see them all, and it was nice to catch up. Most of us had connected on Facebook.

And just like the 20 year reunion, the whole thing felt kinda weird. In the end, I was having dinner with a dozen strangers.

I guess it wasn't that awkward, since it was easy to tell the old stories and get the old laughs, but it still felt odd to act ("act" may not be the right word) chummy with people I no longer see on a day-to-day basis. I think I'm much more comfortable with my present-day life than I am trying to connect, reconnect, or hold on to my past. Given how easy it was to sit and talk with my former schoolmates, I'd probably disagree with the adage "You can't go home again"--you can go home again, but it may not always be the home you remember it being.

If nothing else, the evening reminded me how much I've done and how far I've come in forty years . . . but that's a separate blog post I'm working on.
Saturday, July 04, 2009, posted by Q6 at 5:15 AM
Somewhere in my past--maybe I was six or seven years old, maybe even less--I allegedly rode in a helicopter. I remember very little of it: my father sat between my brother and me in the back seat, and we just seemed to be swinging left and right (almost to the point of being sideways) the whole time. It was so long ago I don't really have any concrete recollection of it. Why am I telling this story?

Because my wife is awesome.

For my fortieth birthday, my wife, my son, and I went for a helicopter tour over the La Jolla and San Diego areas. For years I've been telling her how much I wanted to ride in a helicopter, and she was apparently listening. It was expensive, I'm sure, but TOTALLY worth it.

I got the front seat!

In a small R44, we hovered at the airport long enough to (a) get clearance to leave and (b) realize just how weird it feels to hover about ten feet off the ground. The bubble of the cockpit extends all the way to your feet, so you can literally look straight down. It's odd. Cool, but odd.

It was a LOT like floating.
And not very high up, either.

There's a courtship story that my wife and I don't get a lot of mileage from in casual conversation, though we relive it every once in a while: we were walking on a beach in Oceanside--talking, picking up shells (some with living things in them), enjoying the scenery--and in the middle of a conversation I stopped and watched a helicopter fly by. I was mesmerized by it, but it really (I think) just came off as childishly distracted. For a while after that, my wife would pause whenever a helicopter flew by--probably convinced that she was going to lose me for several seconds. I've since learned to tune them out. Mostly.

Play dead, Shamu! Good boy.

(Sea World.) (And Shamu's fine.)

There were two unexpected aspects of this trip. One was the motion sickness, which I only really felt during steep turns and banks (although the turning and banking was really cool, too). The other was just how low we were able to fly. In retrospect, and given the number of helicopters I've paid attention to from the ground, we probably weren't that low--but it sure seemed like it. We weren't allowed to fly over the baseball stadium (Homeland Security doesn't permit it when there's a game going on), but we did pass over the empty football stadium, and that was another example of how low we seemed. We could have landed there, it seemed. The maneuverability of a helicopter (over, say, a small plane) is what really makes the experience worth it, and what makes it seem much more like flying.

This is what a traffic reporter's desk looks like.
(And my best shot at postcard photography.)

At one point we passed over someone taking wedding pictures, and at another we passed over a reef with people on it. In each case, people looked up at us and waved. My wife made a point of waving back, and now makes a point to wave to helicopters as they pass overhead. One of the things I love about my wife is how she doesn't take the little things for granted--if she can make someone else happy with a simple gesture, she does so. She's kinda awesome that way.

Did I get a shot of a drug deal?
(My cool wife also got me the zoom
lens that makes shots like this possible.)

In the end (and in true "me" fashion) I accepted the folder of literature on helicopter flying lessons. After skimming it I still feel like it would be something VERY cool to do, but with an overall price tag between $11,000 and $25,000 to learn and get licensed I know it's probably not going to happen.

And it doesn't have to, really. I got to ride in a helicopter, and I get to cross that off my things-to-do-before-I-die list. And it's all thanks to my wonderful, wonderful wife.