Brush with Greatness

I’m reading The 50 Funniest American Writers. It’s an anthology by Andy Borowitz. Good stuff. When I finished the George Carlin section, I turned the page and, BAM! The next story caused a memory to come flooding back. A connection to a little story I tell. A brush with greatness.

I occasionally have these strange little star crossings. Meeting someone famous, usually while they’re in the middle of being a normal person. Odd and exciting for me. Annoying for my friends because the actual stories are usually pretty lame, but I still tell them over and over.

“Did I ever tell you guys about the time I played basketball with Emmit Smith? I did? Did I tell you about the time I ran teleprompter for Danny Glover? Really? I did? Well how about the time I bumped into Dave Grohl buying sunglasses?” Eyes roll. “Yes. Yes Brian, we’ve heard the story.” I need to find new friends or new stories. Anyway, this is kind of one of those.

The next story in the Borowitz book, the story that caused the BAM memory, is Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father. Seriously. That’s the title. My first exposure to Lamentations of the Father was in 1998 while driving home. It was read aloud on This American Life. I love This American Life. I love Ira Glass. I loved this story. But I missed the intro and that fact resulted in my next long distance brush with greatness.

I wanted to know who wrote the story and what it was called so I decided to look it up. But where? The internet of 1998 was not the internet of today. Today, This American Life episodes can be streamed or downloaded and episode summeries are available on the site. (After you finish this drivel, go there and listen to some truly outstanding storytelling.) But in 1998, I didn’t have the website option. So I called WUWF, my local public broadcasting station, and asked if they had the info. They did not. But they were kind enough to look up and give me the This American Life number in Chicago. So I called.

Ira Glass

Ira Glass

Maybe you’ve jumped ahead of me but that’s ok. I called expecting a secretary or intern to answer and I would ask my question and move on. But when I called, I heard these words; “This American Life, Ira speaking.” Or “This is Ira” or something like that. The exact words are a blur. But there’s no mistaking that voice. Ira Glass was on the other end on the line. I froze for a moment. (That, unfortunately,  is a common aspect of my star meeting stories.) I finally stammered through my question, describing the story and explaining that I missed part of it and wondered what it was called and who wrote it. He of course knew right away and gave me the info. (Ian Frazier wrote Lamentations of the Father. Still love it. I’ll post it below.) I thanked him. He said you’re welcome and that was the end of it. Lasted all of a couple of minutes. But I’ve lost count of how times I have said or written “Did I ever tell you about the time I talked to Ira Glass?”

For the first 10 years or so, it didn’t come up very often. There was the occasional opportunity at a party or at work where the show would be mentioned and I would pipe up. But it was rare. Then, Facebook happened. People “liked” things. And when any of my friends “liked” This American Life, I took advantage of the opening by commenting. “Yes I like that show too. Did I ever tell you about the time I talked to Ira Glass? No? Well, the year was 1998…”

I guess there are benefits to social media. Mainly being, now I don’t have to see the eye rolling or hear the sighs. :-)

BLB

(This is the version I heard on This American Life in 1998.)

The Loose Marbles at Fritzel's - (image by Brian L Butler)

The Jazz Singer: Discovering Meschiya Lake

The first time I experienced the Loose Marbles was a couple of years ago while walking around the Quarter with my good friend Eddie. An excellent experience it was.

The Loose Marbles are a loose band of throwback musicians who bring 20′s and 30′s style jazz roaring back in the streets of New Orleans (and New York) and occasionally play in local clubs. Members float in and out depending on the day and the place and they have a fashion sense that could be affectionately described as vintage-vagrant. But the music and the swing dancing that surrounds it is outstanding. We saw them busking during the day and then playing at Fritzel’s that night. The photo above is one I took that evening. Still love what they do but they are not the point of this post.

When I got home from that trip, I was craving some more so I Googled and YouTubed and found some videos of the group. Mostly just hand-held street shots but there was one video that changed the focus of my search. It was the band playing on Royal with a female singer. A singer that blew me away. This is that video. We’ll pick up the story after you watch.

So after I saw that, I had to find out who she was. More Googling turned up the name Meschiya Lake (pronounced ma-shee’-ya). I couldn’t find out much about her at the time but I was fascinated and decided I would try to see her sing in person the next time I was in NOLA. In the street. In a club. Wherever.

That was two years ago. I’ve been back to the city a couple of times but circumstances and schedules didn’t cooperate so we never crossed paths. In that time though, Meschiya’s career  started to take off. I found her Facebook fan page a while back and started following her. She released an album last year called Lucky Devil and sings with a band called The Little Big Horns, which I’m sure has connections to the Marbles. But they seem a little more polished as you can see in this video from a few months ago. Lovely, powerful and passionate music.

I’m not sure if she still plays the streets but she’s always playing local clubs when she’s in town. And she travels the country and the world playing but I’m not sure you’d say she’s “made it” yet. Which gets me closer to the point of this post. But first, something cool happened a few days ago.

Meschiya Lake at the Spotted Cat - (image by Brian L Butler)

I finally got to see her perform live. Julie and I spent a wonderful long weekend in the Big Easy and Saturday night spent the entire evening wandering in and out of clubs up and down Frenchmen Street topped off by Mescheiya Lake and the Little Big Horns at The Spotted Cat. The place was packed but fortune and Julie flirting with the bouncer got us right next to the stage. Loved the show, bought the album and thought that was that.

But once again, when I got home I was craving some more so I Googled and YouTubed and among other things, here’s what I found. There’s a documentary in the works about Meschiya. True Family: The voice of Meschiya Lake is in post production. Oh hell yes. The trailer looks so good I can’t wait. Check it out.

But it looks like I will have to wait for a little while. Which finally brings me to the point. The movie is being made by a Danish filmmaker for the love of the music and the subject. The money is coming from a very cool newish way to raise cash for projects like this; crowd-funding. Tens, hundreds or thousands of people giving whatever they can to projects they believe in to get them off the ground. Films, music, charity etc. $5, $20, $100 at a time. Adding up until it’s large enough to light the fuse and launch a dream.

The Meschiya fundraising is run by IndieGogo but there are several other companies doing it. My friend Brian Meece is a co-founder of RocketHub in NYC and they’re getting a lot of press and praise. (He’s also part of the über cool group Brian and Silbin) It’s just such a great way to kickstart a project (Kickstarter is another) and give it a chance to be seen and picked up by a larger audience.

The Meschiya movie is short of its goal but the project is still moving along. I’ll be putting some of my money in the pot because I think it will be a great story and I think the more people who are exposed to her music, the more people will fall for her and she will “make it”. That may make it harder for Julie and I to get a spot next to the stage in the future, but that’s a risk I’ll take.

For more on Meschiya: MeschiyaLake.com

For more about the movie: True Family: The Voice of Meschiya Lake

1213504646My day doesn’t usually start at a National Landmark fielding pointed questions from armed security. This was one of those rare mornings when it did.

We’re on a family trip to the N-Y-C. It’s the first time Julie and I have taken the girls along with us to our favorite city and we’re about to begin a big day with a trip to the Statue of Liberty.

I bought tickets online before the trip and made the reservations for the very first ferry of the day. Beat the crowds. Beat the heat. I’m a genius. But there’s a hitch. We’re staying in the beautiful Upper West Side and the ferry leaves from the extreme Southern tip of Manhattan. We’re gonna have to get an early start.

We crawl out of bed in the morning, get dressed and grab a quick breakfast. The kids aren’t really hungry so they don’t eat much. Julie and I know we don’t want hungry kids dragging through the morning so I stick some snacks in my bag, grab a couple more to put in my pockets and we’re out the door.

After a long, early morning subway ride we make it downtown and head to the pier. We already have tickets so we get to skip that line and go straight to the security line. You know those winding lines in amusement parks. It’s just like that. Only instead of a roller coaster, you’re waiting for a metal detector. Wooooo!

We wait and walk as the line inches forward until we eventually make it to the security checkpoint. After Julie and the girls get through, I put my bag on the conveyor belt and it begins its short trip to x-ray land. I keep everything in my bag. Camera, keys, phone. All my metal detector triggers. So when I walk through the metal detector and nothing goes beep-beep, I think I’m good to go. I gather my gear on the other side and prepare to meet Lady Liberty.

But as I start to walk away, a security guard motions me over to the side. She and her partner seem like nice enough ladies but at this moment, they’re looking very serious. The sidearms punctuate their seriousness.

“Is there something wrong officer?” (I actually said that. Like some bad movie line.) Anyway, apparently something is wrong. I’ve aroused suspicion. The officer points at me and asks the strangest question. “What’s that there? In your pants.” My eyes dart down and I’m confused for a second. Then it hits me. This is going to be awkward.

I ask the officers if I can show them and they nod, although, and I’m not making this up, they each put their hands on their holsters. I ease my hand into my pocket, pull out the offending object and show it to the ladies. They both crack up. Actual giggles from officers of the law. There’s a banana in my pocket. I, am a walking punch line.

Now I’m laughing too and I even say the “line” out loud. (I used a horrible Groucho Marx accent. Anyone who has heard me try knows, I can’t do accents. But they didn’t seem to mind.) The officers wave me on as the laughter continues and I leave to catch up to the family.

Julie was waiting up ahead and wondering what the heck was going on. When I told her what happened, she of course got a heavy case of the giggles too. Still makes her laugh today. We affectionately refer to my Statue of Liberty interrogation as, The Chiquita Inquisition.

A good while after the C.I. and after I’d told the story a few times, something dawns on me. I had that banana in my pocket all morning. During the walk from the hotel to the station. During the long subway ride. During the walk to the pier. During the long wait in line. And what I realize is this. Not once does Julie say anything about it. So we have two options. Either she saw the fruit in my looms and just didn’t say anything. That’s unlikely because she would not have let that go. Or option two, she just didn’t notice the entire morning. Not even a glance. Frankly, that bothers me a little bit.

BLB

istock_000003758518xsmall1Icing on the Cake

My daughter is working on an essay about what we can do to save the planet. Quite possibly the most popular essay topic in every school in the country right now. But that’s not the subject of this story.

She’s a very good writer and that’s not just your average proud papa talk. She’s really good. But this essay is different. It’s part of a district wide contest with the winner at each school receiving a $100 savings bond. My daughter is stressing herself out about winning the thing and I’m trying to do the parent pep-talk thing. Trying to get her to focus on writing and not worry so much about winning or losing.

“Do your best sweetie and the rest will take care of itself. So many factors play into winning or losing so try not to think about it and just do your best.” But I don’t want to completely discount the contest so I add, “If you do your best and you end up winning, it will just be icing on the cake.”

Then I get that look. Eyes squint. Lips purse. The wheels are turning and I’m in trouble. Turns out she has a problem with the well worn idiom Icing on the Cake. Seems pretty simple to me. A little something extra on top of an already good thing. Nice. But the daughter sees it differently. Maybe it says something about the times we live in or maybe it’s just our family but what she asked was this. Who eats cake without icing? To her (and quite honestly to me too) icing is not extra. It’s essential to a cake being a cake.

So she hears the opposite of what I’m trying to say. The cake is not complete without the icing. The essay is not complete without the win. I do my best to rework what I’m trying to get across and explain it a different way but now I’m just mumble-ramblin’. As I leave her room, I close the door and the discussion with, “Just do your best sweetie.”

Part of the beauty of being a dad is having this little slice of me asking questions that I have trouble answering. Looking at even the simplest, idiotic idiom in a brand new way. That is so cool.

So that was a few weeks ago and guess what, I got bailed out on this one. She won the essay competition at her school. The results came in today. I told you she was good. $100 Savings Bond and she’s going down to an awards ceremony at City Hall with the winners from the other schools in the district. She’s so happy she’s glowing. And so am I. Oh, and she’s also getting her picture made with the mayor while she’s there. I guess that’s just icing on the cake.

BLB

Backyard Camping

Backyard Camping

Backyard Camping

The girls have a Girl Scout camping trip coming up, so we cracked open our tents this weekend to make sure they were still in good shape*. Since the work part was done, we decided it would be a good idea to camp out in the back yard overnight**. Roasting marshmallows and everything***. J1 joined us for the smores but decided since she’ll be camping soon enough with the Scouts, she would sleep in her nice warm bed while me and the younger J’s braved the suburban wilderness****. It was a blast*****.

-

*Lest anyone get the idea we are outdoorsy people, the tents have been packed away for almost eight years. A camping trip to Ft. Pickens when J3 was a baby was the last time we had them out.

**It really was a good idea and we did have fun even if these astricies make it seem otherwise.

***Everything meaning marshmallows and sleeping. No ghost stories though. They creep me out. Seriously.

****Actually, I was going to let them sleep out there alone. Two sisters having fun in the great outdoors. But J1 and her mom (Nana J) had visions of rabid foxes and ax wielding psychopaths invading our back yard so I ‘chose’ to camp too.

*****More like a blast of cold air. Temps around 50 degrees in mid April in Florida. What’s up with that? Did I mention we’re not really outdoorsy people. I mean we love being outside and playing and biking and beaching. But when it’s time to sleep, a bed is nice. Is it wrong for a grown man to admit he’s more Eva Gabor than Eddie Albert. ******

******From Green Acres in case you haven’t wasted countless hours of your life watching TV re-runs like I have and are unaware of the great ‘Fresh Air’ vs ‘Times Square’ debate. This page will tell you about it and you get an American Gothic parody to boot.

__________________________________________________

I posted this little story over on my photoblog Panhandlin’ a few months back. I’m posting it again here because I’ve been reading Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace and was reminded (purely for the stylistic quirk, not a comparison to the genius of DFW) of the camping story.

I’ve been trying to summon the nerve to tackle the monster Infinite Jest and thought I would start with this volume of essays. If they were sufficiently fun-making I’d try to find time for the epic. Wallace is challenging for me and at times I feel like an idiot but OMG he’s fun. So after I finished CtL, I went online to explore a little more and to decide if I’m up to Infinite Jest.

That’s when I read that just two months ago, David Foster Wallace killed himself. (The NYT article) I guess with my election focus at the time, I missed other news even though it was apparently everywhere. The life of a tortured genius.

So I will pick up Infinite Jest soon even though I may not dive in right away. I have a few other books lined up on the runway. I think Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will be taking off next.

Six-Word Memoirs

I haven’t picked up the book yet but I stumbled across this preview video from a while back. Very cool concept and there are some gems in there. The first part of the video explains what’s going on.

I took a Hemingway class back in college from a professor who was a complete Hemingway nut. He was so passionate about the subject that it became one of my favorite classes ever. In his life, he had tried to go to the places Hemingway had gone and do the things Hemingway had done. From Cuba to the Keys to bullfights in Spain, this professor had tried to experience things fist hand. It made for a wonderful class. I haven’t seen the professor in years. Hopefully he hasn’t shot himself in the head yet.

The Hemingway quote that inspired the book is well known and hard to top but I tried to write a few six-word “stories” myself tonight. I’d love to hear more if you have them.

Philosophical – “Two things I fear: Fame. Anonymity.”

Dramatic – “Was she crying when you called?”

Comedic – “Hey honey…mom’s on Springer again!”

Not Hemingway but a whole lot of fun. And I’m reminded that it takes longer to write shorter.
BLB

Mr. Seinfeld Goes to Washington - Publicity Still (Click for Larger)

Mr. Seinfeld Goes to Washington - Publicity Still (Click for Larger)

Mr. Seinfeld Goes to Washington

Can you believe it? This groundbreaking sitcom is coming to an end. Mr. Seinfeld Goes to Washington started out as a simple show about four friends and their wacky quest for the White House. But it has grown into a once in a lifetime television event. After a ratings dream season, the series ending episode will be broadcast on Tuesday, November 4th to what will no doubt be a record audience.

And who could have predicted this level success. Comedian Barry Seinfeld launched his career from his agent’s living room with very little television experience. He had some success in college, some local community theater and some late-night TV appearances but nothing on this scale. The critics were skeptical to say the least. As it turned out, his talent, drive and supporting cast were more than enough to create a wildly successful show.

It’s a little sad to see it end though. It’s going to be hard to let these characters go because we’ve come to see them as part of the family. We talk about them at the dinner table and around the water cooler. We tune in to their shenanigans to take our minds off of our troubles and it is a welcome break from the depressing programming we typically see.

There are so many great memories flooding back into my mind about the goings on in that little apartment they all shared in D.C. I’ll post a more complete list at the end but if you’ll permit me, here are a few highlights.

I couldn’t stop laughing the first time I saw the episode where Barry’s judgment was questioned because he was spending so much time with an unsavory character known as the “soup nazi”. “He’s not an adviser”, Barry would say. “I just like soup.” Or when Barry refused to wear the flag pin on his lapel and was chased through the streets by angry mobs who questioned his patriotism. Situations so outlandish they could only take place in sitcom land for sure.

But of course the show is more than just Barry. It’s a true ensemble. Who could forget the classic “contest” episode where a wager was made to see who could go the longest without saying “Wall Street” and “Main Street” in the same sentence. Hilarious. None of them lasted long but I believe George won that one.

Speaking of George, remember when he and Barry tried to sneak the marble rye back into the White House before George W. and Laura noticed it was gone. Great guest appearances like that are part of what makes the show so wonderful. And do you remember the time George tried to filibuster by simply saying “yada yada yada” over and over and told his fellow Senators he could go on forever. He said, “This is nothing compared to the hell I’ve already been through.” The other side had no idea what he was talking about but he looked a little crazy so they caved in. I laughed so hard it hurt.

And oh that wacky Elaine. My favorite episode from her had to be when she demonstrated her knowledge of world affairs by suggesting to a visiting Russian dignitary that “War, What is it Good For” was the original title to Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”. Priceless. Or there was the time she thought she only had a limited number of vetoes and spent the whole episode trying to figure out which bills were veto-worthy. She went back and forth about whether to veto some bridge project for the whole show. Brilliant writing.

And then there was Kramer. My favorite of his was the episode where Kramer dropped a Junior Mint and it landed on the President during the State of the Union address. “W” had no idea why everyone was laughing. Or when Kramer set up his very own oval office smack dab in the middle in his apartment and pretended to be president. So many layers of meaning there for such a supposedly meaningless show.

Of course they did threaten to write Kramer out of the show a bit later because he couldn’t keep his foot out of his mouth. The breaking point came when he lost his temper on the stump and let a couple of hecklers have it. It was way out of line and made things uncomfortable between he and Barry for a while to say the least. But they were able to, as they say, move on.

I’m not sure what will happen to all of these guys after this show ends. It’s hard to deal with the lows after tasting such highs. I think Barry will be fine. He’ll probably get a spin-off and be on the air for another eight years or so. Just a hunch. But I’m not so sure about the rest of the cast. They’re all pretty talented but I don’t know if they can make it without Barry. We’ll have to wait and see how it all turns out.

For now though, I’m really excited about Tuesday night’s finale. It’s tough to end a sitcom gracefully and few have pulled it off successfully. But maybe this one will be an exception. Maybe this is one we’ll talk about for years to come. I’ll be first in line for the DVD box set when it comes out. For what it’s worth, I sure hope this wasn’t just another show about nothing.
BLB

__________________________

(Here are some more favorite moments from previous shows.)

“The Deal”
Elaine and Barry worked out a deal where they would ignore their differences in political ideology and sleep together. They thought they could still be friends as long as they followed a strict set of rules. The Bedroom Bill of Rights they called it. When Barry told George about it, he laughed at his friend’s lack of experience and correctly predicted it would not last.

“Shrinkage”
George’s tax cut proposal came back much smaller than expected and he tried to explain “shrinkage” to a skeptical Elaine.

“The Puffy Turban”
A low-talking lobbyist asked Barry to wear a puffy turban on Meet the Press and all hell breaks loose.

“ASSMAN”
Kramer gets Senator Larry Craig’s vanity plates by mistake.

“The Blouse”
Elaine sends out a new campaign flier across the country and it turns out you can see her NRA tattoo peaking out from beneath her blouse.

“Vandelay”
George pretends to be a lobbyist for Vandelay Industries in order to stop out of control pork barrel earmarks and Barry accidentally spoils the ruse. My favorite scene is George lying on the floor as Barry says, “And you want to be my latex lobbyist.”

“Misunderstanding”
Barry and George are mistaken for a gay couple and while trying to set the record straight, they repeatedly say, “Not that’s anything wrong with that as long as same-sex couples get the same civil rights that are granted to opposite-sex couples and as long as they don’t expect to be able to get “married” in the traditional sense of the word because that’s a decision for the church not the government.” By the fourth time they said that line I was rolling.

(If you have any favorite episodes, I’d love to hear about them.)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 335 other followers