Window Shopping

I passed by an antique store, or a consignment shop. On Broadway, right around Republican, or maybe a bit north; the street has changed so much in 30 years, gentrified in a gentle way, maintaining the ambience somehow, old buildings still intact and newer ones sliding in next door, unobtrusive to the rare visitor, just new.

So the store is gone, as of course it is. Maybe it was even a repair shop, with a window display of…whatever, and whatever is what I wanted.

I walked on Broadway for hours back then, knowing my way past Ernie Steele’s and Seafirst Bank and Charlie’s, the bar of choice, with Baskin-Robbins on the south corner and Pagliacci just north of us, where at that time you could get a slice from a sidewalk window. I stood at that window all those years ago, exchanging small talk with Tony Ventrella, a local sports anchor on our NBC affiliate, who was hungry too.

“How ya doin’? he asked.
“Good,” I said.

Pagliacci today as yesterday






I’ve run into him several times since then, over 30 years later. Once he introduced my wife at a Christmas show, pronouncing our last name correctly, affable and polished as always. A nice guy.

Tony Ventrella, c. sometime.
Tony Ventrella, c. sometime.

But I was talking about the antique store, or whatever. My parents came for a visit that year, June 1984, early pregnancy for us and mostly sunny skies for them, and Dad and I were taking a walk when I saw it in the window.

A few weeks later I’d take a second job, moonlighting at a hospital near our new apartment in Northgate, which would have changed everything. I would have spent the $100 bucks then, a lot of money for misplaced nostalgia, because in the window was a Philco television console.


Before my time. Last model like this, I think, was produced in 1960, but I’d seen pictures and I wanted it.

I’m not much of a collector, sticking with broken furniture, Fletch novels, and dust, but it called to me, this relic that might or might not have had a “It Works!” sign on it. For some reason. I wanted it.

It was not to be, though, and I could just gaze and dream. I think my father, for a moment, considered shelling out the big bucks for me ($100 was still a lot of money, in 1984, to a middle-class professional who’d already spent a fair amount of money this trip), and now I suppose both were wise decisions. What would I do it, and where would it be, other than resting on eBay?

Broadway hasn’t changed in significant ways over the past 30-plus years, although it’s certainly different. I think a massage parlor is now in that location, but it’s a classy one, probably offering manis and pedis and green tea facials. The new storefronts and pricey offerings are a counterweight to the other relics, brownstone apartment buildings from the 40s or maybe earlier, set back, east and west, from the main drag.

The street where I lived.
Our first apartment.
Our first apartment.

I could have talked to Tony Ventrella about the Seattle Sonics, around that time (let’s assume it was late April), and looking at the roster from that season shows me familiar names, and birthdates. Most of the team were my contemporaries, both in the late 50s or sneaking into the early 60s, with a couple of older players to add weight and wisdom. Tom Chambers, Jack Sikma, Danny Vranes…I remember these names. Five years removed from their NBA championship (the last Seattle one before the 2013-14 Seahawks), they ended up 42-40 that year and lost in the first round of the playoffs, but we could have spoken of this.

Or the Mariners, with their 74 wins that year, still more than a decade away from a playoff, also carried some still-familiar names: Dave Henderson, Spike Owen, Ken Phelps, southpaws Jim Beattie and Mark Langston, and Mr. Mariner himself, Alvin “Don’t Call Me Al” Davis, whose first game as a Mariner I saw in the Kingdome.

Or, in fact, the just concluded NFL season, in which the lowly Seahawks, under new coach Chuck Knox and new quarterback Dave Krieg and new running back Curt Warner, stunned the league by making it to the AFC Championship game, 60 minutes from a Super Bowl. It was a remarkable time.

I was 25. Everything was remarkable.

It’s that Philco that came up this morning, for no reason I can think of.

Except it was an artifact, from a hop, skip and jump before my time, and even then I knew that technology was turning that box into a Model T, for serious collectors only, but I still wish I had it.

And sometimes I still wish I were there, walking down Broadway with my 47-year-old father, showing him my new home, listening to his musings of wanderlust, knowing I’d already wandered and lusted, and at that moment for an old TV, just because it was old, and even at 25 knowing that this day would come.

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Where I Am (Part 2)

When last we left, I was preparing to write about the very serious considerations I have to make, now that income has dropped, when it comes to casually dropping sums like $25 on DVD-making software that works well and that I will probably use once a year at most, making it obsolete in four years, but still it was only $25, but still.

This eventually struck me as silly. Big ol’ duh. You watch what you spend when you have less. And I found an open-source program that did the trick. Game over.


I also wait now for my second installment of royalty payments from “Learning to Walk,” the numbers small enough to be laughable in the real world but it’s still money and at least in three figures. I don’t feel quite so bad.

And I do feel bad, and mildly depressed, and anxious, and I recognize my knee-jerk reaction (you must remember that I’ve been self-employed; there is no unemployment insurance to call on), which is to freeze and mope, although I’ve been relentlessly exploring the process of piecing together enough freelance writing to at least smooth over the rough spots until I figure something else out.


As far as the book goes, my plan was to break it on social media and see what happened. That, and a favorable review, got a flurry of book sales, but that flurry has meandered off into straggler land, a book here and there. The plan was to wait for the premiere of Winning Dad and see if there was some synergy (someone reads the book and is interested in seeing the movie; someone sees the movie and wonders what else I’ve done, looks me up and buys the book, that sort of synergy), but at this stage it’s a bit dormant. Not a problem; the book won’t go away, and it’s not particularly topical in the sense that it can’t be read a year or ten from now. Assuming someone wants to read it.

Although I’m interested in recording an audio book, just because, and I either rent a studio (probably not; see $25 expenditures above) or set up my own here, which I should probably do anyway, and dig in. Another goal.

And I had a nice interview with Neil Scott, a local sports broadcaster for sports radio who has long been fascinated with recovery and addiction treatment (both of his parents had difficulties). I did a show with him way back when, the late summer of 2007 when I had a year of sobriety under my belt and was still pretty enthusiastic.

I’m enthusiastic now, but my view has become more nuanced when it comes to conventional treatment, particularly my awareness that our common histories (addicts, I mean) are dwarfed by our personal stories. Some people are plugged into 12-step meetings as their anchor for sobriety, still attending regularly. Others rarely or never do, still maintaining healthy sobriety. Some people go to treatment centers; some see no reason. Some just stop, and sometimes gradually; most people, apparently, age out of their dependencies, assuming they live that long (Dick Van Dyke is a good example of someone who publicly announced his alcoholism and treatment, then soured a bit, then drank a little bit on a more moderate basis, then eventually got tired of the taste and stopped, sometime in his 70s. I mean, that doesn’t make sense at all in the conventional model, but apparently it’s more common than we might think. It’s a big ol’ mysterious world).

So I focus on my own sobriety and maintain curiosity but no opinions on anyone else’s way. Find a way, stay alive; that’s all I hope.


Roomful of Teeth, the Grammy- and Pulitzer Prize-winning octet that my son-in-law is part of, released their new album, Render, yesterday. Last I checked, it was #2 on iTunes in classical music. It’s getting great reviews, because it’s great. Different, haunting, beautiful, uplifting, different. You should listen and buy. They’re about to get a lot more famous.

And in the funny world we live in, as we were setting up for the interview yesterday and talking about different things, I mentioned that my son-in-law sang with a band that just released a new album. Neil asked the name, and then I swear his face got white, stunned by the small worldishness of it. Turns out he is close to the wife of one of the RFOT singers. We live in interesting times.

Here’s to more interesting times. And an audio book. And a future that includes putting $25 to better use, regardless.

RFOT dot org

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Where I Am (part 1)

If you haven’t seen Singing In The Rain, I’m not sure what to think. There are plenty of famous films, classics even, that I haven’t made it through, and never will. Gone With The Wind being the most famous. It’s probably OK.

But Singing In The Rain is such a joyful film, and no cities get burned to the ground. Depending on how you feel about the Broadway dance/Cyd Charisse section, you might consider it the best Hollywood musical, or at least from the heyday of such (we may be in another heyday). I can recommend it.

It takes place during the transition period from silent film to sound, and whether it’s exaggerating (obviously) or not, we get the idea. How to record sound in an early technological era was a challenge, given that prominent microphones would tend to ruin the effect, and there’s a cute scene in the film of hiding mics in flower arrangements, etc.

It’s easier now, although always a challenge, depending on the situation. Having made a feature film now myself, I have a better idea, and being fascinated by sound and its effect for…forever…I paid close attention. Most of our sound was recorded with boom mics, although it’s certainly possible for each actor to wear their own sound equipment. It just adds a layer or three of complication.

And that’s not considering the Foley stuff, the footsteps and rustling clothes and other natural noises that are part of real life, often not picked up adequately by a boom mic several feet above the action and often further. There’s a lot of studio work, the most basic being the syncing of the actors’ voices with the actors’ mouths (it gets disturbing otherwise), along with rerecording dialogue that was muffled by wind or other environmental monkey wrenches.

Dubbing dialogue


I love this. It’s a cinematic jigsaw puzzle, much as editing is (and why we have sound editors).

A few weeks ago, I gave a book reading sort of thing, reading actually very little and mostly telling the story I wrote, along with spiraling down various rabbit holes of my own strange brain, and I wanted it on video. It was first of perhaps more of these, and I wanted to watch myself shake off the rust of public performance. And maybe pick some clips to use for publicity.

Using two cameras, one static long shot and one manned by a 16-year-old, closer and to the side of where I was speaking, I spent a few hours editing the shots back and forth, not for dramatic effect but just to maintain visual interest.

But those cameras were at a distance, and recording my voice mostly through the speakers (I was wearing a cordless headset. Like Garth Brooks and Madonna. We are colleagues).

I wanted better sound, and I found it. A simple and inexpensive lavalier mic that worked with my iPhone and a recording app, it produced a soundtrack that I was immensely pleased with. Then, I simply deleted the audio track from the video and replaced it with my superior sound track, lined it up (hours doing this) so I didn’t quite look like a ventriloquist, and finally got a very nice effect. You can hear me, you can see me, it looks synced and natural. It was a nice project to work on, one I enjoyed, although this was all high-definition video and so took some time rendering (i.e., processing) once the editing was finished. I think the final version, approximately 75 minutes, took 12 hours to render. I went to bed during this.

So now I have fairly solid video quality and excellent sound, and an mp4 video that carries a bit weight of nearly 4.5 gigabytes, uncompressed, easily the size of a DVD movie, or maybe two.

And I had some requests, even with my persisting posting of clips. People who missed the reading but wondered if there’d been a recording, and indeed there was. An easy solution, then: I’d just burn the file onto a DVD and toss them on a table somewhere; blank DVDs are cheap. Put a dollar or two in a basket for a good cause and we’ll call it even. Five or maybe 10 disks should do the trick.

While I’m at it, I might as well print out labels, nice DVD labels to cover the disk and maybe the jewel case. If you’re going to do something…

Anyway. There was a problem, I discovered. The simple DVD-burning software that Windows nicely provided in my laptop will not recognize the H.264 codec (sorry). It needed less quality, bringing the DVD down to sub-DVD quality. We’re not talking professional here in any way, shape, or waveform.

None of this feels particularly important, but it seemed a project that needed to be completed, so I researched software and, in fact, found a trial version of inexpensive DVD-burning software that did the trick. It had a prominent watermark displayed, since it was a trial version, but I saw enough to know that’s what I wanted.

A comment about removable media: It feels weird to me. Long ago I moved to streaming everything, and wandering through a video store (with exception of some Blu-ray bins that occasionally draw my attention in electronics and other stores) feels like a century ago. I watch people line up at those red box machines and it reminds me of Cold War-era Soviet queues, people waiting for a chance to choose, a vending machine for an art form. I wonder about these people, if they just can’t make the move from tangible carriers of digital code to the convenient world of translation on the fly (i.e., streaming).

So removable media, CDs, DVDs, even Blu-rays (which I rarely watch, but own because. Because I need to) feel archaic, or at best hobbies, like ham radios. They feel fragile and easily damaged, when there are so many other ways to access those 1s and 0s.

I had a solution, then. Just purchase the registered version of this inexpensive software, eliminate the watermark, burn me some DVDs and set them on a table, waiting for pick-up. Easy, not a problem.

Except for one nagging one.


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The Drought

What is a solid move when half of the income-producing humans in a particular household finds his monthly take cut suddenly way back? Why, calling a plumber sounds good. Maybe call two.

There were three plumbers here Friday, in fact, although two of them seemed to come over at the end of a day just to yak with the one who was doing the actual work. I didn’t have to pay the other two, although I made scintillating conversation.

For the past five or six years, my water line (running water from the meter to the house) has been crumbling. Considering that it’s been 28 years or so since that line was installed (I assume), it might not sound so unusual. This was a particularly shoddy kind of pipe, too, recalled and class-lawsuited and all. So maybe there’s a ray of sunshine here. It lasted a while.

But my fourth line leak in the past few years once again pointed out the inevitable, that this line, running 200 feet from the street to my house, needs to be replaced. I can call a plumber and spend $300-400 to repair a leak, but that’s usually preceded by a higher water bill (sometimes my only clue), so this adds up.

And this time, considering that my monthly bill for water and sewer should be around $80, billed every two months, and considering that I got my latest invoice for two months that was somewhere north of $500, I needed to make a call. At least one.

I made two; one to fix the leak, and one to bid on replacing the line in a trenchless fashion, the latest thing. That was actually reasonable, much lower than expected, so I imagine that’s next. Still, plumbing bills are not for sissies.

And trust me: There is a need for plumbers. Even if I were to have some basic skills in the area, installing 200 feet of water line under a neighbor’s driveway, yard, and fence (the vast majority of the distance) is not for the handyman, or this handyman, who is not handy anyway.

An old house isn’t for sissies, either. Built in 1960, extensively remodeled in 1988, poorly maintained since then (hey, truth),we’re fortunate to live in an area where housing prices have reached 2007 levels and appear to be rising, with fewer homes on the market and bidding wars relatively common. As much dipping into the equity well as we’ve had to do in recent years, keeping ourselves out of bankruptcy court (the MRIs alone…well. I could go on), our house still has a paper value nearly $100,000 higher than the mortgage we now hold. Or somebody holds.

It’s just on paper, though. No one has actually seen the hole in the bedroom wall.

New flooring, new deck, repainting, some electrical work, a new garage door, and quite possibly a new roof…we could certainly get this house in saleable shape with, say, $50,000.

But grabbing $50,000 out of thin air (which is how it would have to be done) is probably not going to happen, so we’re stuck. Add in the tax advantages and the low interest rate, making renting possibly more expensive than staying here, and maybe we should just fix the hole and pay the plumber.

There are many issues at play. Several outlets do not appear to serve as conduits for electricity. An electrician could figure this out, although we’ve long had a suspicion that the contractor who remodeled (and moved it onto this lot) this home, or his subcontractors, wired the house with one hand, the other holding a bottle of Jack Daniels. My breaker box has been relabeled and reexamined and occasionally randomly played with just in case something magically turns on.

At any rate, we’re stuck here for the time being, and I currently have a minimum of work, although there are possibilities looming. That alone keeps our chances of getting this place saleable pretty remote. I even asked the plumbers if they also did arson, which they denied. Although there was talk of subcontractors.

But I like to abide by the law, so my best hope is that we all leave the house, including the cat and maybe a few keepsakes, a scenario I can’t quite picture (he’s an indoors cat), and while we’re gone a small but powerful asteroid strikes my house, destroying it completely but leaving the rose bushes and the rest of the neighborhood.

In the meantime, I put my guitar over the hole in the wall. Works for me.


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Feeling under the weather yesterday, and with not much to do, a little writing deadline but nothing new, I decided to take a day of rest after a busy week and watch the beginning of the end, meaning Mad Men.

I started watching it when I was in my TV marathon phase, back in 2007. I bought a refurbished TiVo and began recording everything, and anything that was new and vaguely interesting got a shot. Mad Men stuck.

As it should. To anyone paying attention at all, it’s landmark television, quality and unique, which is not to say that I’ve not been tempted to dump it at times. Still, I like the set decoration, the objects and art that stir up vague memories of my childhood. They’ve progressed 10 years since the summer of 2007, when it premiered, a nice trick, meaning that I was in the sixth grade as they now work their advertising magic in 1970 and have sex with everybody else. I figure I’ll stick it out for a few more episodes, which is all we got.

I also finished up Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the Tina Fey-produced Netflix sitcom starring Ellie Kemper, who was a surprise addition to The Office (American version) in the last years. On that show, she played a naïve young woman who also might have been a little dumb (the naiveté makes it hard). On Unbreakable, she’s naïve (duh, stuck in a bunker for 15 years) but not dumb, and in fact resilient and tough. And in 22-minute segments, it was easy to scoot through the season in little bits. I approve, tentatively, so far. Lots of Fey-ish humor.

As for House of Cards, I watched the first episode of season #3 and decided that maybe I’ve had enough of Frank and Claire. Never watched Orange Is The New Black (and please don’t say that I have to watch it, or anything else. You might be missing the point here).

This is how I watch TV now, nothing new to this blog. My cable TV is long gone, years now, and only occasionally will I subscribe to a show on Amazon. My annual television budget comes in around $50, I figure, not counting the $100 a year I spend on my Netflix subscription (I don’t count Amazon Prime, which has lots of watchable stuff, since I mostly use it for the free shipping). It sounds a little nickel-and-diming, but no cable, even basic, adds up to…what? A little less than $1000 a year? Lots of nickels and dimes there.

Yeah, sports are a drag (sports are supporting cable, trust me). I can’t watch baseball unless I subscribe to MLB TV and pay for a proxy service to get around their home team black-outs (you can’t even watch your own team when they’re on the road), and I found I wasn’t watching enough to justify it. I might change my mind, especially if the Mariners have the season some are predicting, but radio still works and baseball is another good reason to read newspapers, so.

Movies? Pick your poison. Netflix, Amazon rentals, YouTube, Vimeo, HBOGo…there’s always something to watch. Interstellar is currently calling me, and I wonder when I’ll have the time, since no plane trips are in the immediate future.

This seems to be the future. Broadcast news is worthless and the cable variety is actually sort of dangerous, in my opinion, so I find that stuff in other places (radio news I still admire, if only for the brevity). Hulu covers most network shows I might be interested in, but I’m not all that interested. I can catch Jimmy Fallon clips whenever I want, wherever, and The Daily Show and anything else that I might want a few minutes of. I seem to be set.

And I suspect you will be, too. I understand that some of your enjoyment comes from waiting each week for the next installment of DWTS or whatever, and so I get that you’ll hang on, but eventually this is where we’ll be: Menus and choices, all we really want in a bloated system that gives us plenty of material to ignore, brought particularly to light when that duck guy started saying controversial things and a lot of us were scratching our heads. What is this show, exactly, and why are we caring what this odd man says?

In the most golden of the various ages of TV, with quality overwhelming us, this is the only solution I see this side of being a TV critic or bedbound. Pick and choose, accept that you’re going to miss something good, and find out what gives you pleasure and entertainment, your call.

And that call will mean, I suspect, either cutting your cable (don’t actually cut it) or waiting for the big boys to get desperate and sell us shows a la carte.

In the meantime, we can clean the kitchen, listen to podcasts or ball games or music, take walks, work for a living, and stop staring at screens so much.

Which I intend to do right now. Signing off. That kitchen won’t clean itself.


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What We Talk About When We Talk About Easter

We have no tradition of Easter bunnies or baskets in this house, although from time to time there’s been a chocolate bunny or two hanging around, and the occasional egg hunt.

This isn’t a battle against secular oddities, since there are plenty of those around (Santa Claus, the Electoral College, etc.) that we participate in, or have. We just really are too busy.

I missed Palm Sunday, since my wife was preaching and felt compelled to leave for church at the crack of dawn (well, 7:30am, but it’s 30 miles away), but since I was at church twice the Sunday before (in the morning for the service and in the evening for the book reading) I’m probably OK.

This week, though, Holy Week, the most important part of the church calendar, is crazy. Maundy Thursday marks the Last Supper, with feet washing and communion. Good Friday is quiet and somber, although not mournful (Sunday’s coming). On Saturday, it’s Easter Vigil, a celebration of our ancient stories, communion again, and a common table set with so much sugar I felt guilty about my poor grandson, stuck in a diabetic world of counting carbs and no M&Ms.

And then Easter Sunday, for which I wore a tie, an occasion so remarkable that I ended up with a go-to response to all the comments (“You know…once a year…”). I just think Easter deserves a tie. Sometimes.

And that’s just me. All I did was bake stuff and show up, read a couple of passages from Genesis, deliver a short homily on the almost-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham (a hard story, difficult to understand and surrounded by exegeses and midrashim from over the centuries, trying to figure the whole thing out. I never did).

The staff and volunteers who arranged the week are the ones I feel sorry for. Again, it was a busy week.

And as surrounded by sugar as I was on Saturday and Sunday, I resisted to the best of my ability, which is to say minimal resistance that mostly involved walking in the other direction and waiting for somebody else to eat it. It worked a little.

But it was still a joy to be there, with people I care about, passing the peace and sharing news and thoughts.

And, as it turns out, germs. Or at least that’s my theory for why my nasal passages feel as though someone irrigated them with a combination of Tabasco sauce and pain.

But the weather played nicely, all sun and clear skies, the Northwest currently undergoing a Renaissance of warm Pacific water and high ridges, a throw-back to another state, maybe.

And my admiration for hard work – regardless of for what purpose – remains intact. The effort involved was remarkable, and now everyone relaxes for a few days, and I shall sneeze and remember, sneeze and remember. It is right to give our thanks and praise. Our respiratory systems are secondary.

But seriously. Tabasco sauce and pain. Don’t blame the tie.

The table

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