Monday, December 31, 2012

Since Christmas

Ramblings Post #211
Christmas stopped being the first kind of Christmas when I realized that Santa wasn't actually a real person, and that my cousin was incorrect about the pepper in your eyes thing if you saw him. Then Christmas stopped being the second kind of Christmas when my outgoing exceeded my incoming, which meant I'd assumed the role of Santa and I was short reindeer and elves. The third kind of Christmas, I'm starting to wonder about. That's one where you simply celebrate the spirit of the season and you hope that they really were lying the first time, because you could use a real Santa right about now.

Let's Recap the past few days...

Rode down to see the folks, and about forty miles from my parents house the car just stops running. I mean, no warning, no dramatic puff of black smoke or loud wrenching noises, just rolling along one minute and then nothing. I roll to a stop on the ramp from I-20 to I-26. This is Christmas Eve.

After it's off the road, because nobody really wants to fix my car on Christmas day, I end up spending a nice quiet day with the folks. We go see my grandparents, who are finally starting to look old. Technically, my grandparents were old when I was born, but they never looked or acted it. My grandfather worked in the fields and doing odd jobs until about two years ago...when they made him stop driving. I saw him at Thanksgiving and he looked like a shadow of the man who in his sixties told me, a high school football player, to go ahead and take a break and after I could help him finish digging the ditch. Now he looks an old man. Mortality punches you in the mouth.

The day after Christmas I get the car towed to a garage, and lo and behold its the timing belt. There are probably a half dozen other things wrong with it, but the one stopping it from getting me from A to B is the timing belt. Which is not a one day job. So I rent a car while he fixes it and ride back to Atlanta because I have prep for the February bar exam. Which both terrifies and comforts me.

This  whole back and forth thing is a horrible plan, because it involves me driving back to my hometown, and then back to Atlanta twice in one week. This one right here, is not a big fan of driving.

For the trip back, because the car place only opens for three hours on Saturday, I have to be up and rolling before dawn. Then, because my grandfather actually being old ...which is kinda a shock to everyone... my uncle decided to ride down with me so he could visit. Which made for at least an interesting ride. I picked him up at 5am and on the way down he regaled me with stories of about his job, his health, and his next get rich quick scheme before he fell asleep. Then on the way back, the longer he rode in my car, the more he wanted to fix all the other stuff that was wrong with it. 

Since my return, it's been one event after another, first a little house party, then a drop in for the last games of the NFL regular season. Both were held in very nice houses, very nice...and so I've set my goal of 24 months to be in one. Goals baby...Goals! And at the last one I even got free tickets a NYE event! Still might not go though. Not really feeling it.

Barkeep...let's finish out the year with Bookers, a splash of sprite and a bit of lime.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Personal Festival

Ramblings Post #210
If you're gonna be a bear, then be a grizzly. That line is from some movie of my youth. I want to say Cannonball Run for some reason. Anyway, what it means is that if you're going to do something, then be the best you can be. Which isn't that much more difficult to say, now that I think about it, but lacks the folksy wisdom feel of the grizzly thing. All that said, I know a lot of grizzlies.

Girlfriends - The successful black woman's ideal

Most of my personal dealings are with a specific sub-set of black women - financially independent, childless, early 30's to mid 40's and out doing the damn thing. The number of women on my Facebook page whose daily updates include gym check-in's, marathon finishes, photos from trips abroad, career sucesses, stories of their charity work and etc., must surely be above average. And living this life means they don't have simple birthday parties - they have Birthday Festivals.

What is a Birthday Festival you ask? It's just like it sounds, a festival. They usually have four or five parts over three or four days. It usually involves multiple group activities, various locations, clubbing, and lots of drinking. One I remember had it's first night start with a "Wine and Paint Hangout", where we would all go to a group painting lesson (Learning how to paint say, a still life wine bottle) while sipping the aforementioned wine. Another I one I was invited to, but didn't attend, started with a Saturday morning 5k "fun" run for some charity before heading into the north Georgia mountains for white water rafting. These festivals sometimes include T-shirts, commemorative CDs and gift bags. This all comes to mind because I just finished Serve's Birthday Festival. 

The Festival of Serve started with a Friday night of Indian Food at Bombay Cafe and then smoking hookahs at Therapy Coffee Bar. Dinner at an Indian restaurant seems to both lack and have a certain something about it in group situations. I think due to the size of our party, the service was more personable - the belly dancer kept circling the table - but the it all lacked a certain intimacy. But that may have been because this was the first Indian spot I'd been to that wasn't half empty. Therapy Coffee Bar, on the other hand, was like finding a revelation in a closet, as the tiny spot had a live jazz trio and served a mean Old Fashion. I'm not too crazy about hookahs, but when in the whole thing felt like a cool scene from a late 80's urban romance movie. Now, there was a final part of the evening that I did not attend, but from which I did get calls when people were headed home at 3am.

The festival resumed Saturday at Senor Patron, a Mexican grille in midtown. Well, that's when I rejoined, there may have been a day activity, but I had "thangs" to do. The Mexican food was supposed to be the start of a bar crawl, something I swore I had outgrown since I realized that I was way too old to be even drinking and walking any distance more than to the bathroom. I wasn't even going but Spanky begged me to come because she didn't want to be the only one to leave early and get talked about later.  However because this is a Fest- tee -vaal, the "surprise" group activity was a Midtown Scavenger Hunt. The women on my team were very competitive, but this was surprisingly fun, although I'm certain that various parts of this whole thing weren't fully thought through. Finding people to do the Mission Impossible theme, or one armed push ups, or even gathering napkins for bonus points wasn't that hard. In fact once we showed the list of items to strangers they were oddly eager to help out. No, it was the shots and drinks. At every location. By the time we were done (my team took second place), we'd "participated so throughly" it was no longer cold out.

The finale was Sunday at the Giants-Falcon game. And although me and Serve go back a decade, I wasn't about to kick out for a ticket to watch two teams I only care about in passing. There may have been something after that, but by then I was in the wind and trying to get my study vibe back on track.

I have a feeling in 2015, Serve's Festival will involve costumes.

I'm not sure what the deal with the Birthday Festival is. Maybe it's a need to get it all in while you can, as a lot of these single women are still planning on getting married and  becoming mothers at some point. Or maybe it's just a "why not go all out" attitude, that got and flaunt thang. Or an excuse to do something different with their friends while folks are in a good time mood. Or, and hope this isn't it, it'a an ego trip because they think that they're just that awesome and everybody should want to go all out to celebrate them. 

In any case I'm certain a Festival or three is around the corner. They do have their moments.

Barkeep. Water. Tall glass. It's holiday season, and all this drinking ain't even cool.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A moment for Newtown, Conn.

I've talked about enough of these tragedies in the few years that I've been blogging to not want to talk about another. The repetition of such a story in the news cycle, networks desperate for eyeballs racing at break neck speed down every possible avenue and shining it's flashlight in every corner will only exacerbate the problem. Lonely people, mad at the world see only the blaze of infamy the murderer is bathed in by the media. If they must go, this is how they will want to do it.

It says something about me that once I heard about the tragedy, I checked one or two hastily thrown up articles and then tuned out all news for the rest of the day. I too, in the long long ago, would have tuned in mindlessly for any update, any scrap of news. No more. The repetition of non-news, uninformed explanations and self serving reasoning must have been deafening. I liked to have believed that we were better than that. I guess I was wrong.

My condolences go out to the families who lost children, to the families that lost members who had dedicated their lives to the craft of educating our youth, and to all the people of Newtown, Conn.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Quick Restaurant Review - Del Frisco's Grille

How do you end up at Atlanta's newest hot spot, one which is packed to the rooftop and not accepting reservations, and still manage to score a table at prime dining time on the outdoor deck on a late fall Friday night? You travel with a VIP diva, that's how. Or at least that's how I ended up at Del Frisco's in Buckhead to celebrate Serve's birthday before she jetted out for a Caribbean getaway. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back a bit.

It's Friday night in Atlanta, and I'm...home. I've got a rousing evening planned with Dwarf Fortress strategy, writing sample tinkering, light bar exam prep and maybe even re-reading some home renovation magazines. Excitement! The oven is preheating, I'm about to take the defrosted chicken out of the fridge and my phone rings. It's Spanky, the VIP diva, asking what I'm doing. I explain that I'm about to have a Martha Stewart episode - baked chicken mixed with brown rice, mushrooms, broccoli, green onions, maybe some sweet corn all tossed in a pot, then add warm naan bread on the side and maybe a nice white wine or the Crystal Light - when she asks if I want to go out because it's Serve's birthday. Serve's out with a manfriend, and she's gonna meet after for drinks, but Spanky doesn't want to eat alone. I've been making it a habit as of late to actually go out when people ask because as I understand it the internet doesn't turn off in this country and it just so happens television repeats a lot. She up in arms about this spot she wants to go to Del Frisco's Grille that she read about on, so I shelve my plans and tell her I'll be over in a bit.

I need to say this now, because the idea ran through my head pretty much all night, and in fact I even mentioned it Spanky. It felt odd because this was the kinda of night that in the past I would have spent with Sporty. Fun, adventurous, and different. Without her, there was something missing. Sigh.

Spanky decides we're going to ride the train up to Buckhead. If you're from a major city and think nothing of riding the train, let me tell you now that Atlanta is not that kinda city. It's a car kinda city. Very car. So riding the train, something I formerly had primarily done to go to sporting events at the dome was out of tweak. But I was game. We boarded with people riding up from the airport, people getting off work late, collge age kids headed out into the city, a veritable smorgasbord of people. It proved convienent as well, as the station was only a half a block from the restaurant which appeared to be on valet overload maximum.

So we arrive around 8 p.m. On a Friday. With no reservations. The hostesses politely informs us that a table might open up around 10:30pm, but we're welcome to wait at the bar. The already packed, two deep, shoulder to shoulder bar. Where five guys I already know are sitting! I leave it up to Spanky and try to catch the bartender's attention. I am not successful. I am not amused. But, ten minutes or so later when I go back over to the hostess station to check on Spanky, the hostess says right this way and we're given a seat on upstairs patio overlooking Peachtree St.

I refuse to ask Spanky what she might have told that woman to get us that table.

Del Frisco's is one of the places that has the short one page menu, supposedly indicating we only cook these things and we do them well, in a movie glossy interior. Apparently they were not informed of Atlanta's "big empty room" concept of restaurant decoration. Interesting. It was a rocky start as the bar was out "good" bourbon and the seat cushions insisted on stillness, not comfort, but we soldiered on. We started with a crab cake (my habit), with Spanky getting the Delmonico steak with a potato cake and me getting the Cheesburger with no cheese. 

Sooooo, the server was great. AND, their signature shot, the Honey Badger, - pineapple juice, sweet and sour and Tuaca - were so good we had a second round when Serve and her birthday manfriend arrived (they'd dined at Dante's Down the Hatch which was right next door.) And Del Frisco's is great for people watching. And they had these outdoor heaters with flames shooting up like three feet in the air.  And the view of Peachtree St included the Christmas tree at Lenox Mall and the soothing motion of traffic. Yup, it sure did.

Oh, the food? Um, maybe I need to apologize to my brother, because I think that beef in my burger was grass fed. It didn't have that burger taste. And the fries were too skinny. And the crab cake was just so-so. And Spanky is still trying to figure out what the potato cake was...think mashed potatoes in a patty, with stuff inside. What stuff she's not sure.  She did like the actual steak though. This supposed to be steak house, a national chain steakhouse, all kitted out - the wall of wine was nice, but there are better steak houses with better steaks...and trendy stylish joints elsewhere in the city. And a steak house isn't just steak, it's sides, it's proper drinks, it's atmosphere.  Maybe it's because they're new and maybe it will get better.

I would have been getting the side eye from Sporty over this one.

Barkeep, explain to me how you run out of good bourbon on a Friday 8pm.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

So they're making Big Explosions in, Star Trek 2

Ramblings Post #209
There is an idea, a notion if you will, that Hollywood is out of ideas. It's why you see more and more other media being transformed for the big screen. It becomes maddening, seeing perfectly good characters mangled by Hollywood screenwriters trying to stuff a story into two hours, and make them match the demographic specs. And apparently it's even worse if the owner (not author) scraps the entire original concept, counting on the impetus of goodwill for the old version to help sell the new shiny version.

This is the official synopsis of the upcoming Star Trek movie for next year....

In Summer 2013, pioneering director J.J. Abrams will deliver an explosive action thriller that takes "Star Trek Into Darkness."

When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis.

With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.

As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.

Three things.

First, why is the term "explosive action thriller" being used to describe a Star Trek film? The underlying theme of Star Trek, what made it great, was that it was actually about something. Sure there was some action, but the vast majority of the stories were about larger themes like man's place in the universe, sacrifice, honor, etc. Reducing it to a series of big budget explosions makes me wonder if Abrams even understands what he's been handed. Jean Luc Picard ring a bell? Data's question of humanity? The ecology questions, relationships, the prime directive? Where are the wonderful stories? This reboot of Star Trek has the Federation looking more and more like a failure than the triumphant advancement of society Rodenberry originally came up with. I realize you can't stuff all the nuances of the various series into a two hour film, but at some point this stops being Star Trek and becomes The Expendables in Space.

Second there's the "detonated the fleet" line. What does that even mean? Didn't you just blow up the damn fleet last time Mr. Abrams? I realize this is the future, and Starfleet officers have never really seemed to worry about money, but still methinks them puppies ain't cheap. How much gold pressed latitinum does Starfleet have budgeted for ship construction? Because somewhere in that chain, somebody is going to need to get paid. How about we shrink the story and instead of threatening all of existence everytime some one charges up a warp coil, you bring it down to a micro level. Oh, wait, that might require storytelling skills. My bad. 

Third...and probably the worst...this line right here "from within their own organization." Really? I mean really? You have got be kidding. Wasn't this the premise behind the first three Mission Impossible movies? Or all three Jason Bourne movies? Or really every spy or espionage movie made in the past two decades? Even the James Bond films have fallen into this trap. I going to go ahead and suggest that the rogue agent trope be tossed on the scrap heap of screenwriting until 2025. Maybe Abrams thinks it will all be fresh and new if you do it in space this time. Wait, wasn't this the plot of Star Trek: the Undiscovered Country? This isn't even new in space! But you know what they could try? How about a having an enemy who doesn't know who the hero is, and doesn't have a personal vendetta, or isn't a rogue agent who knows all the tricks of the trade. Sounds crazy right? Seriously, this whole thing sounds like a mess. The synopsis reads like a bad 80's action b-movie starring (fill in sweaty action star here). Maybe I'm wrong..., no, I saw the first one.

I bet the lens flare budget is the biggest expense on the books.

Even the heroic sacrifice alluded to in this still from the Japanese trailer loses weight at this point, as the we'd be mourning the old characters, from the old series, not these slick new versions. We don't know them yet. There is so little here that is still Star Trek.

Barkeep, I thought Abrams was supposed to be good or something. Something light, I need my wits about me. No Romulan Ale. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Somebody is Trying to Tell me Something.

Ramblings Post #208
I wanted to put song lyrics here for some reason. Not explain it or even mention that they were song lyrics. I'm guessing they would appear as muddled train of thought writing perhaps. And people (okay, person) who reads this would look at it and be puzzled for a while until they heard it on the radio and went "Oh, yeah." Then it would be less mysterious. But I guess I'm not putting up song lyrics. Don't know why, just not.

What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age.
~ Sylvia Plath

I have often mused that God speaks to us by pushing the little levers in our lives that create the opportunity for larger things to happen.  By maybe nudging the coin during the flip, by making us pause for a minute for no reason we can think of at the time, starting a chain reaction the end of which we might not ever see. It's a odd way of looking at faith if you will.

So I went to my second religious service in less than two weeks. The first service for a funeral, the second a christening. So like bookends if you will. But what was most interesting is that both sermons talked about living your life to the fullest.

The funeral was for a man who had died relatively young. Relatively, because he was way older than I am now, but as I intend to live much, much longer it's still a bit unnerving. The reverend, in the classic mold of the old Southern preacher - sweating, shouting and infusing the words with the power of truth, implored us in his sermon to "live your life so that when your time comes, they don't have to look for, ask for, beg, or pay people to come to your funeral to share your story." I've heard that idea before, live life to the fullest and all that, but then little over a week later after the christening, the sermon from a young preacher echoed this theme, pointing out we only have so much time - and so we need to start "living" that time. He asked us to do so because the worst thing you can do is "return yourself to God in the original packaging."

Perhaps "someone" is trying to tell me something.

It's not like I haven't been working towards self improvement for the past few years. I went to school at night and working by day, committing all my time, energy and attention to carving if nothing else higher education..and in a larger sense a better opportunity for me. And that plan is in its final stages, buckle down time. It is living of a sort. But then, I've kinda sacrificed a lot of other parts of my existence to get to here. And truth be told, although I've done a whole lot of living, there are whole parts of my reality unexplored.

So I've printed out a passport application.

I'm going to start back on my writing. And concentrate on one title, this time. (Well, maybe two... three... four stories tops!)

Cut back the indulgences on my diet. Yeah, that sounds counter-intuitive, but technically for the past few weeks I've been breaking my indulgences with my diet. Plus I looked good slimmer. Well, I still look good now, but I looked even better even slimmer.

I'm going to speak up on some things I've been silent about for too long.

I'm going to get back to my friends, my family, my people, the city and city living. Get back to living because as they like to say, "none of us are promised tomorrow." Get back to good company, good restaurants, and the quiet joy that comes from what seems like an unremarkable evening that you know will live in your memory forever.

Well, maybe after I take the bar..., 'cause I got like loans and junk.

Barkeep. Make this one of my last ones, because all that studying I was doing on the side is about grab the wheel again.