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Monday, July 23, 2007

Two Musical Traditions I Don't Understand


There's little I enjoy more than a live musical performance, but the tradition of the encore is one aspect of the experience that I wish would go away. I hate the ritual of waiting several minutes after the "last" song of the night, clapping like a maniac, just to hear two or three more songs. The reason I hate this is because I know that they know that I know that they know that they will be playing this encore. (Still with me?)

It would be one thing if the show really was intended to be over, and the band had played all the songs they had planned to play, but the audience just needed a little more. That kind of encore would be honest and meaningful. (A true encore such as this actually happened at a Tally Hall show I attended, and it was an incredible experience.)

But I can't stand the empty meaninglessness of most encores. A band should play all the songs they are planning to play in one go, no pretenses or expectations, and then they should get off the stage.

"Secret" songs

It used to be a clever and novel thing to "hide" an unlisted additional track at the end of a
CD. When this was a new trend, the secret song was kind of cool. But now, let's face it, the trick isn't new, and it's a little annoying. It's especially annoying when the secret song isn't a track of its own, but is tagged several minutes onto the end of the preceding song, so you can't skip right to it without holding down the damn seek button. And even if the secret song is a track of its own, the track number is often much higher than the last song track, so you have to skip, skip, skip, and keep on skipping tracks until you finally make it. Annoying. And if you've ever fallen asleep to a CD that has a secret track, and then been frightened awake after the silence ends and the secret song begins, then you probably hate secret songs as much as I do. No one likes being frightened awake. So bands should just cut it out already.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Brush of the Brogue?

I was at the post office today dropping off the usual express mail from work, and I was a little disheartened to see that I got the highly chatty and slow-working Post Office worker. I didn't really mind that he was slow working today, because I only had to wait about 7 minutes in line instead of the usual 30-40. But on the days I wait in the long line and get this guy, it's fury in my bosom, believe you me.

He always tries to chat, and I generally don't like to chat with people I don't know and likely won't see much again. What's the point?, I say. It's not like there's a good reason for us to get to know each other. That's generally how I feel about people I don't expect to see often if ever again. I suppose I will likely never understand people who talk just to talk.

Well, he's gotten enough out of me from our very brief exchanges that he knows a little bit about what I do and how long I've done it. Today, after asking me some work-related question, he asked me where I'm from.

"Murray," I said.

"Really?" he said, "You've got a brush of the brogue."

"The what?" I said.

"The Brogue." he repeated.

I am a little hard of hearing, it's true, but my problem here was more of a semantic nature. So I asked him what "the Brogue" is, and he explained it as something of a southern accent, but then he clarified that it tends to come from people with an Irish background.

Being neither Southern (thanks god), nor Irish (wouldn't have minded a wee bit of that blood), I thought it strange that he would hear such a thing in my accent.

Now, I have heard a little Southern-esque drawl in my voice before. But that's from a tape of me as a circa 5-year-old answering questions from my mother. She wanted to get Zac and I on tape so that we could be humiliated in the future (well, not really, but what other purpose could such a tape hold?). But my little 5-year-old Sra voice definitely had a more rural accent than I ever expected to hear come out of my mouth, when I converted the tape to a CD for mother's day a few years ago.

I've also always had a talent for imitating accents, although I'd say I was better at it when I was younger and less inhibited by the fear of mockery. If I put my mind to it, I could probably feign a pretty good Irish accent.

But as for the Brogue, I think this guy has gone a little postal.

Note to self: Add some 5-yr-old Southern Sra recording to this blog.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Weekend Adventures in Wendover

I went out to Wendover this weekend with Ian and his family. We went firstly to see Ron White, who is apparently one of those blue collar red neck comedians, although the only thing about him that really comes across as redneck is his Texan accent. The rest of his persona, complete with whiskey, cigar, and rich man suit, seems a bit more New York City.

I hadn't heard of Ron when we booked the tickets, but I looked up some of his taped material online, which seemed promising. And the evening was pretty delightful. In spite of touring with a bunch of comedians who either pretend to be or actually are pretty stupid, Ron's humor is generally intelligent. Crass, but intelligent.

Of course, the crass jokes are sticking out in my mind over the intelligent ones. But I'm horrible at retelling jokes. So I won't. But I do recommend checking out Ron White or Blue Collar Comedy from the library so you can get the humor first hand. You could get it from the video store, but why would you pay money when the library gives it to you for free?

The true highlight of my weekend, however, was learning to play Craps. I'm not as big gambler, because I like my hard-earned cash, and I don't like the propensity for that hard-earned cash to flow out of my fingers in casinos. But Ian explained to me that Craps really isn't as difficult as it looks, and it's the only game in a casino in which you can actually have a small chance over the house if you place your bets right. And even if you don't play those bets, there's really no way for the house to control the game, because it's all luck of the dice.

Slots have the appearance of being random, and the mechanical ones might seem to have more credibility at being fair than the electronic ones, but the truth is even the mechanical ones are controlled by a computer, and while the pay outs seem to be random, the casino knows how much money they are making and losing at any given time, and they have the ability to makes adjustments as necessary in order to pay out only the percentage they are required by law to pay out. In the end, they still make a profit, and anyone who thinks they can't control that is kidding themselves.

Speaking of people who kid themselves, I was alarmed to notice three different senior citizens engage in some strange hocus pocus which they probably actually believe will help them win the slots. One woman who was sitting next to me at the hot hot penny slots (which are generally much more fun than other slots) reached her hand forward and wiped it across the glass on the front of the machine. The first time she did this, I thought there might be smudges on the glass which she wanted to clear off so she could view the game better. But then she did it again. And again. And again on each successive spin. I kept glancing at this behavior out of my peripheral vision, thinking she must be some kind of old nutcase, and feeling slightly embarrassed for her that she thought touching the machine might help her win. Her machine didn't pay out very well, though, so maybe she should take this as a sign that her voodoo slot machine magic is bad luck.

Later on, I was again playing the hot hot penny, but this time in a different casino, and an old man fed a whole dollar into the machine next to me (you generally have to deposit at least $5 for those machines to start paying out, I find). With each 20 cent spin he played, he wiggled his fingers in front of the machine as if casting a spell over the rolling wheels. Apparently he forgot that magic is done easier with a wand, because he lost his dollar quickly. Maybe he'll remember his wand next time.

The third old lady I saw only in passing as I walked from the slots toward the craps table for another bout at a game which is actually interactive, and which, in spite of its dependence on chance, you still have some choice over your results. This lady tapped her fingers on the glass of her slot machine, probably with no more success than the other two senile senior citizens and their charms. Or with no better luck than any other schmuck who pulls the lever. You win some, you lose more, and you have no control over it at the slots.

Apparently, though, you have a better chance at the slots than at roulette, which Ian tells me is the game in which the house has the best odds of raping you dry. I don't know anything about that game except that the wheel goes one way, the ball goes the other, and your money goes away. Now that seems like more reliable magic to me.

But craps is a great time, and I think it is beating out Blackjack as my favorite casino game. At least in craps I know that the change of the dealers has no bearing on my luck on the table. The changing of the dice shooter can seem to affect the game, but that can be counterbalanced by the fact that you can either bet against or with the shooter. The players who placed the most diverse sets of bets on the table seemed to clean up better than safe players like me, who played the minimum bet and then maybe an extra bet or two depending on the initial roll of the dice and how that made the odds stack up.

Still, I had a lucky streak as a shooter myself on our second bout of craps (my first bout stunk, with me crapping out on the second throw). With my lucky streak I managed to make back most of the money I had lost, and I ended up leaving Wendover $25 down. And that includes food and everything.

So all in all, it was a bargain for the entertainment value of seeing a redneckish comedian, discovering a new favorite game, and marveling at the gullibility of superstitious old casino folk. Not a bad deal at all.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Fly the Friendly Skies... On Our Timeline Only, Please

I was recently handed a stack of mail that is still being delivered to my mother's house. Among these items were several mailings from Delta SkyMiles, one of which informed me that I had better hurry and use my SkyMiles, because they were expiring at the end of last December.

Well, that's great, cause I opened the piece of mail like a month ago.

So today, I finally got around to sending a letter of thanks to Delta, which went like this:

Dear SkyMiles,

Thank you for taking my sky miles away at the end of December 2006. I guess they must have been getting moldy or something, so I'm glad you were looking out for me. I really appreciate it. So much so, that I think I will try NOT to fly with you as much as possible.


Maybe Delta saw Punch Drunk Love and thought that too many people might try to amass SkyMiles as a form of currency, much to their ultimate ruin, thus they decided to instill an expiry date on the miles.

Way to go, Delta. Glad I flew to Germany and back twice and have nothing to show for it. Well, except all those great memories and photos. I guess in the end no one can take that away.

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