Going Back To The Hill

I’m taking a few days’ break from The Zone and heading to Ithaca, New York for a few days. I’m off to Cornell University to celebrate my 30th college reunion with a few hundred Big Red crazies, and I’m excited! I don’t think my 51+ legs can carry me up Libe Slope the way they did three decades ago, but I’ll maneuver my rental car all over campus. When I return, I’ll fill you in on all the latest medical, educational, and metaphysical drama in The Testosterone Zone.

In the meantime, in honor of Comcast’s yanking all TV, Internet, and phone service to my immediate area, read this rant about another favorite public utility.

Finally, because everyone needs to hear a great rendition of the best university alma mater song anywhere …

Phantom’s Masquerade

Everyone who knows me knows I have a song for everything. Not necessarily does every person have a theme song, in my head, but many do. With this month’s NaBloPoMo prompt , “mask,” I’ve had masquerade songs on my mind. Today’s ear worm is “Masquerade” from “Phantom of the Opera.”

This particular song reminds me of the family’s last real vacation:  New York City, summer of 2011. We didn’t get a vacation this year because of — what else — Wizard. While we did lots of typically touristy things in New York, we focused our daily efforts and schedule around Broadway. The boys learned when the theaters were dark and when there were matinees. They learned when to line up for the TKTS booth in Times Square and how to read the board. They learned how to make small talk with total strangers, even in the midst of urban chaos — all useful life skills. “Phantom” was probably the second or third show we saw that week. I was prepared to love it again, but I was completely surprised at how much the boys reveled at “Phantom”:  the music, the sets, the costumes, that chandelier. Curiously enough, it was one of their two favorite Broadway musicals that week ; the other one was “Anything Goes,” starring Sutton Foster. While WineGuy, who quite prefers serious drama, was likely nauseated at all the musicals we saw that week, I was secretly delighted that my boys shared my love of musical theater. It was one good memory to carry me through the wasteland of this past summer.

The song’s lyrics really resonate with me right now:

Masquerade!
Paper faces on parade
Masquerade! Hide your face so the world will never find you
Masquerade! Every face a different shade
Masquerade! Look around, there’s another mask behind you
Masquerade! Burning glances, turning heads
Masquerade! Stop and stare at the sea of smiles around you
Masquerade! Grinning yellows, Spinning reds
Masquerade! Take your fill, let the spectacle astound you.

Because of the ugly reality of  life with Wizard, I feel like I walk around with a paper face, hiding the stark truth of our tumultuous existence. It’s a constant dance of remembering who knows what and how much, worrying about whom we’ll run into at the wrong time, and how we’ll explain ourselves. It’s enough to make my head spin. I’ve had my fill of Wizard’s spectacle. I need to lock him away in a dungeon somewhere.

It Fits!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends here! We are on a plane for Orlando and then on to St. Louis for Thanksgiving and the Bar Mitzvah of Nephew B, the Prodigal Son.

My small triumph for the day (so far) is that I fit into the airplane seatbelt WITHOUT a seatbelt extender. Woohoo!

Make It A Double

I’m not much of a drinker, but after my day today, I’d like a stiff drink.

WineGuy and I decided to drive over to the east coast of Florida today to visit my mother. She had knee replacement surgery a month ago and was anxious for some company. We picked Mom up and headed over to our favorite deli for lunch. WineGuy was driving. As we approached a stoplight, WG stepped on the brake, and nothing happened. The brakes FAILED! WG quickly drove up on to the median, blowing the left front tire in the process. WG’s great defensive driving averted a 3-car crash. WG backed up and steered the car across the street into the shopping center where the deli was located. He and Mom took the boys into the restaurant for lunch while I called AAA to change the flat tire.

When AAA road service showed up, he asked how the tire blew. I told him the truth, and he flatly refused to put on the spare, saying there was no way of knowing whether my brakes were any good. He called the tow truck. I went back inside to swallow some lunch. Back outside a few minutes later, we were waiting for the tow truck. It was incredibly hot and humid, and my mother started bossing everyone around. This drove WG insane, and he yelled at me about her, about saying “the wrong thing” to AAA, and handling it “all wrong”. I let him vent and stuck by my guns. He finally relented and let me call a taxi to take Mom and the kids back to her house. The taxi was so late showing up — a fact upon which my mother harped incessantly — and preceded the tow truck by two minutes. Fortunately, we have AAA Plus, so 100 of the 165 miles towed were free. Fortunately, AAA miscalculated the towing distance and only charged us for 27 excess miles @ $5.00/mile. I had the cash in my wallet and paid the tow truck driver. He brought brought my Crapler minivan all the way back to our mechanic’s out-of-the-way shop.

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Overdue Update

There is so  much that’s happened in the last two months since I posted. I’ll just make a list of what’s been going on around here.

LIFE CYCLE EVENTS

  1. Aunt Mary finally passed away on June 6, 2009. She died here in Florida and was buried outside of Washington, DC. I couldn’t make it to the funeral because I was in Ithaca, NY. More details on that below.
  2. Two of my late father’s first cousins passed away this spring. Canada Sam died in Montreal; he and his wife warmly welcomed me into their seasonal home every winter they spent in Miami Beach. Morrie died in Miami in May 2009. He and his wife were second parents to me when I attended law school and lived in Miami. My mother took all of these losses very hard.
  3. Aunt Mary’s granddaughter, Angel, gave birth to her first child on June 30th. Angel’s baby is positively adorable.
  4. Cousin A gave birth to her third child, another boy, in late May 2009. She’s busy caring for three under 6 while her husband pursues a career in politics.
  5. Wizard turned 13 in June 2009. He received a cake and a  card from us and nothing else. WineGuy and I are officially parents of a teenager. Ug-ly.

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JazzFest 2009

JazzFest logoThe Testosterone Zone recently returned from its annual pilgrimage to The Big Easy. We were delighted to attend the 40th Annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Big kudos go out to Shell, Inc. for continuing its corporate sponsorship of this amazing event. Acura, Peoples Health, WWOZ, and the Sheraton New Orleans are also commended for their continuing support of JazzFest. In that same vein, I’d like to know why  Cox Cable stepped out and why the Ochsner Hospital or Foundation has not yet stepped up to the plate.

Civic observations:  The face of New Orleans improves a little bit every year since Hurricane Katrina. Overall, Uptown, the Garden District, the Riverbend, Mid-City, Metairie, East Jefferson, Fauborg St. John, and Fauborg Marigny are looking better. Houses have been repainted, gardens replanted; new businesses opened and are thriving somewhat. The Warehouse District, the French Quarter, and the CBD appear to be doing as well as ever. Treme is cleaner than it used to be, what with the impound lot gone, but it’s still woefully depressed and rundown. Tulane Hospital is open downtown, but Charity is still shuttered. Ochsner Hospital bought out Baptist a while ago and recently re-opened the Baptist emergency room. Ochsner’s own campus out in Jefferson is ever-gleaming and growing. However, Ochsner needs to funnel some of its millions into a full renovation of its on-site hotel, Brent House, which is tattered and dated and looking quite ratty in areas.

It was another awesome year of entertainment, food, and crafts at this year’s JazzFest. We planned to attend the second weekend of the Fest and arrived on Wednesday, April 29, 2009. [For those who don’t know, JazzFest occurs every year over a two-week period spanning the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May.] The air was sunny and thick with jasmine when we landed. We dropped our bags at the Brent House and then headed out to Restaurant Cypress for dinner. Cypress is an old-timey Creole place out in Metairie. It received a Zagat’s 27 for food, but we found it overrated. The food was good but not great — soups were good, salads disappointed, softshell crab way overdone. (Note to self, avoid duck salad with fig vinaigrette. It made me sick.) Afterwards, WineGuy insisted on sampling snowballs at Casey’s before stopping at the House du Dogue to pick up our ponchos and camp chairs. The House du Dogue really belongs to WG’s long-time friend, Lulu, and her husband. They store our JazzFest gear from year to year.

Thursday, April 30, 2009 was the first day of the second weekend of the Fest. We headed down to the French Quarter to properly inaugurate the weekend. We started with breakfast at Stanley, which featured a delectable Bananas Foster French Toast. Bananas Foster French ToastWild Thing consumed every last bit of this dish. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any room left for beignets and hot chocolate  at Café du Monde — a post-breakfast snack. Moose put away four of those fried, sugary pillows even after eating a big breakfast!Beignet Boy

We waddled over to the Fest and kicked off the weekend. Our first stop was Contemporary Crafts. In addition to all that wonderful music, JazzFest sponsors a huge craft show. There are Contemporary Crafts, Louisiana Heritage Crafts, and Congo Square Crafts (usually geared towards the country featured that year at the Fest). I bought a very modern pair of sterling silver and pearl earrings. Then we plopped down at the Heritage Stage to listen to the Paulin Brothers Band. Afterwards, we wandered over to Fais Do Do and listened to a rockin’ set by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, whose Southern rock roots are reminiscent of Molly Hatchet. I loved it! We stayed at that stage through part of another set until it was time for Emmylou Harris to play. Let’s just say that WineGuy really enjoyed her set; the rest of us merely tolerated it. We hiked back to the car and headed into the Riverbend for dinner. We tried Le Boucherie, a brand-new restaurant brought to you by the guys who run the purple truck outside Tipitina’s every night. Boucherie had little in the way of decor but lots in the way of flavor and presentation. WG’s duck confit and salad were delectable as was my pan-seared snapper over broccoflower couscous. The garlic and parmesan french fries were finger-lickin’ good! Unfortunately, Boucherie’s portions were small, and we all left there hungry. However, that gave us a chance to try dessert and/or more food at Crepes a la Cart. Surprisingly, Crepes a la Cart is a franchise out of Colorado. They opened a tiny place on the edge of Tulane’s campus and are doing a huge business there. Wizard and I opted for more dinner in the guise of a crepe florentine and crepe a la montaigne, respectively. The rest of the bunch opted for dessert crepes containing all manner of chocolate, Nutella, angel food cake, and fruit. They all were fabulous and incredibly cheap. I don’t know how we slept after all that food, but we did.

Friday dawned, and a fever bloomed in Moose. We dosed him with ibuprofen and some allergy  medicine and headed out. We skipped breakfast in favor of an early lunch consisting of po’boys from our favorite haunt, Crabby Jack’s, right down the street from the hotel. We picked up duck, shrimp, and oyster po’boys and had an impromptu picnic in an impromptu park right near the Fairgrounds. Bellies full, we waddled into the Friday Fest. For once, we did something smart and set up a “camp” at the Acura Stage; we planned to listen to three of the five big acts scheduled there that hot, sunny day. Wild Thing won the gold star for the day by helping care for Moose as he convalesced. WT rigged up an old sheet to our camp chairs and made a tent under which Moose could stay shaded. Bravo WT! We slurped snowballs the whole day and basked in the swampy tones of Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet, Marcia Ball, and the very extraordindary Bonnie Raitt. Although Wizard wanted to hear Musiq Soulchild at another outdoor stage, we opted to hear the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band in the shady, misty Jazz Tent. We stayed for part of that set and heard the last few bars of Tony Bennett’s performance at the Gentilly Stage. That was enough. Friday night’s dinner was in the über-chic Warehouse District at La Boca, an Argentine steakhouse and sister restaurant to Adolfo Garcia’s Riomar (where we ate last year). The skirt steaks were particularly good as was the baked corn pudding. We had dessert elsewhere as WG insisted on performing a comparison between neighboring gelaterias La Divina Gelateria and Sucré. LDG won by a fat molecule.

Saturday found Moose feeling a little better, but Wild Thing was coming down with something — first a bad attitude and and then a bad headache. We dosed both of them with whatever medicine we had and returned to the Fest. Our favorite children’s performer, Johnette Downing, kicked off the day with Moose’s favorite, “Wiggle Worms”. Sadly, we realized — and Moose informed us — that we are all now too old for little kids’ music. Sniff … no more Johnette. From there we went to worship the Rama of  Bone — Bonerama, a New Orleans brass funk band consisting of 5 trombones and a tuba. They funkin’ rock! Did I mention there are also cooking demonstrations at JazzFest? Over the years, we’ve seen Susan Spicer, John Besh, and Donald Link cooking up close and personal. This year, we saw some dumbass from the Louisiana Alligator Association slop together alligator sauce piquante. Hey, Quint Davis! Don’t invite him back. We salvaged the rest of the afternoon with a little Jewish soul music from the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. The highlight of the day was hearing Jon Bon Jovi’s entire set at the Acura Stage. (Last year we had to leave Stevie Wonder and Santana b/c the boys were rotten.) Who says you can’t go home? The muscular, still fabulous-haired JBJ from Jersey rocked the Fest to the rail with most of his biggest hits and a monster version of “Shout”. I loved it; WG put up with it, and Wizard didn’t complain. Excellent — I’m going to iTunes to download a Best of Bon Jovi album right now! We had another great dinner that night at One in the Riverbend. One’s heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad was so incredibly fresh and unbelievably good that I had two. Yes, it was that delicious. Dessert that night was fresh Louisiana strawberry ice at Angelo Brocato, whose Mid-City neighborhood looks livelier and safer every year.

The final day of JazzFest was Sunday, May 4, 2009. Despite cloudy skies and a forecast of rain, we began our day with fresh croissants and coffee from the most marvelous little bakery, O’Delice. Run by a Vietnamese woman, O’Delice features exquisite cakes and pastries by the basketful. We stop there every year, and you should, too, the next time you’re in New Orleans. Fueled with chocolate, butter, and caffeine we packed up for the last  day of the Fest. Wizard watched the morning weather report and warned us to expect rain, so we packed the purple ponchos in the backpack and headed to the Fairgrounds. [Fairgrounds = Louisiana Fairgrounds racetrack, site of JazzFest, and actually owned by Churchill Downs of Kentucky Derby fame.] It was Sunday morning, so we went to “church” a/k/a the Gospel Tent for a few minutes. Then it was on to Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Band. Cleary played with Bonnie Raitt a couple days earlier and merited a second listen. We killed some time in the Jazz Tent, listening to Ellis Marsalis, the patriarch of the eponymous family. Wizard could finally see the source of that family’s talent. Afterwards, WG insisted on hearing Neil Young, so we did. Or rather, WG grooved through it, and the rest of us barely tolerated it. I said it on Facebook, and I’ll say it here:  Neil Young sucks.

We intended to stay at the Acura Stage to listen to The Neville Brothers close out the weekend, but the skies were threatening. WG and WT found a small tent set up on the steps of the grandstand, and we staked out our claim with our camp chairs. WT tipped us off to the storm by saying he was cold. No sooner did we pull out our ponchos than the clouds burst. A torrential downpour drove a small horde under our tent, but we were well-positioned out of the rain. When the shower passed, hundreds of people fled the Fairgrounds. Too bad for them because we had excellent seats for The Radiators closing set at the Gentilly Stage. A little soggy and replete with a weekend full of music and food, we left the Fest and ended our trip in raw fish reverie at Sushi Brothers.

All in all, it was a great trip! The boys behaved beautifully the whole time and made us want to travel with them more. We told them so and look forward to our next adventure: Ithaca, New York in June 2009 for my 25th college reunion. Go Big Red!

Avoiding The Mouse in Orlando

We just returned from a great weekend in Orlando that had hardly anything to do with Disney! Despite a broken washer and a recently-discovered broken window in the garage (also courtesy of Wizard), we drove up to Orlando last Friday night. Unfortunately, Google maps sent us about 30 minutes in the wrong direction, and so we were nearly an hour behind schedule getting to the hotel. The boys refused to get to sleep that night, so Saturday morning dawned too soon.

Our primary reason for the weekend trip was to attend the Bar Mitzvah of our friends’ son. These friends lived near us for a few years, and we got to know them well through the synagogue. Their son is the same age as Wizard, and the two were good friends all those years ago. The boys have not been in touch at all since the friends moved to Orlando 4+ years ago. The son did a fantastic job reading his Torah portion, chanting his Haftarah, and leading parts of the service. It should be said that our friend is a rabbi, and his son did an excellent job of following in his father’s footsteps yet creating his own path. We enjoyed chatting with their friends and family at the delicious vegetarian luncheon afterwards. Our afternoon was free, so the boys played Hotel Tag and then swam in the pool. We dressed up again and attended Mincha-Maariv (late afternoon/evening) services. Those went by quickly, and a light dinner followed. The friend’s wife joined us at dinner, and we quickly caught up on the last four years. WineGuy and I were so happy to see our friends find a welcoming community and flourish  in their Orlando synagogue. The son has become a handsome, polite, self-assured teen, who (to my mind) still has a lot in common with Wizard. I mentioned to Wizard that he should try to re-connect with the boy, but who knows if Wiz will make the effort. Instead of some dance-party blowout, the Bar Mitzvah party was an invitation-only evening at a local comedy club. WineGuy didn’t want to go, so I took Wizard. We had a good time laughing at the improvisation and the specially created skit of the Bar Mitzvah boy’s life. Innovative and fun!

Sunday dawned sunny and beautiful. After a leisurely morning, we drove down to the WDW area, where we had tickets to see the Houston Astros play the Atlanta Braves. Champion Stadium, in the Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World, is the Atlanta Braves’ spring training home. It’s a modern new stadium that really evokes the past:  lots of great, open seats; good sight-lines; plenty of concessions; plenty of clean women’s and men’s restrooms; a huge scoreboard; a great sound system and a good mix of music and entertainment in-bwwtween innings. Although we are not necessarily Braves’ fans, we all liked the stadium enough that we would go back there next year. However, access to the sports complex is a nightmare.

Disney planners must take great delight in thoroughly obfuscating park entrances and highway access. Getting into the WWS complex took more than 25 minutes because of poor traffic patterns and traffic congestion. Once we entered the stadium complex, I realized that more than just baseball was  happening that day. There was a national cheerleading competition, a lacrosse camp, and several other sports games and/or practices. All of these events converging at the same time, in the same limited space, created a giant “cluster” for entering and leaving the parking area. Hoardes of overly made-up, beribboned and besparkled, scary-looking “cheer teams” bounced and flounced their way into the stadium complex as we were trying to get to the game. Their posturing made us late. We were not amused. Nevertheless, we had great seats out the first-base line. We saw some great hits and catches by both teams and consumed lots of frozen lemonade to stay hydrated. Exiting the sports complex went more smoothly, but we ended up in the wrong lane and suffered through some more Disney Highway Hell before we got back to the interstate. We eventually made it home in the early evening and got back in to the routine.

You can avoid Disney while in Orlando, but only if you try really hard.