Wednesday, August 31, 2005

CD Review: Blind Boys of Alabama - Higher Ground

I bought the Blind Boys of Alabama's 2002 disk Higher Ground on one of those whimsical, spur of the moment kind of deals. You know the type; you go into Borders, or Barnes and Nobles, or whatever big chain you prefer to whittle away your troublesome hours amongst the pop culture references. They've got various albums on the compact disk sitting in stands around the shop, already cued up in a CD player, waiting for you to press play and then purchase.

This particular album was just sitting there, waiting for me to gather a listen. I had heard good things about the Blind Boys before, and even though I had previously not had any luck enjoying one of their straight gospel affairs, this new disk looked most promising.

Look there, its got Robert Randolph on pedal steal throughout, and Ben Harper guesting on a couple of tracks. They cover Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground, Jimmy Cliff and even a Prince tune. You can't go wrong with that.

I was mostly right.

The thing is, and this has happened to me several times before, Higher Ground sounded fantastic while I was listening to it in Borders. Its like how jeans seem to look better while you are looking at yourself in the store mirror, albums sound better while using store headphones. Yet when you take them home, your butt looks to big, the zipper doesn't go all the way up, and the music sounds like crap.

Truth be told, the album opener, a cover of Curtis Mayfield's People Get Ready is pretty stinkin' spectacular. If I must be honest with you, dear reader, I might have to admit that they beat the pants off of the original. It's the kind of performance that makes me want to raise my hands and shout to the lord of the blind boys,

"Hallelujah!"

There is some nice vocal harmony, with a sweet high part sung by Ben Harper. Robert Randolph and the Family Band add some nice licks, but play for the song and not to show off their musicality.

While certainly Mayfield's song is a spiritual one, it is also a political one. Inspired by the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington Mayfield's lyrics speak out to a generation tired of war, to a race tired of being downtrodden, to a people ready for something to happen.

The Blind Boys cut out the politics and sing it straight as a spiritual. They make it sing. In the final chorus they nail a raved up harmony singing,

"I believe"

And you can hear 60 years of faith coming out in their voices. And in that moment, if only for that moment, we all believe, too.

There are other tracks that tread on similar, higher ground. This rendition of Wade in the Water stirs me to my very pancreas. The bass vocals are as about as perfect as one could hope to find from a blind, black man from Alabama. While Many Rivers to Cross doesn't quite reach the power, and humility of the Jimmy Cliff version, there is a weary wisdom in the gravely voices that come out of the Blind Boys that make it a classic in their own right.

The album is at its best when the instruments accentuate the strength of the Boys singing. An a cappella band for many years, the Blind Boys have an enormous presence, vocally. When Robert Randolph et al, ramp it up as a blues band, the album suffers. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Stevie Wonder classic Higher Ground. While Randolph is a fine guitarist, and he shows off more than a fine pair of chops during this number, the Blind Boys seem out of place. The lyrics have spiritual significance, but the song is more of a rock/funk number than down home southern gospel. The vocals can't latch onto any significant meaning because the guitar drowns them out.

Yet at the same time, numbers like Precious Lord, and Spirit in the Dark suffer from a lack of musical interest. The Blind Boys sing it like their in the choir, but there is no interest in the music, there is no soul in the soul.
When they are able to find a balance in both the vocals and the music, the results, are…well…heavenly.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Classic Movie Review of the Week: The Harder They Fall

I friggin' love Humphrey Bogart. In fact he tops my Top 10 list of greatest actors. He played cold blooded villains, cynical but good hearted tough guys, down on his luck schmucks and romantic leads with the same grace and passion. It doesn't hurt that he's been in some of the greatest movies ever made. With a resume that includes Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, the Treasure of the Sierre Madre, and the African Queen it's no wonder Bogart comes out as the actor starring in the most films on the AFI top 100 films list.

In fact, until now, I've loved all of the films I've ever seen starring Humphrey Bogart. I do my very best to catch any film in which he had a role. Being that he acted in some 74 movies during his career, I've still got a bit to go.

It was with great anticipation that I watch any Bogart film. You just can't go wrong with a Bogie movie, I often say. Recently, I grabbed a worn out VHS copy of his last film, The Harder They Fall. It pains me to say, but I can no longer claim that I've never seen a Humphrey Bogart picture that was less than wonderful.

It's not that The Harder They Fall is a bad film. In fact, there were some rather good moments. It's just that when compared to the other Bogart films I have seen this one falls well below the bar.

What pains me even more is that some of its failure lies in the hands of Bogart himself. Yet before we take the man off of his pedestal, I must remind the reader that at this point in his life, the man was dying of cancer. It had not been diagnosed yet, but there is little doubt that Bogart's insides were being eaten alive during filming. Legend has it that a sound alike dubbed his lines in during post production.

His illness shows through the performance. He looks tired, and haggard throughout.

But you say "The character is tired and haggard, so shouldn't the actor act that way?"

"Yes," of course, I'll answer, "but Bogart practically made a career of tired, haggard characters yet in films like Casablanca or Treasure of the Sierra Madre he embodied the characters and made them look tired." Here, you see an actor who is a master craftsman performing at a much lower level than we've come to expect.

But, look, I spit on no mans grave. Remember a fine actor's better performances; let a dead man have his dignity.

There is a film in there, besides a Bogart performance. The plot concerns a down and out sportswriter, Eddie Willis (Bogart) hired as publicity man for an up and coming boxer (Mike Lane) who can't actually box. The boxer, Toro Moreno, is a giant of a man who looks menacing but punches like a girl (and not a girl like Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby). You see Toro is mob connected boxing promoter Nick Benko's (Rod Steiger) fighter. Benko plans to buy every fight Toro boxes all the way up to a championship bout in which, betting on the other fighter, Benko will make a bundle.
The story is actually a good one, and with a little tweaking it could have been a great film. But the writing never really sparkles, and the direction never rises above the material.

Steiger's performance is the films saving grace. He manages to come off completely ruthless, and immoral while still making the audience love the character. He out acts Bogart in ever scene, and even with a tired, sick Bogart that is still quite an accomplishment.

Bogart may look tired on the screen, but his presence is still a formidable one. His lines don't shine like they might in the Big Sleep, and his character isn't quite as iconic as Rick in Casablanca, but he still manages to outperform most of the actors who've put their face on a theatre screen.

I'll take an average Bogart performance over Tom Cruise's best roles anyday.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I Quit

All last week I had to help with training some new employees. I'm not exactly sure why because there were only three of them, we have a full time trainer, and I already knew all the information that was given in class. My theory is that my boss didn't know what else to do with me, and she was too busy to give me any additional supervisor training.

Today the new employees were to come in and get right to work. One of them never showed up, and never called. This guy was sent over through one of the temporary employment agencies that we use.

Our office assistant called to the agency today to check up on the no shows status. They laughed when she called and said that they had this guys mother on the phone wanting to know why we fired him!

So this cat decided he didn't want to come to work and lied to his mother who must have been nagging him about not going to work.

"No mom, they told me not to show back up. I don't know why…"

Why bother to even come to training if you have no desire to actually do any work?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Classic Movie Review of the Week: The Ladykillers


As part of the ongoing transition of the blog I have decided to add a weekly feature: The Classic Movie Review of the Week. I've always reviewed classic movies, so I've decided to do a full length review of one classic movie each Monday.

The Coen Brothers have a very unique sense of style. Their films are often visually arresting, filled with violence and a bizarre sense of humor that is both black and hyperkinetic. Nearly each of their films has tackled a different form of genre.

Their first film, Blood Simple, is filled with violence, double crossings, betrayals and lots of shadows. You could call it an updated of the traditional film noir. In fact many of the Coen Brothers films are influence by noir, both from the cinema and many of the detective novels that spawned them.

Miller's Crossing
, though primarily a gangster picture, takes much of its plot from two Dashiell Hammett novels: The Glass Key and Red Harvest. Likewise the plot twists that go nowhere in the Big Lebowski is reminiscent of many of Raymond Chandler's works, and IMDB notes that the film was inspired by Robert Altman's version of Chandler's The Long Goodbye. Though, being a Coen film, they move the time frame up and make it a stoner flick. It's the Big Sleep meets Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

The Coen's have also created their own versions of such genres as the screwball comedy (Hudsucker Proxy with Jennifer Jason Lee doing her best His Girl Friday impression), the musical (O' Brother, Where Art Thou?), cartoon shorts from Looney Tunes (Raising Arizona) and the true life crime drama (Fargo, though in true Coen Brother's style they claimed it was based on real events, though they actually made it all up.)

In 2003 they hit on new territory with the romantic comedy, Intolerable Cruelty. Though filled with some classic Coen moments their take on this genre fell flat. Being the first film in which someone other than the brothers took partial screenplay credits (Sam Raimi takes co writing credit on Hudsucker Proxy, but he is an old Coen collaborator.) The results of relinquishing some control of the story created what is easily the brothers worst picture up to that point.

Their next picture likewise took over some unusual ground for the genre. They remade the 1955 British crime comedy, the Ladykillers. It stunk, and that badly.

Working with other writers = not very good.
Remaking somebody else's film = crapola.

Here's hoping their next picture is a complete original.

The Ladykillers was bad enough that it made me wonder what the Coens saw in the original that made them think updating it was a good idea. I checked out a copy from the excellent local library to see how it faired.

After watching it I can see how it appealed to the Coen Brothers. It is a bit absurd, quite funny and rather violent, in a twisted kind of way.

This time Alec Guiness stars in the Tom Hanks role as a criminal mastermind who poses as a genteel professor renting a room in a feeble old ladies home. His gang of thieves (which includes a very young Peter Sellers in one of his earliest film roles) plot their crime while pretending to be a band rehearsing in the old ladies home. The house, it seems, is the perfect location for a hideout after they rob an armored car. The old lady will provide a perfect alibi.

The setup is really just a means to create some pretty humorous comedy involving the gang of criminals being befuddled by a harmless, clueless old lady. The comedy is rather British, which doesn't always translate to an American state of mind. I found it to be rather smiling funny, rather than bowling over, spitting pop corn on my carpet funny.

The real fun for me was watching Alec Guinness act the role of a smarmy, conniving crook. He really chews on his role, creating such a vile villain, it becomes difficult to believe that the old lady (whose character is called Mrs. Wilberforce, and who I really must stop referring to as old lady) would let him into her house, no matter how gentlemanly his manners make him seem. It is a part a long way from Obi-Wan Kenobi or Colonel Nicholson, and it is nice to see him play such a bad guy.

Katie Johnson (who plays Mrs. Wilberforce, who I really must stop referring to by her character name) does a lovely job playing an eccentric, out of touch and really rather lovely lady. And it is a treat to see Peter Sellers before he was Inspector Clouseu or Dr. Strangelove.

In the end I'm still unsure as to why the Coen Brothers chose this film to remake. Or why they chose to remake any picture at all, since their greatest skill lies within crafting interesting stories. The original was an enjoyable picture and covers similar territory as many of the Coen pictures. Yet there are so many other films that cover the same kind of ground, which could have been chosen. Perhaps it was just obscure enough that they figured most audience wouldn't have anything to compare their remake too, unlike remaking say the Maltese Falcon, or something. Although John Turturro could really do something with the Peter Lorre part.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Blackboard Jungle Review

Ten years ago Larry Clark released his controversial film, Kids, about teens having sex, doing drugs and generally acting like delinquents. The world was shocked (SHOCKED, I tell you) that a film would depict teenagers behaving so badly. Surely, it was an exaggeration. There were exposes on the national news shows, lines formed outside the theatres picketing and boycotting the pictures.

I had just graduated from high school a few months before I saw the film, and while I found the picture to be a good one the only shock I felt was that of disbelief that parent’s were so unaware by their children’s behavior. Those kids seemed a lot like the ones I went to high school with. Of course kids were, and are, having sex and doing drugs. The quarterback of our football team bragged about having sex on the 50 yard line. Another used to tell us about having sex underneath the soundboard in the light booth of the auditorium (sorry Mrs. Patton). The head bangers used to make bongs out of stolen beakers from the chemistry lab.

They say similar reactions came from screenings of the 1955 classic Blackboard Jungle, and it’s depictions of juvenile behavior in an inner city high school. After watching the film all I can say is that parents seem to be as unaware of their children then as they are now.

It’s not that the film is a bad one, in fact it is rather good, it just seems strange that anything appearing in the film was controversial at one time. It feels tame by today’s standard.

It’s like Rock Around the Clock, the Bill Haley song that opens and closes the film, apparently caused quite a stir amongst movie goers and critics alike. With songs by shock rockers like Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor filling up the airwaves and movie soundtracks its hard to imagine how such a tame “oldie” could ever create the smallest wave of shock.

What we get from the actual film is a story about a high school teacher who takes his first job in an inner city school filled with all kinds of hoodlums. The teachers and staff that have been there for years are all content with simply maintaining some type of order. Of doing little more than surviving, and certainly not trying to do any actual teaching.

The new teacher, Richard Dadier (played superbly by Glenn Ford) actually cares about his students, and wants them to succeed both academically and as fellow humans. Though he takes more than one beating (both philosophically and literally) he never gives up his task of being a teacher, of being a guide to those students.

The always impeccable Sidney Poitier, in one of his earlier roles, plays Greg Miller, an obviously intelligent student who acts as a leader for one of the school gangs. Dadier sees in Miller a chink in the student’s resistance and attempts to pull him into his side. Miller resists at first, but in a move that must be obvious to even the most half hearted film goer, he eventually proves a powerful ally to the teacher.

It is here that my biggest complaint with the film lies. Much of the plot turns are telegraphed to the viewer way in advance. There is no doubt how the film is going to end, nor even much of how it is going to get there. The film could use some real surprises, or at least bring to the table something deeper, or more original in terms of story.

That being said it is still an interesting ride to ride out, by the means in which the story is told. The acting is filled with fine, nuanced performances highlighted by Ford and Poitier’s scenes together. Director Richard Brooks adds some real tension to scenes in which we already know the outcome.

It is interesting to see film seeking to enlighten an audience turning a blind eye to juvenile delinquency. It becomes preachy at times even beginning the film with a card noting the problem of the unruliness of the nation’s teenagers and that this must be stopped. That, along with some of the more trite plot points, it can sometimes feel like you’re attending a sermon, not a watching a movie. It is to the directors credit and the fine performances that the film mostly rises above the material and presents a solid piece of filmmaking.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Future

I just posted this in another post, but it was at the bottom of a very lengthy bit of writing, which I figure, no one will actually finish. But, I think this bit is actually kind of important to my blog, since it discusses what is to become of it now that I'm back in America.

Essentially I've thought a lot about what I want to do with it and have come up with a few things.

I will not be doing much diary type writing. It's just not something I'm interested in doing. Here are a few things I am interested in doing:

Reviews: I still plan to write one full length review per week. Be it movie, book, or hopefully music, I want to keep up the critiquing for as long as it entertains me. I hope to write little mini reviews of all the artistic endeavors I consume. I even plan to go back and give ratings to everything I have reviewed in the past.

I still like the idea of having a large database of reviews on my blog. Partially because it will be a nice way for me to remember what I have seen/listened to/read and how I felt about it. And also because I totally dig having people come to my site and be able to dig through a large list of all the stuff I’ve consumed and how I rated it.

Stories: I think I’ve led a pretty interesting life so far. I also enjoy telling a good story. I’ve been known to make a pretty mundane occurrence into something funny and interesting. It’s probably the one thing I’m pretty good at.

Phone Conversations: I work at a call center, and there are always interesting, funny or just plain weird conversations that happen over the phone there. Whenever I get one, I’ll blog it.

Essays: Once in awhile I get an itch to wax on (wax off) about all things pop culture.

French Editing: I hope to go through my old posts and edit them into a cohesive whole about my experiences in Europe.

Past, Present and Future

A Brief History of Brewster’s Millions

First I had 30 million dollars to spend in 30 days….no wait, that’s another Brewster’s Millions.

Just before we went to France, say around June 2004, I began to think I wanted to keep a journal of all my adventures while in Europe. Being me, and having kept an online journal before, and blogs being the rave of the day, I decided I would keep said journal in blog form. As is my tendency I gave the title of my blog about two seconds worth of thought. Brewster’s Millions seemed to contain some humor and a not so sly reference at myself and my thoughts are, of course, worth millions. Aptly titled I thought then, though now I might spend a little more time coming up with something a bit more original.

Pre-France the thought of visiting another country seemed magical and mysterious. I was sure there would be many wonderful adventures to document. In fact, truth be told, my thoughts about this new blog journal were that it would be filled with innumerable adventures throughout the old continent. It didn’t quite dawn on me that I would spend most of my time in one city, living an average life.

Really, truly, and deep down inside I had no idea what I was going to write and who I would let read it. So I started the first few posts jotting down some of the preplanning I had done and my own emotional thoughts about what our travels would come to.

Settling into France brought many a thing to be written. What with the long plane rides, living with a missionary family, finding new digs, being surrounded by familiar and yet somehow completely different people, and hearing such a strange tongue being whispered, hollered and thrown about there wasn’t enough time to snatch from the internet to write it all down.

Soon it seemed foolish to keep all my thoughts to myself, plus I’m a long ways away from keeping a secretive, highly emotional journal these past years. I invited a few pals to take a look at my scribbling and kindly, they gave strong, passionate feedback.

Thus time went, for awhile. Me writing about differences in culture, language, and monetary units, my readers saying such things as “Wow” and “Hmmm, that’s different.”

Yea, as time passed the days became more ordinary. No longer was it fascinating to hear the baker say “bonjour” before I ask for my baguette. The tramways held no more mystery as the whisked me away to the other side of the city. There were no more words to describe the majesty of seeing the cathedral soar above the sky, so I beheld it in quiet awe and allowed my readers to find my words written about it some days before.

Amy was now steadily working and I had ventured through most of the city I cared to venture through. With little to occupy the many hours of my time of freedom I began writing movie reviews and then book reviews.

Reviewing My Life

The reviews were a great deal of fun. I’ve always written mental reviews of movies, books, and music whenever I consumed said objects of art. I’m always willing to discuss the merits of whatever with whomever will listen/debate the items with me. Writing reviews was a cool way to get my thoughts into a more tangible form, plus let all sorts of people read them.

Eventually I found Blogcritics a site dedicated to reviews of all kinds and essays on every conceivable thing including politics and culture, whatever that means. The owner of the site, Eric Olsen, was kind enough to let me be a writer

I quickly submitted the reviews I had written over the last few months and began co-posting every review I was writing for my blog onto blogcritics as well. I even wrote a couple of essays meant specifically for the site.

Blogcritics moved me onto a plane I never thought possible, mainly to where actual people were reading my stuff, and not just my old college buddies. The site gets tens of thousands of readers every day, and with the exposure came comments from all over the world. Like most blogs, blogcritics allows any reader to write a comment about the posts. This gave me a lot of feedback about what I was writing from readers who didn’t care if they hurt my feelings, or lost my friendship or not.

Apparently I was doing alright, because within a month I was voted Blogcritic of the Day. A few months later, my review of Talk to Her won the editors Pick of the Week Award.

Hit Points

Blogcritics was part of a general plan to get more readers. It was ok for just my friends to read my blog when all I was writing about was my daily activities. With review writing I wanted an audience. While blogcritics was giving me more eyes than ever glaring at my words, the site was doing little to bring actual traffic to my blog.

Once you get a hit counter it becomes an addiction. Two, three times a day I was checking my stats, seeing if anyone new had come to my blog. I added a signature to my e-mails directing people to my blog. Something I had loathed to do in all the years I’ve been online. I joined countless newsgroups in an effort to send more e-mails to potential readers. I even joined several sites promising to bring more readers to my site than ever before.

It became an all consuming thing to bring more eyes to my little corner of cyberspace.

Burnout

I was now writing full length reviews of ever movie I saw, and book that I read, plus writing new essays about French culture and detailing my daily life on the blog.

With all this writing and hit mongering burnout wasn’t far away. Soon, I began to get bogged down in reviewing everything; writing cleaner-more interesting essays and pimping myself out to the highest hit count. I had to take a break.

I spent a couple of weeks writing very little, killing my review everything method to concentrate on a few better written reviews and breezily adding tid bits from my life.

Unfortunately my break ran into my vacation and then departure from France.

Here and Now

So here we are. The blog has gone from a personal diary for my eyes only to a conglomeration of essays/reviews and pseudo professional writing space begging for visitors.

So now that I am back I have to ask

NOW WHAT?

I’ve thought a lot about what I am going to do with the blog when I went stateside. From this point on I will pretty much leave any journaling about my day to day life out of it. There is nothing wrong with personal diary blogs. Many of my friends have them and they are a great way to communicate with the whole world, and plenty of people enjoy reading those things.

It’s just not what I’m interested in. If I was to write about what I’ll be doing in Indiana, I’d bore myself. So, I’ve broken down what I plan to do with the blog into a few categories:

Reviews: I still plan to write one full length review per week. Be it movie, book, or hopefully music, I want to keep up the critiquing for as long as it entertains me. I hope to write little mini reviews of all the artistic endeavors I consume. I even plan to go back and give ratings to everything I have reviewed in the past.

I still like the idea of having a large database of reviews on my blog. Partially because it will be a nice way for me to remember what I have seen/listened to/read and how I felt about it. And also because I totally dig having people come to my site and be able to dig through a large list of all the stuff I’ve consumed and how I rated it.

Stories: I think I’ve led a pretty interesting life so far. I also enjoy telling a good story. I’ve been known to make a pretty mundane occurrence into something funny and interesting. It’s probably the one thing I’m pretty good at.

Phone Conversations: I work at a call center, and there are always interesting, funny or just plain weird conversations that happen over the phone there. Whenever I get one, I’ll blog it.

Essays.: Once in awhile I get an itch to wax on (wax off) about all things pop culture.

French Editing: I hope to go through my old posts and edit them into a cohesive whole about my experiences in Europe.


And there you have it.

This is way long, I know. If you read all the way to hear, you’ll receive a lovely prize in the mail shortly. I wanted to put out what I planned to do with the blog and it turned into a long history of the last year in my life. But, there it is. I spent all this time writing, so you get to suffer through reading it.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A Rude Awakening

Last night Amy and I stayed up later than usual watching movies (Amy) and enjoying our new entry into the broadband world (me). About 12:30 we found the bed to lie in and began to drift off to sleep.

Just after 1 am, the doorbell rang in three quick bursts. I had not quite fallen asleep and readily realized what the noise was, but had no intentions of doing anything about it. It was as if my barely conscience brain couldn’t process any possible reason for someone to ring my doorbell at that hour and decided it was best to pretend nothing had happened.

Amy rolled over and I knew what was coming. She was going to tell me someone rang the doorbell. While I was trying to decide what I would tell her I would do about it (nothing) she did indeed tell me that the doorbell had rang. I sighed knowing full well I would now have to get up and investigate.

As I got up, the doorbell rang again, followed by a loud pounding on the door.

I got out of bed, pulled on some clothes and walked to the door. Running through my head were possible reasons why the bell had rung. With the exception of Amy’s folks, nobody knows where we live, and her folks certainly wouldn’t be here ringing the bell. It could be the neighbors, but it was a little late to be ringing to borrow some sugar, and any emergency would better be remedied by a call to 911 than by a ring to our door.

I began to expect some shady character at the door giving me some quick sob story so that I would open the door allowing said shady character to stick a gun in my face and rob me. I had no intentions of opening that door.

I looked through the peephole and found nobody standing outside. My first reaction was to check the locks and make sure they were secure.

UNLOCKED

Both bloody locks were open! How did we forget to lock the front door on this night of all nights? As silently as I could (for this robber-killer could be standing just to the side waiting to bop me on the head) I locked the door and began imagining this goon to have already slipped inside. Could he be right behind me in the closet? No, I didn’t hear the door open after the ringing of the bells.

I checked the back door to ensure it was locked. It was. Then I began to hear sounds outside the apartment. I peaked out the window and saw a couple of people standing around. I overheard a woman saying that she was trying to rouse everybody out of bed.

I threw on shoes and yelled to Amy to come out. This time a lady was standing in her pajamas on the front walkway. She said to me that there was a fire in the woods behind the complex and that it had caught one of the buildings porch on fire.

The fire trucks had arrived, and everyone was out in the parking lot trying to decide what to do. I decided I wanted a better view and walked through the apartment to the back porch.

FIRE



One of the porches to the apartment building next to us was ablaze. Holy Crap! That’s right next door! I yelled at Amy to come watch and like a typical male, grabbed my camera.

The firemen seemed to be standing around looking at the fire without actually doing anything to put it out. Eventually someone came with a hose and they killed the blaze. Since the porch is nothing but wood planks they spent the next half hour with a chainsaw cutting it to bits and then hosing down the smoldering lumber.

It was a rough nights rest after being awakened by a near disaster so close to home.

Moved In

We are finally moved into an apartment and settling in nicely. I put in my first week of work, and though it was not so fun going back to the daily grind, my job isn’t too tough so I shan’t complain much, now. We also just got the DSL hooked up so I am back online on a permanent basis.

Some changes will be happening to the blog. I’m thinking about moving completely away from the personal journal type entries. I’m thinking more along the lines of reviews, pictures, and fun stories. I’ll post more on this in a day or two, and line out some specific guidelines on what to expect at Brewster’s Millions. I know I’ve lost a lot of my non-friend readers in my long absence, but I hope to build them back up shortly.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Getting Things Done

After another full day of house hunting we settled for an apartment. All the houses were either way out of our price range, or dumpy. There was one three bedroom that was really nice that we almost bought, but we eventually decided against. The yard was too shady to grow any type of garden, it was too close to the highway to let the cat run wild, and it was too far from both work and school. With the apartment we get a good amount of space for a lot less money.

I also get my old job back, with the same position and salary! I fully expected I would be back to a representative status, though I was going to fight for higher pay. But, my boss gave me the supervisor gig without a fight. Apparently it was a surprise move because all the other supervisors were shocked. The boss had said last week that she couldn’t hire another supervisor. Whatever happened I am grateful.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Mostly Back

What was going to be a three-day family visitation, turned into a full week’s vacation.

All of Amy’s immediate family rented a cabin in Townsend, TN, which is a nothing of a town right at the beginning of the Smoky Mountains. It was very close to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, which brought us some day visits. Both burgs are such tourist traps I once again felt plenty of reverse culture shock. While walking around Gatlinburg Amy turned to me and said,

“American’s really are a fat bunch of people.”

It was true, nearly everyone around us was well overweight, sucking an ice cream cone, eating a funnel cake, and wearing the most obnoxious tee shirts. Gatlinburg is probably not the best place to find good American culture, since it is nothing but eateries, tee shirt shops and kitsch.

We also visited Talahachee caverns, and took a river raft ride. The river was very tame, which was what we planned, having Amy’s brothers children and all.

By Wednesday I was ready to go, which was my original plan, but both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law accosted me about it. In my mind I had lots to do: find a home, talk to my former work about getting my job back, move, etc. But it seems they felt a few extra days were more than worth my time. The time was nice, but too long. I kept feeling like I had stuff to do. Being here leaves me with an uneasy feeling. It is as if I have had this nice long break in France, and now is the time to get back to work. Sitting still in Tennessee made me feel idle.

The extra days turned out to be good, mostly, because my parents came up on Friday. In bed, I heard the doorbell ring at about 8:30, but paid it no mind figuring it was the cabin owner. I knew Alton would be up, and figured he could handle it. A bit later I got up for the restroom, and stuck my head into the living room. Two people were sitting talking to Alton, but I didn’t recognize them and went back to bed. I said to Amy that two strangers were in the cabin. We joked about Alton being able to talk to anyone and wondered when they would leave.

A few minutes later Alton knocked on the door and said I should come out. I did so and found that the strangers were my folks. They had come up because my grandfather has taken a turn for the worse. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a couple of years ago and has steadily gotten worse. They’ve now gotten him a hospital bed and a nurse comes in each day to take care of any need. It was very difficult to see what was an enormously strong willed man look so brittle and broken.

Happier times were soon had when we dined out with some old college buddies, Mullins and Juliana. It was grand to see them again, and their little boy Isaac.

I would like to say I’m totally back to the blog now, but it will still be sporadic. We go tomorrow to look for a house in Bloomington. Hopefully we will find one this week, but there is no guarantee that we can move in so quickly. Then there will be a wait for us to get our internet connection. So, for a bit longer, blogging will be touch and go. I really will have details of our European vacation…sometime.