Totally True Story Tuesday

One Tuesday towards the end of 2014 I posted a random autobiographical story on Facebook and tagged it "Totally True Story Tuesday." I did it again the next week, and then decided to see if I could keep it up for a year. I did - a total of 52 stories without skipping any weeks despite work and travel. To celebrate I created this page, containing all the results of my efforts. Turns out I ended up doing 150 Tuesday stories in a row (not missing a single week despite all kinds of travel). I took a short break at the end of 2017 because the usual Facebook shit show was getting to me, but I picked it back up at the start of 2018. So yeah, always check back for more delicious content. Click on the titles to jump down to the actual stories. If you are entertained, please support future literary endeavors:

227. November 12, 2019 :  Security
226. November 5, 2019 :  Bloodletter
225. October 29, 2019 :  Undercover
224. October 22, 2019 :  Kansas
223. October 15, 2019 :  American NuKem
222. October 8, 2019 :  In Between
221. October 1, 2019 :  Mix Tape
220. September 24, 2019 :  Boston Vortex
219. September 17, 2019 :  A Quick Trip
218. September 10, 2019 :  Catnaps
217. September 3, 2019 :  Toulouse: the Trek
216. August 27, 2019 :  Pasta Falls
215. August 20, 2019 :  Sonic Boom
214. August 13, 2019 :  Dishroom
213. August 6, 2019 :  Home Alone
212. July 30, 2019 :  Jackrabbits
211. July 23, 2019 :  Crazy August
210. July 16, 2019 :  Weird July
209. July 9, 2019 :  Jeers for Beers
208. July 2, 2019 :  Driving Me Backwards
207. June 25, 2019 :  Asbestos
206. June 18, 2019 :  First in Line
205. June 11, 2019 :  CalProg 2010
204. June 4, 2019 :  Rodan
203. May 28, 2019 :  Bloop
202. May 21, 2019 :  Maxed Out
201. May 14, 2019 :  Bowl of Soup
200. December 11, 2018 :  Cold Turkey
199. December 4, 2018 :  Cloud
198. November 27, 2018 :  Fan Club
197. November 20, 2018 :  Skankenstein: Behind the Music
196. November 13, 2018 :  Study Hall
195. November 6, 2018 :  44th Street
194. October 30, 2018 :  Romanian Wine
193. October 23, 2018 :  Shipping
192. October 16, 2018 :  Vancouver
191. October 9, 2018 :  No Story Today
190. October 2, 2018 :  Copyright
189. September 25, 2018 :  Sting
188. September 18, 2018 :  Crafty
187. September 11, 2018 :  Consulate
186. September 4, 2018 :  Autobuy
185. August 28, 2018 :  Teens and Cars
184. August 21, 2018 :  Tight Connection
183. August 14, 2018 :  Suitcase
182. August 7, 2018 :  Siberia
181. July 31, 2018 :  Four Years of Nothing
180. July 24, 2018 :  Dropsy
179. July 17, 2018 :  Faced
178. July 10, 2018 :  Rock the Casbah
177. July 3, 2018 :  Vacation Begins
176. June 26, 2018 :  Weird Music
175. June 19, 2018 :  Dramamine
174. June 12, 2018 :  Timings
173. June 5, 2018 :  Golf
172. May 29, 2018 :  Race
171. May 22, 2018 :  Gamer
170. May 15, 2018 :  Go West
169. May 8, 2018 :  Overweight
168. May 1, 2018 :  Fence
167. April 24, 2018 :  Computer Animation
166. April 17, 2018 :  One Way
165. April 10, 2018 :  Appendix
164. April 3, 2018 :  Alarming
163. March 27, 2018 :  Lot Stress
162. March 20, 2018 :  Smoked
161. March 13, 2018 :  Diamond Lake
160. March 6, 2018 :  Good Kitty
159. February 27, 2018 :  French Faceplant
158. February 20, 2018 :  Iceland Day Four
157. February 13, 2018 :  Blatherskite
156. February 6, 2018 :  Melting Servers
155. January 30, 2018 :  Hooked Pen
154. January 23, 2018 :  Harpur Jazz Ensemble
153. January 16, 2018 :  Let Me Shake Your Hand
152. January 9, 2018 :  High Roller
151. January 2, 2018 :  DMC
150. November 7, 2017 :  An Old Song
149. October 31, 2017 :  Neighborly
148. October 24, 2017 :  Jasper the Flem
147. October 17, 2017 :  Cloverleaf
146. October 10, 2017 :  Clicking
145. October 3, 2017 :  Rich
144. September 26, 2017 :  Comfortable Seat
143. September 19, 2017 :  Mustard
142. September 12, 2017 :  Tripod
141. September 5, 2017 :  German Dismount
140. August 29, 2017 :  Coincidence
139. August 22, 2017 :  First MoeTar Gig
138. August 15, 2017 :  Manta Rays
137. August 8, 2017 :  Second Life
136. August 1, 2017 :  Gas Pump
135. July 25, 2017 :  Substitute
134. July 18, 2017 :  Hero
133. July 11, 2017 :  Dolphins
132. July 4, 2017 :  Communism
131. June 27, 2017 :  Rolling
130. June 20, 2017 :  Invader
129. June 13, 2017 :  Green-Eyed Monster
128. June 6, 2017 :  Baskin Robbins
127. May 30, 2017 :  Standoff
126. May 23, 2017 :  Hit and Run
125. May 16, 2017 :  Stolen
124. May 9, 2017 :  Cruz
123. May 2, 2017 :  Flip Off
122. April 25, 2017 :  Walk Fast
121. April 18, 2017 :  dot com Bust
120. April 10, 2017 :  Cookie Toss
119. April 4, 2017 :  Canary
118. March 28, 2017 :  Shard
117. March 21, 2017 :  Toothbrushes
116. March 14, 2017 :  SXSW
115. March 7, 2017 :  Left Hand
114. February 28, 2017 :  Laredo
113. February 21, 2017 :  HPC
112. February 14, 2017 :  Dickinson
111. February 7, 2017 :  Bowling
110. January 31, 2017 :  Free Ride
109. January 24, 2017 :  Chamberlain
108. January 17, 2017 :  Wahweap
107. January 10, 2017 :  Camry
106. January 3, 2017 :  Lights Camera Action
105. December 27, 2016 :  Cows and Cemeteries
104. December 20, 2016 :  Swiss Train
103. December 13, 2016 :  Right On
102. December 6, 2016 :  Panic
101. November 29, 2016 :  Three
100. November 22, 2016 :  Hundred
99. November 15, 2016 :  Turnout
98. November 8, 2016 :  Election Day
97. November 1, 2016 :  Electricity
96. October 25, 2016 :  Papers
95. October 18, 2016 :  Plumbing
94. October 11, 2016 :  Trespassing
93. October 4, 2016 :  Gobs
92. September 27, 2016 :  Greek Peak
91. September 20, 2016 :  Buggy
90. September 13, 2016 :  Observer
89. September 6, 2016 :  Paw Paw
88. August 30, 2016 :  Parowan Gap
87. August 23, 2016 :  Leaving Brazil
86. August 16, 2016 :  Paperboy
85. August 9, 2016 :  Mountain View
84. August 2, 2016 :  Pizza
83. July 26, 2016 :  Mouse
82. July 19, 2016 :  Diplomacy
81. July 11, 2016 :  First miRthkon Gig
80. July 5, 2016 :  Safeway
79. June 28, 2016 :  New Home
78. June 21, 2016 :  Honda
77. June 14, 2016 :  Brett
76. June 7, 2016 :  Feral
75. May 31, 2016 :  Mike
74. May 23, 2016 :  Dreamland
73. May 17, 2016 :  Big Talker
72. May 10, 2016 :  Toronto Gig
71. May 3, 2016 :  Contractor
70. April 26, 2016 :  Mystery Photo
69. April 19, 2016 :  Garage
68. April 12, 2016 :  Albuquerque
67. April 5, 2016 :  Bed Time
66. March 29, 2016 :  Alexei
65. March 22, 2016 :  Family Bank
64. March 15, 2016 :  C Notes
63. March 8, 2016 :  Guitar Lessons
62. March 1, 2016 :  Serbia
61. Feburary 23, 2016 :  Dishwasher
60. Feburary 16, 2016 :  Reagan
59. Feburary 9, 2016 :  Blanding
58. Feburary 2, 2016 :  Aquarius
57. January 26, 2016 :  Ode to Bill
56. January 19, 2016 :  Fred & Ed
55. January 12, 2016 :  Common Ailments
54. January 5, 2016 :  Passing the Torch
53. December 29, 2015 :  Bears
52. December 22, 2015 :  Ticking
51. December 15, 2015 :  Calculus
50. December 8, 2015 :  Vegas
49. December 1, 2015 :  Berlin
48. November 24, 2015 :  Uncool
47. November 17, 2015 :  Godspell
46. November 10, 2015 :  Border Crossing
45. November 2, 2015 :  Tide
44. October 27, 2015 :  Wrong House
43. October 20, 2015 :  Free Soda
42. October 13, 2015 :  Inventory
41. October 6, 2015 :  Crossbow
40. September 29, 2015 :  Swordfish
39. September 22, 2015 :  Gray's Papaya
38. September 15, 2015 :  Dentistry
37. September 8, 2015 :  Cancelled
36. September 1, 2015 :  Waldo
35. August 25, 2015 :  The Worst Job I Never Had
34. August 18, 2015 :  Jeez
33. August 11, 2015 :  Tent
32. August 4, 2015 :  Yeah We All Know Each Other
31. July 28, 2015 :  Blowout
30. July 21, 2015 :  Clearance
29. July 14, 2015 :  I Once Threw Up On Stage
28. July 7, 2015 :  You Should Leave
27. June 30, 2015 :  Pityriasis Rosea Blues
26. June 23, 2015 :  Soggy Seattle
25. June 16, 2015 :  Trona
24. June 9, 2015 :  Party Boat
23. June 2, 2015 :  The Shift Shaft
22. May 26, 2015 :  Chicken Sausages
21. May 19, 2015 :  Skankenstein Meets the Spin Doctors
20. May 12, 2015 :  Michigan Stop
19. May 5, 2015 :  Dusting Off the Apple II
18. April 28, 2015 :  Hoopty
17. April 21, 2015 :  Squat
16. April 14, 2015 :  Keys
15. April 7, 2015 :  Honk
14. March 31, 2015 :  Cat on a Pole
13. March 24, 2015 :  Itchy
12. March 17, 2015 :  Boy Trouble
11. March 10, 2015 :  My Doppleganger
10. March 3, 2015 :  Pudge
9. February 24, 2015 :  Zion Narrows, Brother
8. February 17, 2015 :  Gringo
7. February 10, 2015 :  Cousin Michael
6. February 3, 2015 :  How to Succeed in SETI Without Really Trying
5. January 27, 2015 :  Sledding on Thick Ice
4. January 20, 2015 :  Tweezer Fetish
3. January 13, 2015 :  SAG Awards Saga
2. January 6, 2015 :  Pink Thing
1. December 30, 2014 :  This World is Totally Fugazi

November 12, 2019 : Security

A few weeks ago I attended the 2019 International Astronautical Congress meeting in Washington, DC. On the first morning my colleague Steve and I left our AirBnB and walked over to the conference center at 7am for a planned meeting with the rest of the team at our Breakthrough Listen booth inside the exhibition hall.

We registered easily enough but on the way up to the hall one guard noted the limited credentials on our badge didn't allow for us to enter before it opened at 9am. Still, he let us go up the next escalator. Another guard stopped us right at the hall entrance. She insisted we couldn't enter. Confused, Steve and I tried to explain our team members of likewise stature made it inside and were expecting us. She called her supervisor to confirm - without the proper "exhibitor" badge we couldn't enter.

Annoyed, Steve called one of our people inside who then came out with extra "exhibitor" sticker ribbons for us. Turns out he just pulled these of some of our workmates' badges. With the critical stickers now applied to our badges we were then allowed entry. Once inside we returned the stickers to their original owners.

After the meeting we went back down to registration to complain about not having the access we deserve. We approached the woman behind the desk and opened with, "Hi. We're working in the exhibition hall." Before we could plead our case, she handed us two exhibition sticker ribbons without question nor bothering to check our names/IDs. Okay then!

We returned with our hard-fought bona fides and the same guards silently let us pass on through. Steve joked that this was all an exercise in pushing the buttons in the right order. The silliness of this bogus display of tough security was heightened by noticing, once back in the hall, that a side door which led right to the outside was propped open by a garbage can.

Speaking of typical american bullshit demonstration of authority masking incompetence, I should note at the same time our esteemed Vice President was inside the building about to deliver a keynote to conference attendees. [Rolls eyes].

November 5, 2019 : Bloodletter

So I went to get a regular physical for my first time as an adult. I was young and fit - I made the appointment to exercise utilizing newly earned health benefits more than anything. I received no surprises about my health, but the doctor still wanted me to get a blood test for thorough diagnostics. The following day I went to the lab to do so.

I arrived, having fasted since the night before. The lab was small and staffed by a lone phlebotomist. She was nice and had me sit in the chair and started prepping my arm for withdrawal. To be honest, I was naive and expected nothing much more than a finger prick. But there she was tying my arm off like some junkie and assembling a fleet of vials to fill with Matt blood.

I stared upward as she began the procedure. She could sense my tension and thus forced conversation with me as fluid was slowly drained from my body. We chatted about work, upcoming travel for the holidays, shit like that. I maintained civil small talk until I became distracted by the embarrassing sounds of somebody outside making noises similar to a sea lion in heat.

Oh wait, the sounds are coming from inside this lab.

Oh wait, *I'm* making those sounds.

Oh wait, I completely lost track of the last five minutes? Ten minutes? Hour? I have no idea. There's just this black void of indeterminate time.

Oh wait, I'm in horrendous agony and it's absolutely crippling, and that's why I'm uncontrollably grunting and unable to form words as the bloodletter was franctically holding me up in my seat and asking me panicked questions.

Eventually I regained enough cognition that I understood that the blood drainage was too much, and I had vasovagal syncope, i.e. I fainted. Not that knowing this made anything easier. I was a fucking mess. Sweating, reflexively groaning, unable to sit up on my own.

Soon it became clear that the lab tech, running the whole show by herself, was ill equipped to deal with such a situation. The waiting area filled with people waiting however long to get their blood drawn. Once I was strong enough to not fall out of my chair she began dealing with the others. One by one random people would sit at the chair next to mine, confused and staring, as I whimpered and sputtered and maybe drooled on myself a bit. All the others were in and out within a minute or two no problem. So they couldn't grok whatever my fucking weak-ass deal was. I felt so helpless and humiliated.

It took an half hour to fully regain enough humanity that I could stand and shuffle over to a bed in the next room to lie down. Another half hour later I was normal enough to get up and go. No apologies or goodbyes from the tech. Afterward I went to work and pretended that all didn't happen.

Movies where people just "come to" after passing out: Total bullshit.

October 29, 2019 : Undercover

Every so often there's an amazing event in the Bay Area put together by Undercover Presents - each show being a parade of local musical acts doing crazy renditions of all the songs off an entire classic album. For example, Undercover once produced an evening in tribute of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid." For that I played bass/keyboards in Sabbaticus Rex and the Axe-Wielders of Chaos doing a brooding 20-minute version of "Electric Funeral" as well as bass in miRthkon attacking Wally's almost unrecognizeable arrangement of "Faeries Wear Boots."

That was super fun, but the real kicker was being in two bands for the epic production celebrating Green Day's "Dookie" at the Fox Theatre. I played keyboards in MoeTar reworking "Welcome to Paradise" and keyboards/electric guitar/acoustic guitar in the Fuxedos destroying "Basket Case." It's not like I was a huge fan of this record, so it felt unfair I got to be in two amazing bands tackling two of Green Day's biggest hits. In any case, this story is about the day of that show.

I should begin by noting this all went down during a phase of peak anxiety for me, so much so that I considered taking a much needed break from music and maybe quit my day job once this was all over. I come from a very anxious family where our blood is 25% panic and 25% worry. So I'm generally used to managing this level of paralyzing emotional chaos while pretending to be a functioning adult, but after years of over-ambitious touring, followed by me accepting new responsibilities managing the entire computing infrastructure of Breakthrough Listen while still helping out with SETI@home (i.e. doing the work of 100 commercial-sector IT employees at 20% their individual salary) I was constantly out of my mind, with my heart pounding all day long, and I wasn't basically not sleeping at all. The night before the event was typical, i.e. fraught with insomnia and dread.

I powered through the morning in a daze like normal. Given there was well over a dozen different acts, each with wildly different instrumentation, there was incredible scheduling and coordination involved, along was a crazy early load in time of 10am. I went about my morning routine, which included the silly mistake of checking into work.

In the early days of Breakthrough Listen we took oodles of data every day while still building up server backends and establishing data reduction/analysis pipelines. Kind of like finishing an ark that's already afloat on the ocean. My time was split between trying to advance our ability to do science while putting out fires in various new and older projects. And every day I'd "walk the beat" and make sure all systems were stable.

So while surverying the perimeters I discovered the main SETI@home web site was down, and another site flagging. I guess some tangential server crashed and the whole network fold was in some NFS cross-mounting quagmire. Remote reboots of these servers did nothing to help. Luckily, I had the foresight to make a clone of the main website on another server a few weeks ago just in case, and this ended up saving our ass.

Once that was sorted I hurried to the Fox. Of course there was chaos loading in and dumping gear into loose piles filling the back of the stage. I parked at a meter which I had to feed every couple of hours. There were 16 bands containing 150+ musicians who all needed to plug in and test everything. So as you can imagine there were expected delays while coordinating all the soundchecks, but everybody was graceful under pressure.

Since I was playing in both MoeTar and The Fuxedos I was stuck there a while. At least I got to geek out with friends and fellow musicians in the vast bowels of this venue. Plus you can count on Lyz, who produces and organizes these events, to make sure the hosptiality is top notch. Due to the slipping schedule neither of my bands had the chance to run a full song - we had just enough time to prove the instruments and monitors will probably work come show time.

I was able to escape at 3pm and went home for a much needed nap. But after waking up I made the mistake of checking into work *again*, finding one of the RAIDs on our Green Bank telescope backend servers had flipped out. If I didn't fix this by 3am our project will we be losing about $1000 worth of data recording capability when observations start at 3:30am. Yes, I have a bad habit of always calculating the exact dollar value of every potential problem - and these numbers are pure anxiety fuel.

Knowing this I headed back to the Fox by 5:30pm for the big all-hands-on-deck show meeting just before the doors opened. When I appeared I saw one of the other acts using my keyboard without my prior consent. At first I felt a pretty fucking miffed about this. A stage hand saw me and the sour look on my face and nipped this in the bud by intercepting me and apologizing. I quickly got over myself and remembered we are all professionals. It was fine. But this is the sort of thing that could break me when I'm on the edge.

The place filled up with people. Jenya arrived in the photographer pit. And the gig flew by. Every band killed it in their own unique way. And when it was MoeTar's turn we put on our simple costumes and nailed our crazy version of "Paradise" complete with all the requisite crazy time signature changes, angular harmonies, and tempo changes, plus the backup singers, Mikki and Erin, absolutely nailing it. The five minute tune felt like 30 seconds.

Due to the whole promotional machine behind the production every band had to run downstairs after each set while still in costume to take pictures. Fair enough, but this process took way too long because some of the MoeTarians chose to disappear despite earlier warnings from me that I had to get the fuck back on stage immediately. The cats were eventually herded, photos were taken, and I sprinted to the stage to start setting up for the Fuxedos tune.

When I finally emerged upstairs I was happy to find the stage managers were letting us set up before the next band even started. Phew. I mentioned to Steve how luxurious this was, but then he noted that I missed the previous act, and *we* were the next band. As a gallon of horror juice entered my bloodstream the pre-song video started to project on the giant screen. The video was about 2 minutes long - after which we were expected to immediately start playing. Meanwhile I had enough gear to set up yet that would normally take at least 10 minutes.

I scrambled to move my keyboard and monitors into position, unwind cables and plug them into the proper DIs, and locate my picks and pedals. Frantically I removed my two guitars from their cases, plugged them in, and didn't even check the amp settings or tune them. I then leapt into the wings to dig out my costume: the trademark Fuxedos bloody shirt and bow tie. It took way too long to get these on in the darkness. All the while I tried not to shout the violent invective boiling in my throat aimed at the stage hands who let this happen. I admit some unhelpful words may have slipped out.

The video ended while I continued to struggle getting my shirt and bow tie on while my fingers shook with frustration and fury. Danny, ever the pro, stalled with some impromptu comedy in front of 2000 people.

I jumped back onstage, checked all the keyboard settings, and then launched into our utterly ridiculous 10-minute version of "Basket Case." Despite the rushing all the guitars were miraculously in tune and sound came out of the monitors. At one point during our arrangement the whole band stops and I'm supposed to immediately come in with solo acoustic guitar. Being I had no chance earlier to dial in proper settings and test the a/b box, there was a 50% chance the guitar would have been completely silent upon strumming. I won that coin flip. Yay.

The Fuxedos tune - full of all kinds of hijinx - clobbered the crowd. And just like that, months of preparation and anticipation was over. Fucking phew! I stayed through the rest of the night to witness more great music, and speeches by the Green Day guys and Oakland Mayor Schaaf.

I didn't hang out with the guests of honor (as you could imagine they were swarmed all night) but I did chat a bit with Jello Biafra who was milling about backstage. He adored the Fuxedos set. The final encore had everybody, including the Green Day guys, performing one last bit together. I took pix from the stage of the various VIPs near me. These photos were lost forever when I tripped and dropped my iPhone in the ocean a few weeks later.

After the final encore I got my ass out of there. Jenya was in the photo pit all night. She met me by the loading dock and we ghosted that shit.

At home I immediately logged right into my VNC session at Green Bank Observatory to make the proper magic RAID incantations which tricked that pesky array back to life. Due to my efforts we didn't lose any data or recording capabilities - I will learn the next day that observations went by without a hitch.

But before we went to bed Jenya and I went out to Rudy's Can't Fail in Emeryville where I rewarded myself with some late night french toast. Deeply satisfying. I ate the first syrupy bite and let out one big motherfucking sigh.

After that weight was lifted off my shoulders the job reached a manageable plateau of average daily dread and chaos, and I did go into low-power mode with music for a short while. I also cut down the coffee and sugar intake. That helped - my average heart rate dropped significantly.

October 22, 2019 : Kansas

Okay here's another tale from the road. Not really a story as much as a snapshot of 24 hours spent in Kansas in 2017 during an SC3 tour. I'd been through this central chunk of America several times over the years, but until then never really hung out as I'd always be en route to destinations in Colorado or Missouri.

Anyway, it was a long day of driving south toward Lawrence for what would be my first actual gig in this state. Joe had been looking forward to the potential of visiting the similarly named Joe's Barbecue in Kansas City (over the Kansas side of the border). He's been before and raved about it often during the past week. Given efficient gas stops and favorable traffic conditions we ended up gaining enough extra moments to make this fantasy became reality. We headed there growing more excited and hungry by the mile.

We arrived at 4pm. This was perfect timing in so many ways. First, we hit the sweet spot between lunch and dinner rushes. Second, only on weekends and Wednesday dinner services do they add the extra-special brisket "burnt ends" to the menu - and it just so happened to be Wednesday night. In fact, we were the first people in line as the burnt ends became available. Fuck yeah!

Joe and I weren't messing around - we separately ordered our own sammiches, and together split a spicy cole slaw and a half rack of ribs. We got served up really quick and holy shit it was super fucking delicious. I had zero trouble eating all of it. One of the top five tour highlights for sure. Some of the other guys bought t-shirts from the gift shop. By the way, this establishment is part of a gas station. That's how good it is - you go to a gas station to get yer barbecue.

Back on the road. The bonus food stop only made us about 20 minutes late to the venue - Liberty Hall. For your first time hanging out in Kansas, Lawrence is a pretty good bet - it's a positive mixture of southern, midwest, and college towns. The venue was a quaint old theatre with oddly California-style psychedelic paintings on the walls.

There was a large trippy green room area downstairs. This was near the end of the tour - as this epic odyssey wore on the Dead Cross management, who controlled our rider, took to adding various embarrassing joke items specifically for us. Often the venue would comply with and provide the requested treasures upon our arrival. Unbeknownst to us our backstage demands this time around included a hand-drawn portrait of Trump. And sure enough we discovered somebody from the staff provided, amongst the fruits and energy bars, a sketch of our 45th President rendered as a giant anthropomorphized penis.

After our quick sound check I took a moment to check out the town. It ticked all the hipster boxes for sure. I guess Portlandia is everywhere now. As always I aimed for the nearest river or whatever body of water and hiked there as the sun set. Due to heat and humidity I returned back at the club pretty gross. Doesn't help that I also hadn't showered for a day or two.

So I chilled out inside with the a/c until we hit it at 8:30pm. Once again the set exceeded expectations. The crowd felt pretty thin earlier when doors first opened, but it filled out by downbeat. The excessive meat intake earlier slowed me down a little bit, but we still delivered the goods.

Turned out Joe had an old high school friend who was playing viola in Thundercat's touring band - and they were on stage right now at the other big venue in town about 6 blocks up the street. He scored two spots on the guest list and went to check it out. I happily tagged along.

At the will call they couldn't find Joe's name on the list. Clearly there was some miscommunication. However Joe sweet talked them, and showed them the text thread between him and his friend on his phone. The young ladies working there either felt sympathy or simply didn't give a shit - it was hard to tell. With expressionless faces they quietly gave us a couple tickets. Fair enough and thank you!

I only stayed for a few songs. Smokin' band. Packed house. Go Lawrence! I did get the nastiest look from a woman after stepping in front of her temporarily to get a better view. It sucks being six feet tall at a show. I can't fucking help it! Eventually I snuck out and walked back to the first venue. Dead Cross just finished. I hung out at the merch table for the post show fan hijinx and helping with inventory replenishment, i.e. running to the van to get more t-shirts.

Given I'm such a control freak and always anxious to get to the hotel I'm a prominent figure involved with every load out. I rule the tetris, hauling heavy cases and boxes up into the van in the proper order. However I've been pushing it past many discomforts or actual injuries for weeks, and after one particular lift above my head my right shoulder suddenly screamed. I felt this potential injury brewing for a while, but maybe I finally tore or pulled something. Ouch.

The hotel was nearby and we quickly checked in. The proprietor was recently forced to begin using those new fangled credit card chip readers, and it wasn't working. We were all on the same angry page about forced adoption of untested technology. Once in bed I slept like a fuckin' baby despite the throbbing shoulder.

I woke around 9:30am. It was a drive day, and people were still asleep, so I had several hours of me-time. I showered, grabbed a hotel key, and went for a walk. There's a food coop on the next block full of awesome hippie shit. I got a ginger tumeric kombucha, and some rxbars to supplement my stash of snacks. And then took a stroll around a neighborhood park.

Beneath the clear, sunny sky I shvitzed up a storm. So much for my shower. I walked past some people playing disc golf in the fields. On the other side of the park I walked past a sun weathered dude who asked me for a cigarette, and then directions to highway 40. We chatted a bit. He was in the midst of hiking solo from the Carolinas to Colorado. And there I was, on a tour leg that started in Baltimore and also slowly working my way west. And we crossed paths on this random thoroughfare in Lawrence, Kansas.

I couldn't help but think that the United States is a very big country, but also a very small country.

October 15, 2019 : American NuKem

Once in a while people see me walking around with a green t-shirt sporting the giant logo "American NuKem Corporation." It seems like a joke logo from a fake company, but it was (still is?) quite real. In fact, I had a job there long, long ago.

Freshman year of college ended, and I failed to look for summer employment because I was still very much a shitty 18 year old asshole. Eventually my dad found through his large network of local colleagues and connections a temporary job for me at American NuKem. They were a large corporation which as a whole dealt with the collection and safe disposal of chemical waste. I think. It didn't really matter since I worked in the sales office doing gopher work. The usual gopher, Tom, was a nice old man who planned be on vacation for chunks of the summer, hence why they needed to hire me as a sub.

Since the company just moved into a new building, a huge part of my job involved sifting through about 150 legal-size boxes full of papers, figuring out what they were, sorting them accordingly, putting them back in boxes, and stacking them in the basement. This may sound like a lot of fun, but the party really began when the company got audited, and everything had to be crack open again and re-sorted. Outside of this, the many other thought-provoking tasks on my to-do list included making coffee, washing the coffee pots, buying office supplies, xeroxing countless documents, shredding countless documents, and going out to buy deli meats for the "sandwich club." I also happened to be in charge of making sure all the company cars were occassionally washed and always full of gas.

Did I mention this company was located in Mahwah, New Jersey? I had a 45 minute commute each way every day from my parent's house in Rockland. At the time I drove a used car which my dad bought for $1. I'm not knocking it - he did what he could to maintain a fleet of vehicles for the large Lebofsky clan. Nevertheless it overheated frequently. A couple of times while I was on the New York Thruway I had to pull over onto the shoulder to let it cool down. For half the summer I ended up taking surface streets all the way to work, which took an extra 15-20 minutes each way, but I saved 40 cents by not having to pay the Thruway toll. Boy, was I a cheap bastard!

Being in northern Jersey meant I got to check out all the strangely fruitful Bergen County record stores during my daily errands. I found bizarre rarities and hard-to-find indie-nerd CDs/records at these places. Like I found a CD by this band The Ophelias which I only heard of via college radio geek friends, and could never locate at any of the world-class record stores in Manhattan. By the way, unbeknownst to me ten years later I'd be living in Oakland two doors down from the studio where some of that album was recorded.

I also would check out guitars and stuff at Robbie's Music - they had a painted sign outside the shop that didn't say "entrance" but "entranec." How and why did this hurtful error happen?! They never bothered to fix it for as long as I lived on the east coast.

This thrilling summer happened around the time just before I kept a daily journal in earnest, so many details were missing. I don't remember much of the people's names at this job. They were all nice folks, but most everybody was older than me, or more right wing than me, so I didn't feel like part of the team. There were a few younger people that I didn't really mingle with except for one time they invited me on a jaunt to a nearby upscale hotel where we would ride the fancy glass elevators up and down. There was also a company party at a beach which was awkward because I didn't know how to be a socialable human being until about age 35. It was at this party where I got that t-shirt.

Anyway, I made $7.50 an hour. For the first time in my life I had a salary that could almost enable a normal person to survive. I also had a side gig playing bass in a four-person musical pit for a community theatre in Westchester doing "Little Shop of Horrors." So in total I earned about $3000 that summer, all of which went right into a huge shopping spree at Sam Ash. I finally obtained some semi-pro equipment which I have been sorely lacking during the first 13 years of my musical career: a giant Peavey amp, a 5-string Ibanez bass, a Roland D-5 keyboard, and an Alesis Quadreverb. Yay!

The upshot of this was I ended the summer just as I started - completely broke. The Quadreverb still works.

October 8, 2019 : In Between

Here's another "road" story - about one particularly long day in the fall of 2013 as one tour ended and another began. I just wrapped up a series of European dates with miRthkon. The day in question started with me waking up as the van arrived at the airport in Milan at 3am shortly after a major rain/lightning storm passed through.

We allotted ourselves lots of time for the epic drive from Würzburg in case of any border/automotive problems, and thus ended up at the airport 7 hours early for the flight. Yay! Very little in the terminal was open yet, so we parked ourselves and our mountain of gear at a cafe and snacked and half snoozed with our heads down on the tables. I successfully whined enough about the shitty wifi that Wally finally caved and let me use his data plan so I could chat with Jenya back home.

Once the airline desk was staffed we hurried over to check in. The people at the counter were confused and overwhelmed with our large party and our weird baggage. It took two people an hour to serve us completely. We were nice and smiley during the procedure and they were ultimately kind in return. The patrons waiting in line behind us were miffed. Fuck those people.

Lugged all our shit to the bulky baggage drop off and went through security. I spent down my euros on some crusty salty bread snacks which would ultimately crumb up the inside of my laptop bag. Took a benedryl just to be sure sleep would happen.

The boarding process was your typical Euro squeeze at the gate, i.e. everybody lining up and cutting in without any regards to order. I pushed in as well to ensure I had overhead space. Once seated I got asked to move by a couple guys who wanted to sit near each other. Easy enough to do them this favor, as I got another aisle seat next to a nice young Italian couple. However the guy had a thick, itchy jacket that kept draping into my area and brushing against my arm.

I closed my eyes before takeoff and eventually came to only to find we were still taxiing. Dammit! And then I realized we were already at altitude. I totally slept through takeoff and ascent. Sweet! I was so drowsy I drifted off a couple more times during the course of the flight. These naps and a couple meals broke up the 8 hour leg to JFK. I've had worse flights.

Given the time zone difference it was still only 12:30pm once we landed in NYC. Back in the USA! I immediately messaged Jenya, and then my iPhone died. The battery was seriously fucking up more and more, despite claimed charge levels. Fine.

Customs was by-the-book but it took us a while to find all our shit at baggage claim. But that was it for me - I said bye to the miRthkoneers as they headed for their flight back to California. And as it happens I was just beginning a tour with Secret Chiefs 3 here in NYC. What fortunate timing and geography! Since miRthkon started/ended the tour in Milan I did the thing where I booked a round trip flight from SFO fairly cheap, knowing full well the return flight stopped at JFK on the way back and I could simply get out and abandon the last leg. This method was much cheaper than buying a one way ticket from SFO to Milan, and then a flight from Milan to JFK.

I got in the epic leaving-the-airport line. I chatted it up with the old Connecticut couple behind me who were bitching about the impossibly slow queue. Suddenly this young woman grumpily approached them and snatched the man's bag. Turns out the old guy took the young woman's bag by accident from the carousel since they looked similar. Luckily for all parties involved this was discovered and sorted out before they left the airport. So I guess for them it was a good thing the line moved so slow. Anyway this is one of my favorite travel nightmares (i.e. some fucking oblivious idiot grabs my bag). Oh how I love having such worries realized and thus confirmed as valid concerns.

Got a taxi to Toby's place. My phone died again en route, but luckily only after I gave the driver the correct address. It was Toby's birthday - as I arrived I found a gang of people already revving up the barbecue grill. Timba was also there, and I knew the Kayo Dot guys already, but I'd have to overcome my travel exhaustion and social anxiety to meet the other people. I dropped off my shit inside and joined the party. Fun hang, beers drunk, meats eaten including some delicious homemade pulled pork.

Plans for the evening formed. John Zorn's Moonchild was performing that night at Le Poisson Rouge. The show cost $35. Toby got on the list, and a few of the others wanted to go too, so I bought a ticket on line. I was fairly toasted, but the idea of staying up late and getting back on the North American rock schedule while catching a very New York City-esque show appealed to me.

But also happening tonight was the series finale of Breaking Bad. Full disclosure: I only saw the first two episodes from the first season and never got into it. At that time I didn't have the bandwidth or desire to live in that world, figuring I'd pick it up again later but never did. But fuck it, I was half brain dead and happily following the wolf pack so I was perfectly willing to tag along and ruin the whole series for myself by taking in the very last episode.

The small group of us got to the Village and started hunting around Le Poisson Rouge for any bar that may be showing Breaking Bad on television. However nobody really knew exactly where to go and the hunt proved difficult. Indeed there were lots of sports bars. Lots and lots of them. But none were planning to stop watching whatever game to turn on Breaking Bad.

It was getting close to 9pm when we finally found a place 10 blocks away that was empty and quiet and had televisions all over. The bartender told us they would totally turn on Breaking Bad for us. Sweet! Meanwhile I ran two blocks away to get cash out of an ATM. I got back in time to see the bar owner trying to turn on AMC, realizing his cable package didn't carry this channel, and then refusing to buy it just so we could watch it. That was so stupid. It would have cost him $10 and we would have bought hella drinks!

Dejected, we split, and headed back towards LPR when we miraculously stumbled on some other bar which was indeed playing it. Yay! It was a few minutes in, but we didn't seem to miss much. Everybody inside attentively watched this final episode which tied up all the loose ends and was strangely predictable yet satisfying. And I say that as somebody who pretty much never saw any of the 6 seasons, but heard enough spoilers to get the gist of what was going on. Now I don't have to bother watching that crazy crap. Just saved myself like 60 hours of life.

That ended at 10:15pm. We briskly walked to LPR and got our will call tix with one minute to spare. The show started as I was getting a much needed $4 coke. Packed house. A short but sweet set. I was glad I attended - it's good to cram in whatever NYC lifestyle whenever you can.

Got back to Toby's after midnight. He still had yet to pack for tour (we're getting the van/trailer and driving down to Atlanta tomorrow). I wanted to be nice and so I did three sinkfuls of dishes made dirty by today's party. Toby set me up to sleep on the couch. And I was pretty much down for the count at 1am.. except where's my wedding ring?

I took it off, probably, to do dishes, but it wasn't in my pockets, or by the sink, or in the couch cushions, or on the floor. I took a deep breath and dug through the garbage in case I dropped it in there. Nope. What a futile, gross exercise that was. I kinda panicked but then I checked my laptop bag and found it rolling around in the altoids canister where I keep my earbuds. Not entirely sure how they got there (I have theories) but in any case: Phew!

Passed out on the couch pretty quick, finally ending a long day in every sense.

October 1, 2019 : Mix Tape

In the early 90's my musical aesthetics occupied that borderland between mopey post rock and avant garde chaos. However finding out which artists I liked proved difficult, given the lack of the world wide web and whatnot. Luckily I had a lot of musician friends into all this stuff, and we'd often hang out in random apartments around SF, actively listening to records whenever we weren't going to the movies, or to a show, or out shopping, or to get a plate of desert fries at Baghdad Cafe.

At some friend-of-a-friend's flat a mix tape churned beneath the chatter of me and Todd and some rando who described his hospital stay last night due to appendicitis. I recognized a few songs coming off that cassette - Slint and Bastro - and since this kind of stuff was up my alley I paid closer attention. Soon I found myself struck by one tune - it began with an angular bass line, then other parts faded in making it unexpectedly groovy. Later I asked about that song and Todd said it was by the band Gastr del Sol - a name I recognized from the bins at Amoeba Records, but didn't know much about.

So the next day I went to Amoeba Records and picked up what seemed like Gastr del Sol's latest one: "Crookt, Crackt, or Fly." Back home I listened to it all the way through. A sleepy album of crazy composed bits mixed with long ambient improvisational sections. I wasn't sure if I liked it or not, but in any case I felt disappointed since it didn't contain the song I heard last night.

Giving its arcane nature - and my incredible patience for such murky art at the time - I kept getting drawn into this bleak, evocative Gastr del Sol record. I eventually fell in love with the closing 14 minute epic "The Wrong Soundings." So when back at Amoeba the next week to get my regular installment of fresh CDs I was happy to find the band had also recently released an EP "Mirror Repair," so I grabbed that.

Once again I went home and, while sad to discover the mystery song wasn't on this short album either, I found I really like this band anyway. I picked up their first album "The Serpentine Similar" the following week. On this album there was a tune "A Jar of Fat" which I recognized also being on that mix tape. It dawned on me that Todd thought I was referring to this tune when asking about the other one, hence this misleading recommendation.

So the punchline is: Luckily the internet as we now know it, i.e. rich with technologies like shazam or youtube, didn't exist back then or else I probably wouldn't have ever gotten into Gastr del Sol. A simple mistake led me down a long road of discovery, as opposed to floating in a lazy river of constant, immediate confirmation closing off the random paths to magical spaces where the sloppiness of real life would normally lead you. Failure is how evolution happens, people!

Some time later I read about a new band Tortoise which sounded interesting. so I picked their debut CD up and, lo and behold, I quickly found they were the creators of that mystery song. Woot! For the record, the tune in question was "Spiderwebbed." You've probably heard me playing this riff at soundcheck sometime.

September 24, 2019 : Boston Vortex

Despite living relatively close my whole childhood, and even visiting relatives in Cape Cod on several occasions, I hadn't ever been to Boston until Mumble & Peg toured there in 1998. It was the band's first time playing in this part of the world, so we didn't have much leverage when it came to venue options. We settled for a gig at Jacques' Cabaret.

As with all real stories and adventures, this was before cell phones and GPS navigation. Once in town we found a pay phone to advance the show and ask for more explicit directions. Basically all we had was an address and a basic map of surface streets from my road atlas. The call to the club wasn't too helpful - they just said they were just south of the Boston Common, and we found the street on our map. Hey - looks like we're only a few blocks away. Good to go!

We attempted to pull into the particular neighborhood, but the most obvious street according to the map was a one-way going the wrong way. Unfortunately, we didn't realize this until too late and had no choice but to keep going straight.. and ultimately all the way around the entire Boston Public Garden park. Given the Friday night rush hour traffic this forced detour took fifteen minutes.

Back on track, we tried another point of entry to get nearer to the club. This time we hit a different one-way street, and once again got squirted onto a main artery which spun us around the park a second time. Fuck!

Long story short, despite being three blocks away at the beginning of this effort it took us 90 minutes to finally figure out the rather unintuitive sequence of one-way thoroughfares to get to the goddamn club. We were all getting pissed off at Boston and at each other in the process, as you can imagine. And we circled the fucking garden at least four times. So frustrating.

The gig itself wasn't so great. The single mic stand was broken, so we fashioned an alternative out of a cardboard tube. Erik's amp died during the set. Afterward we stayed the night at a local friend's house. They recently moved into a flat with no furniture - we resorted to sleeping on a hard cement floor utilizing unsold band t-shirts to fashion a "mattress" that provided an almost imperceptible smidgen of comfort.

I've been back to Boston for various gigs over the years. It's such a clusterfuck maze of a city I never had any idea exactly where in town I ended up or how the hell I got there. And then after a show in 2017, i.e. nineteen goddamn years after my aforementioned first visit to Beantown, I had the honors of driving the van from the venue to the hotel. Always anxious to get going, I pulled away as bandmates were still dialing in directions on their phones. Before anybody had any advice I found myself kinda ushered down one main road given construction blockages and general lack of turning options and then.. I found myself going the long way around some park.

Wait - was this the Boston Public Garden that I kept orbiting against my will almost two decades ago? Yes. Yes it was. I guess it never ends with this fucking city always forcing you to circumnavigate that dumb ass park.

September 17, 2019 : A Quick Trip

Okay. This is for all of you who may be jealous of other people's travels - buckle up and brace yourself for a hot, steaming plate of succulent schadenfreude. Actually more like a five course meal.

So last week for work I had an short, informal, off site meeting at a scientific facility in Southern California. Dave (Breakthrough Listen lead engineer) and I (Breakthrough Listen lead computer geek) went to represent our project. Given the large attendance, and an agenda including a tour of the site, we decided to meet down there instead of trying to set up a video conference. It's always best to convene in person, and given the relatively nearby locale we aimed for a quick 24 hour-ish trip: leave Sunday night, meet Monday morning/afternoon, return Monday night.

I hate coordinating tight flight schedules, so originally I figured we'd drive. But since it was a seven hour journey each way I was eventually convinced flying made more sense time-wise - especially as we had to be back in Berkeley Tuesday morning for another meeting. The airport nearest to where we had to be was Ontario (in San Bernardino County) and Southwest flew directly there from Oakland. Easy squeazy! Except our project has been kinda bought into the whole United Airlines ecosystem. So given various conveniences and frequent flyer programs we ended up flying United out of SFO. Dave offered me a ride to the airport - that softened the blow a bit.

We bought our tickets about a week out, and once the 24 hour full-refund grace period was over we got an e-mail from United notifying us about runway reconstruction at SFO which may cause some flight delays. Why didn't anybody tell us this while we were buying the tickets? Well, we've heard such warnings before so we paid it no mind.

Two days before leaving we got another e-mail saying they'd rebook our flights free of charge if we do so desire. No we didn't do so desire - we were on a rigid schedule! Also, admittedly, I wanted to arrive early enough on Sunday to ensure a full night of rest after months of sleep depravation due to my adorable but high maintenance puppy.

On Saturday night Dave and I got a text that the flights were flat out cancelled. Well, shit. I guess they were serious. Dave booked himself on the next available flight, but by the time I got on line three minutes later to do the same there were no available seats left. So in order to stay together for logistical purposes (the rental car was in my name, for example) we scrambled to get on an even later plane - the only option really was a flight that left around 10pm and arrived just before midnight. So much for being well slept! Still, we accepted this fate. Also this later plane was much larger than the earlier two, and thus less likely to be unceremoniously axed from the schedule.

We already booked a rental car and a hotel (the latter being uncancel-able on short notice). I called Hertz to let them know about the later arrival. Turns out Ontario airport is small enough that the rental car companies all shut down by midnight. They claimed we should be able to make it just in time, but now I had anxiety surrounding vehicle availability once we got into town.

Jenya and I were winding down for bed when I got a text from United. It said in a friendly manner that boarding had started for my flight. What?! I discovered in my panic/haste earlier I apparently booked a replacement flight for TONIGHT, not tomorrow. Oh, for fuck's sake! Doom filled my bloodstream but luckily all it took was a quick phone call to United and they fixed it no questions asked.

Sunday came, and while packing in the afternoon Dave and I got another set of alerts from United. Our current flight was delayed an hour. At this point we'd land at 1am and certainly miss the car rental window, so we decided to aim for an earlier arrival at a different airport. But which one: Burbank vs. Orange County? After many texts back and forth overthinking this decision we settled on Orange County. Our new flights boarded around 8pm. This revised departure time would make up for the additional driving to the hotel from a more distant airport.

Dave picked me up en route to SFO. On the road he groaned that, with his elite United status, he had a first class upgrade on that first flight, but lost it during all this rebooking. Bummer. We parked in long term. While on the shuttle to the terminal we got alerts on our phone about our upcoming gates. I couldn't help but notice his said gate 77. Weird - my alert said gate 82. I then looked closer at his phone. Burbank? Why are you flying to Burbank?!!

Somehow we screwed up and bought tickets leaving at the same time but going to different airports. Hilariously both of us had the same immediate instinctual reaction: to flick our phones and frantically scan our mutual text conversation to see who fucked up. Honestly, neither of us were really at fault. Just some basic miscommunication due to a lot of vague responses and bad timing during some rapid fire texting. Like something out of an episode of "Three's Company."

Well, now what?! We're supposed to be boarding in like 30 minutes. We hit the United desk and explained the situation. The woman was sympathetic, and at first said there wasn't much she could do as both flights were full. I braced for having to drive an hour out of the way from Orange County to Burbank to pick up Dave after we land.

However, she then admitted one seat remained open on my flight to Orange County, but it's first class. Dave countered that he had a first class ticket on one of the flights we had to change. But unfortunately he had no direct proof of this - in this day and age of mobile passes nobody prints them out anymore. The woman did some poking at the keyboard, staring at the screen, calling on the phone, and waving over of the supervisor. Without much discussion her machine started printing and she, with an air of secrecy, slipped Dave a ticket for that first class seat on my flight. It's a miracle! Thank you! So Dave got his upgrade after all and I wouldn't have to drive an extra hour to Burbank.

Not much time to spare, we slogged through security. For some reason the bin with my laptop got flagged for secondary screening. Fine, except the slow ass TSA motherfucker had two pieces of luggage ahead of me to dig through and he was taking his own stupid time. Ten minutes later he got to my laptop and found the only reason it was flagged was because the x-ray machine operator failed to get a look at it, and simply wanted it sent through again.

No more problems for the next stretch. We landed in SoCal, made it to the hotel by midnight (driving past Ontario airport en route), and slept a tiny bit. Woke up early and hit the neighborhood Walmart because I forgot to bring a razor. The working part of the trip on Monday was productive. The meeting ended a little early, so Dave and I had no problem getting back to Ontario for our flight home, which - according to United - was still on time, boarding at 8pm.

The airport was basically empty. I wandered around the barren terminal. About 20 minutes before boarding Dave and I both got the dreaded text alerts. Flight cancelled. Dave got automatically a seat on the next flight - at 6am tomorrow morning. That plane filled quickly so I got booked on the next flight after that - at 5pm tomorrow afternoon. Bloody fucking hell.

We scrambled back to the front desk, waiting in line behind angry people. I, too, had steam coming out of my ears. Dave thoughtfully reminded me that it's not the fault of the agents behind the desk, and being nice to them goes a long way.

Once finally served we calmly asked about our options. There weren't many. I could be on standby for that 6am flight, but we all knew that will likely be cancelled. And the thought of waking up at 4am for a flight that may be delayed, or cancelled, or taking off without me was absolutely terrifying. Anyway there wasn't much the agent could or would do. Given the SFO delays were not United's fault they offered zero hotel support or anything other than no-charge ticket changes.

Dave and I went off to the side to figure shit out. We dearly considered getting a rental car and driving home right fucking now. But we were already kinda wrecked from general lack of sleep and the long day thus far so driving until 3am didn't seem fun nor smart. One workmate back in Berkeley, aware of the situation, dearly suggested we get an Uber all the way home.

I found a Southwest flight set to leave in about 30 minutes to Oakland. We probably could have hopped on that if we hurried. Dave wasn't as willing to run for it, as we'd arrive at 11pm and he'd have to get to SFO and drive home getting in after 1am, which seemed horrible at the time. So out of continued comradery, and making sure Dave didn't get totally fucked by himself, we decided to both go for a 6:45am flight out of Orange County tomorrow. Plus staying in the United system gave us one last chance at those precious few frequent flyer miles, I guess. Our updated tickets had us on a larger plane at a larger airport which could only improve our chances of getting the fuck out of this hellscape.

We still required a hotel, so we booked one right across the street from the Orange County airport. We also needed to get there. We could've grabbed a taxi, but Dave seemed keen to use this opportunity to see what it was like to rent a car just to go between these two airports - perhaps a cheaper option, maybe even faster, also maybe improving the fun quotient of this pointless adventure.

Grabbed a car from the lot and headed out on the highway for the 45 minute trek to Orange County. We kinda forgot about the fact we would still need to gas up as the needle dipped below full as we approached. Conveniently there's a Chevron right by the airport. We arrived and.. the station was closed for repairs. Oh Jesus Fucking Shit Christ already!

The nearest gas station was a couple miles up the road. This little extra errand added 10 minutes to the whole thing. Given the taxes and the refueling, driving ourselves ended up not being cheaper nor faster than a taxi/Uber/whatever.

Plus a professional ride would have dropped us off at our hotel. Luckily the hotel was a simple walk across the street from the airport. Easy, right?

The rental car area was below ground. The first two stairwells we ascended had the exit oddly blocked off at the arrivals level. Hunh. Third time was the charm. Using GPS I walked toward the main exit of the whole complex. We saw sidewalks and pedestrian crossing signals when driving by earlier, so we knew it was possible to walk into the airport. But how do you walk out?

As our blue dot on the GPS screen pulsed near the main exit we found it unreachable, with no obvious way to get around the rails and fences. Weird. In fact our GPS on-foot directions showed that we had to trudge a mile further down and then back around to get out to the main street. I thought, "this can't be true." We kept stomping around, back and forth, completely unable to suss out how to get the fuck out of here! And yet we could see our hotel through the bars about 100 yards away. So frustrating!

Dave spotted a break in the fences. We squeezed out and the path outside led us right down to the curb. But here was no sidewalk. Just a curb and impenetrable shrubbery on either side of us. Ahead were five lanes of high-speed traffic zooming around a blind curve. As we weighed the risk of playing real life Frogger sprinklers on the grassy median across the way came alive. If we went for it, and survived, we would have gotten totally shpritzed.

We bailed on that plan. We succumbed to requiring assistance and sulked back to the general ground transportation area. On a panel was a number for our hotel - maybe we should be pathetic and give up and call them and inquire about their shuttle offerings. I took out my old school wired earbuds and tried to dial them up on my iPhone but nobody was answering. Then I realized my earbuds - which have survived two trips through the laundry during their lifespan - have finally shredded to death from all the tangling/detangling after yanking them out of my pocket several times every day for years. I refuse to press a cell phone against my head, so Dave called. Turns out they stop running shuttles after 10pm, i.e. about 30 minutes ago.

Back in the main terminal I found a woman at an info desk and described our embarrassing situation: We can see our hotel right across the way but can't figure out how to get there. She responded, having likely heard this before, "isn't that the worst?" She then went on to explain, "go back outside to the curb and walk up to the crosswalk between columns 8 and 9, then turn left and cross and keep going straight even though it looks like it goes nowhere and - just trust me - you'll see it."

Okay then. We heeded her guidance and found columns 8 and 9, turned left, and - no surprise - at first escape seemed impossible. Nothing but parking lot and fence as we entered the garage. But then, as if it were a mirage, we spotted a sign on one random cement pillar that had an arrow and the words, "pedestrian exit." And that arrow led us to a door which, like the sign itself, was oddly unnoticeable unless you approached in this exact direction. And suddenly we were on the sidewalk and a few steps away from our hotel.

We checked in. I got to my room and crashed to sleep as soon as possible but only after maniacally ripping my earbuds into tiny pieces and throwing them away. That minor violence felt good, but I suffered the usual anxiety/insomnia due to unpredictable travel, being in an unfamiliar bed, and the fact that I should be home already. I basically have slept about 8 hours total during the last two nights.

Got up Tuesday morning around 4:30am and showered. This was one of those hotels that decorate with positivity. For example there was a pillow on my bed with the word "love" embroidered on it. And, awkwardly, a framed picture hung right above the toilet that read in mixed fonts, "make today amazing." That's nice but I wasn't quite sure what amazing things they hoped I'd accomplish in this bathroom. After packing I had five minutes before heading to the lobby to stare at my sorry face in a full length mirror and give myself an existential crisis.

Dave and I walked over to the airport. Much easier in this direction. The line at security was minimal. The TSA asshole waved me out of the scanner too early, so I had to get zapped a second time. As I gathered my bags I saw a nice watch on the conveyor belt left by the guy ahead of me who already split to his gate. I gave it to the agent and then observed from afar to make sure it was returned to the rightful owner (who already came rushing back for his lost item). I'm a secret guardian angel.

Had a half hour to kill at the gate before boarding at 6am. It was looking good - lots of passengers, ticket agents at the desk, even the stewardesses and captain were going down the jetway. But still, I felt something was wrong.. And sure enough, just as I got in the queue to board they announced the flight was delayed until at least 11am. An endless string of outraged passengers lined up at the desk.

Dave and I were completely defeated, sleepless, just wanting to get home already. While looking into options on our laptops I couldn't help but notice that 6am flight out of Ontario was already in the air. So if I was able to get on that Southwest flight last night, and then Dave got on that 6am plane he got booked on (but I didn't), I'd be home already and Dave would be en route. And we wouldn't have had to shlep to Orange County and deal with all that bullshit last night. Fucking hindsight.

I overheard the other passengers were getting flat out refunds (which usually isn't the case for delayed planes). I couldn't take it anymore. Jenya had a photo shoot that afternoon and I was on the hook for puppy babysitting detail. So I finally called it quits on working with United and SFO. I booked a ticket on the next Southwest flight to Oakland (at 10am). Then I got in line to get my money back and commiserate with other travellers who, honestly, were more fucked than me. I only needed to get home but they were missing connections to important jobs, family gatherings, vacations, Canada..

I got my refund. So now I'm set. Plus I'll fly to Oakland which is a much easier BART ride home for me. Dave still had to go to SFO because of his car and wasn't sure what to do. I helped him consider the facts - last we heard this flight to SFO was delayed to at least 11am, and all our fellow passengers were booking other flights so they'd probably just cancel it entirely which had been our experience thus far. And if he got on the Oakland flight with me we'd certainly land at 11am, and he'd get to SFO by BART well before this United flight lands, if it ever takes off. Convinced, he went for it.

However he called United to cancel his flight instead of waiting in the giant queue like I did. Over the phone they gave him credit, but not a refund. He accepted the credit as he didn't realize we were all getting our money back at the desk. Rightfully upset when I told him of my success he got in the line, but by the time he talked to the agent his ticket was "out of the system" and he couldn't get a refund.

Still had two hours to kill. Got coffee (now that I wasn't going to sleep on a plane any time soon) and wandered around. Dave and I both couldn't help noticing that the flight we bailed on this morning had an updated departure time of 9:45am. I though, "that can't be right - they said 11am at the earliest! They lied to us!!" But of course as we were still waiting for our plane we heard a final boarding announcement for our rejected United flight. Well, fucking good for them!

Dave got really screwed. He didn't get a refund, and instead of getting a comfy economy plus seat on a plane to SFO right now he'll get a middle seat in a cramped plane to Oakland that arrives later and then have to take an hour BART train to SFO. I knew he was a bit pissed but he was still a good sport about it. I felt guilty for leading Dave astray, but then I remembered I originally wanted to fly out of Oakland which would have been easier in general, and none of the above bullshit would have happened. The real lessons here are (a) go with your gut, (b) despite occasional perks brand loyalty is rarely worth it, (c) more often than we'd like to admit comradery fucks everybody over, and (d) you can make the smartest decisions and still fail miserably.

At least the Southwest flight was basic. Given our last minute purchases we were C group and boarded last. Somehow I was still able to snag a window seat. Dave and I parted ways at the BART station by Oakland airport. I went home and took a looong fucking nap.

September 10, 2019 : Catnaps

At one point, given my day job and hectic nightlife/music schedule, I thought it would be a good idea to split up my sleep into 2-3 hour chunks taken as needed. This worked well as I lived alone at the time, and didn't have housemate energy conflicting with my chaotic schedule. One afternoon I came home on the early side to squeeze in a nap before Dreamland rehearsal.

Turns out I forgot to set my alarm and slept through the night. The sun was already coming up as I groggily came to and suddenly the phone rang. It was Jenya calling to say hey. I tried to make conversation but my brain was at the bottom of a swamp. I looked at the clock - it's 7am. Jenya was calling me pretty early, which was odd, but then I figured she was worried after I missed rehearsal. I felt a little guilty.

As consciousness slowly filled my skull I grew concerned I was having some kind of amnesia. I asked Jenya, "what.. what did I do last night?"

She mentioned dinner together, and hanging out, but that was two evenings ago. I interrupted, "No, *last* night. What happened last night?" Jenya was stumped, and we were both silent for a moment.

Then it finally hit me: "OooooOOOOOOOH!" I groaned, "it's still last night! The sun isn't rising - it's setting!" The clock said 7pm, not 7am. Jenya was still confused. Turns out my nap was only an hour, but felt like thirteen. And thus I woke up thinking it was tomorrow. But in reality it was still last night... from the perspective of tomorrow.

Fuck this. I got back on a regular sleep schedule.

September 3, 2019 : Toulouse: the Trek

When miRthkon toured around Europe we had driver Steve from England carting us around in his van. The morning after our gig in Marseilles we hit the road for Toulouse. I sat in the back. After about 15 minutes I could sense some worry emanating from Steve and Wally up front. I checked in with them. They said the brakes seemed off. Uh oh.

Steve pulled into the next suburban town and safely parked. The manly men of miRthkon all took turns looking underneath the car to confirm there was indeed some kind of fluid leak. I have much experience on this front - and knew immediately it was a standard issue broken brake line. Fuck.

Good news: Steve had a Euro-version of AAA with extra premiere service for commercial vehicles, and so he got on the phone with them right away. He was navigating that bureaucracy while the rest of us scattered, mostly hanging out at this tiny kebab shop right where we pulled over.

He eventually got word that a truck will show up in an hour or so. The drill was a mobile service representative will have first attempt to fix it right there in place (which I know they can't) and only then get us a tow to a garage. Kind of a waste of time, but that's how it works. It was noon. I bought some doner kebap at the shop and hung out at some tables on the sidewalk.

Steve got a call. Bad news: the tow truck won't be here until 2pm. Good news: they aren't gonna bother with the futile fix-it on the side of the road and just take us to a nearby Ford dealership. Cool. More wandering around with the bandmates, killing time, giving the kebab place lots of business. The restaurant owners came out and chatted with us. Turns out Matt's French (which he learned in high school and still remembers) is of non-zero use and he enjoyed practicing it on the locals. The high school across the way let out for lunch and the student flocked around like teenagers would anywhere.

After 2pm we started to officially worry a bit. Are we gonna make this gig or what? This kinda bummed me out - Toulouse was fixin' to be a good show. Plus Alex, my old Three Piece Combo bandmate who just moved back to France, planned to come out.

The tow finally appeared at 2:20pm. Phew. We got the van up on the bed of the truck with only minor scraping. The truck could only fit two other people so the rest of us had to walk. Matt, now revved up a bit with the regional tongue, was our go to guy to communicate with the driver. With some difficulty he asked for directions to the dealearship. Clearly they were having trouble expressing themselves. As it happens Jamison is fairly fluent in Italian and wanted to help expedite the dialog. So he leapt into the conversation on the off chance the tow driver spoke Italian, but instead the guy gave Jamison this hilarious, "what the fuck, dude?" expression and slowly pushed him off to the side so he could continue working with Matt. I felt bad for Jamison as his heart was in the right place. I guess the lesson is never try to speak Italian with a southern Frenchman.

Anyway, the garage was easy to find and really close, so whatever. In fact, we probably could have limped the van there this whole time, but that would have voided the euro-AAA help.

The tow dropped us off and Steve went to talk to the guys inside. Good news: we're at the dealership now, which is progress. Bad news: somehow lost in the bureaucracy the dealership had no idea we were arriving, so they said it would be at least an hour before they could look at anything. Ugh.

More stress and anxiety. Wally, ever the fearless bandleader, remained really calm about the situation. I grew more and more disappointed by prospect of missing the gig. Matt - still keen to improve his multilingual skills - found the head of the dealership outside and struck up conversation. They ended up chatting a while in broken French and English.

The mechanics finally scanned our van. Good news: this is an obvious problem with an easy fix. Bad news: they don't have the part. So we actually began talking about getting rental vans for the interim while waiting days for said part. I quelled my sorrows with a Bounty bar obtained from a vending machine.

Suddenly much better news: something got lost in translation - it's true they didn't have an original part, but could maybe fashion a workable replacement in time. The head guy, now well versed in our situation thanks to Matt, really wanted to help us out. Turns out he visited America a bunch and received fiendly emergency car repair in California, so he was happy to pay it back. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

The dealership contacted a break shop nearby, the old part was removed from the van and driven up to the shop where they fabricated a new one to be inserted back into Steve's van. Of course this would take some time, but at least we knew they were on our side.

It was all done and tested and ready to go by 5:30pm. Miraculous! Steve paid up, we handed the crew free CDs, and hit the road. Our guy Manu at the venue in Toulouse was contacted through all this, and now we had the great pleasure to tell him we were on the road. Our ETA was 9:45pm according to GPS.

We hauled ass and despite dead stop traffic right outside of town we indeed pulled up at the venue - Amanita Muscaria - right at 9:45pm. Manu and others greeted us. Lovely people. With their help we started digging out the necessary gear from the back. Luckily the bass amp and drums were backlined tonight, and we already decided we were gonna tolerate whatever punk rock sound situation (instead of the byzantine in-ear monitoring setup we brought from the states).

Stabat Akish (another AltrOck band) was already playing downstairs. We left our stuff on the ground floor and I quickly descended the steps to check out the scene. Cool venue but I gotta say holy shit the whole stage area in the basement looked and felt like being inside a big brick oven. Nothing like rocking out in a total sweaty, windowless, sauna. Also a total fire hazard. Alex had just arrived. Hey dude!

I wanted to see more of the show but we were all starving, having not really eaten since the kebabs ten hours ago. You can always count on the French for top-notch hospitality, and as such they had food ready for us which we ate sitting at the bar. Salad, rice, meatballs, cheeses, fruits, and yogurt. Really nice. The bathroom wasn't as nice. The less said about that the better.

This place had a midnight curfew, and Stabat Akish was still performing at 10:45pm. They soon finished up but given the lack of exits we had to wait for enough people to vacate so we could load in. Everybody in miRthkon hit the stage hard. Ryan rocked getting all the monitors dialed. And.. it was 11:40 when we started. Twenty minute set, I guess.

Fuck it. We came roaring out of the gates with The Cascades. Alex was right up front cheering us on. Wally ended up just calling tunes and kept selecting the high energy shit, the crowd raged and the temperatures rose even higher. However miserable it was to be boiling and dripping with sweat we were stoked to be playing after a long day of doubt. Good times!

The bar owner lady was in the crowd watching the show and enjoying it, so at midnight she told us keep going. Yay! We ended up playing a good 50 minute set, and by the end of it half of miRthkon was shirtless. We closed with Osedax. Fun!

Hung by the merch table. Lots of happy new fans and stuff. Also finally had a chance to catch up with Alex. He's been back in his homeland for less than a month and was already losing his English.

Despite the teamwork and efficiency of loading out we still didn't reach the hotel until 2:45am. Bad news: we failed to remember to call the front desk about late check-in. Oops. Jamison navigated that annoying process, somehow figuring out which phone # to call (using Steve's phone) to open the outer gate and then have access to the main entrance. There he woke somebody up, who then had to go through some rigmarole to reboot the system and create codes for us to get inside. This took a half hour, during which the rest of us loitered around the parking area and ate pistachios. Jamison finally returned with the codes and instructions how to retrieve our room keys from a safe. Yeesh.

I was finally horizontal in a bad and closing my eyes around 4am. Just another day on the road. Rock 'n roll.

August 27, 2019 : Pasta Falls

Jenya, Anthony, and I were a week into backpacking/driving around southern Utah and getting quite gross and groany given lack of showers and other general comforts. At this point in our two-week adventure we were pretty much winging it and seeing where the jeep took us. Not having a plan is usually rewarding if you're willing to absorb mishaps, as this mode of being generally leads to interesting, unexpected discoveries.

However we kinda screwed up. Being off the grid for so long meant we all failed to notice this was Memorial Day weekend. We figured we'd just show up to Calf Creek Falls state park and easily nab a camp site for the night. Not so! That lot was beyond jammed with holiday travellers, and the sun was already setting. This park is in a fairly remote area, so our next best option was to aim for nearby BLM (Bureau of Land Management) roads and hope for the best. As mentioned in at least one previous story, BLM land is basically open for public use to do whatever you want - but there's no facilities, water, or guarantees for safety.

We found the best turnoff onto BLM land and the pavement devolved into a path of rocks and sand pretty quick. As Jenya drove over this rough terrain we scanned for ample camping areas (i.e. shielded from sun and wind and other humans). The first was already occupied. And the second. And third. The increasing stress amplified our already existing low blood sugar and exhaustion discomforts. Jenya anxiously picked up the pace, hit a large divit in the road, causing a piece of luggage in the back to dislodge and fall on Anthony. He grumbled about Jenya's driving, Jenya grumbled about Anthony grumbling, and now there was a pall over the whole proceedings.

Suddenly we found ourselves at the edge of a long descent into an open, picturesque valley. Perhaps we finally had some luck, as we saw no signs of people below. We aimed for the center of this expanse and called it a small victory. We were alone as far as we could see to all the horizons around us, and it would be a clear night. Sweet. In the twilight we hastily began breaking out the tents. Anthony commented that, while this seems fortuitous, there are reasons these large, exposed spaces aren't that great for camping. First, the unhampered winds were a bit stronger down here. As we struggled to set up our tents the second reason quickly became clear: a herd of a half dozen cows came charging toward us, and then trampled right past. So adding to our general stress was minor concern about being squished in our sleep.

Still, given few other options, we stuck with the plan. Jenya got cracking on dinner - we all knew than once we ate we'd be in much better head spaces, and Jenya is the queen of amazing soul-quenching and life-affirming backpack food. We set up the camp stove, boiled water, and she whipped up a bunch of pasta. Once cooked, she went to strain it but the potholder tool slipped.. and the noodles ended up on the dusty, desert floor.

Immediately outraged at herself and everyone and everything, Jenya stormed off. I knew she needed a moment alone, so I let her go. Meanwhile Anthony and I cobbled together the makings of an ample meal with our remaining ingredients. Anthony embarked on his own solo walk in the other direction, but returned soon as night quickly fell. I couldn't see Jenya in the darkness anymore. I grew concerned, but soon enough I saw her headlamp in the distance. She returned not because she wanted to, but because there were big, creepy, black spiders scurrying all over the ground.

A couple of those spiders joined us as we ate the plan B meal and cleaned up the dishes and stuff. During his walkabout earlier, Anthony said he spotted a few shrubs/trees down the road. The taller flora would make for a scant increase in shade and protection from sprinting cows. So we carried our tents and moved the car over to the better camp site.

We survived the night, and the sun was blazing the next morning. Given the heat and sweat we didn't linger too long. While packing and stuffing the jeep we agreed that in all future recollections of last night we would refer to this camping area as "Pasta Falls." We drove back to the highway and headed north. And we had better luck finding camp sites the rest of the trip.

August 20, 2019 : Sonic Boom

October 20, 1990. A lot of floormates in my dorm wanted to go see 10,000 Maniacs playing live in the gym on Binghamton campus. I had zero interest but I easily caved to social pressure, especially given I had no better alternate plans that evening. They feared a sell out, so we arrived early to wait in line and get tickets. I winced in actual pain at having to pay $14.50 general admission for the show. I shivered and questioned my choices in life as we waited outside in the cold for two hours before being let in. My feet were already killing me from standing around for so long, and goddammit there were no seats inside. Fuck. I shifted weight from one aching arch to the other until downbeat.

The lights dimmed, the audience buzzed, and the opening act - John & Mary - came onto the stage. John played guitar, Mary played violin. I vaguely remember a third person on another instrument backing them up. But yeah, a bunch of strummin' and fiddlin' and singin'. It wasn't my bag but I made a sincere effort to get into the upstate New York folksy vibe since I'm here and doing this thing. I can be open minded if I want to, and why not just be where I am with good people and enjoy the experience, right?

And then.. the earth exploded.

At least that's what it sounded and felt like, and the hall of thousands responded with screams of shock from the deafening boom. The throes of armageddon only lasted a second, the band reflexively halted, and the gym fell silent except for the echoes of students howling in agony. These audible traces of pain and horror soon faded into a din of confused whimpering.

What the fuck was that? A soundperson's worst nightmare, that's what. One bad move on the wrong fader, or an acoustic pickup strayed too close to a hot monitor, or maybe something awful got accidentally unmuted. Whatever the case everything went instantaneously south. In a way, it was quite beautiful - at first a giant crowd was entranced by rustic upstate New York bowing and twanging, and then suddenly thrown into the dark, devastating dimension of Merzbow. And what followed sounded like the mouth of hell releasing the cries of the damned.

Now what? Somehow the band found it within themselves to pick up where they left off, and everybody took a collective breath, rubbed their ears, and tried to get back into it. By the time 10,000 Maniacs started the horror was pretty much forgotten. However my feet still fucking hurt. I writhed as the band wended their way through the long set and five-song encore.

Nothing against them, but still to this day almost 30 years later if 10,000 Maniacs comes on whatever supermarket sound system my reflex is to brace for a sudden nuclear blast or at least desperately crave to sit down.

August 13, 2019 : Dishroom

I needed a job as soon as I got to college. It just so happened my brother, Ben, was a senior at the same University and held a managerial position at one of the campus dining halls. All it took was a smidgen of coercion on his part and I agreed to join him in working for the respectable purveyors of fine cafeteria cuisine otherwise known as the Marriott Corporation.

Most of my shifts were spent in the hot, windowless dishroom, paired up with fellow employee Chris. Students would anonymously dump their trays into a giant slot. From these Chris and I parsed the trash, silverware, glasses, and plates, and passed dishes into the giant washing machine that belched hot, bleachy steam all goddamn night.

It's hard to keep your sanity when stuck in the food-waste-sauna. During an early peak time a burst of trays spilled into the room. From the pile Chris grabbed a small paper cup of unused shredded parm and tossed it lightly in my direction while making a coughing sound. For a split second I thought that stuff actually came out of his throat, and the temporary shock and ultimate realization what happened made me laugh hysterically. Oh, it's ON!

The next tray had a small dish with some leftover ranch dressing. I feigned a sneeze as I threw it towards Chris. More adolescent giggling ensued.

Things escalated quickly. With anxious joy we waited for the next offering - each passed to us had a surprise ingredient for which to mime a fun faux bodily function. Chris hacked up a carrot. I puked a puddle of spaghetti sauce. Chris yawned a chunk of brownie. I belched a tablespoon of black pepper.

At first the messes we created from our grotesque acts were contained within our usual work spaces, but ultimately the entire room was fair game. Chris yelled "ACHOO!" and tossed a whole glass of orange juice up against the fucking wall. I emitted the loudest vomit scream I could muster and threw a half eaten cheeseburger onto the floor. This game went on way too long.

Ben eventually appeared and beheld the results of our madness. Unable to formulate the proper disciplinary action for such behavior he simply said, "just.. clean it up," and walked out. We scrubbed the place down. Worth it.

August 6, 2019 : Home Alone

During the move into a shared house in Binghamton I never contacted the landlord. Basically, a few dudes living there graduated and left, me and other dudes took their rooms and started paying rent in their stead. That was pretty much the entire extent of the official process.

A few weeks before the end of the year was the first time the landlord ever came around. Seemed like a nice, normal, older gentleman. My housemates and I were all sitting around one lazy afternoon watching Home Alone on cable for no good reason when he appeared.

"Is this Home Alone?" he asked.

"Yeah," I confirmed.

He paused, grimaced a bit, and said, "I would have liked this movie a lot better if the kid died at the end."

That was my only conversation with the man.

July 30, 2019 : Jackrabbits

Jenya, Anthony, and I left Oakland, embarking on our two week road trip around Southern Utah. The first day we drove all the way from Oakland to Springdale - the gateway to Zion National Park - in a mere 12 hours. Jenya did the first stretch all the way past Bakersfield like the road warrior she is. Anthony took over, and got us beyond the 113 degree heat in Las Vegas. I handled the last stretch, arriving in town at 8:30pm.

Over burgers we discussed our options for the evening. The park and nearby accomodations were seemingly pretty full, but we got a hot tip from the waiter about a public campground near Kanab: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. I drove through Zion and followed the map to this campground which brought us onto desolate and unmaintained routes heavily populated with jackrabbits.

Avoiding these silly creatures as they darted across dark roads was like some kind of demented arcade game. Beyond the headlights of our rental jeep was utter blackness. One after another, dozens of jackrabbits would leap onto the dusty path and run forward in front of the jeep instead of simply getting out of the fucking way. I'd have to swerve around or stop completely to avoid them. This vastly slowed progress and increased stress.

Eventually one poor bastard literally jumped right in front of my moving tires. Despite going slow and trying my best to be careful it was unavoidable... BLAP! Dead rabbit. I felt terrible. But since I'm now an official bunny killer the pressure of maintaining a perfectly humane status was off and I could pick up the pace a bit.

The game continued and we made it to the park without any more carnage. No sign of murder or damage on the jeep - the only scar was on my psyche. Plenty of camp sites were available - in fact we may have been the only people there. We set up our tents around 11pm and went exploring. Even in the moonlight the dunes seemed quite pink. How lovely.

July 23, 2019 : Crazy August

Summer 2017. Given life (i.e. work, injury, collaborators moving on), I hadn't played any goddamn gigs for a year. Then the following happened.

MoeTar had momentum again and booked a couple really great shows in August. The first was in Berkeley playing the coveted middle slot between Jack O' the Clock and Free Salamander Exhibit. And six days after that we had a whole set of rearranged tunes to perform for a huge Nina Simone tribute at SF Jazz. This would have easily been enough to get my musical pistons firing again.

But about two months out Secret Chiefs 3 was cooking up an amazing national tour opening up for Dead Cross. A couple proposed dates in the first week conflicted with the MoeTar schedule above. A whole year of nothing, and then immediately I'm finding myself double booked. Aaargh! However Trey magnanimously worked it out so I could still play those MoeTar shows and do the tour. I just had to manage with the extra travel arrangements myself.

No rest for the wicked: I worked a full day at the SETI lab, went home, ate dinner, then officially started the tour with a flight from SFO to LAX and meeting up with the SC3 gang at Jason's studio around midnight, and folded right into band rehearsal. We set up there to practice for a couple days before hitting the road. Basically 48 hours of either sleeping on Jason's couch or running the tunes. The last night in town I caught my Oakland pals in Free Salamander Exhibit who were there on tour, sharing a bill with Atomic Ape before heading to Vegas next.

The SC3 tour started in Vegas as well. We spent the morning on the first tetris pack in the van and then hit the highway. Enjoyed our first road meal in Barstow. Typical initial show of any tour - despite being a bit rusty everybody was super jazzed and the whole thing predictably rocked. And given the heavyweights in the headliners what an explosive way to return to the land of the gigging! Plus we wrapped up early enough to drive across town and catch the last 15 minutes of the Salamander set. Hello again, guys! And of course I'll be seeing them tomorrow back in the Bay Area - i.e. third night in a row! If I planned better I would have just hitched a ride on their bus back to Oakland, but I already had a plane ticket and wanted to maximize time at home.

The socializing ended around 3am, and it seemed like a good idea to just get dropped off at LAS since my flight was at 6am. The SC3 van then headed off on a two day journey to Dallas without me. Unable to sleep I ate airport garbage until boarding and catching some z's during the trip. Jenya picked me up from BART and while driving home she told me about the current ant invasion in our house. I was so out of my mind I kept looping in muppet voice, "ant spraaaaay... ant spraaaaay..." until I fell into bed.

I woke around 2pm, and at 3pm the MoeTar gang came over for rehearsal - cramming one more practice in before heading to Berkeley for tonight's show. Despite competing with the Outside Lands festival and the Swans playing in SF we had a damn good crowd. Nothing like three note-dense rehearsal-intensive Oakland bands melting many Berkeley brains.

The next day I basically had off. I had brunch with some friends, took a glorious nap, and went out to dinner with other friends. Meanwhile the SC3 crew drove in epic heat and bad weather through El Paso. The van almost got struck by lightning at one point. Me, I was in the comfort of my own house complaining I had to get up at 5am to go to the airport.

I woke and dizzily got on BART to SFO and moseyed to the gate for my plane to DFW (Dallas). I had to check my bag as I was in the final loser boarding group. I snoozed a bit until I realized the plane hadn't left the gate yet. The pilot announced: there's something up with the navigational system so there will be a delay until they suss that out. Well, poop. Thirty minutes later he said there was no progress but they'd report back in another thirty minutes. I started sending warning texts to the SC3 crew. Fellow passengers started to deboard as they would certianly miss their connecting flights. I, of course, was somewhat stuck as I checked my bag didn't want to separate from it by going on a different flight in case this takes forever.

Ninety minutes in and still no good news. I braced for missing the gig tonight. But at the two hour mark the pilot happily said they got it fixed and we took off shortly thereafter. Phew! But no further sleep for me as an infant two rows up, from the sounds of it, was being tortured during the entire course of the flight.

Called a Lyft after I landed. I got to chatting with the young driver. I was her fourth ride from the airport today and, somewhat sad and ironic, she has never flown anywhere ever. She took a road trip to Florida and back once but that was the extent of her travel life. Man, I felt like a spoiled brat in comparison given my jet-setting around the world thanks to music and radio astronomy. Yes, my carbon footprint absolutely fucking sucks. Still, I impressed upon her that one of the best things to do as an American is to explore as much of this amazing country as possible. She admitted she'd like to check out New York City someday.

Somehow I still arrived before the others, so I killed time maxing out on an multitasking ego trip by calling into the weekly meeting to check in with my team at the SETI lab back in Berkeley. I paced around a humid parking lot on the outskirts of Dallas while talking to the colleagues in Berkeley about server issues at the telescope in West Virginia. The van finally appeared in the parking lot. We were together again, sharing stories about our past couple of days apart.

What a hot and sweaty outdoor gig. The stage was literally next to a swamp. While loading out I was absolutely surprised to be approached by my old Flywheel bandmate Marco who - unbeknownst to me - recently moved to the area. What's up, dude?! Another example that touring is probably the closest one can get these days to the infinite improbability drive from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

The next show was Houston, which was also hot and sweaty. Speaking of old bandmates who now live in Texas, Erik of Mumble & Peg came out for this one. Afterward we caught up at a bar across the way from the venue. It was hard to chat over the noise - lots of commotion due to hermit crab racing and people cheering on their selected crustaceans. Nobody here knew that within a week the city would be underwater due to Hurricane Harvey.

We headed to Austin and had our biggest show of the tour yet at Emo's. During load out I couldn't help but notice the styrofoam in one of my keyboard cases was red. Oh, that's blood. My blood. I cut my hand pretty bad somehow somewhere and didn't notice until now. This sort of thing happens a lot on tour as you're quite often living in the moment as a giant wolf pack and thus rarely living inside your own body.

The post-show parking lot was like one big ol' party culminating with some guy with a fireproof suit who does this thing where a lucky person gets to light him up and he'll flail around in giant flames for a while until extinguished by an assistant. J.P. from Dead Cross did the honors of torching him. Good fun. Except for the fumes.

That night at the hotel I made the mistake of checking in with the news of the world. And for this bad choice I was rewarded with footage of really awful, heartbreaking shit going down in Charlottesville.

The following morning I had enough time before heading to AUS to get some sick barbecue at Stubb's with the entire SC3/Dead Cross entourage. As plates arrived there was some confusion about who got what and I almost tucked into Lombardo's meal before others realized this error. Not really much of a story there except I would have never predicted back in high school I would interface with anybody from Slayer in quite this manner. Like I wish I can go back in time and tell Dave in my math class with all the heavy metal patches on his denim jacket that 30 years from now I'll be casually hanging out in Austin with the drummer from Slayer and I'll nearly eat his brisket sandwich by accident. After the meal I hailed a taxi to the airport.

On the flight to SFO I had an entire economy-plus row to myself. Had a wonderfully quiet evening off back at the house, dining on a home cooked dinner with Jenya. Sleepily ran through the Nina Simone material for tomorrow night's tribute gig in San Francisco and went to bed.

The next afternoon Jenya had a couple photo shoots in the Mission so I went into the city with her, and then tooled around until walking up to SF Jazz to chill out before setting up with MoeTar. Since I'm playing the house grand piano there was zero setting up and soundcheck was a snap - especially when compared to the several hours of exhausting daily chaos while on tour. We played a great set in front of 700 people. Everybody performing at this event killed.

Back home that night I helped Jenya dig out camping gear in case she decided at the last minute to go to Oregon and see the total eclipse. I, on the other hand, had to get up at 4:30am for a flight to SAN (San Diego).

Once again I had a lonely BART trip to SFO way too early. I arrived in San Diego with no plan about how to kill the next five hours. I ended up taking a bus as far as I could get from the airport and walked the remaining several miles to the venue through Balboa park. I assumed it would be a pleasant stroll, but between the sun, the exposure, the unexpected inclines, and the overpacked laptop bag strap digging into my neck.. it was more of a miserable exercise. I stopped inside a random mexican restaurant to cool down a while and ate until I was pretty much half-man, half-tamale.

The SC3 van arrived right before soundcheck. I felt bad they did the long ass drives to and from Texas without me, but hey. At least my non-SC3-gig detours were over, and I could focus on being on the road with one band for the next six weeks. Hallelujah! Just to recap, during the past 12 days I played 7 gigs (with 2 bands, doing a total of 3 different sets of material) and took the following flights: SFO-LAX, LAS-SFO, SFO-DFW, AUS-SFO, SFO-SAN. There were also drives from LA-Vegas, Dallas-Houston, and Houston-Austin. And I caught three Free Salamander Exhibit shows.

We drove to LA right after the San Diego gig and had a day off. Lots of recouping during the day, and then I went out all night with Danny of the Fuxedos, singing karaoke hosted by our friend Mark at the Melody Lounge. The next morning was the total eclipse. Barely noticeable in LA, but meanwhile Jenya - who ended up braving the traffic north - was in eastern Oregon having a mind-blowing experience.

I'm still super bummed I missed the totality, but as much as they break my heart a little bit scheduling conflicts are good - because it means you're definitely doing stuff.

July 16, 2019 : Weird July

Here's a snapshot of twelve days in July 2015, with my birthday right in the middle of this span. It was weird.

I'd been working on various SETI projects at UC Berkeley, largely SETI@home, for almost 20 years. This entire time funding was scarce - outside of occasional generous gifts from corporations and foundations we squeaked by due to a slow, steady stream of small donations from the public.

So when I caught wind in June there was interest from a new foundation to give us significant support I felt relief, but it was odd that - even as a core staff member - I wasn't given any details. Soon I learned that there was an unnamed billionaire sponsor involved, hence the secretive need-to-know nature of this whole process. By the time July rolled around I got enough hints that funding was pretty much secured, but I had no idea from exactly whom, how much, and what the grant would exactly be for.

Meanwhile Secret Chiefs 3 had a week-long residency at the Stone in Manhattan which required much preparation. Around July 12th I flew to the east coast for a string of SC3-related shows, sometimes two per night. Trey had been burying me with scores of fun, dense, new music to learn for these performances - about 80 pages all told. Besides learning a gazillion notes I had to program/manage up to 6 keyboard controllers and their sounds for myself and other band members. Every afternoon were crazed rehearsals in various desperately hot rooms. The New York summer heat was in full force. Much to our relief the Stone had a working air conditioner.

My sister Lisa resided in Williamsburg at the time, just at the base of the bridge. She had a convenient crash pad in a fun neighborhood. And the Stone was right on the other end of the span in the Lower East Side - I could easily walk to/from the venue and her apartment, which was a particularly pleasant and meditative journey late at night when the air was a bit cooler and the long walkways were surprisingly devoid of other pedestrians. Just me, the bridge, the moon, the breeze over the river, and the overflowing cans of garbage.

In cracks of time between practicing and performing I got into the groove of my NYC experience. I drank my first manhattan in Manhattan. I went to an Upright Citizens Brigade show. I enjoyed several halal cart fixes. I felt great relief being around pedestrians who know how to efficiently locomote on city sidewalks (unlike the Bay Area). There were a couple big thunderstorms. I marveled at how many newer restaurants had names of the form "Word & Another Word". But mostly it was a real treat hanging out and collaborating with awesome musicians and who happen to also be awesome people: Trey, Toby, Ches, Kenny, Timba, Gyan, Shanir, Jason, Eyvind, Jessika, Ryan, and the whole Cleric gang.

Anyway... my birthday arrived with little fanfare. The show that night was particularly stressful, if only because we were premiering new material from John Zorn's Masada Book Three live. As well, John himself was going to be in attendance to observe our progress while working the door. No pressure.

Lisa and I had celebratory dinner together before the set. Upon returning to the Stone she got stuck at the end of the line. I secured her a guest spot because it's a small room and, as expected, the show sold out well before Lisa entered. John told her sorry the venue was full, but she said she was on the list. He checked and exclaimed, "oh you're Matt's sister!" and then gave her the royal treatment, holding up the whole production by digging out an extra chair and setting her up in some extra space off to the side by the stairs. I watched this whole scene unfold trying not to laugh - especially since Lisa seemed to have no idea who John was. The look on her face read, "what a very nice gentleman!"

Later that night I went to sleep, unaware the principal investigator of this mystery SETI initiative had e-mailed me. He wrote about a big press conference on Monday announcing the new grant - and this info was embargoed so hush hush for now. I woke the next morning to this exciting news. Still no specifics, though. My only clue about anything was the grant, due to its size and scope, required a press conference. I figured I'd just find out the deets on Monday like the rest of the planet!

Sunday night was the last of the Stone shows. As a sort of an inside joke with myself I wore a Green Bank Telescope t-shirt, knowing full well there's going to be some big media splash about this giant radio observatory, perhaps others, the following morning.

And sure enough, there was a press conference featuring a panel which included the likes of Stephen Hawking, Frank Drake, Sir Martin Rees, and Ann Druyan. I watched quietly on my laptop in Lisa's apartment while she was still asleep. The head of the Breakthrough foundation, billionaire Yuri Milner, announced the beginning of Breakthrough Listen - a new SETI project to be managed by my team at UC Berkeley.

He laid out the basic roadmap for this ambitious undertaking. We - as in me and a handful of colleagues - were going to look a million stars, manage several hours of dedicated telescope time every day at three observatories around the planet (Green Bank, Parkes, Lick), build digital back-ends that can record up to 10GHz at a time, and make all the data available to the public. The scope of this endeavor was far larger than I (and most of us) expected. Gulp. Yuri mentioned the amount of the grant was $100 million dollars, spread out over 10 years. Um... WwwwwooOOOOoowwww!

This was both amazing and very scary. Finally the Berkeley SETI Research Center has gotten the funding (and rightful attention) it has deserved for decades, but was our scrappy little team up for this challenge? E-mails started going around amongst the SETI@home gang, each of which could be summarized as: "holy crap."

But I couldn't really celebrate with the team, or start figuring out what the next steps were, as I was still in NYC for a couple more days. My flight back was on Wednesday because SC3 had vague plans to do recording after the Stone shows. I hung out at Marc's studio as Kenny, Ches, and Shanir nailed basics for the new Masada album. My presence wasn't really required outside of cheerleading, but there was some important logistical discussion about our upcoming Rock in Opposition festival show, along with the usual scheduling of potential tours and recording sessions.

Also, I knew Lisa wasn't going to be in Williamsburg forever, and this was my last chance for this kind of hipster hang in Brooklyn. So I enjoyed the remaining 48 hours in town doing specific New York-y things (mostly eating and walking between places to eat). The final dinner was at a new, popular restaurant in Greenpoint that served California style pizza (though nobody in NYC would call it that). The owner would circulate and chat it up with us patrons. I mentioned to him I was from Oakland, and he said he considered opening a place out in my neighborhood but feared the competition.

On the flight home the dude at the window slept the whole time and kept the shade closed. In a way this was fitting - experiencing incredible forward momentum while unable to get visual clues from the outside world to determine my exact path or velocity. Being a projectile with no sense of exact direction or destination was a perfect metaphor for how I was feeling about this upcoming, uncharted phase of my life.

July 9, 2019 : Jeers for Beers

I was never really much of a drinker but early on I stuck with booze, largely vodka, i.e. anything that would get me tipsy and could mix with something else to mask the awful flavor. A lot of kids drank wine coolers but I couldn't deal with that bullshit. To me they tasted like a stress headache and permanently tainted my opinion of actual wine.

But most of all I hated beer. I didn't understand its acceptance at all. It tasted like creek water. It smelled like fraternities. It looked like piss. I couldn't quite get why beer was so popular but then I remembered that people generally suck. As far as I could tell beer was the signature beverage of an endless global party celebrating how humans are the fucking worst.

That's pretty much how I felt about beer until I turned 20 and moved into a giant abode with six dudes, all of which loved - or at least tolerated - the stuff. My housemates were all good people and I respected their life choices, so what was I missing? Being an adult now, I siezed the opportunity to acquire an appreciation for this commonly enjoyed beverage.

Once all seven of us were settled in I made an announcement, admitting how I hated beer but I wanted to learn to like it. So I insisted my housemates hand me a bottle at random times during the coming year and force me to drink it. They complied. And so, I eventually came to appreciate beer... maybe even enjoy it - proof that self-imposed Stockholm syndrome works!

Decades pass and you do get old enough that peer pressure isn't a thing. So now I can say that, while I respect its rich history and finer points, beer just isn't my bag. While a light pilsner is refreshing now and again, and dry ciders are an acceptable alternative, spirits are clearly where it's at.

July 2, 2019 : Driving Me Backwards

My band Mumble & Peg succeeded in terms of longevity (7 years) and output (3 full length records, two 7" singles, many tours). Erik - the singer, strummer, and main songwriter - was the brains behind this whole operation, and on the surface it seemed like a garden variety "90's mopey indie pop" group. But this wasn't the original plan. Things started quite differently.

I met Erik in early 1995 and he recruited me to play bass (and Chuck to play drums) for a one-off gig doing his pretty songs at the Stork Club. We covered a Slint tune ("Washer") for that set. This went well enough so we played a second show shortly after that under the name "Lozenge" (unaware of the similarly monikered Chicago band - who we ended up sharing a bill with at the Fireside Bowl in Chicago about 5 years later).

As we got to know each other we discovered equal interests in all sorts of fucked up music so we tried to form a band for reals. Rehearsals were loud. We all contributed compositional bits. One "song" I recall from this period was an up-tempo quarter-tone assault called "1234!" We'd bit chunking away on angular chords until Erik shouted "1! 2! 3! 4!" and we'd then chunk much more aggressively. During this brief period we came up with a tweaked out arrangement of Erik's new ditty "Breathing."

I also played in the band Dreamland at this time and went on a short west coast tour with them, so the Erik/Chuck/Matt project got derailed a bit. When I returned from the road I bumped into Erik and without wasting any time he said, pretty much verbatim, "We got a show at the Stork on November 25th. We're now called Mumble & Peg. And we're going to play Brian Eno's 'Driving me Backwards' for an hour with a bunch of drummers backing us up." Okay then! I wasn't sure what I missed while I was away that led to this creative decision, but I was game. If you ever want me to do anything all you need is a clear plan of action.

So the band for this one gig was Erik singing and playing guitar, me on bass, Nils Frykdahl on percussion guitar, and the drum "chorus line": Chuck, Jenya, Dave Cooper, and Wes Anderson. We had one rehearsal, I think. All we really needed.

The opening band Munk finished their set and we took over the stage. All seven of us wore black clothes and had black stockings on our heads. The only light came from a strobe flickering at us at full intensity for the whole length of the show.

The standing drum line took up the whole back half of the stage. All four drummers, each armed with a bass and snare, began playing very slow and loud. Boom... bap bap! Boom.. bap bap! This went on for five minutes and then I came in with the "piano line" in eighth notes on very distorted bass: C B C B C B C B... for another five minutes.

Erik finally strummed the chords, and eventually screamed the first verse. Nils handled atmospherics during all the above and took the long "solo." We then simmered down ever so slowly, and built it all back up again for the second verse and crazed vocal coda. Once all the histrionics were over we were back down to strums and bass and drums for a few minutes, then just bass and drums for a while, then only drums, and the whole epic closed with one final Boom... bap BAP!

I'm still not sure how well that went over but who fuckin' cares. The lights came on. There was applause and unsurprisingly less people in the club than when we started. Funny thing is we were only the middle band - Monopause had to follow that. Luckily they were fond of audience-confusion-and-abuse and happy to be part of this historic evening.

After that our core trio stuck with the name Mumble & Peg and continued to work on weird stuff. But soon we just found it easier to play Erik's lovely tunes. Given Erik's omnipresent acoustic guitar our first album got filed under "folk" and this lazy label loomed over us forever. However throughout the band career you could hear vestiges of those wacky earlier days.. especially during a couple deafening improv shows billed as "Pummel & Beg" (yes, that's an anagram).

June 25, 2019 : Asbestos

My first time in Australia was a few years ago. I went to help install computing hardware at the Parkes Telescope in New South Wales. A bunch of us from the Breakthrough Listen team (me, Danny, Dave, and Claire) gathered in Sydney. Danny was already in the country and met us at the airport with a rental car along with some bad news.

Turns out while the rest of us were flying for 14 hours over the Pacific some chunk of unindentified material was discovered in the air conditioning ducts while a crew was cleaning the tower. Australia takes asbestos mitigation and removal very seriously, and this foreign substance needed to be identified as safe before anybody could enter the building. So the upshot was despite flying all this way (and then driving six hours to the town of Parkes) we were unable to get inside the telescope server room to do planned work.

Still, we finished the trek to Parkes under the assumption we would eventually get access during our week. To occupy our time while waiting for the pertinent government agency to handle this potentially hazardous environmental situation, we had safety orientation and training how to operate the telescope. We were set up in a spare office inside the lab. Outside our window the locked-down telescope tower stood about 100 meters away. So close and yet so far!

At least we did have this lab space to boot up the new server and get it configured, right? Well, turns out there's another Parkes in Australia (near Canberra) and the server was mailed there by mistake. The shipper corrected this error, but still... the big box arrived a day or two late.

We kept busy - software development and meetings about observational strategies during the day, trying out different bars/restaurants in town at night. I also stalked a family of kangaroos that frequented a field across the street from the hotel. As well, Breakthrough Listen was fully operational at the Green Bank Telescope in West Virigina, so being in this time zone was advantageous - I could manage the unfavorable shifts so that my colleagues in Berkeley could sleep.

One of the main Parkes technicians, Brett, felt bad for us, and as a special treat he took us for rides in his ultra-light plane. It was a two-seater, so we took turns getting our own private 20 minute tours from 4000 feet above Parkes. I went first, and as a reward for my bravery I enjoyed an extra 10 minutes of swooping over some mines on the edge of town. That was my only time in such an aircraft, and Brett was a trustworthy, diligent pilot. The plane was quite light; If I leaned forward it would immediately began to dip and descend. And so I would lean right back.

I enjoyed the comradery, the culture, and the kangaroos during most of the visit. I also, during the early part of the trip, got a chance to meet up a couple times with a friend who lived in the region. And Thursday night was a jam session as me, Danny, Dave, and Brett all play guitar. Still, on the final day at the telescope facility, the general mood of the team grew quite bleak. No word from the authorities about test results and thus we remained unable to access the tower.

Over our final lunch at the visitor's center we considered leaving early to take a scenic route back to Sydney before our flights home. In the afternoon we began packing up all our laptops and leaving copious notes for the staff about what to do with our servers after we're gone. One of the main researchers managing the telescope, Mal, came crashing into our office. He had an update: the substance has been identified as non-hazardous. So the tower has been cleared for entry! It was 3:30pm, i.e. 90 minutes before the small telescope staff were to go home for the weekend.

We snapped into action - time was short, but having basically prepped for this moment the past four days we made the most of it. Brett and Mal cancelled their personal Friday night plans to help us out. The server was quickly hauled up two stories and into the main server room (right below the top where the dish sits). We racked and cabled it up, got the netboot environment working, wired up the switch until packets flowed, and ensured data were successfully written to disk. Huzzah!

So the week wasn't a total bust after all. Phew. And I returned for a couple very productive trips since then wherein I installed more hardware, improved data collection capabilities, and hung out with many new kangaroo friends.

June 18, 2019 : First in Line

Despite the fact Jenya's housemate was playing in his backing band, we still had to wait in line like regular people to get tickets to see Tom Waits perform in Oakland. This was back around 1996, when Tower Records existed in Emeryville and sold tickets to such shows.

We thought we arrived early enough before the sale started, but there was already a queue of about fifty people ahead of us waiting. Fair enough. About fifty more got behind us over the next few minutes. Before the gates opened a store employee came outside and explained how this was all going to go down.

Unbeknownst to pretty much everybody there, and without any real explanation, Tower aimed to prevent people from loitering too long before these sales. And so, in a misguided attempt to punish such behavior, each person was given a number to match their sequence in line. Jenya and I got something like 54 and 55. And then the store would draw a number from a hat, and whoever matched that became the new front of the line, and everybody previously ahead of them goes to the back of the line. Those currently at the front were audibly upset by this bullshit policy.

But I guess them's the rules. After all the drama and complaining came the moment of truth. And guess what number was drawn? That's right: 1. The whole frustrating and embarrassing raffle was basically for nothing. The people at the front exploded with cheers and the sale began.

In any case, the entire show was sold out by the tenth person in line. Oh well!

June 11, 2019 : CalProg 2010

Here's the epic tale of when miRthkon played with District 97, RPWL, and Ambrosia at the CalProg music festival is southern California on October 2, 2010.

This happened around the peak time when Wally and Jarred had a full whiz-bang video show to accompany our set (as eventually featured in the movie "(format)"). Given the ambitious production and ridiculously complex music we needed all the time we could get to prepare the stage and dial in our sounds. The event coordinators said we could arrive the day before to set everything up and soundcheck. Cool.

So, on the day prior to the gig I woke at 3:42am, i.e. eight minutes before my alarm at 3:50am. In the dark I got ready and said bye to Jenya and Laszlo the doberman. Jamison arrived at 4:15am in his van to get me, and then some of the others, and we all met the other car's worth of band members at the rehearsal space to load up and hit the road. Matt was already in LA, having enjoyed a speedy solo drive there last night (and smartly avoiding all this early morning chaos).

Jamison's van (me, Jamison, Rob, Meghan, and Carolyn) hit the road at 5am. No traffic, easy drive. I took over for one 100 mile shift after the sun rose. Wally's car (Wally, Sara, Jarred, Suhi) ended up randomly hitting the same food/rest stop on I-5. Besides this brief interlude we didn't mess around - we arrived in Whittier at 12:30pm and rendezvoused with Matt at the hotel. Papa J, the brains behind this whole festival, met us in the lobby and led us to the theatre a block away. We were excited to finally load in and get to work preparing a brain-melting performance for the ages!

Turns out the sound crew was also loading in at this time, and didn't allow us inside until they were through. So.. yeah. After they finally opened the doors for all of us we loaded our band gear in, but then had nothing to do as the rented equipment/PA/monitors/etc. were all being set up from scratch. Fine, but kinda defeated the point of getting here so early.

Wally stuck around as band spokesperson as the rest of us hunted for lunch. We embarked on a wild goose chase sleepily exploring the town on foot in the heat and humidity and failing to find anything acceptable by the whole group. Ended up settling on a pastrami sandwich at at some vanilla Mexican/American place.

Back to the venue at 2:30pm. The sound crew was still not ready for us, but I at least tried the bass rig. Um.. It's broken, dudes. The head had intermittent signal and power issues. Fuck. The crew said they had another one at the shop. Cool. But as my bandmates set up and dialed in their sounds I helplessly waited for a working rig. Despite continual promises, a new head never showed up - so the whole afternoon I only had direct signal in the monitors, which was totally lame and ruined the sound check - and we'd have to readjust everything whenever I do get a working amp. Plus given the boomy room (and being spread apart on a large stage) it was a pain to ring out the monitors and get decent - or even usable - mixes for everyone. And we were forced to wrap it up by 6pm, so there was little time to get the projector/screen ready.

Long story short, we busted our ass to get there super early for this cushy extra long soundcheck and advanced preparation, maybe even run the set, but instead were handed a miserable demoralizing failure. Oof. We loaded our axes back into the van and Wally initiated a pretty good pep talk outside - it'll be okay and we'll somehow get it dialed in tomorrow morning.

Back at the hotel we had an hour to kill before the "patron dinner" - where those who helped fund this event could have dinner and mingle with the bands. I shared a room on an upper floor with Matt and Jamison. We heard through our window some salsa band jamming out. Looking outside down to the pool area there was some kind of formal gathering. A wedding party, perhaps? Later, while deep in philosophical chat with Matt, we suddenly heard an extra saxophone above all the latin brass. Wait, where's Jamison? We looked out the window - apparently Jamison convinced that band to let him sit in on a couple tunes. Ha!

So... Back in college I made a t-shirt - all red with black block letters that said "National Health" on it. This was an exact replica of the shirt worn by bassist Neil Murray on the cover of National Health's first album, which - to this day - remains one of my favorite albums of all time. Anyway I still had this shirt and I proudly put it on, because if there's gonna be anybody on this planet that would get the obscure reference it would be the patrons of a prog rock festival.

The dinner was mexican buffet in a large private room at La Pescadore. Of course fans and purveyors of prog rock tend to be shy people. Luckily Matt and Jamison were there to help break the ice a bit. Finally met and small chatted with some District 97 members. Never really got to talking with any of the festival people or patrons. And, by the way, not a single person noticed or commented on my National Health shirt. Weak.

On the big day the miRthkon crew arrived at the venue at 8am. I was pleased to find a new, working bass head had appeared since yesterday. Plus given changes to the stage (notably an additional scrim) the sonic picture was far better this morning. We annoyed the sound crew with demands up until the last possible second. Then we went to set up the merch table and mingle with the people showing up for our early set.

At 11am we were announced and hit the stage. It went fairly well. And we attempted one minor prank. There's a tradition at CalProg for all bands to do a cover of some classic prog favorite. As it happens - and pretty much like all the "prog" bands I play in - most of the band members of miRthkon don't really know much about prog. And so Wally instead made an amazing arrangement of Samuel Barber's piano solo "Nocturne." We knew nobody in the crowd would recognize that, but once the main melody kicked in we had plants in the audience go "wooo" in fake recognition, which of course could potentially send music nerds into a tailspin of self-doubt due to missing what was seemingly a known reference to fellow concertgoers. I honestly don't know if this trolling worked at all.

The show ended. Phew. We got a great response from the audience, and many met us back at the merch area, which was open in between sets. I enjoyed answering insider questions the rest of the day. Jamison had a gig in the Bay Area that night, so he rushed to the hotel and cabbed it to the airport.

District 97 wowed the crowd, and then it was back to working the merch. As it happens one of the vendors there was Paul Whitehead. Does that name sound familiar? He's a painter who did a lot of album covers, notably Genesis's "Nursery Cryme" and "Foxtrot." And Jenya played some gigs with his musician brother. We chatted about these things. Small, bizarre world.

Frankly I missed most of the RPWL set as free pizza arrived backstage and I was starving. The miRthkon and District 97 gang socialized over these cheezy slices. The Ambrosia guys arrived around then. I lent the bass player my multitool so he could tweak his axe. Nice guy, but that was the sum total of all my interaction with any of them.

Basically the whole rest of the night was packing up gear/merch and heading back to the hotel. My room ended up being the party room. Most of the District 97 and miRthkon stayed a while and geeked out about weird movies, weird music, and weird culture.

Given disparate travel plans, the ride back the next day was just me and Carolyn driving Jamison's van back to Oakland, and I managed various dropoffs and vehicle exchanges. I got back home around the same time Jenya returned from a long day working the Alameda Antique Faire in her food truck. We were both tired and spent. As we ate dinner together I discovered shoes I recently bought in Seattle - super nice, comfortable, and cheap - were chewed up by Laszlo while I was away. I was kinda pissed off at first, but whaddayagonnado?

June 4, 2019 : Rodan

Back in the 90's the Ruins would frequently fly over from Japan to the west coast and play gigs in the Bay Area. I saw them several times, once at the Nightbreak in the Upper Haight. Also checking out that show was a scene of music geeks from the area that I kinda sorta knew via mutual friends. One of them, Chris, needed a ride home to Russian Hill afterward, and I was happy to oblige.

We began walking to my car several blocks away. We were basically strangers, but Chris knew I liked various post-rock bands, so he broke the ice asking, "Are you into Rodan?"

I heard of this highly regarded indie band, but honestly hadn't listened to note one. Still, I lied to seem hip, saying "Of course."

"Yeah," he said, and then after a thoughtful pause asked, "Where do you live?"

I told him I lived in Oakland and he seemed concerned about inconveniencing me given my own long schlep home. He offered, "Aw, man thanks for giving me a lift. I could give you $3 for gas."

"Don't worry about it," I said, and then we were silent again, continuing to walk toward my car.

After about a minute Chris queried, "Are you into Rodan?"

Hunh. Maybe I misunderstood him the first time he asked, but once again I lied. "Yeah."

"Cool," he said, and then, "Where do you live?"

I said Oakland and then he said then he echoed the similar offer of thanks and gas money, albeit for $4 this time.

Weird. Upon approaching and entering my vehicle Chris asked, "Are you into Rodan?"

This conversation loop happened about 5 times total until I finally dropped him off at his place. Only thing that really changed with each iteration was the amount of gas money I was to expect at the end of the trip. I just played along as if this was normal. Dude was pretty fuckin' stoned.

He left the car saying thanks and see ya later, but that was it. Fair enough, I didn't really want or need to be compensated for giving him a ride. I waited to make sure he got in his front door safely. Halfway there he suddenly ran back to my car. "Oh yeah, man" he said, and handed me 3 bucks. Or maybe it was 4 bucks. I don't remember.

Epilog: Since then I only ever heard a couple tunes from their one record, so I still can't truly tell you if I'm into Rodan.

Bonus fun fact: Shortly thereafter I told this tale to Jai Young. This eventually inspired him to randomly yell "Are you into Rodan?" somewhat unintelligibly during one JOB show. This bit ended up on one of our early cassette-only releases. See if you can find it!

May 28, 2019 : Bloop

A few years ago my sister Lisa was visiting the Bay Area. Jenya and I wanted to take her nice restaurant down the coast. I left work slightly early so that we could get down the peninsula before traffic hits and take sunset photos and stuff.

As usual the coast was socked in with fog. No glorious sunset for us, but the ocean was still beautiful and wild to behold - the tides have been epic given the recent weird ass el niño weather. Beating the traffic, we arrived at our destination at 4:45pm, just before they're open for business.

So to kill time we hopped down to the beach below the restaurant - Jenya and Lisa armed with their real cameras, and me with my iPhone. Huge waves, the biggest I've seen around here, splashed down on the shore. And like the silly man I am I went to the waters edge for a more intense picture.

I distracted myself framing an artful shot, almost unaware of a woman walking nearby shouting "watch out!" Waters crawling up the sand approached me much faster than expected and I couldn't scamper away quickly enough. In all my years I've never been caught off guard like that. My shoes got soaked. Dammit.

Well, that was annoying. I looked over to see Jenya further up the beach offering a look of sympathy in my direction. I couldn't help but be a bit of a drama queen and throw up my hands in exasperation at this minor event, but this unnecessary display and slight delay proved costly.

Jenya turned and started running. "Why is she running?" I thought and just like that another wave hit me. Jeezus! They weren't kidding about dangerous ocean conditions. I was suddenly shin deep and struggling to reach dryer ground, but the force knocked me off balance. I fell, spraining my left wrist, but also dunking my iPhone.

I got away from the waves. I wasn't sure how wet my phone got. I held it up and it flashed the apple logo as if saying, "goodbye." The screen flickered and then went black. Aw, fuck.

Saltwater is pretty much instant death for technology, So I just lost a phone. And my shoes were soaked. And my pants, socks and underwear were drenched. And all this happened in under 30 seconds. Things were not going well. Jenya and Lisa and I laughed at this misfortune and ridiculous current state of affairs. We consulted: Should we bail on dinner and have me dry off back at home? That would be so lame.

Jenya looked on her phone and found there was a Goodwill still open back in the main hub of Pacifica. Lisa and I hit that while Jenya went on a separate mission to get some replacement socks and underwear. Pretty quickly I found some nice jeans that actually fit and decent shoes. Since there were few options for privacy, the ladies stood guard around the car in the parking lot as I struggled in the back seat to change into all these new, dryer clothes.

I didn't care about losing possessions as much as a bunch of recent photos I hadn't backed up yet, including several taken from a big show I had recently played at the Fox in Oakland. Bummer.

May 21, 2019 : Maxed Out

Given the recent 20th anniversary of the launch of SETI@home I figure I'd relate another war story about the early days.

In January of 2002 the UC Berkeley campus maxed out its total bandwidth limit of 100 Mbits/sec. For perspective, many of y'all have similar bandwidth coming into your house these days. But back then this was a lot of bits. Still, the central campus networking group was slow to keep up with accelerating internet use and thus we hit this bottleneck much sooner than anticipated, and so every server at the university was choked and unable to send/receive packets through the traffic jam. As a result, the SETI@home project ground to a halt.

Of course this crisis brought into question an outdated UC policy. Up until then, for a tiny fee every month (something like ten bucks) you could get an IP address for a server, and connect it to the campus network with no limits on bandwidth usage. Our single SETI@home data server was transmitting data in both directions at 30 Mbits/sec on average, sometimes peaking up to 60.

So basically we were soaking up a third of the campus bandwidth, all for the same cost as somebody who wanted to plug their single Windows 98 desktop into an ethernet port. In fact, that one SETI@home data server handled more continuous network I/O than all the bits and bytes swirling around the ENTIRE INTERNET five years earlier.

However this log jam wasn't entirely our fault. Over Xmas break all the students discovered Kazaa, a functional replacement for Napster. When they returned from vacation the dorms became one giant Kazaa music piracy fest. Nobody saw this coming, and campus network engineers were caught unprepared for the sudden increase in usage.

But instead of combating illegal music downloads and pissing off students, it was much easier for the powers that be to force SETI@home off the network. It was a routing nightmare, but eventually we were able to install a commercial link for dedicated SETI@home use. It cost $1000/month for our own gigabit. Of course, none of the ancient network infrastructure coming out of our lab could handle that rate, so even though we were paying for a full gigabit, we were capped at 100 Mbit. At least we didn't have to share.

Campus eventually dragged their computing infrastructure into the modern age, but it took about 10 years of nagging and bureaucracy before campus let us back on their network again. Nowadays I manage a dozen data servers for Breakthrough Listen, each with its own dedicated and ridiculously inexpensive 10 Gbit link to the world. Times certainly have changed.

May 14, 2019 : Bowl of Soup

When I'm on tour I rarely want to engage with anybody after playing a show. Sometimes it's basic introversion, sometimes it's the constant crush of imposter syndrome, and sometimes I'm dying of sleep deprivation and the sooner I pack up my gear the sooner I can crawl into some corner and disappear. Once in a manic while I feel the complete opposite, and then I can't resist bouncing into a crowd - a rando fan may recognize me and say, "great show!" which is a big mistake because then I latch on and talk their ear off as panic slowly grows on their face.

But generally I desire to be left alone, and assume everybody else is the same. This is a bummer because there are often VIPs in the venue - celebrities, musicians I've admired for decades, or musicians I don't really know but I must be broken if I don't want to associate with them I guess. I'm not a fan boy but it would be nice to be a human and share war stories with people who get it. After all, they witnessed me on a stage and therefore, albeit temporarily, we're in the same class.

Basically I hate shmoozing. But then comes the next day in the tour van. I can't help but feel some serious missing-out when bandmates recounts stories from last night... "Hey MacAuley Culkin was in the audience." "Did you chat with Reggie Watts?." "Here's a picture of me and John Waters." None of these cultural icons were on my radar as I was distracted, anxiously wrapping cables while facing the back of the stage with plugs still in my ears because the post-show music is too fucking loud. I'll always be just some guy, which is totally fine. Being just some guy means I can usually lurk around the audience unnoticed before shows, and soak in the energy of a crowd brimming with anticipation - situating myself within that magnetic field wakes me up as much as a cup of coffee without actually having to maintain a conversation.

I once played a festival gig in Birmingham, England. There were other interesting acts, including Mike Watt and The Missing Men. Of course I've been a fan of Watt's various projects for a long time, and of course - given everything I said above - I did nothing to actually meet the guy.

Unbeknownst to me he watched our set from the wings, and after one barnstormer I was surprised to hear him shouting in my direction, "you guys are some serious badasses!" Aw, jeez. That was very much sweet and unexpected, and I bowed in thanks.

That would have been plenty, as far as celebrity run-ins go. The next morning all the musicians were at the hotel wearily filling their plates at the buffet and successfully mingling. I kept it low-key, staying at my table and poking at my english breakfast. After eating and I returned to the lobby with my luggage and waited for my bandmates.

Suddenly there was a hand on my shoulder. It's Mike Watt, immediately saying, "hey man, that was a great show last night..." We reflexively shook hands and I said, "likewise!" or something similarly basic and pithy. He continued to gush and ask insider questions about our respective tours. What a true mensch. He's one of the few people out there who actively and effortlessly broke through that wall standing between me and the rest of humanity - and all he wanted to do was simply connect for a moment on the same level down here on this earth. No social climbing, no demands, no sizing up, no butt sniffing. Just high fiving as we passed each other swimming in this same bowl of soup.

December 11, 2018 : Cold Turkey

So today I celebrate my 200th Totally True Story Tuesday. Let's recap. Starting at the end of 2014 I posted these weekly autobiographical nuggets for 150 Tuesdays in a row. Then I took a short break last winter to get off Facebook for a couple months. Once back on line I grinded through another unbroken chain of 50 weeks. And here we are.

There are many tales yet to be told. I kept a pretty healthy backlog in a giant text document on my laptop, just so when I'd wake up every Tuesday all I'd have to do was go through my stack of yarns and pick the most appropriate one for public consumption. The upshot is I have some real doozies in the queue all ready to go.

Nevertheless I'm gonna wrap this shit up, at least for now. I've reached this milestone, I need a break.

I guess if I'm going to count this as my 200th week I should post an actual story. Well since we're all helplessly trapped in this fucked up Facebook vortex, how about this apt (and obvious) little allegory...

I wasn't a smoker, but during senior year of college I lived with several. After one particularly stressful day on campus I needed to vent, so I joined the smokers in the basement and bummed a cigarette thinking it might calm me down. It didn't. In fact it was gross. I've tried cigarettes before and they were always disgusting. I'm not sure why I thought it'd be different this time.

Nevertheless I did the same thing the next day after returning home from a series of arduous labs and lectures, and again the following day. I enjoyed the comradery and the ritual more than anything else. Venting with friends was a rewarding, welcome break from life's struggles and smoking was a neutral reason to go downstairs and join the club. Plus there's a heightened feeling of safety when everybody is on the same level by virtue of the fact we're all actively undermining ourselves by sucking on cancer sticks.

On the fourth day I found myself squirming in class, anxious to get home as I had a lusty hankering for that one daily cigarette. Wow. The craving really happens that hard and that fast. Recognizing the bad habit forming, I quit cold turkey.


December 4, 2018 : Cloud

I had some pretty awful nightmares as a child. Not the worst, but the first one I remember I was two and half years old. It went something like this...

The siblings and I were playing in the backyard of my house on what could have been a normal sunny day. I was so preoccupied with hijinx that it took me a while to register that all of my family's possessions were piled in the yard. It didn't bother me that our stuff was outside, but I felt doom as the sky began to dim.

A cloud came into view, slowly creeping above me - an old-school claymation cloud, fluffy white with dark features that formed a face. Once it reached overhead, twilight stained the world around me, and everything fell silent. The cloud furrowed its brows and began to speak.

But instead of words it spoke in deafening claps of thunder.

That was it. I woke up. What's odd is that's the most vivid thing I recall from before age three, which - given the imagery of our belongings in a chaotic heap outside the house - this nightmare probably coincided with my family moving from upstate New York to Rockland County.

November 27, 2018 : Fan Club

During one phase of working on the SETI@home project our one giant office in the Space Sciences Laboratory contained me and Jeff, and sometimes Dan, Eric, and Dave. We were pretty much the whole group of people keeping afloat the world's largest distributed computing project (and world's largest and most sensitive search for extraterrestrial intelligence). Often Jeff and I were the only occupants, and my desk was right by the entrance.

Given the popularity of our work we'd get visitors from time to time. They'd just wander into the lab, find our office, and come across me plunking away at my Sun Microsystems desktop. In confusion they would ask, "is this.. SETI@home?" I'd say yes and clearly they were crestfallen by our bland work environment. Where's the security? Where's all the men in black? Where is all the staff running this global scale supercomputing project? Nope, it was just a few average people. Reality is fairly mundane.

Since these guests were all fans who made some effort to find us, I'd give them a quick tour - showing them our closet across the hall buzzing with storage and data servers and giving them a glimpse "behind the scenes." Sometimes I couldn't help but ask where they were from and then throw a curveball about how I was just in their home town playing a gig.

Most were nice people who were merely in the neighborhood and scientifically curious. Some would seem sane at first, and ask good questions, but would eventually devolve into stories about their personal UFO experiences. I'd be incredibly diplomatic about such digressions and would steer the conversation towards something else.

Then there was this one guy who basically snuck up behind me wearing a wig. He had a blank expression when I turned and said, "hello...?" Apparently I didn't get the joke as he was "dressed up as an alien." He removed the wig and apologized for the misunderstanding but then started getting down to business. He whipped out a dollar bill and pointed out all the references in the design to alien visitations. "Ho boy here we go," I thought, and then spaced out as he started talking about Chariots of the Gods and all that crap.

It was a long and awkward ten minutes as he expected me to engage and confirm all his theories, but I kept repeating something like, "this isn't what we do here - we're a scientific project mining actual data." Eventually he said enough. I promised to read up on his suggested literature, and he went on his way.

Jeff, who was present but silent the whole time, commended me on my ability to calmly manage that person. However soon afterward I moved my desk from being right by the front door to being the furthest away.

November 20, 2018 : Skankenstein: Behind the Music

I started music really young, but for various reasons I never worked on rock band chops growing up. It's one thing to be able to write, arrange, and record a zillion prog rock epics on your own. But being in a band with peers requires a whole different skill set which you never learn until you actually try it.

I partook in some short lived bands in high school. Everybody was nice, some even really good players, and occasionally it was actually fun. But still I found it hard to really plug into group creativity. My first couple years at college was no different. No rock bands for me. Instead I kept hiding in the practice rooms, conceiving dozens of concept albums nobody will ever hear.

One day during junior year I bumped into Ted. We both played bass in the campus jazz ensemble, switching off on every other tune. He had this party band called Skankenstein in which he sang, played various horns, and guitar. Another friend of mine, Joe, was also singing and playing guitar in the group. A lot of talent between those two. They were losing their current bass player so Ted asked me if I was interested in giving it a shot. Sure, why not?

Given the name, the band was obviously a ska/funk band, and they pretty much only did rearranged cover tunes of various 70's/80's pop hits to fit that format. I knew diddly squat about ska and about a thimblefull's worth of funk, but one key to my success in life was always saying yes regardless of being qualified for the job.

We got together and it worked well enough. I didn't know the drummer, Marc, beforehand, but he was also at the same level. I was game to learn all the tunes they already worked up. I suggested we added a fifth member: Sam the keyboardist. Sam was just a freshman but already toured around and knew the ska/funk realm pretty well. Plus he played a little bass, so we would switch off from time to time.

The lineup was set, and the chemistry was there. We learned like 20 or 30 tunes, rehearsing regularly in Marc's freezing basement. It was so cold I'd break about one bass string per rehearsal on average.

It's humbling when you think you're a bad ass who eats odd time signatures for breakfast and then you encounter the bass line to "Bonin' in the Boneyard." Even more humbling when the singer can play it better than you. But I enjoyed the challenge and my chops got a big bounce getting these songs together.

This was also the first band I was in where I didn't feel I was either proving my artistic credibility to the audience, or my fellow bandmates. It was simply friends having fun making music. And as such I didn't just show up in plain clothes - we donned some pretty hilarious threads. I did questionable (perhaps regretful) things to my hair. And people danced! They were enjoying themselves! Imagine that!

Well, not all the gigs. Sure we had good times playing to mobs of friends at the campus pub or house parties, but we always seemed to get into trouble when trying to branch out. I blathered in a previous tale about the one time we opened for the Spin Doctors. I'll spare you the stories of the other dud gigs. You can just imagine.

Except for this one: We were excited to be opening up for Bop (harvey) at a club off campus. However it was happening during a pretty bad ice/snow storm (common around those parts). I was the only one in the band with a car, and I had to take several trips between various band member houses and the club to get everybody and all our gear there. On one of the legs Marc and I were approaching downtown and I found a spot to temporarily load out. However upon pressing on the brake I came to learn I was on solid ice and no longer in control of the car. Luckily I was going pretty slow, but still the car skidded counterclockwise at 1 mph as it migrated into the opposing lane. Marc and I silently held our breath for however long it took for the car to make a full revolution and somehow come to a stop on its own about 2 feet from kissing a car parked across the street. Phew. Really close call there. We survived the other trips, and there was like 3 people at that gig. And given the small stage and the headliner's epic stage plot we ended up borrowing most of their gear, so we needn't have brought very much after all.

We never really dabbled with originals. We tried, though. The only bit I brought to the band was a weird little C# half dimished riff that evolved into a tune called "Psychoplasmic Funk Wars in 9/8." We may have performed a half-improvised version of that once. Otherwise, given our disparate aesthetics, we avoided band arguments by sticking to covers. Though we did write and record a doofy tune called "Who's Got Da Funk?!" for a college radio compilation CD. Good fun.

One of our last gigs was an outdoor "Spring Fling" festival featuring lots of campus bands. After our set I noticed one of my computer programming classmates was watching our set. He was impressed, but he couldn't help but express concern that I was screwing up by wasting time on this music stuff instead of studying. I wish I could remember his name (and I'm too lazy to look in my journal at the moment) so I could track him down and let him know the status of my current music and computing careers.

After college the band naturally split and we all went our separate ways, each having very musical lives in one form or another. Of all of them I see Joe the most, as he's been insanely good about coming to my shows whenever I'm touring anywhere in the DC area. He should get an award for seeing me on the road playing with the most bands: Mumble & Peg, miRthkon, MoeTar, and Secret Chiefs 3 (a couple times). As it happens I ran into Ted completely randomly in Seattle in the late 90's - our bands were sharing a bill together and had no idea until soundcheck. Crazy coincidence! He's had (still has) a busy and fruitful music career. Sadly I was out of the country when he was in SF playing recently. I owe him a phone call...

November 13, 2018 : Study Hall

For senior year in high school I managed to get a study hall period adjacent to lunch, with an occasional extra study hall right after that. So every day I had 90 minutes, sometimes 135, of "me" time. What did I usually do during this respite? Get as far away from there as fast as I fucking could. Back then students were allowed to leave campus during school hours of their own volition - no pleading with adults required.

I would usually just drive home. Both parents worked. My siblings were either in college or elementary school. So this was the only time I had the whole house to myself. I'd park in the driveway and run inside and bang on the piano for a while. And then I'd blast vinyl records while making some food. I was pretty good at whipping up basic rice bowls. I'd cook and eat while the likes of Gentle Giant, ELP, or Marillion rattled the walls.

On other occasions I'd drive as far away as possible, and sometimes convince friends to cut class and join me on these quests for experience points. We'd return and get to AP chem just in time, bragging how we just came from shopping at the Paramus Mall in New Jersey. Once we just went putzing around Nyack - and we'd reappear at school proudly brandishing bags of Burger King.

Every afternoon it took incredible will control and self deception to drag my ass back for the remaining classes. My heart was not in it. I was accepted to college earlier in the year so of course I didn't bother studying or caring anymore. Nevertheless I somehow ended up getting the best grades of my entire high school career during all this.

November 6, 2018 : 44th Street

In my Oakland neighborhood something weird was happening. The signs for "44th Street" kept disappearing. The city would eventually replace them, only to be stolen again. This was all going down around the beginning of 2009. Eventually I was like, "oh yeah - Obama is the 44th president."

Nobody ever stole the "45th Street" signs.

October 30, 2018 : Romanian Wine

On Election Day 2012 I was driving in a van with Secret Chiefs 3 towards the Romanian town of Cluj Napoca - the capital of Transylvania. Travelling by road in this region means staring out the window at passing villages and dry autumnal valleys and stray dogs and impossibly large stork nests perched atop telephone poles.

The club, Gambrinus, was located on the old main square. We parked illegally to unload much to the anger of the police. They threatened to ticket us if we didn't move immediately even though we had fifteen people fire lining all our shit quickly onto the curb and then into the venue. Eventually the police left us alone because their arguing was actually slowing everything down and causing us to spend more time blocking traffic.

As always we were running late so there was a quick rush to set up. This included getting a ridiculously large DJ rig off the stage. I torqued my back pretty bad in the process. And the wifi didn't work here, goddammit! Look - I know this seems like a first world problem but back then international data plans were prohibitively expensive and how fucking hard is it to hook up a damn $50 wifi router and reboot it as needed? I sent Jenya a costly text message just to let her know what's up and to please pass along election results as they came available.

Got everything set up but then came to learn that the despite the rush the house sound people hadn't arrived yet. A few of us were hungry so we set forth to check out the town and get some eats on our own. Past a neat little outdoor bazaar we found an ample Italian restaurant. The exchange rate was ridiculously in our favor - I spent like $6 on a whole pizza and salad and sparkling water.

Hurried back to the club for sound check. We ran a bunch of tunes then cleared the stage for a.P.A.t.T. (our delightful tourmates). Once again we found ourselves with time to kill. But whatever shall we do without working wifi to keep us occupied?

Suddenly these guys appear well before show time. One of them, Sebastian, was a fan and friends with a nearby vintner. He offered a wine and cheese tasting at their place. Sure! So suddenly a subset of us were following these Romanian strangers down cobblestone alleys to this nice little wine shoppe a few blocks away.

Our local hosts were fans and audiophiles and happy to have us as guests and take pictures with us and feed us Romanian wines and cheeses. Who knew Romanian wine was a thing? And it was really good! It ended up being a bit of a party. The Romanians grew in number, including this one hilarious friend of theirs who was a Hungarian Jew. When I mentioned to him I too had some Jewish Hungarian blood he held up a glass and shouted, "Shalom!"

We sat at a long table and the locals kept filling our glasses, along with shots of plum and apple liquors. And some local sausages as well. Everything was super delicious. And I'm such a lightweight that I got fucking ripped. Not exactly how I usually roll pre-show.

Time flew by and there was still a gig to play. We all planned to purchase some of their amazing wines but they simply handed us twelve free bottles. Awesome! I love this town!

Stumbled back to the club. I almost felt like napping. Luckily energy drinks procured at the bar woke everybody up. After a.P.A.t.T.'s set we blasted out one of the best performances of the tour thus far, despite having two sudden power outages on stage during Halloween due to amps being cranked too loud. Wine plus energy drinks always equals amps too loud.

I was keen to pack the vans and get to the hotel for our five hours of sleep before the long drive tomorrow, but the party raged on. So be it, however as usual I was the only sober one a couple hours later. If I were to get any z's I had to manage getting the van out of the parking lot across the square, and spearhead the loading process. And so I did.

Turns out there was a flat above the noisy club where the a.P.A.t.T. crew were crashing. But the comfortable, quiet hotel seemed more appealing - we were down to 2.5 hours of potential sleep so I wanted to make it count. I drove the giant Sprinter van with little navigational aid about 5 kilometers through this very foreign city.

The hotel was situated on a scary narrow street with cars parked too close to me on both sides. I accidentally missed the turn. So I had to circle around via even more narrow streets. I survived without scraping the vehicle or taking out anybody's side mirrors. Macario the tour manager ran inside to get our keys and figure out how and where to park.

He emerged a minute later completely pissed off. Turns out somebody fucked up and they didn't have any record of a reservation for us, nor any free rooms. Fuck! I sped back to the club, and we found the aforementioned flat was still accessible. Half of us went up to claim whatever surfaces were available. I basically woke up Joel snoozing on one tiny, fold up couch and told him to move over. The other half slept in the van out in the street. Good god, what a clusterfuck, but I managed to maximize the two hours of sleep.

The wake up call was at 6:40am. I fumbled around the dark room to put on the same clothes I've been wearing for several days straight. One by one people appeared - some having stayed up all night - and met up at the parked vans. Kind of a bleak, frazzled scene as we came to terms with our current fragile state of being and the seven hour drive to Bucharest facing us.

But then I got a text from Jenya which simply said: "Obama!"

We cheered.

October 23, 2018 : Shipping

So I own a Warr guitar. What's a Warr guitar? These are big monster instruments that come in many shapes and sizes. Mine has 12 strings - 6 guitar and 6 bass - with separate outputs for each half. You play both halves simultaneously by tapping the strings instead of plucking them. It seems pretty expert and flashy to rock out on this thing, like you have to be a total freak to be able to wrap your brain around both bass and guitar parts but I'll be frank - playing leads and accompaniment simultaneously is what we keyboardists call "basic rudimentary technique." Okay, okay - I'm just being a dick - I admit even as a keyboardist it's actually rather difficult to figure out Warr guitars, and yes they have their own unique functions and musicality. And it's a fun challenge. Plus they are better to play live than keyboards in that nobody fucking cares about keyboard players.

These are all custom instruments built to your own specifications by Mark Warr himself and his tiny staff. My friend and world class genius performer Brian Kenney Fresno is an expert Warr guitarist. He contacted Mark and put in a good word for me, and I got pushed ahead in the queue. Still, it took a long time to make all the decisions about wood and electronics and source all the parts and assemble them. By "long time" I'm talking months. I didn't mind - I was spending a lot of money - over twice than I spent on any other instrument in my collection. So I didn't want to rush anything. One happy day I got word it was done and shipping (from southern California).

I anxiously watched the tracking on line as it took a week to travel north. I had them ship it to my lab at the University in fear it would be left on my doorstep and perhaps stolen while I was at work. Finally the web site said it was sitting at a station in Oakland and due for delivery that morning. I hurried to the lab to make sure I safely received it, sitting at my desk and hitting refresh in my browser every five minutes in anticipation. And finally the site said, "delivered!"

I ran down to the loading dock and talked to Larry who managed incoming shipments and whatnot. He said nothing of the sort arrived. Hunh. I ran back up to my desk and now the web site had some additional scary information: the delivery was signed for by someone named "G. Rossi." Who the hell is that?

Nobody with that name worked at the lab. Maybe it got shipped elsewhere on campus? I frantically searched the university directories and couldn't find that name anywhere. I made calls to various other labs to no avail. Boy was I stressed out.

So I called the shipping company to see if I could get more information about exactly where my guitar ended up. While raising my panicked voice at the human on the other end I suddenly remembered that my old housemate Vicky's last name is "Grossi" which is suspiciously similar to "G. Rossi." Did they ship the guitar to my old house (which I moved out of almost two years ago)?!

I unceremoniously hung up and called Vicky, who was at the old apartment. "Did a big box just arrive with my name on it?" I asked. Yes, it did. Yeesh! After work I went over there and claimed it.

It was quite fortuitous Vicky still lived there and was home at the time to receive it. How my really outdated address ended up on the shipping label instead of my lab address remains a mystery to this day. I admit it could have been my fault, at least partially. In any case - beautiful instrument, had it over 15 years, works great, and it saved my sanity when I broke my left hand as I could still play bass lines with my right (my mental state heavily depends on frequently practicing bass parts along with my record collection).

October 16, 2018 : Vancouver

For those who think it's all fun and games, here's another tour dismount tale.

Everybody loves Vancouver, so naturally I was looking forward to my first visit for this last show of a Secret Chiefs 3 / Dengue Fever tour. Both bands crossed the border from Bellingham in our separate vans without much ado.

The region seemed quaint and idyllic as we approached. But once in the heart of the city it became clear the venue, while pleasant inside, was in the heart of a fairly sketchy neighborhood. The staff at the venue insisted we take everything out of the van, including all our personal luggage, just to be safe. Yeesh.

Something I ate for dinner - a veggie tofu sandwich - didn't agree with my gut. At first I thought I just felt impossibly sleepy, which is normal for the ends of tours. So I got burnt coffee at a nearby Tim Horton's which totally didn't help.

I powered through our set, feeling worse by the minute. And there were plans to have SC3 come up and take solos during one of the jammier Dengue Fever tunes to celebrate our last gig together. They usually closed with that number, but luckily this time it was the third song of their set. I woozily noodled over C minor and then stumbled backstage to deal.

I sank fast. The noise and chaos of the club began to cause me physical pain. I got the keys to the van, now empty, to lie down somewhere quiet (except for all the creepy street noise).

The discomfort wasn't passing, and after an hour of hellish denial I came to terms with the situation. I exploded out of the van but somehow had the presence of mind to ensure I left it locked. I then stumbled into the alley, and sprayed projectile vomit everywhere. Many, many servings. Yep - there I was making this already terrible neighborhood even worse.

Now high on adrenaline I emerged into the club. The show was long over, and most of the gear already packed up. I mustered enough strength to say goodbye to the Dengue Fever gang now that our adventures were over, and help with the remaining load out. I clutched my gut as we swerved through town toward the hostel.

I continued purging throughout the night. I didn't eat at all the next day. I managed to make it through the border crossing and the typical secondary search process though Toby, simultaneously fascinated and horrified, noted how my face was literally green.

Half the band split on their flights home. However I left my 4runner in Seattle this whole tour in order to transport all the gear and remaining bandmates back to the Bay Area. And so I was stuck dealing with many errands and lifting heavy objects and whatnot. This included unloading an entire band's worth of gear as my core tempature dropped in the icy night air, and then being the tetris master as we repacked it all in my 4runner. Completely destroyed by malnourishment during all the above activity, I finally got to crash out on a couch once everything was sorted.

The next day Trey, Timba, and I drove the stuffed 4runner all the way from Seattle to Oakland, which included snow over the Siskiyou summit. Given all the above my body was in a weakened state and thus I caught a horrible cold which got worse and worse during the 15 hour journey home.

October 9, 2018 : No Story Today

I was reluctant at first, but on October 12, 2008 I signed up for Facebook. Several friends and relatives were already on it, so I had an instant network. The interface seemed light and refreshing, especially compared to the maddening hell of Myspace. In fact I happily deleted my Myspace profile once fully invested in this other new and exciting social media platform.

Do I really need to recap what's happened to everybody's mental health since, all thanks to Facebook? What's happened to the politics since? And what will happen to the economy eventually? And to the last remaining meaningful scraps of our art and culture? Does all the above destruction really make up for the few positives of this site?

Anyway what does this anniversary mean to me? Well, unless I quit in the next two days the story of my life will contain a solid fucking DECADE of feeding this monster.


There is no story today. Just... fuck.

October 2, 2018 : Copyright

Back during the turn of the 90's I would send myself cassettes containing my own music via registered mail. Seems silly, but this was, and still is, a cheap way to protect one's intellectual property. If anybody stole my music I could prove - via the contents in a dated, government sealed envelope - that I did it first. This is the "poor man's copyright" and is more of a self-delusion than a real safeguard. But still, better than nothing I guess.

Shortly after I moved to California I had a cassette of fresh material that required this treatment. So I went to my new post office in Berkeley, right by Ashby BART. I filled out the forms and handed my envelope to the woman behind the glass. "I want this mailed to my address," I said. She squinted and laughed, "why would you do that?"

I explained, but this made no sense to her. In fact she quickly became defensive and said, "you *can't* do that."

"But I've mailed stuff to myself before," I whined. This didn't convince her. She must have thought I was a crazy loon, and the people behind me in line were growing impatient. I gave up before the argument got dirty, and headed home embarrassed and pissed off.

Once back in my apartment I saw the message light on my answering machine blinking. Turns out it was the woman from the post office. In the mere two minutes it took to return to my place she had talked to her manager who explained everything. So she called to humbly apologize and ask that I return to complete the procedure.

And so I did, and we had a good laugh about it. She was far more helpful and charming this time around.

As I walked home again I wondered how she got my phone number so quickly. It never came up as part of the process. Nor was my name in the phone book yet (I just arrived in state a week earlier). Weird.

Anyway on hindsight it's hilarious that I thought anybody would ever hear this music much less want to steal it. Of course, 25 years later we're putting all our creativity and private lives on line for free just to be heard above the noise while the mob picks away at us like vultures, ruthlessly judges us for meaningless sport, or outright steals our work and claims it as their own for money and attention. It's better now, right?

September 25, 2018 : Sting

During recess in elementary school I avoided most activity on the playgrounds, largely living inside of my head while hiding in the woods next to the fields. However, sometimes I ignored all my instincts and attempted to fit in. And so I joined the normals and played a couple rounds of the game "Sting" (also known as "Ass"). Never heard of it? Lemme explain.

There is a wall, there is a tennis ball, and there is a pack of unruly male children. There are no teams - everybody plays as an individual. Whoever has the ball throws it against the wall. Then another kid catches the ball upon its return. There is no reward for catching/throwing the ball - like much of life it's bullshit and you don't want to get involved but it's boring to avoid trying. Repeat ad infinitum.

But here's where it gets interesting. You must never make contact with the ball without a clean catch. If you do, you must run to the wall as far as you can because anybody else at this point could retrieve the ball and peg you with it. The wall is like a big reset button. If you tag the bricks without getting hit you are safe, and nobody is allowed to throw at you any longer.

However, if you are nailed with the ball before reaching the wall you are penalized not only with a welt, but also with a letter. The first letter is "A," the second offense you get an "S," and the third strike is another "S."

It's incredibly rare that, during the course of a normal-length recess, that somebody would be so unlucky as to reach all three letters. But here's what goes down when somebody obtains the full "ASS." It's glorious.

The unfortunate person with the full complement of scarlet letters has to take a walk of shame to the wall and stand there facing the bricks, hands up, legs spread. Meanwhile everybody else gleefully chants "Ass! Ass! Ass! Ass!" and takes a turn throwing the ball as hard as they can at the condemned person. Once the suffering and humiliation is over, the sad loser has a clean slate and the game resumes.

I don't really have a story here - just a window into the particular fucked-up-edness of suburban life in upstate New York during the 1970's. Ah yes, boys will be boys - creating games which exist only to assign random pain and humiliation to others. Also, this game was a perfect metaphor, if not also great preparation, for many aspects of my future adult life.

Oh look of course there's a wikipedia article spelling out all kinds of regional variants of this "game." Fascinating stuff:

September 18, 2018 : Crafty

Whilst going to school at Binghamton University my pal Dave lived in nearby Ithaca. I would visit him a lot and soak in the town's wonderful vibes and explore the Cornell campus, trying not to be too jealous I ended up in Binghamton (the far less expensive option). Anyway, Dave ran lights for a lot of the school's productions, and as such clued me into an upcoming gig: Robert Fripp and his League of Crafty Guitarists. For those who don't know Robert Fripp here's a quick summary: Mostly known for being the guitarist/figurehead in 70's proto-prog-metal band King Crimson, he also worked with Bowie, Gabriel, David Sylvian, Daryl Hall, Blondie, and others. I love his early experiments in live looping (with tape) the best. He is also known to be a bit of a tough, cheerless character.

Anyway, my roommate Frank and I drove up to Ithaca to catch this show. Beforehand I got to meander backstage given Dave's access. This wasn't too exciting except when I stumbled into the busy green room and there, two feet away, was Fripp sitting and drinking tea. He looked up from his newspaper and stared at me with a soul crushing sneer. I couldn't bring myself to utter anything. Maybe I said, "'scuse me" before I backed out into the hall.

The performance was astounding. A dozen acoustic guitarists orchestrated in such a heavy, angular manner I hadn't previously dreamed possible. The concert featured a solo vocalist as well. She would walk to the front of the stage every few tunes and sing simple a capella ditties to soothe the brain before the next onslaught.

Halfway through the set Fripp walked up to the microphone and said, "So this is a prestigous academic facility. Perhaps you have some questions for us about what we do?"

Quickly there was one volunteer who asked, "Is this music scored or learned by ear?"

Fripp seemed slightly disappointed by the basic nature of this question, but still answered diplomatically. He explained the music was learned by ear and collaboratively arranged.

He selected another raised hand, and that person wondered, "How do you tune your guitars?"

This time the disgust at the amateurish query was clearly visible on his face. "You can read about that in any number of rock guitar magazines," he spoke in a long sigh, and continued, "Is there anything more meaningful you'd like to ask us directly while we're here?"

The audience grew uncomfortable and afraid, but that didn't stop somebody from shouting, "Are you gonna play any King Crimson?"

Fripp recoiled as if shot in the heart. In contemptuous disbelief he groaned into the microphone, "This is Cornell?! Perhaps we should go back to just playing music." He sat back down and got ready for the next piece.

The audience, shocked and embarrassed, let out a collective weak-ass "ooo" before the next set began. Frank and I, though, enjoyed full belly laughs because ha ha fuck you Cornell you suck.

(To be fair, much of the audience - like me - were probably not Cornell students, but still let me have this.)

I don't want to sour you on Mr. Fripp, so I'll leave you with the following. A decade later I was living in the Bay Area and caught him at other shows, including another guitar-centric stint at Slim's. Before the set he and three others armed with acoustic guitars entered the audience and serended one particular table with a jaunty song. Fripp sported a rare smile during this bit. Once on stage he explained that was his sister in the audience, and it was her birthday hence the special musical treat just for her. He also proudly noted she was a hairdresser who lived here in San Francisco, and we should all visit her salon. Pretty frickin' cute.

September 11, 2018 : Consulate

Jenya and I made an appointment at the Russian consulate in San Francisco in order to sort out our visas before traveling there in 2014. We arrived a few minutes early and found ourselves in this blank, somber office. No signs, no clear instructions - just a line of people leading to a window, behind which an unsmiling middle aged woman shuffled and stamped a stream of paperwork.

I approached the most official looking human standing around and asked her about the general procedure. I chose poorly - she was simply some Russian rando. Plus she didn't speak English and certainly had no reason nor ability to help me, and instead stared at me in horror.

Um, yeah. Awkward. Jenya and I waited a bit to see if maybe they'll just call our name when the time comes, but nobody did. Just then a young man in the waiting area who overheard my earlier questions asked me, "are you Matt Lebofsky?"

Almost surprised by the American accent he went on to explain that if I had an appointment, I can simply cut the line and go next. Really? This was out of my comfort zone, but indeed I silently wedged my way in front of everybody and got attended to immediately. The woman behind the glass used as little words as possible, and she cheerlessly managed my paperwork. Nobody waiting in the queue seemed bothered or impatient. The bleak equilibrium in this room remained undisturbed by my actions. So I guess what felt like rude behavior to me was culturally appropriate! Jenya did the same and that was that.

Here's the thing: I have no illusions about my level of fame, so it's neither shocking nor disappointing when nobody recognizes me in public. Frankly, anonymity is almost always a good thing. But not so this time. Turns out that helpful young man wasn't affiliated with the consulate - he was a tour guide who happened to be there obtaining visas for some clients. Having done this many times before he was familiar with the unclear process. But he also was a (very, very rare) fan of my music work, hence how he knew my face and name and why he was keen to be of assistance. That was advantageous - he saved me from needlessly waiting in a long line.

September 4, 2018 : Autobuy

When I first moved to California I lived with Bob. His friend, Doug, lived elsewhere and was in the business of transporting collectible cars from California to Germany. Doug had a batch ready to set sail for Europe but had room for one more in the shipping container. Instead of wasting that space why not occupy it with whatever modern vehicle easily turned around for profit upon arrival in Europe? So Doug wired Bob some money and told him to get a Jeep Cherokee or something like that. Bob was carless himself, so I gave him a lift to the nearest dealer and hung out in case he needed a ride back.

Bob and I arrived at the lot, dressed like the poor, young shlubs we were. Naturally the car salesman sized us up as a waste of his time. But without much fanfare and zero negotiation Bob pointed at a red jeep and said, "I want that one. Can I write a check?" The salesman was confused, and reflexively began walking us through various features of this model. We eventually convinced him we didn't care - we just wanted to buy the thing as is and go. We were treated quite well from that point on. In fact the salesman couldn't contain his smirky joy as paperwork was hastily printed and signed.

August 28, 2018 : Teens and Cars

Here's another one of those stories where I change names to minimize potential embarrassment. And I'm a jerk.

Back in high school some friends and I went to jam at John's house. I drove the other guys over and parked in front of the garage. When rehearsal ended John's mom returned home and commanded him to drive her car into the garage once I moved mine out of the way.

I reparked in the street and socialized with bandmates in the driveway as John got the keys from his mom. Clearly he was unfamiliar with this vehicle's size, as he cut too hard turning into the bay. "Whoa whoa whoa" we all shouted and he stopped. Had he continued a few more feet he would have clipped the side of the garage. Phew.

He only had to back out and reorient. Simple, right? But mind you we're all teenagers at this point, i.e. not exactly experts at anything, including driving and dishing out advice. Conflicting directions were shouted at John as he tried to navigate in reverse out of a tight squeeze. He overcompensated. "Whoa whoa whoa" we shouted again. This time too late. The left side of the car brushed up again the edge of the garage bay, leaving a dent smeared with white paint on the rear passenger door.

John, pissed off and scared, now pulled forward into the bay to assess the damage. He hastily got out to inspect the various gouges he just created. In his panic he accidentally left the car in neutral, and it began to roll backward on its own. "Watch out" we yelled and he got out of the way just in time as the wide open driver's side door rammed against the garage wall.

We pushed the car forward enough for him to get back into the driver's seat, but the door got pretty fucked up by the impact and would no longer shut. We were simultaneously awed and horrified at how easily and swifty the nice automobile (and garage) were severely injured.

John disappeared as the rest of us tried to see if we could unwarp the door somehow. No dice. Suddenly John returned with his mother who beheld all the destruction and cried out, "OH MY GOD! What happened?!" The rest of us - good friends that we were - immediately fled to my car and I sped away.

Sorry, John.

August 21, 2018 : Tight Connection

Jenya and I had a great vacation on the north coast of Spain, full of art, food, beaches, medieval villages, and cave paintings. However the day before we left for home I got nervous about our connecting flight in Belgium. I'm not sure how this happened, but we only had 50 minutes to switch planes, including sprinting to a different terminal and rechecking our luggage through customs. Even under the best circumstances we'd likely miss our flight.

To improve our chances I found a copy shop where I could get some internet and print out maps of the terminals in Brussels. We studied them and came up with the most efficient game plan to race from one plane to the other, bracing for the worst.

We dropped off the car at the airport in Bilbao and checked in to our first leg. As we were getting served we learned this flight was delayed 20 minutes. So our minuscule 50 minute window for a layover was already down to 30 minutes. Not good. Still, the woman behind the counter said we'd be okay and checked our bags in.

Jenya immediately assumed this flight will be ultimately be cancelled. I had more hope, but grew more anxious as we waited for our plane. This evolved into dread as the delay swelled to 30 minutes. And then 45 minutes. Feeling quite defeated, we could only wait to head to Brussels and pray there's a manageable later flight. Devices were plugged in to send e-mails to warn appropriate parties back in Oakland (work, dog watchers) of our postponed arrival.

About 90 minutes late we were finally lining up at the gate to leave. It was one of those situations where boarding really meant going outside to cram onto a bus which takes you to plane farther down the tarmac. We packed ourselves onto that bus and claustrophobically waited a while until another announcement: the flight was cancelled. So Jenya predicted correctly.

Everybody groaned and trudged back inside the terminal. Jenya and I parallelized - she went to retrieve our luggage while I ran upstairs to get in line for new travel arrangements. Seeing the crowds forming at the elevator I found some stairs, which somehow led me outside. I ran around back into the front entrance and found the queue. There were only about five parties ahead of us, but each group was taking about 10 minutes each. This gave Jenya ample time to find our bags.

At the desk we didn't have many options, and were basically handed new tickets with little discussion. The new itinerary: leaving here tomorrow at 7am, heading to SFO with a five hour layover in Frankfurt. Oy. The good news is we no longer had to sweat that race to switch planes in Brussels. We still had to register at the "ground force" desk and wait an hour to get our hotel assignment for the night. Jeez. Looks like we're staying at the Holiday Inn off the airport!

Once at the hotel we realized we accidentally left our euro-power adaptor in some outlet back at the airport. We still had some arrangements that required charged laptops. Jenya went on a quest to find the adaptor back at the airport, and ended up having to buy a new one at a travel shop in the terminal.

I guess it was nice to have an extra night in Spain, but we were in the middle of nowhere. After gin and tonics at the hotel bar we walked around an industrial complex and small housing development next to the hotel. Boring! The highlight of this evening: encountering two puppies that trotted over towards us rather calmly and purposefully, and then immediately flopped over to let us pet their bellies. The incredible cuteness overrode the creepiness of countless fleas crawling beneath their fur.

Given crappy scheduling and limited space the earliest hotel shuttle to get us back to the airport in the morning was at 5:28am. We got to the airport an hour before boarding, and had to wait in an impossibly slow line to check in. Oy! Somehow we made it.

We arrived in Frankfurt at 9:15am. Given the chaos we still didn't have seats selected for the next long leg, so our first order of business was to go to the gate and talk to an agent. Nobody was there. At the United help desk nearby they said we had to wait until 12:30am for an agent to arrive in order to choose seats.

You know what? Fuck that! We just left the airport in order to get to the main United departures desk, which was open already and had no line. We were able to get seats together and still had four hours to kill. The guy at the help desk clearly described how to get on a train into town, and the station is right downstairs. No brainer!

Near the tracks we found the ticket machine but it wouldn't accept our credit card for the fifteen euro group day ticket. We let a young mother try it for several minutes. She had the same issue. A German girl barged past us to use the machine because, as she stressfully sputtered in evenly paced syllables, "it is important I make this train and I know what I am doing."

She proved the machine worked and ran to the platform. As the train approached I discovered I had exact cash. I had about 30 seconds to manage my way through the automated transaction. It kept rejecting the bills and spitting them out so fast I had to catch them floating in the swirling air as the train was pulling up. We were finally successful with no time to spare and hopped on as doors closed. Yay, adventure.

Hey, look! Bonus German tourism! And what a lovely sunny day! Once in town we aimed for the river, but were happily distracted by cool buildings and markets. In one platz we stopped to get bockwurst and beer. We needed help to figure out the senf dispenser. So fun to see Jenya use her Deutsch again like a pro (she laughed as the guy explained we had to squeeze the dispenser like we were milking a cow). We also got some sweet pastries and then caught the train back to the airport.

We had to go through customs again. Every time I go through German passport control I have the following conversation, because, as it happens, "The Big Lebowski" movie is a hugely popular favorite in Germany.

Agent: [scans my passport, eyes bug out, uncomfortable smile appears on face] Do you know the movie "The Big Lebowski?"

Me: [trying not to roll eyes] Yes.

Agent: Your name is like it!

Me: I know.

Agent: [stamps and hands me passport] It's a good movie!

Me: Yeah it's pretty funny.

Really, though, I've only seen that flick once. And you know what? It's alright.

August 14, 2018 : Suitcase

Ben and Ruth (my older siblings) and I were all of single-digit ages and living it up in the 1970's. Without cable television, iPads, or internet we would had to get creative when it came to play time. Yes, we had an Atari 2600 which was fun but it was hooked up to a black and white television which required a pair of pliers to change the channel. In any case, we found it as enjoyable to make up our own stuff to do.

One afternoon Ben, the largest of the Lebofsky children at the time, discovered he could fit inside this one piece of luggage dug out from the parent's closet. We all knew what to do next. He tucked himself into the big suitcase, Ruth and I zipped it up, and then we tossed it around the master bedroom. Ben squealed in delight at the free ride, tumbling around in darkness, all while I got to get out some aggression heaving the thing up onto the bed and pushing it down onto the floor.

Given age order Ruth went next, and then finally me. I had a blast. It was like being in a self-driving bumper car that could travel in three dimensions, all while blindfolded.

Pleased with ourselves, we went for round two. Ruth and I zipped Ben in and then happily flung the suitcase into the air. When it landed Ben unexpectedly squealed in agony. Oh shit! Did we break him?!

Turns out in our overzealous haste we didn't realize a bunch of his hair was stuck in the zipper. In panic Ruth and I tried to get him out, but the damn thing was jammed with his locks. Oh no!

Somehow we mustered the courage to find mom and explain to her the nature of our activity which led to this unfortunate situation. She found it far more hilarious than infuriating. We watched as mom got some scissors and surgically cut Ben's hair, eventually freeing her eldest son from the clutches of that evil luggage.

Well, that was the end of that game.

August 7, 2018 : Siberia

We finally landed in Krasnoyarsk. This large city in Siberia was where I first stepped foot inside Russia. It was quite handy that Victor, our tour manager, was fluent in Russian because few, if any, locals spoke English. Let's face it - there's not that much foreign tourism in the region. To drive this point home: when checking into our hotel the woman behind the desk, upon discovering we were from the U.S., asked Victor, "aren't we enemies?"

She was joking, or maybe half joking - perhaps she honestly didn't know. We would eventually be quite welcomed by another wonderful woman who worked at the hotel and regularly prepared authentic Russian cuisine for the guests. She seemed to grow fond of us confusing Americans as we showed up in the lobby every morning and night and delighted in her dill-laden offerings. We couldn't get enough of the pelmeni. One meal she tried to do something special for us, and made us pizza. Bless her heart, and I know she meant well, but it was a bit... off.

Anyway, we would rehearse every day in the symphony hall down the street. Once while sorting out our gear on stage and gabbing amongst ourselves we were taken aback when some guy, apparently eavesdropping, emerged from the wings asking, "hey are you Americans?" He, too, was from the U.S. and happened to be a percussionist in one of the local orchestras.

That somebody would move halfway around the planet for such a gig fascinated me. One of us asked, "where are you from in the states?"

"Detroit," he answered.

At a later rehearsal Jenya and I were taking a break in the green room and heard echoes of music coming from an adjacent hall. We simultaneously recognized the song - "We are the Champions" by Queen. We snuck into the hall to check it out, and found a chorus of teenagers absolutely nailing this tune, albeit singing in Russian. I don't quite remember exactly but I think Victor listened in as well and noted they changed some of the words to be a bit more nationalistic.

As we got familiar with the town Jenya and I learned enough cyrillic to at least sound out words on signs and posters and whatnot. The enjoyment of this activity peaked when I saw an old lady pushing a food cart down the street with the handwritten letters at the top: "хот дог"

I struggled for a second, then laughed out loud when I realized that "хот дог" was pronounced "hot dog."

Some days later, before performing in Kansk - a town even deeper into Siberia - we were taken out that morning for food. We loaded into a van with a Russian handler we hadn't met before. I wasn't sure he spoke English until he broke the silence inside the van by saying, "Take look at my girlfriend. She the only one I got."

Everybody seemed a bit disturbed by this random utterance but I knew immediately what he was getting at. That's the first line of the Supertramp song, "Breakfast in America." He was being funny because, you know, we were a bunch of Americans going to get breakfast.

These were just some of the odd, charming surprises Siberia had to offer us clueless Americans. Others included: beautiful parks, streets that filled with rollerbladers wearing bright colors every night, and a restaurant called "Papa" which had Peter Griffin from Family Guy as their logo (intellectual property be damned).

Our next stop was Moscow. We had little time to really explore but did manage to get down to Red Square for a couple hours. Right there in this major urban hub sat - among other things - the Kremlin, the former KGB, and Lenin's tomb. But also a Baskin Robbins, a Subway, a Krispy Kreme, and a Hooters. Also a gift shop which had a t-shirt depicting a big, angry Russian bear standing in front of a U.S. flag. Above them were two words that were written in Cyrillic that when sounded out said, "Goodbye America."

July 31, 2018 : Four Years of Nothing

Just before my first college semester I attended freshman orientation. This largely involved forced, painful social activities. One such activity found me randomly grouped at a large table exchanging small talk with other 18 year olds. Many were as dull as my high school non-friends, the remainder kept quiet like me. I related most to the kids who said the least.

Four years passed.

After I graduated college I was slow to leave town, bumming around until the lease on my house was up. I came home on one of my final days living at that address to find my housemates having some kind of gathering on the porch. I'm really good with faces, and I immediately recognized one of our guests - from my freshman orientation - he was among the quiet kids at that aforementioned table. And I hadn't seen him on campus at all between the orientation four years ago and now. We introduced ourselves as if we never met before.

It somehow seemed quite deep and meaningful to have my entire college experience bookended by the presence of this particular person - we started and ended our undergraduate careers at the exact same places but I'm sure our journeys in between were very different. But as much as we should compared and contrasted what we made of our four years as students, we didn't progress far beyond the same old small talk. It seems we're both still introverts. Or maybe we silently agreed the imagined, unspoken stories of our college experiences were probably better.

July 24, 2018 : Dropsy

Over the years I'd bump into friend and fellow musician David at various parties. He kept saying, "I'm thinking of forming a band that plays my songs, maybe we'll do a couple of shows and record an album. Wanna play keyboards?" Of course my answer was always yes, and eventually this came to fruition.

In the spring of 2001 we had the first band rehearsal. David on vocals and MIDI vibraphone, me on keyboards, Tom on trombone, Mathias on drums, and Myles on bass. Due to scheduling conflicts, Myles and Tom eventually had to bail, but multi-instrumentalist Garth joined on sax, and Alex on bass. No guitar.

David settled on the name Dropsy early on and established the fancy web site. Rehearsals were fun and the music a total joy to learn and perform. One rehearsal fell on the evening of 9/11. Calls went around wondering if we would maintain plans to work on these tunes that night. I'm glad we ultimately decided to get together and jam out as it helped get through this particularly fucked up time.

Tom was still in the band when we had a "warm up" show of six songs at the Fishtank. As we solidified a full albums' worth of tunes we were playing shows at the Starry Plough with other similar bands. We even did an outdoor gig at a party in Clear Lake of all places. The hostess of that party captured a rattlesnake on the premises. With Alex's help she beheaded it with a shovel, and they plopped the tail down on the grill alongside the other meats.

Before one of the Plough gigs Garth and I ordered burgers and beer at the bar's kitchen and ate and drank as everybody shared my fries. There was a trio of old-school biker types. One guy - tall, skinny, leather vest and no shirt, handle-bar mustache - tapped me on the shoulder while I was eating and asked if I was having a good day. I said, "yes." This answer satisfied him, I guess, and he left me alone.

During soundcheck, that same guy looked at me from offstage and yelled, "nice mustache," which was odd as I shaved that morning. I said, "what?" and he repeated the same. I said I didn't have a mustache. Then, while raising his own middle finger he snapped, "hey! did you just flip me off?!" I snapped back, "No I didn't flip you off!" He was obviously way drunk, and he admitted the alcohol was making him see things. I diplomatically offered that it might have been the stage lights reflecting off my glasses or something. Anyway, that was the end of that confrontation - the bikers left before our set.

By the summer of 2002 we hunkered down and started recording the album at Myles' studio. Despite having no budget (except for whatever was in David's bank account) we tinkered with some interesting "overproduction," mostly in the form of many guest musicians playing brass, percussion, etc.

Since there was no "label pressure" and therefore no deadlines we took months to lay down the tracks, and eventually mix it. David began working on the cover art, and basically all band progress slowed to a crawl. Mathias split to move to LA to further his computer science education. Garth got busy with his solo project, and Alex and I formed a new band, Three Piece Combo.

In the fall of 2002 David made some hints about restarting the band with me, Alex, and Jon on drums (who played percussion on the record) and whomever we could find to play horns at the time. Jon learned all the material, and we had one rehearsal at my house. It went quite well, but that was the last time Dropsy played together in any form. Life basically took over for everybody, and sadly that was that. However Dave's original plan of playing a few shows and recording a CD had already been fulfilled. So.. promises kept!

July 17, 2018 : Faced

Against better judgment I composed the following and - even worse - am now going to post it. Well I know y'all want to hear about the first time I got drunk. It's epic. Okay here goes.

[Note: Some names changed to avoid needless embarrassment]

During my high school years, my experience with alcohol was slim at best. I found myself frequently attending after-show parties with hordes of musical theatre types, supping on wine coolers and the like. I achieved nothing even coming close to a buzz at these gatherings (because wine coolers are gross), and on hindsight wished I got properly plastered so I could have mustered the guts to stir some shit up.

So that meant I entered college without ever really experiencing drunkenness, and as fate would have it I ended up living on the most inebriated floor in the entire community. In short, lots of jocks. My first night at school I was privy to the vodka fueled antics of my dormmates, including one guy who threw up into a drawer full of his roommate's shirts.

I pretty much steered clear of all this activity until the whole floor organized a party. We emptied out an entire room and made a surrogate bar out of a desk. Everyone chipped in and got gallons of alcohol in all shapes and sizes. Being a (needlessly themed) formal party, we were required to dress up. I had absolutely no fashion sense then (like I have fashion sense now), and didn't own any nice clothes. So I arrived at this party wearing black pants, a white undershirt, and a faux tie which was really the fuzzy blue belt from my bathrobe.

My friend and floormate, John, more or less babysat me this entire night. We arrived at the party together, along with his roommate, Brett.

Upon entering the party we were all handed kamikaze shots. I had never done a shot before at this point in my life, especially one with such an unfriendly name. I held the small glass in my shaking hand for about fifteen seconds before throwing all caution to the wind and tossing its contents down my throat. As the alcohol soaked into my tongue and my esophagus I became blinded by the memory of the last time I threw up.

It happened about five years earlier, when my mother and two sisters were vacationing in Detroit, leaving behind me, my older brother Ben, and my dad. With the women away the Lebofsky men could bond. The first night alone our dinner was McDonald's to go. I ordered the nine-piece chicken mcnuggets and a large fries. Normally I would have gotten only six mcnuggets, but tonight I was feeling like a man amongst men, and how could a real man be satisfied with only six measly mcnuggets?

We brought our greasy booty home and feasted like kings. It felt great up until the last few fries which I crammed down into my stomach. Soon I found myself lying on the couch, moaning, clutching my bloated and aching gut. Ugh. My father entered the den, checking my condition. I rolled off the couch and onto the floor, and quickly belched a pile of used chicken mcnuggets onto the carpet. My poor dad, hoping to have an easier week with only half the kids to manage, now had to deal with fast food puke of all things. He picked me up and threw me into the bathroom where I finished the cleansing of my system. Ben, always with the razor wit, laughed throughout this episode, happily announcing that his younger brother "mcgurgitated."

The memory faded and I returned to the present day, holding an empty shot glass. I felt no signs of nausea or brain damage. I felt no desire to run screaming towards the bathroom. In fact, I felt like having another one of those kamikaze shots, and quickly did so, chased by some vodka/sprite concoction created by my roommate, Pete.

"So this is what it's like to be drunk," I thought to myself, surrounded by my peers who were attaining the same buzz. I now fully understood what friends previously mentioned regarding the lack of balance and the shedding of inhibitions associated with the consumption of alcohol. John seemed to be having a good time as well, and we left the room full of sweaty young men to enjoy our high elsewhere.

It just so happened tonight on campus was a midnight showing of the movie, "Altered States." How fitting. John, Brett, and I made it a plan to go see this flick earlier before the party, but Brett drank a little more than he could handle and crashed out for the evening. We instead enjoyed the company of Bruce, a metal dude down the hall with long blonde hair who played bass and really liked Metallica.

After Bruce stuffed his face with pretzels and popcorn to soothe his queasy stomach, we headed out across campus to the lecture halls where the movie would be presented. On the way we passed the main quad, and Bruce found this to be as good a place as any to empty the contents of his full bladder. John and I stood there, pretending not to notice anything, as passing students gasped at the sight of Bruce pissing onto the shrubs right outside the Student Union building. Once finished he zipped up and we were back on track.

We reached the lecture halls safe and sound and waited in a long line with fellow movie-goers. Though I hadn't imbibed anything for an hour or two at this point I was still pretty much out of it and not very talkative. While closing my eyes and concentrating on the psychedelic din of people chatting around me in line, I was approached by Jaime, a girl who - given alphabetical order by last name - always sat near me in homeroom back in high school, and also ended up here at the same college. She was nice but outside of this shared experience we had little in common, we never spoke to each other, and I hadn't seen her since graduation. However, bless her heart, she chose to be friendly and say hi as she recognized me in the crowd. Unfortunately I couldn't return the gesture, as every utterance that fell from my lips made no sense to anyone, including myself. She quickly disappeared and I then realized I still had the bathrobe belt draped loosely around my neck.

The theatre finally opened and John, Bruce, and I poured in with the crowd. We found seats near the front and I let Bruce sit on the aisle as to yield extra room for his large frame. I talked with John and we kept blathering, even as the movie started. Bruce, however, passed out in his seat.

The first ten minutes of the movie were intense, and I remember not knowing what the hell was going on, but being completely rapt as well. But I soon became distracted by the sight of Bruce rolling happily in the aisle, having recently fallen out of his seat. With all my strength I pulled him back into his chair, and then his big ol' head landed on my shoulder. I leaned him forward in his seat as to lower his center of gravity and hopefully keep him put. John didn't notice any of this.

About twenty minutes into the movie, Bruce's eyes shot wide open and he turned to me with an expression of deep sorrow and apology. I read his sad face and knew exactly what was about to transpire. He twisted away and let fly the longest stream of projectile vomit I have ever come to witness. A fire hose of barely digested vodka, pretzels, and popcorn flooded the aisle as people within seven rows of us screamed and scattered. Had I not been so sedated I might have panicked or swooned from embarrassment. Instead, I got John's attention, notified him about the situation, and we made the quick decision to leave.

We picked Bruce up from the ground as people stared in horror. We carried him out of the lecture hall with his arms around our shoulders and into the foyer. Bruce raised his head, took one look at the students still sitting at the ticket table, and yakked onto the floor by their feet. They groaned, and we moved on.

All told, Bruce puked about five more times on the long trek back to the dorms. He repeatedly told John and I that he could make it home himself and we should return to the lecture hall and catch the end of the movie. As if we yearned to return to the "scene of the crime," so to speak.

Once back we plopped Bruce in his bed, and revealed the details of our little escapade to the few dormmates who were still awake and wandering around. I drank some water and headed to my room, thereby ending my first experience of being drunk and promptly beginning my first experience with painful bedspins.

The bedspins evolved into a glorious hangover which I dealt with upon waking the next morning. John, Brett, and I washed up and dragged our sorry asses to the dining hall where I could barely touch my pancakes and hash browns. Instead I sat and listened to the people at the neighboring tables discussing the guy who threw up all over the place during the movie last night. Oh, my head.

Bruce didn't remember anything the next day, which is sad, since this turned out to be a minor piece of history at the University of Binghamton. For the remainder of my college career I would, once in a blue moon, overhear people discussing Bruce and the "Altered States" incident, and some even recognized me as one of the guys who helped carry Bruce away.

So that's the first time I got faced. To this day I have been completely successful in knowing when to stop drinking once I've started, and have never ever thrown up due to alcohol consumption. This is one of my super powers, I guess.

July 10, 2018 : Rock the Casbah

People seem to like the rock n' roll tour stories. Here's another one, about my very first show with Secret Chiefs 3.

With little fanfare I got inducted into this band by Adam, the current SC3 keyboardist. He wrote me an e-mail wondering if I could take over his position for the next U.S. tour. Sure, why not? As it stood I didn't really know anybody in the current crew. Of course I knew Adam (from both of us being in the Fuxedos and the Immersion Composition Society), and go waaaay back with Jai Young the previous keyboardist, but that was it. I crossed paths with Trey a few times in the distant past, and Ches and I shared a couple bills in the Bay Area new music scene but never really chatted with each other. I hadn't yet met Timba or Toby or Randall. So the plan: I'd fly to NYC several days in advance of the first show (in Hamilton, Ontario) to meet and greet the other members of the band and go over all the material.

But then.. a week before the tour Hurricane Irene started to form over the Atlantic.

Panicked e-mails from all the band members started flooding my inbox as flights were getting cancelled left and right. As it turns out almost everybody involved were on the west coast (either living there or visiting) and now unable to fly to NYC in time for any rehearsals. Plans formed to rent/borrow vehicles and drive across the continent hopefully in time for the first gig in Hamilton, Ontario.

The Seattle crew (Timba, Toby, Randall) already hit the road as the Bay Area crew assembled - that being me, Trey, and our savior Scott, a friend of the band who not only availed to us his van for which to carry us and tons of gear, but was also willing to drive thousands of miles there and then back to San Francisco by himself.

I was ready to go in the morning, but Trey and Scott were delayed for various reasons. One reason: the support band for this tour, FAT32, were flying in from France and unable to bring a proper keyboard. They had leads on borrowing a giant keyboard in New York, but it needed a case. So Scott took it upon himself to not buy a case, but build one out of wood and deliver it all the way from California. Trey and Scott had to employ Fitzcarraldo-like maneuvers to get the giant wooden box securely situated on top of the van.

Anyway, all day long I got e-mails from Trey saying they'd be at my house soon. I thought we'd be leaving in the early afternoon but they arrived at midnight, and we ended up hitting the road about 50 hours before soundcheck in Hamilton. Still, that should be plenty of time (I've previously driven coast to coast several times in under 50 hours).

Amped up by the adventure we stayed awake all night getting through California and Nevada and emerged on the salt flats in Utah after sunrise. In our manic state Scott and I failed to notice the van was pretty much out of gas, and we were 30 miles away from the nearest station on the empty, barren flats. Oops. We pulled over at a rest stop where I miraculously had one bar of cell service for which to call AAA.

While waiting for rescue a Love's tanker truck pulled into the rest area and Scott went over to greet the driver with an empty canister. He asked if we could buy a gallon of gas. The driver said he just unloaded everything but maybe there were some drops left over. Sure enough, he opened the giant spigot and a half gallon or so drizzled out from the giant tank into Scott's canister. The guy wouldn't accept payment for the fuel even though he totally saved our ass. I cancelled the AAA call and we reached the next station no problem. Crisis averted. We celebrated by eating lunch at Red Iguana in SLC. They have some of the best molés in the country.

We continued tearing through the west and then I took over driving all night during one of the worst thunderstorms of my life while crossing Nebraska. Sheets of rain and thunder blasts every few minutes for hours. A cheap tarp we bought at a station to cover the keyboard coffin had completely disintegrated due to the wind and rain. The sun rose and after an hour of napping at some rest stop we pushed forward through the "I" states with the motivating goal of getting delicious Arabic dinner in Dearborn, Michigan. We succeeded, though in our sleepless haze we ordered an insane amount of delicious food. Unable to eat most of it, we brought a pile of to-go containers back to our hotel. There was no fridge in the room. So we filled the bathroom sink with ice and put the leftovers in there as we crashed out for the night. Minimal spoilage by morning.

We arrived at border control where we easily managed the initial round of questioning but were still sent to secondary interrogation. This is usually the case for touring musicians and typically we have our immigration papers in order well in advance. However this time we weren't planning on driving to this gig from this direction until a few days ago. This added a bit of suspicion, hence the extra attention by the agents. A bit nerve wracking, especially in our frazzled state, but even after separate questioning they finally let us through.

A few hours later we pulled into the Casbah parking lot. I played a gig there with Faun Fables/Fuzzy Cousins five years earlier, so it was familiar turf. We arrived a mere few minutes after the Seattle crew (and a mere few hours before show time).

'Twas a huge group celebration in the parking lot: We made it! It was a little weird as I didn't really know anybody. I introduced myself in the parking lot. "Hi, everybody. I'm Matt. Nice to meet you. I'll be your keyboard player this tour. So, um, I guess let's start."

By the way Timba had been awake for about 80 hours straight at this point. He was camping in the Rockies when this all started going down. He then burned rubber back to Seattle, collected Toby and Randall around that region, dealt with getting the band van rental, hauled ass all the way to NYC, collected the trailer, picked up the FAT32 guys at the airport, and then drove the final leg up to Hamilton. Jeez!

Soundcheck was cut a little short as there were several cabling issues Randall had to sort out at the venue. So we had only time to run a few tunes before giving the stage over to FAT32 (who were somehow unaffected by the hurricane even though they flew in from Europe). Over Canadian burritos a 90 minute set list was drummed up basically built around what songs I felt I could just play with the band live without any rehearsal. The 3, the 4, Vajra, Ship of Fools, Halloween, Fast, Exodus, Tistrya, Brazen Serpent, Radar, Saptarshi, Sophia's Theme, Labyrinth of Light... no problem. I did my homework before the tour like a fuckin' professional - I knew I can wing it.

And that was that. We hit the stage. It wasn't the tightest show, but that was mostly due to massive group sleep deprivation than anything, and we survived. And somewhat ironically this show is one of the most fan-documented shows on youtube during my tenure with SC3. So you can judge how I did for yourself.

One funny aside - Adam and I look eerily similar to each other. Given that, and our equal height, and we're both keyboardists who double on guitar, and the general facial obfuscation of the SC3 robes, there were many confused fans during that whole first tour. For example his former Estradasphere bandmate Lee lived in Atlanta. After arriving at the gig there, Lee mistook me for Adam from behind and surprised me by sneaking up and grabbing my shoulders. I then turned and the confused, horrified look on Lee's face was like, "holy shit you aged a LOT, man!"

July 3, 2018 : Vacation Begins

Not really a story but a retelling of the lead up and the first 24 hours of the journey when Jenya and I went to Iceland in February. The following is basically travel anxiety fuel for those who like to max out on needless worry.

We booked cheap flights on Wow Air, but paid extra for (a) a direct flight, (b) the privilege of selecting our own seats, and (c) the honor of bringing luggage. Due to a technical issue with the intended plane for this route, we got put on a different, smaller plane. All we had was a cryptic e-mail about this saying our flight would leave an hour earlier than originally scheduled. We were never given any satisfactory clues that we would have the same seats. Oddly the flight status on the web continued to claim we were leaving at the original, later time.

Meanwhile we nervously checked the weather. Winter storms were slamming Iceland every few days. Were we crazy to go this time of year? Despite emerging plans to bail on the whole trip we decided to just go for it at the last minute. Maybe we'll sneak into the country somehow amidst the parade of blizzards.

It wasn't until check-in time that we got the real scoop about our plane. The flight was indeed leaving earlier because - due to its smaller size - we'd have to stop for gas in Happy Valley/Goose Bay - a military base in Labrador. This was the first time I got on a flight that landed somewhere I had no idea existed mere minutes before takeoff. Also: so much for the direct flight!

There was no order to boarding. We got on the end of the only line. A second line formed which moved 10x faster and thus Jenya and I were among the last to board in our section, and by that time the overheads were fairly full. After some wrangling we carved out luggage space a few rows behind us.

It turns out our seats were still together, and this row only had two of them. Yay - we didn't have to sit next to a rando! However this row had zero windows, so it felt like we were trapped in a box the whole trip. Boo.

As usual I couldn't sleep on the flight. Five hours later we landed at Happy Valley/Goose Bay. We weren't allowed to leave the plane. Passengers milled about. I did get a glimpse outside. Darkness, snow, and a few stark buildings out there - that's all. It was like the set for John Carpenter's "The Thing." After 45 minutes of fueling we were back up in the sky.

We landed at Keflavik (about an hour south of Reykjavik) around 4am. I hadn't slept one wink on the flight and thus had a hard time navigating reality. However this was one of those situations where you deboard right onto the tarmac and wait for buses to take you into the terminal. The relentless blasts of frozen air woke me right the fuck up.

Once inside we got our checked luggage, went through customs, and found ourselves in the airport lobby before 5am. Where's our car rental desk? Like most airports there's a shuttle bus taking you to an off site hub with all the vendors. But the sign for the shuttle bus didn't include our rental company logo. I used airport wifi to look up how to get to the desk and there were instructions about how to walk the one kilometer there outside in the freezing cold. Yeah, no. It seemed near where the other rental places were located, so we decided to just get on that bus.

We followed the signs outside to that shuttle bus stop. Holy shit the cold! With each arctic breeze we had to pause and dig more clothes from our luggage to put on our unaccustom Californian bodies. We trudged all the way there and waited in the darkness and low temps for about 10 minutes before a bus appeared. Relieved, we got on. To be sure I asked the driver if this takes us to our particular rental desk. Nope. He said it was located elsewhere but didn't know the exact location.

God DAMMIT! So we got off and headed in the bitter cold back into the terminal to figure out what to do next. This trip is off to a great start.

But as we reentered the warmth of Keflavik airport I saw a dude holding a sign with Jenya's name on it. Weird! Turns out he was waiting for us to arrive to take us to our car, which was, in fact, located about 3km away (all instructions on the web were outdated as they just moved). It was a claustrophobic ride in the back of his van. Jenya asked if she could sit up front but our driver said we could not because that's where he kept his shovel (in case we needed to dig ourselves from snow at some point during this trip).

We got to the rental shop in one piece, now about 5:30am. Pitch back outside, and all the cars in this unplowed lot were buried in fresh snow. Turns out our driver was also our account manager. Usual sign in procedure, and then he led me to my vehicle deep in unplowed section of the lot and handed me the keys. Just like that I find myself driving a make/model I never heard of before - a Dacia Duster. Much ice, slush, and snow on these streets as we headed out to the highway (which also laid beneath much ice, slush, and snow).

We couldn't see anything out of the windows. Grime coated the windshield and the glare of oncoming traffic was blinding. I pressed the button and - oh look - there's no windshield wiper fluid in our car! I squinted out at the road, trying to navigate roundabouts and windy thoroughfares until we found a gas station. They had some squeegies which I employed to regain some visibility. Jenya bought some wiper fluid (and some clippers as she broke a nail during some bag carrying chaos). But we couldn't find the reservoir is this mysterious Romanian car! Too dark and too cold, we gave up for now. We made it to town in one piece.

It was now around 6am. The sun far from rising. We parked near the hotel - which we found was more of a hostel. We can't check in until noon. I looked on my phone and found a brunchy restaurant not too far, so we went there for coffee and eggs and toast and to kill time. We beat the rush.

A faint deep blue tainted the sky as the sun slowly emerged. We walked around the neighborhood. Slippery sidewalks. More and more tourists were up and about. We occasionally returned to the car to warm up and figure out what to do next. Went to many cafes, overhearing many New York accents from nearby tables. Strolled near the venue I performed at about 6 years ago. Yup, still there.

We eventually landed at one cafe up the block for a while. Jenya got lamb soup. I panicked at the last minute and couldn't decide what to get. My id took charge and chose for me a huge chocolate chip cookie. I punished myself by eating it (and my tummy hurt afterward).

While occupying our table for an hour or two the place filled with fellow tourists - mostly people who have been on the island for a while and were back in Reyjavik en route to the airport to go home. A wave of panic flooded the cafe as phones were clanging with alerts. Due to the incoming blizzard all upcoming flights were cancelled, perhaps for days. As many as five cars on the road we drove earlier will be trapped there overnight. I guess Jenya and I got here just in time!

We went to the hotel and they allowed us to hang out in the common area while they cleaned our room for an hour. We asked about the free parking. Where is it? Turns out most businesses in town claim "free parking" because there may be a spot in a free lot within a few blocks. Luckily today was Sunday, and thus the meters on the street weren't enforced. So.. free parking nearby after all.

The blizzard arrived as we settled into our room around noon. We had a good view as snowy dust swirled over the rooftops of the city, and eventually the entire skyline faded to white. Windows whistled and rattled as we crashed out for a 5 hour nap, after which the weather settled down and the sun set again. We woke up in a brain-frying zombie state, but finally feeling like our vacation has begun.

June 26, 2018 : Weird Music

A short, hilarious gem which a few may appreciate - forgotten until I recently reread some old journals:

While doing my college radio show a young girl, about 8 years old and accompanied by her mother, was in an adjacent studio recording a public service announcement for a upcoming event. Meanwhile I was minding my own business and just starting spinning the Mr. Bungle tune, "Egg."

The girl wandered into my control room. She grimaced upon hearing what I was playing and asked: "Do you like this weird music?"

Before I could even respond she loudly asserted, "I DON'T!"

The mother appeared, apologized, and collected her child.

June 19, 2018 : Dramamine

For my birthday a couple years back Jenya and I went whale watching - a guided tour on a catamaran to the Farallon Islands and back. We prepared well, with warm clothes and dramamine pills. We each popped one of those just before we climbed aboard with the dozens of other boatmates.

It was amazing! We saw all the whales - blue whales, humpbacks, orcas, and at least one puffin for good measure. The seas were choppy as hell. Way too many fellow travelers became gastronomically aware and puked over the side. I remember one whole Dutch family was a frickin' mess. But not us - thanks to preemptively medicating ourselves we felt superhuman.

After reaching the Farallons we still had a few hours before returning back to the wharf. Jenya and I both decided to take another dramamine pill to ensure we continued having an awesome adventure and not a miserable time like the vomiting losers surrounding us.

We returned to land all jazzed. The original plan was to go get some dinner together in the city, but once back at the car we felt pretty wiped. It was still early enough in the afternoon so we simply went back to Oakland to reevaluate. Once home, Jenya immediately fell asleep. I could have as well, but instead spent the rest of the afternoon keeping myself awake (I hate naps because they only make me feel more groggy).

While sitting on the couch and writing in my journal I heard some odd commotion outside. Like a crowd was charging down the block. But then immediate silence. What the hell was that? A few seconds later I heard it again but closer. Like it was within the house! And once more it suddenly stopped. I was confused more than scared. And then I thought, "wait a second... that's coming from inside my head."

I closed my eyes and concentrated. The din of the crowd returned, getting louder and louder in an exponential crescendo until that's all I could hear. My eyes popped open and the sound ceased.

I hastily opened up a web browser and looked up "dramamine hallucination." Sure enough, this is common if you take a large dose. Well, fuck. I must report: it wasn't a fun high.

Jenya did wake up for a bit. We ordered Ethiopian food, ate it, and basically that was it for us today - we both crashed back into bed and were asleep by 8:30pm. Drugs. Jeez.

June 12, 2018 : Timings

Very early in our relationship Jenya was hanging out at my apartment. Since we were still getting to know each other, I felt I should reveal one particular quirk. "Oh yeah," I said, "Check this out." I pointed at my vinyl collection and commanded, "Pick any album."

She scanned the hundreds of spines and pulled out "Meat is Murder" by the Smiths. I continued, "Now pick any song." She looked at the back cover and said, "How Soon is Now?"

Immediately I gleefully boasted, "Six minutes and forty three seconds."

Perplexed, Jenya removed the record from the sleeve and read the timings on the label, astonished to see I was correct. Like was this some sort of magic trick?

So yeah, fun fact: with zero effort I once had all the lengths memorized - to the second - of every tune on every vinyl record I owned. This ability naturally resonated with my devotion to data and penchant for chronal accuracy. Also, the thing about these old platters is that you had to scan the label every time you prepared to place one on the turntable in order to see which was side A or side B. These usually featured lovely graphic design including a list of songs and their exact timings - so even with a quick glance there was a built in "memory palace" effect. However, with the advent of one-sided CDs and conflicting data (listed timings on CD covers frequently disagreed with their vinyl counterparts) I eventually lost interest and the skill faded. If the industry can't decide on the canonical duration for any given song, why should I fuckin' care?

Anyway, lucky for me Jenya didn't mind this one peculiar habit and we remained together.

June 5, 2018 : Golf

It seems unlikely but I used to play golf. This brief period occurred around age 14 when my older brother, Ben, took up the sport. I was encouraged to give it a whirl as well. After one unimpressive practice at the local driving range, my father took Ben and I to the par 3 course at Rockland Lake. While they had nicer clubs and bags, I had a dusty white sack containing a tiny subset of my grandfather's beat up old woods and irons.

I got into the casual outdoor strolling and slight puzzle solving nature of the game, but man oh man I sucked at it big time. Hooks and slices and sand traps galore. I think I was, on average, about +10 on every hole.

Still, it was an excuse to go outside and meander around nicely groomed nature. I was happy to continue trying. My brother was old enough to drive, so I'd go out with him, and sometimes his friends, to that same par 3 course. I enjoyed these autonomous, adult-free adventures. Plus after a few outings I started to get the hang of it. Eventually I scored my first birdie! Maybe this is fun after all!

Feeling confident with our increasing prowess, Ben and I decided to take this to the next level. We brought our act to the fancier Blue Hill golf course. Much to our displeasure we learned once we got there we couldn't go on the course as a duo. We had to team up with others until we were at least a party of four. We got assigned to join this pair of thirty-something dudes who tried to hide their reluctance to go out on the fairways with two teenagers, especially the one younger loser (i.e. me) with a bunch of fucked up clubs rolling around inside a dusty white sack.

That was rough. I played like shit due to the unfamiliar terrain, and the constant judgment of two strange grownups. To their credit they were really nice to us, but it's hard to perform when you have this constant shadow of grudging adult patience. I knew they were annoyed and slowed down by us. We all had a long day out in the sun.

Worse was when Ben and I and a couple of his friends tried out the par 5 course at Rockland Lake. For some reason the extra strokes brought out the real assholes. Several parties of older men would actively tease us about our amateur skills, and obnoxiously beg us to play through. Fuck all these golf pricks!

That was pretty much it for me. Nevertheless I couldn't help but still crave programming a graphic-intensive golf video game on my Apple II. However as I got out the graph paper and started planning all the pieces I couldn't help but notice all of my nerdy passion was focused on designing the backdrops - the distant rolling hills, the clouds, the trees, the ponds. I didn't even think about the golf swing logic before first considering how to animate birds flying in the distance.

I realized then I didn't like golf. Instead I liked hiking - which is golf except much better scenery and none of the fucking bullshit.

May 29, 2018 : Race

I rode shotgun in Mike's Peugeot as we went over the Tappan Zee Bridge, aiming to hang out with some of his buddies in Westchester. After a long evening of playing Commodore Amiga games, we headed back home. The sun roof was open as it was a pleasantly mild evening.

Before leaving the neighborhood a giant spider appeared outside at the base of the windshield. Probably a dark fishing spider (which were big and common enough around there). Mike was terribly arachnophobic, and all conversation stopped dead - nothing but the sound of rubber on road as we continued down this long suburban thoroughfare, the two of us staring at the creature in disbelief.

Fighting the wind, the spider began to gingerly crawl up the glass. We simultaneously remembered and then looked up to confirm: oh right, the sun roof is open. Shit! Mike jabbed his finger on the button to close it. The gears engaged, and the roof began sliding forward to close, at the rate of about one inch per second.

Meanwhile the arachnid lurched forward and upward at a similar velocity. The race was on. Mike pressed the button harder, though that had no effect. The spider climbed higher while the opening above our heads shrunk far too slowly. You may ask, "what about using the wiper?" Well, we didn't dare engage it lest we end up with smeared spider guts or, worse, inadvertently helping to push it farther up the glass or even flicking it instantly through the gap and onto one of our laps. We also couldn't slow down - the wind seemed to impair its creepy progress, and all we needed now was for it to break into a sprint. We didn't want to speed up either and thus potentially blow the damn thing right into our faces.

The battle continued. The spider cautiously stretched out leg after leg and pulled itself towards our warm human bodies. The grinding of the sun roof grew louder and louder. These next 20 seconds seemed like 20 minutes. I think one of us finally couldn't help but shout, "come ON!"

Just as the first of the monster's eight appendages reached the top of the windshield the roof sealed shut, and Mike and I finally exhaled. That was too close.

May 22, 2018 : Gamer

Some years ago I was sniffing around hoping to make a career move. Wally hooked me up with a potential lead working on Guitar Hero. Cool - but this opportunity fell into my lap faster than expected. Balls were rolling and calls being made within hours. I had zero time to prepare for any of this. Turns out Wally worked with Nick - somebody I jammed with a few times 15 years earlier. Nick remembered me so he was happy to reach out and coach me about an impending interview.

After guiding me what to say or not say to the interviewers, he asked about my impressions of modern video games. Here's the thing - I was a gamer.. waaaay back in the 80's. Outside of that I had a Quake II phase in the late 90's. And around then I kicked ass playing Um Jammer Lammy at Jai Young's place a couple times. But otherwise nothing.. and here we were in 2008 and I had no fucking clue about the various consoles nor any recent video game hits. So after it became patently obvious I was severely out of the loop, Nick insisted I quickly find somebody with an Xbox or something and dig in as much as possible.

I immediately got on the phone with my friends who live down the street, Dave and Betty. "I have a weird request," I said. "Can I.. come to your house right now and play every video game you have?" After explaining the mission they were stoked and invited me over.

Betty walked me through everything I needed to know about Bully, Bioshock, Grand Theft Auto, Sonic the Hedgehog.. a whole bunch of stuff. I found myself amazed how software design has improved over the past couple of decades. By midnight I felt like I could impersonate somebody knowledgeable on this topic. Thanks, guys!

It didn't really go much further than that, sadly. I couldn't get past the first exploratory interview because the recruiter felt I was simultaneously underqualified and overqualified. I couldn't really argue. I'm a scientific programmer, not a game developer. And being a database, web, and systems guru didn't offset my lack of industry experience. So be it.

If there's any silver lining Wally and Nick soon moved on from that design house. And then Wally threw me a bunch of freelance work on the side developing levels for that iPhone game Tap Tap Revenge. So I got extra bucks and a (brief but sufficient) window into that gamer geek scene. Not exactly my thing, but one Friday night I got a call from one of Wally's workmates who offered bonus money to generate a couple levels for a couple Paramore tunes within the next three hours. I came through, my work was released Saturday morning, and by that afternoon there were already several playthrough videos uploaded by fans to YouTube. I admit it was refreshing - after years working on underfunded and understaffed academic projects that drag on forever without deadlines - to see a whole project through, from inception to prime time, within 24 hours.

May 15, 2018 : Go West

I referred to this endeavor in a previous story or two. I think you're ready for the large-canvas version of this whole life-altering journey. Buckle up.

I first visited California in 1991 during an epic summer road trip exploring the US with my brother, Ben. This included a few days in the San Francisco. Given incredibly bad planning we got a fairly rotten first impression of the region, but nevertheless I still felt it calling me back. Maybe it was all the time I spent in my teens flying above a virtual Bay Area whilst playing F/A-18 Interceptor (a combat flight simulator on my Commodore Amiga).

So for spring break during my final year of college in upstate New York, I toyed with the idea of driving to San Francisco during that week off and giving it a second chance. It's only a 50 hour drive, after all. Do the math: it's about 3000 miles coast to coast. If your average speed is 60mph, that's 50 hours. In practice I found I drive 70mph, take a short break every hour or two, and still easily average 60mph for the whole trip.

I mentioned this wacky concept to my friend Casey. He seemed unexpectedly game if not demanding we realize this dream. I had no idea he already had ties to the Bay Area (nor that he was hanging out with my future wife on the west coast a year earlier, but that's a story for another time). To sweeten the deal he said his brother Shannon lives there, and we could likely crash at his pad for free. Suddenly we had an actionable plan. Our equally gung-ho friends Dave and Jim rounded out the westward posse.

We went in my tiny Dodge Colt. I'm six feet tall, and the other three guys were all taller than me. So it wasn't very comfortable, and sleep was tough. But you're immortal before you're 25, so whatever. The day before we split Casey and I took apart the Colt's dashboard in order to install a cigarette lighter (it hadn't a functioning one before this operation). Why? So we could plug in a radar detector, of course.

After classes on Friday we had a meatball-and-spaghetti dinner together at Dave's. Then we left Binghamton and quickly got on Interstate 80 which was the most direct route. We all took multi-hour shifts to get through the night. I got us through foggy Pennsylvania, then Casey got us into Ohio where Jim took over and dealt with unexpected snow. Poor Dave got stuck with the shit sunrise shift as we made it to Illinois. I woke in the shotgun seat with the Chicago skyline right in front of us. Having done this drive already I was confused. Chicago isn't on 80. Dave fell into the confusing trap we all do at some point where 80/90 are the same thing for a while then split off without much warning. Luckily we weren't too far off the trail and a little extra velocity made up for lost time.

Spent all of Saturday deep in America's heartland. Corn corn corn. We almost ran out of gas as we drove through Wyoming through the night - turns out 24 hour stations were a rarity around these parts.

We got to Salt Lake City as the sun rose Sunday morning. We were quite road weary at this point and needed more frequent breaks. Wanting to get one last glimpse of the beautiful mountains surrounding the city we pulled over on the shoulder and stood out on the pavement soaking it in. Uh oh - a cop car appeared and immediately stopped to check on us. "Just enjoying the view, officer," we said. He was relieved - he figured we were in some sort of automotive trouble and quickly went on his way after a polite warning that it's not really that safe to stop on the shoulder like we did.

Nevada was a blur. We were already dizzy from the trek when we hit the windy Donner summit pass in California. Casey and I were in the backseat during this stretch and laughing at how carsick we were getting. The sun was descending as the San Francisco Bay Area came into view. We made it, dudes!

Casey didn't warn Shannon about our visit. Not only was Shannon happily surprised, but also generously willing to have four big, smelly men spend an unplanned week camping out on the floor of his apartment in SoMa. We enjoyed the great view from his roof (reachable via precarious fire escape ladder). Exhausted, we simply got some random food to eat at the gas station across the street (not really an upgrade from the fast food we've been consuming the past few days) and crashed out.

Monday morning woke to Casey making flapjacks for the troops. The plan today was to go to Berkeley. I've never been. We drove over the bridge and hung out on Telegraph Avenue all day. My first impression was quite pleasant, mostly because of Amoeba Records. What a dream come true! This perfectly curated record store made all those shops I frequented in NYC look like worthless shit. I got sucked into the "Unusually Experimental" section. Among other things I recall this being the first time that Tone Dogs record came on my radar while sifting through those bins, thinking, "There's a record with both the drummer of Soundgarden and Fred Frith on it?! What other unthinkable wonders will Berkeley reveal?"

Suddenly Dave ran up to me, saying, "Hey, Matt there's a used Hatfield and the North record for $9." This was an emergency! I followed him back to where he found that and.. meanwhile during those brief seconds somebody else picked it up. I thought, "So let me get this straight - there's a record store that had a cheap used Hatfield and The North record, AND there's enough fans of such things around here that one of them snatched it up just before I could?" When people ask me why did I move to the Bay Area I sometimes say, "Amoeba Records" and I'm not really joking.

We also wandered around UC Berkeley campus for a while, and I remember feeling quite jealous of it compared to the drab, cold layout of Binghamton (of course unaware I'll soon be spending the next 25+ years haunting these quads). We also popped into Moe's books of course. While waiting for the bathroom some Telegraph Avenue freak in line ahead of us started speaking at us. He said, "Geology is down to earth. But Astronomy is far out!" We didn't really react, but he continued, "Do you think Einstein's books would sell better to female undergraduates if there were naked pictures of him on the cover?" On hindsight I got a fairly rich and accurate sample of the Telegraph Avenue cultural landscape during this first visit.

After the sun set we drove into the Berkeley hills and looked out over the entire Bay Area. How magical! I recalled a recurring childhood dream where my relatively flat suburban neighborhood suddenly sprouted huge mountains. And also remembered all these doodles I drew in the margins of my notebooks featuring flat terrain butting up against rising cliffs. The lay of the land before me sure matched all of that.

Tuesday we walked from SoMa to the Haight. More clothes and record shops. Jim had a goal on this trip to get his nosed pierced in SF, and on this day he did so. Dave and I split off to wander around the park. Lots of walking and soaking up the city all day.

That night Jim and Shannon went to see Public Enemy and 24-7 Spyz at the Warfield. The rest of us rendezvoused with two of Casey's local friends, one also named Casey, and one also named Matt. We went bar hopping. First to Mad Dog in the Fog, then to some jazz club where an Indian duo was wrapping up their set. The night ended with my first ever trip at Taqueria Cancun. This was also the first time I ever ate a burrito - I grew up sheltered from Mexican food in New York, so I wasn't ready for this. Of course now Cancun is one of my favorite taquerias in the world, but back then I wasn't sure what to make of it. I admit it - before life in California I was a naive, ignorant, unworldly fool! (I can almost hear all my high school/college friends reading this now and saying in unison, "we know!")

Since our feet were sore from all that city hiking we kept it mellow on Wednesday. Drove back over the bridge into Berkeley, this time hanging around Shattuck avenue, checking out those shops and doing some laundry. We also popped by Whole Earth Access (where Casey used to work), REI, and some Army/Navy surplus store in Oakland.

Back at Shannon's for dinner. He just acquired a digital piano that day and we were messing around with it. Turns out Shannon is also both a computer programmer and musician - a common archetype around these parts. We chatted about this a lot during the visit. Another reason I ended up in the Bay Area was Shannon convincing me that, given my skills on these fronts, I could have a pretty good go of it in California.

And speaking of music, the plan for the night was to go back into Berkeley and jam at the apartment of Shannon's friend Vicky the bass player. A whole bunch of welcoming musicians congregated there - I joined in and played a bit. Vicky even let me use her brand new Pedulla 5 string fretless. What a sweet instrument! I had no idea at the time that Vicky and I would eventually be roommates in Oakland and playing professional gigs together, but there ya go.

Thursday was our last last full day here, and it started with massive rain. But once it cleared we headed down the coast, checking out the cliffs and beaches off Highway 1. At one point we hiked up a precarious cliff to some abandoned lookout/bunker. It was dark but we descended into it for some reason. Not much to see in there but I did accidentally place my hand in a pile of what I believe was human excrement. I cleaned up good at the next gas station.

We made it down to Butano state park and hiked in the redwoods. I don't think we encountered any other humans during our long day communing with nature. At some point I jumped into a stream - I thought I could easily jump across, but I was wrong.

Getting kind of sick of each other, we split up into smaller factions that evening. Dave and I took our first BART rides ever heading back to Berkeley one more time. We got lost on campus and soaked by increasing rain, desperately trying to figure out how to get to Telegraph Avenue. We finally found it, and I had to see if Amoeba Records would be equally amazing a second time. It was. I bought a lot. Back to SF and to Shannon's completely drenched from the relentless precipitation.

On Friday we hung out packing and prepping for the trip until the afternoon. I had one last conversation with Shannon about moving to SF, and then we said our goodbyes and hit the road at 4pm. Casey drove us to Nevada, Jim into Utah, and I drove us all the way to Wyoming. Portions of this leg were depicted in a previous Totally True Story Tuesday involving a run-in with a creepy lady at a rest stop near SLC, and almost driving into a deer.

The rest of the trip was unremarkable except except for a stop at the huge ass Cabela's right off the highway in Nebraska. For those who don't know this outdoor adventure outfitter chain is basically the right-wing version of REI - so many taxidermized animals among the racks of expensive clothes and camping gear and guns. Otherwise those ~50 hours were all about the sheer endurance we had as a group to charge forward and get back by Sunday around dinnertime. Jazzed, I visited various houses of friends around town to brag about the trip before collapsing to sleep back at my house.

Monday morning I headed to campus. First order of business was to stop by the radio station to pull albums for my radio show that evening, including many discoveries I made at Amoeba Records. On my way to the Fine Arts building to practice piano I ran into friends Apple and Bob. While chatting I discovered, unbeknownst to me, Bob was planning on going to grad school in Berkeley this fall and looking for potential housemates. Fuck it. Count me in!

One final note: Given my Colt's decent highway gas mileage (about 40 mpg), and the price of gas back then (about $1/gallon on average throughout the country), it totalled about $80 in gas to drive from New York to San Francisco, or $20 each when split four ways. Not counting food (which I'd need anyway) and the free apartment, the whole trip cost me $40. Or $100 if you include all the CDs I bought.

May 8, 2018 : Overweight

Our European booking agent/tour manager warned us it was likely we'd be pulled over once we got into Germany because our Sprinter was loaded up with gear and people and likely overweight. German police are keen to pull over suspiciously heavy vehicles and issue fines. It didn't help we had, along with all our stuff, some of Uz Jsme Doma's amps amongst our cargo - we were doing them a favor transporting these amps from France and hadn't yet dropped them off in Prague.

Anyway, like clockwork, shortly after the border the police pulled us over and described, in ample English, given the evidence of the van's sagging tail they had concerns. No room to argue, we were instructed to follow them to a weigh station.

We were pretty much in the middle of nowhere. They led us off the highway and down a series of long country roads. At least we enjoyed the bucolic scenery for a while. However after fifteen minutes we began to worry a bit. Where were we going? Is this some kind of ruse? Are we unwitting participants in a snuff film?

Eventually the police car pulled into a random lot to turn around. We followed them, confused. After we backtracked a couple kilometers they pulled over on the side of the road. We stopped as well and they got out to speak to us.

With faces demonstrating obvious shame and disappointment they informed us that we missed seeing the weight station earlier because it was apparently closed today. And so, we were free to go. We weren't sure how to respond. Of course we were happy we miraculously avoided a stupid fine. However, it seemed like the police assumed we felt as they did - like we were in a beautifully choreographed dance where smartly enacted policies were to be applied judiciously without any need for argument, but due to unexpected circumstances we should all suffer the sting of a bureaucratic process meeting an abrupt, unsatisfying end. They apologized for wasting our time.

May 1, 2018 : Fence

Jenya and I returned home from taking Laszlo for a walk. We let him out back to run around unfettered and unmonitored. I was in the street getting something from the car when I heard noises coming from behind the house that were cause for concern.

Lately my next door neighbor, Phil, has been having problems with his rear neighbor's dogs - a momma pitbull and her 4 puppies - who have been relentlessly trying to sneak under their shared fence into his yard. It sounded like they succeeded. Shit.

I knew given their quantity and proximity a lot of dog gravity/magnetism would be at play. I ran through the house and out the back door just in time to witness Laszlo, who rarely used his Doberman bounding superpowers, flying over the fence into Phil's yard. Whoop!

I couldn't see anything over the fence so I sprinted in a total panic around the front and into Phil's back yard. Prepared to behold carnage, I was relieved to find Laszlo and momma pitbull weren't in fight mode. However, judging by the body language of all six canines, things initally seemed okay. Laszlo played with the puppies - which was pretty cute - but the mom was clearly growing impatient and things could have gone south any fucking second.

I wasn't thinking clearly, so I forgot to bring a leash. All I could do was gently herd all the pit bulls away from Laszlo without adding any negative energy to the proceedings. Meanwhile I screamed for help, "Jenya! Jenya! JENYA!!!!"

She eventually emerged on the back porch. From that vantage point she saw me, Laszlo, and a pack of pit bulls in Phil's yard dealing with a sticky situation. "Get a LEASH!" I yelled.

Jenya zoomed onto the scene quickly. We managed to get Laszlo hooked up but had to get him out of there fast as leashes are bad news when dog energy is already starting to get snarly. It was clumsy but we succeeded before shit went down. Phew.

April 24, 2018 : Computer Animation

Since my real dream was to be a major motion picture screenwriter/director, I took a few cinema classes in college. This included a computer animation class during my final semester. Bear in mind this was 1992 - such technology was very much in its infancy, and I already kinda mastered whatever basic tools existed back then on my own. Nevertheless, there I was hoping to pick up some easy credit.

It became quickly clear during the first day of class the professor didn't know much about computing in general, and didn't care much for this burgeoning art form. I don't blame him - computer graphics will suck for the next two decades. He grumbled for a while and then asked the class, "has anybody made any computer animations before?"

I raised my hand. Surprised nobody else did I felt compelled to reverse this motion. But it was too late. I outed myself. The professor asked another question: "does anybody here know programming?" I grudgingly lifted my hand again - the only person in class to do so.

He had one last query: "does anybody have a Commodore Amiga?" This was obvious best platform for such creativity those days. Anybody in that room should have known that. Still, at this point my lone hand in the air felt like a charge against the rest of my class. As if I was saying, "okay what the fuck are you people doing here?"

The professor laughed, and while pointing at me said to everybody, "that guy is either going to be your best friend.. or your worst enemy."

Turns out there was a third option - I wouldn't interact with any of my classmates at all for the entire semester. Some of them rose to the challenge and made decent work, most didn't. All I remember is the reaction after I brought in a half-assed animation of my face bouncing like a ball. Amazed, the professor asked how I made it seem so physically realistic. I said, "It's just.. a basic parabola." When I realized most within earshot didn't know what I meant, my entire body rolled its eyes.

Too bad that whole experience tainted my opinion about the medium. However as it happens I've been living within a few blocks of Pixar for years. I got the chance, thanks to a friend of a friend, to see a preview of "Brave" on the Pixar campus before it came out. I was prepared to act too cool for school when we got through the gate, but then immediately turned into a kid at Disneyworld. What a fun and impressive facility - and I got to look around at various workspaces and behold their expertise in action. Okay I admit it - computer animation can be cool.

April 17, 2018 : One Way

Senior year in Binghamton I lived in a big house on a busy corner. One of the streets was inexplicably one-way and poorly marked as such. It made no sense - the street was the same size as adjacent streets, and there were no other one-ways in the neighborhood. And thus inattentive drivers frequently zoomed down our block going the wrong direction. Since they were going the incorrect way there was no stop sign to keep them from plowing into the intersection much to the surprise of cross traffic. About once a month we'd hear screeching tires, sometimes culminating in a disastrous accident, and the city did nothing to remedy the situation.

One crash involved a brand new car full of drunk college kids and a convertible with two older guys. After hearing the commotion I came out to look. The passengers were all in shock - after 30 seconds of groaning and recovering from whiplash the older guys flopped onto the street and dizzily fled. Meanwhile the drunk kids slowly spilled out of their crushed vehicle and advised their driver to run to the nearby donut shop in the hopes a greasy pastry might cover up his vodka breath. The cars were totaled. Turns out the convertible was stolen. Took forever for the cops to sort it all out.

Another incident involved a mother slamming right into a police car. Everybody was okay but as the officer drew up the paperwork the woman's young daughter hysterically cried, "are we gonna hafta go to jail, mommy?!"

This was over 25 years ago. I just checked images Google street view and... this is still a problem! Except the city has since installed a couple "wrong way" signs off to the side of the intersection, to be easily obscured once nearby trees in the sidewalk bloom in the summer. Nevertheless Google maps thinks this is a two way street and - I tested this - when asked for directions, will send unsuspecting drivers down the wrong way. It's fucked.

April 10, 2018 : Appendix

When I was about 7 years old, my dad got appendicitis. All I could really understand at the time was that daddy's tummy hurt so bad that he had to go to the hospital and have some bad bits taken out by genius doctors. And then he was home and had to take it slow for a while as he recovered.

A couple weeks later I felt under the weather. I was already an expert on getting sick - every season I had strep throat, if not also the flu. But this illness felt different - beyond the typical fever a weird soreness grew in my belly. I immediately came to the conclusion I must have appendicitis, and proudly announced my self-diagnosis to the whole family. My father found it adorable how his youngest son wanted to be just like his daddy.

Writhing around in sweaty agony I insisted whatever theories I had regarding my condition were correct. Finally after a day or so of groaning, "I have appendicitis," in a loop my father wanted to prove me wrong. He had me lay down on my back, and he gently pushed into my abdomen. "Does that hurt?" he asked. It didn't, and I truthfully answered, "no." Maybe he was right - maybe I am full of shit.

But here's the thing: the test for appendicitis isn't whether or not you experience pain when applying pressure to your abdomen, but upon release, a.k.a "rebound tenderness." My father pulled his hand back suddenly - and a gunshot bolted through my solar plexus. I cried out. I vividly remember the look of panic on dad's face as he came to terms with the brutal truth that my naive prognosis was indeed correct. Smug righteousness is a mild painkiller - thinking "ha ha I told you so!" temporarily dulled my suffering.

The following was a blur. Panic filled the house. Suddenly I laid in the backseat of the car, looking up out the window to the sky, keeping my mind off the discomfort by counting the upper tips of trees passing by as we hurried to the pediatrician. The doctor looked me over for one second before saying I should get to the hospital immediately. At the hospital I was plopped into a wheelchair. Then I watched an intravenous hook forced right into my forearm before I could say, "wait wait no no no don't do that OW!"

The only good thing about my stay at the hospital was having my own television. I watched many classic 70's shows. The pre-op procedure took days, I'm not sure why. This was a long time before laparoscopic appendectomies. Given significant medical advancements current sufferers are in and out and back to their lives within 48 hours. Not me. I had no choice but deal with old school invasive surgery - my hospital stay was going to be over a week, followed by months of recovery.

Leading up to the surgery I couldn't really eat, and they kept pumping me up with antibiotics and pain killers. The first needle was an unpleasant surprise to say the least. A nurse showed up and started filling a big syringe. "Is that going to hurt?" I asked in a panic. She said, "Have you ever been bitten by a mosquito?" This analogy calmed me down. But then she jabbed the needle deep into my arm and I yelped. The burning pinch was second only to the betrayal - what the hell giant fucking mosquito of death was she referring to?

So I lived in a state of ceaseless anxiety waiting for the next nurse to arrive, coldly squirt air bubbles from the syringe, select a fresh muscle, and inject away. It truly felt like they were taking out the frustrations of their shitty lives on me. How unfair! I think some of them enjoyed watching me squirm, helpless prisoner that I was, receiving somebody else's punishment.

My mom was visiting and the muppet show was on. This should have been a time of joy. But once again a nameless nurse came in and prepared her weapon. I had enough. "No!" I screamed and began thrashing around my bed, almost tearing the intravenous right out of my arm. Mom hadn't the strength to restrain me, even with the nurse's help. They loudly called for backup. In the end it took my mother and three nurses to pin me down long enough to administer the shot. I had so much adrenaline coursing through my body I didn't even notice.

The day of surgery finally arrived. I barely remember that morning, though I clearly recall the Dr. Simon's face as he hovered over me and got to work on my guts. It felt like minutes as I studied the part of his face exposed above his mask. The clear attention and focus in his eyes calmed me, and then I dropped into the black abyss.

I came to in the post op recovery room. Mom was waiting, watching me as I regained consciousness. It felt like I was asleep for days. Maybe weeks. The first thing I said upon waking up was a guess: "is today.. Tuesday?" Mom smiled.

Back to my hospital room. I was relieved the godawful needles were behind me. However, I had a week of absolutely torturous recovery. I couldn't even stand up for a day or two. Going to the bathroom was a fucking brutal ordeal.

But I could get into a wheelchair and brought to the entertainment lounge. They had board games, but I was more interested in the free jukebox. I probably drove everybody in the whole wing nuts by consistently playing a two song playlist: "Revolution" by the Beatles and Aerosmith's "Dream on."

My first attempt walking without help was a slow, agonizing shuffle to a different lounge. Mom suggested we play scrabble. She won the toss up and went first, opening with a 7 letter word that scored her 80 points.

Once eating solid foods and feeling well enough I went sent home. Two weeks later I got the stitches removed. I watched the doctor as she snipped the loops. As she pulled one end of each string the other end would disappear beneath the skin, then reappear on the other side of the scar. Creepy. The process sort of both tickled and itched.

The doctor's orders were such that I wasn't allowed to play during recess for a month or two. Any shred of athleticism I might have had in life was certainly crushed into dust by this hiatus. Every afternoon I sat on the bench at the edge of the playground watching hundreds of peers running about, going down the slide, jumping off the swings, playing kickball. Meanwhile I lived inside my head, composing prog rock epics by the dozen, each accompanied by the din of raucous children.

April 3, 2018 : Alarming

Back in the day, before smartphones did everything, Jenya and I had a alarm clock radio. It was a new-fangled model where you could play CDs as well, and yet we had it dialed to KALX - the UC Berkeley campus radio station - at whenever we decided to wake up. Remember how much more preferable it was to wake up to new sounds every day, as opposed to the same noise or tone that, if reused too often in negative situations, becomes a trigger for instant panic?

Anyway, one morning we had adjusted the alarm earlier than normal (for work purposes) and thus were dead asleep as it went off. From the unconscious silence a sudden angry riff emerged: CHUG chicka CHUG chicka CHUG chicka CHUG chicka!

We both immedately sat up in a disoriented daze as we simultaneously recognized the intro to this loud song: Mumble & Peg's "Mountain." And here's the punchline: that's our band - me on bass, Jenya rocking the drums, and Erik with the CHUG chicka.

It felt like we were thrown from our blissful dream state into a band rehearsal happening right in our bedroom. Before saying a word we looked at each other accusingly as if to ask, "why the hell did you put this CD in the alarm clock?" I looked over at the thing and noticed it was indeed set for the radio. Hunh. So the alarm went off just as the DJ started this song on KALX. Fancy that.

[ Hat tip to Carnacki for playing our tune on the air. ]

March 27, 2018 : Lot Stress

Jenya and I try to avoid going to the Berkeley Bowl on weekends. It's one of the best supermarkets on the planet, and thus draws an obnoxious crush of humans on non-work days. Nevertheless there we were, pulling into the lot and eventually scoring a spot.

We walked toward the entrance, dodging cars en route. To be honest, given the economy and political climate the stress level in Berkeley is quite palpable and unpleaseant to be around. A parking lot full of frustrated shoppers circling around while jockeying for spaces like some demented game of musical chairs only fueled everybody's general anxiety.

And then some asshole honked. As if that'll help the situation. We're all swimming in this same bowl of cold soup - such pointless aggression only makes it worse for everybody. Then they honked again! And leaned on that shit!

Jenya and I, along with our fellow pedestrians, spun around wondering who the fuck is doing that. We triangulated the sound source and simultaneously focused on the culprit: a lone boston terrier, alone in a parked car, was proudly perched upright on the steering wheel while pressing down the horn.

We all busted out laughing at the sight, relieved it wasn't just another pissed off Berkeley head case. And just like that, the cloud of stress over the entire lot deflated a bit, and our shopping experience felt lighter than usual.

March 20, 2018 : Smoked

A special treat! Jenya wrote today's story - another vignette from our recent travels:


Food in Iceland is crazy expensive even by Bay Area standards. We discovered this early on in our trip as we wandered Reyjavik in a jet-lagged daze, aiming to stock up on snacks for our upcoming road trip. We were unable to bring ourselves to buy much outside of a couple bananas and a regional dried coconut snack called "Pook" if only because Matt found much hilarity in the fact that its name is phonetically equivalent to the Russian word for “little fart.” A bag of maybe 12 Pook flakes cost $5, but it was pretty tasty.

Over the next week of traveling around the island we became acquainted with the local specialties, the clear standout being ”geyser bread,” or Rúgbrauð: a moist, cake-like rye traditionally cooked overnight in geothermal pools. It’s served at every breakfast buffet, and we'd slather it with Icelandic butter, i.e. smjör (pronounced "schmeor"). So fucking delicious.

But we also grew familiar with the smoked foods - fish and lamb - which had a unique flavor I’d never experienced: strong and acrid, reminiscent of something between tobacco and burnt cookware. Towards the end of the trip we wondered how they smoked things given the scarcity of wood resources. I joked, “It’s probably like dried reindeer dung and highland moss.”

Upon finishing one of our last meals I had to ask a restaurant staffer about the local smoking procedure. Turns out the traditional method, he described, is to use a combination of “dry sheep poop and the grasses from summer.”

Nailed it.

March 13, 2018 : Diamond Lake

Jenya and I enjoy taking adventure vacations where we drive around beautiful regions, making it up as we go. In the summer of 2008 we went to the Cascades in Oregon, with side trips to Hell's Canyon and Portland.

As the journey wound down we headed south toward home. Late in the afternoon we scanned our maps and settled on Diamond Lake as a good point to stop for the night. We didn't know much about it before we arrived. It was too late to go sight seeing or anything. Plus having driven all day we were happy to simply set up camp, cook some grub, and call it a night.

The campground was oddly empty considering the season and the proximity to Crater Lake. Fine with us - that meant we got to choose from several nice sites. Almost immediately one of Diamond Lake's bad qualities came into focus: the mosquitoes.

We've been battling them this whole trip, especially around Three Sisters and earlier that morning hiking around the Matthieu Lakes. Despite high temperatures I've come to wear my rain jacket (with the hood pinched tightly around my face) to keep those fuckers off me.

However the bugs here were particularly aggressive and plentiful. We hurried to make the tent. And hastily made dinner at the picnic table. But we were getting eaten alive - the bloodsuckers constantly biting at us through our shirts.

Okay fuck this. The sun still hadn't fully set yet but we dove into our tent and zipped it tight. Of course a few mosquitoes entered with us. It took a few minutes to hunt down these intruders and smash them into the walls.

We played cards to kill time. Previous experience has shown that once night falls the temperature drops, and the bugs go to sleep. Then we could go out and look at the stars and whatnot.

Not so here. The mosquitoes continued to bounce against the tent, trying their hardest to get at our delicious blood. They never let up. And as a bonus, a few spiders dropped from the trees onto the roof (we could see their creepy silhouettes above us). I guess we ain't leaving! We put in earplugs to reduce the din of the insects attacking us and went to sleep.

Jenya and I figured they had to calm down at some point in the night but no. Come sunrise around 6am they were still out to get us. We hoped to have a relaxed morning making coffee and breaking down the tent one last time before heading home. This wasn't meant to be.

Once we packed everything up inside the tent we made a break for it. Charge! I got dozens of bites in the process of leaping outside, opening the car up wide, throwing all our gear into it (including the tent unceremoniously crumpled up) and speeding away.

March 6, 2018 : Good Kitty

Normal was a good kitty. In order to give him access to our bedroom at night we would, as Jenya put it, "Normalize" the door - i.e. keep it ajar just enough for a cat to squeeze through, while draping robes and jackets on it in such a manner to protect our privacy from housemates who could otherwise peer in while walking past.

One late night, while deep in a dream state, I became disturbed by an external noise. An unidentifyable ruckus in the kitchen was breaking up the otherwise quiet of our house and my slumber. Still half asleep my brain concocted bizarre nightmare scenarios to explain these sounds. Earthquake? Home invasion? Alien abduction?

Then I heard the charging of a crazed creature making a beeline for our bedroom. Cloppity-cloppity-CLOPPITY-CLOPPITY! And then BAM!! The Normalized door swung wide open with all the force the intruder could muster.

Before we could react the monster pounced into our bed and sprinted above and around us in circles not unlike that classic cartoon Tazmanian devil. We caught reflections of its giant dilated pupils in the dark. The rattling and crinkling noises were shockingly loud. We flailed in confusion. What the fuck is going on?!

Within a second or two we regained full consciousness and understood the situation. It was Normal, absolutely freaked out like never before. From his maw dragged a plastic bag containing items from a recent shopping trip we hadn't yet put away. "What the hell, Normie?!"

He sprung from the bed and fled our room. Silence fell upon our house again. Jenya and I laughed a bit about our cat's uncharacteristic nocturnal explosion and went back to sleep.

In the morning I stumbled into the kitchen and found that plastic bag on the floor, a bit shredded by teeth and claws. Upon further inspection of its contents and reading various labels I found a pack of mint herbal tea which, as it happened, contained catnip.

February 27, 2018 : French Faceplant

The six-week Europe tour was coming to a close. We were on the 22nd of 23 show days in a row. This particular chain started in Sofia, Bulgaria, and concluded with two dates in Paris. The date was December 1st, which was remarkable as I hadn't changed pants since our travels started in late October. So for the first time in my life I spent an entire calendar month (November) wearing the same black slacks every day. I adhered to this bizarre goal despite many reasons not to - including a friend accidentally spilling a beer all over my legs in Rotterdam a few nights earlier. Yes, all other articles of clothing were washed and changed regularly.

Anyway... Tonight's gig was at Petit Bain - a rock club in a big boat on the Seine. We loaded our gear via ramps and had a nice casual soundcheck on the large stage. After the usual daily ordeal setting up four (!) keyboard controllers, a whole computer system, and a bunch of midi gear connecting all the above, I took my standard photos of the venue: one from the stage looking out, and then one from the floor looking back at the stage. I made this a habit to help future recollections as these rooms tend to blur during the course of many long, sleep-deprived weeks on the road.

After getting the shot from the floor, I sprinted across the venue to leap back onto the stage so I could start warming up. Except - given exhaustion and the tiniest reduction of balance from being on a boat - I failed to reach the appropriate altitude, thus catching my shoe on the stage's edge and sending my entire body hurtling in an unexpected direction.

The result: the total force of my forward momentum was concentrated into my face as it flew right into the side panel of my largest keyboard. I didn't see it coming at all. I only remember everything going black and hearing my keyboards fall over before I realized what happened.

Oops! I knew it must have looked pretty bad because instead of everybody laughing I registered nothing but the humorless concern as bandmates came over to check on me. I made a quick damage report. Miraculously I escaped major injury. My nose bled a tad, and I could already feel it swelling, but somehow it wasn't broken. The keyboards, and my glasses for that matter, remained undamaged as well. Could have been a lot worse.

I got ice and a towel and froze my schnoz for a while in the dressing room. And after I sulked through soundcheck I went on a long walk around Paris with Oliwia. Luckily it was a bitterly cold evening in the city, and just breathing the air through my nose for an hour did wonders for keeping the swelling in check.

Despite the constant worry blood would suddenly spray out my nostrils before an unsuspecting audience, it didn't - and this show ended up being perhaps my favorite of the tour. We played for almost two hours. And, coincidentally, this gig ended with Timba intentionally diving into Kenny's drumkit.

February 20, 2018 : Iceland Day Four

Jenya and I recently returned from an eight day adventure in Iceland. We knew what we were getting into vacationing there in winter and exploring via rental car. Here's the story of day four.

After the first three days we'd come to expect unpredictable weather and dealt with various road, wind, and snow challenges like pros. So despite seemingly tame alerts we stuck with our plan to check out the Golden Circle - a route that heads towards the interior of the island and loops around various common popular tourist destinations - lake, falls, geysers, etc.

We were in the car before sunrise (at 9am) and braced for slow going as we turned off the ring road and headed inland. The pavement was caked with patches of ice deeper than I'd experienced thus far, but lesser vehicles were coming and going so it couldn't be that bad, right? However after one pass the sky lost its blueness and winds were strong enough to create tentacles of snow blowing across the highway. Visibility was still good and the lake wasn't that far so we pressed on.

I caught up to a caravan of five other cars ahead of me. If they were fearlessly going forward, why not us? I'm sure all the other drivers in this pack felt the same. Plus if we all did end up trapped in the middle of nowhere we'd have enough human meat to last for a while.

Ten kilometers later things went from slightly concerning to completely sketchy. The interior of the car echoed with the sounds of squeaky windshield wipers, wind hammering the chassis, and our increasing panic. Visibility dropped, snow packed onto the road and some of the participants in the caravan began to chicken out and turn around. Frankly at this point it was probably just as dangerous to go back the way we came.

Eventually there was a turnoff - a vista point toward Lake Þingvallavatn which, despite being quite large and right fuckin' there, was completely obscured by the white out. I figured this would be a good place to stop and re-evaluate everything. Not so! I swerved like mad in the deep snow of the parking lot. Fuck this. I got back on the main road plunging further down the Circle following a few fresh cars that appeared in the last minute.

Our fortune changed suddenly as a few moments later like magic an outpost exploded into view - a small building and a parking lot already teeming with cars. This was the Þingvellir National Park visitors center. We claimed one of the last remaining spots and stumbled through the high winds into the structure.

Inside was a small food market, bathrooms, and about 50 fellow travelers of disparate nationalities in the same boat. Quite a surreal scene after being in a frantic situation a minute earlier. A ranger stood at her post offering vague answers to harried questions about travel conditions. Basically the road up ahead was now officially closed and we were stuck here until further notice, at least 2pm. It was noon.

Jenya got a coffee and we stood around warming up. Soon it was clear this would be a while so we got whatever wraps for lunch. The population inside increased over time and I soon became claustrophobic enough to prefer standing out in the cold. That too was difficult as the smokers came outside to cloud up the air.

So Jenya and I decided to wait in our car. We both took short naps in our seats, hats pulled down over our eyes. We ran the engine a bit to warm up. The heavy winds returned, occasionally rocking our car and whistling through all the cracks in its frame.

Arriving drivers entered the lot and parked like idiots, nearly trapping our car. Meanwhile one van was stuck in the snow blocking access forward if I ever wanted to escape that way. So before it got any worse Jenya carefully guided me backwards out of the lot and I reparked on the road. Now when the time came we wouldn't have to deal with that clusterfuck. That helped my mood a bit. So did playing video games on my phone. Jenya went inside to buy more snacks. Hummus and flatbread, bananas, and a small can of pringles.

After 2pm winds relented but still no sign of progress. I used the bathroom if only to break up the monotony. The population inside more than doubled since we first arrived. The ranger exhibited great patience answering pleas for positive updates but she simply didn't have any. One guy whined, “but cars were going down the closed road.” She seemed surprised by this and went out to keep others from attempting this foolish behavior.

The weather improved by 3pm but the ranger guarding the road was replaced by a truck blocking all access out of here. Suddenly a snow plow appeared and went beyond the barrier. Yay! I asked about an update since plows were now involved but apparently they were brought in to help cars that got stuck in snow banks. Oh.

Turns out the empty pringles can makes for good hand percussion. Jenya and I used whatever we could find to have a private hippie drum jam in the car. People walking past seemed puzzled by our form of self entertainment.

Other big official vehicles were brought into service. Another plow, an ambulance. And then eventually coming back this way a tow truck. At 4pm we went inside one more time to check out the chaos. Rumors circulated that we will soon be allowed through, albeit led in one big line behind a plow. Fine with me!

And sure enough this became reality! Yay! Everybody rushed into their cars. I felt super smart that my earlier maneuvers enabled me to be among the first trailing behind the plow. However, soon we stopped. Oh right - we have to wait for all the other yahoos to get with the program, including those who were possibly spinning wheels in the snow and needed a push. We didn't get moving again for another 20 minutes.

Clearly we had to bail on plans as we were forced to follow the plow all the way to Selfoss. From there we rerouted towards our booked hotel in Flúðir just after sunset. So much for the Golden Circle!

On the plus side our plans accounted for possible weather issues - so we had time to backtrack and see a bunch of the Circle the next day. On the down side, I soon came to realize only after we left that wintry oasis I left my nice gloves in the bathroom.

February 13, 2018 : Blatherskite

My goofy college band Skankenstein was about to play live and “unplugged” on the campus radio station. We loaded our equipment in and somebody pointed me in the direction of Richard, who was the DJ engineering the show.

Rudely without introducing myself, I began giving him the lowdown about our setup. Something very Matt-esque (i.e. impenetrable, manic, disjointed, and longwinded) like: "Hi, I'm Matt. I normally play bass but since we're going semi-acoustic tonight I'll doing those parts on my classical guitar. I wish I had an upright bass but oh well. Hopefully you have a good mic for that. I’ll be singing backing vocals but I can just borrow some other mic when I do. Ted the singer will also play guitar. He might have some horns and stuff so make sure you set up two mics for him. Joe the other singer also plays guitar. Sam the keyboardist has my keyboard and a practice amp, so you may need to mic the amp but maybe it'll just bleed through all the others. I don't know - this may be a mixing nightmare. Nah, it'll probably be fine. And oh yeah Mark the drummer will just be playing hand percussion so one mic for that I guess..."

Since my blathering left him no opening to get a word in edge-wise, Richard waited quietly until I finished. After an awkward pause he smiled and said, "I don't care."

Ultimately we performed sitting around a table with a few random microphones perched in whatever directions and it was fine.

February 6, 2018 : Melting Servers

In the peak years of SETI@home all our servers were racked up in a nearby closet which we retrofitted with barely adequate air conditioning. Due to leaks the cooling system would slowly weaken over time and need occasional tune ups. So we set up various sensors and had a beeper that went off if the temperatures were beginning to rise too high. The systems typically ran at 50 degrees Celsius. We'd get warnings if they rose above 60.

We'd trade off who had the beeper and thus who was responsible in case of crisis. I had possession of it one weekend afternoon when it started going off with the message that temperatures were at 60. A minute later it beeped again. They were now at 62. Uh oh. This wasn't a slow leak.

I shut down as many servers as I could remotely, but it was difficult to do them all or determine their current states (given slow network speeds and machines hanging on a nest of cross dependencies, plus we didn't have IPMI or web-enabled power strips back then). Anyway it would be much faster to deal with this in person. It usually took me under 15 minutes to get to the lab.

So I jumped in my car and sped off. Temperatures now at 64. Fearing typical weekend traffic on highway 24 I took surface streets, driving into Berkeley and up around campus. The path to the lab was a steep road that rises above the stadium.

As I approached I discovered a college football game was happening at the moment. The traffic quickly worsened as football fans were struggling to park. I zig zagged in an angry panic around people and cars until I hit a road block.

I asked the campus policeman preventing my passage, "hey I work at the space lab - Can I get through?"

"Sorry," he said, "the road is closed during the game."

I pulled out my campus ID and explained this was an emergency, and again he simply apologized. The beeper warnings continued, now showing temperatures well above 70.

I yelled, "I have a million dollars worth of computer hardware melting right now! I need to get through!"

No dice. He wouldn't budge. He suggested I approach by way of the Claremont Hotel. Completely frustrated I swung the car around as swiftly as noisily as possible and screeched away. The detour added about 25 minutes to my journey - felt like an hour.

When I arrived at the lab I ran upstairs and threw the closet doors open. I was greeted with a chorus of beeps (the cries of servers in pain) and the smell of melting plastic. I quickly got the remaining computers powered off and left it that way for the rest of the weekend.

On Monday we got the air conditioning serviced and turned everything back on. We only lost a few hard drives (all safely in RAIDs), but otherwise no other obvious damage. Still.. thanks, college football.

January 30, 2018 : Hooked Pen

So I write with my right hand, but hook the pen like a lefty. In other words: while it's normal for a northpaw to have one's writing implement aiming over their right shoulder, mine is rudely pointing the opposite direction. Given my general musicianship I'm fairly ambidexterous but still I've never been able to comfortably hold a pen the "correct way." I've never gotten a good explanation for this. The best (though admittedly doubtful) theory somebody offered was this: I'm such a lefty it wrapped all the way back around and manifested as right-handedness.

The downsides are minor - mostly just ink smudges on my pinky. And a lifetime of unintentionally giving people brief bouts of dyslexic panic as they witness my scribbling posture and assume I'm a lefty at first. And then they suddenly register I'm not. But other than that.. no problems. That is, until I had penmanship teacher Miss Kelly in the third grade.

This was the year all the elementary school kids were taught to write cursive. And as such holding your pen in the correct manner was incredibly important. Or at least that's how Miss Kelly felt - almost as if it were a matter of life and death. I did just fine learning script in my own way, but she would needlessly berate me as I floundered during forced attempts to be just like the other kids. She'd make an embarrassing example of me, and then keep me inside during recess to practice being normal.

Once my parents got wind of this they gave her a stern talking to, and she finally got off my damn case. I'm not proud of it, but I can be quite a spiteful person. After those lessons were over I never, besides my signature, wrote in cursive again because Miss Kelly can go to hell. In fact I took it a step further: around this time I was already way into programming, and given my affinity for the simple caseless nature of Apple II computers I wrote everything IN ALL CAPS FOR YEARS.

Of course all the above has became a complete non issue as nobody puts pen to paper anymore.

January 23, 2018 : Harpur Jazz Ensemble

As I started the second semester at Binghamton University my friend John mentioned he was going to try out for the school's jazz band, i.e. then Harpur Jazz Ensemble. I had no idea such a band existed, and I happily tagged along. Yes, this is the same friend John who hipped me into the existence of the campus radio station in last week's story. Yes, I owe a lot to him.

The audition process was a bit chaotic - students varying in age and technique plodding through charts alongside the ringers who have been in the ensemble for years. Though I brought my crappy electric bass along I also tried out on piano. My skills on sightreading bass parts or deciphering jazz piano charts were good, but not as strong as I would have liked at this point in my life. However since I confidently managed on both these rhythm section instruments I made it into the main ensemble as some kind of novelty. Normally the ensemble would accept two bassists and two pianists trading off tunes. Because of me being a switch-hitter they had 2.5 of each, and I got slightly more action than the others.

The first semester was a moderate ass-kicker, but that summer I bought a new bass and stuck with that as my only instrument from then on - it was much more fun, and I enjoyed the endless stream of great drummers whipping my rhythmic sense into shape. One of the other pianists was Dena DeRose. She was a total badass on keys but also a great singer, and unsurprisingly went on to bigger and better things shortly thereafter. As it would happen 25 years later I'd be playing at a jazz festival in Marciac (France) with John Zorn/Secret Chiefs 3. While fumbling through the program scanning which acts already performed I found she had with her own band a couple days ago. Small world!

Anyway, every spring and fall we all had to go through the audition process again, and somehow I'd also manage to get in regardless of the competition. I guess I had seniority and my pleasant demeanor going for me. The toughest audition was sophomore year - I was up against a freshman, Ted, and a junior, Holden. Both were smokin' players, had much better axes than me (Ted had a nice Fender jazz fretless, and Holden had the super-duper 6-string Pedulla), and were easily miles ahead of me in sight-reading and performance technique. Al Hamme, the band director, while a knowledgable and generally open-minded guy, loathed fusion-y bass playing. I think the extra strings on Holden's bass went against Al's conservative aesthetic, so me and Ted got the job (trading bass duties on every other tune).

There was always a big public show at the end of each semester. And it came time for this one pesky number. I forget its name, but there were 16 bars containing an easy but rather angular bass melody at the end. I was looking forward to flaunt my chops navigating that part with aplomb in front of a large crowd. That is, until my A string broke inexplicably 30 seconds before the bass feature section. Under normal jazz circumstances I could survive a missing string, but in this case - given lots of unconventional and large interval leaps - a missing string would make that part impossible to adequately rejigger on the fly.

I tried to get Ted's attention without being too obvious. He eventually looked up and I quickly flashed him the busted string and pointed at the score. Nary a word was spoken, but he nodded with immediate and complete understanding of the situation like a pro. When those 16 bars arrived I turned down and Ted turned up. From his seat in the darkness he sight read the score as I mimed playing it on my neck. Then he turned down, I turned up, and I finished the song sans hitch.

At some other show I was assigned the tune "Pumpkinette" which featured a bass solo. Since the form had 4 bars of contiguous bluesy Ab7 I nerdily wedged the opening riff of Yes's "Heart of the Sunrise" in there. It was irresistable!

All told, I gained a lot of experience in this band, from learning how to walk over 13#11 chords to dealing with nerves while soloing. I also got a good sense of voice leading on the bass, which I find an invaluable skill. But really I was most proud of gaining the trust of Al. When I was a timid freshman newbie he would clap time inches from my face if I was dragging or rushing. By junior year he was confidently putting charts on my stand on stage and I would read them down in front of an audience without breaking a sweat. I remember at one doofy christmas show at a random club in town he made us sight read a jazzed up version of Frosty the Snowman. It was such a hilarious arrangment it took everything I had to keep from laughing out loud while we bounced through the chart. Somehow I managed to keep time and not lose the form.

Sadly, in the spring semester of junior year I wanted to take a skiing class which conflicted with jazz band rehearsals. So the latter got trimmed from my busy schedule, and I never went back. Oh, well. By the time I had several rock bands keeping me musically occupied anyway, so I made the lateral move from jazz to funk/ska/punk (cut me some slack - this was 1990). Luckily I had an arranging class with Al senior year, so I got to dig deeper into jazz theory without the inconvenience of auditions and rehearsals.

January 16, 2018 : Let Me Shake Your Hand

In the beginning of my freshman year at Binghamton I had little direction outside of classes. Luckily my friend John found me one night and said, "hey there's an orientation for new DJ apprentices at the campus radio station tonight, wanna go?" I had no idea there was a campus radio station, but had no other plans, so why not?

It turns out we already missed the apprentice orientation for the popular "pop" radio slots. I put "pop" in quotes because during such shows you were allowed, if not encouraged, to play whatever you damn well pleased on air. The orientation tonight was for students more interested in jazz. I knew roughly zero about jazz at this point, but I was willing to learn.

As newbies were being assigned to mentors there were too many signups for jazz. So, somewhat fortunately, John and I not only got put on pop shows, but some pretty prime slots with a couple beloved senior DJs. I got Friday afternoons with Pam.

Pam was rad, but our musical tastes were a bit different (as already noted in TTST #1, in fact). During our first show together this became patently clear. I knew nothing about the college indie punk she adored, she knew nothing about the progressive rock I professed to be high art and the only music worth listening to.

Still, bless her heart, she let me take the reigns for 20 minutes during my first day on the job to blather live on air and spin whatever I liked. I wish I remembered exactly what tunes I played. I do remember Bill Bruford's "Fainting in Coils" and Gentle Giant's "Interview." Probably also some Steve Hackett and, knowing me at age 18, a bit of King Crimson. In other words your basic prog 101 stuff. I could tell Pam wasn't impressed, but she was super gracious about it.

After I wrapped up she happily reclaimed the microphone and turntables. Barely one minute later some random dude came running into the front door of the station. He was mid 30's, wearing glasses, and sporting a full beard. Catching his breath from the recent sprint from his car he asked, "who is the DJ who just played Gentle Giant?"

"Um, me?" I said, half worried.

"Please," he smiled and gasped, "let me shake your hand."

He explained he caught my expert choice of tunes on his way home from work and, having never heard anybody play this godly music on the campus station, he had to speed onto campus to thank me in person. Well, he didn't use the words "expert" and "godly" but that's exactly what prog rock nerds think. We geeked out for a bit about the common beloved favorites in our record catalogs.

Meanwhile Pam just stood there with this hilarious expression that read: "Okay what the fuck is going on? Is this some kind of cult?"

The friendly man left. Predictably this set me up with the skewed expectation that this sort of thing would happen every show. Like all I had to do was play something British and odd-timey from the 70's and of course countless fans will hunt me down. But for all my future years at the station nobody ever again came running, or even calling, to thank me for playing choice prog cuts.

As an aside, I should add Pam turned me on to many cool things including the Monks of Doom - a band which was one of the list of cultural things which eventually drew me move to the Bay Area. On hindsight her taste was far better than mine.

January 9, 2018 : High Roller

Another cover band story.

So we had a gig in Las Vegas. Jamison picked me up at my house around 7am and we headed to the airport.

Problem #1: Like every day I subconsciously put all the typical important items in my pockets, including my nice leatherman multitool, which I didn't realize until I was already going through security, and basically had to forfeit it. A tool that had given me years of constant service, and the bullshit TSA security show took it away it without a word of apology. It was like $60. So much for making any profit - I was already losing money taking time off of work to play this gig. So I started this whole adventure in a sour mood.

Problem #2: The other locals arrived at the gate. Everything was on time despite a storm coming through. Several levels of Angry Birds later we landed smoothly in Las Vegas. Everything about the flight was fine except as we were deboarding some douchebag shouted across the plane at me, "Ponytail! Can you grab my suit!" Of course I've been called worse but that seriously irked me.

Problem #3: To save money we didn't get any rental cars, and thus had to take a shuttle to South Point Casino where we were staying. We arrived at the curb just in time to miss said shuttle. The next one would arrive in over an hour. So we hung out at an airport cafe. Yay, fun.

Problem #4: Shortly after checking in we met up in Paul's room because we found out last minute we were asked to add that Sinatra duet "Something Stupid" to the set list. Me, Paul, Jamison, House, and John picked apart the key/chords/form of the song while watching a youtube video together. Annoying, but we're pros. It'll be fine.

Problem #5: As we were hurrying to meet in the lobby and get a taxi to the gig the fucking toilet in my room clogged up. I tried to sort it out myself but people were waiting, so I had to ask the hotel staff to deal with it. Embarrassing.

Problem #6: The five of us grabbed a cab - the driver insisted we could all fit, and thus we kinda crammed in there. I ended up getting stuck riding in the front seat, wedged in the middle with no seatbelt. Kinda scary, but the driver (whom I was pressed up against) was nice enough - a retiree from Florida who does this part time.

Met up with the southern California contingent of the band/entourage (Scrote, Holland, and Eddie) at the Mirage and after much confusion about where we were performing (the Revolution Lounge) we carried all kinds of gear through the casino to the small stage area. I never really learn who the clients are when I play these gigs until I'm at the venue. Once again it was another dot com corporate party (Worldpay, if you must know).

Problem #7: Given the band lives all over the place, we planned on rehearsing during soundcheck. Once set up, we began running through tunes. Moments later some casino official appeared and told us to shut up immediately. That was weird. But we need to go over this stuff so we continued at a whisper's volume. The guy stormed in again. "No noise!" he shouted. What the fuck? I guess we're done with soundcheck then.

Now with time to kill we grabbed something to eat. I got some matzoball soup from the Carnegie Deli and brought it back to the lounge. While slurping it down I overheard one of the party planners talking on the phone about the whole party being cancelled due to noise issues. Eddie eventually told us what was going on: turns out the High Rollers Gambling Lounge was next door. Some VIP arrived there just before our soundcheck, bought a million dollars' worth of chips, and was making $100K blackjack bets, etc. So the casino had to do everything it could to keep him around and bleed big money - and this included not having a loud band play next door. If the high roller was still around by party time, the casino already offered to cover all costs of a dot com party.

So it was unclear whether or not we were gonna play until downbeat, but sure enough the high roller split and everything was a go. Fine. Usual drill. Plowed through a short set, then took a break for Sinatra and Elvis impersonators to do their shtick, and then we did a full hour to close it out. People from the Worldpay company finally got up and danced towards the end. (Later in the evening equals more alcohol intake equals less resistance to dance with workmates).

Fun fact: we never did perform "Something Stupid" after all. Another fun fact: the toilet in my room would clog again the next morning just before we split.

John, Jamison, and I got a shuttle together to the airport. Jamison got to chatting with the young couple from Wisconsin in front of us, asking about their time visiting this crazy city. It was their first time on vacation without their kid, and this is where they chose to go.

"Did you win?" Jamison asked.

"Nope," the husband said adding, "Lost two."

"Two small?"


"Two large?"


But he said they knew that was part of the deal and still had a fun vacation. Viva Las Vegas.

January 2, 2018 : DMC

During the chaos of my early 20's I found myself suddenly unemployed (a story for another time) and desperately broke. I grudgingly hopped into the corporate saddle, getting full time work with DMC - a company in downtown Oakland I previously temped for and therefore already knew the ropes. I wore a shirt (but refused to wear a tie), cut my hair, and sat in front of computers all day. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

What did I do at this job? Well, DMC existed as an adjunct to Pacific Gas & Electric, and we had PG&E customers fill out lengthy questionnaires about their energy usage if they happened to be curious about why their bills were so damn high. They'd send the forms to us, a line of data entry temps would sit in a pen entering their scribbles into a computer, and then crude algorithms would be run on the data to generate neat little pie charts which we'd send back.

As a former temp I was a proud part of the data entry pen, expected to only digest 150 complete forms a day and nothing more. When I was hired full time my pay increased from $8.00 to $8.43 an hour, which was still hardly enough to help me claw my way out of debt. However, with this whopping raise came an onslaught of additional responsibilities.

I spent half my mornings training new temps. Unlike myself, most of the temps at this place didn't survive more than a week. Some barely survived a whole day. I didn't like any of them. Well, except for one guy who, despite the fact he chugged a six pack of Mountain Dew a day, had a slightly firm grasp on reality. In any case, every time a new one showed up I had to go through the same damn thing with them, and then supervise their progress during the remainder of their brief stay with our company. I also took over some systems administration tasks, i.e. network backups, shaking toner cartridges, fixing broken databases, and repeatedly removing viruses from people's computers. Above and beyond that, I was still expected to enter data from those cursed questionnaires all day.

Since I was a new guy at the company, I more or less had to work crazy hours all through the holidays, and without overtime pay. We had some bullshit year-end quota to maintain in order to keep our contract with PG&E. I spent an incredibly dark and cold December completely alone, unable to travel home to visit the family since I was stuck working this lousy no-pay job, whereas all my friends and housemates got to leave and go someplace warm without me.

Sometime during this most depressing of holiday seasons I happened to stumble upon some paperwork regarding one of the current temps. As it turns out, DMC paid an agency $14 an hour for their temps, $8 of which goes to the temp and $6 went to said agency. That meant even though DMC saved $6 an hour for every hour after they hired me full time, they passed only 43 cents worth of the savings to me.

This more or less crushed whatever remaining spirit I had , and the brightest part of my life at this point came every day at 10:00am when I'd sneak off downstairs to buy a greasy donut from the tiny shop in the lobby. Occasionally I'd splurge and spend an extra 10 cents to get a bear claw. Outside of that everything sucked.

I guess to help morale during this trying crunch period we held a White Elephant gift exchange one afternoon. I have a fear of both gifts and social interaction, so this was quite the ordeal for me. Then there was the godawful Christmas party, which I felt obliged to attend. I was single at the time and went alone. I also just found out earlier that day a college friend had been murdered so I wasn't really in the holiday spirit. The whole event was super sad and awkward. I left as soon as socially acceptable.

Despite all my effort and playing ball, I was laid off in mid January since the company was low on funds, and I was low on the seniority pole. And not just me - four other people were also hired around the same time as myself to help with the big December crunch and with December now in the rear-view mirror we all got tossed out like trash. Our severance package consisted solely of a photocopied brochure about how to compose a successful resume.

The night I found out I would soon be unemployed again my previous employer called to inform me that, despite a promise to cover taxes for me, she was going to 1099 me for all the money I received. Flabbergasted, I hung up on her.

On our last day the entire DMC gang went out for a special farewell lunch at some sports bar in Jack London Square. But we five soon-to-be-laid-off losers weren't even treated to this fine cuisine; when the bill came we had to throw in six bucks for our shitty burgers along with everyone else. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

A few weeks later I was working at the Space Science Laboratory in Berkeley - clearly a better job on many levels. And I got a call from the human resources person at DMC who proudly announced they received new funding and encouraged me to come back. On hindsight I responded with incredible politeness, but clearly beneath my carefully chosen words of rejection the obvious subtext was: "oh, fuck off!"

November 7, 2017 : An Old Song

As a musically advanced sophomore in high school I was encouraged to arrange an original composition for the jazz ensemble. Sure. How hard could that be?

To avoid shoehorning my prog rock epics into a bunch of horn sections, I worked up a doofy little blues shuffle called "An Old Song." Its key of E flat made transposition easier when creating the parts. Yeah this was back when you had to do all this shit by hand. Transposing, notating, everything. I had a drafting table and pencils and rulers and a french curve because this was your only choice. Hours were spent scribbling and I hated the stupid half-assed composition more and more as I went.

Thankfully the senior musicians in the ensemble were willing and able, if not also remarkably welcoming to this outside underclassman bringing in smudgey charts. This was my first time ever attending such a big band rehearsal, and they could have easily eaten me alive. Instead they happily read down my dorky ass number and hearing it come to life made up for all the hard work. The simple tune kinda just played itself - which was fine as I had no skills conducting a band nor how to offer any guidance about what to improve. One more time running the whole thing down and I felt pretty good about myself.

This rehearsal was where I first really got to know Jeff. He was my age, and also a piano player - the regular pianist for the jazz ensemble. And, also, the winner of some New York State piano sonata competition or other last year. Basically he was a prodigy, and had chops for days. Years, maybe. Possibly centuries. Of course he had to be my age and in my high school class. Meanwhile he was infuriatingly sweet and non-competitive. I almost wished he was an asshole if only to justify my insecurity about being in some sort of battle with him for accolades and attention.

Turns out he, too, arranged a song. His charts were meticulous. It was his own take on "Sweet Georgia Brown." He conducted it like a madman, swinging the baton like a pro, tapping the stand and pointing sternly at the horns whenever they flubbed. Meanwhile his arrangement - holy shit. He brilliantly added brain bending harmonies to a double time version of this classic melody. It was a game changer. Watching him work, I truly felt like a complete poser fraud.

I was quite nervous for the big show. I was barely a seasoned performer at this point, so the stage fright, coupled with feelings of obvious inadequacy compared to Jeff, was paralyzing. I arrived for sound check and sat in the theatre seats waiting as the band ran down all the tunes before mine.

Turns out we had another guest this evening. An older gentleman who was a local composer. He, too, brought his own tune and arrangement for this event. But it had a novel twist: pre-recorded backing tracks. It was a cute Peter Gunn-like original number written for jazz ensemble accompanied by a tape of 1985-esque beeps and boops and primitive drum machine clicks and splats.

They spent a while dialing in the recording and figuring out how to blast it over the sound system. Once again I'll mention this was the old days, and this was a high school. In other words, there were no ample monitors available on stage for the band. Somehow they would have to play along with whatever was blasting over the general sound system aimed at the audience. In order to hear anything the recording was cranked to the point of ear-splitting distortion. It sounded like shit, and was most certainly going to be fucked up. There was little that could be done about it except hope for a miracle.

The show started, and this band-plus-tape song was early in the program. After a long introduction the composer came on stage, and lifted his baton until the tape started playing. He swung along in time for the first 8 bars before the band kicked in. And then, almost immediately, they were completely and irrevocably off from the recording. What a fucking embarrassing disaster. I cringed and squirmed beholding this nightmare. Jeff, who was stuck playing keyboards, had one hand on his ear the whole time to protect his hearing. The poor composer kept swinging his baton as if to mask the disaster unfolding for three seemingly endless minutes. He basically shrugged once it was over and left the stage to the sound of sympathetic applause. E for effort.

I still remember this horror so vividly, and witnessing this traumatic car crash is exactly why I will never, ever perform live with prerecorded backing tracks. But as much as this sucked for everybody else, I suddenly felt a wave of calm relief: there was no way my song will be the worst thing of the evening now. Phew.

My bit came and went. I barely remember it, mostly because it was so incredibly basic. Really just a proof of concept that I can arrange something and get it performed by somebody. I do fondly recall hastily leaving the stage a bundle of nerves, and once out of sight of the audience I collapsed to the ground right there in the wing - sort of a celebratory half-faint. Gravity no longer an issue, I let out a big, big sigh.

Jeff's "Sweet Georgia Brown" was of course a highlight of the evening. If it wasn't already settled before, it was settled now: Jeff's a fucking genius. Fine.

But instead of fighting it the rest of my high school career, I made a lateral move to bass guitar, which I already started playing for fun a couple years earlier. Jeff recognized my general musical prowess and happily had me play bass on everything he did. We became a dynamic duo of sorts, performing in the jazz band together, several musicals (high school and professionally outside of school), at various public functions, even in a Bar Mitzvah band. And this is why I still happily bounce between keyboards and bass guitar.

Oh, and I did another arrangement the following year. Instead of cobbling together another original, I followed Jeff's lead and reworked a classic for the jazz ensemble: "Abacab" by Genesis. Gawd I'm such a dork.

October 31, 2017 : Neighborly

Whilst living in my previous flat I heard a knocking on the door. I answered it and found some dude I didn't recognize. He introduced himself, "Hey you don't know me but I'm a neighbor." Then he asked, "Do musicians live here?"

I sighed and braced for some kind of noise complaint. "Yes," I answered, following with, "Several of us are musicians." This additional qualification might come in handy if I needed to deflect blame onto my housemates.

"Yeah I heard you practicing when walking by on the street before. I'm a musician, too," he said, which was sort of a relief. Then he continued, "I'm moving out of town tomorrow and have no use for this amp. You want it?" He hoisted up a rather nice Roland keyboard amp into view as if from thin air.

"Oh! Sure! Thanks!" I sputtered. He handed me the amp, happy to get rid of it, and went quickly went on his way. Sweet. Free gear out of nowhere. I used it for several years.

October 24, 2017 : Jasper the Flem

The year 2013 brought us the rare confluence of Thanksgiving and Hannukah. But Jenya and I were thousands of miles away from home with nobody else to celebrate. Not that we cared all that much, as we were waking up in the tiny town of El Chaltén, Argentina - a quaint, windy mountain village that sprang into being only recently in one of several remote corners within Patagonia.

As we checked out of our hotel I realized we were missing our pink folder. This folder contained many important papers (car rental stuff, flight info, passport copies, maps) that Jenya put together for this trip and we've been stuffing all kinds of necessary receipts and visa documents and shit.. Did we leave it somewhere? I last remember bringing it into the car rental place days ago back in El Calafate when going to complain about the broken fuses and headlight, but I don't recall seeing it since.

Well, it has to be somewhere. We quickly scanned the car, and the luggage, and the trunk, and couldn't find it. How could I be so careless as to lose this? I was so mad at myself for letting that happen. I usually keep my cool in general, but I find misplacing things incredibly vexing. I slammed the trunk shut, slammed the car door and we left Chalten. Steam came out of my ears, and Jenya talked me down.

On the way to the highway we hit the tiny gas station - basically a shipping container turned into a solar powered fueling station - and the only one in town, or actually just outside of town. It's so new last year's travel guide book didn't mention it. We had to wait in line as there was only one pump. Fine. I fully regained my composure while we waited. Eventually got a full tank and hit the road back to El Calafate - over 200 km away.

Immediately we passed a solo hitchhiker. Should we pick him up? I didn't want to deal but before fully deciding we were already 100 yards down the road and he waved at us in frustration. So that was that. We did check out a vista point up ahead to get some pix looking back at the town.

While soaking in the view we could see the hitchhiker still in the distance near the town. Jenya convinced me to circle back to get him. Fine. He was shocked that we returned, and also quite pleased. We had plenty room in the back for him and his luggage.

He thanked us in Spanish as he loaded in and said he was aiming for Rio Gallegos, but anything toward El Calafate would work. We headed off and he asked where we were from, still in Spanish, and we said the United States. He asked, "so you'd rather I spoke in English, then?"

Turns out he was from Ghent, Belgium. And quite fluent in English, more than Spanish. As well as Flemish, French, etc. He was a young architecture student studying abroad in Buenos Aires for the year and traveling about in between classes. Nice dude. We talked about our respective travels here and elsewhere, tourists we've encountered, the charm of different languages, etc. The driving was easy and fast, though I had to slow down to avoid hitting some crossing guanacos.

When small talk died down we listened to Radiohead for a while - always a perfectly good and globally neutral band. Stopped at one lookout to take pictures, but otherwise it was a straight shot. We reached the fork in the road where we had to part ways. As he loaded out of the vehicle we realized - oh yeah - we never did ask each others' names. His name was Jasper. Jasper the Flem.

Well, take care, Jasper! The guest rider nicely passed the time. We made it beyond that guarded stop at the edge of El Calafate after basic questioning, and then we headed right to the hotel.

After loading into the room we walked all the way to the car rental place on the off chance that's where we left our pink folder full of paperwork. As with previous dealings with the employees behind the counter, we hit a lingual barrier, failing to adequately translate "we are looking for a pink folder" to the young ladies. One of them seemed too frustrated to deal and disappeared into an office nearby. With the door ajar I saw on the table inside a pink folder amongst the mess of other papers in there. I squealed and pointed at it.

The other employee dug the folder out of the pile and holy shit, that was it! Yay! So I did leave it there, just sitting around unnoticed for the past few days. Phew. That was a load off.

October 17, 2017 : Cloverleaf

A couple weeks ago Secret Chiefs 3 were driving from Montreal to Brooklyn. The occupants in the van were distracted or sleeping due to a late night followed by a long drive day. Joe was behind the wheel. I sat in the back in a hyper aware state as we were heading into and through Rockland County, i.e. my home town. Every bend of the New York State Thruway loudly echoed with memories of countless adolescent automotive adventures.

Due to unexpected GPS directions Joe missed the 13S exit to get on Palisades Parkway South. I saw this error coming but it was too late to change however many lanes and get off. No harm, really, as we soon took exit 13N which has a cloverleaf to get us back on track.

The first petal of the clover swung around towards Palisades Parkway North, and my head flooded with ancient recollections of going up that highway. Like driving back home to New City from long nights hanging out in Manhattan. And going to that secret waterfall. And dreary mornings driving to computer camp where I was a senior counselor that one awful summer. And aiming to hike in Bear Mountain state park. And heading to Binghamton to start another soul-crushing semester. And that one time we attempted to go skiing but the roads were too icy so we turned back around.. and then got into an accident en route home.

The second petal twisted us towards the Thruway going west. A fresh set of memories: Going to Manny's music in Mahwah, NJ to play with the latest synths - not that I could afford any of them. The shitty daily commute for that one summer job at American NuKem where my car would overheat and I'd have to pull over onto the shoulder every morning to add collant to the engine. Playing "let's get lost in New Jersey" - where we'd wander south into that state-sized maze, taking random turns for hours until sufficiently clueless about our locale (and with no smart phones to help),.. then we'd slowly but surely work our way back home somehow.

The third petal twisted us once more toward the originally planned route, but not before my skull became haunted by the ghosts of Route 59 and the immediate vicinity. Hogan's Diner. A decade of piano lessons with Arthur Cunningham at his magical house in Nyack. The Nanuet Mall. Going to the Rockland Bakery at 2am and plucking bagfuls of fresh kaiser rolls right off the conveyor belts - the foreman would change us a buck, maybe two, depending on his mood. Being all goth and hanging out in the cemetery at night until chased out by the cops. And just beyond that hill over there is my old high school.

"By the way this is my home town," I announced to my bandmates. There was quick, sleepy acknowledgement of this from the others. I closed my eyes for a bit, bracing for the typical madness of a New York City gig.

October 10, 2017 : Clicking

As an undergraduate DJ at my college radio station (WHRW) it took me a while to find my on-air personality. Eventually this fell into an amplified version of my normal manic self but without anybody to cut me off. In other words: the unholy mix of unfettered ADD and unchecked smart-ass commentary.

The world didn't seem to mind nor care nor complain nor offer constructive criticism. Though once at 5am I grew irked nobody was calling in with requests. I felt lonely and sleepy. So I threatened to play polka non-stop until the phone rang. Immediately all the lines lit up. I felt powerful. Anyway I just kept rolling my remaining undergraduate years with whatever stupid attitude/persona I attempted to cultivate.

Near the end of my senior year I had a regular afternoon slot. I was in the anxious throes of a standard Lebofsky on-air ramble one afternoon. I have no idea what I was talking about, but I remember really going for it. However my flow was rudely broken when Jason came running through the door of the control room while madly scanning around. Immediately he pointed at the control desk and gleefully shouted, "oh that's it!"

Stumped by the intrusion and exclamation, I asked, "what's what?"

Jason then explained, for all the Susquehanna Valley to hear, how he's been listening to me speaking on air accompanied by this weird, regular clicking sound - a sound that only seemed to happen during my banter, and nobody else's. This has been going on for a long time, and it was only just now that he was able to reach the station in time to witness my show in person, and thus determine the source of this clicking.

So what was the source? I'll tell you: a nervous tick where I kept repeatedly picking up and dropping my pen on the control desk as I spoke. I had no idea this was happening. Now, suddenly, I did. Well, too late to change it up now. I doubt history will remember my college radio personality, but if it does, it could be succinctly described as "annoying pen-dropping blatherskite."

October 3, 2017 : Rich

Senior year in college Rich - a friend who already graduated but was in town visiting - gave me a cassette to borrow. It was by this new band called Mr. Bungle. He said I might like this sort of thing. I'll be perfectly frank: I wasn't inspired by the band name nor the picture on the cover and thus never even popped the thing into my tape deck.

Rich was hanging around again many months later and I returned the untouched cassette. He asked what I thought. Too embarrassed to admit I never heard note one of it I said, "Cool stuff, man," or something vague like that.

A month later I was hanging out at the radio station checking out the latest batch of CDs that came in. One of them was that same Mr. Bungle record. "Oh yeah this thing," I thought as I gave the cover a closer inspection. A glance at the liner notes revealed very long song lengths - which always piques the curiosity of nerdy music listeners. Then the name John Zorn popped out of the credits. I was already familiar with Zorn's work at this point, and his stamp of approval was also intriguing.

So I grabbed some headphones, and gave the thing a spin for once. Holy crap.

Of course over 20 years later fate would have it I'm playing music regularly with members of Bungle and Zorn himself. It really is a small world.

Rich would have really gotten a kick out of catching me play with these guys, but I haven't seen him since that last visit when I gave him the tape back and lied about listening to it. Because shortly after that Rich was randomly killed in a shooting spree.

September 26, 2017 : Comfortable Seat

Jenya and I enjoyed a couple days off exploring France together before heading home. However, our flight back was cancelled due to a strike. This is a common thing in France. Many long and expensive international calls later I had a ticket for the following day.

Planes were coming and going in and out of Charles de Gaulle, but there was almost zero staff to assist in the airport. Jenya and I arrived 5 hours early, and due to long confusing lines and general chaos we only made it to our gate in time for everybody to just go ahead and board in no particular order. This lack of organization led to delays.

Our replacement flight path had us going through JFK. Upon landing we ony had two hours to obtain our luggage, go through customs, re-check our bags and run to the next gate for the domestic leg. Fair enough, except (a) about three other flights were landing around the same time with all passengers going through the same process, and (b) I was travelling with a keyboard flight case which predictably will be the last thing to appear at oversized baggage.

Panic slowly set in as we waited and waited for my keyboard. I tried not to be a whiny twerp when asking one random aiport employee when and where the large baggage would eventually appear. The giant case finally showed up, but we had only 30 minutes before our next flight took off.

Miraculously the aforementioned employee appeared again and saw me struggling with my belongings while trying to find the end of the line of many hundreds of people waiting to go through customs. Without a word he waved Jenya and I over and then led us to the front of the crowd and let us cut ahead of everybody. And nobody complained about our special treatment. Wow.

We officially reentered the U.S. and then had to wait in a short line to recheck our bags. The person behind the counter wasn't convinced we would make our flight and was reluctant to check anything in, but after minor pleading they grudgingly tagged our stuff and we rushed to the security line.

The thing about New Yorkers is that if you're not a wimp or an asshole they're actually willing to be helpful. And so they all let us cut in line yet again to ensure quick passage through. The same cannot be said about TSA agents who, as per their job requirements, squelch any natural impulse to be useful, efficient, or even remotely sympathetic.

This became clear as I pulled out my boarding pass and passport for the agant who simply ignored me and walked away. He went over to another agent and they exchanged what seemed like, from a distance, pointless small talk during a shift change. This other agent was reluctant to get to work, but after a minute she arrived at her station. Meanwhile Jenya was standing by and sending me silent good vibes to make sure I wouldn't explode with rage.

I presented my paperwork to this new agent as she sat in her chair, but then she held up her finger as if to say, "hold on." She stood up, and studied the chair for a while looking for the lever that adjusts the seat's height. She discovered said lever, raised it up a touch, and sat back down again.

I calmly took a breath and waved my papers towards her. And once more she raised her finger. She stood again, adjusted the seat for about 30 seconds, then sat down, wiggling her butt to convince herself that this, in fact, was the most comfortable form the chair could possibly take. My blood boiled, but I said nothing as she finally scanned our passes and ID's and let us through.

After our bags got zapped I got selected for random advanced screening. For a few minutes they took a closer look at my sneakers.

Finally free from the TSA's clutches Jenya and I speed walked to our gate. We just barely made it, though I stank of anxiety/anger sweat.

September 19, 2017 : Mustard

Back in high school, my buddies were in a band called Mustard. Its previous names included: Fuzzy Green Thing, Head of Lettuce, and The Evil World of Dr. Shit.

Once our college careers started, they would still get together to jam and stuff. The lineup was always in flux. One summer, after some convincing, it came to pass that I would finally join their band, and as their lead singer. At this point it was Dave on drums, Evan on guitar, Eric on bass, sometimes James on guitar, and maybe Ethan on keyboards. And my dorky untrained vocalizations smeared like a think layer of cream cheese (with chives) all over the top.

They already had a bunch of doofy original tunes. Since I was still learning to sing at that time I liked the idea of cutting my vocal chords on this stuff, especially since I didn't write any of it (so who cares if I ruin it?). We even recorded a bunch of material in Dave's basement - all going live into an ancient mixing board and then into a cheap cassette deck.

Dave and I later spent a whole evening "mastering" these recordings (basically going from one cassette deck to another with my Quadreverb in the middle to clean things up best I could with my novice ears and shitty gear). Once finished, we found the rest of the guys and many other friends had went to some party with informing us. Somewhat dejected we spent the wee hours sitting on the hood of Dave's car parked by the reservoir and eating a pack of Klondike bars. In any event, we had a finished demo tape!

Now what?

A few weeks of being a lead singer in a band, and then the dream was over due to lack of plan and everybody going back to their different colleges. Because of conflicting academic schedules and whatever, the band pretty much fizzled out immediately. Until..

Years later Dave and I ended up at attending Binghamton University, and we convinced Evan to come up and play a Mustard reunion show on campus. I sang and played the bass (since Eric didn't want to do it). At least this material finally got to reach a few ears. Some might argue whether or not that's a good thing.

September 12, 2017 : Tripod

On a Sunday drive down the coast Jenya and I were approaching Big Sur. We pulled off at one turnoff which promised some fun scrambles down to the water where we could commune with the giant rocks and waves. Unlike usual this vista point was fairly unoccupied. Except for us there was only a pickup with Alabama plates. Its occupants were two young couples who already headed down the sandy paths.

Jenya and I took our time and checked out the vistas at various forks at we descended towards the ocean. Off the main trail we spotted a tripod, seemingly left behind like a gift from god. This was oddly fortuitous as Jenya brought incredible camera gear to capture some sights today, but forgot to bring a tripod. Score!

But as we picked it up one of the Alabamans on the rocks below waved at us and shouted something unintelligible. It was clear from their body language this was their tripod. I guess they temporarily left it there semi hidden as to keep their hands free for more tricky maneuvers. Fair enough. We dropped it and continued on our way.

As we appoached the water one of the others collected the tripod, perhaps to keep it safe from future thieves, and brought it closer to where they were hanging out on a rocky perch right by the ocean splashing below. Jenya and I explored elsewhere until the Alabamans made themselves scarce.

Now alone, we went up to that same perch to check out the view. Ah, coastal California is sure beautiful. And ha ha look - those kids accidentally left the tripod behind. Idiots. They were out of sight now, so should we just take it?

We did, in the hopes they would realize their mistake and return for it by the time we got back up to the road, thus saving them the scramble down to retrieve it. But they didn't. Now what?

Not wanting to wait around, we not only left the tripod there in the turnoff but set it up so they could see it clearly if they came back. We imagined their happy faces as they return and find it just standing there waiting for them. Already we felt cleansed by a shower of good karma.

We continued on our free form adventure, watching the sun set from the coast further south, and then slowly working our way back north. As we did we passed the earlier turnout, and lo and behold - the Alabama truck was parked there! Jenya and I cheered. They came back for their abandoned tripod!

Should we stop, turn around, and say hey to those kids and let them know we left it there? A hero's welcome would be nice, but here's the thing - we drove by too fast and I didn't really see any signs of that tripod outside by their truck. Did they already get it and pack it away? Or.. did somebody else snag it and now were they scrambling down to the shore hunting for it in the fading twilight? Hmm.

I wasn't sure I wanted to deal with the outcome if we did in fact screw them over by making the tripod so obvious and available to others driving by. But we were trying to help the Alabamans! And should I feel guilty about anything? It's not our fault they fucked up and left it behind. I mean, for a while there we were thinking of just keeping it for ourselves.

But we had to know: Did they get their tripod back? Or not?

Ultimately I realized the beauty in not knowing. Sometimes closure is a form of narcisstic gluttony. How many times every day do our actions - postive and negative, active and passive - affect fellow humans, usually insignificantly, but possibly in deeper ways we could never conceive? Every move, every decision we make results in an infinite series of what-if's. So why should the outcome of the tripod be so important?

We didn't stop - we kept driving home.

September 5, 2017 : German Dismount

Tour dismounts are always somewhat awkward. After weeks/months of traveling with a small group of people - a wolf pack pursuing the same goals and constanly living in the moment - you become clouded by the reality the group will soon disband and enter completely separate adult realities. Here's an example, from the end of the Mumble & Peg German tour of 1999. This time the wolf pack was the band (me, Jenya, and Erik) and our driver/tour manager Holger.

Our final show was a Saturday night in Singwitz. This town is so small it isn't on maps or roadsigns and is usually referred to as "Bei Bautzen" as it's by the town of Bautzen. Oddly enough this show also had our biggest guarantee.

Since the maps were no help, it was hard to find the place. The sheer nothingness of this town was rather disturbing, especially as we approached it the houses were either nonexistent or under construction. Feeling lost, we nearly wet ourselves when we saw four big piles of rocks right next to the road (this is a Blair Witch Project reference). The club itself was a huge nondescript structure completely shrouded by corrugated metal.

How pleasantly surprised we were when we entered and there was a lovely stage, a good sound system, many nice tables and chairs. There was even a clean green room, but not a lot of food. Once again Jenya and I took a pre-show walk. The street ended in more construction and up a hill. A beautiful sunset over wind blown fields of tall grass. On the walk back it got real dark and frightening. This was diffused when some guy pulled up and asked us for directions. In broken German Jenya described the road ahead would eventually end in an impasse. The man then said the German equivalent of "shit."

This ended up being one of our best shows. Maybe it was the relief from being at the end of this long tour. Maybe it was the fact the sound was good and quiet so we could hear what everyone was doing. Maybe it was because it seemed like the entire population of this town actually showed up and were amazingly enthusiastic. We had many encores, the final of which was Erik doing a solo rendition of his new song which would eventually become "Paddock."

Torsten (our German booking agent) and Arne (our German record label guy) were to come to this show and send us off in grand fashion, but Arne couldn't make it after all. Torsten did come, of course, since we had all his borrowed equipment and Holger had all the tour money. As we wound down Holger and Torsten went over all their books and everything was in order. Holger handed us a fat wad of cash for all the t-shirts and records we sold. Awright!

So now all that was left was to get on a plane back to the U.S. on Monday morning. However, we needed to drive as many as 800 kilometers to get from Amsterdam from here. So we decided to drive through the night to Holger's place in Muenster.

But here's the thing: Holger had serious food poisoning, probably from a funky bratwurst. He was puking all last night, and hadn't eaten all day. He was feeling better, but still not 100%. Jenya actually took over the driving - she had previous Euro road experience and could read the German highway signs. I sat in the front seat, wide awake. I can't sleep in cars unlessly painfully hungover.

This coincided with the worst storm of the tour. So there Jenya was, driving all night through rain and lightning and thunder. Our heroine began crashing around 5:00am, and needed to rest. Holger was still in no condition to drive. Erik was unwilling to drive, as was I. So we stopped at a rest stop. Erik and Holger continued to sleep in the back. Jenya dozed right there in the driver's seat. I was stuck.

I killed time buying a hot chocolate from a vending machine and looking at all the weird candy and trinkets in the rest stop shop. Eventually had to pee out the liquid. That killed a couple of minutes. Walked back and forth and back and forth. Bought a gumball. I kept checking on Jenya every half hour which pissed her off as she just wanted to sleep.

Two hours later we were back on the road again. I got a spot in the back and tried to sleep but couldn't. Ugh. We arrived in Muenster around noontime. It was like returning home, being back at Holger's pad which we stayed at during the first days of this journey. Reunited with his cute cat that drank directly out of the faucet. In a daze we all napped.

Got up as the sun was setting about five hours later. Ugh. Holger and us went to the supermarket to get groceries with which to make our final real meal together. Mostly an egg and sausage concoction. Went back to the pad, cooked it up, and ate it up. Oh yeah.

Repacked all our musical equipment in airport check-in formation. We didn't sell as much of the t-shirts as we had hoped. Yet we had 1000 marks' worth of records and multiple bottles of afri-cola to take back. So there was lots of cramming.

To the airport! Our flight was early in the morning, but it made sense to leave tonight and just stay up the in the airport as opposed to trying to get back to sleep now and get up early and drive through morning traffic. Oy. So we left Muenster around 11:00pm and headed to the Amsterdam airport.

The drive was oddly exhilarating.. The sense that our long travels were reaching a final coda. The cool, dark night air. Or maybe the blasting techno music Holger pulled out at this late hour. Once again, I didn't sleep during the ride.

Holger parked and joined us for the first hour or so in the airport. It was now 2:00am. Our flight left at 7:00am. We all bought token meals at the airport McDonald's. Same old sugar beef no matter what country you're in. Quaint chat about what's next in our lives on our respective sides of the planet.

The meal was done, the hour was late, and the conversation was drying up, and so Holger chose this moment to exchange farewells. He said, "I really don't like long goodbyes." And so we fulfilled his wish, shook hands, waved, and he disappeared.

Well, shit. Now we had about four hours to kill before getting on an eleven hour flight. We hit the café. I struggled to write in my journal but couldn't keep my thoughts straight. Browsed at some of the airport mall stores.

Around 4:30am we figured we might as well find where we were supposed to check our luggage in. I was kinda nervous anyway about our check-ins being overweight and wanted to get this over with. We were quite shocked to find that hundreds of people were already waiting at the MartinAir lines. Of course, we picked the slowest of six queues.

When we reached the front they weighed the pieces that would actually fit through their check-in entryway. I think we were a couple pounds over but they didn't bother to charge us for it - not worth the trouble. The remaining pieces, like my bass guitar, keyboard, Erik's guitar and Jenya's drum case had to be brought to the over-sized check-in area.

Erik and I dealt with this. We placed the pieces on the conveyor belt, which suddenly began moving, carrying the objects towards the gateway into the void. Eight feet later the belt stopped. This wasn't cool since my our cases were on the thin sides (i.e. ready to topple over any second) and we didn't have a chance to lower their center of gravity before they were dragged out of our reach. Erik took it upon himself to climb up on the conveyor to reposition the cases on their flatter sides.

Then the conveyor started again. Two attendants were there, but neither seemed to have control of anything. Anyway, Erik nearly fell over on his ass, as he was standing on it when it began moving again. And then the gateway opened, revealing a long, steep passageway heading downward into hell. Erik lept off the conveyor for dear life, no sooner than the drum case, positioned perpendicular to the momentum, entered the cave and began tumbling down the slope with alarming speed. I could only stand and stare and watch it accelerate. The gateway closed before I could see its final resting place hundreds of yards in the distance.

We complained to the staff but due to colossal indifference on their part not much could be done except hope everything was okay and wait to see how it ended up upon arrival. Great.

Now we had two more hours to kill. I wrenched my brain to stay awake. We found our way to the gate. Jenya had the right idea - she crashed to sleep on the ground. Despite having more or less been up two days straight I felt I should force myself to stay up so I might have the chance of sleeping on the plane.

Finally boarded the aircraft - the tiny tube that would contain me for half a solar day. Erik sat in a different aisle away from Jenya and I, which allowed us all the get extra seats to stretch out a bit. This didn't help. My ass already hurt from sitting around the airport. I braced myself for a hellish eternity of forgetful movies and food that was both bland and scary. We took off without incident.

And I couldn't sleep the entire trip. Hell. I did nothing but stare and wait and pray for distraction. There was very little of that. A couple trips to the bathroom. Two meals. A conversation with same weird dude, also from Oakland, who was a old-school rock n' roller. The only pleasing part of the entire trip was the clear skies over Greenland, seeing massive, cold, blank hills where nothing green could grow, eventually to be enveloped in solid ice which evolved into a jigsaw puzzle of icebergs floating in the clear ocean. Impressive.

To break up the journey the crew came around to hand out some yummy-looking pop tarts. However warm and inviting, Jenya and I nearly barfed when we found the tarts to be filled with runny, unidentifiable meat.

Watched the little monitor and the animated plane advancing one pixel every five minutes as we headed down over Canada - lots of farms in huge, square lots, each one slightly different shade of clay. Suddenly the northern Rockies exploded up from the earth. I was so happy to see Montana beneath me. I was effectively back in America.

Two hours later we approached the airport and landed soundly. Going through customs in Oakland was hardly as exciting as in Amsterdam. And it took a shitload longer, if only because our luggage was the last to arrive. We watched hundreds of people speed through customs with their bags, trunks, and even cages with live animals, all before we even saw any of our stuff.

Everything eventually arrived and seemed fine, except the drum case, as was no surprise. It had a giant dent in the side, and one of the castor wheels was completely useless, rendering it impossible to steer. Since we were the last through customs, the tired staff took once glance at our collective heap of crap, checked our passports and waved us through.

Jenya ended up complaining to MartinAir about this, but they made it impossible for us to do anything about it. Example: We had to bring this drum case to a registered luggage expert for an estimate of the damage. Fucking whatever.

Virginia arrived in Jenya's car. Hooray! We threw all our shit in, and headed back to their house where my car was parked this entire time. It needed a jump to get started and then I headed home.

Due to time zone difference, it was still only noon. For the record, I now was awake 62 of the last 67 hours, and still considering staying awake until night fell to help me get back on schedule. Jenya was smart and had a little nap. Not me. I talked to housemates, hallucinated while taking a long shower, watched "Naked Lunch" on video, ate dinner, and finally.. finally.. Zzzzzzzzz.zz..zz...

August 29, 2017 : Coincidence

Dave, Evan, and I were all back in Rockland on break visiting from our respective colleges. We took a jaunt into Manhattan for the day. Right outside Tower Records Evan ran into a classmate from Plattsburg. A few blocks later Dave bumped into a friend from Cornell. While tooling around Chinatown a girl from my dorm in Binghamton spotted me and we chatted for a bit.

The three of us decided that it would now be a good idea to serendipitously run into somebody we all knew in common. An hour later we turned a corner and bumped into our old high school pal Mike. We haven't seen him since graduation.

August 22, 2017 : First MoeTar Gig

Here's the story about MoeTar's first gig on May 17th, 2009. There's a legendary annual 12K footrace in San Francisco called Bay to Breakers, and we got to perform on one of the stages towards the finish line in Golden Gate park. By "stage" I mean the side of the road as joggers passed by, mostly costumed.

The race starts at 8am, so I got up at 5am to load my gear into the car and beat traffic going into the city. I found myself at the park entrance on Fulton @ 43rd around 6:30am. Tarik and Moorea were already there setting up the generator and whatnot.

There were already signs it would be a blazing hot morning, and we'll be in direct sun. But I brought a hat. Matt showed up all sleepy and set up as well. He had 6-7 hours of private guitar lessons facing him when he gets home after this, and he played a late show last night. Oy. Dave arrived - we all somehow managed to figure out the parking/pass situation and got a place to keep our vehicles not too far away during the gig.

We snacked on the various vittles Moe and Tar brought. Nearby people were starting up a tai chi group and doing their strange meditative yoga when Tarik had to fire up the load ass generator nearby. I joked (only within earshot of the band), "relax through this!" which became the catch phrase of the day.

Suddenly it's 8:28am and the real runners who began the race all the way on the other side of the city were already passing us near the finish line. I guess that was our cue to start, and we did. It all began well enough, and felt/sounded pretty good considering the early downbeat. The parade of crazily clad runners began to flow down the road, some stopping to check us out. Cool.

During "Screed" Dave and Tarik and Matt were getting all weirded out about something and began fading out mid-song. What the hell? I had no idea what was up until I realized some older runner totally fainted right in front of our performance area due to heat exhaustion, and here we were playing our loudest/darkest song of evil.

Medics appeared quickly and the guy seemed okay, but we were kinda forced to stop playing for like a half hour as it took a while for the dude to get off his ass. Eventually an ambulance came and cleared him out. How that's for a first gig story? Our music physically harms people! I felt bad for the guy of course but during that episode literally thousands of people jogged by without getting to hear us play.

Back to it, we ran another set's worth of material, took a short break, ran the same set again, took another short break, and ran the set once more. Talk about good practice - running all our songs live three times in a row, and those who had the chance to witness our musical offerings generally seemed to dig it.

By 11:30pm the race is basically over and now it's just a city-wide party. The authorities diverted the remaining racers out of the park. I mean, everybody had 3.5 hours already to run a 12K - y'all had your chance to finish now scram! Less people in the park made loading out super easy. However escaping SF was difficult. I feared the highway so I took surface streets, which was super painful going through the Haight as errant runners were still out in droves and quite drunk at such an early hour. However the costumes were entertaining.

August 15, 2017 : Manta Rays

My first trip to Hawaii was for a bioastronomy conference on the Big Island. Several colleagues and I rented a big house on the Kona side with magical reefs right in our backyard. Jenya came along and of course there was more snorkeling and exploring than anything else.

Just north of our house was a hotel where, at night, they would shine a light on the water which would attract plankton which in turn would attract manta rays. How glorious! However this gave a few of my workmates the bright idea to attempt this ourselves.

The vague plan: put a flashlight in a water-tight jar and then swim out on the same beach and see if we could draw enough plankton to ourselves and then party with some manta rays. I don't think any of us really thought this would work, but it was fun to try.

Given the late hour, the tide was pretty rough. I'm a horrible swimmer, so once on the beach I felt a bit wary about this endeavor. Nevertheless my workmates splashed right into the ocean, then Jenya, and then finally myself.

About 100 yards out I already lost sight of the group with the flashlight and the waves were battling me pretty hard. Jenya lagged behind the pack only to make sure I was okay. But I wasn't. The dark cloudy skies made it impossible to differentiate what was ocean or sky, and this, for me, was too close to a very common nightmare theme: suddenly finding myself submerged in an endless lake because everything was so similarly gray or dark that I couldn't tell where the road ends and the water begins.

Okay fuck this bullshit. The flight response kicked into high gear. In primal survivor mode I used all my remaining energy to force myself back to shore. I honestly had no idea what direction I was heading. I could have been going further out to sea for all I knew.

I splashed and flailed like a madman for some small eternity when suddenly I felt this scratching at my chest. Oh - I'm dragging myself across sand. I was so out of my head having a panic attack that I had no idea I was already back at the beach and could've been standing in the shallow water for the past minute.

With my last remaining shred of energy I crawled as far away from the evil ocean as possible and collapsed, all my limb muscles seized with cramps. Basically I wasn't far from drowning in two feet of water.

Poor Jenya, desperately worried about me, emerged from the waves shortly thereafter and lied beside me as I regained my humanity. The others didn't linger too long out there. It was an expected bust. So nobody got to hang out with manta rays tonight.

August 8, 2017 : Second Life

A year or two after Second Life launched a colleague at work showed it to me. How creepy and fascinating! Later that night I told Jenya about it, and soon we were sitting at our computers in separate rooms making our own avatars and exploring this new world.

After learning the ropes on one of the beginner islands we transported to another locale and marveled what became of this place so quickly during its scant existence. There was already a thriving economy, and thus random people were trying to sell us stuff: bling to liven up our appearance, dance moves (avatars come with a small set of possible motions beyond basic walking and flight), and invitations to parties. And if we weren't getting hassled for money, we were getting bullied since we were clearly newbies.

So we went back to the beginner island to hang out. Others, like us, were still learning the ropes of basic locomotion. You'd find fields where people stood motionless for long stretches of time as their human spirits struggled to figure out the correct key sequences to walk or talk. Once in a while one person would suddenly lurch forward and bump into somebody else.

It was so awkward and pathetic I couldn't help but jump into the middle of one such pack of neophyte zombies and start dancing. Somebody within earshot said, "what's up with this guy?"

A fellow newbie came forward and joined my solo dance party. She said hello and asked where I was from. I assumed 99% of everybody here was likely from the Bay Area so I kept it slightly vague by saying California. She said she was from the Czech Republic.

That's cool, if true. I asked, "You know the band Už Jsme Doma?"

She asked, "You know Czech?!"

I apologized and said I didn't, but still this led to a conversation about how weird this place was. This was in the very early days of social networking, so we both found it odd how we could exist at the same time and place in this other magical world as fake people, while in mundane reality we were regular people on other sides of a brutally ordinary planet.

Jenya and I had our fill of this Second Life pretty quick. An enjoyable little excursion, but not without feeling a little bit gross about every aspect of it.

A couple years later I bought an new iMac and wanted to test its state of the art computing, graphics, and network powers. I remembered Second Life and how that could stress all the above. So I installed it, and sure enough my avatar was still in the database. Once I logged in I reappeared exactly where I left off.

In the meantime this other world got even sadder. People's bodies and clothing were extravagant to the point of being utterly ridiculous. As I walked past them they actually made fun of me for being so normal. Fuck these assholes.

One feature of this alternate reality is that you can always add more land, and these parcels came in the form of islands. I teleported to random distant places, but found them to be all private and therefore unexplorable. How frustrating. And lonely.

So I looked for a public island that at least had some people on it and went there. It seemed like a normal place. Tropical. Modern architecture homes. I landed on a remote side, and walked around the beach to where the people were at.

As I walked up I noticed it was a couple - a man and a woman - sitting on a bench, in an embrace, and kissing.

At that moment my real land line rang. As I tended to this call my avatar on the screen stood there, completely motionless, staring at the couple.

When I returned to my computer I realized how impolite my avatar form was being, but before I turned to leave the man on the bench asked his lover, "Why is this guy watching us?"

I was about to apologize when he continued, "What a loser."

Then she followed up with, "Yeah some people should really get a life."

At that moment I hit the quit button, my character vaporized before their eyes, and I never returned to that world again.

August 1, 2017 : Gas Pump

Jenya and I journeyed around New Zealand for a couple weeks in a van retrofitted to contain a bunk with room for two. This was an incredibly easy and flexible way to explore to islands, and it seemed the highway mostly contained similar vehicles from multiple outfitters.

At one gas stop we took the opportunity to inventory our foodstuffs and ice supply in the cooler. While I gassed up and cleaned the windshields Jenya opened the rear hatch, unpacked everything, and took stock of our supply situation.

Meanwhile, another camper van pulled up at the next pump. Two young women got out. They spoke to each in German. I though nothing of them until I saw one fighting with the pump nozzle. She yanked it out of their van and gas was still flowing out and onto the ground. Jesus.

Clearly confused and panicked she wasn't sure what to do. Her best split second decision was to spin around as fast as humanly possible and put the nozzle back into the pump holster. But here's the thing - she not only spun in our direction, but also inexplicably aimed as high as possible.

She missed me but poor Jenya, who was facing away this whole time and completely unaware, got sprayed. As did all our food. And the inside of our cooler. And some of the exposed interior of our van, including the edge of our bunk. Jenya said, "woo!" in a playful tone as if she just got spritzed with cold water but I then said, "honey, you just got nailed with gasoline."

Jenya went to deal with her clothes in the station bathroom. I stood there in anger before dealing with the mess. "Did we get you?" one of the Germans asked.

"Yes, you GOT us!" I snapped back.

"It is not my fault - the pump would not stop," she whined in an infuriating blameless defense.

"But you aimed IT RIGHT AT US!" I yelled.

I was seeing red and couldn't engage with them anymore. They never apologized. They never offered to help. They just left the nozzle, no longer spewing gas, on the ground, and fled the scene.

We spent the next hour cleaning up best we could. The station attendant helped us out once she realized what happened. Ultimately Jenya's clothes were ruined, we lost about $70 worth of food, and the van stank of gas for a day or so.

Back on the road we made it to the next big town to get lunch and figure out our updated schedule since we got derailed a bit. Given the few towns and highways it was no surprise that we saw the offending Germans' van parked in a nearby lot. Ever fiber of my being wanted to jab my knife into all their tires. Jenya talked me down. The rest of the vacation was much better.

July 25, 2017 : Substitute

Some of my strongest memories of high school were of the substitute teachers, maybe because their infrequent presences break up the monotonous fog of vague recollections. Plus I always felt sympathetic kinship how they did their best to maintain order when clearly they were out of their element - which describes most of my academic career. I only remember one of their names offhand - Ms. Spitz. But that's because she was the mom of Danny Spitz from the band Anthrax, and she was quite proud of her son.

Anyway there was one jerkoff substitute who crossed my path only once, but he made quite an impression. He showed up at my sophomore year social studies class. Upon realizing the regular teacher was out sick day we teenagers began to relax, but the substitute quickly made it clear he meant business. He had the lesson plan for the day, and everybody needed to shut up, listen, and get right to work.

However the notes the regular teacher left behind were a bit cryptic. Still he read them out loud like gospel despite making no sense. Were they page numbers? Chapter numbers? Which book? Were there any actual tasks spelled out?

Lover of puzzles, I quickly deciphered what our real teacher meant for us to do. The kid sitting behind me asked what the deal was. I turned to clue him in when the substitute screeched "Hey you!"

Shocked by the loud words I began scanning the room to see which of the usual troublemakers were getting yelled at. It took a moment, but I eventually realized he was snapping at me. Wait. What? I'm pretty sure the expression on my face read, "No no no you got it wrong. I'm Matt Lebofsky. I'm an uptight nerd. This must be some mistake."

Now facing him he continued, "You're think it's okay to talk to your friends whenever you want." The rest of the class were in ecstatic awe that I was the target of this outrage and accusation, and not one of those from the expected set of fuckups.

I tried to explain, saying "But I was just.."

"Hey," he interrupted, "Maybe you should just wait outside."

I never quite understood the "wait outside" punishment, especially having never been on the receiving end. Is it all about the walk of shame in front of the class as you aim for the door? And then what's the protocol? Just stand there in the hallway and anxiously wait to be let back in for more public humiliation?

I made a brisk, quiet exit to reduce drama. As I angrily moped in the hallway I saw down the corridor two of the aforementioned fuckups at the other end. They were cutting class, and spotted me in my banished state. I heard one tell the other, "Lebofsky's in trouble? No way!" They waved me over.

Every teenager needs at least one "fuck this" moment in their life, and this was among my first. The substitue dude was clearly a stupid misanthrope and thus shouldn't have any power over me. So, fuggit. I abandoned the scene and caught up with the other kids. I told them what happened which confirmed their wise choice to skip class today.

We went to a random study hall in the cafeteria, monitored by chemistry teacher Mr. Clancy. Me and Mr. Clancy went back a long ways - he's actually the person who got me into computer programming and fostered my hacker ways since age 7. I offered him some weird excuse as to why I was in this study hall today for the first time ever, and he seemed to buy it because I'm such a good kid.

The period ended without much further ado. But, uh oh, my books and stuff were abandoned during my earlier escape. Somehow I managed to return to the scene of the crime and get the attention of a friend, Mike, as he left the classroom. I asked him to sneak back in and grab my books and jacket, and he successfully complied.

As we walked to the next period together Mike told me what I missed: after I was excommunicated the evil substitute eventually went to retrieve me. Seeing I fled he cried out, "he's gone!" and the whole room erupted into loud cheering due to my unexpected but righteous disobedience. In a humilated tizzy he then rifled through all my belongings to get more information about who I was (he hadn't yet taken attendance and the class had my back by not revealing my identity). When he found my name scribbled in a notebook he apparently chuckled to himself, as if he discovered some achilles heel.

So.. later that morning I had chemistry with Mr. Clancy. That went along normally for fifteen minutes. Then there was a knock on the closed door. Mr. Clancy poked his head outside, had some words with whomever was in the hall, and then, after putting two and two together, grimaced and turned toward my seat, saying through clenched teeth, "there's somebody here to see you, Matt!"

Okay here we go. Time to be a man and face the music. Into the hall again for me. And out there was the fucking dipshit substitute guy. And he had this smug ass grin on his face. "I know who you are," he started. I had no reply to that, so he continued, "You're Dr. Lebofsky's kid."

You see (as mentioned in previous stories) my dad was a teacher and the head of the science department at my high school. So that was the big ace of his stupid sleeve. And he grinned like he was unearthing some juicy gossip - like I'm the bad boy son of a beloved professor. I'm the rotten apple. I'm the family secret. The reality, of course, was simply that the substitute was an asshole.

Before I could even say word one he started laying into me about how I must think I can get away with everything because of my father, etc. as if I'm some spoiled brat. I countered that his behavior was unreasonable and undeserved, as I never meant any disrespect. And to prove that to himself he should look at my squeaky clean record.

Anyway, he had nothing on me. Especially as it seems he actually seemed to fear retaliation from my powerful family. Whatever, dude. So what remained is that he got to act like a big man to a 15 year old twerp. Good for you, shitstain. Eventually he let me be, and I went back into class without much ado.

The next day I bumped into Mr. Clancy before homeroom. He asked if I told my father yet about yesterday's transgressions. I said I hadn't, and he mentioned, "it would be prudent that you do."

I think I did, like, five years later. Maybe.

July 18, 2017 : Hero

Growing up in suburban New York, my older brother Ben had a job during high school working at Roy Rogers. He would drive himself there in a beat up old Chevy Malibu. Being three years his junior, this autonomy and responsibility seemed so adult to me.

One night I was home alone when Ben called from work in a complete panic. He got right to the point: A car flew off the main road near the restaurant and landed on the hood of the parked Chevy. He colorfully described the scene - there were police, there were bystanders, it's total chaos. Having never dealt with this brand of crisis he wasn't sure what he needed and mentioned the car title, registration, and other car-related paperwork might be somewhere in the house.

I stepped up to the plate and dealt with the situation, proving I could be a big boy, too. I quickly found all Malibu-related documentation in my father's desk. I hopped on my shitty bicycle and hit the road. For some reason I thought this would be the fastest/easiest solution, rather than calling an adult with a vehicle. Besides I can do this all myself!

I pedaled faster than I ever had before. The trek from New City to Nanuet was about 5 miles, mostly uphill. I was in okay shape back then, but still I found myself having to pause from time to time to catch my breath. The haul up McCarthy Way was always a killer. The dangerous passage down Route 304 was no picnic either. I powered through nausea and dehydration.

I arrived to the scene of the crime and.. there were no police or crowds or news helicopters or anything. In fact, Ben's car - which I imagined was a crumpled heap of metal and possibly still on fire - was parked right outside and looked just fine. What the hell?

I stumbled into the Roy Rogers and Ben caught a glimpse of my sweaty, green face. He smiled in surprise, amazed that I actually showed up. Turns out he didn't really need any of that paperwork. And the incident wasn't nearly as dire as I imagined given his earlier poetic descriptions and harried tone. He wasn't lying - a car did steer off the main road but didn't really land on his car as much as kiss the hood.

So basically I thought I was taking the most heroic bicycle journey ever. Meanwhile the police dealt with the situation, the offending car got towed, and everything went pretty much back to normal.

Ben, feeling guilty, hooked me up with a free soda. I sat for a moment and slurped it down, but then without much ado went outside, picked up my bicycle, and slowly worked my way back home.

July 11, 2017 : Dolphins

Jenya and I were vacationing on the Big Island in Hawaii. We rented snorkels and fins for the week. These were handy when we went to Kealakekua Bay to commune with dolphins.

As per the recommendation of many, we got up ridiculously early to get to the small beach at the edge of the bay and quickly jumped into the waves. The wisdom is that the dolphins are more likely to be hanging out in the morning. Already people in kayaks were assembled far from shore. They must know something - we aimed for them.

It was an easy swim, but far. I would rest occasionally by floating face down in the water. Through my foggy mask I observed the ocean floor below dropping precipitously as the waves pulled us further out. Eventually the depths beneath me seemed limitless.

Over a half mile later, maybe even a mile, we were amongst the kayakers. And the dolphins! There were shouts of excitement from all us humans, especially as one pair crested in perfect syncronicity a dozen yards away. I didn't see much of them from an underwater perspective, but so be it. Anyway - yay, sea mammals!

Given the ease thus far, the return to shore was unexpectedly difficult. We were fighting the waves the whole time, trying to swim under them as much as possible. The current also pushed us to the north part of the Bay, which contained coral that was beautiful but also sharp and hazardous. It felt pretty sketchy there for a minute or ten.

Exhausted we finally landed on the sand. In triumph Jenya ripped the gear off her face. But the ocean wasn't done with us yet - a wave came from behind and knocked her off balance enough that she dropped her snorkel and mask, and in an instant they sucked away. We splashed around to no avail. That shit's gone. Damn.

Oh well. We quickly resigned ourselves to pay the extra $50 or whatever to the rental shop, writing it off as part of the adventure. We dried ourselves and gathered our belongings.

We were seconds from leaving when a wave crashed on the beach, leaving us a gift: Jenya's mask and snorkel. Holy crap! I leapt onto them before they could escape again. I fought off another wave which tried to steal them back. But I remained in possession of these items, and we cheered in victory.

July 4, 2017 : Communism

Instead of a line at the downtown Berkeley post office, you have to get a number from the ticket machine. As I entered a man was storming out. He handed me his ticket, saying they were just about to call that number, but he waited too long already and had to leave.

I thanked him, but I was only there to get stamps from the vending machine. Since I didn't need to wait for service this precious low-number ticket was useless to me. But instead of giving it away to one lucky individual I made the executive decision to throw it out. That way everybody waiting will get served equally sooner. I guess I am a communist at heart.

June 27, 2017 : Rolling

That tour I did with Faun Fables had some routing issues. For example there were no gigs between Tucson and Atlanta - but at least we had 60 hours between shows to drive there. However we were traveling in a Minnie Winnie that maxed out at like 55 miles per hour (on flat roads). So we had to pretty much remain in constant motion on the highway for the epic trek east.

I had one of the night shifts, fighting to stay awake in the dark silence of the RV as Dawn, Nils, and Jenya snoozed on the bunks. I needed a break to counter the monotony of these southern highways that lulled me toward sleep. A rest stop appeared and I pulled over. I got out to stretch and get some air. Eventually I was drawn to the light emerging from the bathrooms like a moth to flame. I took a token leak and then got back on the road.

About 5 minutes later I panicked. I didn't check the bunks to make sure everybody was still on board. Most likely nobody else woke up during my brief respite a moment ago, but it may have been possible that one of the ladies went to use the facilities while I was in the Men's, and I simply drove away without them. Uh oh.

I wanted to yell out, "Is everybody here?" but also didn't want to needlessly wake them up if they were. My heart raced as I continued down the road. I finally reached the next exit and pulled into a gas station.

I popped out of the driver's seat and hurried to the back of the RV where me and Jenya shared a bunk. In the darkness I heard her breathing. I could also hear two sets of exhalations from the other bunk up front. Phew. We're all here.

I stood there calming myself down for a moment, staring out the window. I felt a little dizzy from the sleeplessness combined with that recent pang of panic. So it took a moment to register what was going on outside - it almost seemed as if the gas pumps were moving sideways. How odd.

Wait a second. The pumps aren't moving. WE are moving. Turns out in my haste I left the RV in neutral, and the whole vehicle was rolling backwards.

Fuck! I ran back to the front, jumped right into the driver's seat and slammed on the brake. This caused the whole Winnebago to stop instantly with a jolt, waking everybody up.

"Is everything okay?" Dawn asked. "Yeah," I answered, "Just stopping to fuel up. Sorry about that. Still getting used to the brake."

As I write this story down I realize I'm not sure if I ever admitted to everybody aboard that I let the whole RV roll out of control for about 30 feet at a gas station while miraculously not hitting anything. Now we all know.

June 20, 2017 : Invader

So after that showdown with a raccoon in the kitchen we sealed up the cat door for good. But how will our kitties get in and out of the house?

Turns out one of our back windows was near enough to a railing on the porch that any adept feline could hop onto the sill, negotiate through the bars, and force themselves through an entrance created by us sliding the glass pane over just enough that a cat would fit but a raccoon would not. The key was keeping this opening as small as possible. When the kitties would squeeze through it was like the outside was shitting cats into our bedroom.

However on one hot summer night we left the window wide open before going to bed. Around 1:45am we woke to quiet, bizarre warnings of feline aggression in our bedroom. At this point in our lives our main cats were Alexei and Olga, who had an entourage of stray cats that would also sneak into our house from time to time. I assumed there was some drama among the strays until the noises included some non-cat growling.

Shit. Jenya turned on the light and we found Alexei and Olga poised and staring underneath the white dresser in the corner. Jenya moved the dresser a little bit and discovered our visitor was a young raccoon, apparentally small, flexible, and smart enough to capitalize on tonight's larger entrance.

So what now? We shooed the cats away and waited outside the bedroom, observing through the cracked door. The invader emerged from behind the dresser, and stared at the window, obviously unable to figure out how to get back out. I brought a chair in from the kitchen and set it by the window thinking that maybe it'll figure out how to climb out - but it didn't.

Next plan: We opened the back door and then tried to shoo it out of the bedroom and hopefully it'll just mosey out that way. We got the broom and a mag lite and tried to coax it. It was scared and pissed and loudly snarled when the broom approached. Yikes. It fled under the bed and then behind the clothes basket in the closet. Shit! We moved the basket and it went back beneath the bed. Each such successive move found Jenya and I leaping around the room in our underwear avoiding the creature in case it attacked.

It continued to flee from station to station, growling and snorting and beginning to stink up our room. Should we call animal control? After looking through the phone book and finding no info we went back to the current plan. I became more aggressive, coaxing it with the broom as it snarled and ran for the bedroom door, but headed behind it. Now cornered, it tried climbing up Jenya's shoe rack. No!

We let it alone so it would go back to the other corner. Then I rearranged the entire bedroom to encourage ease of exit. It was definitely freaked out. Jenya ran interference while I really started thwacking towards it and it growled in fear and frustration. But finally, finally it scrambled towards the door and out. Jenya was in the kitchen to point out the door and just like that the raccoon was gone. Phew.

Now it was 2:15am and how could we possibly get back to sleep? I swept up a few tufts of coon fur and put the fan on to help alleviate the smell. Jenya and I wound down talking for a half hour in bed, soon joined by Alexei. He was always kind of an asshole, and now all riled up he began biting and swiping at Jenya's arm. He eventually went too far, and she had to get up to address a bad scratch.

Cursed animals!!

June 13, 2017 : Green-Eyed Monster

A few days ago an old friend, Ben, wrote me an e-mail. He was one of us seven dudes living in a big house together during my senior year at Binghamton. I haven't heard from him in almost 24 years!

His e-mail abruptly began with a humorous complaint that I didn't mention our band, Green-Eyed Monster, on my web site amongst other past musical projects. Well, it's not like that band has a following or a web site to link to, but nevertheless to regain some karma I'm gonna ramble a bit about the adventures of Green-Eyed Monster.

Given all the predictable antics you might expect from a dwelling resonating with young male energy, a house band would most certainly emerge like atoms bouncing randomly together to form a molecule. One night Joe and Ben and Rick were jamming, and I joined in, and that was pretty much that. One of the guys came up with the name "Green-Eyed Monster" and thus, now monikered, we were an official band.

It was incredibly low stress and low commitment and thus super fun. Joe and I, friends since sophomore year, already played together in Skankenstein and thus had a solid music rapport. We switched off on drums, lead guitar, bass, and lead vocals. Ben and Rick handled the remaining guitar/bass duties. Rick was also an event manager/booker on campus, so outside of playing shows in our own living room, we also got a few gigs at the campus pub. During the debut gig I had a terrible flu and performed with a 103 degree fever. That was rough.

I give major props to these guys as this was the first band to play my tunes, albeit silly ones, without any weird artistic tug-of-war. I wrote our eponymous theme song, as well as a rude tune about my hometown hangout called "The Nanuet Mall." It went something like: "There's one spot in Rockland which you much avoid - where people's mental problems would puzzle Siegmund Freud." I'm such a card!

Among our originals we had one fave, "Magenta," which I created the night before a gig after we realized we barely had enough material for one full set. It was a Smiths-like upbeat moper which I wrote and taught to the guys in like 30 minutes. It inexplicably had a bass solo. We ended up recording that song for a CD compilation of aesthetically dissimilar campus radio station-related bands.

For the most part we played shlocky or bizarre cover tunes, like "The Kiss" (by the Cure) to "Soup Song" (by Robert Wyatt) to "Tinman" (by America) to "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" (by the Clash). Rick, with his uncommonly high voice, nailed the lead vocals for "We Got the Beat" (by the Go-Gos). I also believe we were the first college band in Binghamton to cover "Smells Like Teen Spirit." We did so at a party at our own house, and the whole living room bounced up and down as roughly 40 people moshed with much vigor. I'm quite surprised the floor didn't collapse through to the basement, and frankly, I wish it had. That would have been really cool.

Given my plans to move elsewhere after college, there weren't any long term goals. So beyond that there's not much to tell. Except...

After settling in California, I visited Binghamton the following summer. All those guys were still at that same house, and we jammed in the basement just like the good old days. That night some of our other friends were playing at the Taz. Their band was called Psquelch. They rocked. After their set nothing else was going on, and Psquelch were kind enough to lend us their gear, so Green-Eyed Monster had an impromptu reunion show. What a blast! If I remember correctly, we only played four songs. The soundperson complimented my mic technique.

June 6, 2017 : Baskin Robbins

I mentioned it briefly in another story, but let's take a deeper dive into my teenage stint working in ice cream retail.

High school summer vacation meant increasing pressure from the parents to get a job. One lazy afternoon I stopped in the local Baskin Robbins to get a shake. The owner of the franchise, Rich, served me, and I broke through my usual shy nature to ask if he happened to be hiring. He wasn't, but asked me to fill out an application anyway. I gladly did so, and a few days later he called me in for an interview. I guess he liked my vast and varied qualifications.

I started at $3.75/hour which, believe it or not, happened to be above the current minimum wage. Of course, I also enjoyed the "hidden income" of free ice cream, a benefit which I believe the employees took advantage of a little too much, as evidenced by their horrible complexions and noticeable weight gain. Training involved watching one movie about the inside "scoop" on ice cream, and another about how to count change and treat customers with respect. I got my brown Baskin Robbins shirt and began my career as a glorified shovel.

The night after my first day on the job, my left foot broke for no good reason. Really. It just broke while descending a normal staircase. So I arrived for my second shift with a cast on, unable to walk without crutches. My dad came along to beg Rich to maintain my employment despite this unfortunate turn of events, and he was cool about it. So for the next three weeks I hopped around on my right foot. The height of the ice cream freezers concealed my injury from the customers, who in turn looked at me funny as I bounced on one leg back and forth between the ice cream bins and the cash register.

The kids who worked there were a friendly and motley bunch: Debbie the bubbly assistant manager, Lisa the suburbanite, Nicole the popular girl with sprayed hair, Jeff the Anthrax fan, Jamie the moron, Jason who made vodka milkshakes, Chris the deadhead, and Chris's half-sister Shari who was a fellow moody moon child. Shari and I would take turns acting like each other's therapists during slow late shifts.

Speaking of late shifts, I had to work many of those, even on weekends, which sucked once I started trying to get a life. There I stood, stuck at the goddamn store, a dork with braces and a face full of zits, covered and stinking of warm milkfat and fudge. I anxiously waited to serve the girls who were unwitting focuses of my crushes. I remainded at the ready to gift them double scoop waffle cones coated with rainbow sprinkles if they ever happened to swing by during their thrill-a-minute super-social Saturday nights, but you know what? They never came.

Instead I served the infinite crowds pouring out from the movie theatre down the way. The line would stretch out the door, and in a daze I'd dig and dig into the ice cream, all the time wondering why I even bothered. One night it got so busy I didn't realize I lacerated my thumb when changing out a large tub of vanilla. I only noticed when I handed a sundae topped with my fresh blood to a customer. Thank god they didn't notice as I pulled it away at the last second and made them a less sanguine version.

Winter was predictably much slower. One particularly snowy day found us free of customers and bored senseless. Jason took it upon himself to instigate a whipped cream fight. For a glorious few minutes this Baskin Robbins became a full-fledged combat zone. Fresh cans were dug from fridges or boxes and discharged with gleeful abandon. That is, until I noticed through the glass front door a horrified family - father, mother, daughter, son - huddling on the curb in fear and unwilling to enter. That was seriously awkward. They smartly took their business elsewhere (probably to the Haagen-Dasz across the way). I have no idea how we didn't get in trouble for that. Rich clearly gave us too much freedom and wasn't around enough to discourage such transgressions.

It wasn't all stupid kid stuff. I learned a tough lesson one night when a very stoned girl came to get a couple scoops to go, like $4 worth of ice cream. She handed me a $20 and then split in a daze, forgetting to wait for her change. I pocketed the $16 thinking, "sweet!" However later in the evening the phone rang. It was that girl wondering if she forgot to get her change. Presented with this moral dilemma I chose to lie and say there was no way to determine that after the fact. She then explained her boyfriend was really pissed, and now I felt terrible, but $16 was worth not changing my evil story. I justified my heartless greed but telling myself it wasn't my fault she spaced out and fucked up. Even then after we closed she suddenly showed up knocking at the locked door pleading that I count the money in the cash box and see if there's anything extra. I couldn't bear to guilt any longer, and so I went into the back out of view, dug the cash out of my back pocket and returned with the money which I handed to her. She was glowing with relief and thankful. I acted like a hero, but inside I felt like total shit. Still do writing about it now. And I ended up with zero dollars anyway - so I had nothing to show for it except eternal shame I was trying to take advantage of somebody's weakness to cheat them out of a paltry $16.

Anyway.. on the bright side during my tenure I became one of the better skilled cake decorators, which meant I got to write personalized messages when asked by customers. One couple came in for a chocolate cake and were pleasantly surprised by the option when I said I could write something on top. Usually it's "Happy Birthday" or "Congratulations" but the guy quickly requested, "Eat Shit, Tom." Without batting an eye I asked, "Red or blue icing?" The guy quickly answered, "Red." His girlfriend was embarrassed but the guy suggested to her, quite correctly, that I would enjoy scribbling that onto a cake. I totally did.

The pay and the hours never really increased, and it got more and more depressing to watch Rich's franchise slowly go under. I recall one night Jason and I doing all the math to figure out how much profit this place pulled in. On hindsight our estimates were incredibly naive and optimistic, and even then we couldn't see Rich making more than about $15,000/year.

One night somebody (who shall remain nameless but it wasn't me) turned off the freezer by mistake. The next morning Rich found $200 worth of cakes melted and dripping from the freezer door onto the floor. This kind of crap kept happening, and slowly, painfully drove him out of the business. I abandoned ship to work more hours for less money at a summer camp - a story for another time. Shortly after that I heard Rich finally ditched the franchise and got a job as a shoe salesman.

May 30, 2017 : Standoff

For a short while we had a cat door. Raccoons would sneak in and make a total mess in our kitchen during the night. They like to wash their food, so they'd take all the kitty kibble and dump it in the water dish, making a paste they would track all over our tile floor.

Before we changed the entrance to something only felines could negotiate, I caught one fat raccoon squeezing in through the cat door while I sat on the couch eating dinner in the next room. Outraged at its brazen attempt to enter the household while us humans were still awake I decided to teach it a lesson. I sprung from the couch and charged it at full speed.

The raccoon's face read, "holy fuck," as it spun around to sprint towards the cat door. But these creatures are smart. It knew the velocity of my approach, the distance to the exit, and the additional time it would take to press its obese frame through the opening. After working through some internal calculus it came to the conclusion that escape before capture was impossible.

And so a different course of action was taken: it stopped, turned, stood up as high as it could on its back paws and, like windmills, waved its front claws towards me.

Its sudden unexpected shift from prey to predator made me also screech to a halt while holding up my hands saying, "whoa whoa whoa."

Time stopped. The raccoon stared at me, paws raised high. I stared back, hands held in universal "stop" pose. We stood about 10 feet apart, motionless, silent.

Eventually the raccoon twisted ever so slightly to the door without losing eye contact. I could tell from its body language it was asking, "are we good?"

I replied with a nod as if to say, "yes, we're good."

And so it dropped back down, cautiously turned, and ambled towards the cat door at a calm pace. Seconds after it forced its fat raccoon ass through the opening one of our cats, Normal, walked into the kitchen and saw me standing there, still in a defensive posture. Normal tilted his head as if to query, "did I miss somthing?"

May 23, 2017 : Hit and Run

I had an ugly old gray '79 Honda Accord for a few years. It was a cheap junker and I treated it like crap. But it was still upsetting after I parked it in downtown Berkeley, ran some errands, and returned to find that in the meantime somebody clearly ran into it and then fled the scene.

In disbelief I approached the trunk, now crushed, putting my hands on my head in universal "holy fucking shit" formation. There was no note, no sign of the perpertrator, no witnesses coming to my aid. I spun around in anger, shouting, "god DAMMIT."

I only then noticed there was an identical, gray '79 Honda Accord parked right in front of my damaged vehicle. How coincidental. It even had the same bumper stickers. Wait a second.. OH! This damaged vehicle is somebody else's Honda, not mine.

Phew. What a relief. I drove away in my unharmed car and got on with my life.

May 16, 2017 : Stolen

During our epic journey around the country in the summer of '91, Ben and I were working our way west via the Columbia River Gorge. We hadn't been to the extremely beautiful Pacific Northwest before.

As the sun dipped and the light got even better we had to pull off at a vista point to bask in the glory of the golden canyon and blue water below. Legs were stretched, pictures were taken, crazy wind blew my mullet into a more embarrassing shape.

Another car pulled up from which a lone woman emerged with her camera. She silently captured the landscape with what seemed to be better gear and photography skills.

Ben and I walked by her on the way back to our vehicle. She suddenly spoke, asking, "Mind if I take your picture?"

We were both surprised by the sudden and direct human interaction. Fumbling with words, we were unsure how to answer. Because we're shy, but also we didn't exactly understand the query. We assumed she was offering to get a shot containing us both using our own camera, but that was a weird way to phrase such an offer. So we said, "okay."

She waved us over to stand together in front of the canyon, held up her own camera, and clicked away. This was awkward, and we felt powerless to stop it. Ben and I were both silently wondering if the other knew she was going to do this, and played along. We tried to mask our confusion with relaxed poses and stoic expressions.

She said, "thank you," and then moved on, as did we.

It's unknown what ever became of that picture. Was it ever developed? Were we the subject of an art piece? The subject of ridicule? Was this simply a practice shot to test lenses and film? Who was she? Where was she from? Where is she now? Will I ever behold those images with my own eyes? Were our souls.. stolen?

May 9, 2017 : Cruz

I had a gig down in Santa Cruz. I drove down with a ton of gear in my 4runner with Toby. Since we were early we ate lunch at a diner a couple blocks up the street. Afterward Toby walked to the venue as I went to retrieve my car parked just up the way next to a tattoo parlor. During our meal I kinda got parked in. I managed the annoying multi-step procedure to vacate the space, during which I barely bumped into the car behind me at like 0.1 mph.

Immediately some bro came running out of the parlor and waved at me. I rolled down the window and he said, "Hey, you do realize you just slammed into the car behind you, right?" Slammed? I immediately knew where this was going: I am going to have to deal with some fucking obnoxious Santa Cruz hippie righteousness, probably inspired by the fact I'm driving a big evil SUV that's destroying the planet and therefore I'm automatically an asshole. I let a deep internal sigh, while innocently answering, "Oh! Did I?"

He smugly nodded and followed up, "Yeah, man. Don't you want to check it out for any damage?" I thought, "Ya know, bro, there's these things on cars are called bumpers because they can withstand bumping." But I simply said, "Really?"

So he folded his arms and with a free finger pointed towards the parlor saying, "This is my shop. I can hang out here all day for the police who could check it out for you if you'd rather."

Wow. What a real champion for social justice. Okay. I humored the guy and got out and inspected it myself. There was absolutely nothing. No scratches, no damage. OF COURSE. But he remained unconvinced.

Continuing his battle he had a new request, "Whoever owns that car you hit is probably at the diner. You should go find them and let them know what happened." And then he stood there, on the curb, waiting for me to do just that.

And so I went into the diner and up to girl at the counter. I told her, "Okay look. I have a weird request. Some guy outside is hassling me about my car bumping another car. Can I just point it out to you?" She was confused, but played along.

Once outside I gestured in the direction of the car. The bro down the street saw me with this other person and thus got the impression his work here was done and went back into his shop. I then told the girl, "Okay nevermind, he split. Thanks." She shrugged and went back to work, and I left the space in peace.

May 2, 2017 : Flip Off

I bicycled everywhere as a kid. By myself. No helmet. All around the hills of woodsy Rockland County, NY where there were countless blind curves with no bike lanes. My ten speed often had only one working brake, and missing pedals (I'd just pump on the blank, slippery crank arm, or pedal tap, or whatever it's called). Back then this was okay. Because we weren't as distracted by technology. And we had real, basic survival skills. Some were learned the hard way.

The first such lesson happened around age 10 I was on my huffy zooming down Trotters Trail on the bumpy sidewalk. A vehicle approached, then slowed, and somebody shouted at me from the window. It was a car full of scary teens. Rockland County was lousy with scary teens. One of them reached out the window and flipped me off. She had that easily understood and absolutely awful facial expression which read, "I'm a stupid, hateful, suburban loser. I'll amount to nothing. I don't know you, but I am temporarily empowered to throw my rage in your helpless direction. So FUCK YOU."

I remember her visage to this day, because that's the last thing I saw before the sidewalk ended and I spilled off the curb. I wasn't paying attention for that one second and thus went flying over the handlebars. The occupants of the car erupted into laughter and continued on their way, never to be seen again.

I lied there in the middle of the road, meditating on this injustice. Luckily it was just a few minor scrapes, and my young body generally withstood the impact. However my tongue was soon drawn to one of my front teeth. Apparently half of it chipped off.

I'm not sure how long I remained on the pavement - a twisted heap of boy and bicycle slowly baking under the sun. I don't remember feeling angry, or embarrassed. Just actively silent in defiance of a world spewing suffocating amounts of obnoxious, ugly noise.

Mrs. Friedman - the mom of a fellow classmate - recognized me as she drove by. She hastily pulled over and came to my aid. Really all I wanted was some sympathy, and she provided oodles as she gladly shuttled me home safely. Her kindness was comforting as it proved that at least some humans aren't grotesque, useless creatures.

April 25, 2017 : Walk Fast

I walk very fast. Mostly because I'm tall, but also because I'm keenly aware of the passage of precious time and insist on wasting as few seconds as possible during mundane transitions from point A to point B. Yeah yeah yeah you say it's all about "the journey" and "if you pass by the world too fast you might miss something" but newsflash: If you're done with point A, and ready for point B, there's absolutely nothing for you to gain dilly-dallying in between them and don't let others tell you otherwise because they simply don't get it.

At least that's how I used to feel. Or I should say it used to be so bad that I had a chronic fear of walking slower than the maximum velocity before my gait was deemed a jog. Because I might miss something. Because I had to be there first. Because this is all dead air!

Anyway in college I was going to some party with friends, including Sam. We rode the bus there, and got off at the nearest stop about 5 blocks away. As soon as my sneakers hit the sidewalk I set the tone for the pace of the group and assertively hoofed it towards our destination.

Fairly quickly Sam suggested I take it down a notch. He was younger but much cooler than I, so I was willing to entertain this advice. I adopted the more average pace of our herd, which was absolute torture. I could feel my legs twitch from the unfamiliar feeling of having both feet in contact with the ground at once. I had no idea what to do with arms now that they weren't unconsciously swinging like giant pendula. An imaginary rope tugged my heart forward, but my head pulled me backward. I was constantly on the precarious brink of falling over like a poorly engineered robot.

I then noticed Sam watching me in a state of half amusement/half horror. "Wow, you can't do it, can you?" he said.

Nope. I really couldn't. It was a devastating realization. I felt absolutely pathetic, shameful, and helpless. My pressing survival-based need to ambulate as comfortably fast as necessary violently opposed my primal desire to be socially accepted. I'm a worthless failure. A buggy program. I'll die alone.

After college I became an adult with noticeably less insanity-enducing hormones coursing through my malnourished system, and thus more adept at slowing the fuck down from time to time. It wasn't until I destroyed myself on several epic backpacking trips in failed attempts to push imaginary limits that I finally learned to reign that shit in. I still often walk obnoxiously brisk speeds when commuting or travelling by myself. Because WHY WOULDN'T I?

April 18, 2017 : dot com Bust

Around 1996 when early-ish internet adopters were starting to snatch up domains I was reluctant to do the same given the prices and what I perceived as the ephemeral nature of the young world wide web. But I, experiencing increasing FOMO, eventually decided to buy at least one domain name. There were many options back then. I almost pulled the trigger on "" but ultimately settled for "" and this became the core of my e-identity.

While good available .coms were in infinite supply, there were far less options for actually buying these domains. I just went with Network Solutions and paid the $70 because that was the only obvious method and price at the time. And I would renew the registration each year and everything was fine.

That is, until around 2002. I knew it was approaching the renewal deadline and checked my WHOIS information on line - this is how I, or anybody in the world, can see my current domain registration information, including contact info and expiration date. I saw I still had a month or so to go expired, but was confused to see that the name of the administrative, registrant, and tech contacts weren't "Matt Lebofsky" in Oakland (as it has been for years), but "Walter Gregg" in Seattle.

Weird. Obviously this was some mistake. I never let my domain lapse, so there's no way somebody else could have assumed control of it. I also had no idea who this person was. Cursory web searches revealed nothing. Even weirder was that the DNS still pointed to my domain hosting service - so my web site and e-mail continued to work as before. Basically this Walter Gregg person somehow obtained full control of, but changed nothing. In the meantime, since I'm no longer the official contact according to WHOIS, I couldn't renew the domain.

I called Network Solutions to bring this odd case to their attention, and after some initial explanation, the conversation with the tech went sort of like this:

Matt: So I'm not sure what happened, but this is clearly wrong. Can you please revert all the contacts back to me?

Tech: No, we can only do so by the direct permission of Walter Gregg.

Matt: But I'm Matt Lebofsky, owner of

Tech: Sorry our records show Walter Gregg is the registrant.

Matt: Right, but I'm the actual owner. Surely somewhere in your records you can see that before something inexplicably changed.

Tech: Our records never show you as ever being the contact on this domain.

Matt: [speechless for a moment] But.. I bought this domain back in 1996.

Tech: Perhaps you *bought* it, but Walter Gregg has always been the registration contact. Did you help him set up this initial purchase?

Matt: No, I have no idea who this person is!! And I'm Matt LEBOFSKY. Why would I help HIM buy LEBOFSKY.COM?! Obviously something got screwed up in your database.

Tech: I'm sorry there's nothing we can do. Walter Gregg is the only person who ever shows up in our records as the main contact for this domain. I recommend contacting him to make whatever changes you desire.

Matt: [stream of loud, foul language, while phone is thrown across the room]

After I stopped seeing red I did more sleuthing to figure out who this Walter Gregg was. I found out two things. First, his possible e-mail address. I sent him a cordial e-mail explaining the situation and begging for help returning control of back to me. I also noticed he happened to be a new customer of the same uncommon domain hosting service that I use.

So in my mind it was clear that human error or shitty database administration led to his registration info being accidentally linked to my account. My guess is a cut and paste gone awry when he requested the DNS point his whatever domain to the same hosting service as Yep, this is straight out of the movie Brazil.

Anyway I never heard back from the guy. It's very likely my e-mail ended up in his spam folder.

As the deadline approached more phone calls, with increasing anger, were made to Network Solutions to no avail. In their eyes, the rendition of reality depicted in their divine database trumped my bogus reality. Luckily I'm a pack rat and I had all my credit card statements and e-mails and even some paper mail (back before the world ditched paper trails for on-line statements). All my records showed me as the actual contact person for this domain before Mr. Gregg came on the scene and was erroneously granted control.

Threatening mails and faxes to various legal departments were sent. Finally I heard from a representative who was tired of hearing about my case. She offered to switch the contact info to me, but with a note on the account that if Walter Gregg ever wants to reclaim control he can. However unsatisfying, I accepted these terms just so I wouldn't lose

Of course, whether they admit it or not, this was a stupid error on the part of Network Solutions. Fuck them. All future domain purchases were made elsewhere. Meanwhile, Walter Gregg is probably still completely unaware how much he had temporary but horrifying control over my life and identity. Yay computers. Yay the internet.

[names changed in a paranoid attempt to avoid further domain registration issues]

April 10, 2017 : Cookie Toss

Jenya and I made some impulse purchases at Trader Joe's, including some cookies. Back home we sat on the couch and snacked upon a couple of these as Laszlo the doberman inquisitively stared. In a fit of mischief Jenya poised to throw one of the cookies at his drooling maw.

I wasn't worried about how the cookie would affect our dog's digestive system. He's eaten much worse things in the past - like cardboard, cotton balls, latex gloves, or his entire collar. Still I couldn't help but flash Jenya a look of disapproval.

Naturally, she took my expression as a dare and tossed the cookie over to Laszlo, who consumed it instantly. "I can't believe you gave him that!" I snapped in half amusement/half annoyance.

Not five seconds later Laszlo began gagging, and with one loud hack an undigested wad of cookie and dog spit shot from his gullet and onto my lap. Unfazed, I looked over at Jenya with an expression that read, "See? I told you so!"

Meanwhile Laszlo noticed the cookie blob which, as far as he was concerned, somehow magically appeared on my lap within easy reach of his muzzle. He basically leaned over as if to say, "Hmm. Don't mind if I do!" and ingested it off my pants. At this point my facial expression at Jenya read, "Now are you happy?"

Jenya was a tad bit mortified that my original concern not only was valid, but went so far south so quickly in the form of me, the innocent one, getting the full brunt of the consequences: getting puked upon and then being an unwitting direct participant in our dog's grody penchant for consuming his own hot, fresh vomit.

Still that was fuckin' hilarious, and we both haven't laughed that hard in a while. Meanwhile Laszlo was like, "what's so funny?"

April 4, 2017 : Canary

The setting: 1994. I lived in a big house in the heart of Rockridge (this is back when, if you were willing to kick down an extra $100/month, you could rent in a nicer neighborhood like Rockridge). My housemate Bob had a cat named Emily, and my other housemate Joanna had a cat named Hinke.

Joanna was a bit on edge as her mother was coming into town. Bob and I tidied up and were preparing dinner when they arrived fresh from the airport. Joanna, anxious, entered the kitchen and began making awkward introductions. But before I could even attempt my half of the greeting the palpable tension was overriden by Joanna letting out an unexpected screech.

Because, at the window, Hinke was perched with a blue canary fluttering in her mouth. As if she, the victorious hunter, was offering her prize to our new guest: "Look what I brought for dinner!" We have no idea where this bird came from. Somebody's pet escaped?

Joanna was horrified, hands pressed to the sides of her screaming face. Bob and I simultaneously realized the back door was wide open. So did Hinke. And before we could stumble over and shut it the proud cat was parading around inside the house, the canary in her kitty maw hanging on for dear life. I admit I was holding back laughter, and maybe Bob as well, as we bumbled around, both of us trying to usher Hinke and her victim back outside.

Eventually we were successful, and the general panic turned to disgust as Hinke began tearing at the bird. Feathers were removed and canary flesh consumed by the predatory cat out on the driveway for all of us humans to witness from the kitchen window. And there was nothing we could do about it.

Well that was something. Somehow moods eventually returned to normal, or at least a pretend sort of normal.

A few hours later Bob and I were sitting around giggling about the earlier incident when we noticed Emily darting around the living room, batting something around with twitchy feline excitement.

Was Emily playing with a cat toy? A twist tie? A crumpled up piece of paper? Nope. She was playing hackysack with the head of that poor canary.

Talk about adding insult to injury.

March 28, 2017 : Shard

The best part of the Immersion Composition Society is the listening parties. After a long day of composing/recording/mixing in the solitude of our individual home studios, we gather that night to eat, drink, and behold some of the weirdest music on the frickin' planet.

We rotate through the hosts for these gatherings, and one was at Michael's place shared with other musicians. About 8 of us squeezed into his room and quickly determined his stereo wasn't good enough. So we moved into Dan's room which - befitting of a recording engineer - contained a much better set of speakers. There was much merriment until a wine glass was knocked over and shattered on the floor. So we took a short break and dealt with that. Then back to the music.

The night was nearly over when I, sitting on the bed, reached down for my beer bottle on the floor. A glimmer of light hit the corner of my eye. I looked over and squinted at its source which was only visible from this unique vantage point. Without saying a word I lurked across the room to a pair of Dan's slippers, reached deep inside one, and pulled out a huge shard of glass we all missed during the earlier clean up process.

I revealed this discovery to all. Dan had the most hilarious mixed expression of utter relief, gratitude, and the horror imagining the alternative reality if I hadn't spotted that.

March 21, 2017 : Toothbrushes

On one family trip back east my brother Ben picked me up from the airport. As I unpacked my luggage back at his house I realized I left my toothbrush back in Oakland. It was late in the evening but the local supermarket was still open. So we headed on over to quickly solve this hygiene crisis.

I hit the toiletry aisle and selected an ample replacement toothbrush. While we were at it, Ben felt he could use a new brush as well - and swiftly chose one for himself. That should have been the end of our silly little errand, but Ben perhaps felt a little guilty not getting any token foodstuff while we were here, so on the way to the register he grabbed an Entenmann's coffee cake. For those unfamiliar with such things - it's a tasty, colon clogging powdered sugar and cholesterol bomb, and a common family favorite.

I didn't really think about any of this until we picked a checkout aisle and plopped our items on the conveyor belt. Then I could see the story unfolding in the young cashier's brain as she beheld us and our planned purchases: two grown men, with a shitty molar rotting cake, and two toothbrushes.

I exploded into a giggle fit so bad I had to flee the store.

March 14, 2017 : SXSW

Holy crap last time I was at SXSW was exactly 20 years ago. The following is not really a complete story, but I might as well write a little bit about the time there was a showcase of bands from the Vaccination Records label, and our journey there.

There were 13 people on the Idiot Flesh bus as it headed from Oakland to San Diego and then onward to Austin for the 1997 edition of South by Southwest: Idiot Flesh and crew (Nils, Dan, Wes, Gene, Lorrie, Paul, Heidi), Rube Waddell (Freddi, Kirk, Larry), and 2/5ths of Giant Ant Farm (Dren, Jenya). The rest of Giant Ant Farm (living in LA) would meet up with us on the road as needed. Since I was funemployed at the time I tagged along for kicks and ended up doing lights for IF just so I woudn't be such a useless hanger on.

The light rig was DIY and completely self contained - a couple cages full of bulbs and gels, various floor lights and strobes, all of which were extension-corded to a series of on-off switches in a panel which I controlled off stage. It was also my job to hunt around the venues for extra breakers needed by the four vacuum cleaners on stage (the exhaust vents were employed for the classic inflating-costume sequence during "Twitch").

Hijinks galore: crazy shows, audiences had their faces melted, hikes in various deserts, sleeping outside in the middle of nowhere under the glow of Hale-Bopp and the milky way, cooking countless pork chops in the bus's oven. Lots and lots of makeup. So much makeup.

Given Dan's penchant for efficiency and improvement, the bus was reworked to sleep all 13 people. This included rebuilding the couch so that the back was removable and a perfect shape to fit onto the armrests of some opposing seats to become a bed of sorts. Jenya and I were assigned to this, which we soon referred to as the "stunt bunk" as bumps in the road may cause the entire platform to shift off the armrests and spill us onto the floor at any second. After this flaw was discovered the stunt bunk was only utilized whilst the bus was stationary.

Things got weird after El Paso. Right after the gig we hit the shitty, shitty long road to Dallas. We were largely still in costume and whatever face paint we failed to wash off in the sinks of the sketchy bathroom at the venue. I woke from the large pile of sleeping people in the back as we pulled into the Tiger Truck Stop for a quick late-night break.

On our way to the restrooms in the garage we found, much to our horror, they had an actual young tiger. WTF? How the hell did these Texan yahoos get a tiger? It was kept in a cage so small it couldn't walk around, and so had apparently become limp, almost comatose during the course of however long its been trapped there. Or was it sedated every evening? We touched its outstretched paw and it barely flinched. Some pointed, angry questions to the half-brain-dead proprietor yielded no answers or comfort, and we left shocked and totally pissed off.

The gig in Dallas was annoying - it was just Idiot Flesh on this bill (along with other bands en route to SXSW), treated like stepchildren until they performed and then everybody was nice to them. It's kind of of fun to watch people's bad attitudes change once they realize they aren't dealing with yet another rock band but instead some of the best musicians on the planet.

Anywho, sans running water on the bus, by this time in the tour we were smelling pretty frickin' ripe. Lorrie had an old friend that happened to also be in Dallas that night, staying at a fancy hotel on some business trip. After the gig we decided to park the bus near said hotel and take this opportunity to overtake Lorrie's friend's single room and maybe sneak in a shower or two. Or thirteen.

It was well after midnight so the main doors to this fine Dallas hotel were locked. Larry, Jenya, and I found one unlocked entrance around back, however. We leapt into the elevator and simultaneously noticed one button which read: "Pool/Hot Tub." I defy anybody in the same situation to resist pressing a button like that.

We jumped right on in. The hot tub wasn't terribly hot, but still refreshing after driving through the southwest without showering for days. But a minute or two into our dip we saw a large man through the foggy glass storming down the hallway in our direction. Uh oh.

He burst through the doors and shouted through his Texas drawl, "I thought I've seen everything." For a moment we were certain we were in some kind of trouble with security - or some archetypical crazy southern hippie-hating hothead - and were all set to apologize and get out, but he continued, "I figured *I'd* be the only one out here at two in the morning!" Then he showed us how to turn on the bubbles.

The man then split, leaving us younguns alone. Most of the others on the bus, who apparently found the same open back door and were also unable to resist the pool/hot tub button, eventually showed up and joined us.

Jenya and I still wanted real showers, and waited in line to take them in Lorrie's friend's room. When we finished it was like 4am, and the floor was already full of snoring people. No space for us, so we went back on the bus to sleep. Having just washed up it felt extra gross re-entering the olfactory world of pork, diesel, cigarettes, and sweaty costumes. Not restful.

We got to Austin and folded ourselves into our various little worlds. A bunch of the others took a side trip to San Antonio (to find the site where the actual Rube Waddell is buried). I hung out with my old NY pal Dave currently living in the area. Also caught up with Erik from Mumble & Peg - this was during the "middle period" of our band's history when he first temporarily lived in Houston before moving there for reals.

So came the night of the big Vaccination Records SXSW showcase. Giant Ant Farm, Rube Waddell, and Idiot Flesh all kicked ass. Erik & I did some guerilla interstitial performances on the floor as a Mumble & Peg duo - me on bass and him screaming while banging on a bucket. Good job, well done - and then the bands splintered off from there. Dren, Jenya, and I flew back to Oakland a couple days later, and I returned to my regular funemployment schedule.

March 7, 2017 : Left Hand

It was the first sunny Saturday in a while, so I took Laszlo to the good ol' Piedmont cemetery for a walk. This is a common locale for canine activity - it's large and hilly. But it's also an on-leash area so it's generally safe and thus good for dogs, like mine, who can't quite handle the stress of unchecked chaos at a dog park.

In fact, I ran into my friend Angela there and her new rescue pit bull. Our pups haven't met yet, so to avoid confrontation we quickly said hello from a distance and then chose different paths. She went up the hill, Laszlo and I went towards the giant tombs.

Thirty seconds later I passed Crockett tomb above which a woman stood with two dogs. Her bigger black dog, despite bring 40 feet away, lunged towards Laszlo. The woman yelled an apology as she tried to contain her hound. Laszlo didn't seem perturbed and we just kept walking.

About 20 paces later I heard the woman cry, "oh no!" And then saw the big black dog, sans leash and collar, racing top speed at us. Shit.

To his credit, Laszlo was still in play mode when the black dog pounced him, but it quickly escalated to full on brawl. It was just me trying to get Laszlo the fuck outta there by pulling on his leash, kicking at the other dog, or pulling them apart by their back legs.

The woman finally caught up and helped get them apart, and there was a brief successful pause, but the other dog escaped and charged Laszlo again. I'm sorry but in my fear and frustration I shouted, "Jesus fucking christ!" as I wrestled them apart again somehow, miraculously not getting bit in process.

At the point there were several other people standing right there to help or at least witness. My pants were spotted with Laszlo's blood. I guided him away from the scene to get him in a down stay and check his wounds. Bites all over his nose, neck, and millimeters from his eye. He was a mess, but panting happily as he survived a round at the Fight Club.

The other dog apparently had no bites whatsoever. So Laszlo was clearly the 100% victim in this. That, coupled with his clearly better obedience skills and supermodel looks caused the witnesses to helplessly approach like zombies, except instead of saying, "braaaains," they said, "poor sweet doggie!" I had to get Laszlo away from them, saying he's not good with people. LPT: don't approach strange dobermans after they got into a bloody fight.

At this point I entered my body again and crumpled in pain. My left hand somehow got injured during all this, probably from pulling on, or getting pulled by, the leash.

The woman was absolutely mortified. In my agony and adrenaline rush I maintained calm and talked her down. Turns out her dog's prong collar simply failed and fell apart thus allowing it to escape her control. This also happened to me in the past, so I understood. LPT: always back up a prong collar with another collar.

She also explained her dog was a rescue, as is Laszlo, so once again I understood and sympathized. We exchanged info, but I kinda just wanted to go home and deal. I hobbled to my car, and drove away - the ache in my hand worsening by the minute.

Laszlo is such a bruiser. His wounds healed up fast and he's fine. I however went to the hospital where it was confirmed that I broke my hand. A clean break, nothing shifted, all the tissues are fine, but I'll be in a cast for 4-6 weeks.

A lot of people since asked if I would sue the woman, or report the dog. My only response is: shit happens - it was an accident - why make it worse? Besides the woman has been more than happy to compensate me for hospital/doctor costs. So it's all good.

February 28, 2017 : Laredo

After a late gig in NYC we needed to park the van and trailer somewhere safe. Luckily Toby lived in an apartment with a protected parking lot. However upon arriving we were horrified to find some brand new black Jeep Laredo blocking the driveway. We leaned on the horn to get whatever asshole's attention to come out and move their damn vehicle. Nobody appeared. So now what?

The police were called. A half hour later a cop arrived to tag the vehicle for towing, but he couldn't legally recommend an outfit to do the actual tow. After the cop split Toby called around to find somebody willing to haul this car away at 2:00am. Meanwhile Timba went to get some beers for us to enjoy while waiting out on the sidewalk.

Eventually the truck appeared. We cheered and drank up during all the following procedures which were incredibly glorious to behold.

First, since the jeep was so tightly parked in, the tow guy crawled underneath and hooked a chain to its undercarriage. It was then yanked sideways by the truck into the street. Screech.

Second, he had to get the jeep into neutral, which meant getting inside. However it was difficult to slim jim this brand new car. So, fuck it, he just pulled on the driver's side window. And pulled and pulled until the whole frame was sufficiently warped and he could effortlessly reach in and unlock the door.

But our tow hero still couldn't get it into neutral due to some modern theft prevention mechanism. And so, finally, he just lifted it up by the front wheels and dragged the fucker away. Those tires were immediately destroyed.

The fucked up jeep, the echoes of wheels scraping on pavement, and the stench of burnt rubber disappeared into the night. That was so, so, so very satisfying.

February 21, 2017 : HPC

I went to the High Performance Computing 2016 conference in Salt Lake City, just for a day and a half to check out all the geeky kiosks in the large exhibition hall. I got off the plane in the morning and went straight to the conference.

Since I was there for one night, I didn't want to deal with luggage, so I brought everything I'd need crammed into my laptop case. It was bulging and heavy and the strap was constantly digging into my neck. Soon I was also burdened with a couple tote bags full of silly shwag and literature printed on thick card stock.

After a couple hours I got off my feet to rest while watching some 5 minute demo of a random company's latest greatest NAS technology. The reward for sitting through the presentation was a chance to win an Amazon Echo. Long story short: I won the Amazon Echo, which I later donated to my lab at work.

But now with the unexpected prize I had simply too much to drag around (and still make a decent first impression with various vendors). Maybe this was a good time to check into my hotel. Since I planned this trip kinda late, by the time I made reservations all the nearby hotels were fully occupied, so my best bet was a 2-and-a-half star about a mile away. Or about 8 Salt Lake City blocks.

Fifteen minutes of walkin' later I was at the front desk and checked in, and they just automatically handed me two key cards. I loaded into my room. It was a huge relief to ditch my laptop, brand new echo, and other bags of crap, abandoning them in my room so I could enjoy the remainder of the conference tonight without the iffy optics of being such a nerdy hoarder of weighty objects dangling from my person.

Now it was a more fun and leisurely experience. I strutted back to the exhibition center and had a more casual looksee. One vendor was handing out free beers. "Just take one?" I asked. "Yep," they said. And so I did. Nice promotional gimmick, except I have no recollection of who that vendor was. Or maybe it was some educational or government institution. Who knows?

Anyway an hour passed and I had enough. Plus I was getting hungry for dinner. I figured I'd go back to the hotel and figure that out. As I left the hall I reached in my coat pocket for my phone/headphones so I could crank some rockin' tunes for the trudge back. But wait.. where are my keys?

I checked everywhere. I could have sworn I had them in my pocket - one that I apparently left unzipped. They must have fallen out. Or was I.. pickpocketed? As I double and triple checked my whole person for these keys I remembered they had the hotel name clearly printed on them. And a sleeve on which was scribbled.. "Room #18."

And I somehow lost these keys somewhere in the past hour. It takes 15 minutes to walk to my hotel from here. What if somebody found them more than 15 minutes ago? In my room is my laptop. And my brand new still-in-the-box Echo.


I called the hotel in panic and asked that they change the key codes for my room as soon as possible. They obliged, but wouldn't check the room for me. Since it was SLC, and the mood was fitting, I dialed Ether (the band) up on my phone, crammed my earbuds in, and hauled my panicked ass down the street.

I got to the front desk, panting, and claimed my new keys. I braced for the worst as I went to my room.

All my shit was still there. Phew. But I still had to check under the bed, in the shower, inside the closet, etc. for potential hiders. The coast was clear. I relaxed a moment, and honored the fates that could have easily instead punished me for such carelessness. I then went out to dinner, but not after safely tucking the laptop under the mattress.

February 14, 2017 : Dickinson

The dorms at the University of Binghamton were divided into four communities: Newing, College in the Woods, Hinman, and Dickinson. I lived in Dickinson.

During my freshman spring semester word got around that Newing had a huge secret party the previous night. Somehow a few students were able to sneak a keg into one of their dorms. This was highly against the rules, but Newing was all well established as the most rowdy of the communities. The authorities caught off guard adhered to this narrative and thus were less inclined to shut it down, and nobody got in trouble as far as I know.

About a week later Hinman followed suit and were also able to have an impromptu beer-fueled party under the radar. Once again the unpredicted nature of this left the campus police unable to do much about it.

But here's the thing. Dickinson - let's face it - was the nerdiest of all the communities. Hinman was a real close second. So having them successfully execute a surprise kegger was a real blow to Dickinson's collective ego.

So the plans emerged to have our own secret shindig the following week. Of course, by now the campus powers-that-be saw this coming a mile away and were wagging their fingers at us trying to nip further antics in the bud. Nevertheless, the whispers were that tomorrow night we Dickinsonians were to meet outside and get ready to partay.

And the campus police were there to join the crowd of 100 or so students. There was a bit of chaos as everybody on either side were just kinda winging it. Eventually I learned a keg had indeed been obtained and was in the trunk of a car parked in one of the adjacent lots. The cunning plan: somehow all gather around the vehicle to block the police as the keg is surreptitiously hauled into one of the dorms. As if getting the beer out of the car and inside the confines of a dorm meant "we won" and as such the cops then had to back off and leave us alone.

So we rushed to said car. And so did the police. And sure enough in the confusion of the roving crowd the geniuses behind all this were able to magically remove the giant keg out of the trunk and start hauling it up a short incline to the nearest dorm. Cheers erupted we all realized the game was on!

The kids encumbered by the booze weren't quite up to the strenuous task and they had no choice but to drop it and disperse lest they get caught and persecuted. So suddenly there was a keg on the ground, one single cop standing over it, and 100 kids in a giant circle around him. I happened to be right at the front of the circle.

The cop found himself in a scary position. He pulled pepper spray out and told everybody to back off. One bro decided to go for it and rushed the keg, and then got a squirt right in the face. "What the fuck, man?" the bro yelped while rubbing his squinting eyes. This heightened the mob rage factor and it was clear the cop, still sans backup, was in trouble.

So he again fired off the pepper spray while spinning in a circle for maximum dispersion. I ducked before the mist came in my direction. Yeesh! This brilliant maneuver by the cop was enough to weaken the crowd, more police emerged and squeezed in to claim the keg, and that was pretty much the end of that.

Students scattered, slowly and angrily, hopping on campus police cars in defiant indignation. This was all very frustrating and mortifying. Unlike Newing and Hinman, we won't get to have our beer. Many went back to their rooms in defeat while a smaller pack of us went to the campus police building to file a complaint about unfair treatment, but it was well after midnight and everything was basically shut down so there was nobody to complain at.

This was a completely lame and pathetic loss. But the silver lining was a smidge of pride that our community did have that unexpected amount of disobedience in us. Everybody thought Dickinson was weak and hopeless. But we showed them that we, too, were willing to fight for our right to party.

February 7, 2017 : Bowling

Around 8 years old I was in a bowling league, on a team with my older brother and his friends. Since they were a few years my senior, I looked up to them and mirrored their pre-pubescent antics, which included cussing and punching the ball return when things didn't go their way.

A year later I was on a team with kids my age, and to act all big and tough I too began swatting the ball return when I'd miss a spare. It felt good. So I started kicking it. And cursing louder. And louder. I felt a rush of sweet anger, and taking it out on the helpless contraption filled me with deranged, righteous pride. I almost wanted to fail just so I could take it out on this stupid machine that continued to puke balls at me like a taunt.

One day this bad habit, an addiction really, went well beyond unhealthy proportions. After screwing up another frame I found myself kicking and kicking the machine in an unstoppable rage. I was completely broken. That is, until this large man in the next lane stood up and yelled, "what the FUCK ARE YOU DOING?"

I was shocked by the anger directed at me by a very angry stranger and left speechless. He continued, "You stupid little shit you're gonna break the fucking thing! What's your FUCKING PROBLEM?! STOP IT ALREADY! Goddammit!"

All at once it hit me: "What *is* my fucking problem? What the hell am I doing? I'm being totally stupid. Shit."

I was still unable to speak or apologize. I was simply humiliated and drowning in a flood of shame as I sat back down. It was not unlike getting slapped in the face, but sometimes that's the only way to break a cycle of asocial idiocy and teach a lesson - swift, loud and clear - and with such nuclear force there's no room for talking back. I wish I knew who that guy was so I could thank him. I needed that.

January 31, 2017 : Free Ride

When Jenya and I went to Patagonia for a couple weeks the main feature was a five-day backpacking trip through Torres del Paine. We packed in all our gear - tents, food, clothes, etc. But as strenuous as it was we did set up camp the first two nights outside of a lodge where the less adventurous slept inside in rented bunks. The lodge also had a cafe where we happily bought sandwiches to supplement our supply and hot chocolate to reward ourselves after our epic day hikes before crawling back into our tent.

I wasn't planning well, and the low value of Chilean pesos (550 CLP = 1 USD at the time) clouded how much we were spending on treats at the cafe. At the end of the second night I counted our money, and much to my horror we only had about 38,000 pesos left.

The thing is, at the end of the five day trek we will be many, many miles away from our car. The plan was to take a privately owned catamaran (which would cost 32,000 pesos) across a giant lake to a different point in the park, and then catch a couple different shuttle buses back to our car. So the question was: do these buses cost anything, and would we have enough?

Back in the lodge we asked the young lady behind the counter but our weak Spanish and her strong Chilean accent proved impossible. She flagged down a young man who spoke better English, and he eventually met us over at this wall-sized map of the park.

I told him our story, and asked if the park buses cost anything.

He replied with a oddly pointed question, "where are you from?"

I said "California."

He harrumphed, then said, "I've been to California. Nothing there was free."

And that was the end of the conversation, as he walked away with a look of disgust having to deal with what he figured were estadounidense pigs looking for a free ride. Of course, all the buses in our national parks are free, so I was asking a valid - and harmless - question, but he already moved on so there was no point in chasing him down for an argument. As annoying as that was, I felt like I earned some global karma for letting a non-American tell an American to fuck off right to his face. In fact, I felt some relief, as if I just fulfilled some sort of civic duty.

Just so you know, the bus back to the main entrance cost about 3,000 pesos. From there we caught another shuttle to our parking lot for another 1,000 pesos. So we made it back with a wee bit of cash to spare. We used it up at a tiny kiosk beside the lot by purchasing two of the world's worst hot dogs.

January 24, 2017 : Chamberlain

After the Minneapolis show of that 2006 Faun Fables tour we were all loading into the RV when a bungee cord used to secure our gear came loose in the dark and the metal hook flew right into Jenya's eyeball. Luckily it was the round end of the hook, so the damage was far less than you would assume given what I described in the previous sentence. Our panic subsided as it was evident she still had her vision, but her eye got scratched up pretty bad.

We had the next couple of days off, and spent the first one resting up at Kai's house. We made pancakes embellished with dandelions plucked from his yard. I played prog riffs on his piano which summoned fellow like-minded musicians Blake and Marshall from upstairs to come down and we exchanged some ELP and Gentle Giant licks. Jenya's eye seemed to be getting better, but a bruise slowly formed on her face underneath.

Then we hit the road, going on highway 90 through South Dakota and took a detour to check out the current state of the Crazy Horse Monument but it was too dark to see anything. Meanwhile stops at gas station mini marts were awkward as I'd walk in with Jenya. Everybody inside would look at her and her black eye, and then stare at me like they were gonna fuck me up.

I took on the late driving shift. After an hour focused on the empty road ahead I noticed the headlights dimming a bit. Not 60 seconds later the RV started to madly backfire as the battery was dying. Oh shit - the alternator must be toast. I had enough juice to pull over onto the shoulder and then the whole vehicle went black. Since we couldn't put the hazards on, me and Nils dug out the flashlights and perched ourselves on the side of the highway to flag passing vehicles.

Yes it's a major interstate but it was about 2am in the middle of nowhere. We had no cell phones, but probably couldn't get any service out here even if we did. There was zero visibility in this void save for the lights of the two trucks passing us during the first 20 minutes of standing out in the cold. But the third truck pulled over and the driver came out to check on us.

We told him about our battery issue and discussed the possibility of getting a jump to maybe earn us enough juice to get to the next exit. The hope being we could maybe get help there or at least turn around and go back to this tiny town of Chamberlain we passed about 6 miles earlier. We were all skeptical about this idea but then I remembered that this RV has a separate utility battery for all the interior lights. We could swap that in instead of getting a jump.

As we embarked on this minor automotive surgery a police car pulled up. Once up to speed about the whole situation the cop helped us install the temporary battery and suggested we follow him back to Chamberlain. Not only did he save us several precious miles by guiding us over the median via an unmarked crossing (instead of going much farther out of our way to the next exit to turn around) but he also led us to a garage where his buddy worked. He then left a message for said buddy to expect an RV containing sleeping people who need a new alternator when he arrives in the morning. The battery survived the trip and we thanked the cop many times over and went to sleep.

I woke to the rumble of Nils driving us to another garage - this first one didn't have an alternator, but they suggested a place up the way and the battery still had enough to get us there. They got to work, and it would take all morning, so we had time to kill.

Jenya's eye was getting to be a concern, so she asked the mechanics if they could recommend a doctor. Turns out in this tiny town of 2000 people was South Dakota's best optometrist. He won an award for just that a couple years earlier. And the eye clinic was only a few blocks away. We moseyed on over and despite just walking in off the street Jenya got seen within an hour.

After the screening I got called in from the waiting room so the doctor could share his prognosis with both me and her. Her eye did get a bad scratch, but the good news is that it just missed her iris by like a millimeter. The doctor let me look at Jenya's injury through the microscope to see the scratch for myself. Sheesh. He prescribed some antibiotic drops which we picked up at the pharmacy across the street. All told the impromptu visit and the drops cost about $60.

January 17, 2017 : Wahweap

Jenya, Nat, Mike, and I were nearing the end of our Utah backpacking excursion that took us to a half dozen amazing locales over the course of 9 days. We were driving in the southern part of the Escalantes with 16 hours left to go before we had to return our vehicle in Las Vegas (about 6 hours away). Still, we decided to squeeze in one more adventure. Earlier in the trip we saw a photo at a Springdale gallery of this otherworldly geological formation. Jenya got the tip from the gallery attendant that these hoodoos were in the southern Escalantes. Well, now here we were in the general region. So Jenya convinced us to go find 'em!

We hit the closest BLM (Bureau of Land Management) office and mentioned what we were looking for to the guy behind the counter. He said these were the Toadstool Hoodoos. On a cryptic topographical map he pointed to the approximate location and the odd chain of numbered BLM roads that would lead us to a trail head and then we'd have to hike another mile or two. Okay then.

As we left I couldn't help but notice a photo on the wall that caught my attention. The others were already in the lot but Jenya and I stayed to investigate this photo as its caption was "Toadstool Hoodoos." But these hoodoos looked nothing like the formations we saw in that photo back in Springdale. It seemed the person at that gallery was clearly mistaken. Or the ranger. Or both?

This abnormality was somehow overridden and we continued to adhere to the instructions given to us. Fine. Maybe we're wrong. We entered the borders of the national monument, and the roads quickly became rough and the outside temperature quickly rose over 100 degrees.

We didn't get very far before we hit a fork in the road and got very confused about where to go next. It's not like there are big green signs and street lights around here. It was too bumpy to do much map reading so we stopped the car for a second to have a conference.

Out of nowhere a BLM ranger pulled up - which was rather unusual. I've been on BLM lands many times before over the years, and this was the first time a ranger or anybody official just happened to cross my path. He flagged us down and asked if we needed help. We told him about our quest. I made it a point to describe the formations we sought in clearer terms and he came to realize we weren't looking for the Toadstool Hoodoos. We were looking for the Wahweap Hoodoos. A-HA! We were right! So luckily we happened to notice that caption at the BLM office, and luckily we happened to run into this ranger, otherwise we would have been quite disappointed. Or lost. Or dead from exposure.

With a new set of directions clearly noted in pen on our map, the ranger continued on his way and we headed down deeper, warmer paths into the heart of the Escalantes. I turned onto a road "unrecognized" by the BLM, and we quickly saw why. It was scary. There were cliff ledges going off into small canyons below, major washouts and deeper dips, blinds hills and tight curves. I stayed on target though, though it became impossible to traverse without occasional stops to get out and inspect pointy boulders and sudden ditches and how to best avoid them without popping tires or getting the entire undercarriage scooped out. What are we doing?!

Eventually we reached a bend around which was a rather steep descent into a small valley and onward. This couldn't be the right way, could it? Once again we found ourselves stopped at the side of the road having a conference.

The silence in such a remote, desolate place is almost painfully quiet. This is why we were somewhat startled by the faint buzzing of unknown origin in the distance. The sound grew louder until a set of 3 ATVs and their drivers came into view.

They saw us and our stopped car and asked if we needed help. Once more we found ourselves describing our quest. One of them knew what we were talking about and said we were definitely on the right path. And we certainly did have to go down that steep hill, but the road ends just on up ahead at a wire fence, and then all you have to do is walk a mile or two down the wash and there you are!

As if to prove it wasn't impossible, they went on ahead down the hill and disappeared out of view, never to be seen again. Inspired, we got back in the car and made it to the valley without dying, and down the road, and to a wire fence. Yay! We did it!

Still, it was very hot and sunny. We had about on liter of water each. And we're about 10 very slow miles from the highway now. Any danger and we're fucked. We broke out our sunscreen and hats.

So... which way is *down* the wash? That way, or *that* way? Turns out none of our previous guides told us this key bit of information. And we weren't in clear agreement amongst ourselves. In a rare case of democracy actually working we voted 3-1 which way was down, and began our trek by foot. We didn't have much time to be wrong at this point, so we could only hope the majority was correct.

It was! After a mile or so we could see the Wahweap Hoodoos in the distance, just like in the photo. We leapt for joy and quickened our pace down the wash to this absolutely bizarre grove of unique geological shapes. They all towered above us, some maybe 20 feet high - these giant alien creatures with huge sandstone heads and long, flowing limestone cloaks. Many pictures were taken.

Pleased with our success we marched victorius back to the car and found our way out of the BLM maze and onto the refreshingly smooth highway. We still had enough time to make it to Springdale to drop off rental gear and eat some nasty burritos, and then to the Las Vegas airport to drop off our rental vehicle and sleep on the floor until our flight home.

January 10, 2017 : Camry

About 10 years ago we had a big party at the house for Jenya's birthday. The final stragglers left around 3am. The next morning Jenya and I woke up on the late side and decided to get some brunch. But her Toyota Camry was missing. Did we just forget and park it down the street? Nope. It was stolen during the night. Shit.

Once this sunk in we filed a police report and that was pretty much all we could do about it. Jenya had a gig that night and I rode a bicycle to a nearby U-haul to rent a pickup truck so she could get all her drums to/from the venue.

A couple days later we got a call from our friend, Wes, who just so happened to notice our car parked elsewhere in Oakland (easily identifyable due to its obscure rock band bumper stickers). I was at work, so Jenya went to check it out herself. The battery was dead and ignition completely destroyed.

Neither of us had cell phones, so she had to call AAA from a pay phone several blocks away from the car. She also called me to ask that I notify the police to let them know we found the car. I got through to the police and they did nothing but instill in me panic that if a cop sees Jenya with the car (as she waited for the tow) she might be in danger of being deemed the thief. I asked, "what are we supposed to do about that?" And the reply was, "just call her and tell her to not wait by the car until we're sure it's clear in the system." As if everybody has cell phones of course.

Infuriated and freaked out, I left work and sped over to meet Jenya. She was fine, and I took over waiting for the tow truck as she had other things on her schedule. While killing time for an hour I inspected the damage inside. Lots of junk food wrappers, the stench of cigarettes, and the face plate from the stereo gone. It looked like several people had a fun little joy ride.

The car was fixed in a few days and back in our possession. Jenya managed to get a new face plate for the stereo. We snapped it on an immediately music blasted from the speakers. But the radio wasn't selected. We quickly realized that there was a CD in the player this whole time, left by the thief. I hit eject and out popped a CD-R on which was scribbled, "Dominic's Mix." Nice one, Dominic.

A week later I got a letter in the mail - a ticket for going through the FasTrak lane at the toll booth on the Carquinez Bridge without having said FasTrak. Hunh? Then I noticed the date. It was the night of Jenya's birthday. At 2am.

So, let's step back a second and put all the pieces together: Dominic (and friends?) stole our car from right in front of our house during our party from which people were still coming and going every few minutes. They then hauled ass all the way to Vallejo and beyond while enjoying Dominic's mix, eventually to return and abandon it elsewhere back in Oakland. Anyway, I was able to get the ticket voided due to the police report saying the car was not in our possession at the time.

But that was that, until several months later. Jenya went to hang with our friend Lara a few blocks away when I got a call from her saying, "I think the car got stolen again." She was only in Lara's house for like 30 minutes and it disappeared. Jeez!

I was prepared to go meet her over there when she called back again right away with more news. Turns out the cops already found it. In Emeryville. Wrapped around a tree.

Jenya got the full story from the police when she went to the scene of the accident. Oakland police respond to a stolen car with, at best, a shrug. But since this all went down in Emeryville, seven cop cars awaited Jenya's arrival. Four kids stole our vehicle and then very quickly picked up speed, lost control, and crashed right into that tree. Despite the gravity of the impact, they all ran away. Except for one kid, who ran back because he left his cell phone inside the car. The cops nabbed the kid, and then arrests (and I'm guessing trips to the hospital) were made.

Of course, it's our car, so it was now up to us to deal with its remains. Being early evening we decided to just have it towed to the front of our house and we'll figure it out in the morning.

Jenya and the tow truck appeared an hour later and this was the first I saw of it. The front was completely smashed up. Tree branches were embedded inside the engine. I looked inside and found the steering wheel completely folded over - whoever slammed into that had to be in pretty bad shape. But whatever sympathy I had for them was lost when I noticed that - during the scant few seconds they possessed this car, they used a knife to carve up all the back seat cushions. So.. fuck 'em.

The next morning the neighbors were quite confused how our car got that way. It looked as if it suffered an attack by an Ent in the middle of the night. A tow truck came and carried the crumpled heap away. No more Camry.

January 3, 2017 : Lights Camera Action

Back when SETI@home was a new thing film crews from various agencies would come and document us in some form or another. At the peak this happened a few times a week. Usually it was one local news reporter and one camera person. They'd make me act out several mundane duties for B-roll, like inserting a DLT tape into a drive, or staring intensely at graphs on my monitor. On a couple occasions it was a Hollywood level film crew. One such production included a catering table full of donuts and coffee for the 20 or so people bouncing around the lab. They had steady cams and rails laid out for sliding shots and all kinds of other similar bullshit. They were such professionals that they made us sign releases.. which they then left behind on my desk.

The attention was nice but I got over the process pretty quick. It was always terribly disruptive and I had work to do. When yet another interviewer appeared with a pair of videographers in tow I made myself scarce, sitting elsewhere in the lab for a couple hours.

Upon returning I found the server closet (across the hall from our lab) was left with its doors wide open. Clearly they were still around, and had been taking shots of our racks teeming with exciting nerdy gear. Who isn't fascinated by all their glittering lights and deafening fans? But as I walked past I couldn't help but perceive a chorus of beeping sounds barely above the jet engine noise floor, in tandem with several red lights flashing on the faces of my servers. Uh oh!

I jumped behind the racks and quickly deduced that power supplies have failed on multiple systems, but why? At first I feared the doors being left open meant the air conditioner wasn't as effective and everything was overheating. Then I noticed the foreign extension cable plugged into one of my outlets. I followed the cable back out into the hall. Oh. Those video motherfuckers plugged several 500 watt bulbs into my circuits without asking or thinking, thus blowing a breaker.

I was livid. I stormed into my lab and requested they remove those lights immediately. I made them feel pretty shitty about it, even though nothing terrible happened - those machines all had redundant power supplies on separate breakers. But still!

December 27, 2016 : Cows and Cemeteries

I took a long solo drive from Portland, Maine to Oakland, California by myself in August of 2001. Upon my return I wrote a long, poetic essay about this odyssey and the state of my country called "Cows & Cemeteries: An American Adventure" but before I got to posting it on line 9/11 happened. The country split into flag wavers and fearful skeptics, and then the nauseating prevalence of google maps and smart phones atrophied our nation's already-crippled sense of true critical decision making and problem solving. The text file containing this prose was thrown into some digital folder until I added an epilogue a couple months later. Then it languished for well over a decade out of outright laziness. I stumbled upon these words recently and noted how much has changed and yet how much hasn't changed in 16 years. It's quite telling. Now I present to you this story:

"Cows and Cemeteries - An American Adventure - August 2001"

Dedicated to Edward Abbey

I flew into Newark, NJ and eventually drove up to Portland, Maine to attend my cousin Sarah's wedding. The day after the wedding I headed back to Oakland, California by myself in a '95 Chevy Blazer that my dad donated to my carless self. Jenya was supposed to join me for this long trek but remained on the west coast to take care of our dying cat. So I travelled alone, with boxes filled with old high school papers and a couple piles of ancient computer equipment (artifacts collected from my old house in NY), and 3,200 miles of highway ahead of me.

The trip started on Sunday at 9:30am. I was mentally prepared for this solo exploration. I had 24 CDs for entertainment. I also had four whole days before I needed to get back to work. All things considered, I felt I was in good shape to make this journey.

Under normal circumstances I would have just taken I-95 south to I-90, but I wanted to swing through Vermont. Why? Because at this point in my life I have visited only 47 of the 50 United States. The sole three not honored by my presence were Vermont, North Dakota, and Alaska. So while I was in this part of the country, I figured I better take this opportunity to put the Vermont feather in my hubcap. I got out my trusty U.S. road atlas - my only reference - and selected a route.

I headed north on I-95 one exit to get onto 202 West. According to the map 202 would eventually lead me through New Hampshire and then through Vermont, bringing me to Albany where I can pick up I-90. After five miles on 202 I realized this road would never be more than a lengthy, convoluted, rustic thoroughfare and definitely not the zippy highway I imagined (or desired). After ten miles I got lost in the middle of nowhere thanks to a missing or confusing interchange sign.

However frustrating it was to get lost so early in the trip, I was tickled by the concept that instead of lounging around in sunny California this fine Sunday morning, I was soaring down unkempt, unpopulated roads on the opposite end of the country, surrounded by lush green overgrowth and comforted by cold humidity - a testament to both modern convenience and total freedom which, in combination, allowed me to be in such a random predicament so very far from home, yet in no real danger.

After doubling back a few miles I was on my way, though this road took me through several small towns. Apparently, visitors are few, so the fabrication and installation of navigational road signs were not included in town budgets. The handful of inhabitants who regularly passed through these parts knew which blind turns to take to continue down 202. Me, I just had to trust my gut.

New Hampshire was much of the same. Highway 202 merged into 9 without much fanfare. The interminable, tortuous roads were getting to me and my stomach, so I stopped in some tiny hamlet for a snack. Every edifice in this part of the country is either a house, a church, an antique shoppe, or a gas station/convenience mart, and the musty smell is inescapable, even outdoors.

An hour or two later I made it to Vermont. Highway 9 became 7. In a state of self-hypnosis, I almost didn't realize I just attained my aforementioned goal of making it within the borders of this particular United State. I celebrated by estimating how much time left I had on these windy roads, i.e. these long pavement arms which hugged prosaic landscapes not unlike those scenes found on canvases, effortlessly conjured by old hippie art instructors who seemingly never tire of this stuff, eternally inspired by the omnipresent mountains in the distance, the cold, refreshing brook, the small family of clouds gathered in the corner of a crystal blue sky, the proud lone tree, a private collection of gravestones obscured by weeds and vines, and the colorful yet bleak overtones of an oncoming autumn. Within a mere two hours I'll be in Albany, New York, getting on an actual highway where I can get beyond this bucolic quagmire and attain more acceptable velocities. Yes, I admit to being anxious to get to Albany. How many people can say that?

I emerged in upstate New York around 3:30pm, and sped quickly beyond the gray sprawl of its capital city. Officially, I was now a full 2.5 hours behind schedule. Fair enough. I still had a ways to go yet.

I happily discovered an A's/Yankees game on AM radio. Though I'm from New York, I now live in Oakland, and within the past few years have become a fan of the scrappy A's. They were on a drive to make the playoffs after a miserable first half, recently swept Boston and were one game away from sweeping last year's world series champs. This final game would be a nail-biting pitcher's duel between two aces - Oakland's Mark Mulder versus Yankee's Mike Mussina.

Before the game started the announcer made the observation that all three games of this Oakland/New York series had starting pitchers sharing the first two letters of their surnames: Lidle vs. Lilly, Hiljus vs. Hitchcock, and now Mulder vs. Mussina. He did some research last night and found this has never happened before in the whole history of baseball. This is but one of seemingly billions of statistical factoids that baseball serves its numerologist fans, always thirsty for a long drink of history, chased by a shot of statistics.

What a game! A real pitcher's duel culminating with Giambi slugging a walk-off game-winning two-run homer thus closing this series with a sweep. I screamed in joy, alone in my car, until my throat could bear no more. Especially sweet was the fact I was getting color commentary from biased Yankee announcers, obviously stunned and depressed by this loss. Serves them right, as they kept mispronouncing the Oakland players' names.

So for a moment, there was a small bit of justice in the world. Despite their unyielding fanbase, the Yankees represent pretty much everything that is wrong with baseball today. They have too much money - they can buy any player they desire. Not only do they have the ability steal the cream of the crop from the talent pool, they are consistently raising the bar for what these players expect to be paid, thus preventing smaller market teams from having a fighting chance to keep good players. Their long, colorful history and countless die-hard fans always help to cloud this fact. In a nutshell, rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for Microsoft.

Baseball is the "American pastime," and fittingly so. The big boys control everything, and the small guys get no respect from anybody. Fuck the Yankees, the Braves, the Rangers, and any other big market team. They are the American Dream: earn enough money until you don't have to be bother being socially responsible.

Anyway, that killed a good 4 hours between the game itself and the lengthy post-game analysis. During this time I passed the turnoff to Binghamton, where I lived four years while going to college, and didn't think once about stopping to visit. Because why? And now Buffalo was in my sights.

Night was approaching, and I was already exhausted. When I started this journey I thought I'd have all this time and energy to make some random jaunts along the way. This plan included Niagara falls. But to do that would require a border crossing, and here I was, a single guy, rumpled from a whole day of driving, with a bunch of weird, ancient, suspicious looking computer hardware in my trunk. I had no itinerary or booked hotels. I started to fear being turned around, or detained, by angry Canadian mounties.

Right then I decided I didn't have the time or energy to make this trip interesting after all. I stopped for gas and called Jenya, telling her I'm gonna be on highway 80 the rest of the way.

So I didn't head north to the Falls - I headed south around Lake Erie. Instead of being blessed with visions of one the great wonders of the world, I was dinged with $11 worth of tolls before even reaching Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania was short and uninteresting. Night completely fell, some light drizzle hit my windshield, and I listened to a couple more CDs.

I didn't stop at all until I got into Ohio and just past Cleveland. Due to increasing rainfall and confusing lights diverting traffic away from construction areas, I missed an important exit and got hung up trying to make my way back onto the main road. Instead of freaking out, I took this as a sign I needed to stop and rest a minute.

I hit a gas station and took a breather. After pissing and buying some crappy snack foods, I got on the pay phone outside and called Jenya again. While chatting I noticed some lone fellow sitting on the metal guard rail towards the back of the station.

Two pieces of young white trash pulled up at the gas pumps, and after loudly gassing up and obtaining beer from the shop, they spotted and approached the weird character behind the station. I couldn't see exactly what went down, but I did see money being exchanged, and the two punks left quite pleased. Within minutes a single woman arrived and a similar exchange took place right before my eyes. After the woman sped off, the shady fellow glanced in my direction and walked away as well.

In a strange way I felt guilty for being there, yammering on the phone, possibly making him uneasy and hurting his business. On the flip side, it's nice to see occurrences such as these happening outside of the big coastal cities, proving how entrenched America's economic and social well-being is in the illegal drug trade.

I got back on the road and calmly back onto 80. I sincerely thought I was going to make it beyond Chicago tonight, but I crossed the border into Indiana just around midnight and I grew weary of driving. After passing South Bend, I found the next rest area to stop for the evening.

I got gas, washed up in the bathroom, parked between two other automobiles with napping passengers (as evidenced by the fogged-up windows), pushed all the cargo in the back to one side, and spent an hour trying to find a comfortable position in which to sleep. Just as I was drifting off, I heard the sound of somebody emptying their gun.

Not really sure what all the fuss was about, I double checked to make sure the doors were locked, and tried to get back to sleep. It sounded far away and like some yahoo emptying his death toy for fun. It's so great that our considerate and well-educated citizens have the right to bear arms, isn't it?

The Monday morning sun came shining through my windows around 6:30am, and I got myself going. Not very well rested and looking/smelling crappy, I plopped myself in the front seat and hit the highway. Quickly I felt weak from hunger, so I stopped at the next rest stop where all they had was a McDonald's. Who decided that people driving cross country get to eat crap, and only crap?

I freshened up in the bathroom and got on the slowly moving line. There was only one man at the register and a woman working the grills. Both looked completely frazzled.

The first customer gummed up the works by bitching about the cream packets being warm. "Excuse me... Ex-CUSE me... Hell-O?! This cream is bad." She rolled her eyes and loudly sighed as the cashier left his post to hunt for a carton of creams in the fridge. He returned with a box, searched for something for which to open the box (he ended up using a plastic fork), and then yanked out some cold creams for the impolite customer, who grabbed them and said nothing. As if McDonald's coffee is so good that bad cream will ruin it.

The next person in line ordered something that required hot sauce. When he noticed he was given mild sauce, all hell broke loose. "I asked for hot sauce. HOT sauce. This is mild sauce." The grievous error was corrected and the customer left the counter, grumpy and mumbling.

I approached the register with both a smile and a furrowed brow. I asked the poor cashier, "How are you doing?" Immediately recognizing my sympathy, he said he and the cook have been there all night, and should have been relieved by the manager an hour ago, but he hadn't arrived yet. So here they were stuck, living in the Nowheresville, Indiana, and getting paid shit money to peddle shitty food and deal with obnoxious travellers after pulling an all-nighter.

Upon receiving my pancakes and sausage meal with extra hash browns, I told the cashier to "have a good one," as sincerely and empathetically as possible, and ate alone at a table while glancing at my road atlas. I'm barely one third of the way home.

I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of rush hour traffic as I skirted beyond the Chicago metropolitan area, and I sped pretty much all the way through Illinois. That is except for one brief period where all cars stopped dead as we all appeared on the scene of a fresh truck accident.

One 18 wheeler was off on the shoulder, completely perpendicular to the road, and embraced by a second 18 wheeler and the crushed remains of a passenger car. I heard on local radio later on three people died in that melee.

This wasn't the first time I was witness to the aftermath of a fatal accident involving an out-of-control truck taking out a passenger car. It's terrifying, sad, and ugly.

Considering the increasing number of fatal accidents I've seen over the past ten years crossing this large country, we need to get our pavement bloodstream into better shape. One of the most truthful bumper stickers I ever read was: "If you bought it, then a truck brought it." If this is really the case (which it is), and our highways remains as crappy as they are (which they will), and increasing demands are forcing truckers to work longer hours (which they are), then we are in trouble, my friends.

In contrast, Iowa was quite dull. The only noteworthy event was one moment when three different John Cougar Mellencamp songs were being broadcast simultaneously on three separate radio stations. This is what this part of the country wants to hear... unlike upstate New York, where every other advertisement was a lawyer announcing their expertise in asbestosis litigation.

And Iowa was long. I started running out of CDs to listen to. Why did I think that 24 would be enough? So more and more I turned to radio, and more and more I found myself confronted with the most hostile, righteous and painful talk radio hosts in the world. Mike Savage and Rush Limbaugh were the worst of it. I found listening to these assholes spew caused my blood to boil, and time flies when you're pissed off.

Now... I'm all for free speech, and I understand that not everybody thinks the way I do. If anything, I feel sympathy for all those who live in the middle of this country who don't get anything to chew on except ignorance and hate and the impassioned fight for the right to bear firearms. Death to abortionists! Those homosexuals freaks should be put in mental hospitals! If everybody went to Church like a good Christian we wouldn't have gangs/drugs/etc..

However, lest you city types think that rural expanses are cultural wastelands, why do I find the people who live in liberal urban areas relatively unfriendly? I'd pull into an Iowa gas station and get "Woo-hee! You drove here all the way from New York" from a fellow customer who glanced at my license plate. Another person would launch immediately into pleasant questioning about how my Chevy handled the hills. I get nothing from grunts and cautious stares from the strangers in the left-wing, forward-thinking cities in which I choose to reside. Maybe it's all about the cost of living. Maybe it's all about anonymity in numbers. Maybe it's because in the mid-west and it helps that I'm just another white guy. Anyway food for thought.

So I made it into Nebraska as the sun set beautifully over the horizon ahead. The air was hot and thick with humidity and insects. I felt I could push though to Cheyenne where I promised myself I'd get a hotel and get some real sleep.

But as Nebraska wore on, the bug splatters on the windshield made it increasingly difficult to see. That and the fact I was dead tired and my eyes were beginning to spasm. And nearby lightning peeking through the trees to the south distracted me. And the ceaseless random road construction was growing more and more confusing. And the coming storm created violent winds attempting to sweep my car off the pavement and into an endless sea of traffic cones. I needed a break.

I got gas and squeegeed for a good ten minutes trying to remove all the bug guts coating the glass in front of my face. Apparently these creatures have glue for blood.

I still had a couple of hours before Cheyenne. But within seconds of returning to the highway, a kamikaze pebble struck, causing a tiny fracture in the windshield right there in my direct field of vision. Fuck! So I took this as a sign to stop for the evening.

As soon as I crossed the border in Wyoming, I found the first available motel and got a room. It was only like $40 and well worth it. I got an ice cream bar at the convenience mart across the street, watched crap on television, and got some welcome shuteye.

By morning the storm blew over and it was another nice summer day. I got another early start in hopes that I could make it all the way to Oakland by tonight. My rough calculation was that I already made it 60% of the way so far, which meant really pushing it for the remainder of the trip.

So without further ado I got back on track, passed Cheyenne and enjoyed a nice, swift ride through the small hills before the Rockies. All was well until I spotted a new LED on my dashboard that read: "Service Engine Soon."

What the hell does that mean? I pulled off at the next exit - no pay phone, no gas station, nothing but a long dirt road disappearing into the distant northern hills. I popped the hood and poked around. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but what do I know?

According to the manual the "Service Engine Soon" message could mean any of a number of random things ranging from mildly interesting to completely devastating. And the only way to find out was to take it to a Chevy dealer.

There were no Chevy dealers in sight, so I got back on the road, hoping whatever was wrong wouldn't get worse. An hour or so later I stumbled into the town of Evanston. At the gas station I called my folks to let them know the car was freaking out. While ranting on their answering machine I dug through a nearby copy of the yellow pages and found a dealer wasn't too far away.

I pulled up into the garage and they seemed busy. I waited at the counter for ten minutes, proud of my own patience. Once he was free, I calmly told the mechanic about my situation. At first he said it would be a couple hours, but then he returned a minute later telling me he'd check it right now. Cool.

These new cars have computers in them and shit. And so the mechanic simply plugged his special Chevy hand-held into my dashboard and it told him that two hours ago the engine got flooded with a little bit of extra fuel. Nothing else seemed wrong.

Of course, that made sense. I had cruise control on at high speeds, and while going up the hills the car kept throwing fuel into the engine trying to reach my selected velocity. He cleared the message (which only these special devices can do) and my dashboard was left free of scary warning messages.

He let me go without having to pay the typically required computer check fee of thirty bucks. That was totally cool. I was pleased with the nifty, informative technology and the mechanic's generous help, but also troubled by this power that car manufacturers have nowadays by forcing people to return to dealerships and pay extra fees just to remove vague, scary messages from their dashboards. What will they think of next?

So that was Wyoming. Hello, Utah! That little episode put me behind schedule, and the dead stop traffic outside of Salt Lake City made it even worse. Turns out there were two nasty accidents screwing up traffic in both directions. See what I mean about the health of America's highways? So I got off and took surface streets.

I hung out in SLC for the first time in my life a mere ten months ago. Since then I've been back three more times. Now here I am again. I feel like this is a home away from home. I even recognize the people who work at the Coffee Garden on 900 South.

I stopped for a breather, got gas, and called my folks to let them know my car was okay after all. Called Jenya to warn her I was on the home stretch. I then took a leisurely drive through the heart of the city to get beyond the traffic.

The next winter olympics are going to be here, so the entire city has been in the throes of a painful face-lift for the past year.

What a place to welcome numerous cultures from around the world to engage in friendly competition. The Mormon underbelly of this town has always fascinated me. References to bees and bee hives are both hilariously obvious (on road signs, for example) and frighteningly subtle (like small metal grates around the roots of sidewalk trees made entirely of hexagons). Mormons like their bees. Something about the drone mentality, I've been told.

Meanwhile there's the "No-Mo" half the city hates the Mormons. Nevertheless, they run the place or at least provide most of the city's flavor. Kind of like the rest of country and Christianity.

After wading through miles of mid-city road reconstruction I got back onto 80 and headed toward Nevada. I particularly like this part of 80 - the view of the lake, the endless salt flats, and that one insanely tall, weird sculpture in the middle of nowhere right off the shoulder. You know which one I'm talking about? What's up with that?

I made it to Nevada by 5:00pm and it was still hot as hell. So hot, in fact, that a large portion of the state was on fire. I kept a watchful ear on the news to see if I'd be caught in the midst of some wild blaze down the pike.

The sun set before me, and I was making good time, but I was feeling really crappy. Between exhaustion and poor nutrition from all the garbage I've been eating, I had to stop in Winnemucca for a break. There I went to an actual supermarket for dinner. Got an apple and a power bar. This didn't really help my general road-food-nausea.

With the sky almost completely dark, I noticed various glows over the horizon. At first I thought the casinos in Reno doubled their wattage. But as I got closer I sensed less oxygen and more smoke. So these were some of the fires I've been hearing so much about.

I only got to see actual flames once, but several large fires shimmered just over the hills around me. At one point the smoke got so bad I used my shirt as a makeshift gas mask. It was also hot as hell, even as it got to be around midnight. I stopped in Reno.

Several electronic road signs warned me that 80 was closed due to fires going over Donner Summit. I asked the guy at the gas station if he heard anything different and he said it should be open any minute now. Not wanting to spend any more time in Reno than necessary, I headed right in California, fingers crossed.

It was a relief to finally be back in my adopted home state. Though I suffered from severe velocitation and exhaustion, the fear of dealing with highway closure and the excitement of returning to Oakland kept me alert.

I hit the agricultural checkpoint and the guy there said one lane was open up ahead. Phew. I sped up the summit where the air became unbreathable and visibility became dangerously low. Luckily, traffic was as thin as it should be in the wee hours of a Tuesday night.

Right at the top of the hill fires enveloped small shrubs at the edge of the road, and droves of firefighters were spraying hoses and stomping on glowing bushes and doing whatever they could to kill these final remnants of what seemed to be quite a destructive burn. What an eerie sight, in a way. However fascinating, I was quite happy to zip by and get down from the mountain and into cleaner air.

The final stretch of the road was dull but fast. Didn't stop at all, really, until getting back into Oakland. Coming into the Bay Area after driving for days in this expansive, empty country is quite a religious experience. Or it would be if it weren't for all the shitty music on the radio.

There it is... The ring of hills around the bay, the familiar set of long bridges, the magical San Francisco skyline over the water, the growing accumulation of baudy chain stores in Emeryville, and finally the first exit into Oakland.

I made it to my neighborhood without incident by 3:30am. For those who can't be bothered to do the math, that means it took me 69 hours to get here from Portland, Maine. Whew. While unloading all my crap into the garage I became suddenly aware how dizzy I was from staring at the highway for three days straight. Everything in my basement, though stationary, felt like it was passing by at 70 miles per hour.

I spent the entire next day getting my new car inspected, insured, and registered. Dealing with all this was easily more exhausting than the past 3 days of travel. All the waiting in line afforded me the time to reflect over the past days events...

What an amazing time to be alive: Technology is sufficiently advanced so a single person could cross an entire continent on the ground in 3 days' time. As well, civilization hasn't progressed to the point where every last scrap of natural beauty is destroyed. So there's plenty of amazing sights to see on such a journey from one coast to another.

Still, this country is fucked. Democracy doesn't scale well, obviously. Everything is out of balance. Our quest for convenience breeds laziness, which in turn breeds a lack of respect of the important things in life, and there's a growing inability to conceive what these things are. Greed and stupidity rules. Willful ignorance is rewarded with false hopes and dreams, which in turn strengthens ignorance. This cycle generates fear. Fear evolves into pointless anger and rage. A nauseating amount of people choose violent solutions first. Nobody will admit they are weak or wrong. Empty goals like winning the lottery or screwing a model are way too common and only aggravate an already fragile state of public mental health. The climate is changing for reasons which are obvious, but nobody will dare disrupt the system to fix it. Blah blah BLAH BLAH BLAH!

This rant can be condensed into three poignant words, as uttered by a bandmate during a national tour the previous autumn. We were in Albuquerque, enjoying pastries and quality caffeinated beverages at a local cafe. Upon leaving this establishment we passed a McDonald's and witnessed the rush hour swarm of cars pouring out the parking lot, each driver waiting in line at the drive-thru window so they could get their brain-dead daily fix of greasy breakfast bites and shitty coffee. Meanwhile the much better, healthier and community-inspired cafe we just patronized was practically empty. We noted the disparity and he said...

"Basically, we're goners."

Epilogue (written October 2001):

A couple weeks after this essay was completed planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands of my fellow citizens. All sadness and sympathy I felt about this incident immediately gave way to anger and frustration as blind nationalism quickly took hold on our country.

Want to be patriotic? Put your fucking flag away, plant your fat ass in your gas-guzzling car and drive from state to state as long as you can stand it. Try to get off the highway as much as possible. Observe everything. When you are through, write down everything you liked and disliked about what you saw. Now do you still love your country?

Please... all I ask is that you just stop and look... and then think about it.

December 20, 2016 : Swiss Train

Jenya and I flew from Heathrow to Zurich, where we then hopped on a train which was supposed to take us from the airport to Basel, but midway it stopped all of sudden. An announcement came over the loudspeakers in Swiss German. Jenya was able to make out just a little bit - something about being brought to a different station. There was one person on the car with us: a young girl who spoke only French. We just smiled and shrugged at each other.

We arrived at the next station and everybody on the other cars poured out onto the platform. We still had no idea what was going on, where we were, and what to do next. We followed the general flow of passengers off the train, but then they started forking in different directions. Jenya and I stopped at one juncture, completely stumped. We found a map on the wall and tried to make heads or tails of our situation when a fellow traveler recognized our confusion. As he passed behind us he leaned in and said in what sounded like a perfect American accent, "gate number 8." He briskly continued on his way. I never saw his face.

With no other leads to follow we boarded the train at gate number 8. Everybody else on the car was part of some kind of Swiss marching band, laughing and cheering and singing folk songs in one giant, happy unison. We weren't at all convinced we were on the right train until we magically appeared in Basel an hour later.

December 13, 2016 : Right On

While new to the area I struggled to find a worthwhile music scene. I kept answering classified ads, including one from some hippie jam-band outfit looking for a bass player. They were nice enough. I met them at their rehearsal space in San Francisco. It was quickly obvious this wasn't going to work out but I stuck around for the whole evening just for the sake of practicing my own chops.

We took a break, during which I sat by the lead guitarist, an older dude with a weathered face but long healthy black hair. He offered me a bong hit. No thanks. As he selected a proper nug he asked, "your last name's Lebofsky, huh?" I confirmed this. He disappeared into a moment of silent thought while tamping down the bowl, emerging with a second question: "Russian Jew?" This I also confirmed.

At first he seemed unmoved by this data. He flicked his lighter and sucked hard on the glass water pipe - a deep, bubbly drag followed by a forced pause as the smoke tangoed inside his lungs, ending with a long, relaxed exhalation into the cool night air. But then he smiled at me and said, "Right on."

December 6, 2016 : Panic

I was in Texas and having a panic attack in the middle of a rock tour. I crouched behind the van parked behind the club, desperately trying to meditate and breathe it away, but the waves kept crashing in my chest and head. Months of travel, stress, sleeplessness and terrible diet finally caught up to me. Also, on hindsight, it may also have been that I played a gig at this same club 13 years earlier and looming in my subconscious were the blurry faces of two people at that show who died shortly thereafter in separate tragedies.

But the cause of the racing heart and inescapable flight response was unimportant. It just was. Luckily I'm centered and enlightened enough to realize the nature of my collapsed mental state even in hot midst of such chaotic and confused situations. Nevertheless I couldn't help but flee at top speed though various backyards and empty parking lots until I found myself hiding in dark shadows behind a post office. I called Jenya back in Oakland, and she talked me down.

I feared my hunger wasn't helping so once calm enough I wandered to the main square and discovered what seemed like an adequate pizza place. Despite what felt like electricity leaking out my eye sockets I managed to put on my best sane-person impression as I ordered two pepperoni and bell pepper slices at the counter. When absolutely necessary I'm pretty good at pretending to be human.

I sat there staring blankly at the brick wall behind the bar when I noticed the time on the nearby clock. Oh crap - they are officially closing up shop. I went back up to the counter to apologize and request the slices to go, but the cashier was cool. "You can stay while we clean up," he said.

Given my fragile state, this felt like the nicest thing anybody had ever said to me. In my raw mind it translated to: "We know what you're going through. We can tell. It's okay. You're safe here. Enjoy your pizza. Take your time. We got this."

I slowly ingested the greasy meal in the comfort of my solo table where nobody expected anything from me. I didn't have to explain. I didn't have to think. I only had to chew and swallow.

On my way out I thanked the staff again. So crazy how a small shred of kindness, or just mere welcomeness, can really help a guy.

November 29, 2016 : Three

I lived in a standard house-full-of-dudes in college. One night a bunch of us were watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. The episode was "Cause and Effect" where the ship enters a time loop, the end of which always results in their explosive demise. At each iteration of the loop the the crew experiences increasing feelings of deja vu (or nib'poH in Klingonese). Eventually [spoiler alert] they figure out what's going on, and Data somehow transmits the number "3" back in time such that during the next loop the number appears unexpectedly and often. This is clearly a message which the crew deciphers and thus they break out of the otherwise infinite and fatal cycle.

The next morning I emerged from my bedroom and entered the living room downstairs to find a giant, ceramic number "3" positioned on the mantle above the fireplace. That was hilarious, except upon questioning the others who watched the show we came to realize none of us put it there. Wait... are WE in a time loop?

No. Turns out we had another housemate who, instead of watching Star Trek with us last night, went out drinking himself silly. And on his drunken walk home he - for no clear reason - pried that number off the front of some random house and left it on the mantle before crawling to bed.

November 22, 2016 : Hundred

I'm hypergraphic, i.e. I have an irresistable urge to write. This compulsion began as soon as I could make readable words with pen and paper, and took the form of creating lyric sheets for fake albums. Eventually I successfully overcame the fear of being sincere, and began writing earnest words for existing or future compositions. I had thousands of such poems under my belt by the time I hit 18, basically. There was also a phase of making comic strips named after the nebbishy main character "Squarey." But my brother Ben was 1000% times better at forming hilarious and captivating comic stories and the accompanying artwork so I just bailed on that and stuck to music/lyrics.

Just before my 19th birthday my sister Lisa, 8 years younger than I, offered to buy me gift. I knew she couldn't afford much - I suggested a blank book so I could begin keeping a journal. Why the sudden motivation? I guess this was around the time my life was becoming interesting. And I found myself forgetting details over time, which was horrifying. I figured a daily journal could help.

Almost immediately I was drawn into the daily habit. Eventually I was spending an hour a day scribbling about the other 23. The entries were all handwritten. After filling about 30 such books I transitioned to using a computer. Now I could type twice as much detail in a quarter of the time.

My mid to late 20's went dark. More and more finding the time to write stressed me out, so I took to speeding up the process by speaking into a tape recorder. This was a complete failure. Instead of the meditative processing that naturally occurs when forming written sentences, blathering out loud made me frustrated and angry. Like I was opening up to an imaginary therapist who never returned with words of comfort and support. Like the eternal helplessness of a dog at the window barking at squirrels, never to catch and destroy them. Instead of calmly sorting my thought and emotions, spoken words simply made me feel ugly and stupid. After three cassettes I called it quits. I should burn those tapes.

I enjoyed the influx of free time and shedding the "responsibility" of the daily journal. Luckily this period coincided with the entire planet falling in love with e-mail. So there is still some sort of traceable record as I saved all my crazy long e-communications to/from friends and family. I also had a personal web site where I proto-blogged about all my gigs. I did get the urge once in a while to start up journaling again, but couldn't quite find the groove.

In short, coverage was spotty from ages 27 to 31. Then one night before a Dropsy rehearsal I was waiting outside the practice space near Telegraph Avenue. Erupting before me was this unexpected sequence of events. A woman with a thick Italian accent chased a chubby moustached man sprinting fast away from her down the sidewalk. She wailed, "Mario! Mario!!" but he escaped out of view. My bandmate Garth and I agreed she will never catch up to him, and then she collpased, sobbing and alone. But something that never happens in Oakland happened: a cab appeared out of nowhere. She jumped in and they sped after Mario. However sad and random, the real life Italian opera inspired me to think, "Huh. I should write that down." And so I started up again the next morning and have been journaling an average of over 600 words a day ever since.

The funny thing about these journal entries is that they are largely impersonal and contain very little analysis. Of course there's the occasional joke and gripe but I find myself simply listing the order of the day's events with perhaps a few colorful qualifiers. And since in this mode I am focused only on regurgitating the past 24 hours, there are no long-scale narratives. Greatly (and perhaps obviously) inspired by John Cage's "Indeterminacy" I began keeping a folder full of randomly scoped short stories which, in conjunction with my daily logs, added a whole other dimension to my autobiographical introspection.

Meanwhile Facebook happened. Yes, I posted a bunch of naive garbage at first like everybody else, but I got quickly tired of getting lost in the noise of others' uncreative links and embarrassing freak outs, so I took to keeping my posts constrained to haiku form. After about 200 of these I felt like it was time for some other compositional form. I reminded myself that I had those aforementioned stories. I pulled a random one out of the folder and posted it. Noting afterward it was a Tuesday, I retroactively called it "Totally True Story Tuesday." Since then, despite workloads and epic travels, I haven't missed a single week posting old (and sometimes new) tales. People seem to like it.

Anyway, this is my completely roundabout way of saying this is my 100th Totally True Story Tuesday in a row.

[blows horn, throws confetti]

I'm not sure how long I will continue with these. While I have a lot of material in the well, I stuck with posting the lightest and least humiliating yarns, which in turn means the remaining stash features more and more death, loss, failure, weakness, bitter grudges and crushing regret. Not sure any of that appropriate for this forum. So what's next? I dunno. I never promised anything. I know I have a few more good ones. Let's just see what happens.

November 15, 2016 : Turnout

My friends and I were driving cross country. By 2:00am the glow of Salt Lake City finally disappeared from the rear view mirror. I pulled off into a turnout, disappointed there was no bathroom. Still, a couple of the guys walked to the edge of the lot to take a leak over the guardrail. I got out of the car to stretch. While taking in some crisp mountain air a woman's voice emanated from the pitch black inside a nearby parked car - the only other vehicle in the lot - which I had until then assumed was abandoned.

"Your mama know you boys are out here so late?" she said. It was so dark I could barely make out her silhouette, much less her face.

"No," I responded, and nervously giggled.

"How old are you?" she asked. In reality I was 21 at the time, but for unclear reasons I felt like obscuring my true identity, and perhaps intensifying the situation out of youthful curiosity, by answering, "19."

Her hand reached out the window, waving a bottle - the only part of her person that I ever saw, and the first clear evidence I was indeed conversing with a human, and not a ghost. She offered me a swig of her homemade fermented prune juice, which I politely denied. The others returned from peeing and soon we were all being talked at by this drunken woman. As time wore on her blather made less sense, and we also became aware that there was at least one other person with her in the car - a man - sitting silently and motionless next to her this entire time. Creepy.

Okay, time to go! We abandoned her mid-rant without warning and fled, piling into the car and speeding back onto the highway. About three hours later I came within inches of hitting a full-size deer, having to swerve onto the shoulder while going 80 miles per hour to avoid it.

November 8, 2016 : Election Day

A few months after I reached legal voting age there was a presidential election. My older brother Ben wasn't as lucky - he turned 18 three years earlier, narrowly missing his chance to vote in the previous national race. We were both attending the same college, and just before election day we bumped into each other near the main lecture hall, and got to chatting. He was anxious to finally exercise his democratic privileges, envious that I would have the same opportunity earlier in my life. However, the choices were rather uninspiring: Dukakis and Bush.

Ben asked, "so who are you voting for next week?" I admitted having no idea what was going on, nor did I care, and therefore probably wouldn't bother to vote. In absolute frustration upon hearing me admit this, he punched my arm as hard as he could. Then he yelled at me about being such a lazy, selfish idiot. Fellow classmates walked past and stared.

As obnoxious as that was, he was right. And so I voted. My team lost, which was like was another punch in the arm, albeit metaphorical. But still, better than being a do-nothing.

November 1, 2016 : Electricity

When I was around 8 years old, i.e. before computers were omnipresent, I was more of a hardware guy. I even took classes at the local community college for budding engineers, during which I made a simple radio and everything.

But a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. This came to light when one day the batteries in my art spinner ran out. Remember those things? You put these white cards on a tray attached to a whirling motor and squirt bottles of colored liquids at them to produce random Rorschach-looking "paintings."

Anyway, I couldn't find fresh D cells anywhere in the house. Frustrated, I felt like it was time to man up and put my electrical engineering prowess to good use, and figure out how to plug this thing in so I wouldn't need any stupid batteries.

I went down to the garage and marched right up to the metal desk in my father's work shop where I was certain to find supplies, and indeed I did. In a drawer containing a nest of wires I found the perfect, easy solution - an extension cord that's already been severed so one end was a two prong plug and the other was a pair of exposed wires for which to easily connect to my toy. Sweet.

I brought the cord back to my bedroom and got to work. It was a messy space, so in an effort to be orderly I plugged the cord into the wall right away while I figured out the rest of my project. I dismantled the spinner to find the ends of the battery chamber for which to attach the exposed wires. Fairly straightforward operation.

It was going to be a tight squeeze in there so I wanted to clean up the frayed ends a bit to make for an easier connection. To do so I needed something for which to trim the wires and then neatly strip off the insulation. I went hunting around the house again and soon found another handy tool for the job: a pair of all-metal hair cutting scissors. Everything is falling into place!

Back to my room I went right for the live cord with the scissors. I distinctly remember a part of my brain going, "what the HELL are you doing?" before I saw the blinding white light. ZzzzAP!

Luckily I was just knocked backwards and didn't receive too bad a shock. Stunned, embarrassed, and ashamed, I stood there for a few minutes as my noggin rebooted.

I calmly and quietly went over and unplugged the cord. I carried it back down to the work shop, opened that evil drawer, and plunged it deep into the nest of other wires. That was the end of my electrical engineering career. Screw hardware. Software is far less painful.

October 25, 2016 : Papers

Jeremy and I ran into Leslie on our way to music history class. She asked us which composers we chose for our papers. "What papers?!" we cried. The papers due today - a three-page biological essay assignment from weeks ago that somehow both me and Jeremy completely failed to remember.

Lucky for us, the professor's policy was to accept papers at the end of class, so we had an hour to get something done. We thanked Leslie for the warning and ran to the library - this was before laptops and the world wide web. Armed with pens and paper we selected arbitrary composers to write about and hit our favorite reference tomes, jotting down key factoids pertaining to our bullshit topics.

Lucky for Jeremy, I had a typewriter and could type really fast. We ran back to the dorms and I bashed out my own three page essay before Jeremy dictated his for me to crank out as well. We ran back to the music building and with seconds to spare we deposited the papers in the professor's hands. Leslie was impressed.

We celebrated over lunch. Ironically our forgetfullness was quite beneficial: instead of weeks of dread and procrastination while avoiding having to compose some lame essay we only had an hour of sudden hell and then it was over.

October 18, 2016 : Plumbing

On the day before Christmas I planned to replace a shower fixture. I needed a better pipewrench and some plumber's tape to finish the job, so I headed to a hardware store. It was open today to squeeze out a few more last-minute-gift sales before shutting down tomorrow. I ran into Dave there. In his basket were an assortment of pipe fittings and gaskets and such.

Dave and I were fellow musicians in the weirdo local scene but didn't know each other so well, so there was awkward conversation about holiday plans. We quickly came to realize neither of us had any particularly Christmas-oriented events to attend, so he finally mustered the courage to ask me, "are you.. jewish?"

I confirmed this, and he confirmed the same. He concluded, "I guess this is what jews do on Christmas."

"Yep," I said. "Plumbing."

October 11, 2016 : Trespassing

Jenya and I came home from a long weekend camping in the Sierras and heard our cat Alexei meowing his ass off inside as we walked up the steps to our front door. This was cute, but also kind of weird as Alexei previously never really gave a shit about us returning from travels before. Nor was he previously that talkative. He was completely silent and indifferent in most contexts. We opened the front door and, oddly, he was nowhere to be found. Weird.

When we went back outside to get a second load from the car we heard the meowing again. It was then we spotted Alexei's panicked cat face in our neighbor's window. He was trapped inside this other house screaming, "get me the hell out of here!"

Alexei had free reign to roam far and wide and likely snuck in via the back door before the neighbor left for the weekend. Poor kitty might have been stuck in there for days. I knocked, but no human answered.

I could see a side window was open so I broke out my ladder and - all too easily - climbed up and in. Due to the scary situation and mild starvation Alexei didn't run into my arms but instead freaked out and fled toward the basement. I chased him down there but he successfully hid in some dark, dusty nook. Crap.

So I went back out and grabbed a can of cat food from our kitchen to lure him out, then back up the ladder into the other house. Alexei finally did appear, magnetized by the savory fumes. He cautiously approached. I grabbed him and before he could shred me too much I basically threw him out the window. Now free, he immediately scurried back into our abode.

I did leave a message on our neighbor's phone in case he noticed anything strange when he got home. I said it was me breaking in to rescue my cat, and he shouldn't leave his windows open and unlocked like that.

October 4, 2016 : Gobs

Jenya and I had a weekend camping trip to Death Valley with friends Linda and Brad. On the last day we drove our Chevy Blazer over some rough road to check out the Devil's Racetrack, and then even rougher road to maybe explore further nether regions of the park. We were in an SUV, so no problem, right?

Wrong. The brakes were suddenly "softer" and a warning light appeared on the dashboard. Guessing (hoping) we were simply low on brake fluid we headed back to the crater parking lot and now on paved ground aimed to check the levels. This should have been easy, but the hood was stuck. Nothing we could do with our limited tools could make it unstuck. Well, shit.

We carefully managed to get the car through the park and toward the nearest mechanic. He spent a long time getting the hood to open again, which required going underneath and practically removing the radiator first. Once loosened he lifted the hood - and then it fell right back down on his other hand. He claimed he wasn't hurt.

The brake fluid reservoir was indeed completely empty and we filled it up with a freshly bought bottle. But it all then spilled out onto the ground underneath the vehicle. So the awful truth was finally revealed: we had a broken brake line. This usually isn't that big a deal, except he didn't have the replacement parts here in the middle of nowhere, and it would take 3 or so days to ship them. We were aiming to head home tomorrow.

The mechanic instead did us a big favor by clamping off the line such that the leak was fixed but only 3 of the 4 wheels will have brakes. This isn't standard (or safe) practice, but it got us back on the road. And he only asked us for $20 for all the above labor. Brad and I paid him $40. We made it back to Oakland in one piece, where I took it to a cheap garage to replace the brake line for real.

A few months later Jenya and I were on a separate trip exploring canyons in Southern Utah with my brother Ben and his girlfriend Lisa. We were returning from an epic stay in Coyote Gulch and were just barely at the end of the 50-mile dusty, unpaved, ungraded Hole-in-the-Rock road when the brakes went completely soft again. Goddammit! We were able to limp the car into the town of Escalante.

After breakfast, I bought some tools at a convenience store, only to succeed in covering myself with brake fluid and whatever else from the oily puddles in the parking lot. Luckily there were mechanics in the garage across the way available and willing to check things out.

As a team they quickly patched and machined a new flange at the end of the broken conduit. One of the guys - naked from the waist up except for leather vest, sunglasses, and handlebar moustache - explained the problem to me through his thick Utah drawl: the Oakland mechanic who worked on this left too much extra brake line just hanging there unsupported in the undercarriage to wiggle around and eventually fall apart, especially when riding on rough terrain.

He pointed at the conduit wrapping around the bottom of my car like a nest of snakes and said, "Ya see ya got *gobs* of brake line under there." He then pulled up his shades, pressed his face within inches of mine, stared deep into my eyes and loudly repeated, "GOBS!!"

They charged me $20 for the repair. We paid them $40.

September 27, 2016 : Greek Peak

Having never skiied before, I signed up for lessons at Greek Peak during my college days in upstate New York. They were conveniently scheduled at night to avoid conflict with regular classes. So all of the following time on the slopes happened in the dark. A very cold, upstate New York dark.

The first lesson was frustrating. The young instructor referred to me as Matt Lobotomy. He said I was struggling with my form - while the others quickly graduated to the ski lift I was kept behind at the bottom of the hill with another student, Vicky, to work on our moves. Later he confided in me that my form was fine and he randomly chose me so as to not single out and embarrass Vicky. So at the end of the night he led me to the lifts so I could go up at least once. The chair swung around faster than I thought and I wasn't paying attention so its full weight collided with my skull. This probably caused permanent brain damage as I collapsed into the seat. I dropped my poles in the process and they had to stop the lift to get them for me.

My floormate Joel was taking this class as well. We rode the lifts together and didn't critize each other if one should fall down while deboarding at the top. About 80% of the time at least one of us would lose our balance and collapse after pushing ourselves off the lift, clumsily landing in the snow then quickly scrambling and shuffling over before the next chair unloaded better skilled skiiers onto the slope who effortlessly glided past us struggling losers.

By the third lesson the class was learning hockey stops. The snow plow just didn't cut it anymore - in order to come to a halt you had to quickly turn to the side while digging in with your upper boot. When done properly you stop immediately and kinda look like a badass. The instructor led the students up to the top of a steep hill, then went down first to show us how it was done. Joel went next, and succeeded in his attempt.

I followed suit, and gained pretty good velocity before attempting the maneuver. I twisted and dug and hot damn it worked! I was quite pleased with myself as I looked up to see the the instructor and Joel staring at me, not with pride or joy, but with expressions of impending doom. I still recall their faces oh so vividly.

Because the next thing I remember was tumbling out of control 100 yards further down the mountain. You see, the next student wasn't as capable at stopping, and instead drove into me at full velocity. I didn't see it coming. The instructor and Joel did, hence their sorrowful visages. I eventually finished rolling and found myself miracoulously unhurt outside of minor scrapes and bruises. The offending student broke their ankle and had to be carted off the hill.

The remaining lessons continued with far less injury except for one night where I fell and painfully twisted the same knee five times. As we got deeper into winter the nights were much more frigid. Joel and I would have multiple heat packs in our boots and gloves to stave off frostbite. The crowds also thinned because who the hell wants to ski that badly in such miserable weather?

It rained during the afternoon before our last evening lesson. This added a delightful crunch to the snow, but also reduced the already meager attendance throughout the day. This increased the chances that certain chairs on the ski lift may never get warmed by human asses, and instead would eventually become coated with thick slabs of ice.

We only learned this was even a real possibility much too late, i.e. while watching in abject horror as the approaching seat glistened in the moonlight. No time to react, we were scooped up and carried up the hill, our buttocks pressing against an unforgiving inch-high bench of frozen rain. We squirmed on the lift for the fifteen minute ride, hovering 30 feet in the air, continually shifting our weight on alternate cheeks as they eventually grew numb. Owie owie ow!

Halfway up the hill the lift stopped, probably because somebody down towards the bottom got their head bashed in and dropped their ski poles. Nooooo!!!!

September 20, 2016 : Buggy

My brother Ben and I were slowly making our way down the west coast for days. We passed through Reedsport, Oregon and decided to camp there for the night. As we went to check out the sand dunes before nightfall we couldn't help but notice the dune buggy outfitters off the main drag. That sounds fun. This activity immediately got added to our itinerary the following day.

We hit the shop first thing after breakfast and the owner walked us through the basic safety protocols and penalties for mishaps like capsizing in the ocean or rolling over. Documents were signed. We paid for an hour rental and were shuttled to the launching point.

Ben strapped in and was the first to scale the massive slope into the sanctuary of several square miles of sandy hills to explore. His buggy revved effortlessly over the edge and out of sight, and then it was my turn. I hit the gas and vrooom! The power was shocking and exhilirating as I flew upwards and over to the other side, already feeling like a different person - a child again - a whole new universe available to me of swervy ups and slippery downs and sometimes taking flight for a second. None of this existed in my reality before last night. I had no idea such joy was possible much less this particular path to its attainment. But here I was fully experiencing this alternate dimension of pure freedom and happiness.

I was so captivated I suddenly realized I was alone in my bubbly world of sand and gas fumes for over 10 minutes already. I spotted Ben's vehicle belching exhaust in the distance and altered my course to catch up to him. Soon I was by his side, both of us gunning our buggies full speed across a small valley. Under his big, dorky helmut I could still clearly make out Ben's face to see he was laughing uncontrollably. It was only then I realized I, too, have been giggling non stop this entire time.

As our hour ticked away we parted ways to venture on our own and then rejoined our paths, attempting more and more daring climbs as we became more expert. Sadly our time was coming to an end, and we agreed to go around together for one last spin. This is when Ben took a tight turn on a slope and his buggy leaned a little too much... and flopped over onto its side.

I stopped my buggy and ran over. He was alright - these things have roll cages and such - but he had to struggle a bit to undo his seatbelt and get out. We pushed the thing back onto its wheels, and we wended our way back to the meeting spot. A shop handler, as per his regular duties, noted the various dings that were par for the course but also spotted the oil leaking from Ben's buggy - a clear indication that it took a spill.

Back at the outfitters the owner was nice enough about it but reminded us that, "rolling the buggy was a naughty naughty," and for this offense we were charged an extra $15. Worth it.

September 13, 2016 : Observer

I went to the giant chain drug store for household sundries. As I left I came across some commotion in the parking lot. A woman was freaking out because her three year old son was choking on some plastic toy purchased from one of the coin-op machines near the exit.

Before I could even register what was happening a store employee already ran past me to help. He was a large man. I watched as he clamly, effortlessly picked the boy up with one hand and slapped the child's back with his other. Slap! Slap! The impacts seemed incredibly precise in force and echoed around us while the mother watched helplessly and cried out prayers.

Within seconds the object was dislodged and the child, suddenly able to breathe, began wailing in panic. The woman was effusive with gratitude and nearly collapsing in relief. She hugged the boy and then, both angrily and lovingly, grabbed his hand and pulled him towards their car.

The employee's instinctual action was heroic but also so swift that he was left with little time to cogitate on the gravity of the situation. Now that it was over, he suddenly looked overwhelmed, on the verge of tears even, as he turned and simply went back to work.

As silence and calm fell around me I came to notice I was standing there motionless this whole time staring like an idiot. I snapped out of it, found my car and drove home.

September 6, 2016 : Paw Paw

I wasn't feeling the groove of this one Species Being national tour until we hit Kalamazoo, MI, of all places. We played a good set, the other band was pretty cool, the venue treated us well, and the small audience was super appreciative (unlike all the jaded audiences in the big cities). Then I was told we scored a place to stay tonight.

What place? Well, I'm a total introvert so I'm never part of the wheeling and dealing to coerce strangers to let me and a pack of fellow smelly men stay at their house. I usually just get in the van and go wherever everybody else is for the evening. Tonight our destination happened to be in the nearby town of Paw Paw.

I didn't question anything until we arrived. It was a party house. The average age of the residents and their increasing numbers of friends was 20. The decoration was archetypical of a late 90's college age shared living situation: Ironic photos on the fridge. Random dusty, uncomfortable furniture. Pictures clipped out of magazines all over the bathroom walls. A communal cigarette lighter dangling from the ceiling via duct tape and curly phone wire.

As the house filled I coerced myself to chat with these youngsters. Pretty soon it became clear that nobody here actually attended our show tonight. So.. how is it that we came to be invited to this shindig? Or are we just crashing it? This was never clearly answered. I did have a embarrassingly geeky discussion with one nerdy guy about SETI@home, so it turns out I had a fan of sorts here. I guess.

I was really hoping for sleep, but that wasn't gonna happen. Some of us older rocker dudes took over a couch and just sat there watching the festivities unfold. I came to learn the main reason for this party was one kid's 21st birthday party. He and all his cronies were snorting ritalin then freaking out dancing to the soundtrack of Trainspotting. This tomfoolery was hilarious and entertaining but I desperately needed z's.

Things eventually settled down by 4:00am. Somebody put in a videotape of The Outsiders. Given I was 50% older than most everybody here it was an apt flick, at least in title. I tried to close my eyes and maybe snooze but I gave up and went to try to sleep in the van. I walked outside.

Oh shit - the sun already rose. I woke up poor Mitch (already in the van) as I maneuvered into a barely comfortable position on one of the seats. Then Eli woke me up a half hour later as he attempted the same. I got maybe 30 minutes of shuteye before the rest of the band appeared because we had to hit the road for the next gig, which was tonight and all the way in frickin' Minneapolis...

August 30, 2016 : Parowan Gap

Jenya and I took the 4runner out to southern Utah for six days, making up our itinerary as we went along. One early evening we decided to head into some nearby BLM land - where it's always free to park and camp and you can do whatever the hell you want, pretty much.

We aimed for this geological feature called Parowan Gap, not knowing anything about it beforehand. It's a waterless wind channel cutting through the Red Hills which also hosts some interesting petroglyphs. We inspected those at a small turnoff as we entered the Gap, then headed up off the road onto some steep, rugged dirt path. We found a lookout flat enough to park our vehicle so we can sleep in the inside of it tonight and not mess with our tent.

The area had this mysterious weight. It's an uncommon destination on the way to nowhere, so we saw no signs of other living humans except for a few cars passing in the valley below before night fell. But given the carvings in the walls, and the faint clues of previous campers and automotive adventurers, the Gap certainly contained a force, or spirit. We felt alone and exposed up on our hill, yet not alone. We cooked up some dinner sitting on some rocks, watched the stars come out including one that shot across the heavens. Whoa. We felt the winds pick up, then crawled inside the 4runner and went to sleep.

In the middle of the night I woke with a start. A sound. I felt something. What was that? My heart pounding, I remained montionless thinking I was simply experiencing the rush of a nightmare. But then it came again.

The vehicle rumbled as I heard the thing again: something between a sickly moan and an approaching chainsaw. I sat right up and looked out through the fogged up windows into the moonlit haze shrouding our vulnerable 4runner. Nothing is out there. Everything is out there.

The rational part of my brain spun through its roledex of simple explanations. As I lay back down the creature cried out again, shaking the car once more. Sleeping deeply just moments ago, the semi-active dreamy corners of my brain pulled out all the stops. It's a UFO. It's an earthquake. It's some native american god angered by our presence. It's distant nuclear war. It's the revelation. It's a gamma ray burst. It's the Nothing. I spent several long minutes having a nigh religious experience. Am I even alive anymore?

But as these very real sensory waves kept washing over me I became solaced by two things: First, I'm still here - if there was something "out to get me" it would have done so by now. Second, Jenya was peacefully snoring next to me this entire time. She is okay, and therefore I am okay.

Now calmed by these conclusions, I was finally able to sort out the reality with some clarity. Given we're parked on this hillside in this range that exists inside an otherwise very flat expanse, we are getting bombarded by winds which just so happen to be sliding underneath the vehicle at a rate to rattle the undercarraige and resonate the frame. So that's what I'm hearing. And that's what I'm feeling. I calmed down. And, eventually, I could sleep again.

In the morning I left the car and rejoined the world. Now outside of my cocoon I almost laughed as I got gently nudged by the breeze, as it now seemed so very common and weak. So be it. You haven't really lived until you stared down the demons until they back off - and then perch yourself outside under a wide sky, vulnerable and alone, and piss right onto the face of the earth.

August 23, 2016 : Leaving Brazil

My first rock tour in South America ended in Brazil. Alex, the guy who hooked us up with shows in the region, gave me a ride to the São Paulo airport on my way home. We left five hours before my departure because he wanted to also meet up with his parents who would be there during a layover a few hours before my flight. I didn't mind - I'd always rather be super early than super late.

But São Paulo is a big city with a lot of people. This is actually a vast understatement. Its population is about the same as the entire state of Texas. So traffic is kind of a regular thing. However Alex assured me what we were experiencing this afternoon was rather unusual. The whole trip was 15 miles - a torturous trek that took almost 3 hours to complete. Alex's many noble and creative attempts to improve the situation were all ultimately futile. It was very very stressful. Very.

Towards the end of this ordeal Alex called his folks who had already boarded their connecting flight. However his father could deboard to quickly meet him inside. To make this brief rendezvous possible Alex parked in a loading zone near the terminal and had me wait in the car.

He was gone for about 15 minutes during which I realized I had no idea what I was to do if some Brazilian cops started hassling me. I knew zero Portuguese, so I practiced all the appropriate Spanish I could if a situation came to pass and Spanish would possibly be more helpful than English.

Luckily Alex returned before I needed to employ my weak langauge skills. We drove over to the international terminal and loaded all my keyboards and crap onto a cart. He led me to the end of the check-in line and bid me farewell.

So despite all the earlier delays and stress I still had two hours before my flight. That should be enough, right? Well, the line wasn't quite moving all that fast - a lot of people with a lot of bags ahead of me. I finally checked in, but still had to wait in a secondary line to have my bags inspected. I had to pop open the keyboard case so the authorities could inspect the contents inside including all my very dirty laundry crammed into every available space. Bystanders got some insight regarding my favorite brand of underwear.

And then onto the passport control with an hour to go. Luckily it was only about 100 people ahead of me. Or so I thought. Once I got around the bend it was suddenly evident it was more like 200 people.

But the line forked and progressed in parallel. Then I was quickly ushered toward the exit visa/customs/whatever processing queue. As I waited I spotted a sign proclaiming we should have all our paperwork out in advance of reaching the front of the line. And then I remembered: I left some visa-related papers in my checked-in luggage. NooooOOOOOO!

Panic washed over me as I worked toward the front, expecting to be turned away and forced to miss my flight. I silently handed the woman at the counter my passport and braced for a public lashing, but she just stamped it and waved me through. Major relief. I guess whatever info I had in the passport was good enough.

I ran to the terminal and to my gate where boarding was near over. Of course, I have my carry-on luggage full of fragile music gear and feared that overhead space was running out and I'd have to check it.

When scanning my boarding pass I was randomly selected for further testing. What?! I was guided to a nearby private area where my palms, shoes, waistline, etc. were wiped with chemical swabs to detect bomb making materials. How annoying, and really just a general "fuck you" to Americans. I can't really blame them.

Eventually allowed to board, I was among the last people hopping onto the plane. I was pleased to find an overhead space near me for my bag, and I collapsed in my seat. Phew. I made it. Finally able to relax and relieve my thirst from all the above heart-racing anxiety I exhaled a big sigh then unscrewed the unopened bottle of water I've been clutching this whole time.

SHPLOOOSH! Turns out it was água com gás. And now I was completely soaked.

August 16, 2016 : Paperboy

Right after I turned fourteen years old I entered the working world as a paperboy. I had no crushing desire to lose my employment virginity, but since the kid who delivered in our neighborhood relinquished his post, I decided to give it a shot. Opportunity knocked, I answered the door, and thus began the long, long, painful journey.

I had about 40 houses on my route, a route in which I had to hike about 3 miles through thick woods, up steep hills, and down long stretches of unscenic pavement every day to complete. It seemed like fun at first, like some jobs do, and a great source of exercise (though this happened to coincide with my brief and embarrassing stint on the high school track team).

But the honeymoon didn't last very long. One big problem involved money collection. Most of the time the customers weren't at home when I went around begging for money. Occasionally people were inside but in the throes of a heated domestic crisis. I would gladly listen to their angry shrieks through the front door but never had the balls to interrupt. Frequently it would take four or five weeks before I caught somebody at their abode and willing to answer the door, and then they'd be all pissed off since they had an unexpected overdue $18 newspaper bill to contend with (and therefore they wouldn't tip).

Every Friday night all the newspaper boys had to meet with Kay, the chain smokin', big tinted glasses wearin' newspaper collection lady. She parked her car at some predetermined spot and we'd all have to pay her the cost of all the newspapers we've delivered that week, regardless of whether we collected enough money or not (see above). Even back then I thought it was kind of seedy and weird for a bunch of pubescent boys on bicycles to meet this gravel-voiced older woman at her car and give her a chunk of their hard-earned cash.

Pretty soon the original 40 houses got bumped up to 60 houses. Carrying 60 of the huge Thursday edition papers was completely painful. But I couldn't bear to split the route up into two trips, since it would take way too long to circle back to my house to get the second batch. So I just dealt with it, possibly causing irreparable damage to my spine. Around this time winter started happening, meaning slipping on ice and snow and spilling papers all over somebody's front yard, which was such an uplifting experience after a long day of being bored senseless at school. On one fine day Rockland County suffered a terrible hailstorm, starting without warning halfway into one of my delivery runs. By the time I scampered all the way home the papers were wet and shredded, and the back of my neck was red and throbbing, having been beaten with countless balls of ice falling from the heavens.

Mustering the energy to continue with this job would have been impossible had I not the burning desire to obtain some new music equipment, since all I had at my disposal then was an upright piano and a classical nylon guitar made in Korea which cost $50 new. After getting an extra $300 during Christmas (thanks to the convention of tipping heavily this time of year) I saved up enough to purchase the musical tools of my dreams. With great joy I blew all my earnings on a Gorilla 30-watt amp, a cheap ass knockoff Strat, and a Casio CZ-101 keyboard.

With this goal met, I gave my notice. Shedding this job was a relief but did have one drawback: Every Sunday my mom and I had the bonding experience of delivering the papers together. It would have been basically impossible for me to do it alone, since I could only carry, tops, about 10 of the monster Sunday editions at a time. So mom drove me around the neighborhood in the family wagon with the hatch open as I assembled papers in the back and hopped out to drop them on doorsteps one by one. Thanks, mom.

August 9, 2016 : Mountain View

It was a crazy morning flying from Buenos Aires to Santiago and making our way to this huge festival. At least 10,000 people there to see a long line of bands. We were the only group from the US. In fact we were probably the only estadounidense weirdos in the whole stadium.

While backstage waiting for our set one friendly locals introduced himself, recognizing me as an obvious foreigner. He said he just travelled to the US for the first time and wanted to know where I was from. I said California. Turns out he was just in California. I asked him where, exactly. He said, "Mountain View."

I was a bit stumped by this. People on their first visit to the US usually just don't go to Mountain View. He explained his was simply tagging along with his journalist girlfriend who was doing a news story about the SETI Institute.

Amused by the coincidence, I explained to him how outside of this music thing I also work in the SETI field, but at UC Berkeley, where among other things I helped start the SETI@home project. He was clearly confused. I could tell from his expression that he was uncomfortably putting two and two together: everybody in North America has a job looking for aliens.

August 2, 2016 : Pizza

I do recall a period of time, well before kindergarten, when the sight of a bowl of spaghettios didn't exactly turn my stomach. I also ingested a slice or two of pizza with nary a gag or moan in complaint.

But that was then. Sometime around my fifth birthday my entire digestive system rebelled, and I found myself suddenly unable to ingest cheese or tomatoes. This complete change in my diet stunned my family and confused the neighbors. From that point on I didn't eat a single thing containing these evil ingredients, nor any food that they inadvertantly touched. In extreme cases, I didn't eat foods that had even the potential of containing these horrid components.

As you can imagine, this pleased my mother to no end. Now she had to either change the entire family's dinner to cater to my picky eating habits, or create a special separate entre exclusively for me, free of the items on my culinary blacklist. It was no picnic for me, either. I had to withstand the horrible insults from my peers when I refused to eat the pizza served at every damn birthday party I attended.

During high school, it seemed impossible for any gathering of thirty of more kids to occur without dozens of pizza pies magically appearing on the scene. At every after-school function, jazz band post-show get-together, and long tech-week theatre rehearsal the pizza would materialize, the masses would dig in, and I'd be standing there feeling like a dork with my stomach grumbling.

At once such feeding frenzy my conscience cried out, "You're starving, you idiot! Aren't you tired of being an outcast? Just eat a slice! It won't kill you!" Before I had a chance to disagree with myself I lunged for a piece and wedged it into my face. My tongue woke up screaming, and quickly notified my stomach about the awful contents in my mouth. My stomach then ordered my esophagus to stop allowing any food to get past my throat.

Great. I continued to chew on this mushy ball of cheeze, tomatoes, and oily dough. As it got more and more digested I wedged chunks of it into corners of my mouth between my cheek and gum. All the while I tried to act like a seasoned pizza-eater, proudly holding the remainder of my slice up in the air and attempting to maintain a conversion with friends about life. Eventually I fled the room and spat all my mouth's contents into a napkin. Yuck.

I somehow survived four years at Binghamton University with nary a saucy bite of pizza entering my digestive tract. I'm serious. This may seem impossible to many of you ex-college kids who thrived on the stuff. Despite all my bitching and moaning, I really wanted to learn to like pizza, honest. I gladly noshed on the crusts my friends and siblings would toss back into the box after having eaten the contaminated parts. I also loved the smell of olive oil, which almost masks the scent of cheeze. But all attempts to truly consume pizza led to me coughing out half-chewed wads of it, throwing the rest of the slice away, and then searching frantically for something to help wash the horrible taste out of my mouth.

When I was 22 years old, starving, unemployed, and living in Berkeley, I got a one-day temp job up at Tower Records on Telegraph Avenue. I accepted this job without realizing my housemate borrowed my car, so I had to bike a couple miles uphill in the rain to get there. I hadn't eaten breakfast, and due to both my low blood sugar level and the sudden influx of exercise I nearly passed out during the trek. Upon arrival, I actually saw spots before my eyes.

I managed to make it through to lunch, during which the Tower management treated the entire crew to - you guessed it - four pizza pies. At this point my ravenous hunger caused me to be considerably less than human, and my base instincts led me to pounce on a pepperoni/sausage slice which I gulped down in an instant.

Regaining my senses, I thought, "that wasn't so bad.." Now sure how or why exactly, but the curse had finally been broken. Proud of my new-found ability to actually ingest the stuff, I had another slice, washed it down with some Pepsi, and felt like a normal person for once in my life.

More than two decades later my diet has vastly expanded. It helps to be married to one of the best and most creative cooks on the planet. I still can't handle strong cheeses or chunks of raw tomatoes. You know, like a lot of people.

July 26, 2016 : Mouse

One night Jenya and I noticed our cats, Alexei and Olga, were sitting on the kitchen floor staring quite curiously behind the fridge. We thought their vigilance was because the fridge made this funny trickling noises during its defrosting process. But they were perched there again the next night, and the next.

The wave of denial ended and we moved the fridge out of the way and discovered exactly what we feared. Mouse poop. A whole lot of mouse poop. We followed the trail of droppings, and found tiny turds behind the stove.. and underneath the BURNERS.. and INSIDE the BAKING SUPPLY cabinet.. AND ALL OVER THE INTERIOR OF THE COFFEE/TEA DRAWER!! AAAAAAAH!!!

We tore the kitchen apart to clean and disinfect everything, a process that took hours. Meanwhile we couldn't help but be angry at the cats for not doing their damn job. Humane traps were purchased and enabled, but were ultimately ineffective at catching anything. But a week or two passed with no further evidence of rodent infestation, so maybe it had moved on.

One weekend afternoon I was in my office at the computer when I heard a funny noise. It was unmistakable scurrying. But from where? I spun around and scanned the room. Nothing. I went back to typing on the keyboard when suddenly I felt like I was being watched. And sure enough, I was. I slowly raised my head and looked up to see high up on the picture frame molding was a little mouse face staring down at me.

Fucker! I couldn't help but leap out of my chair and try to snare it somehow. Not really thinking I chased it as it ran across the molding to behind a set of giant bookshelves. I forced those away from the wall. The damn mouse then leapt up onto the window sill. Curtains were yanked out as I followed it as it ran into the closet. I threw everything out of the closet - a disorganzied pile of old computer gear, boxes of books and clothes, and luggage. It ran underneath the guest bed. I pushed that out of the way. But that was the last I saw of it. It escaped. It frickin' escaped. My office was now a complete disaster area. And all this time Alexei and Olga were soundly sleeping in their respective sun spots in the den.

Another week passed and Jenya and I were in the kitchen prepping a brunch for ourselves. I was chopping veggies and washing dishes when suddenly in the corner of my eye I caught the mouse nervously hiding behind the dish rack. "There it is!" I yelled. I went after it, and it ran right across the countertop, behind the sink, and right into an empty plastic bag which had formerly contained some greens but had since been left on the counter.

The stupid idiot mouse trapped itself! Jenya grabbed the bag and held it up victorious. No we didn't kill it. We let it go down the block. And it probably got eaten right quick by a more predatory neighborhood feline. Whatever.

July 19, 2016 : Diplomacy

One day in high school my pal Mike told me about Diplomacy. It's a board game, based in pre-WWI Europe, and it requires 7 players (each playing a leader of England, France, Italy, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Turkey), each vying to take over the entire continent. Luck was never a factor during play - it was more like chess, with a long round of diplomatic discussions between each move. Games would last hours, sometimes days. And also, quite like real life politics, backstabbing and cheating were keys to success. Apparently JFK, Kissinger, and Cronkite were all fans.

I was intrigued. So Mike invited me to sit in on one game with many of his friends, most of which I hadn't met before and some were, like Mike, of the young republican variety. Countries are randomly assigned at the start (the only time chance is involved). I got Russia and Mike got Turkey. Before the first move Mike pulled me into the kitchen to have a private chat. I was glad my buddy Mike and I were neighboring countries, as we could work together on clobbering the other players whom I didn't know as well. We made plans to consume Austria-Hungary right quick.

Moves were then written down and announced. Much to my shock and disappointment Mike didn't launch westward into like I did, but north up into the Black Sea, basically making a clear attack on Moscow - which I left unguarded since I thought we were allies. I felt humiliated and betrayed. Mike - quite rightfully so - simply shrugged as if to say, "not my fault you're such a weak-kneed bleeding heart liberal sucker." The rest of the game lasted hours, during which I never quite recovered from the disastrous opening. But many lessons were learned.

I followed the lead of my young republican friends and became quite deceiving, opportunistic, and aggressive during future games. Don't trust anybody and every player for themself. Through some ridiculous chance me and James played at least 4 games in a row where we were assigned England and France. And each time we would start with an agreement to not enter the English Channel. "Let's not waste each other's time and get to work on our bigger enemies," we'd tell each other. Despite that agreement James, or I, or both of us, would enter the English Channel on the very first move.

During college I didn't play so much, and then after moving to California some old friends got me to play on line. This was before the WWW, so moves - and diplomatic discussions - were coordinated through an e-mail based server. Each move took about 3 days, after which you could use a unix command line utility to generate a postscript map and see what's up. The other players were a mix of strangers and friends-of-friends, including this guy, Ike, who I sorta knew in Binghamton.

Given the slow pace the game lasted about a year. I was France and holding my own. Ike was Italy. We battled each other from the onset, but about six months in it was clear we were going to both fail unless we teamed up. So I finally opened a line of communication with Ike and after a lot of humble apologies I convinced him to coordinate an attack on Germany. He agreed. And as his few armies trudged north, my fleets swept toward Roma now that he left it wide open. Ike was absolutely livid. But hey, all's fair, right?

By the end of the year I was still not getting any traction, and Ike was down to one single army bouncing around. We hadn't spoken since my shitty aforementioned attack. It was clear we were both a few moves away from losing the game, so I reached out. Basically I admitted to being a real asshole before, but offered that we could at least let's get together and go down in a blaze of glory. He grudingly accepted this plan.

And once again he headed north, and I took the oppuntinity to take over his last Italian city. Unlike the all-caps vitriol I received from Ike after the ruthless attack months earlier, his silence this time around was deeply chilling.

Years later, as fate would have it, Ike was visiting a mutual friend on Berkeley campus. They both swung by the lab - the first time I saw Ike face to face since Binghamton, and since that heinous year-long game where I ruthlessly double-crossed him twice. It felt incredibly awkward, though he was a class act about the whole thing. Really if anything was awkward it was my palpable guilt, still lingering after all this time.

July 11, 2016 : First miRthkon Gig

Music-wise, I've been super lucky to get to do a lot of unique things. I've played big venues, toured weird corners of the planet, enjoyed some large crowds, and survived some stressful high profile gigs.. but perhaps one of my proudest musical moments was my first miRthkon show.

Rewind back to Saturday, Novemeber 11, 2006...

I played guitar/keyboards in a band called Research & Development - a rather large ensemble led by the bass player Nat, who also played bass in miRthkon. Nat called me up with some bad news: he blew a tendon in his right hand. The silver lining was he could (and would) get surgery to fix it, but he'll have to cancel all gigs in the meantime, including a miRthkon/R&D double bill the very next Saturday.

Of course, I'm a bit of an over-confident musical-challenge freak, and like being a hero, so I offered to take over playing bass in R&D while he heals. And, what the hell, I said I could also sub for him in miRthkon. He was into the idea, but what about this gig next weekend? Could I really absorb both books in seven days? "No problem!" I said.

That very afternoon Nat came over with R&D bass charts and walked me through them, and we had R&D rehearsal that same night. So there I was, having zero time to relearn that set of material on bass. I was slightly irked by some of my bandmates' initial lack of confidence about the last minute instrumental shift and having to play a "sloppy gig" but attitudes changed by the end of the evening.

I didn't really know the miRthkon gang all that well at this point (nor their music, truth be told), but I eat avant prog for breakfast - how hard could it be? Wally, the miRthkon bandleader, was very appreciative of my willingness to learn their material in a week, but also understandably skeptical.

Wally immediately sent me the charts and various live recordings and demos. I listened to them and read along. Oh - it's not just some riffs - it's actual advanced level shit. I was excited to dig into this stuff but as I leafed through dozens of black pages my heart dropped. I was totally in over my head. Damn. But at this point all the various other musicians involved were already informed about me stepping up to the plate and happy the gig wasn't cancelled after all, and thus I couldn't wuss out now.

Sunday I did triage on all the R&D/miRthkon tunes. During the week I spent every ride to/from work listening to songs in a loop and every lunch hour staring at scores and every night picking out the most absurd 12-tone through-composed basslines tangled in a mine field of time signatures, ledger lines, and uncommon tuplets. Actually it was a testament to Wally's and Rob's highly accurate and thorough notation that I was able to digest this material in such a scant time. There were also a couple miRthkon rehearsals which were ass-kicking but nevertheless encouraging. But I also had to simultaneously relearn all the R&D stuff on bass which wasn't any small feat, either.

The show was a musical success. Hot damn I played a lot of notes during those two sets, and most of them were correct. No trainwrecks, either. Not many people were there to witness the spectacle, but whatever. I know I rocked it.

This experience helped bolster my confidence a few years later when due to thwarted plans I played my first Secret Chiefs 3 live show with zero band rehearsal (that's a different tale).

July 5, 2016 : Safeway

After getting a filling some years ago I experienced some lingering pain. The next day the aching increased until it was so agonizing I couldn't think straight. I left work early and on the way home stopped by a Safeway. The only useful thing I could find in the drug aisle was Anbesol so I grabbed that, clutching the side of my throbbing face as I waited in line at the register.

Then I noticed the guy in front of me and his purchases for the day. The entire conveyor belt was piled high with every possible brand of ant trap and ant poison that Safeway offered. In fact I think he cleared out their entire current stock. His total bill came out to well over $100.

As he filled his bags with this incredible supply of anti-ant ammunition he saw me rubbing my cheek while ringing up the one tiny bottle of numbing liquid. Our separate battles were obvious, and both kind of hilarious. We nodded at each other with knowing shrugs and smiles that read, "We all have our individual struggles. Good luck, brother."

June 28, 2016 : New Home

I pretty much moved to California with zero plan, non-zero debt, and all the stuff I could cram into the back of my Colt. I wasn't really sure how long it would take me to drive from NY to Berkeley by myself, nor where I would stay en route.

After visiting my uncle Danny in Detroit for a couple days (noted in a previous TTST), I was on my own the rest of the way. From Michigan I made it to Nebraska until I was hallucinating people running across the highway at 3am during a freakish thunderstorm. I pulled into a rest stop, put a pillow on the steering wheel, leaned forward against it, and slept a tiny bit.

At daybreak I hit the road again. It was slow going so I only made it to Wyoming the next night. Completely brain dead, I had to get a motel room. Fearing for all my possessions I dragged them into the room with me before crashing to sleep.

My lack of planning and foresight had me driving through Nevada at high noon in early August. I - and my vinyl record collection - just barely survived baking for hours in the Great Basin. I made it to the California border and onward to Berkeley by around 10pm on a Saturday evening. I was beyond exhausted, but kept awake by the excitement of spending my first night in my soon-to-be adopted home.

What home, exactly? A college friend, Bob, helped arrange this apartment near the Berkeley campus for me, and I called the landlord yesterday warning him of my arrival. He said the door would be open and the key inside. Perfect.

Anyway, after four days of insanity-inducing solo driving coast to coast the enticing glow of San Francisco's skyline came into view. I anxiously got off the highway and followed Bob's written directions to my new apartment, where I can finally take a much needed shower, rest, and come the following sunny morning I shall embark on the adventure of creating a different life in a fresh new locale far far from home. I almost completely boiled over with giddy expectation. So much potential awaits!

Except I arrived at the apartment, beyond tired and road weary, and... the door was locked. Fuck. FUCK!!

I was new to the area, so I had no idea what to do next. As usual with these stories this was well before smart phones. So first thing I did was find a gas station and buy some maps of Berkeley and Oakland just to get my bearings. I then drove around some more to find a pay phone and try to reach the landlord, but he was already asleep, and thus all I could do was leave a panicked message on his machine. I used the bathroom at the McDonald's on the corner of University and Shattuck.

Then I drove back near my apartment-to-be, parked in the street, put the pillow on the steering wheel, and leaned forward one more time.

Welcome to California.

June 21, 2016 : Honda

When my beloved Plymouth Colt bit the dust I needed to buy another vehicle. I was still new to California and quite broke but luckily found somebody on usenet selling a '79 Honda Accord for $500 and got an e-mail through to them before anybody else.

So I quickly drove down to San Jose and met the seller, Rob, at his house. The car was beaten up but ran great for $500. Sold! I happily drove it back to Oakland and it survived the trip, which was also a good sign.

But the following day I took it to the garage to get the smog levels checked, and it failed. According to the mechanic the main issue was a cracked exhaust manifold, which will cost $800 to replace. I was devastated. I couldn't afford this repair. Now what?

By some miracle right after talking to the mechanic Rob reached out by e-mail and asked how the car was doing. I gave him the honest truth - it won't pass smog. His reply was "That's fucking bullshit. Bring it back down here and I'll see what's up."

I drove the Honda back to San Jose and Rob looked under the hood. He pointed out the tiny little crack in the manifold and said if I had a few minutes he could weld it. So I hung out a bit while he got to work. Once done I headed back to Oakland.

It passed smog the next day. I sent a very kind thank you e-mail to Rob. The car then lasted four years with normal maintenance.

June 14, 2016 : Brett

My housemate Brett was such a dick. He was a terrible, terrible musician but somehow eked out a music degree from Berkelee. This gave him way too much validation. However his girlfriend, Molly, was quite nice and, unlike Brett, a talented artist. I lived with both of them for about 8 months until I couldn't take Brett's condescending arrogance anymore and moved out of the house into a single apartment.

A month later I returned to get some leftover mail. Brett was home, and he filled me in that he and Molly broke up. With obvious pride barely hidden beneath false shame he admitted he cheated on her. And he couldn't help but to tell me two excuses for such behavior. First, this other woman was a total babe. A scuba instructor, in fact, he added while almost winking. Second, when he is old and looking back on his life he wants to remember all the "cool stuff" he did.

I felt bad for Molly, but happy she no longer had to deal with that psychopath. But a year later I was going to work at the lab and saw her in the parking lot. With Brett. What are they doing here? Why is she still hanging around with that dickhead?

I hoped to avoid them, but then I heard Brett say, "I know that dude," while pointing in my direction and approaching. Turns out they were both going for a morning jog in the nearby park. We exchanged some painful small talk, none of which answered why they are together again. Then after an awkward pause they turned to each other and giggled.

Brett finally said, "Okay.. I hate to ask you this, but.. neither of us could remember. What's your name again?"

At first I thought they had to be joking. I mean.. we lived in the same house for eight months about a year ago. But they weren't joking. They truly forgot my name. Fuck both of them.

Epilog: This was all about 20 years ago. After writing this I cyberstalked to see what's up with my least favorite couple. Looks like they eventually moved out of California, got married, had kids, Molly's made a pretty good name for herself in the arts, and Brett is actively pursuing a career in politics. Fuck the internet for making it too easy to find all this out.

[names changed to protect the guilty]

June 7, 2016 : Feral

When Jenya and I had cats, we'd leave our bedroom window open 24/7 so they could safely come and go as they pleased. Of course this meant other cats in the neighborhood easily gained access to our home. This was usually okay - one rather gorgeous feral cat which we named Fner (short for Fluffner) was a welcome guest. He hated us humans, but was good buds with our then current felines Alexei and Olga who let Fner share the warm couch on cold winter nights.

Jenya was off at a recording session one evening when I heard some odd noises in our bedroom. I went to see what's up and found Olga and a strange feral black/white cat in the bedroom having a hissing contest. I watched in fascination until the feral suddenly realized I was in the room and freeeeeaked out!

He (I'm guessing it was a he) couldn't figure out how to leave quickly - from outside the entrance through the window was wide open, but inside the exit was obscured by a curtain. He started a quick succession of panicked leaps while clawing at the thick fabric blocking the way out, almost yanking the whole works from the wall. Jeezus! I backed off, but not before he ran across the bed knocking over a glass of water Jenya left on her dresser onto the floor. Dammit!

I pretended to leave hoping he would calm down and figure out how to escape, and continued to observe from behind the partially opened bedroom door. Olga already left the scene, but this stupid cat just kept spinning around the room in absolute fear. Eventually he tried to jump onto Jenya's other dresser, but didn't quite make it. Instead he sunk his claws into decorative silk on top of which stood various containers of jewelry, random bowls full of tchotchkes, an electric fan and a fancy glass lamp. Unable to let go of the silk, the fucking cat slowly and helplessly sank down the side of the dresser taking him and all the objects above with him.

Ksssh!! Bang! Crash! Kssssh! The lamp fell first, all its bulbs and parts of the fixture shattering immediately. The fan crashed and split in two. An iPod nano hit the floor at warranty-violating velocity. A box of jewelry opened and overturned sending precious earrings, necklaces, etc. scattering among the sea of broken glass, shoes, clothes, etc.

Okay this was now officially bullshit. Fuck this cat. I stormed into the room, shut the door, and let him whirl around like a tornado as I went over to the window and opened it wide. He finally flew out, never to return given the trauma. This left me alone to start the cleanup procedure.

I took a deep breath and dug in. While on my knees separating the glass from the valuables a sudden horrific odor began permeating throughout the house. Turns out Fner was in the basement this whole time, and he took a wild stinky shit on the floor next to the boiler. The noxious fumes came up through the vents and seemingly right into my nostrils. So I had to deal with that first and air out the house before getting back to chaos in my bedroom.

Our next pet was a dog.

May 31, 2016 : Mike

Visiting from California, I tried to catch up with as many old friends as possible, including Tom who was working in Manhattan. He commanded that I meet him by the Tower Records near NYU at noon. I arrived on foot and about 100 feet away I spotted him standing on the corner. I waved to get his attention.

But the guy next to Tom waved back at me. As I continued approaching I finally recognized this other guy was Mike - one of the million Mikes from my high school who was a genuinely good person but nobody I really ever expected to bump into, or hang out with, again. I haven't seen him in, like, five years, and we would have nothing to say to each other. Plus I was here to meet somebody else. So, with some awkward guilt mixed with the dickish joy received by indirectly flipping off my shitty high school past, I completely ignored him.

A split second later Tom saw me and also waved back. Since my gaze was purposefully focused directly at Tom, Mike then wisely came to the immediate conclusion that he was caught in the social crossfire between me and the person I intended on meeting. In my peripheral vision I saw Mike turn to avoid embarrassment as Tom and I greeted and got on with our day which included an elevator ride to the top of the World Trade Center.

May 23, 2016 : Dreamland

Here's the story of the first gig on my first bonafide rock tour ever. The band: Dreamland. The year: 1995. The town: Chico, CA. The venue: Juanita's.

We pulled up in our rented cargo van and loaded in. The bill this evening was local band Silicone Milk starting things off and then us in the middle slot. Headlining were our pals in Idiot Flesh who were wrapping up a tour of their own and heading back to Oakland after a couple gigs together with us. Since they were popular enough at the time that meant we'll have a pretty good audience tonight.

The small venue filled up as the opening band started. They were fronted by several women - a fun and aggressive performance punk/indie band. I don't remember much about their music, but I do remember they kept throwing fire candies into the audience. We then played our set, and Idiot Flesh were face melting as always.

Mantra, the lead singer of Dreamland, worked her extroverted magic and befriended the singer of Silicone Milk, Annie, who then offered us a place to sleep tonight. Sweet. With that taken care of, we were slow to leave the venue - still getting our pack-up-and-load-out chops in order. While bringing stuff out to the curb I spotted a man taking a nearby piss in the street near our van. A flash-flood of urine was heading right towards a stack of Jenya's drums. We rescued them just in time. Phew.

We arrived at the address of our crash pad. Turns out it was an apartment complex. All we had was the address - we didn't know our host's last name, nor her apartment number. Dammit. But we noticed the front door of the complex was propped open. And once inside it was quickly discovered there was a trail of fire candies left on the ground, and up the stairwell, leading to an unlocked apartment. How charming! Inside were Annie and some of her bandmates along with a bass guitar tuned A-A-D-G. We chatted until 3am but then they all left, including Annie, letting us Dreamlanders have the apartment to ourselves tonight. Talk about trust in absolute strangers!

We still needed to get our luggage out of the van. Due to a rushed and clumsy packing job all the gear in the rear was situated against the door in such a manner that it was unlockable. This seemed like a major crisis but Dan drove it around the block, speeding and stopping abruptly in fits and starts, until everything shuffled enough to free the locking mechanism. We got our luggage out and then parked the van in an alley with the back door against a wall for "security." Jenya and Mantra took everything inside while me, Michael, and Dan managed this tricky parking maneuver.

While guiding the van into the spot we heard some late night commotion from the main street 100 feet away. Being in the alley only afforded us a small window between the buildings to view the following scene: At first we heard this guy yelling, "Stop! STOP!! Call the police! You can't do this!!" along with his surprisingly loud footsteps clomping down the pavement. Ahead of him was a speeding car that screeched to a halt at the red light, then going 20 feet beyond the light due to momentum. The running man finally appeared and, while still shouting, jumped onto the front hood of the car. The driver gunned it into reverse with the guy clutching on for dear life and out of our view again. Then the echoes of skidding and more yelling, and - now that the light was green - the car reappeared, the guy still barely dangling off its side, his shoes mere inches from scraping on the ground. They zoomed through the light at probably 60mph, never to be seen again.

Well that was something. Should we notify the authorities? Me and the bandmates didn't really know what to do, but I think Dan did ultimately call the police to let them know what's up.

Back upstairs we sorted out the sleeping arrangements. It was a tiny one room place. Luckily our band contained two couples - Dan and Mantra, and me and Jenya - so we could more efficiently deal with the very limited surfaces. In the middle of the night Jenya and I woke up and listened to Annie's obsessive cat scraping in the litter box for a half hour straight.

So yeah this first night on the road really gave me a skewed impression of touring - as far as I could tell it was going to be nothing but interesting adventure, fun strangers helping us out in every town, and great audiences. Pretty soon it would become clear touring is sometimes the above but largely ceaseless exhaustion, lonely difficulty, and crushing indifference from the world at large. Nevertheless it's still a unique way to travel and learn about oneself.

May 17, 2016 : Big Talker

For a while during high school I worked at a Baskin Robbins. A couple, both of college age, came in. The dude was chatty. After ordering he asked where me and my workmate went to school. I said, "Clarkstown South," as I assembled his ice cream cone.

Turns out he was a former alumnus and so he began asking about what teachers were still there. Every name I mentioned he would respond something like, "Oh yeah that guy was an idiot," or "Ha ha what a bitch she was." I guess he was trying to impress his girlfriend and act all tough and wise now that he's a big boy talkin' shit while back home visiting from whatever university.

I saw through his pathetic charade. Little did he know my dad was also a teacher at South so I asked, "What about Dr. Lebofsky?"

"Oh that guy was an asshole," he laughed.

Without missing a beat I said, "He's my dad."

His obnoxious smirk immediately disappeared. "No he's not," he whimpered in disbelief.

I pulled out my wallet and presented my driver's license that read, "Matt Lebofsky." That surname isn't common, so he knew I was serious. His face turned white.

His girlfriend, silent thus far, punched his arm and cried, "How could you *say* that?" And then the sad stream of wimpy apologies poured from his stupid mouth. "I'm sorry.. I.. I.. didn't even know him.. I was just sayin'..." He just went on like that as I wrapped up the transaction. Yeah, who's the big talker now, dickhead?

I gotta say that felt really good. It's rare that I actually get to call people out like that. Slam dunk.

May 10, 2016 : Toronto Gig

In 2006 Casino Royale - a cover band that largely works on the west coast - picked up a big Tuesday night gig in Toronto of all places. I was asked to do it, but alas I was to be touring with Faun Fables at the time. However as the tour schedule was finalized I noticed that very Tuesday was a day off between Monday and Wednesday shows in Burlington and Montreal, so I accepted the Casino Royale gig after all. What lucky timing and geographical positioning!

The Faun Fables show in Burlington was easy, as we were opening for Pinback and Pleaseasaur - what a weird bill - and thus we had a short and early set. Turns out Kenseth, an old bandmate in Species Being, was a member of Pinback, and I happened to know it was his birthday. So when the Pinback tour manager was giving us some terribly obnoxious grief for being late I diffused that guy's attitude by walking right up and saying, "if you see Kenseth, tell him Happy Birthday and Matt's here."

Anyway, easy gig, and Kenseth and I hung out afterward catching up and exchanging tour war stories well into the evening. We parted ways around 3am and then we parked our RV across the street from the airport. At 6am I woke up and pretty much just stumbled out of the RV, through the parking lot, into the terminal and onto the plane into Canada.

Somehow in my sleepless daze (and sans cell phone) I navigated through customs, found the hotel in downtown Toronto and met the other Casino Royale peeps. We ate some pancakes at a diner then I took a nap.

The band (about 10 of us) left the hotel in the afternoon and headed to the gig - a huge international law convention. Unlike the hellish nightly grind I've been dealing with for weeks I literally walked on stage to my backlined keyboard already powered up and with a proper level set in the monitors. I went "testing testing" into my microphone and all was well. My soundcheck lasted 15 seconds and required zero lifting - quite the relief after weeks of painful loadins and soundchecks that took hours.

It was a fun gig playing the usual Bacharach-drenched set for a thousand party goers. And then we set up camp in a rather swanky green room in back. Since there was an infinite supply of beer we kinda just parked it there all night after our last tune. For some reason we were also able to score free vodka shots at the bar as needed. So basically it was a big party backstage until about 3am when the staff suddenly turned on the bright lights as if to say, "okay enough you American assholes, time to go."

We cabbed back to our hotel. Good god I still had to get up in a few hours to catch my plane to Montreal. I was sharing the room with the bass player Dan who, bless his heart, presented me with a gift - a big bottle of elecrolyte-heavy sports beverage. He commanded I drink all of this before going to sleep. I consumed the whole bottle and when I woke up shortly thereafter I actually felt more or less okay. Thank you, Dan!

After the flight I rejoined the Faun Fables gang at a cafe near the Montreal venue and continued the rest of our adventures. It was a refreshing experience - and quite the perspective check - having a cover band gig in the middle of a rock tour with its completely different levels of alcohol consumption, remuneration, audience response, and heavy lifting. Such is the way of the music profession.

May 3, 2016 : Contractor

Long ago while visiting the Detroit part of the family my uncle Danny asked if I wanted to spend a day making some money helping him on a contracting job. I was only about 14 years old and didn't really know what this entailed. But I wanted to prove to myself, and perhaps to the rest of the family, that I wasn't the lazy nerd I so obviously was. I said yes.

The next day started bright and early. We got a truckload of supplies and headed to the job site. The team today would be me, Danny, Danny's contracting partner, and my grandfather Dave who was also happy to chip in and help out. We all entered this 1000 square foot office space and then it was revealed to me the goal for today: knock down all the current walls, and then put up a completely different set of walls.

I was handed a sledgehammer and began bashing. I didn't have the best upper body strength at the time, and was fairly destroyed before the first wall came completely down. However my grandfather seemed to be having no trouble whatsoever, so I had to man up. I kept quiet even though I was already dripping with perspiration, thirsty as hell, and woozy from low blood sugar.

By mid afternoon we were hauling all the debris out of the space. I'm pretty sure I was bleeding from several wounds and fairly bruised up at this point. Once the place was cleared out we had a dinner break. Danny went out and got Kentucky Fried Chicken for the whole gang. Given my current state of exhaustion and starvation I felt like this was the best meal I had ever eaten.

But we weren't over. The reward for surviving demolition and cleanup was a blur of 2x4s. I felt like my shoulders were going to explode, but there I was bang bang banging in all the nails, or on call to hold up drywall for installation.

When the job was deemed complete we headed back home. I emerged in the house with muscles twitching and my entire body caked with a paste comprised of sweat, dust and fried chicken grease.

My parents asked, "so how was it?" And only then did I let go, practically crying as I described the depths of agony and relentless torture during the long, long day. I felt betrayed - liked a was tricked into being a slave - and vowed to never be suckered into doing anything like this ever again.

Just as I was wrapping up this tirade Danny snuck up behind me and slapped a crisp $100 bill in my open hand and said, "thanks."

A hundred dollars was a lot of money for a young teenager in the early 80's. My bad attitude, along with all my bodily pain, disappeared instantly.

Shortly after returning to New York the $100 were converted into my first two guitar effects pedals (phasor and distortion).

April 26, 2016 : Mystery Photo

By the time we got to the mid west on that 2006 Faun Fables tour we were well into this blurry zone driving a sputtering RV around the country and throwing together ambitious shows in random venues. The gig in Minneapolis was especially random, as it was booked in some former church. We set up all the gear and sets, and then I spent hours hiding and waiting for the many opening bands to wrap up.

Just before show time I sleepily got on stage. I went to pick up my guitar and noticed a photo laying on its strings. It was a picture of me circa 15 years ago, at age 20. I recognized the photo immediately - a very dorky mullet-headed portrait of my younger self that once graced the glass walls near the entrance of my old college radio station.

What the hell? Somebody must have snuck onto the stage in between sets and planted this picture. But who? I squinted into the crowd, scanning to find the potential culprit. Then I remembered that Jason moved out this way from upstate New York around the same time I fled to California. And sure enough, after I played my set I found him in the audience and we spent the rest of the night catching up on the past decade and a half.

I kept the photo, which is now poised above the computer in my music studio - a reminder of unfortunate haircuts past.

April 19, 2016 : Garage

Every morning was a anxious, chaotic rush during my senior year in high school. Underslept and malnourished I'd speed across town, making it to homeroom in time to bash out the busywork I should have done the night before. Also, as the third child I was granted a long series of random near-death hand-me-down cars from parents and elder siblings. I just recently was granted a giant, clumsy Thunderbird and hadn't gotten used to its bloated size and inaccurate steering.

One morning my high-strung lack of focus finally bit me in the ass. As I was backing out of the house at unsafe speed I swerved way too early and thus rammed the front of the big stupid Thunderbird into the side of the garage. BAM! Shocked by my stupidity and the sudden grave situation I parked, ran upstairs, and yelled to my mom through the bathroom door, "I just destroyed the garage!" Then I fled to school.

Now here's the thing. My dad built the entire three-car garage the previous summer. By himself. Of course I would've and should've helped him but I couldn't because I broke my foot and was out of commission during construction. I watched helplessly from the bedroom window as my dad cleverly lifted giant joists into place as a solo operation using long 2x4s. The whole structure was a rather impressive feat of engineering, and now I just fucked it up.

And here's another thing. My dad worked at the same high school I attended. So after arriving late for homeroom I spend the whole morning avoiding him, knowing full well my mom probably called his office to let him know what's up.

I snuck off campus during lunchtime to drive back home and further survey the damage. It was pretty bad - the whole wall was knocked clear off the foundation. I actually tried to lift it back into place, praying for those mythical bursts of adrenaline that allow elderly farmers to lift whole tractors off their grandchildren. No dice. As well I looked like I took out the guide rail such that the garage door cannot close anymore. Fuckin' awesome.

I didn't see either of my folks until after school when I heard my dad pull up and walk slowly towards my bedroom. He peered into the door and said, quite simply, "give me the keys." I gladly did so. In fact I might have also said, "please take them." He disappeared for a half hour, only to return and hand me back the keys, acknowledging that it would be more of a punishment to him to have to schlep me to all my rehearsals and other activities. "But," he said, "you're paying for it."

I ended up being pretty lucky on two fronts. First, with some borrowed jacks we were actually able to lift the dislodged wall back into place without too much ado. Second, turns out there's a guy in town who collects a bunch of garage door guide rails and we bought a replacement on the cheap from the stash he had in his shed. Other than that it was just bolstering the frame and replacing a few shingles. I think the whole bill came to under $200.

April 12, 2016 : Albuquerque

My father, his cousin Larry, and I were all flying into Albuquerque and meeting at the baggage carousel. I arrived first. When Larry appeared he mentioned that I looked the same as when we last met eight years ago.

I thought about this for a second. My current hair was a bit shaggy, about shoulder length, which was about where it was eight years ago. But in between then and now it grew down to my waist. Then I cut it short, dyed it pink, buzzed that off, dyed it Gillian Anderson red, bleached it, let it grow out again, buzzed that off, and let it grow to where it is now. I also went through several beard formations during this time, and gained about 25 pounds but slowly returned to what is now my regular weight.

So the fact that I looked the same was a bizarre coincidence.

By the way, the reason I was there in Albuquerque was to present a talk at a science education convention with the aforementioned relatives. The text published in the resulting proceedings included Larry's wife Nancy, so the final author list was: Lebofsky, Lebofsky, Lebofsky and Lebofsky.

April 5, 2016 : Bed Time

When I first moved to California I lived in an apartment with Bob. I was beyond broke, living on a $20/week food budget. My bed was a sleeping bag on the floor.

Bob moved out after about six months as he got this really weird gig. A frat at UC Berkeley got into enough trouble that they were required to have an outside house manager on the premises until their behavior improves. Bob was this manager, and got to live for free in this frat house close to campus, even though you can imagine none of the student members in the house were happy to have a policing force under the same roof.

I heard from Bob a month into the job. Sounded like he was a bit miserable with his arrangement - he didn't like anybody and nobody liked him. He asked if I was still sleeping on the floor. Why, yes I was.

So he somewhat casually mentioned how the security in the house was really lax, and there were a lot of mattresses in room 217. Duly noted.

A few days later I drove up to the frat house early in the morning and parked right out front. I walked in as if I was supposed to be there. A few hungover heads looked up at me, and I smiled and waved and kept on moving. I found my way up to second floor and found room 217. The door was unlocked, and within a pile of mattresses were strewn about. On hindsight I shudder to think of their condition, but I really needed something more comfortable than the floor at this point. I chose the least-stained one and trotted back out of the house with it and nobody stopped me.

I had that mattress for years, eventually upgrading when I moved into a new apartment and found a futon left beside the dumpster around back.

March 29, 2016 : Alexei

There used to be a parade of stray and feral cats living in or around our house. One cat adopted us. Jenya and I named him Alexei. He was the worst cat ever - he refused to clean himself, he sprayed pee on everything, he scratched us, he would press his pointed paws into our backs as we slept. But we loved him and his bad attitude.

One morning, much too early, I woke to the sound of grinding out in the backyard. What the hell was that? I pulled the curtain aside and squinted into the daylight - it was a damn squirrel gnawing on a decorative cow skull we had hanging on the porch right outside the window.

I tried to scare it away by shouting at it. "Hey! Pssst! Get outta here!" The squirrel looked up at me for a second as if to say, "Really? Whatever, dude." And then went back to gnawing. Again I commanded it to leave but this time was completely ignored.

Meanwhile, Alexei was curled up at the foot of the bed, ignoring the commotion. Among his other faults he was also completely useless as an anti-rodent defense. Well, I knew this - but the squirrel didn't.

So I scooped Alexei up - he was all like, "what the fuck are you doing, bro?" and hung limp as I presented him out the window. "Hey, squirrel asshole - I got one of these."

The squirrel took one glimpse at the big orange cat dangling from my hand and fled the yard as soon as possible. Alexei paid no attention to the running critter. Instead he just writhed a bit, clearly wanting to be brought back to bed because whatever was going on was total bullshit. I plopped him back on the bed, he groaned a bit, then we all went back to sleep.

March 22, 2016 : Family Bank

When I was about 10 or 11 my parents called me and my elder siblings, Ruth and Ben, into the kitchen to discuss allowance. We older Lebofsky children (my younger sister Lisa was still a toddler) were getting a buck or two a week, but this was all about to change.

In an effort to teach us about saving money my parents decided to institute a "family bank." Instead of giving us physical dollars each week, they would "deposit" money into said bank. If we ever wanted cash we would have to ask them directly for a withdrawal. This saved my folks from having to come up with actual bills to dole out each week, and we kids would have to explain our withdrawals, thus forcing us to consider and justify our spending habits.

So what was in it for us children? Well, our allowance got bumped up to $3 per week. And, perhaps to teach us about math and economics, the parental bank would also give us 5% interest, compounded weekly.

I immediately recognized this incredible investment opportunity, and was happy to accept these terms. And in the first week my parents drew up a ledger and put each of us down for $3 in our respective "accounts," plus 15 cents in interest.

Unlike my sibs, who took money out regularly for reasonable purchases that any young teenager would make, I happily sat back and let my money grow. Admittedly this was easy for me as I had no life and no friends. Week two I got another $3, plus 30 cents interest. Week three I got another $3, plus 46 cents interest. You can see where this is going.

A month into this new regime there was discernible panic on my parents' faces. In a few months my weekly interest earnings exceeded the actual allowance. After six months or so I was pushing $200 in my account and earning about $10/week.

Anyway this is how I was able to buy my first synth. The family bank shut down shortly after that.

March 15, 2016 : C Notes

Jenya and I were driving towards San Pablo avenue when she noticed something thin and green floating on the breeze and landing in the middle of the road. She asked, "is that a dollar on the street?" She quickly stopped the car and I got out to inspect. It wasn't just a dollar - it was a crisp $100 bill! I held it up to the light to confirm it wasn't counterfeit.

Woo-hoo! What ridiculous luck! We guessed since we were passing a nearby Casino that some drunk gambler must have dropped it. Their loss was our gain! However the next day we got an $80 parking ticket. So that happiness was short lived.

This last summer I was walking around Williamsburg with my sister Lisa when I spotted not one but TWO hundred dollar bills on the sidewalk. Hot damn! I immediately lunged down and snatched them, only to look up and see this dude hauling furniture into a moving truck. Once he loaded the current item he reached down and noticed an empty back pocket, then turned in my direction in panic. I was clearly holding his wages for the day.

I've never seen such an expression on a stranger's face before. It was a mix of "fuuuuuuck!" and "please man be cool."

There really was no choice. I handed him the money and his waves of relief were measurable miles away.

March 8, 2016 : Guitar Lessons

By the time I was 15 I was already playing piano and taking weekly performance/composition/theory lessons for a decade. I was also messing around on guitar and bass for a couple years but found myself hitting a plateau on these instruments, so I figured I'd take some extra lessons to get my bearings. Since I had no leads I went with the local music shop and signed up with the in-house guitar instructor. I don't remember his name. Let's call him Don. He looked like a Don.

My folks paid for four lessons up front, and I went to the first one. Don figured I was just like all the zillion suburban teenagers with rock star dreams and sized me up by asking if I had any previous guitar training. I said no but told him I've been figuring out all the chords on my own and would like some next level pointers. He tried to show me how to play some basic blues progressions but I interrupted him saying I already kinda mastered piano and compose all these 12-tone odd-time prog rock epics so can you just get to the good stuff.

He grudgingly wrote down some scales and chord fingerings - so basically he was getting paid to regurgitate some Mel Bay books. His scribbling ate up most of lesson one.

I digested all that and came back next week hungry for some deeper shit, but I clearly hit the limit of Don's skill set. In desperation he asked, "can I just show you the solo to Stairway to Heaven?" Sure, dude. He wrote that down for me in tabulature and walked me through it.

The last two lessons were spent going over the solo in a loop, pretty much, along with how to play pentatonic scales. And thus ended my formal training on guitar and bass for the rest of my life.

March 1, 2016 : Serbia

On the crazy 2012 Euro SC3/a.P.A.t.T. tour we caravaned all over Europe in two Sprinter vans. Between the bands and crew there were 16 of us, all told. It was a blur of highways. Anyway for no good reason here are a few vignettes involving Serbia.

Our first entrance into Serbia was simply a shortcut between Bulgaria and Romania. We were driving all night, and in the morning I woke in the back of the van having to pee really fucking bad. And fully occupied Sprinter vans are such that there's no easy or private way to piss into a bottle.

So we had to stop. The tour manager was in constant freak-out mode about running late, and thus there was some resistance towards taking this unexpected bathroom break. Nevertheless we pulled over at the first obvious place after the border.

We couldn't tell if this dilapidated shack in the middle-of-nowhere was a gas station, but we stopped anyway. I was the first out of the vehicle, running from the dusty parking lot towards the crumpled structure, all the while wondering how the hell I'm going to convey to a Serbian "where's the frickin' bathroom?" Then I spotted the blessed, universally understood sign: "WC-1€."

Yes! The sign led me around back to a room with a giant pit dug deep into the earth. Need I really provide details about the nauseating visuals and terrible stench? I took an exhilarating wizz into the abyss for what seemed like a solid two minutes. Of course now that we stopped many of my tour companions took this opportunity to fill the pit as well.

Back at the vans the old Serb manning the premises emerged to collect his piss money. Since it was on me to stop in the first place, I dug into my pockets and basically handed him all my change which was likely not enough. He was disgruntled, but not knowing English he simply hobbled away with a dirty look on his weathered face. And we were back on the empty road.

The other van was leading for a while and going ridiculously slow. Eventually it came clear they were having mechanical issues. How confusing we must have seemed to the locals: vans full of American, British, and French people trying to locate the nearest/best garage off the highway. The lingual barriers were staggering. For example, the exit signs around these parts say "izlaz."

We did somehow find a mechanic, but of course they were out to lunch. So in the meantime we all napped on the curb or scattered and went wandering around the town. I took a trip up the hill by myself into this random, quiet neighborhood. Epic sonder material. I befriended a stray dog. Hours later the van was fixed well enough to make it to the next gig in Timisoara, but just barely.

The next day we doubled back into Serbia to play a gig in Belgrade. We kinda got lost and I was on navigation duty, which was stressful as the signs are in a completely different alphabet and don't match anything in our GPS devices. Eventually we stopped at the main train station and the promoter walked over to meet us there and lead us to the club. The venue was a shooting range by day, complete with bullet wounds in the walls and stage floor. Not very welcoming.

This ended up being a very fun gig with a great crowd, even though the power fluctuations on stage actually caused the computer to play samples out of tune. Afterward I reached my limit of tour exhaustion and fell asleep on a bench in an unoccupied area of the bar. When I came to all the gear was loaded out already. Thanks, guys.

We stayed at a hostel that night. In the morning I was struck by this little sign in the communal kitchen which happened to be in English - the first English I've seen in a while that wasn't the words: "Fast Food." It was instructions about how to make Turkish coffee. Completely and utterly wrong instructions. Not even close.

Unfortunately on the way out of town the other van broke down again, this time for good. So a.P.A.t.T. were stuck behind as that was all sorted out and missed the gig in Budapest. Eventually they'll get a temporary replacement van with a driver, because due to the rental company policy it was mandatory to have a Serbian at the wheel. The caused us grief when said driver tried to cross over the border into Croatia a few gigs later. But that's a story for another time...

Given that I slept through loadout last night I happily took the driving shift all the way to the Hungarian border. As an American you never really think about the long stretches in between these remote Eastern European cities. They have a unique charm, to be sure. Rolling hills, slightly different trees, impossibly large stork nests teetering atop tall poles. Google it.

The rest of the band was snoring as I enjoyed these visuals alone on this empty highway. I suddenly thought to check my speed and just about the time I saw I was going about 140kph I noticed the red lights approaching in the side view mirror.

Holy fucking fuck shit fuck. I'm about to get pulled over by the Serbian highway patrol. This is not good. My heart entered my gullet as I let up on the gas and continued to coast down this hill. I began practicing apologies and excuses in multiple languages as the cop approached. I visualized a future being held prisoner in a set from Kusturica's "Underground."

And then the cop passed by and kept going, apparently on the way to a greater emergency elsewhere. I made no noise during this brief moment of incredible panic, and then exhaled in utter relief. A couple hours later we hit the border, and that was it for Serbia.

Feburary 23, 2016 : Dishwasher

I lived in this second story flat for a few years with Jenya, Crissy, and Vicky. At the kitchen sink you can see directly into the neighbor's kitchen across the alley. None of us knew him, but from what we could glean during our simultaneous dish washing sessions he seemed like a regular guy. For some reason neither household bought curtains for privacy.

At complete random Jenya and I unexpectedly met this neighbor at a party hosted by a mutual friend. He was hard to recognize at first out of context, i.e. without windows between us fogged up by hot dishwater. We had a good laugh about our previous relationship as anonymous plate scrubbers and he invited us over for dinner at a later date.

We brought wine, he made pasta, we hung out and discussed life in Oakland. After dinner Jenya and I helped clean up. It was fun to peer into our own apartment from this new vantage point, and then suddenly Vicky appeared in our flat and started doing dishes as well. Jenya and I stared through the window until she looked up. Oh the hilarious expression on Vicky's face which read, "Wait! What the hell are you guys doing over *there*?!"

Feburary 16, 2016 : Reagan

I have vague memories of Jimmy Carter while he was in office, but the first presidential election I recall is when Reagan defeated him. This made a mark as my parents and other adult relatives were all somewhere between concerned and devastated by Reagan's victory. I was a young and clueless 10 year old, but based on my family's impressions it was clear that Reagan was some kind of evil idiot bent on destroying this fine country and everybody who voted for him was an ignorant sucker at best.

Then, months later, my fifth grade teacher came into the classroom with some breaking news. "Everybody, " he said, "The president has just been shot."

All I knew was the pain and anguish Reagan was causing my family, and so, naturally, I leapt up, punched the air and shouted, "YES!"

This reaction was met with complete silence, along with the dumbfounded expressions of my teacher and all my fellow classmates. I slumped back into my seat completely embarrassed and confused. There was a din of mumbling regarding how rude and crazy I was, but this attention fell away as I crumpled into a tiny sphere under a thick shell of alienation that contains me still to this day when people discuss politics.

Feburary 9, 2016 : Blanding

During one of epic Colorado Plateau adventures, Jenya and I were driving around the southeast corner of Utah looking for a place to rest for the night. Pleasant camping options were limited, so we ultimately decided to drive into the tiny town of Blanding and treat ourselves to a motel room. The streets were eerie and quiet. The only food establishment open at this late hour was the Taco Bell attached to the gas station.

Opting to save a few bucks we were eventually drawn to a locally owned motel on the dark and scary side of town where the rooms were advertised as being under $30. The only signs of life in the whole complex were the stirrings of the proprietor.

He appeared at the front desk, skinny and bald, with a round head slightly too big for his body and beady eyes staring out from behind thick glasses. The check-in procedure was by the book, but he spoke in painfully slow, deliberate phrases with the marked cadence of an aged cult follower. A smile seemed permanently chiseled onto his face, as if his friendliness was an exhausting act to deceive us while his chattering mind concocted evil fantasies about our violent demise.

When he saw me scrawl "Oakland" on the address line of the sign-in form he lit up and recalled a visit many years ago, where the highlights were seeing the big Mormon church and riding the "Bay.. Area.. Rapid.. Transit..." A lot of Utahns know about and flock to Oakland because of that church. Weird but true. Anyway, he then gave us the keys to our room... adjacent to his office.

I was convinced we were to be neatly butchered with an axe in our sleep, but no such thing occurred. We woke up refreshed and alive, and needn't have been so creeped out by the harmless motelier. Nevertheless, after we left Blanding Jenya hilariously referred to the odd man as "Mormon Bates."

Feburary 2, 2016 : Aquarius

Todd, Adam, and I rehearsed in Oakland at our rented space. After one rehearsal Todd needed a couple bucks for a BART ticket back to San Francisco. All I had was a twenty dollar bill. We briefly discussed buying a soda at the corner gas station to make change, but the whole process felt pointlessly complicated to me. It just seemed to be easier to give him a goddamn ride all the way to SF. I offered this option and he whined, "oh, you're such a fucking Cancer!"

He didn't actually know - this was him guessing my astrological sign, and he was correct.

And so I retaliated, "well, you must be a fucking Aquarius as only you guys give me this kind of shit for being a Cancer."

I, too, was correct.

He accepted the ride. By the way, shortly after that I met my wife Jenya, who is an Aquarius.

January 26, 2016 : Ode to Bill

I was quite musically active in high school, starting with passing AP music theory as a freshman. Seeing lots of potential the school music director, Bill Garbinsky, took me under his wing. As a sophomore Bill went far above the call of duty to give me private theory lessons which garnered me yet more advance college credit. And among other things I took part in two musical productions each year and played (and arranged original music for) the jazz ensemble.

But as a stupid young man I got very cocky about my skill set and began to pick and choose various gigs Bill offered based on aesthetics and remuneration. I also felt so above everything I'd spend every moment I could sneaking into the auditorium during the day and playing my epic compositions on the grand piano to the empty hall for hours.

This general lack of focus and respect drove Bill nuts. But this was all nothing compared to when, at the end of my senior year, I showed up unannounced to plead my case to the music board that I deserved an annual high school marching band scholarship worth $500.

You see, I wasn't supposed to be there because I wasn't in the marching band. I played the very non-portable piano and bass guitar - and not the musical toys you can manipulate while waltzing in formation around a football field. My fellow classmates who spent years in the marching band were a bit stumped when I crashed this scholarship defense party since I haven't spent a single minute in uniform.

But I made my case that it was quite unfair the only music scholarship offered to the students was for marching band when I, the supreme Matt Lebofsky, took part in every other musical function in the school far beyond the scope and skills of all my peers. The board seemed unconvinced by my rambling arguments, so I thought that was that.

A month later I was hanging with my stage crew and computer geek friends one weekend night over at Mike's house. The phone rang and it was a mutual friend wondering if I was there. Apparently lots of people were looking for me.

Because tonight was the marching band end-of-the-year banquet during which they announced this year's scholarship recipients, and - ha ha - guess what - I was at the top of the list. Until that moment I had no idea about any of this - the banquet, the announcement, nor why they ultimately chose me. I wish I was there to see the looks on everybody's faces when my name was called.

Monday rolled around and I was back to hiding in the auditorium playing piano alone to a sea of vacant seats. Suddenly I heard the sound of a door open at the back of the stage, and then close. Slow, angry footsteps echoed throughout the hall until Bill emerged from the dark of the wings, looking extremely peeved.

I knew the time of reckoning was now, and I stood up, walked over to Bill and took it like a man.

With plenty of cuss words and flecks of spit he shouted right in my face for a good five minutes, the two of us standing at the edge of the stage. Boy did he let me have it. He was incredibly frustrated and disappointed with my bad attitude over the years, culminating in not having the common decency to show up to accept my award. Of course I wasn't even notified about nor invited to the award ceremony, but I didn't feel like I should argue. Right or wrong, I let him get it all out of his system.

At the end of his confusing tirade he reluctantly handed me an envelope containing the $500 check, as well as a lovely pen and pencil set which I figured was part of the deal. That may have been the last conversation, if that was even a conversation, that we ever had. Which was sad as I still liked the guy, and was deep down grateful for his general support and encouragement. Plus he might have also had a point about my youthful arrogance and sense of entitlement.

Fifteen years later my family was poised to move away from the old hometown, so I took Jenya around for one last look at my old stomping grounds. This included a visit to the high school. As it was during non school hours I was surprised the front doors were open, and the doors to the unoccupied auditorium were also unlocked. I happily discovered the same old grand piano was still there. And also, I believe, the echoes of Bill yelling at me. His words made more sense now, especially after sitting at the piano once again and serenading the same damn seats, still empty.

RIP Bill Garbinsky (1940-2013)

January 19, 2016 : Fred & Ed

I grew up in Rockland County, where there was a small, secret waterfall off exit 14 on the Palisades Parkway, tucked away in the woods adjacent to some less-traveled hills. My friends and I would go there for no good reason other than to "just get away from it all." We called the falls "Fred & Ed" in honor of the proprietors of a nearby garage.

After one visit we were crossing the road returning to our car when a bicyclist came zooming around the blind corner. He didn't expect a herd of teenagers to be standing in the middle of the street and only had microseconds to react. He slammed on the brakes and his skinny ten-speed wobbled out of control.

He nearly swiped Kirsten, and then spilled out next to Dave. He tumbled onto the pavement but managed to land on his feet right in front of me. His bike was totalled. His forehead was scraped up and bleeding. The skin on his palm was completely peeled back. Nothing but awkward silence until he asked, "Anybody got any band-aids?" Kirsten and Evan gave him and his broken bike a ride back into town. Poor guy.

We visited Fred & Ed once more after that. Evan got bored with soaking his toes in the small pool at the base of the falls and went exploring. Me and James laughed it up as we saw Evan in the distance flailing around. He must have walked into a spiderweb. At least that's what we thought.

When Evan appeared back at the pool he was shivering and asking for help. Turns out he encountered a beehive, and there were several stingers stuck in both his arms. We plucked them from his flesh, and I felt really shitty for laughing earlier.

January 12, 2016 : Common Ailments

By junior year in college I had earned enough cred to have a college radio show in the afternoon. The prime time slots meant more opportunities to interview random bands coming through town. A Boston band called Common Ailments of Maturity were gonna play at the campus pub tonight and with about 15 minutes of warning I was told they would be in the control room any moment to promote the show.

I'd never heard of them, so I went to the record library and dug out their most recent vinyl. I happily discovered they were an avant punk drums/guitar/stick trio so they were right up my alley. When they arrived I asked them some pretty good questions. I'd like to think I perfectly touched upon their prog roots and use of the Chapman stick without giving either of those potentially off-putting topics unnecessary weight.

They were pretty cool, enough so that I dropped my plans and went to their set later on. They put me on the guest list, which felt like a huge honor and a reward for being such a great interviewer. I entered the pub feeling like a total VIP. Hey, I was still pretty green back then.

But the pub was mostly empty. It was a school night, after all. A couple other music geeks were there, along with a few non-music-fans just getting some brewskis. At this point in my life I knew nothing about the realities of touring, and hadn't yet built up the yards-thick callouses on my soul from playing hundreds of empty rooms around the planet, so I was utterly horrified by the shitty turnout. I also felt completely guilty that my promotional efforts didn't bring everybody out on this cold evening to see a traveling avant indie rock trio.

They charged through their set like pros. I tried to give them 1000% attention to make up for the lack of other human ears. And as they packed up the campus police arrived. Turns out while they were parking to load out their tour van kissed somebody else's bumper. No big deal, but apparently the campus police were called in as the student who owned the bumped car was putting up a big entitled stink about it. So this poor band was getting completely fucked by this lame ass Binghamton gig, pretty much.

I felt so ashamed how my chosen institute of higher learning was mistreating these hard working artists who trekked this far to share their music. The guitarist/singer registered my humiliation and sympathy, and said it would be alright. He even gave me a free band t-shirt.

January 5, 2016 : Passing the Torch

After graduating college at the University of Binghamton I moved to California. A year later I returned to Binghamton in the summer to visit many friends still there. I slept on the couch in my former house and jammed with my old band Green Eyed Monster. We even played an impromptu 10 minute set after seeing our friends Psquelch perform live at a local club - they let us borrow their gear as we pulled out a few of the old "hits." The soundguy complemented me on my mic technique.

It was a fun hang for a couple days, but it would not have been complete unless I checked out the status of WHRW, the campus radio station where I was tech director the previous year, and basically lived inside its walls. To this day I still claim that most of my college education happened not in classrooms but WHRW's record library, discovering and digesting many amazing albums hidden within its seemingly infinite collection during my all-too-brief four college years. Plus, let's face it, I was never ever cool in college, and nobody at the station gave me too hard a time about it, bless all their hearts.

However now the station, while live on the air, was pretty much empty. The control room was on auto pilot - the current deejay probably put on a long song and went to go to the bathroom or smoke out. So it was just me gazing at the flyers and posters still on the walls and smelling the same old musty couches. It was like a dream - returning to the past even though my new reality was 3000 miles away, and everybody had disappeared, just like I did. I felt incredibly lonely.

The spell was suddenly broken as Ron Drumm appeared from the record library. Ron, a fixture at the station, was an aging hippie dude who volunteered for decades organizing the library. Upon seeing me he made some snide comment about the emo music currently being aired and then he disappeared before I could say hi. I realized he probably assumed I hadn't graduated, that I hadn't had this other life the past year. Like in his mind time hasn't passed and I was simply just still there. In a way this made me feel even more lonely.

Well, this visit was a bust. I took one last look at the place and split. As I closed the door to the station I saw a very young kid timidly snooping around. It was quickly clear that, since this was the middle of the summer, he was probably an incoming student who was feeling out of place so he broke away from his orientation group to check out what's up with the campus station. A younger me, basically. But he stopped, thwarted by the closed door, and possibly scared by all the photos in the window of the countless hairy deejays of yore.

"It's cool," I said to him, "Go on in. Check it out."

He shyly and silently accepted the invitation, nodding in a manner to say, "okay thank you" and he disappeared inside the sonic sanctuary of WHRW. I turned around and left the student union for the last time, realizing immediately I had just now lived out the end of the cheeziest after school special.

December 29, 2015 : Bears

Jenya and I were in the midst of one of our many Colorado Plateau adventures, during which we spent a couple days in Rocky Mountain National Park. On the morning of the first full day we took a shuttle bus to the Glacier Gorge trailhead. The bus was full, and all the people disappeared into the park as Jenya and I were slow to get our jackets and daypacks in order. We had a rough morning - there were 60mph winds which prevented us from making coffee at our camp site, so cut us some slack. We were quite alone when we finally hit the trail.

Literally fifty feet later we turned the first corner and stumbled upon an adolescent bear walking a few dozen feet ahead of us. Jenya and I had the same exact reaction, that being a split second of "Aww look at that big fuzzy adorable critter. How cute!" followed immediately by "Fuck! Shit! It's a BEAR! Wait!! Where is its mother?!" It looked up at us, and we calmly walked backward to the parking lot.

We debated about what to do next. Is this actually a problem? Are we just being wimps? Or is this a real danger? We did the math - Yosemite is riddled with bear lockers and warning signs about leaving food in cars. When I couldn't find bear lockers here at Rocky Mountain I asked the ranger and he actually encouraged us to leave our food items in our car. This was 2003 - the bears around here were apparently still newbies when it came to registering humans and their vehicles as food sources, and therefore probably not terribly aggressive. So maybe if we aren't behaving in a threatening or delicious manner we'll be okay.

We braved it and returned to the trail, quickly encountering our bear again, this time with its full size mother by its side. They looked at us. Gulp. But after a tense couple of seconds they shrugged and kept moseying up the trail ahead of us. To reduce the element of surprise Jenya and I made continual noise, usually in the form of singing Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging" except replacing the word "Boys" with "Bears." We were on their tail for a half mile until they eventually followed a creek elsewhere.

At the end of the day we hopped back on the crowded shuttle bus. We mentioned to the driver we saw a couple bears, and we suddenly became heroes as such sightings were rare. Cool.

December 22, 2015 : Ticking

Back in the Fall of 1996, Jenya headed off on a two-week tour with Giant Ant Farm. In her absence I had plans to spend one of those weekends up in Humboldt, and the next down in Austin, Texas.

The Humboldt trip could have been better. I hadn't yet checked out those parts of California's lost coast, and so I gladly tagged along with Casey, Shannon, Hope, Matt, and a dog who was then referred to as Beezer on their journey up north. The goal was to visit their friend, Paul, who lived deep in the woods with his wife and son. I expected this weekend to be a healthy few days outside, unencumbered by the trappings of technology nor deafened by the din of the city.

It wasn't until we got in the rental van and were a couple hours into a five hour trip that I started feeling the onset of a nasty flu. The last part of the journey consisted of twisting the van wildly around pitch black switchback dirt roads in the middle of the night. Somehow the guys found the edge of Paul's vast property and our gracious host met us at the van, led us into the quiet, dark wilderness, and showed us our sleeping areas.

There wasn't much of an "inside" anywhere. The family lived in a miniature silo (about 8 feet in diameter and 16 feet high). The guest house was a gigantic treehouse dangling from several branches which could hold three sleeping bodies. The toilet was a hole in the ground. I got a spot in the treehouse and prayed I'd feel better come sunrise.

Fat chance. It rained all night and the treehouse swung in the wind, ten feet above cold, muddy ground. By morning I was grouchy as hell. The air was cold and wet. My head felt twice as large as normal.

I wish I could have enjoyed the "roughing it" aspect of this weekend, but was wholly unable to in my condition. Paul's land stretched for arces, encompassing wild wooden hills and well-kempt agricultural lots. He killed one of his pigs just for our visit, so there was plenty of ham served every meal. We had a burn of brush collected from a currently unused field, which was pleasant given the misty rain evaporating right above the flames. I spent this rustic day doing a poor job of pretending I was having a blast.

As soon as the sun set I couldn't keep my aching eyes open. I was truly sick. I passed on a second night in the swinging treehouse, and opted to sleep in the van, crumpled in a ball underneath the seats, with Beezer the wet dog snoring right above me.

I crapped out for a good 15 hours, waking up near noon, stepping outside into the fresh clean air, and taking a hearty piss right there onto the ground. I felt my strength and ability to cope returning quickly. One more round of ham and pancakes and we were on our way back to the Bay.

The following night I attended a show at the Hotel Utah and only then noticed my right side was still pretty stiff, presumably from recently sleeping a long night in a cramped van. The dull pain didn't fade as fast as I thought it should and I practiced some old yoga moves I learned back in college.

The day before I left for Texas I dried myself after my morning shower and while glimpsing at my reflection in the mirror I discovered some redness beneath my armpit. I contorted to get a better view of my side and quickly it was revealed to me that, instead of muscular strain, my post-Humboldt discomfort was topical. In fact, it looked like a bite. Was this... a spider bite?! My brain reeled with all the photos of extraordinarily big and colorful arachnoids that freaked the shit out of me my entire childhood. What kind of critters do they have up there in the depths of the forest? I rubbed a generous amount of antibiotic on the red spot, put a band aid on it, and headed off to work, trying not to think about it.

After work I packed for the long weekend ahead of me, and checked on my spider bite. Oddly enough, it looked worse - the center was a little bit darker than before. Yug! I settled on taking a long hot bath, hoping to somehow boil the puddle of rainforest venom in my side. To help me relax I put on the sultry sounds of David Sylvian's "Gone to Earth."

I hopped out of the tub, dried off, and checked my side in the mirror once more. Yet again it looked worse. Unable to inspect this oddity more closely, I put on my glasses. Corrective eyewear was still new to me back then and I wasn't in the habit of wearing my glasses and thus life was happily blurry most of the time. However, with the sudden increased detail my spectacles afforded I could finally see the growing dark spot in the middle of my wound had... legs...?!

All my surroundings turned white. The strains of Sylvian's crooning baritone echoed with infinite reverb between my ears. I stared in the mirror for a good minute at my own pale face.

The numbers now added up: Humboldt county.. Woods.. I had a fucking tick! And it's been in me for four days! ALL the way inside me! And it wouldn't have come wriggling out of its new happy home except I rubbed some antibiotic all over its butt and almost drowned it in the bath!!

I suddenly regained my composure and felt the emergent need to remove this parasite, but couldn't remember how exactly to do it. Nothing from my minimal boy scout experience came to mind. Nor any words of wisdom from my father who spends a huge chunk of his free time gardening.

"Fuck it. I'm pulling this fucker out right now," I thought as I grabbed the tick's slippery ass between my thumb and pointer and yanked with all my might. Ignoring the pain, I yanked harder. And harder. It almost felt like it was hanging on to my rib for dear life.

But suddenly it was out. Oy. Now that it was free I examined it closely. The form of its alien body didn't make any sense to me. In fact, that was the first time I really saw a real live tick. Well, it didn't seem to be alive anymore. I put it in a plastic baggy and started making phone calls.

First I called Hope, assuming she'd know a lot about ticks (I don't know why). She suggested I call my doctor. Somehow I managed to claw my way through health coverage bureaucracy and got my doctor on the phone at this late hour. He said I shouldn't worry about it, being I was going out of town tomorrow and all, but I should check back with him upon my return.

I wound down from this panic with some alcohol and hit the hay. In the morning I got up, made it to the airport, boarded the plane, then had four good hours to dwell on the concept of a good sized bug nestled deep in my juicy flesh for days.

Dave and his friend whose name I forget picked me up at the Austin airport. They both got a unwilling earful about my tick during the car ride into town. Back at his house (which, as a completely pointless and random aside, was where the first two For Carnation EPs were recorded), we hung out and waited for other friends to arrive, including Jai Young, Lisa, and Jason.

Lisa worked at a pet store, and I happened to bring my trophy tick in a plastic bag to show potentially interested parties. She examined it. The good news was that it was definitely a big ol' dog tick, not one of those deer ticks that could carry lyme disease. The bad news, in her words: "it definitely has no head."

Immediately I remembered why you shouldn't directly pull a tick out of your body - because it'll hang on with its teeth and you'll tear its head clear off, leaving it inside the host, i.e. me. So for the remaining part of my trip I had a case of the willies every time I remembered that I, Matt Lebofsky, contained a chunk of a bug. Luckily I smashed my thumb in a car door early in the trip and the lingering pain from that injury helped keep my mind off that tick noggin bouncing around beneath my skin.

Upon my return back to California, my doctor inspected the slowly healing tick wound, and assured me that everything was okay.

"But what about the head?" I asked.

"Don't worry," he replied, "You will assimilate it."

That statement gives me shivers to this day.

December 15, 2015 : Calculus

Mr. Taylor was my AP Calculus teacher in high school. He was a rough dude. He yelled full volume at students who struggled, claiming his shoe could score higher on the tests. I found his cruelty so inappropriate that it was almost charming.

He eternally won me over as a fan of his bad attitude when one sunny spring afternoon he was at the chalkboard scratching out some equation. Though the window he caught a glimpse of the glorious day outside and stopped. His fingers slowly relaxed and the chalk dropped into the tray below, and then his head fell forward in what seemed like defeat. He let out the deepest of sighs. To see Mr. Taylor demonstrating such vulnerability was a little bit shocking. An awkward silence enveloped the room for a good five seconds.

He then swung around and announced, "You know, today is the kind of day where you just want to run away. Maybe call in sick. And just drive down to Rockland Lake. Sit there on the bench. Stare at the water. Watch the ripples. Feed the ducks some bread. Feel the breeze and sun on your face."

After a pause and a wistful look into the distance he continued, "and smoke a WHOLE pack of cigarettes."

The thought of that brought a rare smile to his face, but then the spell faded, he turned back around, picked up the chalk and finished the equation. Wotta guy.

December 8, 2015 : Vegas

My old pal Dave was visiting the Bay Area for a while then drove his pickup truck back to school in Austin, TX. I tagged along with him on the ride with plans for us to stop in Las Vegas. Neither of us had ever been there and - math geeks that we are - we were keen to test our probability skills at poker. This was before Texas Hold 'Em was a big thing, so we had our sights set on the 7 card stud tables. On the drive down we skimmed various pointers we found on usenet and printed out. Casino etiquette and stuff like that.

The first full day we just looked around town. This included going into Ceasar's Palace and, expectedly, being wholly unable to find our way out. We actually resorted to sneaking beyond an unmarked side door into some private parking lot and then climbing a wall to get back out onto Fremont Street. Felt just like Ocean's Eleven.

That night we found an open table in a lesser casino off the main drag - Dave and I got seats rather quickly. We promised ourselves we'd keep it real and I would only spend $20 at most.

I lost a couple shitty hands right away. Okay fine, so I adjusted my cutoff limit to $40. And then suddenly I was out $40. "Alright, alright," I thought, "I know what I'm doing. I swear I won't go below $60."

And next thing I know I lost $80. I looked at my watch. Only 45 minutes have passed.

I pushed myself away from the table and wished Dave luck. I needed to take a walk and clear my head, maybe get some air. But on the way out to the street I passed a bank of slot machines. I had two quarters in my pocket. Might as well give it a shot, right?

The first quarter - nothing, of course. The second quarter - cha-ching ching ching! I won $80. Ha ha HA HA HA! I'm back, baby!

I converted those coins right away into chips and proudly marched back to the table where my seat was still vacant. I announced how I just won $80 in slots and everybody cheered, mostly because I returned with a fresh pile of chips to give away.

Things improved, and I managed to break even all evening, mostly thanks to winning the biggest pot of the night on a bluff. I gotta say successfully bluffing in Vegas is one of the best fuckin' feelings in the world. Dave played well but was frustrated by a long and horrific string of bad luck and didn't get anything either. Well we got free drinks for the 8+ hours we were sitting there, so there's that.

The next day Dave was on a mission. As we visited the Hoover Dam he was constantly distracting himself, working out every combinatorical model in his head and scratching them down on paper so that he can vastly improve his poker odds. He tried to show me his notes but I was still "feeling lucky" from last night and just gonna rely on my intuition, I guess.

We went to the Luxor this time, and since it was busier we sat at different tables. While I ended up losing $100 over the course of 10 hours, Dave slowly earned about $300. The lesson: Math is your friend, kids. I actually should have lost more but (a) the Luxor was full of drunk newlyweds who suck at poker, and (b) I won a hand because one guy folded thinking all he had was a pair, and when he flopped his cards over in defeat I noticed he in fact had a straight but didn't realize it. Phew.

December 1, 2015 : Berlin

In the summer of '99 Mumble & Peg (Erik, Jenya, and me) went on tour for five weeks in Europe, mostly Germany (as the record label hosting us was German). This was my first time in Europe, let alone touring there. But any excitement upon landing in Amsterdam was slowly dulled by a seemingly endless series of shitty drives to perform shitty shows. There was also a momentum-crushing 10 days off in Berlin during the tour. Let's talk about that.

We were supposed to be recording our next album during those 10 days for free at the label's own fancy studio. But we got bumped last minute because another band, In Extremo, had to produce an emergency remix of their cover of the Sisters of Mercy tune "This Corrosion," among other things. There was no back up plan - without much warning we were facing an unplanned, money-draining vacation.

The good news was Berlin is an interesting city to visit, especially back then - the wall had fallen only 10 years earlier. Also, by incredible coincidence, our Oakland pals Nils, Dawn, Dan, and Carla were also in Berlin at the time performing with Ink Boat. And by an even more incredible coincidence we bumped into Dawn in the street when we first got into town otherwise we'd have no idea how to find out where they were staying and performing. I know I sound like a broken record with these stories, but before cell phones life was more adventurous and dictated by chance.

The first few days were actually kinda fun. Saw the sights, went to the zoo, ate a lot of bratwurst mit Senf und Zweibeln. Our driver for the tour, Holger, wisely escaped to his home in Muenster during this time off but before he split he left us with a pro tip: doner kebap. So we consumed a lot of that as well (scharf, ohne Tomaten). We did meet up with our Oakland pals a couple times. We went to their performance, and they came to our one Berlin gig during this 10 day stretch. It was the worst show of the whole tour - we almost knew everybody in the audience by name. And despite that somebody stole Jenya's camera.

After four days we were bored and restless, and our hosts - Arne the label guy and his wife Gundula - didn't know what to do with us. We woke up on day five and over Frühstück discussed some plans. Jenya went to go check out some museums, while Erik and I were invited to go see a soccer match.

Seemed like a fun outing, but there was catch.. Arne's friend Pete was moving into a new apartment today which was on the way to the stadium, and we got roped into helping to carry a few things. We were told it would be quick and not up any stairs. We arrived finding ourselves facing more than a moving truck's worth of boxes and heavy furniture including a fridge and a washer still full of water. And Pete's new apartment was on the fifth floor. And between the truck and the building was a 100 yard walk through a large courtyard.

It was weird. We didn't know Pete - Erik and I were just these two strange Americans who magically appeared to help carry all his worldly possessions for no fee. There was a whole team of Pete's friends also there to help, but it still took us all about an hour to get all this shit upstairs. By the end my shirt was thoroughly soaked with sweat and my muscles were stiff and twitching. You're welcome, Pete.

After quenching our thirst with cappuccinos we headed to the stadium. Pre-game mayhem in the parking lot. Beer, bratwurst, singing, and showing off your team colors. It was Berlin vs. Bremen today. Met some more of Arne's friends before entering, including two Brits, Trevor and Spencer. Of COURSE they were named Trevor and Spencer. They wondered what the 'ell two Americans were doing at a blasted German soccer game. Good question. Inside the old-school stadium we hit our seats and the crowds were singing various songs. Erik and I pretended to sing along lest we appear on the jumbovision screen with our dumb-ass American mouths' shut and looking confused.

The crowd had songs and random actions for every anomalous event during the game. It wasn't much of a game, though. Berlin scored early, Bremen scored late. The crowd was dealt a disappointing tie, and 90 minutes later thousands of bummed Berliners sulked all the way back to their homes.

The next day we wore out our welcome on Arne and Gundula's floor, and instead went to crash on Torsten's floor for the last few days. Torsten was our booker. And he lived in Potsdam, which isn't really Berlin but close enough. I don't remember much about our stay there except more train riding and more sight seeing. And many many hours watching German MTV. Eventually the only joy was spending hours sitting at a cafe and watching pedestrians across the way step in huge piles of dog shit.

By the end of the 10 days we were completely demoralized and logy. We were then overjoyed when Holger finally appeared to take us away to our next gig in Halle. I don't think I touched my bass once (except for that crappy gig) during that whole stretch. At least the next show was one of the better ones of the tour, both in audience response and delicious dinner provided by the club. So we got our groove back, at least a little bit.

November 24, 2015 : Uncool

Long long ago I had a job in downtown Oakland, complete with a daily morning rushhour train commute just like an adult. On one such morning I stood on the crowded train and smelled cat urine. Nasty. I assumed the odor was wafting off a fellow commuter and scanned around wondering which loser was the stinky culprit. And then I noticed unexpected moisture on my jacket. Oh no! It is ME that is the loser!

By the time I made it to work downtown, the warm cat piss had soaked well into my shirt. I arrived at the office and immediately asked my boss, "Can I take my lunch break right now?" She was confused at first, but upon further unpleasant explanation she kindly allowed it, and I headed right back to the train station so I could go home and rectify the situation.

On the return trip I ran into a random acquaintance who I hadn't seen in months. He was headed to work himself, and asked what I was doing on this particular train - he knew my office was in the opposite direction. At first I was going to concoct a lie but fuck it - once you're in public swimming in animal pee you can't sink much lower. So I explained the unfortunate pet related mishap with nary a shred of embarrassment.

The thing is, the perpetrator (or should I say purr pet traitor?) was Emily, my housemate Bob's cat. So it wasn't even my damn pet. I got home, threw my soiled items in the washing machine. I actually wagged my finger at Emily and said, "That was uncool. So uncool."

November 17, 2015 : Godspell

While moping in my dorm room during my freshman year at Binghamton the phone rang. The caller introduced herself as a member of a methodist church in the nearby tiny town of Windsor. They were putting on a production of "Godspell" and needed a bass player. So they reached out to campus and contacted the jazz ensemble director who in turn recommended me. Flattered at many levels, I couldn't help but say yes. It was my first cold call, and my first real professional gig.

I had no car so I got picked up by one of the congregants who was also one of the stars of the production. The church was simple and small, and I quickly set up in the "pit," i.e. four chairs off the side of the the 10' x 10' performance area. The whole orchestra led by an older woman playing keyboards, her daughter on drums, and a local high school senior, Chad, on guitar. I set up my bass and met everybody who were all so nice. The actors and actresses were incredibly welcoming and sweet as well. The first couple rehearsals were rough but we slogged through the material. No divas or drama. I was even more shy back then than I am now, so I didn't really talk to anybody.

During the second rehearsal I was noodling on bass during some down time. Chad recognized my riff and said, "King Crimson! Right on." Turns out Chad is a total proghead. We did the usual sizing up of each other, comparing our album collections. I didn't let on how little I knew about prog compared to him, since he was just some 17 year old high school kid and I'm an 18 year old big man on campus. He asked if I was into Frank Zappa. I couldn't fake that one and said I didn't really know much about his catalog. Chad commanded me: "Listen to 'Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch,' side two."

The next day at the campus radio station I dug out that Zappa album and gave side two a spin. Holy shit Chad was right.

Anyway there was about eight rehearsals total and the church players were really knocking it out of the park. I mean, it wasn't Broadway, but they really gave it their all and were having fun. The band was solid, too. A couple nervous tech rehearsals and some prayers and then it was showtime.

I was invited to join the whole cast and crew for dinner at the church before opening night. As I waited in the buffet line one of the practitioners had a sudden scared expression on her face. She cried, "Oh no! I'm really sorry but we're serving ham tonight!" I was completely confused, then I realized she correctly guessed that I'm a Jew, but wrongly assumed I was kosher. I insisted it was okay and that I eat bacon all the time. She gushed with relief. I felt honored by her concern.

There was hiilarious and almost predictable little mishaps during the shows, but the audiences ate it up, and we musicians got all kinds of accolades during the post-show mingling. It was a unique and unexpected experience, and I got $100 for all my efforts.

I figured that small chapter of my life was over but a month later they called me again. A sister church in Pennsylvania wanted us to reunite and recreate our version of "Godspell" down there. After one refresher rehearsal we piled into vans and brought the whole production over the border. So yeah that one little church in the middle of nowhere was responsible for not only my first real gig, but also my first tour, such as it was. And also responsible for turning me on to Zappa.

[Epilog: I only realized after writing this that last week's story involved Windsor, Canada, and this one involved Windsor, New York.]

November 10, 2015 : Border Crossing

On a solo drive from New York to California I stopped in Detroit to stay with my Uncle Danny. It was just me and him - the rest of the extended family was out of town. We went and got some delicious barbecue ribs for dinner. Over the meal he convinced me to stick around an extra day as he had a gig tomorrow and if I helped him out I could make a quick $100. A gig doing what? Industrial oil filtering. I wasn't in a rush to get to California, and needed the cash, so why not?

I'll spare you the details of the long day, but it was messy work. In fact Danny encouraged me to wear some manly work clothes as not to ruin my regular wardrobe of jeans and t-shirts.

On the drive back to his house we decided to celebrate a successful workday by quickly crossing into Canada and having dinner in Windsor. As we headed to the border Danny showed off his new car phone - this was 1992, so it was impressive technology during those simpler times.

Border crossings were also easier back then. As we approached the checkpoint, Danny proudly boasted how during all the many years living in the region he never got stopped and questioned when entering Canada. He was expecting to be pretty much waved on through as usual.

And then I remembered.. since I was working with oil all day I didn't bring my wallet. I left it at the house lest it get all gross and gunked up or forgotten in the pocket of those borrowed work clothes. The upshot was I had no ID on me whatsoever. I mentioned this to Danny, and he assumed it would be okay.

But if you know me you know my greatest fear is everybody finding out I'm a stupid idiot, and I have zero poker face skills. The border guard sensed my tension and asked to see my ID. I went, "uh.." and we were immediately commanded to go over to secondary inspection. So much for Danny's perfect border crossing record. Sorry, Danny.

I felt bad enough for causing the minor snafu, but the woman at the inspection desk completely harassed me, accusing me of being so arrogant to think I could just waltz into another country with no ID. I tried to explain what happened and how it was an honest mistake, but couldn't really get my point across through my nervous stuttering. Danny chimed in to defend me and the woman snapped at him, "I wasn't talking to you! Or does he have a mental problem where he can't speak for himself?" Sheesh. What a hardass.

I was mortified but the thing is, after the tongue lashing and finger wagging they still let us both through even though I had zero identification. Yup, 1992. Simpler times.

November 2, 2015 : Tide

Jenya and I went hiking around the hills near a popular beach in the north bay one lovely sunny weekend afternoon. We noticed the trail led us directly above a remote and private section of the beach so we slid down the slippery slope covered in ice plants to the sand below.

It was quite peaceful and romantic, having our own hidden alcove to watch the sun sink down the sky together. But the tides were clearly starting to come in, and I grew concerned especially as it was impossible to climb back up the way we dropped in. We had no choice but to trudge back on the sand.

As we started the trek we realized this was going to be a series of alcoves one after another. Fair enough, except the tide rose at alarming speed. We were fine until we ducked into the fourth alcove and found ourselves having to scurry to avoid the oncoming wave. Then we charged into the next alcove and had to sprint and moreso scramble up the far wall a bit to avoid the rushing waters barely lapping at our heels. Shit.

Clinging to the rock face we realized we had to time the next push just right, but couldn't see what was behind the next wall. The waters finally receded enough that we attempted a run for it, but it still wasn't enough time. Jenya went first around the bend but I jumped up on a nearby boulder to avoid getting consumed by the wave.

I couldn't see Jenya at this point but she yelled over the din of the waves that she was okay and I should just go for it. The water wasn't getting any shallower. I jumped in. it was only knee deep and I splashed beyond the bend and as soon as Jenya came into view...

Bloop! I was completely underwater, as the ground disappeared from underneath me. However startling, I still managed to quickly swim to where Jenya was standing on a raised bed of sand, totally soaked, as she just went through the same exact thing.

Now the main part of the beach was close enough and in our direct view, so we abandoned the plan of trying to cleverly outsmart the unpredictable tides. We were totally drenched already so why bother? We dove right into the ocean and swam away from the alcoves and back towards the shore, laughing at the unexpected twist our journey today has taken.

We emerged on the sand, the remaining few beach goers staring as we were fully clothed, dripping wet, and still laughing. We got back to the car, sadly lacking towels. We tried to dry off as much as we could but we (and the car seats) were basically fermenting in brine all the way home. By the next day Jenya's pants, made of some light material and left out all night to dry, had totally disintegrated into clumps of frayed fibers.

Luckily this happened 20 years ago, so we didn't have any technology on our persons to worry about. Instead of losing cell phones and DSLR cameras, we only lost a pair of pants.

October 27, 2015 : Wrong House

I was sitting on my porch enjoying the sunny day when some guy walked up asking if Frank was inside. He had the wrong house - Frank lived next door. I told him as much, he apologized for the intrusion, and went on his way.

The following evening I got a cold call from a local guitarist, asking me to play bass in his band. I had no idea who he was - he got my name from same random musician in the scene. Flattered by the recommendation I figured I could at least meet with this guy and find out what his band sounded like. Wasting no time, he said he wanted to come over right now with charts and cassettes, so I gave him my address.

He paused for a moment and asked, "did some strange guy walk up on your porch yesterday looking for Frank?"

I confirmed this and then he said, "Yeah that was me."

[Epilog: they were alright and I jammed with them once but that was that. Months later I randomly shared a cab from SFO to Oakland with a stranger who turned out to be the bass player they tried out after me. This was mentioned in a previous TTST. Decades later I saw the drummer on an episode of Check Please.]

October 20, 2015 : Free Soda

Over 20 years ago Jai Young took me to a show at the Night Break in San Francisco. He wanted it to be a surprise, so he asked I didn't look up any show listings before we go. And sure enough as we arrived I was delighted to discover one of my current favorite post rock bands was performing there tonight. Super fun! Afterwards I told the drummer "great set!" as he packed up on stage. He smiled and said "thank you!"

Last year I was on tour with Secret Chiefs 3 around the country. My memories of the venues in the disparate cities blur together, and the staff at each is even more fuzzy. But I remember one bartender in particular. It was a normal enough exchange - I usually don't drink very much if at all on tour, so I asked the guy for a coke. When I handed him my drink token, he wouldn't accept it, letting me have the soda for free. Sure it would have cost basically nothing, but still I appreciated the nice gesture. I smiled and said "thank you!"

I learned much later in the evening that this bartender was the drummer of the aforementioned post rock band I was so delighted to see decades ago. How random! In fact I saw him drumming in other similar bands coming through town during those wacky 90's. I still own a half dozen CDs on which he performs. But the passage of time and lack of context made him unrecognizeable. I went to find him later on and talk shop, but he already was done with his shift and gone home.

So our two conversations would be him thanking me for liking his music, and then, decades later and in a different town, me thanking him for a free coke.

October 13, 2015 : Inventory

After my sophomore year in college I had real difficulties getting off my ass to better my financial status with a summer job. My pal, Evan, was in the same boat, and eventually we attended an informational/training seminar for R.G.I.S., pronounced "ree-gis." Retail and grocery stores around the country call on R.G.I.S. to count their inventory, either because they are too lazy to do it themselves, or they need an official "third-party" count to see if any of their employees are stealing clothes or cigarettes.

Anybody with a pulse who showed up to this seminar got hired, starting at $6 per hour (great for 1990). During my first day Evan and I and a team of a dozen experienced R.G.I.S. auditors drove 40 miles to a grocery store in Westchester, and then killed five hours auditing every last item in it. We both got to count the freezer stock, and I have the fond memory of reaching into an icy bin containing bags of fresh fries, and yanking out one from the bottom to find it covered with frozen maggots. Once done with the frozen foods, we got to count all the pesticides.

Most of my coworkers fled after one or two days on the job. Why would people quit so fast (cough)? Most couldn't hack the schedule. Since stores usually preferred to have their inventory probed while no customers could screw up the inventory by shopping, we frequently audited during non-business hours. This meant getting up as early as 4:00am, or staying up as late at 6:00am, and in some rare instances, pulling an allnighter between two separate audits. Imagine gazing at racks of compact disks at the Nanuet Mall until two in the morning, killing an hour or so at the local Dunkin Donuts, and then driving 60 miles to count piles of jeans at a Gap on Long Island. It's not as fun as it sounds.

Some didn't mind the schedule since we always had the option of declining upcoming shifts. But many slowly went mad staring at endless rows of canned vegetables and sifting through bottomless bins of batteries. It takes a stable mind to be able to glance at an entire aisle of pill bottles, knowing full well you will have to count each and every one of them over the course of the next four hours. All by yourself. While listening to muzak.

Evan and I stuck with it for the remainder of the summer. Junior year rolled around and I had some play money for a change. However, my brother and I plotted to take a month off the next summer to explore the country by automobile. In order to save up some extra dough, I called the Binghamton R.G.I.S. office and re-enlisted at a higher pay rate. Cool. So now my college experience was peppered with random jaunts to Elmira and Ithaca to count loose piles of stuffed animals at ungodly hours in department stores caked with inches of dust.

I ended up working for R.G.I.S throughout the remainder of my college days. Some may call me a glutton for punishment, but I had to pay off my debts somehow, and I could only eat so much ramen. In any case, my final year in college probably would have been a lot more enjoyable had I not been forced to wake up on random cold winter mornings at 4:00am and drive for hours on ice highways in the dark, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. I was motivated a bit by being celebrated as the fastest inventory counter in the whole upstate New York region for a few weeks. To be fair, the true fastest counter was off the job for those weeks to heal up after mangling his hand pretty bad while working on his car.

I fled to California after graduation with no real plans or employment. After settling in at my new apartment 3000 miles away and spending a huge chunk of my scant savings at Amoeba Records, I needed to find a way to make some money. So I naturally called the local R.G.I.S office as a stopgap measure. I told the manager, all proud of myself, about my two years of experience working for the Binghamton and Rockland County offices back in New York. He responded, after a slight pause, "You mean to tell me you moved all the way from New York to California to WORK FOR R.G.I.S.??!"

...Well the guy had a point.

October 6, 2015 : Crossbow

As a young teen I'd frequently hang out with my older brother Ben and all his friends. Maybe "tag along" is a more appropriate phrase.

Anyway, one Saturday Ben and his pals Mike and Eric went to the mall. I glommed onto this excursion and happily lurked in the shadows watching them play games at the video arcade - I had no money so I settled for being an observer.

Ben and Mike grew bored and wandered off but Eric stayed behind to work on his technique playing "Crossbow." It was a new and groundbreaking game at the time, so I couldn't help but stick around and stare at the screen all mesmerized.

As we were completely engrossed by the visuals neither of us noticed the guy approaching to snatch Eric's wallet, which he foolishly kept so obviously stuffed down his tube sock. It was such an easy grab and run. Realizing he just been robbed Eric let out the cutest high pitched yelp and unsuccessfully chased the culprit.

I was stunned by the sudden crime. But any negative feelings about that quickly subsided when I noticed - holy shit - Eric just put a fresh quarter into the machine. Sweet! I immediately seized the opportunity and grabbed on to the controls. The unplanned and unexpected Crossbow game was like a gift from god, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

By the way Eric never got his wallet back. But who frickin' cares? I got to play Crossbow! For free!!

September 29, 2015 : Swordfish

Barbecue weather in Binghamton was rare. In fact my housemate Rick bought a new hibachi to celebrate this one perfectly sunny day. All we needed was meat. We went to the supermarket and got some cheap burgers, buns, etc.

The man ahead of us in line apparently had similar dreams of grilling outside. He plopped a rather large and expensive swordfish steak onto the conveyor belt along with a dozen little bottles of random spices. But this dude revealed himself to be a total prick as he berated the cashier - something about incorrect change. The manager had to come over and calm his overly irate ass down.

He was still yelling as Rick and I were getting rung up. We made silent sympathetic faces to the cashier and the bag girl and they rolled their eyes in confirmation back at us. The angry customer finally snatched up his groceries and left in a huff.

We paid up and split. In the parking lot Rick felt extra weight in his bag and looked inside - among what we purchased was that guy's swordfish steak. Back home we invited friends over to help eat the extra food while fantasizing about that asshole arriving home and discovering only spices in his bag. Sometimes there is justice.

September 22, 2015 : Gray's Papaya

Evan and I were bored so we decided to head into Manhattan for the day. We were underemployed, and therefore carefully watching our budgets. So our meager plan was to simply enjoy walking around downtown, and perchance get a Gray's Papaya special: two hot dogs and a papaya juice for only two bucks!

While waiting for the bus we came to realize we only had about $15 between us. This scant amount would barely cover bus fare and a few subway tokens, much less food on top of that. While debating the wisdom of going to the city without sufficient funds a wind from nowhere blew towards us. The unexpected breeze carried a five dollar bill which landed on the ground right by Evan's sneaker.

Sweet! We can afford hot dogs after all!

September 15, 2015 : Dentistry

When I started working at UC Berkeley I finally had dental insurance for the first time in my adult life. By the time I got around to seeing a dentist, it was many years since my last checkup.

I was nervous, but the dentist was kind and calming. After the initial line of questioning he took some x-rays, and then proceeded to poke and scrape at my teeth without causing too much trauma. After the routine cleaning he went to check on the results of those x-rays and disappeared for a few minutes.

Upon his return he said, "We have something in the upper right to take care of," and asked that I schedule an appointment in two weeks. I had some minor pain in that region so this came as no surprise. Suddenly his assistant barged in and asked the dentist, "what's the verdict?" and he replied, "double root canal."


"So I'll see you in two weeks?" the dentist asked again and I sadly agreed, "yes."

I've never had a root canal so the prospect of enduring not just one but two of them was horrifying. I spent the whole two weeks squelching my anxiety to face the operation like a manly man.

I returned to the dentist and without much ado or briefing he got to work, numbing the region up with novocaine and breaking out the drill. I gripped the armrests and went to my happy place.

But a few minutes later it was all over and he said, "Looks good - just don't eat on that side for a couple hours."

"That's it?" I said, somewhat amazed. That couldn't have been a root canal procedure, unless all the stories I heard about them were completely blown out of proportion my whole life.

"Well, yes, the cracked filling was pretty easy to replace," he said, packing up his tools.

"Wait - you only needed to replace a filling?"

"Uh, yes."

"I thought I had a double root canal!" I said a little angrily, not that I was disappointed. The dentist looked terribly confused. I looked terribly confused right back at him.

There was awkward silence for some time before we put two and two together: When his assistant came in the other day asking about "the verdict" and the dentist replied "double root canal" they were referring to a different patient. Ha ha.

September 8, 2015 : Cancelled

I randomly scored a free upgrade to first class when I flew from San Francisco to New York for the holidays. All the regular passengers saw my long hair and thought I must be some kind of rock star or something. Though it was a red-eye I almost got some decent sleep in those big, cushy chairs.

I wasn't so lucky on the return flight, being crammed in the the back of the plane between two large people. At least we left JFK on time at 8:30am, which seemed highly unlikely given it was January 2nd - a typically chaotic travel day.

While hovering over Pennsylvania the captain announced that we had to turn around and go back. They discovered an engine fire warning gauge was broken. Though we weren't in any immediate danger they were instructed to return due to general safety protocol. Basically, the flight was cancelled in mid-air. Fuck. An hour later we landed back in NYC. How Sisyphean.

Now it was 10:30am and we were waiting on the runway back at JFK while a repair team diagnosed the problem. Every ten minutes the captain claimed that we'd be back up in the air in ten minutes. After sixty minutes of this he suddenly asked us all to leave and wished us luck in finding another working plane. The strong trampled the weak as we all grabbed our bags from the overheads and rushed back into the terminal.

After a half hour of mayhem at the gate some order took hold. The lady at the gate informed us that all 180 passenger names from our defunct flight were put in a lottery for the five open seats on the next plane to SFO, and she began selecting the winners. Four names that weren't mine were called. Things were looking grim. Then she announced, "The last open seat goes to Matt Le..." She fell silent, squinted the scary jumble of letters on her paperwork, and continued, "Leboo... Labiff... Loborfsky?"

I punched the air with my fist and shouted, "Yes!" which pissed off the 175 losers who'd have to wait at least another three hours for a chance on the next plane. When I boarded the stewardess said, "just pick anything open in first class." Sweet! So just like that I got to ride first class *again*.

I returned to California five hours late so my ride home from the airport had long since gone. While waiting for a taxi from SFO to Oakland I met three dudes going to the same part of town so I tagged along with them. I sat in the front seat next to the driver. Upon realizing he was getting an easy and lucrative fare he gleefully proclaimed, "I'm eating steak tonight!"

After some brief small talk I discovered that one of my cab-mates was in a band. In fact it turns out he was playing bass in a group I played bass in a few months earlier but bailed unceremoniously after one rehearsal. It's a tiny frickin' world.

September 1, 2015 : Waldo

San Francisco was different 20 years ago. Back then every Halloween a hundred thousand people descended on the Castro, clogging the streets, mingling, showing off or gawking at all the crazy costumes. When I first moved to the Bay Area I'd go every year, usually in my street clothes like the unmotivated loser I was (okay still am).

I finally thought of an appropriate costume - to dress up like Waldo in those "Where's Waldo" books. I thought this was a great idea as this character is frequently depicted lost in a giant crowd, much like I'd be come Halloween. I'm so clever!

As per usual I waited until the last minute to get my outfit together, and therefore couldn't obtain the proper items. For example, Waldo's shirt has red/white stripes, but I could only find one that was brown/white. And while Waldo's wool cap was also red and white, I could only find a red one with some superfluous orange and yellow stripes. Though the whole ensemble wasn't all that far off, I was ultimately unrecognizeable as Waldo, and therefore my costume wasn't really a costume after all. Nobody got the joke. Frankly, I just looked like a dork.

After that embarrassment I ditched the shirt but kept the hat. It was stupid but provided adequate warmth during outdoorsy adventures.

In fact, I had it with me twelve years later during an epic trek through the high Sierras. Fresh off the trail we entered the tiny town of Bishop in search of cooked protein. Having just spent many days unwashed in the wilderness, I kept my smelly, unkempt hair under wraps in this hat, which was the least I could do to maintain an air of civility when dining in public.

While happily munching on a rack of ribs a local resident walked by. She then stopped in her tracks, and slowly returned walking backwards back to my table. She squinted her eyes at me, smiled, and happily announced, "that hat makes you look like Waldo!"

I felt ever-so-slightly vindicated.

August 25, 2015 : The Worst Job I Never Had

At the time of the following episode (1992) I was stuck in the midst of the most depressing and financially insecure period of joblessness I have ever experienced, so bad that I threw money away playing the state lottery every chance I could. I spent my mornings sulking, my afternoons waiting anxiously for the mail to arrive (not that I was expecting anything), and my evenings eating crap and watching Jeopardy.

Occasionally I escaped outside to roam the streets of Berkeley which somehow seemed productive, especially after the one time I found a $20 bill on the sidewalk. During these excursions I collected all the free weeklies I could carry. These usually ended up barely read and scattered on the floor of the den.

Once in a while I accumulated enough will to sift through the classifieds, knowing full well this wouldn't lead me toward meaningful employment. I have a hard time lying to people, and an even harder time trying to act excited about work I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole if there wasn't a paycheck attached to it. So whatever few job interviews I snagged via my clumsy responses to these classified ads, I'd usually blow when I'd show up babbling like an idiot, obviously apathetic about the company's success, and always, always underdressed.

However, my hopes perked up one day when I spotted one special classified which read something like: "Comedy! Do you like to laugh? Come join our advertising team in a creative atmosphere.." It then went on to mention a lot of money could be earned. Well, I liked comedy, I'm somewhat creative, and I sure as hell enjoyed money, so I gave the number at the bottom of the ad a ring.

I found myself promptly in touch with The Events and Promotion Corporation. The guy on the other end of the line spoke like a disk jockey, and told me to come on by the office on Monday to meet and greet and talk about the job. The office happened to be situated in Oyster Point down in South San Francisco. That's a long drive to go discuss a job which seemed pretty vague but hey, I was bored and unemployed.

Monday rolled around and I put on my best (read: only) button down shirt and took a nice, long drive over the bridge and down to the office. The receptionist handed me the standard issue clipboard with the standard issue forms to fill out about my name, address, favorite sportscar, etc. Another potential hiree arrived wearing a total power suit. He sat down and scribbled on his forms as I watched him and wondered how much practice it took before he could make that perfect knot in his tie.

Eventually the manager called us in to her office. Her name was Shawnee, and she seemed like a normal person. A really friendly chat ensued about all our backgrounds, and she eventually launched into what the company did. Actually, despite her memorized speech about Events and Promotion, I found myself as uninformed as when I arrived. I did get an earful about comedy shows and managing, but the exact tasks I'd have to perform remained a mystery. Whatever. The meeting ended quickly, and she said she'd give us a call later about when we could come in for training. I repeat: Whatever.

By the time I got home I already had a message on the machine from the kind folks at E&P, asking if I could come in on Thursday for a full-day training session, and if so I should wear a nice suit. It wasn't at all clear if I was to get paid for this, and I didn't really have any nice clothes, but I called back anyway and said I'd be there. Hey, I was bored and unemployed.

I woke up way too early on Thursday morning and dressed up in a "mutt suit." That is to say I wore my sole white button down shirt still unwashed from Monday's "interview," a pair of blue dress pants which my father wore 25 years ago, some dilapidated black pseudo-loafers I bought for my old inventory job, black dress socks with white paisleys I got for a lame semi-formal back in college, a skinny black tie, and a grey sports coat borrowed from my housemate, Bob. God, I must have looked like a fucking idiot.

I avoided the Bay Bridge traffic by leaving at 7:30am. The upshot of this was I had about a half-hour to kill once I got there. So I aimlessly drove around Oyster Point, which happens to be one of the most uninteresting of locales in the San Francisco Bay Area.

When I entered the E&P office, the receptionist led me to the conference room, where two other "trainees" were already waiting. She left, and I got to talking to those guys, and they happened to be equally confused and wary about this job, but here they were because hey, they were bored and unemployed. One of them just moved to the Bay Area from SoCal, and the other just wrapped up a long stint as a soundman for a cruise ship cover band.

Our pleasant conversation abruptly ended when the business day started at 8:30am. A sudden and frightening blast of cheezy 80's-style heavy metal pop consumed the entire office, escaping from behind the closed door of the adjacent room. The walls shook as the guitars went chug chug chug chug chug chug chug chug. In time with the heinous music came various shouts from the E&P employees, "SELL! SELL! SELL! SELL!" We three trainees became very silent and afraid.

The music ended and in its place came a call and response reminiscent of bad high school pep rallies: "What are we going to do? SELL! How much are we going to sell? A LOT!!" The energy needed to generate these shouts so early on a weekday morning went far beyond what simple caffeine could provide. Were they all on coke? Or speed? All of the above?

Remember, I still had no clue what this company did exactly, and by merely overhearing this unorthodox morning wake-up ritual I knew it couldn't possibly be up my alley. The SoCal Dude agreed. We were both like fuck this shit and went as far as to get up and start heading out when the conference room door flew open, crashing into the jamb with a resounding "Whoomp!"

I fell back into my chair as the sea of chanting speed freaks from next door paraded inward and around the conference table. "I'm STEVE!!! Nice to meet YOU! I'm STACY! How's it GOING?!" They spouted these greetings in full chest voice as they circled us, forcibly shaking our hands or creepily grasping our shoulders. I was too stunned to respond. Even if I wanted to I couldn't get a word in edgewise as every second a new face with wide open eyes appeared and screamed, "I'm DAVE!! Pleasure to MEET YOU!!"

And then they were gone, the last one slamming the door behind them. Whoomp! Still calm enveloped the room, and we newbies entered a mode of serious private contemplation about the world and what draws people to do the things they do. During this brief moment of silence I checked to see if I wet myself. The three of us finally met each other's gazes and whispered in agreement: "whoa."

It was now 8:45am. The conference room door opened again, this time at a normal velocity. There stood the receptionist, and she spoke with a smug smile. "I hope that wasn't too scary," she said and added, "They're ready for you in the main office." We got our heads together and followed her there.

In the main office the big boss sat at his desk, with the dozen or so from the earlier freak parade forming a semi-circle behind him. The boss then began telling us about how much fun we were about to have today, our first day as "trainees." Great. We were going to go out on the town to spend a day with one of the "trainers" and learn the ropes. Wonderful. And at 5:30, when the day is through, we'd all meet back here for a "fun quiz." Splendid. I really wanted to make a break for it but just couldn't bring myself to do so. I'm such a wuss.

The three of us got paired with our trainers for the day. I was paired with Susan, a short red-head who looked like death and smelled like the floor of a tavern. So this would be my companion for the next 8 hours? It just keeps getting better.

As we left the office Susan got right to the point: She felt like hell because she got totally shitfaced drunk last night, and to add insult to injury, she's terribly allergic to alcohol. So before we could do anything, we had to drive to her house to get her car, since she crashed at a friend's house last night and got dropped off this morning.

After driving another five miles south to her damn house, I waited outside for 20 minutes as she searched for her keys inside. Once ready, I followed her back to the office and got into her car, a crappy, old Toyota which reeked of cigarettes. We headed on up to San Francisco.

On the ride Susan finally explained what E&P were all about. Everybody starts out as trainees, like myself. If you do well, you soon become a trainer. Playing your cards right as a trainer means you can make over $1,000 a week. Shawnee, who I met the other day, was a manager, which is the next step in the hierarchy, followed only by regional manager. The current regional manager was 23 years old and raking in $100,000 a month.

Well, the money sounded great, but what does a trainee do? Susan explained that E&P sold tickets for comedy shows, but these weren't just any old comedy tickets. They were sold in packs of twenty for the mere price of four, and not only that, they could be used at any comedy show in the Bay Area. Anyway, trainees sold the tickets. Trainers also sold tickets, but also trained trainees. Once you sell enough tickets as trainer, you become a manager, and so on.

Now I understood: The Events and Promotion Corporation was a living, breathing pyramid scam. Well, sort of. It definitely had very little to do with advertising and creativity like the classified ad suggested.

After this explanation Susan said that we'd spend all of today selling tickets. At this point she began rummaging fervently in her purse while absent-mindedly swerving the car into other lanes of traffic. Much to her dismay she realized she must have left her stash of tickets at some bar in the Castro where she got plowed last night. So that ended up being our first stop.

Surprise, surprise, the bar was closed. Well, she did find one pack of tickets in her glove compartment, and figured we could kill time selling those. Until now I figured we would go to selected businesses and regular distributors to sell these tickets. Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that the common practice was to harass complete strangers in the street! Good Lord!

Susan hit the sidewalk and began showing me how it's done. She approached random people as they walked by. "Do you like comedy?" she'd ask, stinking of bad cocktails. Nobody paid attention to her, but she'd still scream at them as they passed, "Well have a nice day!" I followed ten paces behind her, rubbing my eyes, pretending not to notice her.

This went on for a couple blocks. She practically assaulted one old lady, asking her "Do you like to giggle?" The poor woman looked scared to death, and as she fled Susan cried out to her, "Can you do me a favor? Have a nice day!" I felt completely embarrassed, but this misery ended when Susan stopped and told me she needed to relax for a while.

We went back to her car and just sat inside it. There she revealed to me various war stories about ticket sales in different parts of the city, but suddenly fell into a coma-like trance. "Susan?" I said, tapping her on the shoulder. She snapped out of it with the announcement, "I'm going to be sick." She left the car and bolted to the post office across the way in hope they had a public restroom.

I noticed she left her purse behind. I looked around to see if anybody was watching. One part of me really wanted to just take all the money I could find in her wallet and run. But once again, my good-natured passive side won this battle and I just sat in the car, awaiting her return.

Susan emerged from the post office with another announcement: "I think I'm gonna die." With nary a pause after making such a dire declaration she flung herself around as more people came down the street. "Do you all like to laugh?" she belched in a cloud of vomit breath. Yet again she found herself completely ignored. She told me earlier she sometimes made over $1,000 a week selling tickets in this manner. This became less and less easier to believe.

I told Susan we should just leave because she obviously wasn't up to it today and I could come back some other time (yeah, right). "No way," she insisted, and then limped into a nearby alley, crouched between two cars, and threw up again. When she was through, she came out of the alley and gasped, "okay, let's go."

I told her I should drive, but she wouldn't allow it. During the whole ride down 101 I poised myself to grab the steering wheel in case she happened to pass out. The way she drove with her head tilted all the way back and her eyes barely open made it seem that she was just on the brink of becoming completely unconscious. As we passed Candlestick Park I asked, "Are you sure you don't want me to drive?" "No," she said. That ended up being the entire conversation during the long journey back.

She dropped me off and apologized for this wasted day. I couldn't have been more happy to put an end to this madness since I knew very early this morning I didn't want this job. Bye! I got in my car, tore off the tie from around my neck, and sped home. Soon after that I went back to being an office temp, and I liked it.

About two years later I had a regular office job in downtown Oakland. One afternoon, a workmate and I were enjoying a peaceful noon hour in the company lunchroom when some blonde dude with a shit-eating grin waltzed right on in, waved a pack of tickets, and asked, "Do you guys like to laugh?" We snapped at him, "No!" After he left our office we called security which came right away and escorted him out of the building. Quite satisfying.

August 18, 2015 : Jeez

A long time ago when I first moved to Oakland I was living in Rockridge and ran a lot in the hills above the neighborhood at night. I always prefered evening jogs - it's cooler, there's less people, less cars, it's quieter.

But it's also darker. I was about a mile away from home when the lack of light made it impossible to negotiate the uneven sidewalk and I tripped. But instead of just dropping to the ground I lost my balance and ran even faster in a futile sprint as my legs desperately tried to catch up with my torso. This ultimately failed, and I skidded onto the sidewalk at full speed, badly scraping my hands. I quickly got up and raced home as both my palms were dripping with blood.

When I arrived my housemate Bob was on the phone. I flashed him my wounds and, without skipping a beat, he spoke into the receiver, "Look, I should go. My housemate just came home with stigmata."

August 11, 2015 : Tent

So regarding that trip my brother Ben and I took driving around the country as very young adults.. You see, we were very green at this camping stuff, and cheap, so we outfitted ourselves with the most inexpensive and minimal amount of essentials. Basically a clunky tent and some crap ass sleeping bags. Also two bota bags for carrying water - they seemed more smart and fashionable than stupid bottles but, as we would discover later hiking all day under hot sun in the Badlands of South Dakota, to sip from these botas was to drink warm leather soup.

Anyway that was about it. We also threw some pillows and my acoustic guitar into the trunk, and headed west from our NYC suburb. With no plan, and no real travel experience yet to guide us in committing any real decisions, we found ourselves driving all the way the first day to the border of Wisconsin. Just kept going and going. Even an epic midwest summer thunderstorm didn't slow us down.

Of course it was late by the time we pulled into our first KOA of the trip, and two malnourished and competitive brothers setting up a tent for the first time in the fading twilight was, from a third party perspective, kind of hilarious. And that night we learned that sleeping bags right on the ground without any kind of mattress or pad is quite uncomfortable. Not that we remedied this situation during the whole trip at all. We just suffered for weeks with our poor decision as some sort of penance.

The next morning Ben was washing up and I packed up camp. I crawled into the tent, took the pillows out, turned to put them in the car, spun back around and crawled into the tent again, took the sleeping bags out, turned to put them in the car, spun back around and.. where's the tent?

That's right: I looked away and during that fraction of a second the tent.. just.. disappeared.

I was utterly stumped, still in a daze from a night of non-sleep of a full day of highway driving. I couldn't wrap my brain around what was going on. I could have sworn there was a tent here, and I'm pretty sure I even slept in it all night, and now it's gone. Was I dreaming?

Finally I snapped out of it and while scanning the landscape I spotted the tent about a quarter mile away, picked up by the wind now that it wasn't weighed down by any interior contents, rolling full speed like a giant ball, and heading straight towards a rather large lake.

Shit. I ran full speed over ankle-twisting fields of weeds and increasingly swampy terrain and just barely caught up to the wayward tent in time before it hit the water's edge. Phew. During the anxious sprint I thought to myself, "So *this* is why you stake those things down."

August 4, 2015 : Yeah We All Know Each Other

The phone rang in my dorm room well after midnight, waking me from deep, necessary sleep. So my tone was rather agitated when I answered, "Hello?!" The caller asked, "Is this Matt?!" and I grumbled, "Yeah...?"

He immediately erupted into a series of panicked questions regarding end-of-the-semester term papers which I could barely parse in my current mental state. I eventually gathered enough wits to comprehend the situation - this idiot simply misdialed and his frenzied gibbering had nothing to do with me.

I interrupted, "I.. I.. I think you dialed the wrong number."

"Isn't this Matt?" he accused.

"Yeah, but... which Matt are you looking for?"

"Matt from American History 211?"

"Nope," I snapped, "You got the wrong Matt."

A long, dejected "oooooh" escaped from his lungs, and then silence.

Before I could hang up on his sorry ass he desperately pleaded, "Wait! Do you know which Matt I'm looking for?"

July 28, 2015 : Blowout

As young adults my brother Ben and I spent a summer month driving around the US, exploring our big and beautiful country. Here's one short chapter from this odyssey. There will likely be more.

After a few weeks we hit Denver and decided we had enough travels and started making a bee line back to NY via good ol' Interstate 80. It was fairly straighforward until we hit Nebraska and we had a blowout at 75 mph. I was driving at the time and proudly maintained control and got us onto the shoulder without any damage to us or to nearby drivers.

Our crappy tire iron seemed to be useless in removing any of the lug nuts. Ben planted all his weight on the thing to no avail. It was about 8:30pm. The sun was dropping. We were in the middle of nowhere, though I could see an exit of sorts a mile or two up the very flat road.

So I left Ben by the car to continue trying to remove the blown wheel as I walked to that exit, hoping for a pay phone to call AAA (this was 1991, i.e. cell phones didn't exist yet to deprive one of true adventure).

About a quarter mile into my schlep an 18-wheeler truck pulled over - the driver saw the car on the shoulder and me walking away from it and figured he could help a dude out. I didn't even think twice about jumping into this strange vehicle as I wasn't really looking forward to the dreary walk. And just like that I was hanging out with a trucker in his rather decked out cab. I wish I took a picture. I remember rabbit's feet and shag carpeting.

"Thanks, man," I said as I climbed in, "I just need a lift to that exit."

Turns out the guy didn't speak English very well. "No, I take you garage," he said and pulled onto the highway.

"Nah, that's cool, just drop me off right up ahead."

"Nothing there. Garage 30 miles."

He kept accelerating. I realized he thought I was operating alone, as Ben was obscured when hunched behind the car struggling with the tire. I tried to explain the situation, like I can't just leave my brother without telling him where I was going. But something was getting lost in translation.

Eventually my startled tone and frantic pointing at the approaching exit was annoying enough that he gave up and pulled up onto the exit ramp just in time. I thanked him again and jumped out as fast as I could. Quickly I noticed my unwitting nigh-kidnapper was right - pretty much nothing there.

Bless his heart, he actually stuck around and watched me for a minute or two as I looked around at abandoned barns and an clearly defunct gas station. I was obviously either stupid or crazy, so he threw up his hands in confused defeat and left me there.

I began walking back to the car. Luckily in the meantime Ben managed to finally get the blown tire off and swapped with the donut spare. He found me still on the ghost town exit ramp and we slowly made our way back onto and up 80. There was a pay phone at a station 5 miles up where AAA told us due to the late hour and our current remote location they couldn't help us. Really?

We tried various truck stops every 10 miles until one we found one that was open that had our tire in stock. Likely the very garage the trucker was talking about earlier. Anyway, the guy who helped install it was pretty nice but had a cockroach crawling all around his back the entire time. I couldn't ever find the right moment to surreptitiously flick it off.

July 21, 2015 : Clearance

Okay, here's another cover band gig in Seattle story. There's so many of these.

We had a big show playing the party at the end of a National Governor's Convention at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. Being a high profile political event including 60% of the nation's governors, all band members needed to be cleared by the FBI. Naturally we did this well in advance, so I expected my arrival at the venue to be straightforward.

However as we loaded in I found they put the wrong name on my security badge (they printed the name of a former band member by accident). No problem, but their policy was such that they had to run a fresh background check on me before I could enter. This happened while I waited in the security check zone (and the national guardsmen with rifles stood by).

The agent only needed my SS# and then he got to work on his little computer while my fellow musicians easily went through security. They pointed and laughed at me through the windows from inside as I waited for the results. I joked with the agent, who was a nice enough guy, about what he's reading on the laptop screen just out of my view.

All clear. I was relieved I still got to play this gig, but slightly sad I never did get to find out what random notes the FBI has chosen to database about me. By the way Arnie, who was the California governator at the time, was a no-show.

July 14, 2015 : I Once Threw Up On Stage

As a performing artist, I've had good shows and bad shows. People only want to hear about the bad ones. Well, check this out: I once threw up on stage.

There once was a band called Herb that played classic Herb Alpert tunes. During my tenure in this super fun tribute band I subbed on some random gigs - a couple weddings, extravagant dot-com parties, and once even sharing a bill with Nancy Sinatra. On the fateful day in question we headed out to San Francisco on a sunny Tuesday afternoon to entertain a pack of lawyers at some luncheon downtown.

I arranged a car pool with Steve the guitarist to help reduce the pain of finding parking in the city during business hours. I drove to his house, plopped my ten-ton keyboard and amp in his pickup and we headed over the bridge. After finding the right office building we discovered the event was on the second floor. We hauled our heavy gear upstairs and down a long hall to the main room bustling with preparatory activity. We casually set up our equipment and dug into the freshly assembled lunch buffet with the rest of the guys in the band.

I actually didn't eat anything. I felt a bit hungover even though all I had was a couple beers last night. And I wasn't very hungry even though all I ate this morning was a banana I picked up at a convenience store on the way to Steve's house. But I always get nervous before a show, so I settled my stomach with some seltzer water.

I never did find out what the big event was all about. Nevertheless, the hall soon flooded with happy lawyers and their friends and lovers. It was a celebratory gathering of some kind, and in any case we were going to earn our money with two long sets of basically every tune we know from "Tijuana Taxi" to "Taste of Honey."

And just like that we began with "Lonely Bullfighter". We played a thunderous A major chord as Jab (the lead trumpeteer) appeared, leading the brass players entering dramatically from the opposite end of the hall, blasting their horns as they slid through the crowd and swankily approached the stage. I was parked standing behind my keyboard all the way off on the left, about ten feet away from the line of hungry people waiting their turn for the buffet. We leapt from song to song, each one finding me a little more tired and hazy. I thought I was just coming down with a cold or something - nothing to really worry about.

By the middle of the set I felt a tad queasy, but there were still 6 or 7 short tunes left before I could take a break and get some air and maybe some pepto bismol or something. As time wore on I became more and more sick, though I wasn't upset about how I felt shitty as much as how suddenly I felt shitty. With three songs left I was leaning against my amp, unable to support my own weight. With two songs left I took a deep breath and braced for the home stretch.

Then, finally, we closed the set with "Zorba the Greek," an epic piece that unfortunately required my undivided attention from beginning to end. I stumbled through the first minute or so without major incident, and then settled into the long middle section which broke down to me alone playing a sloooooow, repetitive oom-pah pattern in F major while the trumpeteers jumped into the audience, dancing betwixt the lawyers while deftly applying the melody on top of my wavering accompaniment.

The nausea was unbearable. I just had to get past this song but my hands were becoming more and more limp and unresponsive. It couldn't have been simpler: F in the left hand, F major triad in the right, C in the left hand, F major triad again in the right.. I kept telling myself to fight through it, but soon the triads became major sevenths, then minor seventh sharp ninths, then thirteenth sharp elevenths..

"I can't throw up on stage," I mumbled to myself, "I just can't!" Was this a command or just wishful thinking? The only strong argument I had against vomiting right here, right now was that I haven't thrown up in over eight years. Eight years! How could I even consider breaking this long-standing "vow of silence" at this rather inconvenient time? Besides, I come from a long line of iron-stomached non-pukers! I'll surely bring long-lasting shame to my family if I blew chunks whilst under a spotlight! But, man oh man, I felt like giving up and letting go.

As the clanging, wrong notes disappeared into my ears I recalled the last time I found myself unbearably nauseous in a public setting. It was my first year in college, back when I wouldn't dare miss a single class lest I had to desperately catch up on the material later. So despite having a raging flu I attended my regular Monday morning Data Structures lecture. About 30 minutes in I had the pressing need to throw up but was too much of a sissy freshman to interrupt the proceedings with an obvious exit for the bathroom. So I squirmed in my chair, praying for the awful feelings to pass.

Since my will to avoid the cause at hand was obviously strong, my brain made the executive decision to throw my body into a state of shock. My vision sizzled and faded to white. The professor's words eroded into a stream of faint static. I slumped in my chair, eyelids shut, arms fallen to my sides, unable to do anything but wait for the crazy ride to finish. Everything smelled like electricity. I opened my eyes for a second and everything was still white, except for the brown, pencil-like outlines of my professor. I closed my eyes again. Time lost all meaning.

SssssssssssNAP! Suddenly I could see and hear again. Twenty minutes have passed in an instant. The lecture was already over and most of my classmates have left the room. I found my notebook literally soaked with perspiration. I felt okay. Not great, but okay. Apparently I was able to break on through to the other side without giving in to the grotesque demands of my stomach. Victorious, I headed back to my dorm room to recover in private.

So I proved to myself long ago that I could stave off the urgent need to blow chunks through sheer willpower. But that was then.

Back to now: I was on a stage and I was so ready to barf barf barf. I could barely keep my eyes open - all I remember seeing were the horn players glaring back at me in horror. Then came the grand accelerando leading to the big finish of the piece. Duh.. da.. da.. da.. Duh. da. da. da. Duh da da da Duhdadada duhdadada.. Everybody joined in and the music swirled around me, getting faster.. and louder.. and faster.. and louder.. and faster.. and..


My mouth filled with undigested banana and seltzer water which I then spat on the floor as surreptitiously as possible.

Two amazing things happened. First: I managed to avoid getting this used food all over myself and the keyboard. Second: very few people witnessed this disgusting display of uncontrolled bodily function. Though the song was far from over, I collapsed behind the drumkit. The band had no idea why I was suddenly lying there in a pathetic, sweaty heap and took it upon themselves to sing the remaining keyboard parts into their microphones as the tune wrapped up and Jab announced, "We'll be back for another set in 15 minutes."

I still lied there as my stunned bandmates wondered what the hell just happened. Jab, who saw everything, informed them and their jaws dropped in disbelief. The tiny puddle of puke where once I stood had already soaked nicely into the yellow stage carpeting, concealing the hard evidence. Without the immediate threat of more songs to perform I collected myself and ran into an unoccupied office. As I fled the scene of the crime a food server handed me a bottle of water - apparently he saw the whole thing and felt pity.

Away from all the chaos of the event I lied on the floor and got myself together. Having released the contents of my stomach I felt a lot better, but the adrenaline coursing through my arteries made me dizzy. Oddly enough, I didn't feel a single shred of embarrassment. Everything went by too fast to even consider it.

Ten minutes of calm relaxation did a world of good. Jab finally found me and didn't have to say anything. We both saw each other and busted out laughing. Working hard to stifle the giggling, he asked if I was going to be able to make it through the second set. I figured I could. I got up and went to the bathroom to splash my green face. Then I dragged my sorry ass back on the stage for another onslaught of doofy songs.

I reconfigured my amp so that I could sit down on it and play, which helped immensely as I still felt a bit woozy. Feverish and high on hormones, it was almost as if I was living in a dream. Nothing really bothered me about my public purge, and I just floated onward in a trance. A simple four-beat countoff and the music was rolling out from my fingers with no perceivable effort.

Well, one might consider such a digestive mishap to be a real "show stopper." Luckily my stomach was relatively empty at the time. If I started the day with a healthy stack of pancakes with a side order of bacon things might have turned out quite differently. By the end of the second set the adrenaline wore off and I was feeling pretty fuckin' craptastic. On the car ride home I was clutching my stomach and sinking deep into illness. The slow crawl over the Bay Bridge was utter hell.

I almost drove off the highway as I sped home from Steve's place, and then I could barely lug my gear out of my car and into the house. With my last remaining shred of strength I threw myself into bed and turned on the television. The screen filled with images of busloads of children, all screaming and crying. It was April 20, 1999 - the day of the Columbine shootings. I laid there for 24 hours straight, assaulted with painfully repetitive news coverage about the terrible incident, too weak to roll over and turn the damn television off.

I was bedridden for days. Apparently I got food poisoning, which is known to strike as suddenly and violently as it did in my case. But how did I get it? Cheap Chinese food over the weekend? A bad beer the night before? Whatever. It took weeks before I could consider eating a full meal again. Not fun.

By the way, yes - I still got paid for the gig.

July 7, 2015 : You Should Leave

Eddie went to school in NYC while I studied upstate in boring old Binghamton. He came to visit once and frequently poked fun about the sleepy college town I currently called home. I didn't disagree, but he was taking the twenty-year-old-who-thinks-Manhattan-is-the-center-of-the-universe thing a bit too far.

Anyway, with no better plans I dragged him and some other friends to a party which ended up being rather dull. Lots of nerdy dudes, nerdy conversations, and crappy beer. The party sucked by my standards, which meant Eddie found it utterly unbearable. He proclaimed, "if this doesn't get any better soon I'm going to get us all thrown out."

Eddie kept his word. After ten more unremarkable minutes "Welcome to the Jungle" came on the stereo and that was his cue, I guess. He leapt into the living room and started flailing about. Stunned partygoers guarded their drinks and nervously backed up to the walls to avoid contact as he kicked and thrashed just barely avoiding slapping people's faces and knocking over lamps. He then grabbed me and my pals, threw us on the floor and began pretty much wrestling us to increase the general shock-and-awe value of this whole demonstration.

I broke free from the pile. Quickly the party host approached, tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I think you guys should leave." And so we did.

Disclaimer: Names were changed since I'm not sure Eddie is still proud of this. In any case, thanks dude for bringing to light another method for exiting a party beyond simply sneaking out the back door.

June 30, 2015 : Pityriasis Rosea Blues

I must have been enjoying my senior year at the University of Binghamton too much. I was feeling popular for once in my life, playing in a couple bands, holding a position of power at the college radio station, living with six other dudes in a big ol' house. As well, all the annoying class requirements for my two separate majors were behind me.

November rolled around, the entire campus wrapped up their midterms and got geared up to party down until Thanksgiving break. One of the biggest drunken gatherings of this period was to happen at my very own abode. Me and the guys already planned for the big bash to happen the weekend after next. I grew very excited about this party-to-be, enough that I ignored the two or three spots on my chest which have been lingering harmlessly for days.

The same day two of my housemates trekked to Pennsylvania to score some grain alcohol I entertained my parents who came into town for a quick visit. In need of a conversation topic, I presented my dad with the funny red marks on my torso and inquired, "what the hell is this?" His quick and definitive conclusion was I had some kind of fungus infection and should get some antibiotic right away. Yuck.

I waited anxiously until Monday for the campus infirmary to open to get some medication for my personal fungus garden. Meanwhile the six or seven cute dots hiding under my chest hair have grown into an unsightly army of a couple dozen lesions covering the area between my navel and nipples.

The nurse led me to an examination room and she seemed more or less uninterested in my story of infection until the moment I took off my shirt to show her the damage. Her expression turned from complete and utter apathy to total giddy surprise. "Oh, wow!" she said. "Oh, wow!" she repeated, and then summed up, "I have to go get the doctor." And as she disappeared my mind reeled with all the possible horrible outcomes of my affliction, an affliction so extreme it warranted a double "oh, wow" and having to go get the doctor.

"That's a pretty classic case," the doctor said first thing upon viewing my condition. This statement totally begged the question, "Of what?" The nurse happily fielded this question. "Pityriasis rosea," she said.

Before I could attempt to echo the name of my new disease I was presented with some photocopied info about it. I quickly gleaned I've been housing a relatively harmless virus and not some gnarly fungus, which made me happy. The doctor interrupted my reading, telling me pityriasis rosea causes funny red spots to form on a person's trunk, as high as the neck and as low as the knees, and usually never reaching the hands, feet, or face. But other than that it's a cute and fun-loving pathogenic microorganism.

This was all well and good, but I had a party to host in five days. I needed a cure and needed it fast. "So how do I get rid of it?" I asked.

"Oh, it'll just run its course in about 6 to 8 weeks," said the nurse.

"So there's no cure?" I whined.


By the day of the party the spots have made it onto my arms, peeking out from under the sleeves of my t-shirts. One pioneer spot had also made its way onto my neck for all to behold. I came to terms with the fact I was a freak and drank grain punch all night. During the course of the evening I acquired the nickname "Spot." How clever my friends.

The whole episode peaked during finals. The spots reached down to my knees, as high as my chin. I found it difficult to hold a conversation with anybody as they stared in horror at the ring of pox around my neck. Pityriasis rosea is not at all contagious, but no matter how hard I tried to convince people of this they still maintained their stance a few extra feet away.

When the virus finally had enough of me it began to die off. The good news was the spots, one by one, slowly turned from reddish brown to my natural pale skin tone. The bad news was after they converted color they peeled off like a sunburn. For about a week I had cute little pockets of dead flesh dangling all over my body.

On the bright side this last stage happened during winter break while I was away from my college friends and hanging out with the high school buddies back home, including one who had pretty severe hemorrhoids and therefore he took the spotlight off my unsightly skin for a while. By the time I arrived back in Binghamton for the spring semester, my body was more or less back to normal, though it wasn't until March that all traces of my pet virus vanished completely.

Later on... As an early adopter of the web in 1995 I had a home page where I posted autobiographical essays including a more thorough version of the above story. For several years this was the top hit on the internet about Pityriasis Rosea, and thus I got about a thousand e-mails from similarly inflicted people who thanked me for the funny tale which made them feel less freakish and alone in their suffering. Sometimes they shared deeply personal descriptions of their own experiences - before privacy was a thing. However sometimes people pleaded for more information as if I was a doctor and this new fangled internet owed them a goddamn explanation about everything. I actually responded to many with information I gleaned from reading everybody's stories. So among my life achievements I was the internet's foremost expert of Pityriasis Rosea for like half a decade.

June 23, 2015 : Soggy Seattle

Okay another cover band gig horror story. They're fun.

This time I was in a smaller ensemble (Me, Paul, Scrote, Jonnie, Wes, Jamison) heading up to Seattle to play the closing night bash of the Microsoft Techready conference - a geeky party with thousands of attendees from around the world. We were the last act on the main stage that night. A stage which was, as I only found out upon arrival, situated outside at Bell Harbor, i.e. right there on a pier off the sound.

This is Seattle. It rains in Seattle. The stage manager noted my concern and pointed out today was July 31st, and it hasn't rained on this day around here in over 20 years! I scanned the gray skies above and said, "uh huh."

It was also kinda windy out there by the water. I'm a pro and usually prepared for various contigencies but not quite this time - I didn't bring any clothespins to secure charts to a music stand.

After soundcheck I walked into downtown and looked for some clothespins. I browsed many stores and was completely unable to find any. Then I remembered that nobody in their right mind in this perennially soaked town could possibly be bothered trying to dry their laundry outside. So I hit an army surplus store and got some bungee cords to strap the music down.

The event started and I checked out all the exhibits, i.e. lots of nerds doing nerdy things. The litany of bands started and, pretty much on cue, the drizzle began. At least after soundcheck somebody finally had the good sense to put a tent over the stage (it was completely uncovered earlier).

The band just before us was Dengue Fever. I watched their set from my dry hotel room as the shitty weather picked up to full-on storm levels. I noted they weren't getting electrocuted, so maybe we wouldn't either.

When it was our turn I ran to the stage. Moisture swept in from the tips of rising waves tumbling in the sound, carried by the strengthening winds sideways into the tent and landing all over everybody and their gear. Ethan, the Dengue Fever keyboardist, had valiantly rigged up a spare mic stand and a garbage bag to act as a shield from all the water, but it was barely helping. He said, "good luck" and fled.

Where's my keyboard? In the chaos it was taken from the stage at some point earlier and left out in the rain. Luckily the keyboard was put back in its case and still dry.. unlike its power adaptor sitting on the ground nearby and exposed to the elements for hours. I picked it up and water poured from it. I shook it for a bit to release the remaining drops. Somehow it still worked.

We launched into our set of hits from the 70's and 80's. Some people were actually out there dancing in the puddles. But I was a bit preoccupied, spending the entire set freezing as I took my jacket off to use as a makeshift towel in a futile attempt to sop the mist literally beading all over the keyboard and dripping down through the keys onto my dress shoes. The music on my stand turned to pulp. I sang my backup parts far away from the microphone for fear of fatal shock.

If there's any silver lining, it was that this was largely all rented gear. At least all my stuff was - I think according to the post-gig damage report only Jonnie lost a guitar pedal or two. And we didn't die. After the final note I ran all the way back to the hotel and jumped right into a hot shower.

And, almost as a joke, the storm ended immediately after we finished. We went out on the town to celebrate our improbable survival, eventually returning to our beds around 3am. We crawled to the lobby at 6:30am for our flights back home.

Disclaimer: Before anybody gives me any flack, I know Seattle has many sunny days throughout the year - it's a beautiful town and clear skies are usually what I experience when I'm up there - and yes it is conceivable that the residents probably sometimes dry their laundry on clothelines..

June 16, 2015 : Trona

During one of our wacky off-the-cuff southwestern desert adventures Jenya and I were driving out of Death Valley via a route that took us by the tiny town of Trona. We were camping the night before and didn't plan our caffeine supply very well and thus we desperately needed coffee. The streets were completely abandoned but we spotted one small building with a giant sign that said "Espresso!" so we were in luck.

We parked and entered the establishment, which looked like any normal middle-of-nowhere cafe and was pretty much empty, except for the two women behind the counter. The older woman greeted us, and we happily ordered two cappuccinos. She sadly informed us the espresso machine was broken. Oh. Okay then. We instead requested two drip coffees.

But then the younger woman admitted that the espresso machine was fine, they just didn't know how to use it. This seemed odd, given the proudly displayed "Espresso!" sign outside. Maybe they just acquired this business and haven't learned the ropes yet. Maybe they failed to serve espresso drinks for years and are only just now coming clean with us.

In either case, Jenya is a trained pro in such matters and offered to show them how to pull a shot. They let her back behind the counter where she promptly whipped up two cappuccinos for us. Despite Jenya giving them the free lesson, and doing all the labor, we still paid for our drinks.

June 9, 2015 : Party Boat

Everybody loves a cover band gig disaster story. I have a few. For example:

We flew down to San Diego to play some huge private event on a Hornblower party boat. After landing we checked into the hotel, ate lunch while some roving street magician practiced some tricks on me, then went to the early soundcheck.

Here was the plan: the boat will go out on the water and everyone aboard would have dinner and drinks all night, and when it returns to shore we would start playing and keep the partying hopping well into the evening. The catch: for some reason we musicians weren't allowed on the boat until after it redocked. Liability issues? Needless expense? Who knows...

So the trick was to get us on the boat as fast as possible once it returned in fear that everyone, now seasick and drunk, would flee before the music started. Our promoter proudly claimed to have this sorted out - upon arrival an extra set of stairs in the back of the vessel will be immediately installed so we could sneak on within seconds, jump to our instruments (which we left all set up and ready to go after soundcheck) and hit the downbeat before anybody could think to leave.

The band met back at the dock at 9:30pm. The boat was supposed to arrive at 9:45, but of course was running late. We just sat by the water, soaking in the ocean air on this lovely summer night. Finally at 10:30pm lights appeared on the horizon, and the boat was finally beside the pier at 10:45pm. As it approached we kept getting moved from station to station by the party handlers speaking into walkie talkies with military-level intensity and enthusiasm.

The boat dropped anchor and, as planned, the crane dangling a metal stair frame pulled up. Very soon it became apparent no real thought or expertise went into this facet of the whole operation. The crane operator kept lifting the large, unweildy staircase almost into position, slapping it against the side of the boat, then lowering it again to regroup and retry. The apparently novice crane helmsman was not quite up to solving this puzzle, flummoxed by the weird angles and the edge of the boat constantly and unpredictably teetering in the high tide. We musicians started loudly kibbutzing on the third or fourth attempt to raise the damn thing into position to no avail.

Meanwhile the party attendees - out on the water for an extra hour - were happy to deboard down the main exit ramp in droves. Literally hundreds of people were streaming onto the pier and walking back to their hotels as the promoter panicked.

Plan B! Plan B! What was plan B? Actually there wasn't a plan B but we took it upon ourselves to try to squeeze up that same ramp everybody was using to leave, but the downward forces of the exiting mob proved insurmountable. I looked over to see those stairs still swinging from the crane, now with extra handlers down on the pier and up on the boat desperately flailing and grasping at it and failing to maneuver it into position.

This literally went on for about 10-15 minutes while we helplessly watched the boat get completely emptied of its 1000+ humans. Now that the exiting mob was reduced to a trickle we were able to trudge up that ramp into the main entrance. Our audience comprised of roughly 50 people who remained on board, made up of about 40 crew, 5 dancers-for-hire to fluff things up, and 5 actual party goers too drunk to stand at the moment.

So be it. We played our minimal contractual amount during which the hired dancers were the only people on the floor, the crew packed up the catering and broke down tables, and those scant few party goers gathered themselves and left.

Shout out to Paul the singer who, despite being totally sick with a cold, handled this entire situation with incredibly professional style and grace. We all (me, Paul, Wes, Chris, Steve, House, Jeff) had a pretty good laugh about it later at the hotel and flew back home the next morning.

June 2, 2015 : The Shift Shaft

My brother and a couple of his friends descended on the Bay Area sometime around April in 1998. I played chauffeur for most of their trip, including a day-long trek up to Napa for wine chugging. During the long drive back I first noticed my '79 Honda Accord didn't have its expected amount of speedy vigor. I brushed this off as the car being weighed down by four big dudes and their newly purchased collection of handsome wine bottles.

During the coming weeks I found it exponentially more difficult to climb hills in my groaning automobile. What at first amounted to a slight lack of velocity as I headed up inclines evolved into a deafening roar as the engine burned at 6000 rpm just so I could get out of first gear. Being as how I worked daily in the Berkeley Hills, this became a bit of a problem.

But like all car problems I willfully ignored it until it became a crisis. This crisis came to pass as I barely made it work one day, sweat dripping from the tip of my nose as I stamped down on the gas pedal with all my might, cursing and praying at the same time that I'd make it all the way up the mountain, which I did. The painful part was going home. I coasted down the hill and around the ramp onto highway 24 going into the Caldecott tunnel. My toasted car stopped dead in the right lane of this chronic Bay Area traffic snarl. Lucky for me the highway tilted ever-so-slightly downward, and shifting into neutral allowed me to eventually gain enough momentum to make it through the tunnel and even all the way to my exit ramp. Even luckier was that I timed all the lights to my house, so I made it home but that was all my poor little Honda could handle.

It was time to face the music: my clutch was blown.

I made some calls to several garages the next day, and generally speaking a new clutch would run me at least $400 installed. Considering the entire car cost me $500 when I first got it, and I was kinda broke, I couldn't conceive of paying such a high price for a small fraction of the whole. So once again, I chose to ignore the problem.

Three very inconvenient weeks passed until my housemate Vicky notified me that her drummer friend, Carl, does automotive work on the side and was willing to fix my clutch for only $300. I considered the reduced price and the annoyance of being a carless musician, and figured I should get this work done. Now the problem was: How do I get my car to his house?

Carl lived downtown, and I lived uptown. Vicky told me how to get to his hidden little street and described his place as "the house on the right with the lawn." Fair enough. I convinced Jenya to push with her car to help my paralyzed vehicle limp all the way downtown. I figured a good time to do this was very late on a Saturday evening when all the street lights are turned off thereby reducing my need to stop/start all the time.

I warned Carl of this plan, and he was going to be out of town that evening, so I was to just drop it off and leave the key under his door. He asked me if I knew where his house was and I said, "Yeah - it's the one on the right with the lawn."

Saturday night came around. Around midnight Jenya and I came back from a rock show and we got set for the big push downtown. Her car roared as we got up to speed and down to the end of our block, and I got onto Telegraph Avenue without incident. As metioned earlier, I fully expected all the lights to be blinking yellow at this point in the evening, but I was sorely mistaken.

At every stop Jenya had to ram my back bumper and force me into the intersection. I'd gain enough momentum to get me a block or two until the next light. This method of transport is, or at least should be, quite illegal. In fact, I more or less chose the worst route for such an endeavor as all the lights were poorly timed, and the cops routinely patrol this main thoroughfare at night. Luckily they seemed to all be occupied by a skirmish outside some nightclub, and ignored us as I sailed by a flock of them between pushes. Phew.

We somehow made it through and past the meat of downtown in this manner and to Carl's street. Considering how close we were to the city hub, this part of Oakland was bereft of streetlights and quite dark. Now all we had to do was find "the house on the right with the lawn."

Continuing behind me, Jenya and I slowly advanced down the lane. After a few houses, we noticed one on the right with a lawn. And then another one on the right with a lawn. Two or three houses down we spotted another house on the right with a lawn. In a word: What the hell?

Confused, Jenya stopped her car as I allowed the momentum to carry me further. At first I thought it should become obvious which house was which, but the street only got darker and darker. Once I stopped I couldn't see anything anymore except Jenya's headlights behind me a half block away. I got out to look around.

As I got further from my car my eyes adjusted to the darkness until I made out a large area with a wire fence. From the silence I heard footsteps. I stopped and listened carefully. I heard another set of footsteps, and was quickly able to make out the silhouettes of two large dogs before me. Then I heard snarls.

I backed towards my car as the footsteps continued coming in my direction, faster and faster. When these two beasts were within 50 feet I became quite aware that they were not encumbered by long leashes, or the wire fence for that matter. I gulped and remembered a valuable lesson from my paperboy days: when a dog approaches, hold your ground no matter how scary the situation.

And that seemed to work. As if there was a forcefield one foot in front of me these two rottweiler types screeched to halt at my feet and barked at my face, but no more. I yelled "Hey! Hey! Hey!" to shut them up. Now they realized I wasn't much of a threat they allowed me to slowly back up and walk away without much ado. Jeez.

I walked back to Jenya's car where we had a little meeting about what to do next. I didn't want to just abandon my car in the middle of some random street. With unrealistic hope there may be a pay phone nearby (ah, life before cell phones), we headed towards the main street.

Nope. No phone. We started to get a little irritated with this situation, and angrily discussed our options. The door of a nearby house, made entirely of corrugated metal walls, swung open, revealing its sole occupant who was wondering what all the commotion was about.

I asked this person, "Are you Carl?"

"No," they replied, "Do you mean the guy who fixes cars?"

"Yes! Do you know which house is his?" I anxiously queried.

The nice man pointed down the street and said, "It's the one on the right with the lawn."

"I *know* that," I squealed, "But do you know which lawn?"

"Yeah. The really *nice* lawn, by that van over there.."

Finally I had more detail to work with. I thanked this guardian angel and we resumed with the task at hand.

Sure enough, obscured by the darkness and a huge van, there was one little house with a really nice lawn. It made all the other nearby lawns look like worthless shit, so I figured this had to be the right place. However, there was no space to park except sandwiched in front of that van and behind some tiny white Toyota.

Oy. So now we had to try to parallel park a dead car into a tiny space in the dark. I pushed my car, still in the middle of the street, towards the open spot.

Our first attempt was a miserable failure. Jenya steered as I pushed my car backward and following my confusing hand gestures she cut it way too hard. We tried to maneuver it into place. I wedged my body between my car and the van and pushed forward until my front bumper hit the Toyota's back bumper with a satisfying thud. I then stood on the trunk of the Toyota and pushed my car until the my back bumper hit the Van's front bumper with an even more satisfying thud. We were still 45 degrees away from parallel, so I pushed the car out of the spot and we tried again.

Once again Jenya cut too hard and we hit the van with a thud. I pushed forward and hit the Toyota with a thud. I then climbed on the trunk of the Toyota to push the Honda and suddenly found myself hovering in midair.

Vrooom! The Toyota flew out from under me. While airborne I came to the immediate conclusion that somehow the force of me pushing my car backward while planted on top of the Toyota must have caused the Toyota to somehow jump start itself. But when I hit the ground I heard somebody inside the Toyota cry out, "I can't believe they hit our car again!"

So all this time, unbeknownst to me, as I'm climbing all over their automobile like a frickin' monkey and ramming its rear fender with my Honda, two people were inside wondering what the fuck I was doing. The Toyota zoomed down to the end of the street, turned around and back towards me and Jenya.

Now my mind reeled with the question: What would two people be doing hanging out in their car on this dark backstreet near downtown Oakland on a Saturday night? Making out? Dealing guns? I couldn't make out their faces as they passed, but I yelled out "sorry!" They just kept going, instead of stopping and (perhaps rightfully) beating the shit out of me. I was both embarrassed and relieved.

The good news was with that car out of the way I now had room to land my dead car into that space, which I did. I scribbled a note for Carl, wedged it under the door of his house with my key, and got the hell out of there.

Part of the sales pitch I got from Vicky about Carl was that he not only worked incredibly cheap, but also worked incredibly fast. However, somehow he caught wind I wasn't in that much of a hurry, so he didn't even start working on my car for weeks. I guess I couldn't complain given the price.

Lucky for me he was about to get married, so he eventually did attend to my car if only to tie up all the loose ends before his big day. Once finished, I happily headed down to his place, handed him a $300 check, took a gander at the old burned-out clutch he had laying around his shop, and headed home. My car's pep was back. Phew.

Six uneventful days passed. I went to work and back thrice during this interlude, and then had a Friday night gig with Herb (that Herb Alpert cover band). I hauled my heavy-ass keyboard, amp, and stand to the gig, which was at some nightclub on Van Ness in San Francisco.

I unloaded all my equipment and parked in a nearby alley. The gig was pretty mellow, though long. They didn't feed us, which sucked, but I made about $70 for my troubles. Having just dropped $300 on my car, the extra dough was nice.

After the show I went to get my car. Before I put my key in the ignition, I stomped on the clutch and it dropped to the floor and just sat there. Given the late hour, my location, and low blood sugar level, I was wholly unable to deal with car problems right now, so in a fit of glorious denial I turned the key.

SCREEECH! Though my emergency break was on, the car shot backward completely

out of control. With all the engine's force it flew up onto the curb. By some

miracle I avoided hitting the car behind me (or any pedestrians for that matter) and narrowly squeezed between two parking meters on the sidewalk. The car only stopped because it rammed into a closed metal garage door.

Quickly gathering my wits I stopped the engine and began a rather comical attempt of pushing it off the curb. Mind you, this is San Francisco, which has more than its fair share of hills. I popped the gear into neutral and tried pushing it from behind up the steep incline, if only to get it off the curb. No dice.

I might add that I'm wearing my nicest clothes, including very slippery dress shoes, having just played this formal gig.

I prayed for that burst of adrenaline you always hear about - you know, where the 80 year old woman lifts a whole tractor which tipped onto her grandchild. With my right hand through the window grasping the steering wheel and my bicep wedged against the frame, I managed to get the car up off the curb but no further. I needed help. Fast.

With my remaining energy I sprinted back to the club. Chris, the drummer, happened to be the first unfortunate soul I spotted. Huffing and puffing I explained my dire situation, and bless his heart, he ran with me back to my car.

He was also wearing dress shoes, but our combined artery-busting effort yielded a better result. We got the car back into its original parking spot. But now what?

We headed back to the club. I started making phone calls, but nobody was home. It was a Friday night, after all. I personally didn't have AAA, but Jenya did, and she was nowhere to be found. As my exhaustion waned, panic set in. I circled around the lobby, mumbling and panting.

Tom, the trombonist, practically slapped me with his voice of reason. "I have a station wagon. I'll take you and all your equipment home. You can wait for Jenya and then get your car." He was right, and we adhered to this plan. He shipped me and my stuff all the way back over the bridge to Oakland. We arrived around half past midnight.

I paced until around 2:00am when Jenya returned from seeing a show in Berkeley, quite ready to get some shut-eye. I cautiously sat her down and said, "I'm really sorry, but we have to go to the city now and get my car towed."

Being a real trooper, she dug out her AAA card and I made the appropriate phone call. I stupidly told the AAA rep I was still in Oakland, and she insisted that

I call again when I was by the car in San Francisco. So off we went in Jenya's car, heading back over the bridge at 2:30am.

We got back to the general area, which isn't very pleasant at this time of night, and at the nearest pay phone made the redundant call to AAA to get a tow truck out here at once. They plugged the order into their system and said that I should sit tight for 30-45 minutes.

Poor Jenya. She collapsed to sleep right there in the driver's seat as we waited and waited. Right on schedule I saw the tow truck appear at the corner behind us and turn the wrong direction down the street, disappearing down the hill. Ten minutes later it returned to the corner, this time turning the right way as I was outside waving my arms like a madman.

We caravaned all the way back to Oakland. Though this service was handled by AAA, it was hardly going to be fully covered by AAA. Upon arrival, I handed 55 bucks to the tow truck driver, which almost completely cancelled out any money I made this evening. What a fucking waste of time.

It was 4:30am, and I went to bed fuming with anger. I awoke around 10:00am with a black bruise five inches in diameter on my right bicep, presumably caused last night when the entire weight of my car was resting against my arm as I struggled to get it off the curb.

I called Carl first thing. With his calm demeanor he figured he forgot to include some very small but very important part during the entire clutch repair procedure. You'd think he'd take care of this gross error with all speed, but for reasons I fail to recall it got put upon me to find the part, buy it, and limp my car downtown so he could fix it. Maybe he used some Jedi mind trick or something.

In the meantime, he explained that I could get around by bleeding the clutch regularly by hand. I couldn't understand his directions, but lucky for me I bought a '79 Honda repair manual at a garage sale for fifty cents some time ago.

Following the diagrams, I managed to bleed the clutch without much difficulty. What happens is air bubbles get into the line and have to be belched out. Normally, you'd attach a tube to the clutch bleed nozzle and let it cough into a pail of water. Assuming this step was unnecessary and strictly for show, I simply pumped the clutch, turned the release screw, and squirt! My car ejaculated a long stream of dirty clutch fluid, coming within inches of my eye, landing with a splash all over my engine. Nasty.

But then I could drive around safely, at least for a while. Had I known how to do this, I could have saved myself some serious time, money, and stress last night. Oh well.

I had no time to deal with finding the stupid clutch part until Monday. After work I walked a mile in the hot sun to the local Kragen auto parts. Like all fucking American chain stores they were slow, completely unhelpful, and didn't have the part in stock. I walked up the way to the local Grand auto supply. Same deal. I schlepped home devastated.

Jenya tipped me off to a shop in West Oakland which, of course, had the part for five bucks. After getting the part and bleeding the clutch once more, I dropped my car off at Carl's. A day or two later it was done, I picked it up, and that was that.

If only I had forked over the 400 clams to get my clutch done immediately by a professional mechanic. Instead, after dealing with all of the above nonsense over the course of two months, I ended up saving a whopping 30 bucks.

May 26, 2015 : Chicken Sausages

Jenya and I have been living in Temescal (North Oakland) for almost 20 years. Before it become the incredibly desirable neighborhood it is today many pioneering restauranteurs tested the waters here long ago and sadly failed.

One such place had a chicken sausage theme, which seemed oddly specific for an area where there weren't many other choices at the time. We didn't know what to make of it until we heard they were offering a weekend brunch service. We finally checked it out, happy to finally have breakfast and coffee within walking distance for once. They even had a sunny back patio. How lovely!

We got a table outside and the young waiter took our drink orders. Two coffees, please! He warned us that the coffee was pretty bad. Like, really bad. I actually rescinded my order, but Jenya stuck with it. She thought maybe there was some humility or snobbishness involved, but the coffee arrived and it was impossibly wrong wrong wrong. For starters, it was almost as clear as water.

Jenya, almost in disbelief, took a sip and confirmed this was the worst cup of coffee humanity has ever produced. When it came time to order our egg and sausage plates the waiter expressed his frustration about the staff here not having their act together and the ridiculous coffee was but one example. It's bad form for a waiter to talk shit about the back of house plus this also inspired fear in us, but we still got something to eat, and we ate it, and we didn't die.

After handing us the check the waiter sat down at the next table and discretely informed us that he just quit a minute ago. He thought we should know. Then he went on about his other restaurant work options. We wished him well, and he disappeared. We weren't exactly sure, in this odd case, how much we should tip.

May 19, 2015 : Skankenstein Meets the Spin Doctors

For a couple years at Binghamton University I was in a band called Skankenstein. We dressed funny and played lots of ska-ified funk and alternative rock cover tunes. Not really my aesthetic, but it's always healthy to get out of one's comfort zone. Plus the other members were all badasses and fun to play with. I garnered a lot of performance chops during my tenure in that band.

One of our final gigs was opening up for the Spin Doctors at a club downtown. This was just before they made it big but were getting a lot of hype touring around the northeast. I wasn't a fan, but we were all stoked to play a real rock show.

Their management, however, was far from stoked when we showed up for soundcheck. The venue promoter failed to tell the Spin Doctors management about us, i.e. this silly local college band pointlessly tacked on as openers. They wanted Skankenstein kicked off the bill, but were somehow convinced to let us at least play a 20 minute set.

Being much older and wiser now, I totally understand the Spin Doctors side of the story. But back then I was less wise and instead of aiming all my rage at the venue promoter (who should take all the blame for putting everybody in this awkward position), I got really irked by the whole Spin Doctors entourage and what I perceived as bad treatment by them. Like they were on some power trip when in reality it was pretty cool of them to let us play a set.

Making matters worse was they were touring with support - a New England based jam band called Jiggle the Handle. So we had to sit through two soundchecks before we could set up our gear. We weren't allowed to strike anything, and thus barely fit on stage. We also had no time to run any tunes or dial in monitors.

Our set was stupid, shitty and mercifully short. Well, at least I felt that way. I played terribly. I was probably out of tune. And then it was over, and we were being ushered off the stage. In the sweaty chaos I threw all my stuff into my gig bag and noticed some really nice guitar cables just lying there unclaimed on one of the Spin Doctors' pedalboards. In a fit of misaimed youthful rage I grabbed those cables and also crammed them into my bag, thinking at least I'll get something out of this experience. Stick it to the man, right?

I had the choice to load out now (and not be allowed back in) or hang around all night. Fuck this stupid frat boy scene. I headed on home. My housemate Joe, also in Skankenstein, arrived shortly after me and we commiserated about the show. He was bummed, saying he couldn't track down some of his cables while loading out. Oh.

I got my gig bag and dug out those cables I nabbed and showed them to Joe. Turns out they were his. "You found them!" he said, and was super happy to get them back. Well, fine. So I didn't stick it to the man after all. And later when I unpacked all my stuff I realized I left my $100 wah pedal at the gig, never to be seen again. Turns out the man stuck it to me.

Lesson learned, universe. I guess.

May 12, 2015 : Michigan Stop

In the Spring of 2006 Faun Fables (in the form of Dawn, Nils, Jenya, and myself) embarked on an ambitious North American tour. We drove ourselves around the continent (and pretty much lived) in a "Minnie Winnie" Winnebago for two months.

I was in the driver's seat when we got pulled over at random on the highway crossing Michigan. No reason was given, but the officer curtly asked me to step outside and he led me behind the RV where the others couldn't see us. There he began a long barrage of questions, trying to get me to somehow admit we had pot on board the vehicle (of course we did not).

Cop: Do you smoke dope?

Me: No, sir.

Cop: I see this vehicle is registered to one Neels Frikedull. Does he have any dope?

Me: No.

Cop: Are you sure?

Me: Yes.

Cop: Where you guys from?

Me: Oakland, California.

Cop: Oakland?! You know Snoop Doggy Dog?

Me: Um.. No.

Cop: Are you sure there's no dope on this vehicle?

Me: Yes.

It went on like this for a while, with occasional long, silent pauses as he entered periods of deep thought, eyes scanning around, trying to find the perfect question to trap me. In a flood of drug related queries he threw this curveball:

Cop: Why weren't you wearing a seatbelt?

Me: I was - this model of Winnebago, from 1975, doesn't have shoulder straps.

He then grimaced as if to say, "Dammit - I thought I had him there!"

I was nervous when this all began, but at this point in the exchange I found myself quite relaxed as it was proving to be harmless and easy - like a lazy sunday game of badminton. Nevertheless it dragged on.

Cop: So are you some kind of band?

Me: Sort of - more like a traveling theatre show.

Cop: Are you any good?

Me: Yeah - but I still keep my day job.

Cop: What's your day job?

Me: I'm a computer programmer at University of California at Berkeley.

I thought this bit of info would prove I was a respectable member of society but his eyes lit up:

Cop: Berkeley?! They smoke a lot of dope in Berkeley, don't they?!!

Me: No - it's actually a far more conservative town than you think.

Eventually he let his guard down, realizing he was getting nowhere.

Cop: So.. being from the Bay Area.. I have one more question for you.

Me: What?

Cop: A's or Giants?

Apparently he gave up on the interrogation and now just wanted to be friendly. I'm a baseball fan, so this was a welcome change of pace in our conversation. We got lost in a nerdy chat about Bay Area baseball, the embarrassment that is Barry Bonds, the frustratingly slow progress of the A's this year, etc. The discussion ended with me providing some insightful and encouraging words about his Detroit Lions, and he let me go on my way.

Meanwhile the others were on the RV wondering what the hell was going on. For all they knew I was in cuffs and sulking in the back of a squad car. They were quite relieved upon my return, and more so when I said it was all good and got us back onto the highway.

May 5, 2015 : Dusting Off the Apple II

I got into computer programming when I was 8 years old right around when the family obtained an Apple II+. I also took some after-school programming classes taught by a bright entrepreneur named Ron Gindick. Ron had 20 Commodore Pet computer stations in his basement. Classes involved him and his teenage minions watching over the shoulders of the children basking in the glow of the Pet monitors. These monitors were attached to keyboards designed long before the word "ergonomic" existed.

I ported all my knowledge from the Pet onto the newly purchased Apple. Before long my programs contained graphics, music, and assembly language subroutines. I quickly generated a huge series of silly and violent animations, a bumper crop of games, and a vast amount of mathematically based computer artwork. I really dug the art of computing, and treated the computer much like the piano - a tool in which one, with great practice, can transform abstract creativity into something else.

Around age 14 I massaged my towering ego by entering the annual high school programming competition. Each year a bunch of kids would gather together and have a timed assignment, usually something like a bubble sort or guessing game. The first year I competed I blew everyone out of the water, finishing up thirty minutes before all the others. For my efforts I received a little medal the size of a half dollar which I promptly pinned to my bedroom wall.

At the next year`s competition I recall the fear in the other kids' eyes as I entered the room. "Oh, no," one kid said, as my presence meant a sure defeat for him and everybody else who dared challenge Matt, the Apple II wizard. Mwha ha ha ha. Another year, another medal pinned to the wall.

Somehow I got swept into taking part in a regional competition around when I was 16. The resident high school computer programming ambassador, Ms. Korn, escorted me to a school in an adjacent county where a hundred or so of the best young talent from downstate New York assembled for a big, bloody showdown.

Upon arrival we were herded into a lounge area where high school kids of all ages sipped on soda and munched on salty chips. Mmmm. Brain food. A congregation of young hackers usually doesn't make for an interesting social gathering, and for a while we sat around doing nothing, saying nothing, and smelling pretty bad, I'm sure.

Soon the silence was broken by a painfully archetypical dweeb, complete with button down shirt, pocket calculator (I'm not kidding), and hair all over the place. He shouted, "Okay. Let's face it. We're all nerds here. We know we all like Mel Brooks. So who here agrees Young Frankenstein was his best movie?" Thus began a huge debate, during which the finer points of Blazing Saddles were analyzed, and my favorite Brooks movie, The Producers, barely got mentioned.

Anyway, once all the computer stations and referees were ready, we got shooed into a huge gymnasium and handed a set of five programming assignments. The goal was to finish as many as possible within 60 minutes. The buzzer went off and the gym echoed with the clicks of 20000 sweaty keystrokes per minute.

The five programs proved to be no big challenge - all basic crap I can do in my sleep. Another bubble sort, another guessing game, a pared-down database, a text formatting trick program, and some simple math parser. I pretty much had it all wrapped up after fifty minutes, and spent the last ten minutes fluffing up the code to make these programs a little more "user friendly" with sound effects and animations - i.e. stuff to prove I wasn't just fucking around with this shit.

Some guy who looked like Judge Reinhold refereed my work. He sat down at my computer and ran the five programs one by one. The bubble sort worked of course, but then he had a problem with my guessing game. According to the explicit directions, I was asked to clear the screen at the beginning of the program, which in my smug haste I failed to do. Outside of that one stupid missing "HOME" command, the game worked perfectly. It even beeped and flashed some colors when the user guessed correctly. I didn't get any credit for it.

The only other screwup occurred in the database program, which asks for the user's name, and is to immediately reply "Hello, *User Name Here*." My version just said "Hello." Whoops. Conceptually all five of my programs worked well beyond the basic scope, each with extra features demonstrating rather advanced prowess, but I had to be taught the lesson that knowledge, expertise, creativity and obvious joy and passion for the craft of computing isn't as important as following mundane orders to the letter, so I got handed the embarrassing score of 3 out of 5.

Only one kid officially got the full 5 out of 5. He got a free IBM system. Two kids got 4 out of 5 and held a tie breaker for a free TRS-80 system. I went home with nothing but a sour taste in my mouth. That was possibly due to all the soda and chips I consumed earlier.

The next year I once again entered the high school programming competition, and of course kicked royal ass, but it didn't feel right. Times were changing. The family upgraded to an Apple IIe, but around this time other computer systems already pushed past Apple II's in popularity. I myself, in need of a fresh start, dropped a cool $1000 on an Amiga 500 system. Hey, it seemed like a good move at the time.

Today the Apple IIe collects dust in my basement. I do plug it in from time and time and it still actually kinda works. I miss those simpler times. And I have that Amiga, too.

April 28, 2015 : Hoopty

When planning our epic trip to Patagonia Jenya and I decided to rent a car to get around once we arrived in El Calafate, Argentina. Most tourists rely on buses, but we like our freedom. We also opted for a cheap, local rental car vendor, and thus got an old, beat up hoopty with a cracked windshield, a broken tachometer gauge, and - which we only realized as night fell on the highway into the middle of nowhere - a broken headlight.

But at least it ran, and got us to the Chilean border without incident. Another complication was dealing with the imperfect relations Argentina and Chile have which each other, which is evident and suddenly our problem when driving an Argentinian car into Chile. Lots of old school bureaucracy, filling out paperwork, all with serious language barriers.

Also the border crossing we chose had enough elevation that we also found ourselves driving in ice/snow conditions in this vehicle that was poorly equipped for such. But we made it through and into the warmer air of Natales, and had a grand old time on that side of the border.

A week later we were returning to Argentina over that same border crossing, only to be met with a locked gate and a sign that had the distressing words "cerrado" and "72 horas." It seemed completely abandoned at first, but luckily there was some young patrol person inside who let us in and even more he knew enough English to explain the border guards were on strike for 72 hours. Only tour buses were let through. Being stuck in southern Chile isn't the worst thing, but we already had hotels and flights booked. Eventually he admitted he heard a rumor that maybe this one much smaller border crossing south of here may be open at 5pm for an hour.

So we went back to Natales to eat more beef before heading to this other crossing well before 5pm, and sure enough there was a line of cars forming. We took a number, and after hours of waiting they let us do the paperwork and sent us through. Yay!

The road from this lesser crossing back into Argentina was still under construction. We were on dirt and gravel for miles. Fearing these aged tires would blow out I was relieved to eventually drive onto some newly installed pavement parallel to the main drag. I enjoyed smooth sailing on fresh highway until realizing we might be on the wrong side of the highway going the wrong direction. There were no other cars or previous signs to give us clues as to proper orientation, but in any case the highway inexplicably dead ended with impassible mounds of dirt, so I had to backtrack and get back on the gravel road again.

And then suddenly all the dashboard gauges died. No speedometer or gas gauge. Having no idea if we had enough fuel to make it back to Calafate I had no choice but to stop in this tiniest of towns and hope the car will start again after filling up, despite whatever electrical problems it was having.

It did start up again (phew!) and we went back to the hoopty rental to complain about its issues (using lots of broken Spanish and mime and drawings). They tried to convince us to fix it all ourselves (the blown fuses and headlight) and they would take the costs off our bill, but they ultimately caved and quickly put in new fuses/bulbs the next day.

So, yeah, having a car added a few more stresses to our journey, including random stops and inspections on the road by military police, or the constant state of running low on gas between the very rare fueling stations in this part of the world.

But we did gain a lot, of course. We could stop whenever wherever and bask in the emptiness of the region or commune with the guanacos. We also could stay in places long after the tour buses left, like on the shore of the lake right by Perito Moreno glacier. We had the whole place to ourselves by late afternoon, meditating as the recently calved ice chunks flowed to shore and melted.

April 21, 2015 : Squat

Oakland, 1996. The house next door from me was empty for a long time. The previous owners defaulted on their loan and were evicted by the bank which just ignored it for months. So, naturally, a homeless speed freak began squatting there.

The guy seemed harmless at first, but the sounds of him muttering incoherently while rolling a shopping cart up our shared driveway at 3:00am was kind of creepy and annoying. Then he started hurling bricks over the fence into our backyard when we were making too much noise. My housemate called the police about this, and was met with unsurprising indifference.

This went on for a month or two (it's amazing what we're willing to tolerate in our 20's). Then driving home from work one night I approached my neighborhood as an increasing number of firetrucks passed me, and eventually I saw smoke coming from what looked like my block. I hit a police barricade and could go no further. "I live there!" I yelled at the officer to no avail. I parked and ran to my house.

Sure enough that squat next door was engulfed in flames. Luckily my abode was okay and the fire getting under control, though I had to stomp out of few burning cinders that landed in my backyard. The culprit was nowhere to be found, but I told the police on the scene what's up and they said they have been "tracking him for a while," whatever that meant.

When everybody left the half-burned house was once again left unchecked. My curiosity took over, and the next day I went to see for myself what was going on inside the unburnt sections. Singed paper and scrap lumber (i.e. potential firewood), half eaten wonderbread-and-barbecue-sauce sandwiches, rancid human shit puddles on the floor.

A few days later I heard that shopping cart going up the driveway at 3am again. I guess this wasn't the last of that guy. We figured he was just coming back to collect his stuff and move on.

Soon after that I heard some odd sounds outside and walked out to my front porch to see the squat once again consumed by fire. Flames shot up 20 feet into the sky, and were already spreading to the roof of another nearby house. Before I could even consider calling 911 fire engines were arriving on the scene and spraying everything.

The cops also came by and assured us this wouldn't be a problem anymore. They were right - it wasn't - but I don't think because of any action of the police department as much as the squat was now completely uninhabitable, and the guy probably just relocated elsewhere.

April 14, 2015 : Keys

It was towards the end of my first semester at Binghamton University, just before finals week. To let off steam me and some dormmates went to a midnight showing of "Wizard of Oz" in one of the main lecture halls. Kinda random but whatever. It recently rained and snowed - the long walk across campus was cold and slippery and our balance additionally challenged with occasional gusts of wind well below freezing.

I wasn't as drunk as my companions and therefore kinda found the whole experience a boring waste of time. I was happy to trudge back after the movie and return to the warmth of my dorm room. I went to unlock the main door to the building when.. I realized my keys were missing. Shit! They must have fallen out of the pocket of my stupid pants during this pointless social outing.

Adolescent-level panic set in, and while the others just went back inside and happily to sleep I began retracing my steps in the frosty night air. The campus was quite dark and lonely now at 2am. I scampered back to the lecture hall, desperately scanning downward at the snow and slush and ice the entire way.

I arrived at the hall and still no sign of my key ring. I banged on various windows until a janitor finally let me in and look around. Nothing there. I actually sat there by myself in the dark hall for a good half hour, warming up and meditating on this new, unexpected life where I will be spending the scant few precious remaining hours before finals not studying but dealing with the painful bureaucratic process of obtaining new keys, replacing various locks at inflated costs, etc.

Now 3am, I left the hall and went back into the tundra towards my dorm, hoping somebody will be awake to let my sorry ass in when I come knockin'. I noticed it must have snowed again for a bit while I was inside contemplating my sad fate. The entire campus was now all asleep in their toasty beds. Just me, the big loser, out there all alone, considering completely dropping out of college if this is how it's gonna be.

I have no idea how to describe the following other than: a sudden pang of awareness stopped me in my tracks. Like somebody grabbed my shoulders and slapped my face. And then I was suddenly compelled to turn around and retrace my steps. And after about 20 feet I had to stop again, now drawn to this one footprint. I reflexively kicked away the recently fallen snow around this imprint further revealing some glinting metal caked beneath the ice below.

My keys. My keys!! My keys... which must have fallen there hours earlier. And stepped on by a fellow student thus encasing it in a cocktail of slush and ice. And obscured by more snow. And left alone for however many hours until I was magically drawn to them.

I carved them out, shook off the frozen bits and began the triumphant walk back to my dorm. The skies had since cleared a bit, and - despite not being a traditionally religious person - I couldn't help but look up at the cloudless heavens and say, "thank you!"

And right at that moment - I shit you not - a shooting star crossed the entire sky.

Wow. The whole way back I was giddy with a cocktail of joyous relief, mild hypothermia, and existential awe due to what could arguably be perceived as divine intervention, and was uttering to myself in a continual loop: "wow... wow... wow... wow..."

April 7, 2015 : Honk

Jenya's 1983 Toyota Tercel wagon was pretty sweet except it had one quirk: the horn didn't work. And so it became a regular comedy routine in this car beating incessantly on the soundless horn in mock anger while driving around town - sort of a safe way to get road rage out of our systems.

Until one day, in downtown Berkeley of all places, we were at a red light and this old woman with a walker slowly began crossing in front of us. She was barely halfway through and totally blocking the intersection when the light turned green. Jenya jokingly bashed the horn - which was meant to be a private laugh between us...

...but for some inexplicable reason the horn worked this one time.

We were mortifed. The old lady, and several witnesses on the sidewalk, glared at us - in utter disbelief that we could be so cruel as to honk at a such a helpless woman.

Of course, the situation quickly became completely hilarious to me and Jenya, and just us, as we were the only ones who knew the horn was broken and our intent harmless. Jenya and I busted out laughing, and the horrified expressions from these archetypical over-righteous citizens of Berkeley made us laugh even harder. Everybody here thinks we're the worst people on the planet! Ha ha ha!

The woman eventually reached the other end of the crosswalk and we zoomed through the intersection, away from all the hateful scrutiny and back to the safe haven that is Oakland, chortling the entire ride home.

March 31, 2015 : Cat on a Pole

Saturday afternoon the doorbell rang. It was the woman house-sitting for our neighbor Ann across the way. I don't remember her name. Let's just call her Mindy. "Is that your cat?" Mindy asked. She said a neighborhood kitty seems to have climbed up a telephone pole and was sitting there right next to all the high voltage wires, too scared to come down. Apparently it had been up there since yesterday. It was a stray with no clear owner. Because we had cats of our own Mindy assumed she did her duty and that the cat lovers on the block could take it from here.

Jenya couldn't bear the poor animal trapped up there being scared and hungry so she made a bunch of phone calls to various utility companies and fire departments. They were all fascinated by the predicament but claimed such matters were not their responsibility. Despite frustrating hours on hold or arguing with whomever she could get on the line, Jenya discovered nobody cared and the cat spent another whole night on the top of the pole.

By Sunday morning most of the block was involved. People were coming out of their houses occasionally to see if the cat was meowing and therefore still alive. Nobody was sure what to do except keep making those phone calls until somebody official with a heart comes with a ladder or a lift of some sort.

After night fell the Oakland Fire Department finally sent a truck and a dozen firemen. All the neighbors poured out on the street to celebrate as the firemen gathered and laughed amongst themselves and pointed up at the cat. They took some pictures and got back in their truck without saying anything to anybody. We thought they were going to the corner to turn the truck around for better access, but they never came back. We were all deeply disappointed and went back inside for the night. Later phone calls revealed they were unwilling to help given the proximity to too many power lines, and thus they felt it should be up to the electric company.

Monday morning Jerry down the block risked his life to save this animal. He took out a ladder and climbed up the pole sans harness. The cat, obviously freaked out, leapt away from Jerry's clutching hands and jumped onto one of the wires, eventually to drop onto the streetlight arm below. Jerry couldn't do much at this point, but minutes later the electric company unceremoniously arrived with a cherry picker truck. They snared the cat, and once on the ground it ran away, never to be seen by any of us again.

A year later Jenya and I went over to Ann's house for dinner and Mindy happened to join us. Mindy accidentally admitted during the meal that it was her dog that chased the cat up the pole - a very key bit of information she conveniently omitted when first telling Jenya and I about the poor kitty. So instead of taking responsibility for the situation, she simply informed us, i.e. her feline-friendly temporary neighbors, that some cat was in trouble and got on with her stupid life. Fucking asshole.

March 24, 2015 : Itchy

My brother, Ben, and I attended the same college for the year he was a senior and I was a freshman. Frequently I'd escape the drunken dorms to spend a more peaceful night at his house off campus.

I visited once on a particularly chilly evening. When it came time to crash, I required extra blankets to keep warm. He procured them from his dusty attic.

This next morning we were slow to wake up. He drove me straight to my philosophy class. I arrived a few minutes late, unshowered and wearing the same clothes as yesterday.

Still sleepy and unable to focus I noticed my nose was itchy. I exhaled sharply out my nostrils and suddenly a tiny spider appeared crawling on my notebook.

March 17, 2015 : Boy Trouble

My housemate Janet's boyfriend Rick called me all the way from Russia, where he had been for weeks. Janet wasn't returning any of his calls, so naturally he was worried. This was back before cell phones and the world wide web were a thing, so I have no idea how he got my number, especially from Russia. He must have been desperate. He asked if she was out of town, or in trouble, or just exceedingly busy - anything to explain why she was unresponsive.

I hadn't the heart to directly tell him there was already another man in her life. In fact I was surprised he didn't know, or that Janet didn't tell him, about her new lover, Christopher. Nor could I bring myself to lie about it. All I could offer was, "No, man. She's.. uh.. she's still here."

Rick was a smart guy and got the hint: Janet was simply ignoring him, and that he's old news and she moved on. After a long and painful moment of silence he whispered, "I see." He apologized for calling and having to put me through this awkward exchange. I apologized too and said, "take care."

I got off the phone and felt terrible. I just broke up with this really nice guy, and he wasn't even MY boyfriend.

[names were changed to be polite]

March 10, 2015 : My Doppleganger

Marc was a junior in high school when I was a senior. We looked so much alike (and had similar first and last names) that people got us mixed up all the time. My teenage years were punctuated with total strangers around town engaging me in confusing conversations thinking I was him. Some were unconvinced and quite angry when I insisted I wasn't Marc, like I was being a smart ass, and eventually I had to pull out my driver's license to shut them up.

I like to think Marc had similar problems, but I never found out since we had different social circles and didn't really know each other. In fact, we failed to exchange a single word with each other before graduation.

Two summers later the old gang was back from college and at a friend's birthday party experimenting with random cocktail recipes. I, myself, was quite inebriated when suddenly Marc appeared. He looked exactly the same as he did (and I did) two years ago - clean-shaven and short brown curly hair. I, however, had a bit of a misguided identity reboot in college and since mutated into a skinny, bearded, mullet-headed freak.

With the standard teenage social stigmas far behind us, and my inhibitions further weakened by alcohol, I felt the pressing need to have a word with Marc once and for all. I abruptly approached him, grabbed both his arms, and shouted in his bewildered face:

"You're my clone! You're my CLONE! YOU'RE MY CLONE!!!"

He kinda just laughed it off as somebody pulled me away from him. And that was the only conversation we really ever had. Recently I did some cyberstalking to see whatever happened to Marc. Turns out he also left our home town 3000 miles away and ended up living here in the Bay Area. In fact, not very far from me. And he's also a professional computer geek. Goddammit.

March 3, 2015 : Pudge

In the late 90's Jenya and I lived in an Oakland flat, along with our two housemates Vicky and Crissy, and our two cats Normal and Pudge. Normal was an awesome kitty and beloved pet, but Pudge was a stray we adopted out of guilt. She was just shy of feral and very rarely associated with humans, frequently disappearing for days at a time. She also recently taken to shitting underneath the kitchen table, so when she wasn't around it was actually a relief.

This house was fairly active. Touring bands would come through and crash on our couches, and we'd have backyard barbecues on the weekends and CD-assembling parties during the week. Normal tended to be social during all this activity, but Pudge would make herself scarce when the crush of humans became too much to bear.

Once again Pudge was absent for a couple days, possibly scared off by the last wave of musicians parading through the house. After a few days there was genuine concern, and after about six days we figured she finally moved on to a less stressful living situation. Kind of a bummer, but as I said we were already going above and beyond taking care of this unrewarding animal and there's only so much we could do.

Eight days passed since Pudge's last sighting. I returned home from a long day. I waved hello to Jenya who was on the phone, and headed to the kitchen for a snack. I passed the living room en route and found myself unexpectedly drawn to the couch. Why not enjoy a moment of horizontal bliss and wait there until Jenya gets off the phone?

I plopped myself down. Aaaah. And then a ghostly noise rose from beneath, as if this otherwise inanimate piece of furniture were suddenly talking to me: MmmrrrmrmrRRRRRRMMMMmmmmm.

This unearthly sound was a smack in the face that jogged my memory: Eight days ago we had a band staying over who utilized the pull-out bed in this very couch. That means it could certainly be that Pudge sought refuge in there and then got TRAPPED INSIDE!!! I leaped up and yelled something like, "FUUUUCK!" and began throwing cushions off and wrenching the damn thing open.

And there Pudge was, emerging from a dark crevasse in the back where a cat could just barely fit without getting crushed. She used her scant remaining fumes of life-force to angrily meow at me, then flop out of the couch interior and stumble into my bedroom and hide underneath the bed. The rest of the household heard my cursing and toiling and the near-death meowing and soon the whole apartment echoed with our collective screams of horror.

We put open cans of tuna and water under my bed until her strength returned. Almost right away she was back to her old skittish self again, none the worse for wear. Eight fucking days trapped in a couch? No big whoop. Nine lives, indeed.

The questions remained: Why didn't she meow for help? Why didn't Normal tell us either? What would have happened if I didn't feel that urge to lie down on the couch?

Epilogue: A month later I picked up some pictures I got developed at the corner drug store. Some of them depicted a recent party at the house, including one photo of friends sitting around our living room. Jenya and I pieced together the timeline and came to the uncomfortable realization: in that very photo, Pudge was stuck inside the couch and nobody had any idea.

February 24, 2015 : Zion Narrows, Brother

Zion National Park, Utah, 2004. Mike, Nat, Jenya, and I just finished the grueling (but beautiful) two-day backpacking trek down the Narrows. We re-entered the main part of the park and were surprised to find all the flags at half-mast. We were also completely starving and desperately needed protein.

We drove into town and hit one of the burger joints. It was a seat-yourself deal so we snagged a table. Another party entered after us and claimed the next open table. They were given water, menus, and even ordered drinks and appetizers before we were even acknowledged by the wait staff.

I tried to be an understanding adult but after 10 minutes I got so pissed off from the raging hunger, the exhaustion, and the unfair neglect that I stormed up to the bin in front to grab my own damn menus and get the meal process started already.

One of the hippie waiters caught this and beat me to the menu bin. He looked at me with this fucking smug "calm down city boy" expression written all over his bearded face. My impatience was obvious - he smirked and actually said, "Zion Narrows, brother" in order to Zen me out or something.

I don't think this guy realized how close I was to punching his lights out. I was apoplectic and speechless. But he held up the menus, I snatched up them from his hands and returned to the table completely livid but at least one step closer to burgers-in-my-face.

Eventually another waiter checked in with us and took our orders. We asked him why the flags were all at half-mast. The best he could do was, "Uh, I think it means somebody important died. Maybe a park ranger?" Nice try. Later a fellow patron at a nearby table who overheard this exchange turned our way and said, "Ronald Reagan."

We were all, like, "Oh." They shrugged, and we shrugged in agreement. Yup. Whatever.

February 17, 2015 : Gringo

In London, you are supposed to tip at restaurants but not at bars. But what about bars that serve food? The guidebooks said nothing about this. Unable to figure this out and feeling too sheepish to ask the staff, I sought the guidance of a fellow patron in the men's room.

I approached the man washing his hands and started with, "I have an unusual question." This is not really the best way to begin conversation with a stranger in the bathroom of a pub in a foreign country. But it was too late now - I charged forward with my actual query about tipping etiquette and soon came to realize his bewildered silence and intense expression were not due to his fear of unprovoked solicitation, but because he didn't know the english language. This was suddenly all too clear. Now what?

After an awkward pause, he made a hand gesture such that I should follow him. He led me to the only fluent english speaker in his family - his 10 year old nephew. They exchanged some words first before turning attention to me. I surmised they were from Mexico. I chatted with this kid while his extended family observed with fascination.

Of course the young boy knew little about tipping in general, so this was all a fruitless exercise. Turns out the boy's father did have a few english words in his lexicon. As I tried to excuse myself he blurted, "Where you from?" I answered New York.

His reaction was a smile and the word: "Gringo." I could only respond with my own smile and a single word: "Si."

February 10, 2015 : Cousin Michael

As I slogged through all the requirements towards my math degree, a team of fellow students on the same academic path followed me from class to class. While some became study mates or comrades, many of them I never acknowledged, including this one dude Michael.

Well, it turns out, unbeknownst to me, Michael and I were distant cousins. Right before senior year I was at a bar mitzvah surrounded by extended family that I haven't seen in forever and frankly didn't know very well at all. One older relative caught wind I attended Binghamton University and mentioned her son was also a student there. She showed me a picture - and it was that Michael guy. Fancy that. But the knowledge that he and I perhaps shared a few strands of DNA didn't change our relationship - we still never made contact before, during, or after class, or any classes were shared since.

Years passed. A couple weeks before I graduated I drove some younger friends around helping them scope out rentals for next year. I took them to look at one place, and coincidentally Michael happened to be currently living there. So as my pals examined the house I found myself suddenly alone with Michael in his den, unable to escape conversation any longer.

After a minute of awkward silence I broke the ice with, "You know we're related, right?"

"Yeah," he said, barely moving his eyes from the television set.

"Weird, huh?"


We never spoke again.

February 3, 2015 : How to Succeed in SETI Without Really Trying

I get asked a lot: How the *hell* did you get a job searching for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)? Here's the full story (plucked from my own work-related home page here at the lab):

The presumption, of course, is that working for SETI is some kind of elite, exciting, glamorous job for which only the most brilliant nerds qualify and requires some kind of rigorous security clearance, or mental stability test, or whatever. This isn't the case at all - it's just a garden-variety data analysis project just like any of the zillions at universities all over the world. Anyway.. maybe this will clear things up.

I was a computer geek of the nth degree as a young man, steeped in machine language coding every night for hours on end, but kinda got bored with it all during college. I also got disillusioned by how the world was adopting Windows more and more, while my beloved Amiga was falling by the wayside. So I wasn't exactly seeking work in the field with much verve by the end of my senior year.

Shortly after graduating I moved to California with absolutely no friends, no money, and no plans whatsoever. I'm a huge proponent of "making your luck," i.e. throwing myself head first into random, difficult situations and seeing what happens. Finding steady work was hard. I was competing with MIT and Stanford nerds for pre-dot-com jobs so that went nowhere. After random stints in various offices and six hellish months in the ad business I found myself jobless yet again. I applied as a temporary employee at UC Berkeley just to get some quick bucks. I never heard back, so I followed up with a call two weeks later. I misread the phone book entry and mistakenly called the director of temporary services himself, and he actually answered his phone. Luckily he wasn't busy and proceeded to look up my application. Seeing I had computer skills, he said a position just opened at the Space Science Lab that morning. I lied and said I was an expert at troff/LaTeX. I went to work the following Monday. Moral of the story: it's easy to get your foot in the door as a temporary employee, especially if you accidentally call the wrong number and then exaggerate about your skills.

I became a member of the Space Astrophysics Group (a.k.a SAG) which was a set of disparate projects that shared scientists and staff. The main projects at the time were EUVE, EUVIP, ORFEUS, and SERENDIP (a.k.a SETI). I held a mostly administrative role - I helped format papers and proposals, monitor/database purchasing and accounts, and help one completely computer illiterate scientist send/receive e-mails. Not very exciting, but it was steady work. This was February 1994.

A mere few months later my supervisor up and quit one day. It's a long story - let's just say the circumstances were unusual, and these circumstances include the words "Venezuela," "surgery," and "ten thousand dollars." I was promoted into her spot and became a full-time employee. I also got her office. Sweet.

One day was particularly dull so I started snooping around the network - nothing malicious, just curiosity. Jeff Cobb (SERENDIP programmer and SAG systems administrator at the time) immediately noticed me issuing "sudo" commands on his servers. Oops. He asked if I knew what I was doing, and once aware of my former life as a computer geek he asked for my assistance doing network backups and software installs. I accepted these tasks, and even got called on to do some SETI-specific analysis chores. Moral of the story: snooping around your own network is a great way to flaunt your abilities and interests to your supervisors and get more fun stuff to do.

Due to a huge oversight I managed to have one of the best offices in the lab for over a year. That is, until the director of the ORFEUS project (Dr. Mark Hurwitz) came in one day with measuring tape saying, "don't mind me." He then proceeded to take notes about the room's dimensions. Within a couple weeks I found myself displaced into the carrels next to the printer and fax machine. Mark is a really nice and brilliant guy, so I didn't begrudge him his own office, which he certainly deserved more than I. However, I was perfectly healthy for years up to this point and now my new desk was situated under this giant vent. Over the next six months I got an equal number of nasty sinus infections. I demanded a building inspector come and check out this vent. Despite my recent health record and the layers of dust and dead flies on my desk, the inspector insisted my chronic sinus infections must be due to something else. I was sufficiently annoyed by this and the lack of career advancement opportunities so I quit. That was December 1996.

I enjoyed a half year off working on music, touring the country, and slowly draining my bank account. During that time I offered infrequent yet free tech support to my former lab workmates. Right around the time I ran out of money they called asking me to come back. I said I would if I could be rehired as a Programmer/Analyst and work flexible hours. They agreed. Moral of the story: quitting a job is a great way to get a long vacation, followed by a handsome raise and promotion.

Now that I was doing primarily systems stuff, I was working directly with Jeff, sharing lab space with him and SERENDIP director Dan Werthimer. Due to proximity I ended up primarily working on SETI, helping to wrap up the final data analysis of the SERENDIP III project and ramp up SERENDIP IV. Meanwhile SETI@home was coming into being (Summer 1997). The remaining SAG projects (and their funds) were waning, so they didn't mind so much that all of my time was being spent on SETI. By the end of 1998, the SETI@home buzz generated enough funding to hire me full time, and that's basically the whole story.

January 27, 2015 : Sledding on Thick Ice

I grew up in that winter wonderland that is New York. In honor of the current blizzard (/cough), here's an old cautionary tale:

'Twas my sophomore year in college. I visited the grandparents in sunny Florida during Christmas break, but ultimately returned to the harsh New York winter weather. Mere minutes after returning my old buddies called and convinced me to go late-night sledding down the slopes behind our former high school - an offer I couldn't resist.

I met them there, and we did a few runs trudging up the hill and zooming back down. We quickly grew bored of this activity. One friend discovered the pavement path beside the tennis courts was completely frozen which made for much more interesting sledding. Why interesting? Well, the ice enabled us to achieve incredible velocities, but more so the path led to a long flight of stairs descending to the soccer field below. We made a game of going as fast as possible, and then somehow stopping ourselves at the last possible moment to avoid falling over the brink to our doom. Brilliant.

On my third or fourth attempt I panicked or miscalculated and failed to stop the sled in time, and right over the edge I flew. The high pitched scraping of metal against ice beneath me turned to eerie silence as I entered the air, soaring above scores of cold, hard, wooden steps.

I eventually returned to earth, smacking against the stairs with the sled still beneath me hardly cushioning the blow. Then I bounced back up into the dark, empty sky. These painful iterations continued every twenty feet or so until I finally landed the field below. Now out of my clutches, the sled rich with momentum continued to glide on its own beyond the soccer goals as I laid there in shock.

My friends eventually arrived at the scene, pointing at my crumpled body and tittering. Between stifled laughs they asked, "Are you okay?" I apparently managed to avoid serious injury, though my ribs were quite sore for a while hence.

January 20, 2015 : Tweezer Fetish

About 13 years ago Jenya and I made a lavish salad for dinner using vegetables from our new garden. It was delicious, but afterward my throat was sore and I had an interminable desire to cough. I ate ice cream and gargled salt water - this didn't help. I tried singing for a while, but the soreness only got worse.

I asked Jenya to look if anything was obviously lodged in my throat. She shined a flashlight into my gaping mouth and said, "oh my god there IS something back there."

She ran out to purchase a pair of long tweezers, then deftly plucked the offending item from my tonsil - it was a foxtail. Perhaps I should have washed the salad more carefully.

Nine years later I was telling this exact story at a party. The very next night we were eating take out Chinese food when suddenly I noticed that familiar weird feeling in the back of my throat. And just like before Jenya used a flashlight and saw something sticking out from the walls of my gullet AGAIN.

This time however those tweezers weren't long enough, so I ended up waiting in an emergency room for three hours until a doctor with super-size tweezers could pluck this foreign object out. It was a tiny bone shard from a poorly chopped spare rib.

January 13, 2015 : SAG Awards Saga

Nine years ago I had a cover band gig playing the after party of the annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, right there at the Shrine Auditorium in LA. We actually didn't know where to load in, and found ourselves (and all our gear) dropped off literally 100 feet from the red carpet as all the celebrities were arriving. We just stood there in our street clothes next to a pile of instrument cases beholding the hoopla as limos pulled up, famous people got out, and camera crews descended upon them. That was weird. We eventually got questioned by some policeman and told where to go, and hauled our stuff around the entire block to go through the non-celebrity entrance.

Anyway.. as musicians we were treated like at any other lower budget gig - we had an unheated tent to hang out in and gigwiches for dinner. We weren't allowed to mingle - but I wasn't given the memo on that and wandered off to use a restroom. I found one on some production trailer and upon leaving some high level event coordinator ran her hands through my (long) hair saying, "who belongs to these outrageous curls?" I turned around, she looked surprised, and I kinda just smiled and left. Later somebody came by our tent to remind us to NOT use the bathrooms other than the porta potties around back reserved for the low-paid workers.

During the ceremony some celebrities did hide by, or escape via, our musicians-only area. Among others Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, and Julie Andrews were spotted from a safe distance. Kate Winslet and Jason Bateman were hanging right outside our tent. On his way out Johnny Depp walked right by us and said, "hey" with a polite nod. He was the only star to directly acknowledge us musicians all night. He knows what's up.

The ceremony ended and it was party time. We only played a couple short sets, with another band and a DJ switching off depending on the whims of a head party coordinator. At the beginning of our first set Danny the singer came on and said, "Hello, everybody! We're..." and this coordinator rushed to the stage and snapped, "No addressing the audience!"

As the evening wore down security was more lax, and we got to sneak in and get some morsels from the main buffet line. I also accidentally stumbled into the smoking tent, where there was a huge table of artfully piled cigarettes that any party goer could snag at any time and puff away.

January 6, 2015 : Pink Thing

About 15 years ago I rushed to work at the lab after a long night. Upon my arrival I was surprised to be greeted by a film crew - a news organization there to do a story about our SETI project. I didn't get the memo. I was unshaven, unshowered and, as it turns out, I recently dyed my hair pink. But I didn't think much of it as they mostly interviewed the project directors and then took B-roll footage while we were sitting around having a meeting.

By the time I got home around 6pm there was a message on my machine. It was my sister Ruth, who lives on the east coast, asking, "when did you dye your hair pink?" Turns out this news piece was broadcast nationally. Apparently I figured heavily in said B-roll, probably because I fit the visual description of weirdo looking for little green men. First time I was on television.

December 30, 2014 : This World is Totally Fugazi

Okay so in 1988 I was doing my very first college radio show, apprenticing under a savvy senior DJ named Pam. I was still very much a sheltered, ignorant, unsocialized prog rock nerd at the time. So much so that when Pam asked to fetch a Fugazi album from the collection it led to some "Who's on first?" comedy act where she was referring to the (very new at the time) indie rock band, and I was referring to an album called "Fugazi" by the band Marillion. The conversation was something like:

Pam: Get me that Fugazi record from the library

Matt: Oh I love that record, but I dig their earlier stuff better

Pam: What earlier stuff?

Matt: You know, Script for a Jester's Tear

Pam: ?!?!?!


Pam: Oh this is a different band.

Matt: Ha okay - but pretty cool that this Fugazi band named themselves after this Marillion album!

Pam: ?!?!?!?!?!?!

Anyway... fast forward 5 years and several random and unexpected twists of fate later I was living in Oakland, California and my housemate was the sister of one of the members of Fugazi. And as some kind of postponed karmic penance for being such a miserable prog-rock-centric dolt she had a cat that would frequently sneak into my room and shit on the floor behind my stereo.

back home