Saturday, May 13, 2017

Goodbye to The Lane

Can you feel nostalgia for a place that you've only visited once?  While I only went to White Hart Lane one time, I've seen it numerous times since on television, and have the entire stadium burned into my memory.

Tomorrow will be the last home game for Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane, which has served as their home since 1899.  Too small now for the modern game, it is an absolutely amazing place to watch a match.  I went there in 2003 for a pre-season game against PSV Eindoven, and immediately fell in love with the place.  It was odd we couldn't bring a beer or food to our seats, which perplexed the Yanks going to a match for our first time. However, the grass was green, the fans were in full song, and the game was fast paced and incredible.  I had to look the score up the other day, and it seems we lost that match.  Sadly, during that time in our history, losing wasn't that rare an occurrence.  But the passion, even during pre-season, made me smile.  It was that season, when I started to feel a little bit of something whenever I heard the scores for Tottenham, that I realized I was becoming a fan.

The loss of White Hart Lane to a new stadium, scheduled to open for the 2018-2019 season, is very sad for the modern game.  Nowadays in order to compete you need a larger stadium with Executive Suites which will bring in more revenue and allow the team to buy more players, making them competitive immediately.  I think it's draining the soul out of the game.  Tottenham are just doing what they need to do to remain competitive in the modern game, but that doesn't mean you can't miss the old times as well.

So many memories at the Lane for long time Spurs fans.  Winning the double in 1961, the first team to do it in the 20th Century; Winning the Cup Winner's Cup in 1963, the first English team to do so; 8 FA Cup wins; 4 League Cups; 2 First Division Championships.  While we haven't won anything recently, we haven't done too badly either.  All of it was centered around The Lane.  (Not to be confused with The Lane in Sheffield, that's another old and grand football ground.)  Of course the win against Anderlecht to win the UEFA Cup was one of the best nights at the Lane, but so many others as well.  Watching Kane score to ensure we beat Arsenal in the last North London Derby at WHL was special too.

The fact is we're losing a lot of these places all over the world now due to the economics of sports.  Tigers Stadium in Detroit is gone, and while I'm sure Comerica Park is nice, it won't compare.  Guaranteed Rate Field just isn't the same as Comiskey Park.  While the new Cowboys Stadium looks great, it doesn't compare with the old one.  I think we lose a little of the past when we leave these old stadiums, and the new ones just become disposable.  Look in Atlanta!  They got a new field in 1997, and now they built another one!  Where does it end?

I do wish I'd gotten a chance to go one more time with Crazy Little Man.  It would have been a great time, and he would've gotten to see it first hand.  Either way, tomorrow night my time I'll be sitting on my couch and watching the final home match at White Hart Lane.  One of the good things about the new Stadium, though, is that they aren't leaving the area that they've been in since 1899.  The new stadium is being re-developed on the same grounds, and so while the stadium won't be there, the echos of the past will still be heard in the area surrounding the Stadium.  We will remain N17, no matter what.  Bill Nicholson would've wanted it that way.

As always, Come On You Spurs!

I did indeed watch the game last night on TV, and watched as we beat Man United (something that when I first started watching Spurs didn't happen at all).  Afterwards, it rained on the crowd, but as the ceremony continued on the field (after clearing the fans from it first) a giant rainbow appeared over The Lane.  Strangely, as everyone at the ground sang Glory Glory Tottenham Hotspur, I accidentally hit the play button on my iPhone, and it started playing "Hallelujah" written by Leonard Cohen, but this version was Rufus Wainwright and a choir from Toronto and it seemed perfect.  

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Two dreams

For those of you that don't know me, I am somewhat of a ham.  I love to perform, and even being the MC of quiz night is a chance for me to go out and make it something special.  Instead of just coming in and reading questions, I make it an event.  Can't help it.  I've always pictured myself with entrance music when I walk into a building, and wanted one day to be somewhat famous enough to warrant a piece written about me in Rolling Stone, or to appear on "Never Mind the Buzzcocks" in the UK.  Sadly, that TV show isn't on any more, and I doubt Rolling Stone will be knocking on my door any time soon.

But I do have two dreams that I still foster.  One of them is to perform my one-man show that I've had bubbling along forever.  Entitled, "Anxiety and Low Self-Esteem" it's basically me talking about what I went through growing up with both anxiety and low self-esteem, and how I've overcome a lot of it.  But with humor you know?  It's in the same vein of Dave Gorman's "Googlewhack Adventure" and if you haven't seen it you should be ashamed of yourself and do so right now!  I'll wait....  Anyways, he inspired me and I think I'd be pretty good at discussing how my life was shaped by anxiety, and the feeling of low self-esteem I fought against pretty much right up until my 28th birthday.  (I'm much better now, thanks, but still struggle.)  I can picture the entire thing in my head and how it would go.  There would even be a break in the middle where everyone gets up and dances for about 2 minutes before sitting back down to continue the show.  As you can see, there's been some thought put into this.

The other dream I have isn't quite so random.  I'd like to write a screenplay.  "The Diplomat" being the title I've chosen, but can be talked into a different one.  I've been working on the screenplay, but just haven't been able to move through, since I really don't know a thing about screenwriting.  I mean, how long is a shooting script usually?  Is a longer one better, or is it just going to get cut?  Knowing I have zero chances probably of ever seeing my work on the screen, I still think it would be cool to do, you know?  Just to point and say, I took a chance once outside of my area of expertise, and even though it didn't work out I tried.

However, I'm not really the writer in my family.  Lovely English Lass is an amazing writer.  And an amazing photographer.  And an amazing cook.  And an amazing mother and motivator.  And an amazing partner in my life.  So while I have these two dreams, in reality my life is better than the dreams. I'll still work on them, but to be honest, I probably won't be too upset if I don't finish them.  Besides, life with LEL, Crazy Little Man and Lovely Little Girl is far better than any rush I could get by performing.  Besides, they'd probably help keep me grounded if I got to big for my britches.  I mean, when I call home, the usual response from the kids is, "Hi daddy, what did you buy me?" Can't argue with that, can I?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Music has to have meaning

Music is universal.  Music is in every culture on earth, and was on the Voyager spacecraft we sent outside of the solar system, so now it's one with the universe.

However, there is a disturbing trend that I must speak of even though it's a bit of a generality.  I speak of the lack of meaning in music.  Much of music today is fluff or stuff done without meaning.  (Again, generality of course.)  While I love all types of music (most country music being an exception.  Just don't....) the fact is that some things out there have no feeling.  No soul.  No nous.  Music needs to have a meaning to it.  A catchy beat is good, but it's not something that you'll find thirty years from now playing on an oldies station.  I mean the Partridge Family had 7 Top 40 hits, but when's the last time you heard one of their songs on the radio?  (Aside from "I Think I Love You" I mean.)  Think of iconic scenes in movies with 1960s music playing in the background.  The opening of Mean Streets with "Be My Baby".  "The End" playing over the credits for Apocalypse Now.  Any Scorsese film with "Gimme Shelter" from the Stones.  Can you honestly tell me you'll hear any of the songs from today playing in movies in 20 years?  I doubt it.

Music is a base instinct in my opinion.  You get across emotions you might not be able to speak about, but the tone of the music can get you there.  As an example Berlioz wrote "Symphonie Fantastique" which was a full fledged story, using notes and sounds to convey a man in love with a woman, his infatuation with her, her death, his execution for her death and then his soul in hell without the use of words.  Telling the cellists to turn their bows over and play with the wood on the strings to sound like skeletons dancing was inspired, and the turning the theme of the beloved from beauty to a wicked jig in the last act was brilliant.

Queen could do that with their music.  Buffalo Springfield's awe inspiring "For What It's Worth" is a brilliant example.  What else, besides music, can exude meaning just by playing two notes over and over on a guitar.

To be fair, I feel a lot of the soul from music has been lost due to technological influences.  The feel of live musicians adds a lot to the sound.  I'm probably biased since I did play an actual instrument, but it's less cold and calculated.

I do know there are exceptions to this rule.  St. Paul and the Broken Bells is now a favorite of mine, as is The Lumineers.  But a lot of the disposable stuff lately just leaves me cold. Hopefully there is a backlash against it and people start making music again with guitars, drums and a singer.

While I'm at this rant: Get off my lawn!

Monday, October 24, 2016

My worst 6 months

That title may not be correct, but it's certainly the description of what my life was like one year ago.  From May until December (technically more than 6 months) I was in hell.  My professional life held on by a thread, and I was doing everything I could to survive.  This was probably the closest I've ever come to quitting my career, and that should tell you something.

It started because of a mistake.  Actually, my section made a mistake, but I took the blame.  I was the boss, so my fault, right?  I wasn't then, nor now, going to throw my team under the bus.  I took my lumps, told the front office at my last post that if they wanted me to leave so it'd make it easier on them I would, and prepared for the worst.  My Ambassador assured me that wouldn't be necessary, and we all faced the music together.  It was rough, but it passed, didn't really cause as much of a stir as originally thought, and things moved back to normal.

If this was an O. Henry novel, it would have been a learning experience and I would have moved onward in my life, wiser from the knowledge received during my tribulation.  Sadly, Mr. O wasn't around, and life was going to take a much more difficult turn for me and my family.

Before all of this had even started, I'd discussed with Lovely English Lass about leaving BA early to go to a post where I'd be alone for a year, and applying for a linked assignment to help with getting Lovely Little Girl a school that would meet her needs.  So I applied, and accepted the job for the Management Officer in Karachi.  LEL and the kids would go to the States, and now I had to apply for a job for afterward.  So I did, and it was a job I knew I could do and was very qualified for, and fully expected to get the job.

I didn't.  I was told they'd read my 360 reviews, and then looked beyond them and decided I wasn't what they were looking for in the position.  When I asked what that was all about, I was informed that the issue in BA had been raised.  I was encouraged to move on and try another bureau for a position.  I looked, and found a job that I liked in another bureau, and a friend of LEL was the incumbent.  I called him and talked to him about the position, and it really checked all of our boxes. I interviewed with the supervisor for the position while I was on vacation, and really hit it off with them.  They told me I was more than qualified, and that they'd recommend giving me the job.  A few days later came the official offer for the job.  I was ecstatic!

However, a month later, 2 days before I was to be officially put into the job, I received another email telling me they were rescinding my offer. They gave reasons as to why, which were specific enough to hurt and vague enough to not give much detail.  When I requested more information, I was informed that this was given to them in confidence and that I should talk with pretty much everyone I've ever worked with.

So, after all my hard work through the years, my reputation was laying in tatters.  I was going to a post alone so I could get a place for my daughter, and then I couldn't get a job at those posts.  I was advised to "just work hard and keep my head down and it'd work out" by quite a few people.  I was depressed and seriously thinking of leaving the entire thing, and chucking my career.  Heck, I could open a BBQ joint in the UK and be somewhat happy there doing something I liked.  But did I want to do that?

Not right now I don't.  (In a decade, maybe.  Check back then.)  Instead of the old me, that would have slunk away and taken it, I decided to fight back.  There are in fact things you can't take from someone: Pride in your work and a sense of what's right are two that pop off the top of my head.  Nothing in my evaluations stated any of the things they were accusing me of doing, and in my eyes (and rather amateur sleuthing on the internet) that was slander.  Basically, I prepared to sue if they didn't at least give me details on what I'd been accused of doing.  In my job, your reputation is everything.  It gets you jobs and gets you promoted.  If I'd allowed this to stay, it would have followed me for the rest of my career.  I also received support from some very good people in the department who told me to fight like hell, and when I felt like giving up to fight some more.

So I did.  I fought back.  I fought back through the proper channels, and by laying out my story.  I explained my life and career, and why I was doing my tour away from my family.  I told them of the horror of hearing that someone somewhere was saying these things about me, and I wasn't being given the opportunity to even rebut them.  I asked for the powers that be to direct them to tell me what was said, allowing me to face the accusations, and then to allow me an audience in person, which I would pay for out of my own pocket, to argue why I should be given the job back.

Less than two weeks later I got an email from the decision maker.  It started off thanking me for going to my next post without my family, and how hard that is and how big a sacrifice that is.  I braced myself, as that's usually how you start an email where the next sentence is, "However".  There wasn't a however, though.  They agreed with me, and directed that the job would be re-instated.  A week later came the confirmation, and then in January I was filled into the position.

Here's the lesson, everyone: You need to stand up for yourself in this world, cause no one else is going to do it for you.  I did have a lot of support from many people (both in and out of the Department), which was great, but it wouldn't have helped if I hadn't decided to take on that fight.  Remember, if you're an honest person that always tries to do the right thing, then you have nothing to fear.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The pain of losing someone you never actually knew

Boy 2016 has sucked for losing famous people, hasn't it?

Every time someone famous dies, there can be an outpouring of people talking about how sad it is, and many fans basically distraught.  Of course, with that and this being the age of the internet, this is followed by the people who mock them for their sadness, pointing out all the other bad things in the world, and making fun of them for caring so much about a simple celebrity.  It never fails.  It does in fact beg the question: How come you can feel pain losing someone you never actually knew?

Look, I'm no psychologist, but I can at least explain this one a bit.  You see, there is always something that speaks to you as a person.  Be it preacher, music, an actor or even a painter or artist.  Something that you see that for some reason becomes a part of you.  It's something you respect, and may even feel as if that one thing gets you.  In this world, which can be at times very confusing and just a bit crazy, there are always things that can give you solace. Things that put your mind at rest and take you to a safe place. That's a connection that can't really be explained, but it's a real one.  Because that person's work is such an important part of your life, losing them is just like losing a friend or family member.

I don't understand now why people are angry because someone feels sad their favorite artist (or actor, etc) died.  I guess now everyone can be their true selves with the internet's anonymity, and it makes them feel better about themselves by mocking someone else's pain.  However, it's weird that this has really started to come out, since there wasn't any kind of backlash against the sorrow felt by people previously when someone famous died.  (Well, there was kind of one when Kurt Cobain died.)  But no one said boo when there was much grief all over when John Lennon died.  The UK definitely was very sad when Eric Morecombe died in 1984.  But nary a word was mentioned over how stupid it was that people were grieving for someone they'd never met.

In my opinion, people need to realize that everyone has a thing they connect with.  Lovely English Lass has Jane Eyre, the music of the Beatles, and other things as well.  I have to admit feeling a certain pang of sadness upon hearing the news that Brazilian soccer great Socrates had passed away a few years ago.  (He was a maestro on the pitch in the 1982 World Cup.  Watch a few clips if you don't believe me.)

What brought all of this out, of course, was the death of Prince yesterday.  Strangely enough, a few weeks ago I downloaded Prince's greatest hits, and started listening to it again.  I've always liked his music, and if you grew up in the mid-1980s until the mid-1990s, you heard Prince on the radio all the time.  Some people hated his sexualized music, and tales of his perfectionism were rampant.  (Ask Morris Day and the Time, or The Revolution, or The New Power Generation.)  But if you listened to his music, especially as another musician, you couldn't help but love the sound of Prince.  Complex and simple at the same time.  (Frank Ocean put it best, so go ready what he said.)  It was the sound of growing up to a lot of people my age (now in their late 30s, early 40s.)  We, as a group, have introduced some of his more tame songs to our kids already.  Plus if you think about all the music he wrote, ("Nothing Compares 2 U") he's undoubtedly one of the greatest musicians of the last 40 years.  LEL and I talked about how it was weird that this one felt a bit harder to take than some of the other deaths this year.

Again, to me, it's all about feelings.  You make a connection to something, and it becomes a part of you.  In this world, with everything crazy that goes on, if you find something that touches you deeply enough to become a part of you, then you should be happy.  If someone creates something that means so much to people (be it music, art or literature) that when you die they all mourn your passing as if you were a true friend, that should be celebrated as well.  Because, in their eyes, you were a part of their family.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

So this is 40

Can't actually believe I'm here already.  I mean, how did that happen?

However, 40 it is today.  Yep, officially middle-aged.  Hair is going a bit grey, and also a bit thinner than I'd like to admit.  (Granted that's at least thinning.  Rest of me, not so much.)

I'd long ago planned on how I'd like to spend my 40th birthday, or the days leading up to it.  You see, I've visited or lived on 6 of the 7 continents in this world.  I really wanted to go and see Antarctica prior to my 40th birthday.  Sadly, that is not to be.  Instead of sitting at the bottom of the world in careful contemplation and having an existential crisis (oh and whale and penguin watching!) I will be at the airport picking up the advance team for the very large visit headed my way at the end of the month.  Not great, but it's something, right?  As I heard once said, "If I wake up and read the obits and my name isn't in them, then I know it'll be a good day."

The truth is, I'm doing ok right now.  The next year will be a bit different with Lovely English Lass moving with the kids to the US, while I add Pakistan to my list of countries I never thought I'd live in but, lo, I am.  I'm in a much different place now than I was 10 years ago entering into my 30s.  For my 30th birthday I had a party at The Brickskeller in Washington, DC along with a whole lot of friends.  That was the beginning of it all, as about 3 weeks later LEL and I discovered we were going to be parents.  Since that time, life on 4 continents, a little brother for Lovely Little Girl, and some great memories.  Heck, even the Brickskeller is gone.

As I approach the next phase of my life, which I'm going to label as my dashing curmudgeon phase, I feel that I'm at the age where people start to take stock of their lives.  However, to quote one of my favorite movies, "Leave your live stock alone."  I'm going to continue to wear my Batman shoes and read my comic books and go to the Comic book movies if I want to (and if it's ok with LEL, of course).  I'm going to continue to make corny jokes every chance I get.  I'm going to walk into my office every morning to say hi to everyone to let them know how much I appreciate their work.  I'm also going to spend as much time with my kids as I can, since I will be away from them for a while this year, ensuring that they always know that their daddy loves them very much.  And I will continue to treat my LEL like the queen she is to me, bringing her tea every morning, and trying my best to let her know she'll always be my one and only.

Thank you to my family for supporting me these first 40 years.  My parents, brothers, nephews, nieces, my in-laws.  All of them are special to me.  Also a big shout-out to my friends that have been with me through it all, and continued being friends with me even when it was difficult to do sometimes.

If this is mid-life, the next part of it looks to be great!

Friday, January 29, 2016

MILB: "Believe" by dig

Many people have a Holy Grail of music.  One or two songs that they've looked for constantly but have never been able to buy.  One song that has haunted them, usually one that isn't well known but made an impact on you.  A rare B-side, or only on an import from Japan.  One of those things that you think everyone should know, but few do when you mention it.  It plays with your mind and then you think maybe you made the entire thing up.

Then, through the internet, you find that others loved the song too, and YouTube even has the video for the song.  However, you can't find it to download, and your wife has already said that there are too many DVDs and CDs for us to take around the world, so you don't order the album just for one song.  And so you are stuck with only listening to the song when you're with a wi-fi connection and remember to hear it.

Well, ladies and gents, I present to you one of the two songs I long considered my Holy Grail.  (Grailes? Grails?  Can a Holy Grail even be plural?)  As of November, I found both online after many false starts and fakes.  "Believe" by dig and "3 a.m. Eternal" by The KLF were the two songs I'd basically pined for since I was in high school.  I finally found both of them, and now I'm a bit happier. I'll do The KLF another time, but I want to focus on this lost 90s gem: "Believe" by dig.

dig were a band from LA that formed in 1991.  They were unique in that they had 3 guitars instead of the usual lead and rhythm.  It was a wall of sound.  Their one hit was the aforementioned "Believe" which got a lot of airplay on MTVs Buzz Bin. (But strangely is not on the Buzz Bin CD Volume 1, which I have and is awesome.  "Low" by Cracker, "Hey Man Nice Shot" by Filter, "Zombie" by the Cranberries, and songs by Bush, Gin Blossoms, STP, White Zombie, DMB and Danzig.  However, I digress.)

The song can be read a lot of ways: Questioning your own religious beliefs; questioning the actions of others in regards to their own religious beliefs; or even questioning the role of religion in a society full stop.  They definitely get a lot of mileage out of the loud quiet loud dynamic that the Pixies pretty much invented and everyone has ripped off since then.  Still, it's a great song, and it opens with the bass player starting off which, as a tuba player in my previous life, I wholeheartedly support.  The entire sound of the song is just overwhelming when you hear all three of the other guitars enter, smashing their way through the song.

I highly recommend trying to find this song if you can to buy.  It's amazing, and definitely took me back to my high school days when I was awkward pretty much all the time, and a friend and I used the word "Elmerish" to describe things we thought were pretty cool.  (Short for Elmer Fudd, which everyone agreed that I sounded like when I was trying to pick up girls so we made a joke out of it.  Shut up, it was funny, you weren't there, I hate you!)

Anyways, you can find the song and the original music video on YouTube here.  You'll definitely have 90s era flashbacks.  (There is a version of them here playing it live on Jon Stewart's old show on MTV, which is pretty cool.)