Happy Pepper Day!

Today is Pepper Day!   While Nano Poblano is only in November, Pepper Day is the 22nd day of every month, so it's extra Peppery!  Post something today.  A blog, a photo, a poem- anything at all! Tag it PepperDay!  Enjoy, and Happy Peppering!

To celebrate Pepper Day, I will tell you about the day the music returned.

When the pandemic hit, music around the world ground to a halt. The last concert I attended was a show by Transviolet at a small club in downtown Orlando on March 1st. The week after that, I was in New York for work, and some of my co-workers saw Broadway shows on the last few nights before the Great White Way went dark.

By the third week of March, everything else started to shut down. Every concert I had remaining in South Florida – and several in other states- was either canceled or postponed. Conventions were pushed off. A big family gathering on the west coast was postponed, which killed my plans to see Portland and Seattle on either side of the family stuff.

By the time the dust settled, every single concert, convention, trip, or airplane ride I had planned for the year was wiped clean from my calendar. The few shows that did get rescheduled were all pushed off to next year, no earlier than springtime. I resigned myself to nothing live, just live streams and prerecorded stuff until the pandemic was behind us.

Then I learned about the Birchmere.

The Birchmere is a music hall in Alexandria, Virginia. First opened in 1966, the Birchmere has been home to rock, blues, jazz, country, R&B, and bluegrass artists. The main hall seats 500, with a smallish stage and food service.

The food is the key here: Because the Birchmere has food, it was able to open in July under Virginia “kinda-sorta restaurant” guidelines. Smaller crowds were necessary because of the reduced capacity during Covid, but the music continues.

On October 19th, I went to the Birchmere for the first time, to see a rock guitarist named Samantha Fish. This was one of two sold-out shows- where sold out is still roughly 25 percent of the music hall’s total capacity.

The Birchmere has had a lot of amazing shows, and their entry hall walls are lined with concert posters and framed photos, many of them signed by the artists. I haven’t the foggiest clue what made me decide that the Spin Doctors was the best example of this legendary musical talent represented in this hallway, but this is the one photo I took of the walls.

Because this was my first time at the Birchmere, I arrived a little earlier than was really necessary. Once I arrived, they took my temperature at the door and guided me to a table. I was seated up front, just a few feet from the stage and spaced a table’s length from any other people. I ordered the fish and chips and a Red Stripe while I waited for the show to start. This was my view.

I’m not going to lie- it felt weird to be out at a concert while the pandemic is still ongoing. Even with everyone masked, it was the first time I’d been around that many people in more than six months.

It was all worth it, though, when the show started. When the music returned.

And Samantha Fish began very seriously to rock.

What was the last concert you saw?

43/52 (and 22 of 30!)

My Prime Directives

Several of the other Nano Poblano participants this month have posted entries which led me to respond with comments about the set of rules that I have taken to calling my Prime Directives. Yes, that’s a nod to Star Trek, because of course it is.

Obviously I have to obey certain rules and customs to get along in this world, like wearing clothing to the grocery store and so forth. “Thou shalt not give people involuntary haircuts.” Aside from the basics, I don’t have a lot of rules though.

Being an adult with no real requirements on my time besides work and basic existence means I can pretty much do my own thing, and that means I get to set my own rules for getting along in life.

That’s where my Prime Directives come in.

This may not be a complete list- sometimes I add or remove directives on the fly, as they occur to me. I might also have forgotten something as I write this up.

For this precise moment in time, at least, and in no particular order, this is my list of Prime Directives.

Rule the first: Be kind.

This means exactly what it says. I try to be kind to other people, and I hope very much that when most people think of me, they think of me as a kind person.

Sometimes I’m bad at this one. Very few people in this world have seen me truly angry, but those who have seen my anger know that I can be a spiteful, vindictive, cruel bastard. I have Bruce Banner’s problem. It’s always there, the rage, right under the surface. I try to negate that as much as possible by choosing to be kind whenever possible.

It seems like the thing to do.

Rule the second: Never eat anything bigger than your head.

This one is lifted from a 1976 B. Kliban book I read when I was a kid. When I was little, it was funny to me, but as I got older, I realized it’s actually really, really good advice. I have stomach issues, and eating too much is a trigger for Very Bad Things to happen to my digestion. Plus I could make some earnest noises here about moderation being good for you, I guess.

Rule the third: Share the music.

Music is life. Music is very often the one thing that truly saves what’s left of my sanity – if I don’t listen to it for too long, I get cranky. It calms me, reduces my anxiety, helps me concentrate, and elates me.

If I had to choose, right now, between a life without delicious food or a life without music, I would say “sign me up for the cream of wheat, and then let’s go to a concert.”

It’s precisely because I love music this much that I believe it’s important to share it. When I was in high school, I made mix tapes. Later in life, I made mix CDs. Even now, sometimes I’ll put together mixes to share with people- the method changes over time, but the goal is always the same: “Let me play this amazing song for you! I hope you love it as much as I do!”

Music is life. Sharing the music means sharing life. It’s that simple.

Rule the fourth: Embrace your whimsy.

I am a silly, silly man, and don’t you forget it.

My second favorite thing to do with other people, right after sharing music, is to make them laugh. I’ve said on numerous occasions that my resting state is whimsy, and I think that’s basically true. If I am drained of my other emotions, and free of anger or ennui or despair, then what remains is just pure unbridled whimsy.

Leaning into my own whimsy helps me keep things light. Embracing my inner Muppet keeps me balanced.

Rule the fifth: Never wait longer than 70 minutes for a theme park ride.

This one is just good common sense for logistical planning. No ride is worth standing in line for more than an hour and ten minutes when you’re surrounded by the entire rest of the theme park. Especially when the entire ride only lasts five or six minutes. Just go do something else instead of waiting in line. You’ll definitely have more fun that way.

A Questionable Rule the sixth: Nothing good happens after 2 AM.

While I never heard this one articulated until I was watching “How I Met Your Mother,” it’s an often true statement. I can think of many, many times that I’ve stayed up late on the off chance that something cool would happen, only to have nothing happen, or worse, to have bad things happen instead.

I marked this one as “questionable” because I can think of a handful of times that I’ve had really cool stuff happen well after 2 am. Only a handful, though. Most of the time, it’s just better to go to sleep.

Everyone says you should get enough sleep, right?

Rule the seventh: Family is important.

I am fortunate to have a fairly close-knit family. My siblings and I get along really well, despite all the times they’ve tried to kill me. This extends to more than just that first ring of family, too. Just last week, I had lunch with my cousin because she’s not far away and I enjoy her company. It’s important to me to try to nourish those relationships when I can. Speaking of which- Happy Birthday, Older Brother! (Even though I’m positive you’ll never see this blog post.)

Obviously this Directive doesn’t work for everyone- I have loads of friends who don’t speak to their birth family or have disowned parents or siblings over long and sustained pain. That’s why this isn’t just limited to families of blood. Families of choice are important too.

The people you choose to thread through your life are another kind of family. I have friends all over the world, and many of them are, in my estimation, a type of family. There are people in Germany who are dear to me, and people in Orlando, and people in Long Beach, or in New Orleans, or in South Florida.

Family is important, whether you grew up with them or added them on later in life.

Do you have any Prime Directives of your own?

42/52 (and 21 of 30!)


The sixth stage is lunacy.

Happy Rex Manning Day, everyone!

I was supposed to be in Washington DC right now. I had the hotel and airfare booked. I was going to work from DC for the week, and hang out in various neighborhoods to see what the food options were like, and maybe go to a concert midweek. I was going to look at apartments, hang out with friends a little, and maybe even see my cousin.

I was hoping to see the cherry blossoms while I was there. Of course, the cherry blossoms hit peak bloom about two weeks earlier than normal, so that was a wash. And then there was a pandemic, and everything got cancelled. Everything was pushed off and postponed and scrubbed away.

I wanted to talk about how all my canceled plans have me feeling adrift in this post. I wanted to relate it to the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, but every time I tried to write it that way, it just felt forced. Contrived. Besides, Homer did it better anyway.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. People close to me have lost family members to Covid-19. Others have lost their jobs as entertainment industry jobs shut down. I know that I’m incredibly fortunate to have employment that is unaffected by the pandemic, but I wrestle with these two notions:

Having all my concerts and trips be washed away like a sandcastle at high tide is incredibly depressing. I am incredibly bummed that all my plans have dissolved as concert venues close and travel becomes unsafe- but I simultaneously feel guilty about feeling bummed, because other people are facing harder losses. I’m sad about the stuff I don’t get to do, and I also feel terrible about being sad for the stuff I don’t get to do.

But enough of this navel-gazing- let’s talk about what I’ve been up to in order to pass the boundless time!


Firstly, an update on the data loss I wrote about in the previous post: I received the new NAS hardware at the end of last week, slapped the original drives into the new enclosure, powered it up, and… miracles occurred. Everything was still there.

I did some reconfiguration on the new hardware, ran a disk check, and started some proactive replacement of the older, smaller hard drives. I couldn’t have asked for a happier ending on what could have been a data-loss tragedy.


Secondly, I cut my own hair last week. Yes, really.

I have no idea when the hair places will reopen, and I was starting to feel desperate and fluffy. I discovered that one of the electric clipper thingies in my cabinet had a plastic spacer to keep it from being full buzz cut, and I set about trying to make myself look a little less like a Q-tip.

Luckily for me, my hair is pretty simple. I keep it short to begin with, so clippering out the sides did most of the work in making me look less fluffy. I tried to use the fingers-and-scissors thing that hair stylists do on the top of my head, and all I really succeeded in doing was scraping up my knuckles.

I can’t see the back, so I know it’s kind of a disaster. I suppose I could set up a complicated series of mirrors to retry the back, but I’m not quite that ambitious.

All in all, this could have come out so much worse.


Lastly, I tried a thing that I saw on BookFace, because it looked interesting, and I’m here to share my results with you all.

I started with a box of cornbread mix, some beef franks, and a muffin pan that had me wandering around the house singing, “Do you know the muffin pan? The muffin pan? The muffin pan!”

I used a box of “instant” cornbread mix. This is pretty simple stuff; it just needs eggs, milk, and butter.

My chosen meat was Hebrew National beef franks. There are several good options for the hot-dog part of these, but I’ve consistently enjoyed the flavor of Hebrew National.

Step one is to mix the eggs and butter. For what may be the first time ever, I have managed to melt butter in the microwave without a) having it spatter all over everything requiring a massive microwave cleaning, or b) breaking a glass because I misjudged how long to heat it.

I just want to take a moment to address the fact that my eggs and butter combined in some sort of mystical foodie sorcery to pretend they were an avocado.

And now I wonder if I could have managed to add avocado to this recipe…

The recipe called for milk, but I don’t keep actual milk around, so soy milk had to do. It worked fine though.

Pay no attention to the Pasta Boat in the background of this photo. It is NOT my most prized kitchen plastic. Shut up!

It was at this point in the cooking process that I remembered that landscape photos look better on the web than portrait photos do. OOPS!

It only took a few minutes of hand whisking to get the mixture ready to go. I don’t have a hand whisk. This is an electric mixer whisk attachment that I was just using by hand, because I am fancy.

A little PAM sprayed into the muffin pan (the muffin pan, the muffin pan) kept the mixture from sticking to the metal during cooking. They just popped right out after.

Based on the advice of a friend, I tried two hot dog delivery methods: upright and chopped.

During the cooking process, the upright ones did not stay upright. I don’t know if this is a failing of my dough or just gravity at work. Maybe I wasn’t chopping them at appropriate right angles.

The clear winner was the chopped hot dog muffins, because they delivered considerably more hot dog with every bite. All in all, I would call this entire experiment a delicious, delicious success.

What have you been doing to keep busy in quarantine?

15/52

There’s No Place Like “Home”

Last week, I found round trip airfare from Orlando to Atlanta for this year’s Dragon Con for only $136.  I posted it to BookFace, saying something like, “The moment when you spot an INSANELY good rate for Dragon Con airfare, but you don’t know if this will still be your home airport. ::sob::”

To my vast surprise, several people had a “wait, what?” type of reaction, and a few messaged me privately to ask if I was moving away from Orlando.  I mentioned in my new year’s post that I was contemplating a move out of Florida, and I’ve been talking incessantly about the possibilities with a few people, so it never occurred to me that so many of my friends would be in the dark.  (Clearly, I need to get more of them reading this blog.)

To address the question more directly:  I still haven’t decided for sure if I’m leaving Florida.   Or where I’m going if I do move.

It’s really difficult to break through the inertia of staying in one place for a while.  I’ve moved twelve times in the last ten years, but I’ve been in this one place for a little while now, and it can be difficult to pick up and go for the thirteenth time.

What I have decided with certainty is that when my lease ends this summer, I don’t want to stay put.  I don’t really like my apartment, for one thing.   Also, it’s fricking hot here.  And it would be significantly hotter in South Florida.

The climate here isn’t the only thing to be considered.   It’s been years since I lived in a place that “felt like home” to me. When I came back to the US after my time abroad, no part of South Florida felt quite right; I felt like a stranger in my own home town- more than I did in Germany.

I traveled back to Germany twice after I moved back, once for work and once just to visit.  During both of those trips, I had the uncanny feeling that I had only just left a few days before.  Aside from a few familiar restaurants closing and new ones opening, and aside from Jenny and Robert’s children getting taller, everything felt the same.  It felt like I had just left, and it felt like no time had passed at all.  I was incredibly comfortable there.  Not so with my return to the US – everything here felt kind of alien to me.

I’m not suggesting that I want to return to living outside of the United States- I absolutely do not. (Although if my job wanted me to be in the London office for a while, I wouldn’t say no.).  What I am saying is that when no place feels like home, it’s difficult to feel settled.  I genuinely don’t know where I want to be.

For where to go next, I have a few main considerations:

  • Is the temperature colder than Florida for most of the year? (Not bloody difficult!)
  • Is there cool shit to do?  Especially the music;  how’s the concert scene?  Is it a constant flow of activity there or do they roll up the sidewalks at 8pm?
  • Is there decent public transportation there?
  • Do I know anyone in the area? Friends or family?
  • Can I get a decent apartment there without blowing my spleen out on rent payments?
  • Is there a variety of delicious food options?

I’ve considered a number of possible destinations.  I’ve considered eastern New Jersey, with easy access to New York.  I considered Austin for the music scene, but moving from a swamp to a desert is not my idea of cooling down.  I also thought about Portland and the Pacific Northwest, or the Raleigh-Durham area, or Atlanta.   My work is completely remote, so I can theoretically work from anywhere.  In practice, it’s best if I stick to the same time zone as the main office in New York;  I am NOT a morning person and moving west would mean working earlier.

The top contender at present is the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area.  It ticks every box I just listed, and then some.   DC has easy access to three airports and the most useful part of the US rail lines.  It has a pretty useful metro system, and a constant flow of things to see and do.  The weather is a lot closer to what I actually want.  I’ve got a few friends and a really nifty cousin there.  Despite having no firm decision to move, I already have tickets to at least four concerts there this year.  I also have a fervid desire to go to at least five more events that were announced, but until I learn to clone myself that isn’t happening.

So yes, I’m leaning that way.  Still, the decision is not fully made.

Florida is not without its advantages, and I would be remiss to ignore the things I would be leaving behind:  An established social scene with a lot of friendships that I would miss.  Easy access to the theme parks.   Having sorted out which doctors to see in the area. (Finding new doctors is just a pain in the ass.)  Tijuana Flats and Publix.   Being only about a 70 minute drive from my sister, and only a few hours away by car for most of the rest of my family.   Being able to comfortably wear shorts for eleven and a half months out of the year.

But then there are the parts of living here that are less thrilling.  For example, the great social scene I just mentioned is largely centered around a bar scene, which means lots of beer intake.  (Some people would call that a plus, now that I think about it.)  Also, having to wear shorts for eleven and a half months out of the year to remain comfortable while still sweating is miserable and uncomfortable and kind of sticky.

And Orlando doesn’t feel like home either.

I don’t know if a new city will be any better, but I do think a fresh start would be really good for me.   I’m not worried about making friends in my new location, because I’ve moved to a new city sight-unseen a few times now, and I was able to find a tribe there each time.   For an introvert, I’m really quite friendly and sociable.

And hey, at least I won’t be sweating in January.

When is the last time you moved?  Was it a difficult change?

6/52

Music History: Firsts

I love music.

This may be the most understated thing I will say all year.   Long-time readers of this blog probably figured out a long time ago that most of my non-work trips start with me going, “Ooh, a concert I want to see!”    I’ve talked a great deal about music on this blog already- I’ve talked about They Might Be Giants, and Leonard Cohen, and Eurovision.   I ‘ve posted about musicals in general, and about Starlight Express and A Chorus Line in particular.   I’ve also talked about my first ever concert (New Edition), and about my memories of the Ghostbusters soundtrack in that glorious red plastic Arista case back in 1984.

And of course there’s a page on this blog that I keep updating to show the artists that I’ve seen play live.

I’ll say it again:  I love music. I need music.  If I don’t listen to music for a while, I can get downright cranky.  It’s as vital to me as breathing, and I go to concert after concert after concert for the love of music, even though I hate crowds and I have a fair amount of travel anxiety.  I can’t not go. (FOMAC, or Fear of Missing a Concert, is an entirely different blog post that I may come back to later.  Shut up, it’s a real thing!)

With that introduction in mind, I want to talk about music throughout various parts of my life.  I’ll start at the very beginning.

My earliest memory of music, any music, was all the way back in 1978.  I was five years old, and I remember being in some sort of a school or daycare center or something along those lines- it wasn’t a usual place for me.  I was waiting near some other kids while we picked up one of my siblings. The kids I was hanging out near were playing with original first-generation Star Wars action figures. I remember they made me be C3PO. While we played with the Star Wars toys, there was a radio on.

There were two songs in heavy rotation on the radio at that time, and they were the first songs to ever penetrate my tiny little head.  Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana,” and John Paul Young’s “Love Is In The Air.”

Those two songs played back to back. I can’t remember ever hearing music before that day. I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember it.

I also recall the very first album that I ever owned.  When I was ten years old, there were advertisements in the back of comic books that said that if you sell stuff from their crappy catalog, you could win prizes.  This company sent an army of tiny Willy Lomans (Lomen?) door to door to sell magazine subscriptions, Christmas cards, pecan turtles, and wrapping paper.  With enough sales, you could get yourself a tent, a bicycle, or any number of other “fabulous prizes.”  It took a hell of a lot of sales to get anything substantial, but in 1983, I used my hard-earned prize bucks to get a voucher for a cassette tape from one of those music places like Columbia House or BMG, only not quite as obnoxious. That first album?  I was grooving to “Future Shock” by Herbie Hancock.

I had seen the video for Rockit, of course, and the kicking-pants robots made me want to dance.  Or something.  The entire album turned out to be really phenomenal, but I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much in 1983 as I do now.

My mom got me the second album I ever owned- we were in a Richway, which was sort of like the larval form of the retail chain now known as Target.  Richway’s parent company sold all of their stores to Dayton-Hudon Corporation around 1988, and that company closed all the stores, stripped them for parts, and then reopened most of them as Target stores.  The specific Richway from this story is actually some other non-Target store, according to Wikipedia.

But I digress.   We were in Richway, in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1984.  It was an amazing day for eleven-year-old Steven because not only did I get my first transforming toy there, a red Gobot sports-car named Turbo, but  Mom also bought me a cassette of Rockwell’s first album.   Again, I was familiar only with the first single released, a popular song called “Somebody’s Watching Me,” which had Michael Jackson on backup vocals. The rest of the album was a lot of fun, though, and I still listen to it sometimes.  “Obscene Phone Caller” was always one of my favorites songs, even though it would be years before I actually understood how pervy the song really is.

What was your first album?  Your first concert?  The first song you remember hearing?

5/52