Flowers

The first time I ever spent the night with Nita, I stopped at a UDF (where Cincinnatians go instead of 7/11) on the way to her house. UDF used to sell single roses for a dollar. I bought one. The clerk looked at me and said, “Someone’s in a bad mood.”

“Huh?”

“What did you do to get in trouble?”

“Why am I in trouble?”

“You’re buying a flower. Why else would you buy a flower?”

By now, the clerk’s female coworker was looking at him like he was stupid. So was I.

“Um…  I’m in love?” I said.

“Oh, so you’re trying to get laid.”

“Wow. You must be a lousy boyfriend.”

The coworker told him, “You might want to quit before you dig yourself deeper.”

I’ll admit, the first time I bought Nita flowers, I wanted to impress her. The day of our first date, I sent a dozen roses to her work. Yes, they had the desired effect. Then I sent her roses at random intervals for no reason, unless it was Mother’s Day, her birthday, or Valentine’s Day. After a while, it got too expensive to order from FTD and have them sent. But Kroger sells a dozen for $10-15 a bunch. And they last for about two weeks. I now buy her flowers two or three times a month. She loves it.

When she had her wisdom teeth out recently, I had to leave her at home doped up so I could run to the grocery store to get her medications. While I was there, I spotted a bouquet of red roses. I brought them home. She was still out from the morphine drip, so I put them in a vase and arranged them. (Um… Let’s keep that part between us. They take your man card away if you can arrange roses without being a trained florist.) When she woke up that evening, the first thing she saw was a dozen roses on the coffee table.

Flowers don’t have to be expensive, but it’s a good way to remind your wife or your girlfriend that you love them. Where most men go wrong is buying flowers when something bad happens or they want something or just on special occasions. They sort of lose their symbolism that way. Because then she sees flowers from you as a sign that you screwed up or you want something or that you were just smart enough not to buy only a Hallmark card.

I buy them at random and for no particular reason. Sometimes when we’re not in a good mood towards each other. Sometimes when we can’t keep our hands off each other. Sometimes just for the helluvit. In this way, they say what they’re supposed to say.

“I love you.”

Advertisements

Favorite Bands: Cream

Until the mid-1960’s, rock bands tended to be four- and five-piece combos. The Beatles were four vocalists who happened to be four musicians. The Stones were a five-piece, as were the Yardbirds. And yet when former Yardbird Eric Clapton fell in with a jazz drummer named Ginger Baker, the result was Cream.

They needed a bass player. Clapton, to Baker’s horror, recruited Jack Bruce. What Clapton didn’t realize was that Baker and Bruce didn’t like each other. Does anyone wonder why the band only lasted two years?

Still, when Fresh Cream debuted in 1966, rock became intimately acquainted with its most prevalent configuration: The power trio. One guitar, one bass, and a drummer, with one of the band doing vocals. Their arrangements of blues classics such as “Spoonful” and “I’m So Glad.” “Toad,” an original song, established a time-honored trope of the hard rock era: The extended drum solo.

Cream combined the wild abandon of jazz’s bebop era with the raw power of the blues. The result would evolve into heavy metal, hard rock, and even bleed over into punk.

Two songs have always grabbed me. The first is “White Room,” which is the first Cream song I become familiar with. The plaintive wail of Clapton’s guitar and the odd lyrics combined to make a really dark vignette from the psychedelic era. The other was “Badge,” written by Clapton’s friend George Harrison. I first heard it was I was 20, and it really appealed to a wistful, love-starved young man. It’s one of the earliest songs where the bass was more than just extra time-keeping.

Cream couldn’t last, however. Clapton had his own rigid ideas about music, and the Baker-Bruce rift could not be bridged for extended periods. Nonetheless, Baker and Clapton would try again with Steve Winwood in Blind Faith. Blind Faith’s only album was interesting, but by then, Clapton had lost interest in the idea of being in a supergroup. By the end of Blind Faith’s tour, Clapton was essentially gone, spending most of his time with opening act Delaney & Bonnie.

They regrouped again a few years ago. Instead of trying to be the 20-somethings high on speed and too cocky to die that they were originally, they played to their age. Because Cream’s music is so ingrained with Chicago blues, Bruce’s voice actually sounded better at the Madison Square Garden reunion than he did in the sixties. Baker can still drum. And Clapton?

He’d already gone on to become Eric Clapton. But that would not have happened without Cream.

Thursday Reviews: One Click by Richard L. Brandt, 1491 by Charles C. Mann

One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon

by Richard L. Brandt

The contrarian (ie – “dick”) in me wanted to link the image to the right to Barnes & Noble or Google Books. Naw! The fact this book shows up on Amazon with no interference from Jeff Bezos shows that it’s all about business with Amazon.com’s founder. While not as in-depth as some other technology bios I’ve recently read (Steve Jobs, The Google Story, Microsoft First Generation), it does give a matter-of-fact overview of Amazon.com’s rise. Jeff Bezos is shown with warts and all, not unlike Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. Amazon is, first of all, a book seller. Second, it is a retailer. So how is Amazon one of the great technology stories of the past twenty years? Jeff Bezos started out in life wanting to be a physicist. Had he followed through on that quest, it’s quite likely you’d see him on television shows with Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku discussing string theory and black holes. Instead, Bezos went into business and finance, spending the late eighties and early nineties for something to indulge his entrepreneurial streak.

When he hit upon the idea of selling books, not the most original idea when the web exploded, he put everything he had into building the most customer-oriented web site ever created. The title of Brandt’s book refers to the “one-click” method that Bezos patented for Amazon. It’s a dubious patent, of course. I write similar functions to One Click everyday, but Bezos tied it to e-commerce. Since the one click button is so iconic to Amazon users, I linked to the Kindle edition, which you buy with a one click button after you’ve setup your Kindle or a Kindle app.

One Click shows Amazon as it goes from a garage start-up to e-commerce innovator to poster child for the dotcom bust to one of the biggest retailer in the world. Looking at Bezos himself, you see the pattern for most of the tech innovators for the past thirty years. They can be arrogant and demanding, but also visionary and tenacious. Like Microsoft fifteen years ago, many people wonder if Amazon will take over the world. But Brandt suggests Amazon’s biggest rival is not Microsoft, Apple, or Google. Instead, he see Amazon as something many people had prayed for:

A Walmart killer.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

Charles C. Mann

Everything you thought you knew about America before Columbus is wrong. The idea that Indians (which, incidentally, is what most Native Americans call themselves) were noble savages barely changed from there Stone Age ancestors is patently false. Also, the idea that the first people came over the Alaska land bridge 5000 years ago is also wrong. Oh, people did come over the bridge, but they weren’t the first Americans. There are these things called boats that likely brought the first Americans to North and South America nearly 20,000 years ago.

Charles Mann takes recent findings by anthropologists and archeologists, writing of the first Europeans, and records left by American civilizations and paints a very different portrait of pre-Columbian America than we’ve been taught. For starters, the Inca were as powerful an empire as the Spanish who conquered them. So why didn’t they kick the Spanish off the continent? If you look at early writings of the first Spanish, French, and English explorers, you see depictions of abandoned villages and dead bodies. The culprit? Small pox. Whose fault?

Columbus’s, but not for the reason you might think. It’s not the Europeans who brought disease to the New World (though they do share some of the blame.) Try horses. The beasts of burden had not been seen in America for 5000 years. Europeans, Asians, and Africans interacted with horses since they migrated to the Old World 5000 years ago. So on the other side of both oceans, people were exposed not only to horses but all the bugs that horses carry. Hence, the plague only killed off 1/3 of Europe’s population. Small pox?

Think Stephen King’s The Stand.

Which is tragic, because the history of America before 1492 is every bit as interesting as what happened in Europe and the Middle East and China in that time. For instance, compared to the Incan kings, the Habsburgs were genetically diverse. If you were the Inca (the leader, from whom the empire’s modern name comes), no woman was pure enough to be your wife. Except your sister. Which makes conflict with the Spanish all the more ironic.

The Olmec – forerunners of the Aztecs – were masters at irrigation and urban planning, rivaling the Egyptians. And the Aztecs weren’t the only civilization Cortez found in Mexico. In fact, Cortez and his army were nearly wiped out by the Aztecs, only to discover that some of their neighbors were sick of Montezuma. (Not his actual name.)

There are suggestions that the Amazon is actually one big terraforming project. No, not by aliens. By a group from whom the Inca are descended.

And the US Constitution. Who inspired it? Rome? The British? The Greeks? Sure, they all had a hand. But the idea of a central federal government over a group of autonomous states actually comes from the group we now call the Iroquois.

Mann’s book may shake some people’s beliefs about America and its longer-term history, but it tears down the “noble savage” myth that most Indians I’ve met find annoying. The demographic collapse of the native population between 1492 and the mid-1500’s turns out to be a bigger tragedy than thought, worse since neither Americans nor Europeans were aware of what was happening and why. The Old World benefited from the cross-pollination of cultures from China to India to Mesopotamia to Europe. The sudden disappearance of the early Americans deprived both sides of that cross-pollination, leaving only centuries of conquest, mistrust, and bitterness.

On the other hand, at least we now have written evidence from the Maya that the 2012 prophecy is a total crock.

What’s Wrong With America: The Two-Party System

If you read this space regularly, you know I have no love of the two-party system in this country. It is, frankly, an embarrassment. On the one hand, you have the Democratic Party that can’t ever agree with itself about what it wants to be when it grows up. On the other, the Republicans are so rigid in their solidarity that, if driving off a cliff, adherents will go over the edge together rather than be the one who betrays the party by doing something disloyal like, maybe, putting on the brakes or diving out of the car.

Someone please tell me how this represents reality. And you are not allowed to use the words or phrases “lies of the liberal media,” “vast right-wing conspiracy,” “socialist,” or “rethuglican.” All those generally are worth twenty-five point deductions in your IQ if you use them. No exceptions.

Since no one can do that without using those words and phrases, it’s pretty clear the two-party system in the United States has passed its sell-by date. You only have to witness Barack Obama’s dealings with Congress since his inauguration. The Democratic Congress he was handed in his first two years was so wimpy that it panicked every time someone said boo to their razor thin supermajority. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The Democrats cannot find enough people who agree on anything within its own ranks to field a softball team.

The Republicans are the exact opposite. Point out that they’re wrong, and you’re a socialist Islamofascist who hates America. Never mind if we’re talking about gravity. If they’re against gravity, then you’re stubborn refusal to float above the Earth’s surface for the good of the party is a sign that you want to bring our country down.

The problem with both parties is identical. Everyone on either side is trying to force fit incompatible ideologies under one tent. Since the Democrats consider obsessive-compulsive disorder as something to be medicated, they have the stronger claim to the “big tent” concept. The problem is if you’re a fiscally conservative Democrat, it’s like you farted inside the big tent.  The Republicans consider OCD a form of patriotism, you have libertarians shotgun wedded to social conservatives. Last I checked, they don’t like each other very much.

People, this is not any way to run a nation, especially a big one like ours. It’s time to take the two-party system out to the woods with a shotgun then come home and tell Hannity and Olbermann that it ran away from home. Oh, the shotgun? We were taking it out to be cleaned.

Really, the Tea Party does not represent the GOP that Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, or Reagan belonged to. Hell, they don’t even represent the Republicanism espoused by Nixon, unless it’s the paranoid fear-mongering part. And Nixon considered that a campaign tactic. He also had a few concerns about healthcare and stinky air and, oh, Mr. Brezhnev, let’s not blow each other up. That’s a shitty way to end a Cold War. Hmm…

There are evangelical Christians who would love to be Democrats. There are gays in the Republican Party. Not every Democrat wants to make you drive an electric car at the point of a sword. Not every Republican is scared of Muslims. But our antiquated, binary mode of political thought in this country requires you to be one or the other, and you have to take the whole package. All or nothing.

Here’s my philosophy. If I’m either for you or against you, get lost. I don’t have time to revolve my universe around you. There’s nobody representing me because there’s no platform that truly represents me. Time to break up the Party of Jackson and the Party of Lincoln. They’ve overstayed their welcome by about 70 years.

That’s not going to happen, though, until they’re overthrown from the bottom up. You won’t kick them out of Congress or the White House or even your state capital until they’re kicked off every county commission and city council in the nation, until they are pushed out of every school board and township board of trustees in America. And even then, probably not until a few Libertarians get elected secretary of state in a few states. Why?

The office of secretary of state serves only two purposes. First, keep the sitting secretary’s party in power. Second, keep the job safe for an opposition party successor. Third parties need not apply. So if a Libertarian is elected secretary of state in a few state capitals…

Now, is a multiparty system more efficient? No. But you stand a better chance of electing someone who either better represents you, or at least can take a position you can understand. And it’s better than a one-party system, something China won’t admit they want to be rid of. (Communist Party is such a misnomer for China’s ruling class that Karl Marx’s estate should sue.) And it’s better than the no-party system.

“Wait. You’re against the no-party system?”

Oh, if we could function without these oversized versions of a home owners association, it would be utopian. But utopia is a fantasy. Why?

A little history. Way back when in 1820, America entered into what was known as the Era of Good Feeling. There were no parties worth mentioning. James Monroe was elected unopposed to a second term, one token electoral vote cast for someone else on principle. The trouble was that, in 1824, when John Quincy Adams squared off against Andrew Jackson among others, the campaigns became cults of personality. There was no organizing purpose behind them other than Adams was the son of one of the editors of the Declaration of Independence, Jackson kicked a lot of British ass, Crawford was a rich white dude, and Henry Clay was America’s first metrosexual candidate. Yippee. Enter Martin Van Buren. Van Buren improvised much of how modern parties function so that the campaign could be more issue and less personality oriented. Oh, sure, you had Federalists vs. the original Republicans. And the ideology was cleaner back then, mainly because America still needed to know what it wanted to be when it grew up. In Van Buren’s time, politicians were drifting dangerously close to Napoleon-like status when rallying supporters.

Trouble is these parties coalesced into the modern Democratic and Republican Parties who came to stay in the Antebellum Era and didn’t have the same courtesy as Britains original Tories and Whigs, who faded into history when their time passed. And really, do not the Greens do a better job representing the far left in this country than the Democrats? Shouldn’t the Tea Party be an actual party? Shouldn’t Occupy?

It’s time for the two big parties to go. If you’re Barack Obama or John Boehner, they’re what keeps you from doing your job.

Restarting Holland Bay

I am 3/4 the way through rereading the last draft of Holland Bay. The advantage of leaving it in the drawer is apparent. The last time I seriously looked at this project, I was still too close to it. Now, I’m more than willing to, as Stephen King puts it, “kill your darlings.” It’s also clear that nothing less than a complete rewrite is in order. Scary?

Two years ago, I would have said yes. After all, the original draft checks in at 105,000 words. But a complete rewrite will likely shave more than 10% from that total, which would make it about 94,000 words. If anything, I think it’ll check in at around 90.

So why the sudden push to finish this when I’d convinced myself it was really beyond my skills? A couple of things. One, the whole “it’s beyond my skills” thing is a cop out. Of course, you want to push yourself! Why would you not want to get better? Second, a friend of mine got a new agent. She’s new and building her client list, so I want to get in on the ground floor as well. So I have someone helping me and a goal to push me to the finish.

Now, I know some of you are questioning why I would get an agent when I could self-pub my way to riches. Well, kids, I do love the Kindle revolution. It certainly has opened a lot of doors for a lot of people. But it also is a lot more work than I have time for. Oh, I’ll still continue to release the unpublished Keplers, collection, and the one outlined Kepler that never even made it to rough draft. Why not?

Well, what about the science fiction novel? It’s still on. I’m doing a new outline after I finish the read-through on Holland Bay and make some notes for the rewrite. But that novel will not be by Jim Winter. Nope. I’ve decided my Dick will be writing a novel after all.

I do sort of have a deadline, but again, after my meltdown a couple of years ago, I’m making sure the project is about me, not the other way around. If I get to the point where I’m bend myself around something that’s not rewarding me, then I’ll have to quit altogether.

And things are going far too smoothly in my life of late to be a quitter.

Ain’t That A Kick In The Teeth?

Nita had her wisdom teeth taken out. Like me, she waited until her 40’s to do it. Like me, she was out of commission for the weekend.

They always say you should get your wisdom teeth or tonsils out while you’re still young. In fact, I told AJ to get his wisdom teeth out before he’s 30, then he won’t have to deal with it when he has kids underfoot and work to do. However, I never really saw the wisdom in waiting until you’re older. You only do it once, and it hurts like hell no matter what.

Nita was lucky. Her surgeon had an elaborate setup where they could move sedated patients in and out on an assembly line basis while taking great pains to make patients comfortable. Since Nita is considerably smaller than me, her anesthesia lasted all day, letting her sleep most of the first day after extraction off. Mine started wearing off about three or four hours after I got home. Had I been more lucid, I’d have swallowed a dose of Vicodin* when I got home. Nita did for hers. I did not on mine. So a couple hours after I got home…

“Owwwwww!!!!”

In a panic, I took two. Don’t do that. Don’t take two Vicodin on an empty stomach. It’s no fun being doped up on morphine trying to heave cookies that aren’t there. Nita slept.

The wisdom tooth extraction diet is unappetizing. I subsisted on yogurt and pudding for two days. Nita opted for Spaghetti-O’s and queso dip. I eventually attempted a hamburger during that two-day recovery by chewing with my incisors and mashing it with my tongue. Not fun, but doable.

My doctor was different from Nita’s. He was a depressed-looking neo-hippie who didn’t take well to the humor between me and my wife while I was going under. She made a joke about my life insurance being paid up, and the doc flipped out, saying it was bad karma. My normal response to this would be, “Hey! It’s my jaw getting carved up. I’ll tell you what’s funny.” Since I had an IV of vercet in my arm, all I could manage was an eye roll. Just as Nita had to leave the room, she squeezed my hand and wished me luck. I said, “I’ll see you on the other side.” Once again, the doc got offended. I passed out from the morphine before I could say anything else.

My time as caregiver was more boring than Nita’s. This past weekend was cold and rainy. I spent it shuttling AJ to drum corps, getting groceries, making carry out runs, doing homework, and rereading Holland Bay. During my time on the recliner, Nita bought and assembled a gas grill, mowed the lawn, and re-landscaped the front of the house. I still feel like I’ve got points against me on my man card for that.

But it’s over now. It’s not likely either of us will lose our tonsils at our age, so unless we have a bad appendix between us, this type of surgery is over for us.

Unfortunately, we now have all that stuff that breaks down in old age to look forward to.

*Bill Engvall is correct. Half a Vicodin and a Bahama mama make for a wonderful morning**

** Drugs? Drugs are bad. Don’t do drugs. M’kay?

Favorite Musicians: Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck

Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin, used under Creative Commons

He’s not the best known of the former Yardbirds guitarists. He never skyrocketed to stardom like Eric Clapton or created a behemoth as Jimmy Page did with Led Zeppelin. But Clapton, by his own admission, was too pompous about the blues for the Yardbirds. Page spent his time in the Yardbirds turning them into Led Zeppelin.

But in the middle, there was Jeff Beck. And it’s Beck who is responsible for the Yardbirds’ most memorable sounds. He brought the fuzz tone sound to the band’s guitar work, and indulged in flights of fancy that nudged rock into those nooks and crannies from which heavy metal and jazz fusion would burst forth. More than one biographer of the Yardbirds and their famous trio of lead guitarists has suggested that, had Beck stayed with the band, they might have become rock’s first progressive rock band.

I had one of Beck’s two albums with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, who played bass for the Jeff Beck Group. On them, he got back to his blues roots, amping up the Yardbirds’ “Shapes of Things” a notch and creating the arrangement most other bands have covered since. He also did a slow, smokey version of “You Shook Me” six months before Robert Plant roared it on Led Zeppelin’s first album.

But that was a frustrating period for Beck, one in which he might have joined Pink Floyd as Syd Barrett’s replacement, only no one worked up the nerve to ask him. He also was on the short list to replace Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones, but nothing came of it. For Beck, he found the electronics of the era not up to what he wanted to do with the guitar, likely disappointed by Jimi Hendrix’s almost supernatural ability to squeeze out sounds Beck himself could not.

Where I remember Beck the most is the work he did from the early 1970’s to the late 1980’s. Beck became the prototype of the lone guitarist who paved the way for Tommy Bolin, Joe Satriani (both later with Deep Purple), Eric Johnson, and Steve Vai. Like Beck, all (except Bolin) would de-emphasize lead vocals in favor of making their guitar the star of the show. A second version of the Jeff Beck Group, a collaboration with Jan Hammer (who did the music for Miami Vice), and his solo albums in the 70’s all were jazz fusion. And even that was a stretch. Beck often wrote and played whatever he wanted. However, I consider Blow By Blow to be the finest porno soundtrack ever recorded without a movie.

This period ends with Beck entering a period of semi-retirement where he preferred to work on old cars to playing guitar, but it was capped off by one of his strongest efforts, Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop. The title track features drummer Terry Bozio in a seventies DJ voice rattling off slogans found in various ads in Guitar and Musician magazines over Beck freestyling up and down the fret board.

As a guitarist, I think he’s more technically adept than Clapton, who even solo is really a member of various editions of the Eric Clapton Band, and much more versatile than the thunderous Jimmy Page, though Page and Clapton are better songwriters. More than Clapton, Beck is also very much in demand as a sideman, lending his style to Roger Waters, David Bowie, and Kate Bush among others. A temperamental perfectionist, he served as a model for This Is Spinal Tap‘s Nigel Tufnel, who, like Beck, is a certified guitar geek taking himself too seriously.

But it’s always a pleasure to hear Jeff Beck just being Jeff Beck. The beauty of it is he’s not really a rock star. And for many musicians of Beck’s caliber, that’s pretty liberating.